The dead spy and the oligarch

Berezovsky won his libel case against Russian TV

The dead spy and the oligarch

Photograph by Alastair Grant/ AP

More than four years after Alexander Litvinenko was fatally poisoned with radioactive polonium-210, the drama surrounding his mysterious death in Britain continues. On March 10, Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky won a libel suit in London against Russian state television, which claimed he masterminded the killing.

Berezovsky lives in Britain after being granted political asylum in 2003. He is wanted on a variety of charges by Moscow, which Kremlin opponents see as attempts to discredit and ultimately silence an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The current court case was launched after a 2007 story aired by Russia’s state TV claimed Litvinenko was murdered on orders from the billionaire because he had witnessed a drugged man make a false statement that bolstered Berezovsky’s claim for asylum.

The billionaire vehemently denied the charges, stating that, in fact, Litvinenko, a former spy turned Putin critic, had saved his life on more than one occasion. “He had helped me and I him,” Berezovsky testified. “Fundamentally, we shared the same enemy.” Litvinenko’s widow, Maria, backed Berezovsky in court: “I knew that the accusation against Boris was propaganda.” While Russian TV refused to defend itself in the libel case, several state prosecutors helped the defence of the media firm’s co-accused, Vladimir Terluk, who had claimed Berezovsky drugged him.

In the end, Justice David Eady ruled definitively for Berezovsky and awarded him $230,000. “I can say unequivocally that there is no evidence before me that Mr. Berezovsky had any part in the murder of Mr. Litvinenko,” Eady stated. “Nor, for that matter, do I see any basis for reasonable grounds to suspect him of it.”

British investigators have long since come to the same conclusion. In 2007, they requested the Kremlin extradite former Russian spy Andrei Lugovoi, a Putin ally, to stand trial for Litvinenko’s murder. Moscow refused.

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