New Zealand police probe ex-spy's Russia poison claims

Wellington (AFP) - New Zealand police on Thursday said they were investigating a former Russian double agent's claims that an unknown assailant tried to poison him on an Auckland street in 2006.

Boris Karpichkov recounted the incident on British television this week in the wake of the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter that has caused a diplomatic crisis between London and Moscow.

Karpichkov was trying to keep a low profile in New Zealand at the time after defecting to Britain following a falling out with his Russian paymasters.

He said he had spotted people following him then a beggar approached him on Queen Street, one of Auckland's main thoroughfares.

"Next what I felt was kind of dust thrown into my face. Then (the) beggar just walked away," he told Good Morning Britain.

Karpichkov said his head soon started spinning and that evening he developed a rash, suffering long-term ill health that saw him lose 30 kilograms (66 pounds) over the next two months.

New Zealand police said they were examining the claims by Karpichkov, who played Russian and Lithuanian intelligence services against one another before fleeing to Britain in the late 1990s.

"Police are aware that Mr Karpichkov was in New Zealand between June 2006 and October 2007. We are currently examining our files to assess what information we may hold about Mr Karpichkov," they said.

"Given the historic nature of this matter it is likely to take some time to complete this assessment."

Karpichkov also claimed on the programme that he was warned ahead of the Skripal attack that they were both on an eight-man hitlist being targeted by Russia's secret service.

Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, were poisoned in Salisbury last week with a nerve agent identified as a Soviet-designed chemical, Novichok.

Britain has described Moscow as "culpable" for the attack, expelling 23 diplomats and suspending high-level contacts in retaliation.