ALEXANDER LITVINENKO PLANNED TO BLACKMAIL A RUSSIAN BUSINESSMAN LIVING IN LONDON SAYS AN AQUAINTANCE OF THE POISONED EX-RUSSIAN SPY -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
Litvinenko's Widow Denies the Charge in Her First U.S. Interview, but Another Side to the Mystery is Revealed, Including that He Needed Money Before his Death
Ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was slowly poisoned to death last November in London and had plenty of time to accuse the Russian president he was so critical of for his demise, effectively declaring himself a political martyr. But he may have angered others who could also want him dead. An acquaintance of Litvinenko tells Bob Simon that he was planning to blackmail a wealthy Russian businessman -- a charge Litvinenko's widow, Marina, denies -- before someone slipped him the polonium-210 that caused his slow and painful death. Simon's investigation will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday, Jan. 7 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Julia Svetlichnaya was a Russian graduate student in London who spoke to Litvinenko about a book she was writing. She says he told her his blackmail plans. "He told me...he's doing a project for blackmailing one of the Russian oligarchs...in U.K.," she tells Simon. "He thought that it was actually an okay thing to do because this particular person, as Litvinenko claimed, had a connection with...Putin," she says. But Litvinenko's widow says that wasn't her husband, whom she called Sasha. Though she says she didn't know what he was up to, "Sasha wasn't a person [who would do that]."
Blackmail didn't surprise Svetlichnaya, however, because Litvinenko used to gather information about people when he was a loyal KGB agent before turning dissident. "He mentioned blackmail in a very casual manner. Every time I met him, he somehow told me he needs money, he needs to make a living, he's got children to feed," Svetlichnaya says.
Svetlichnaya would not reveal the blackmail target's name, but said it wasn't billionaire Boris Berezovsky, one of the most famous of the exiled Russian businessmen known as oligarchs. Berezovsky says Litvinenko twice saved his life in Russia, once when he disclosed that he had been ordered by the KGB -- then run by Putin -- to assassinate him. The billionaire had been supporting him ever since, saying Litvinenko once worked directly for him. Berezovsky received information he used in a campaign against Putin and his regime from Litvinenko, an effort Berezovsky says he spent $100 million on. He told Simon that he had cut back on his support of the ex-spy in the months prior to his death. He thinks his relationship with Litvinenko was a factor his death. "Unfortunately, I should say yes," Berezovsky tells Simon. He even believes that had Litvinenko not been targeted, it would have been him who was killed.
Berezovsky would not elaborate on who wanted Litvinenko or him dead, but said this about the Russian intelligence agency and President Putin. "[Putin was].. absolutely bandit, from my point of view, yeah, and they...decide to kill [Litvinenko]." When asked by Simon if "they" was Russian intelligence, Berezovsky said he did not want to hurt efforts to investigate the crime, but did say, "I might just use the English joke. If it looks like duck and quack like duck, it means duck."
Marina Litvinenko was more definitive on whether President Putin had a hand in her husband's death. "I can't say it's [Putin's] order, but without his knowledge, it couldn't happen," she tells Simon.