KGB successor is accused of offering terror for hire Bosses are crooks, say 5 Russian agents

November 18, 1998|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- The founder of the Soviet secret police was called "the man with the crystal soul," because of his purity in the wielding of terror against the enemies of bolshevism.

Today, in post-Soviet Russia, the agency that grew out of Felix E. Dzerzhinsky's leather-jacketed Cheka is less pure in its ideology but it hasn't lost the terror part -- except that now, according to a group of maverick officers, what's being offered is terror for hire.

A trail of extortion, kidnappings and murder, all in the pursuit of criminal gain, leads directly to the inner offices of the Lubyanka, headquarters of Russia's fearsome security police, said Lt. Col. Alexander Litvinenko and four of his associates at a news conference yesterday.

Disguised in sunglasses, and in one case, a black ski mask, the officers accused their bosses of using the Federal Security Service not so much to fight crime as to muscle in on the action.

Litvinenko said he had been ordered in December to kill Boris Berezovsky, the financial tycoon who controls the ORT television network and is close to President Boris N. Yeltsin. When the colonel refused, he was told he was foiling "patriots of the motherland from killing the Jew who has robbed half this country."

Since then Litvinenko has been physically attacked on the street and has been accused of trying to extort $70,000 from a Russian businessman.

Maj. Andrei Ponkin, another of the maverick officers, said he had been ordered to kidnap the brother of Umar Dzhebrailov, a businessman who has close links to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Dzhebrailov is best known here for his lengthy struggle with an American, Paul Tatum, for control of the Radisson Hotel in Moscow, a struggle that was resolved in Dzhebrailov's favor by Tatum's murder in 1996.

Ponkin said he'd been told to kill Dzhebrailov's brother if he offered any resistance, but the plot was later put on hold. Ponkin said he had asked for a written order, but his chief refused.

"We can't understand why there's any reason for someone wanting to get rid of us," said a nervous Dzhebrailov, toying with a pencil and twirling a lock of hair during a television interview last night. He said he had provided every document about Tatum the police had demanded. "I cooperated completely."

The maverick officers said in a statement that "certain officials" of the Federal Security Service have used the agency "to settle accounts with undesirable persons, to carry out private political and criminal orders for a fee and sometimes simply as an instrument to earn money."

They said they hope the FSB, as it is known by its Russian initials, "will summon the courage to cleanse itself of those persons who, having attained the positions of generals and who embody state security, sabotage the gains of recent years and pervert the constitutional mission of the FSB -- abusing their offices, issuing illegal orders to commit terrorist acts and assassinations, to seize hostages, to extort large sums of money from commercial structures and other illegal actions."

The group of officers did not offer details of crimes, though Ponkin said he understood the agency was connected to the 1995 murder of Vladislav Listyev, a popular television personality who was combating corruption in advertising.

Mikhail Trepashkin, a former FSB agent, said he had been running an investigation in 1996 that had turned up evidence that high-ranking army officers were involved in illegal arms sales, extortion and murder.

"So I was removed from the case," he said. "When I said I would challenge this order, they told me I would be fired."

Three men came around to his house to beat him up. Litvinenko, now Trepashkin's ally, revealed yesterday that he had been among the attackers.

Vladimir Putin, the recently installed director of the security service, said in a statement yesterday that allegations about a plot to kill Berezovsky and other crimes have been referred to the military prosecutor, and that no one will be protected by his rank.

At the same time, he said that Berezovsky, who first declared late last week that there was a plot on his life, was trying to bring "a certain pressure" on the investigation by going public.

The number of FSB agents is secret, but reportedly thousands have left the agency in recent years, many going into security work or crime, or both.

"Those who have left the FSB are closely connected to the criminal world," said Vladimir Oivin, deputy director of the

Glasnost Public Foundation, which has spent years examing the security service and its predecessor, the KGB. "But those still there may also be connected."

Col. Alexander Zdanovich, an FSB spokesman, said last night that "all parties are trying to use the FSB for their own aims."

"We've never been in anybody's pocket and we never will be," he said.

In a dogmatic assertion that harked back to the fervent era of Dzerzhinsky and the original secret police, the spokesman then flatly declared that an illegal FSB order was impossible and, if there were one, no one would obey it.

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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