Litvinenko suspect sues Russian newspaper

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MOSCOW, Oct 3 (Reuters) The man Britain wants to charge for the murder of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko sued a Russian newspaper today accusing it of damaging his reputation in an article that linked him to the killing.

Former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoy demanded 20 million roubles (803,200 dollars) in damages from Kommersant, one of Russia's most respected newspapers, for a July 9 article which he said had damaged his reputation.

Britain wants to extradite Lugovoy from Russia to face trial in London for the murder of Litvinenko, who was poisoned with radioactive polonium last year.

Lugovoy has repeatedly said he is innocent and is running for parliament in December elections on a nationalist ticket.

Russia has refused to hand him over, citing a constitutional bar on the extradition of Russian citizens.

At a court hearing, Kommersant offered to publish a clarification and give Lugovoy the chance to offer his version of events in an interview with the paper.

Moscow's Tverskaya Court adjourned the hearing until November 6 for the parties to discuss the settlement, but Lugovoy appeared to dismiss Kommersant's offer outside the court.

''At first glance, the (settlement) proposal seems meaningless but I hope that reason, decency and truthfulness will prevail for representatives of Kommersant by November 6,'' Lugovoy told reporters after the hearing.

''We will insist on material compensation,'' he said, adding that he would donate any damages awarded to charity.

Kommersant, with a daily circulation of 124,000, is one of the few remaining Russian national newspapers to continue investigative reporting and daring to poke fun at officials.

Litvinenko, a former Russian security service officer, died in a London hospital on November 23 after receiving a dose of radioactive polonium-210, a highly toxic isotope, apparently at a meeting in a London hotel.

In a letter read out after his death, Litvinenko accused President Vladimir Putin of being responsible for his death, a claim the Kremlin dismissed as nonsense.

FREE MEDIA Lugovoy, who served as a Russian security service officer and then worked for Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, says he has been caught up in a deadly web of intrigue that senior figures in Britain are using to damage Russia.

He has said British secret service agents and Berezovsky, who fled to London after falling out with Putin, are more likely suspects, a claim dismissed by Berezovsky.

Outside the court, Lugovoy said he supported media freedom but that Kommersant reporters had not sought his point of view about the accusations against him. He said he was shocked by an article published by the paper on July 9.

''When the phrase appeared in this article that Litvinenko was my victim, our indignation had no limits,'' Lugovoy said.

Known for its insolent style, cheeky photographs and top-class reporters, Kommersant was bought by metals billionaire Alisher Usmanov last year after Berezovsky sold the paper to Georgian business partner Badri Patarkatsishvili.

Reuters SKB RS1808

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