x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky found dead in UK mansion 'saw no point in living'

The oligarch - once seen as a kingmaker in Moscow – was 'demoralised' and 'almost living in poverty' before he was found dead. Omar Karmi reports from London.

Police seal off the front gates of the Sunningdale home of Boris Berezovsky after he was found dead. Matthew Lloyd / Getty Images
Police seal off the front gates of the Sunningdale home of Boris Berezovsky after he was found dead. Matthew Lloyd / Getty Images

LONDON // The home of Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian tycoon once seen as a kingmaker in Moscow who was found dead on Saturday, was cleared yesterday after a search by police.

Chemical and radiation experts found no hazardous materials in their search of the property where Berezovsky's body was found and police are treating the death as unexplained.

Russian media reports suggested the 67-year-old former oligarch, who had lived in a mansion outside London since 2000, had killed himself.

But the man once known as the "Godfather of the Kremlin" had been the subject of assassination attempts before and an associate, former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, was killed by polonium poisoning in London in 2006.

Berezovsky's death comes just months after he lost a devastating court case to fellow Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich. He had accused Mr Abramovich, a former protégé, of blackmail, breach of trust and breach of contract in relation to a Russian oil company.

Berezovsky sought £3 billion (Dh16.8bn) in damages but a judge on the London High Court described Mr Berezovsky as an "inherently unreliable" and "deluded" witness, who treated truth as a "transitory, flexible" concept.

The verdict and the legal costs, which fell to Berezovsky and are believed to have totalled some £100 million, was said to have hit him hard.

Recently alleged to owe a former mistress £5m, and still reeling from a number of other court cases as well as a costly divorce, one friend told Britain's Sky News Mr Berezovsky was "demoralised". Alexander Dobrovinsky, Berezovsky's lawyer, told the Russia 24 channel that the oligarch was in a "very poor state".

"He lost this court case in London, he borrowed a lot of money, he was selling paintings and was almost living in poverty at the end of his life. I think he just could not take it, " Mr Dobrovinsky said.

RT, another Russian TV channel, reported that Berezovsky had told an interviewer from Forbes in off-the-record remarks shortly before he died that he "saw no point in living".

A fierce critic of Vladimir Putin's Kremlin, Berezovsky remained politically active in exile. He funded political projects and opposition media critical of the Russian president with whom he fell out after helping him to power in the 1990s.

He was the most vocal of the oligarchs who rose to prominence with the sell-off of Russia's state industries in largely rigged auctions after the fall of the Soviet Union. A trained mathematician who was born to an engineer in 1946, his business interests included car dealing and banking.

But it was after taking control of the state-owned ORT television channel in 1994 that Berezovsky's political influence peaked. Once seen as the power behind Boris Yeltsin's throne, he rallied behind Mr Putin when Yeltsin's grip on power weakened, using ORT to rubbish political rivals.

The two fell out after a money-laundering scandal involving the Russian airline Aeroflot in the late 1990s, however, and Berezovsky left Russia, the subject of an extradition order until he died. He had been on Russia's most-wanted list since 2002 and was sentenced in absentia for embezzling £1.3bn from two major state companies.

The Russian Interfax news agency reported yesterday that he had recently sought to mend bridges with the Russian president. Dmitry Peskov, a presidential spokesman, told Interfax that Berezovsky had been in contact to ask Mr Putin for forgiveness.

"Some time ago, maybe a couple of months, Berezovsky addressed Putin in a letter, written by him personally, in which he admitted he made a lot of mistakes and was asking for forgiveness and to help him to return to the motherland," Mr Peskov said. He did not indicate any response from Mr Putin.

That would have been a remarkable late turnaround for Berezovsky, and the murky machinations of post-Communist Russian politics are unlikely to allow matters to rest there. Money, power and death have followed Berezovsky and those he associated with across the world.

Litvinenko, over whose murder Berezovsky and the Kremlin traded accusations, was not the only Berezovsky foil to meet an untimely and high-profile death.

American journalist Paul Khlebnikov, who nicknamed Berezovsky the "Godfather of the Kremlin" in a book of that name and who had been the subject of a lawsuit by the oligarch, was found murdered in Moscow in 2004.

In 2008, Badri Patarkatsishvili, a former business associate, died under still unexplained circumstances in his home in England.

In 2007, Berezovsky said British police had warned him to leave the country for his own safety after, he said, uncovering an assassination plot against him.

The outsized manner of Berezovsky's life means his death is likely to provide fuel to conspiracy theorists everywhere regardless of the outcome of the British police investigation.

okarmi@thenational.ae

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