Kremlin critic says Britain has granted her asylum

MOSCOW Wed Apr 2, 2008 2:39am BST

Yelena Tregubova, a Russian journalist and author of the book ''Tales of a Kremlin Digger'', is seen in Moscow, February 2, 2004. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Yelena Tregubova, a Russian journalist and author of the book ''Tales of a Kremlin Digger'', is seen in Moscow, February 2, 2004.

Credit: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Britain has granted political asylum to a journalist who fled Russia saying her life was in danger because of her criticism of the Kremlin, she told Reuters.

The decision to grant asylum to Yelena Tregubova could irritate Moscow, which is already locked in a row with the government over the 2006 murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London.

The Home Office declined to confirm if Tregubova had been granted asylum, saying the government did not comment on individual cases.

Tregubova said by telephone from London that she had received a letter from the Home Office informing her that her application for political asylum had been approved.

"This is an immense relief," said 34-year-old Tregubova. "This is a very big, a very bold step (by the British government)."

She said she had applied for asylum "based on certain threats which led me to believe that it would be dangerous for me to return home ... It is directly linked to my professional activities. I am 100 percent convinced of that."

Tregubova reported on the Kremlin for the leading Russian newspaper Kommersant.

She published a book called "Tales of a Kremlin Digger" which disclosed details of private conversations with senior politicians, including a dinner with Vladimir Putin before he became Russian president.

An explosion caused minor damage outside the door of her Moscow apartment in 2004. She said the blast was an attempt to kill her. Kremlin officials say Tregubova's writing is not taken seriously by Putin's administration.

Diplomatic relations between London and Moscow sank to a post-Cold War low after Moscow refused to extradite the former KGB agent whom Britain wants to try for the poisoning murder of Litvinenko in 2006.

Both countries expelled diplomats over the row and Russia this year forced the government's cultural arm, the British Council, to close two regional offices.

Tregubova is the latest in a line of emigre Kremlin critics given asylum in Britain, angering the Russian government which has accused London of providing a safe haven for criminals and people who threaten its national security.

(Reporting by Christian Lowe and Richard Balmforth; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Giles Elgood)