Russian who met with former spy denies involvement in his death

A Russian man who met with Alexander Litvinenko on the day that the former KGB spy believed he was poisoned today said he had been questioned by British officials in Moscow, and again denied any involvement in his death.

Litvinenko’s death last night in a London hospital has sparked a minor firestorm, with Litvinenko – who worked for the KGB and one of its successor agencies – implicating Russian President Vladimir Putin in a signed statement shortly before he lost consciousness on Tuesday.

Putin, speaking in Helsinki where he was meeting with European Union leaders, called Litvinenko’s death a tragey, but added: “It’s extremely regrettable that such a tragic event as death is being used for political provocations.”

The British government today said Litvinenko had been poisoned by radiation, and that the radioactive element polonium-210 had been found in his body.

In interviews with Russian media, businessman Andrei Lugovoy said he had known Litvinenko for 10 years, and that after a long interruption in their relationship Litvinenko had called him last year and asked if he would be interested in some business contacts in London.

Lugovoy, a KGB colleague and bodyguard to former Prime Minster Yegor Gaidar, confirmed that he, a friend named Dmitry Kovtun and a third man had met Litvinenko for about half an hour on November 1 in the Millennium Mayfair Hotel in London.

He said they arrived at the hotel before Litvinenko and had something to eat, but that Litvinenko never ordered any food or drink during their meeting, nor did they offer him anything.

After their meeting, Lugovoy said, they agreed meet again the next day, but the next morning Litvinenko called him and said he felt ill and would not be able to meet.

Later on November 1, Litvinenko dined with Italian security expert Mario Scaramella to discuss the October murder of Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.

“I would be very cautious on this question (of who was responsible for Litvinenko’s death) … as far as I know, from a legal point of view, one can say what happened … after doctors come up with a diagnosis,” he said in an interview on Russia Today television.

“I’m surprised by how hysterically some are trying to tie me to this,” he said.

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, Lugovoy confirmed that he and Kovtun had met with three high-ranking British officials in Moscow yesterday.

He said the meeting was a “conversation, not an interrogation,” but refused to give further details.

He said his lawyer was present for the talks.

“It was a very constructive meeting. I was very satisfied,” he said.

Lugovoy told Russia Today television that he had agreed to speak with British police in Russia or Britain.

In 1998, Litvinenko publicly accused his superiors of ordering him to kill tycoon Boris Berezovsky and spent nine months in jail starting in 1999 on charges of abuse of office. He was later acquitted and in 2000 sought asylum in Britain.

Lugovoy also worked for a Russian television company that was controlled by Berezovsky in the 1990s before Berezovsky fled to Britain, sought asylum and became one of Putin’s most vociferous critics.

Scaramella has said he showed Litvinenko an e-mail he received from a source naming the putative killers of Politkovskaya, and naming other targets including Litvinenko and himself.

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