MOSCOW, July 7: A media blitz on Saturday about a Russian official who says he spied for Britain looked likely to launch the latest spy scandal between the two countries. Vyacheslav Zharko, a former officer in Russia's tax police, fingered exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky and slain former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in interviews with daily Komsomolskaya Pravda and numerous Russian television channels.

Simultaneously, Russia's FSB intelligence agency said it had evidence showing that British secret services paid Zharko for espionage between 2003 and 2007 that had threatened Russia's security.

In the Komsomolskaya Pravda interview, Zharko said Litvinenko, an intelligence agent turned Kremlin opponent, had put him in contact with Britain's MI6 intelligence service, together with Berezovsky.

Zharko identified his MI6 contacts as “John Callaghan” and “Paul.” “I even became friends with John; we had quite a few whiskies together,” said Zharko, all smiles in a photograph accompanying the article.

“He told me he was working under cover at the (British) embassy in Moscow, that he took part in dangerous operations,” including “photographing secret documents in a restaurant toilet.” Zharko said he was paid 2,000 euros ($2,700) a month for spy work, adding that he had provided information mostly available from public sources such as the internet, and that in his opinion none of it could threaten Russia.

An FSB spokesman, speaking on state-run Rossiya and several other channels, including Russia's English language satellite channel Russia Today, disagreed.

“A criminal case has been opened into the subversive spying activities of British secret services which harmed Russia's external security,” spokesman Sergei Ignatienko said.

The British embassy in Moscow could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.

The story — and apparent PR push behind it — is the latest in a series of Russian-British spy scandals, from the “spy rock” sensation of January 2006, when Moscow incriminated British diplomats in espionage, to the November murder of Litvinenko.—AFP



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