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Litvinenko was no spy: Russian minister

"For us Litvinenko was nothing," Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Moscow.

india Updated: Dec 16, 2006 12:35 IST

A top Russian minister has dismissed the importance of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian intelligence service employee who died of radiation poisoning in London last month, saying he was sacked from his position in 1998.

When he was hired, he had "no training and not much intellect," Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Moscow on Friday.

"He was never a spy." "For us Litvinenko was nothing," he said.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Litvinenko worked in a police division responsible for transporting prisoners, said Ivanov, himself an ex-KGB officer who rose to the rank of general in the successor agency, the FSB.

The FSB hired Litvinenko for its organised crime division during a staffing crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ivanov said.

"The FSB started to recruit newcomers like Litvinenko because they had a shortage of people," he said.

In 1998, Litvinenko was fired from the service, by then head Vladimir Putin.

"Putin sacked Litvinenko from the FSB in 1998," he said. At this point legal proceedings were started against Litvinenko, who "jumped" to the Ukrainian capital Kiev, Ivanov said.

He then came into contact with high-profile Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky, who later supported Litvinenko during their joint exile in London, the minister said.