'Russian spy poisoned me' says former double agent Gordievsky

AN ALLEGED attempt to kill a former Russian spy who defected to Britain was being investigated by police last night.

Oleg Gordievsky was admitted to a hospital in Guildford after falling ill in November last year. And yesterday he claimed he had been poisoned with the highly toxic metal thallium in a botched assassination attempt.

Gordievsky, a KGB double agent who spied on Russia for British intelligence during the 1980s, claims he was targeted by a Russian assassin who visited him at his safe house in Surrey.

The 69-year-old was unconscious for 34 hours after falling ill last year and spent a two weeks recuperating in a private clinic reportedly paid for by his former bosses in MI6.

Mr Gordievsky, who was initially left partially paralysed by the alleged attack and still has no feeling in his fingers, was reported as saying: "I've known for some time that I am on the assassination list drawn up by rogue elements in Moscow.

"They murdered my friend Alexander Litvinenko. I have no doubt my sudden illness last November was a similar attempt on my life.

"The targets for assassination are well known. First Boris Berezovsky (the multi-millionaire oligarch living in exile in the UK], next the prime minister of Chechnya, then Litvinenko and then I was fourth. Now I remain third."

And Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was an outspoken critic of the war in Chechnya, was found shot dead in Moscow in October 2006.

Forensic tests have so far failed to identify the poison or any other suspicious substance that could have been responsible for the former spy's illness.

But Mr Gordievsky, who was the KGB station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, claims his attackers would have used a variant or derivative of thallium.

He continued: "It was obvious to me I had been poisoned. KGB poisoning is based on the poison being undetectable.

"All my fingers were paralysed. I have no doubt it was poison that affected my fingers."

Mr Gordievsky claims that an investigation into his claims was initially dropped by the government's intelligence services and was only reopened thanks to the intervention of former MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller.

Mr Gordievsky, who became the highest-ranking Soviet spy to defect to the West, escaped to Britain in 1985.

The double agent was MI5's greatest asset between 1982 and 1985, when he passed information to British security while serving as KGB bureau chief in London, running Soviet intelligence-gathering and espionage in the UK.

His cover was blown – possibly by US double agent Aldrich Ames – and he was called back to Moscow and kept under close surveillance.

A police spokeswoman said: "Surrey Police was called to an address in Surrey on 2 November, 2007, at around 11:30am following concerns for the safety of a man. The man, who was 69 at the time, was taken by ambulance to the Royal Surrey County Hospital for treatment.

"Surrey Police is continuing to investigate allegations made by this man and it would not be appropriate to comment further until our investigation is complete."

It is understood Mr Gordievsky told police that he thought one of his long-term friends, a former Russian military intelligence officer, could be responsible for administering the poison.

Last October, Mr Gordievsky was honoured by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in recognition of his services to UK security.

He was made a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) – the same accolade held by fictional super-spy James Bond.

LETHAL POISON OF CHOICE FOR assassins

ORIGINALLY developed to kill rats, thallium quickly established itself as the poison of choice for secret agents during the Cold War.

Colourless, odourless and tasteless – thallium has a long association with murder plots.

Thallium and its compounds dissolve in water and are readily absorbed through the skin.

Hair loss and irreparable damage to the nervous system are among its side-effects, and only a gram of the poison is enough to kill.

If a person survives, heart problems and skin rashes can continue for up to two months.

The poison has been linked to the deaths of those critical of the Russian government.

The journalist Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead on a Moscow street in 2006, was also reportedly a victim of thallium poisoning.