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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Letters 'revealed secret hit squad'

Detectives are investigating letters smuggled out of Russia purporting to show the existence of a secret squad set up to target poisoned spy Alexander Litvinenko and others.

Scotland Yard has been passed copies of two letters apparently penned in jail by former Russian intelligence officer Mikhail Trepashkin, in one of which Mr Litvinenko is warned that both he and his family are at risk.

Mr Litvinenko's London friend Alex Goldfarb said scans of the letters came into his possession on Thursday and he passed them to Scotland Yard.

Mr Trepashkin, who worked for the KGB's successor the FSB until 1997, was tried in 2004, accused of being a British spy and passing secret information to Mr Litvinenko and his close friend the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, both exiled in London.

Mr Litvinenko, who died a week ago from radiation poisoning, believed he had been murdered for criticising Russian president Vladimir Putin. A special post-mortem examination is taking place on his body at the Royal London Hospital. Traces of the radioactive substance polonium 210, which was found in a sample of Mr Litvinenko's urine, have since been detected at 12 sites, including British Airways planes.

The letters include one to Mr Litvinenko which he never received, as well as one to his friend Mr Goldfarb. In the message to Mr Litvinenko on November 20, Mr Trepashkin recalls a conversation in August 2002 in which he warned Mr Litvinenko - already living in London - that he and his family were at risk from the FSB.

Mr Trepashkin tells his friend that he had met an FSB contact near a railway station in Russia who told him that a "very serious group" had been set up, which "will knock out all those associated with Berezovsky and Litvinenko".

The letter says that Mr Trepashkin was urged to co-operate with the group and provide information on Mr Litvinenko and members of his family. Mr Goldfarb said the other letter, addressed to him and written on November 25, detailed an offer to be a witness in the British investigation.

Mr Goldfarb, who says that he can attest to the authenticity of the handwriting, said he had immediately passed the letters to police. Scotland Yard said that it could not confirm specific details on the investigation.

"This continues to be an extremely complex investigation and detectives are pursuing many lines of inquiries," a spokesman said, adding: "I think it is significant because it shows that there was an FSB group set up back in 2002 that targeted Litvinenko and Berezovsky."

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