Spy who exposed money launderers faces death

FOR THE past two weeks Boris Karpichkov, a former KGB major, has been on hunger strike in Brixton prison, south London. His story, if true, is one of intrigue, greed and violence. And it may cost him his life.

Mr Karpichkov, a Latvian, is facing extradition accused ofstealing $500,000 (pounds 310,000) from a failed bank in Riga, Bank Olympia. He denies this, saying the real reason he is wanted is that he uncovered corrupt links between senior figures in the Latvian government and the Russian mafia. Mr Karpichkov says that if he is sent home he will be killed. He says the mafia has taken out a $800,000 contract on him and his family.

Sixteen months ago he fled to Britain with his wife and two sons aged 13 and 16, claiming political asylum. They used false passports issued by the Latvian secret service.

A week after arriving in Britain he was arrested by Scotland Yard at the request of the Latvian government and has been held on remand. He has gone on hunger strike toraise awareness of his case.

The former major, who has limited English, said: "My family and I can't go back to Latvia or Russia ever again. If we will return, it would mean for us only death. We lost all our property, everything we had in Latvia. We do not receive in Great Britain any help or benefits because British authorities refused us."

Mr Karpichkov said he was given details about the mafia contract. "They have approached former officers of the KGB's top secret unit Alfa, who specialised in assassination. At the present time these people are looking for our family everywhere and sooner or later will find us in Britain," he said.

Mr Karpichkov, of Russian extraction and nationality, was recruited by the regional KGB in 1981 when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union. He said he was trained in the Higher Secret Services School in 1985 and as a special forces operative during the war in Afghanistan.

While working as a counter-intelligence officer, Mr Karpichkov's job was to counter US Central Intelligence Agency operations in Latvia.

In early 1990, after the Cold War ended, he was assigned to the new Russian intelligence service, the FSB. It was sensitive work investigating corruption in Latvia involving prominent political figures and key people in the Russian and local mafias.

From 1993 he worked undercover running a commercial information agency. But Mr Karpichkov was actually gathering information on money laundering through Latvia's biggest commercial banks, including Bank Olympia. The bank handled a number of International Monetary Fund credits worth millions of dollars intended for the country's industrial and agricultural development. Mr Karpichkov said that in this period he gathered an "explosive" dossier, with tape recordings, about "the close connections between highest level officials of the Latvian state with leaders of organised crime".

Mr Karpichkov said he passed some of this information to his bosses in Russia's secret services. At this point, he said, they betrayed him and told the Latvian police about his work. He said this led to his arrest by the Latvian police and later by the Russian police. He said he was tortured and beaten.

When Olympia Bank failed in 1995, questions were asked about where large sums of money had gone. Although he was not seen as a central figure, Mr Karpichkov was accused of involvement with theft. He denies the allegations. He met the attorney-general of Latvia, Janis Skarstins, in 1996 and was offered a deal under which he would have been treated as a special witness in return for handing over evidence.

Although Mr Karpichkov handed over documents and tapes, the deal fell through and he was placed under house arrest. But he escaped from his sixth-floor apartment by climbing down a rope made from knotted-together clothes, and fled with his family to Cyprus. Later they flew to Russia, and after meeting problems there they sought asylum in Britain.

Mr Karpichkov said he explained his predicament to the Home Office as part of his asylum claim, which was being processed normally until his arrest. The family were found housing by a local authority. They appear to live in poverty, dependent on hand-outs.

"The Latvian authorities only asked for extradition after I gave interviews to the Latvian press on the phone," said Mr Karpichkov. He believes they only want to extradite him to stop him publishing information abroad on corruption in Latvia.

Establishing the truth of Mr Karpichkov's claims is difficult. There is no doubt that much of his story is true, and a great deal of it is supported by Latvian and Russian newspaper articles. But whether he has defrauded a Latvian bank or incurred the wrath of his country's officials is harder to determine.

Latvia has an extradition agreement with Britain, but it does have problems with mafia corruption at a high level. Mr Karpichkov's case reflects the difficulties the Home Office faces in uncovering the truth of the many East European asylum cases in the years since the Berlin Wall came down.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
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
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness