Russian spies 'running protection rackets'

RUSSIA'S SECRET service, successor to the KGB, is being used to carry out assassinations, seize hostages and extort money from big business, agents have claimed.

In an extraordinary public appearance, Federal Security Bureau (FSB) officers said the agency was being used "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".

The men, several wearing reflective sunglasses and one clad in a black balaclava, unveiled their allegations at a press conference in Moscow, plunging the agency into one of its more serious, and mysterious, post-Soviet scandals.

"Our aim is to draw public attention to the deviations in the work of the Federal Security Bureau that are exceedingly dangerous for society and which have become features of its activities," they said in a statement.

"We do not want the shadow of the criminal actions of a number of officials to be cast on the service and its honest officers." The statement was signed by two colonels, two majors and a senior lieutenant.

Security officers publicly attacking their bosses is unheard-of in post-Soviet Russia, and immediately dominated television news headlines, casting a shadow over the meeting in Moscow between President Boris Yeltsin and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder.

In recent years, reports have regularly linked organised crime and the FSB, which has suffered from low morale, poor pay and a brain drain, following the break-up of the far larger KGB. Thousands of ex-KGB agents have taken paid jobs in the shady world of Russian business and banking.

Some media reports have linked FSB elements with contract killings, bombings and hostage-taking. But this is the first time that officers, apparently from the heart of the security system, have so openly spelt out allegations of top level corruption.

They acknowledged that they risked reprisals. "We were told, 'we will first boot you out of the service and then stifle you like pups'," said Lt-Col Alexander Litvinenko.

The most dramatic revelation has been the men's claim that a senior FSB officer ordered the colonel to kill Boris Berezovsky, one of Russia's top business and media magnates, who played a leading role in releasing two British hostages in September. Lt-Col Litvinenko, Mr Berezovsky's former bodyguard, claimed he did not carry out the order, which he received last December, because he regarded it as illegal.

The colonel said as a result he was assaulted, received death threats and was threatened with prosecution. In May, media reports accused him and his colleagues of being involved in murders, assaults, torture and extortion.

Lt-Col Litvinenko claimed one FSB officer also accused him of "preventing patriots from the motherland from killing a Jew who robbed half his country". Mr Berezovsky has Jewish roots, an issue that has acquired significance because of the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Russia.

Another officer, Major Andrei Ponkin, yesterday claimed that in late 1977 the FSB leadership planned to kidnap the brother of a prominent Moscow businessman, Umar Dzhebrailov, Hussein, then take him to a country house. "In case of resistance ... we were ordered to kill the policemen who guarded him and then kill him, as one of the options," he said. The order was never carried out.

The agents argue that these were not isolated incidents. "The order to assassinate ... Berezovsky, unfortunately, is not an exceptional event in the present life of the FSB," said their statement.

The director of the Federal Security Bureau, Vladimir Putin, has confirmed that Russia's chief military prosecutor's office is investigating the Berezovsky case. But he has also threatened to sue accusers if their claims prove groundless.

The officers have stressed the director is not their target and the agency's problems began under his predecessor, General Nikolai Kovalyov.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?