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Russia suggests suspect in poisoning

Prosecutors say an ex-Yukos executive, now in Israel, may be involved.

December 28, 2006|From Times Wire Services

MOSCOW — Russian prosecutors said Wednesday that Leonid Nevzlin, a former top manager of the Yukos business empire, may have ordered the poisoning of former Russian KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.

"A version is being looked at that those who ordered these crimes could be the same people who are on an international wanted list for serious and very serious crimes, one of whom is ... Leonid Nevzlin," the Russian prosecutor general's office said in a statement posted on its website, www.genproc.gov.ru.

The statement could indicate that Moscow plans to increase pressure on the former owners of Yukos Oil Co., which has been dismembered and is bankrupt from billions of dollars in back tax claims.

Nevzlin's spokesman dismissed the allegations of the prosecutor general's office. "Everyone knows the KGB's methods. These statements are ridiculous and do not warrant a response," he said.

A trusted business partner of jailed Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Nevzlin has provoked the Kremlin's ire by slamming Russian President Vladimir V. Putin for the destruction of Yukos, which Nevzlin says was politically motivated.

After Khodorkovsky's arrest in October 2003, Nevzlin fled to Israel, where he was given Israeli citizenship. He has a Jewish grandparent.

Litvinenko, who died Nov. 23 in London, made a deathbed statement accusing Putin of responsibility for his poisoning. The Kremlin called Litvinenko's allegations nonsense.

His slow death in a London hospital from the effects of radioactive polonium-210 has prompted a five-nation police investigation and focused suspicion on the Kremlin, despite its repeated denials of any involvement.

Litvinenko's friend Alexander Goldfarb called the statement of the prosecutor general's office "sheer nonsense."

"This statement is a very clumsy effort to shift the blame for this murder, and it only adds to the suspicion that the Russian government is standing behind this murder," he said.

Russia wants to try Nevzlin for a series of killings that a Russian court has said were carried out by the former head of security at Yukos.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia's wealthiest man, is serving a nine-year sentence for fraud and tax evasion. He was questioned Wednesday as a suspect in a new criminal inquiry, his lawyer said.

Yuri Schmidt said Khodorkovsky was questioned about allegations that he was involved in money-laundering, which the lawyer dismissed as politically motivated.

"The new case is a continuation of selective justice aimed at applying moral and physical pressure on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, further destruction of Yukos and the confiscation of assets," Schmidt said on a website for the tycoon's supporters.

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