A Russian secret service whistleblower released on Friday after a prison term for revealing secrets said he had evidence pointing to Moscow's involvement in the murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.
Former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Mikhail Trepashkin told Reuters an FSB official told him in 2002 a group was being set up to "take out" Litvinenko.
An FSB spokesman declined to comment on Trepashkin's allegation. Russian officials have said claims of Moscow's involvement in Litvinenko's death are nonsense and that the case is being used by Moscow's enemies to discredit it.
Litvinenko, also a former FSB officer and whistleblower, died in London just over a year ago after being poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope, polonium 210.
After moving to Britain Litvinenko was an associate of Boris Berezovsky, a tycoon who left Russia and has become a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I had a meeting with an FSB officer in August 2002 who said there had been a very serious group formed that would wipe out all those linked with Berezovsky and Litvinenko and take them out too," Trepashkin, 50, told Reuters by telephone hours after being released from a Ural mountains prison.
"It is clear that this group was made up of employees and agents of the FSB. The FSB are people who only work on the orders of those higher up," he said. "The theory that the FSB was behind it should be investigated."
Trepashkin was jailed in 2004 by a military court for disclosing classified information. He said the case was fabricated as revenge for his whistle-blowing.
In a letter Litvinenko's associates said he had written as he lay dying in a London hospital, he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being responsible for his death, a charge the Kremlin has strenuously denied.
Russia barred British detectives last year from interviewing Trepashkin when they visited Russia to investigate the murder of Litvinenko. British prosecutors later said Andrei Lugovoy, another ex-KGB security service officer, should be tried for the murder. Lugovoy denies having anything to do with the murder.
Trepashkin and Litvinenko were among a group of FSB officers, some of them wearing ski masks to conceal their identity, who told a news conference in Moscow in 1998 they had been given an order to kill Berezovsky.
Trepashkin later accused the FSB, main successor to the Soviet KGB, of being involved in a series of bombings that killed nearly 300 people in 1999. Officials have blamed Chechen militants for the bombings.
He said the FSB accused him of passing secrets to Britain's MI5 domestic spy service through Litvinenko and Berezovsky.
Trepashkin's four-year detention drew widespread criticism from international rights groups which said he had been jailed in revenge for speaking out against the FSB.
The father of five said he was desperate to see his wife and get back home.
"I have a feeling of euphoria -- finally I have been able to pull myself out of that hell," he said. "I consider myself completely innocent. They fabricated my case in the most criminal and atrocious way."
"Part of it was revenge, part of it was to prevent me from digging down to the real people behind the bombings," Trepashkin said, referring to the 1999 bombings. ( Reuters )