- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

MOSCOW — An imprisoned Russian dissident has given the Sunday Telegraph revealing testimony in which he names a serving state security colonel as a key figure in the poisoning of the former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko.

Mikhail Trepashkin, a lawyer held in a penal camp in the Urals, gave his information via an intermediary after the Kremlin refused to let him be questioned by Scotland Yard detectives who have traveled to Moscow.

In testimony that he fears could put his own life at risk, Mr. Trepashkin named the colonel as one of four FSB security service officers who appeared in masks alongside Mr. Litvinenko at a 1998 press conference, when the former agent accused his superiors of ordering the assassination of Boris Berezovsky, a Russian businessman exiled in London.

The Sunday Telegraph is not publishing the colonel’s identity for legal reasons. Mr. Trepashkin, 50, who has repeatedly expressed his desire to speak to British police, said:

“They need to be speaking to this serving FSB officer. I believe he is of key importance to their inquiries.”

He also gave details of how he thought the plot to kill Mr. Litvinenko in London with a lethal dose of radioactive polonium-210 would have been hatched.

The “hit” would have been planned over a long period, he said. “They needed to follow him and find out how he lived and what security arrangements he had. They wanted to make the death look natural. What they did not reckon with was that the polonium-210 would act so quickly and leave a trail.”

He had further information to corroborate his claims, he said, but would reveal the full details only to British police.

Mr. Trepashkin is also a former agent of the FSB — the successor agency to the KGB — and was jailed in 2004 on charges of disclosing state secrets. His supporters insist the charges against him were to prevent his disclosing evidence of FSB involvement in a series of apartment bombings in Russia in 1999 that killed nearly 300 people.

The bombings, blamed at the time on Chechen militants, gave President Vladimir Putin the political justification for a military campaign against the breakaway republic of Chechnya — a campaign that hugely boosted his domestic popularity.

Mr. Trepashkin was present at Mr. Litvinenko’s press conference the year before the apartment bombings, when he claimed that the Russian security services had been running death squads to kill businessmen hostile to Russian government interests.

The claims, which enraged the Kremlin, led to sackings in the FSB and Mr. Litvinenko’s own brief detention before he fled abroad and eventually claimed asylum in Britain.

None of the masked fellow officers who appeared with him at the 1998 conference has ever been publicly identified. It is still not clear why, having apparently risked their lives and careers by siding with him with at the time, they might have later turned against him.

But Mr. Trepashkin says the masked agent he has named is the only one still serving in the FSB, indicating someone who somehow still enjoys the confidence of the Kremlin.

Mr. Trepashkin was answering questions passed to him by the Sunday Telegraph into EK-13, a low-security jail in Nizhny Tagil in the Middle Urals region, where he has a year still to serve.

He now expects to be transferred to a tougher prison for speaking out and fears being attacked or even killed in jail.

He is regarded by international human rights groups as a political prisoner. Unlike some of the figures in the Litvinenko affair, he has no history of making wild or exaggerated claims.

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