Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky found dead in Britain

Exiled businessman became one of Putin’s fiercest critics

Sat, Mar 23, 2013, 19:16

Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky has been found dead at his home in Britain.

The businessman, who last year lost a £3 billion (€3.8 billion) High Court fight with Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, was found dead at his home.

A spokesman for his company, Bell Pottinger, said Mr Berezovsky (67) was found at his home in Ascot, Berkshire. “His body was found by his bodyguard,” he said. “No other details are available at this time.”

It was widely reported the former mathematics professor had taken his own life, but that was not officially confirmed.

Police said his death is currently being treated as unexplained and a full inquiry is under way. The area around the property has been cordoned off to allow the investigation to take place, Thames Valley police said.

A Russian lawyer, Alexander Dobrovinsky, said Mr Berezovsky - a former Kremlin insider who became one of President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critics- had killed himself, although there was no confirmation from other sources.

"I received a call from London saying that Berezovsky had committed suicide," he told Russia 24 news channel. "Recently Berezovsky had been in a horrible state, very depressed. He had nothing but debts, he was practically ruined, he was selling his paintings."

A Kremlin insider in the 1990s under Mr Yeltsin, Mr Berezovsky left Russia in 2000 after falling out with Mr Putin, Mr Yeltsin's hand-picked successor.

He acquired his fortune in the 1990s after the privatisation of state assets following the collapse of Soviet Communism. The businessman survived a number of assassination attempts, including a bomb in his car that decapitated his chauffeur.

Mr Berezovsky ran up more than tens of millions of pounds in legal bills in less than two years after the London High Court battle with Mr Abramovich. He was also embroiled in a case at the same court with his former partner, Elena Gorbunova. Ms Gorbunova, who had two children with Mr Berezovsky, was complaining that she had not been given millions promised by him.

Last year, Mrs Justice Gloster dismissed a series of claims by Mr Berezovsky relating to deals done in Russia with Mr Abramovich. In October, the judge was told by lawyers that Berezovsky had agreed to pay £35 million towards Mr Abramovich's legal costs in the wake of her ruling. She was given no detail of the amount of costs run up by Mr Berezovsky. But legal magazine The Lawyer said the case was thought to have generated "total fees" of more than £100 million.

Mr Berezovsky had sued and accused Mr Abramovich of blackmail, breach of trust and breach of contract. He said the billionaire Russian businessman had "intimidated" him into selling shares in Russian oil company Sibneft at a fraction of their value and broken a promise made during a deal relating to a Russian aluminium company. Mr Abramovich said the claims had "no merit".

Mrs Justice Gloster ruled in Mr Abramovich's favour in August. The judge described Mr Berezovsky as an "unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness" but said she found Mr Abramovich to be a "truthful, and on the whole reliable, witness".

Mr Berezovsky settled in Britain more than a decade ago after going into "self-imposed exile" and has already been convicted and jailed in absentia by Russian courts on embezzlement charges. He was at the centre of a group of anti-Putin exiles in London who included Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who died of poisoning by radioactive polonium in November 2006.

Two weeks ago, Andrei Lugovoi, a former FSB agent regarded by Britain as the prime suspect in Litvinenko's murder, accused Mr Berezovsky of being behind the murder.

Mr Berezovsky had recently written to Mr Putin to ask for a pardon and to say that he wanted to return to Russia, Russian news agencies cited Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying today.

Mr Berezovky's death comes as Britain and Russia are trying to mend their relations, which were chilled in the wake of the Litvinenko killing.

His career traced the arc of Russian society from the dawn of free enterprise in the Soviet Union's dying days to the oligarch-dominated 1990s, then the return of state control in the first decade of the new millennium.

Born on January 23rd, 1946, Mr Berezovsky graduated from a Moscow forestry institute then spent nearly two decades as a quiet academic before becoming a car dealer in the late 1980s and a billionaire oligarch by the following decade.

Mr Putin began his presidency in 2000 by warning that the heyday of super-rich powerbrokers like Mr Berezovsky was over. Mr Berezovsky fled into exile that November, just in time to escape arrest on fraud charges.

In London, he became the Kremlin's greatest nemesis, mockingly defying years of attempts to extradite him. He emerged from an extradition hearing in 2003 wearing a Putin mask.

Agencies