Berezovsky threatens suit against VGTRK


MOSCOW -- Billionaire businessman Boris Berezovsky, who fled Russia after falling out with President Vladimir Putin, is threatening a defamation suit against Russian state broadcasting company VGTRK unless it apologies for a news item it broadcast in April alleging he lied to gain political asylum in Britain.

Berezovsky, 61, who once owned TV6 and held a major stake in Russia's ORT (now the First Channel), has lived in self-imposed exile in London for the past seven years.

Berezovsky, who a fortnight ago ignited a political scandal in Russia after telling British newspaper the Guardian that he was plotting to overthrow the Putin regime by force, told Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy that an item about him that aired on state channel Rossiya's weekly news-analysis show "Vesti Nedeli" contained lies and falsifications.

In the broadcast, a man named only as "Petr" claimed that taped audio evidence of death threats used by Berezovsky to gain political asylum in Britain in 2003 had been falsified.

Berezovsky succeeded in his asylum claim after Alexander Litvinenko, an officer in the FSB (a successor to the Soviet-era KGB), claimed he had been ordered to murder the businessman.

"Petr" -- who told " Vesti Nedeli " that he was under the protection of both the Russian and British authorities due to the nature of the information he had -- suggested that Litvinenko's radiation poisoning death in London last year was connected to knowledge that audio tapes had been falsified.

"My lawyers are ready to go to court and bring a case showing that what VGTRK aired is false," Berezovsky told Ekho Moskvy in an interview that aired Sunday.

"It presented false facts and false interpretation of these facts," Berezovsky said, adding that he was prepared to bring a defamation case in the English courts on the grounds that Rossiya also is available to Russian-speaking audiences in Britain via cable, satellite and internet transmissions.

The businessman -- whose influence in Russia in the 1990s was such that he briefly served as deputy chair of the country's national security committee -- gave VGTRK (the All-Russia State TVand Radio Company) 24 hours to apologize or face legal action.

Oleg Dobrodeev, general director of VGTRK, was travelling outside of Russia and was not available for comment Monday, but an assistant said he was expected to respond to Berezovsky's comments Tuesday.