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Berezovsky Latest in String of Russian Emigre Deaths in UK

  • Selah Hennessy

FILE - Self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky leaves the High Court in London, March 10, 2010.

FILE - Self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky leaves the High Court in London, March 10, 2010.

British police say the death of a Russian tycoon outside of London on Saturday is "consistent with hanging" but that there is nothing to suggest a struggle preceded it. They say no "third party" appears to have been involved. Boris Berezovsky's death follows a string of exiled Russians who have died in Britain.

Having played a major role in helping Vladimir Putin rise to power, Berezovsky came to Britain in 2000 after falling out with the Russian leader. In the ensuing years, he was an ardent critic of the Kremlin.

Berezovsky's body was found on Saturday afternoon by an employee, locked inside the bathroom of his home in Ascot, just outside of London.

More tests are yet to be carried out on the body, including toxicology and histology examinations, and police say the investigation at Berezovsky's home will continue for several days.

So far, the police report is consistent with initial suggestions that Berezovsky committed suicide.

Friends and observers paint a picture of a once vibrant man who had become downcast, having lost much of the power and prestige he won after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Alexander Nekrasov, a former Kremlin advisor, says Berezovsky had become a broken man.

"He was under great stress, under great strain," said Nekrasov. "His financial affairs were in total disarray."

In 1997, Forbes magazine estimated Berezovsky's wealth at $3 billion. He once had control of various Russian assets, including the country's main television channel, Channel One.

But after falling out with Putin, Berezovsky fled to Britain, where he was granted political asylum in 2003. His television assets and other holdings in Russia were seized.

In recent years he is believed to have been struggling financially. He lost more than $150 million in a 2011 divorce settlement and then had to pay legal fees worth tens of million of dollars after losing a $4.7 billion dollar damages claim against fellow Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, a former protege.

"He had enormous debts," said Alexander Nekrasov. "He did not really know how to raise money to repay them and I think he was thinking of leaving Britain for good."

But some of Berezovsky's friends believe the tycoon may not have taken his own life.

Nikolai Glushkov, a close friend of Berezovsky and a fellow Russian exile, has said he will "never believe" that his friend died naturally.

Berezovsky is not the first man from the former Soviet bloc to die in unclear circumstances in Britain in recent years.

Last year, Alexander Perepilichny, a whisteblower who exposed tax fraud and money laundering by Russian officials, died while jogging - his death is still unexplained.

Berezovsky's former business partner, the native Georgian Badri Patarkatsishvili, died suddenly in 2008. A post-mortem concluded he died of a heart attack, but some of Berezovsky's associates suggested foul play.

Most high-profile has been the death of Alexander Litvinenko, who died from radiation poisoning in 2006 after his tea was laced with polonium-201.

James Nixey from the London-based research group Chatham House says the deaths require thorough investigations.

"In the case of Russian exiles who are wanted by the Russian state, who the U.K. courts believe would not get a fair trial in Russia, who believes their lives would be in danger in Russia, requires in a way extra special attention, extra special care," said Nixey.

But he says it would be inappropriate to suggest that any state has been involved without more information.

"There is no evidential link between Berezovsky's death and Mr. Perepilichny, Mr. Patarkatsishvili, or even Mr. Litvineko," he said. "The fact of the matter is, as far as we can tell, this is a death by natural causes in that he [Berezovsky] took his own life."

British police carried out radioactive and chemical tests at Berezovsky's home on Sunday and found no substantial amount of radiation.