Boris Berezovsky: Businessman who profited from communism's fall but made an enemy of Putin


Boris Berezovsky was one of the original group of seven oligarchs, the powerful Russian businessmen who had built up considerable financial and political power in the period following the collapse of communism. But Berezovsky had gone from being a friend of President Vladimir Putin to his avowed foe within a few years. Fearing arrest, or worse, in his native country, he had spent the last decade in exile in the UK, from where he continued to criticise the regime.

Berezovsky was born in Moscow in 1946, the son of a civil engineer and a nurse. He read mathematics at Moscow University and gained his doctorate in 1983, with a thesis on the theory of optimising and decision-making. He went on to become a professor at the Research Institute of Control Sciences, where he headed the laboratory of software system design.

In 1989, following perestroika, he founded the company LogoVAZ. The company benefited from the new economic liberalisation by buying cars intended for export then reselling them within the country, making a significant profit in the process. Within a few years he had stakes in the television channel ORT, the newspaper Kommersant and the state airline Aeroflot.

He survived a first assassination attempt in 1994, apparently planned by the Russian mafia, in which his car was blown up as he left his office. His chauffeur was decapitated but Berezovsky escaped unscathed. A further attack was planned in 2007 but was thwarted by British security services.

His political masterstroke in the mid-1990s was to befriend the couple of Valentin Yumashev, Boris Yeltsin's chief of staff, and his wife Tatyana Dyachenko – Yeltsin's daughter – giving him access to core of the Kremlin's decision-making machine as an advisor. Berezovsky's already significant wealth allowed him to help fund Boris Yeltsin's election campaign in 1996 and three years later he became an MP in the Duma, representing the Karachayevo-Cherkesiya region.

Defending the political involvement of the oligarchs, he told the Washington Post in 2000 “ is acceptable – indeed, necessary – to interfere directly in the political process” – in order, he said, to “protect democracy”. Putin, whom Berezovsky had previously backed, disagreed and sought to rein in their burgeoning power. Sergei Markov, a supporter of Putin, described Berezovsky as “a modern-day Rasputin, secretively manipulating the president and his entourage.”

Following Putin's election as president, the situation became so difficult for Berezovsky that he took the decision to move abroad. In December 2001 he and his colleague Alexander Goldfarb established the International Foundation for Civil Liberties (IFCL) in New York. The organisation's stated aims are “to provide financial, legal, informational and logistical resources to secure human rights and civil liberties in Russia.”

In March 2003 he was arrested by British police on Russian charges which alleged that “between Jan. 1, 1994, and Dec. 31, 1995, they defrauded the administration of the Samara region of 60 billion rubles whilst being directors of LogoVAZ.” Berezovsky and his lawyer Andrew Stephenson fought off the extradition request, ensuring that he was able to remain in the UK, and in September he was granted political asylum. He was subsequently convicted by the Russian courts in absentia for alleged embezzlement of £4.3m from the airline Aeroflot. He said of the proceedings, “This was not a trial but pure farce.”

He and four other critics of the Kremlin took out full-page advertisements in British and US newspapers, sponsored by the IFCL. The adverts, entitled “Seven Questions to President George Bush about his friend President Vladimir Putin”, alleged that the Russian leader had committed war crimes and genocide in Chechnya, employed nepotism in his placement of former KGB allies within government and created an atmosphere of fear in the country.

During November 2006 Berezovsky's friend, Alexander Litvinenko, a journalist and former KGB agent, became ill and died three weeks later. The post-mortem and subsequent investigations showed that he had been poisoned with the radioactive element polonium-210, which had been put into his tea.

Last year Berezovsky took on the Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich in what became known as the “Battle of the Oligarchs”. Berezovsky claimed that Abramovich had “intimidated” him into selling shares in the oil company Sibneft for a fraction of their value and sued for £3 billion in damages.

He had been sure of winning, stating on the morning of the verdict last August: “I'm confident. I believe in the system”. However Mrs Justice Gloster completely rejected his suit, commenting in her summing up: “On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes.”

Asked outside the courtroom for his reaction, he said “I'm absolutely amazed what happened today. I'm surprised completely ... Sometimes I had the impression Putin himself wrote this judgment.” Berezovsky was left with a bill for an estimated £35m in legal costs.

There was more bad news from British courts in December last year when he had £200 million of his assets frozen when his former partner Elena Gorbunova launched a legal action to reclaim millions of pounds she said she had been promised by Berezovsky. In 2011 he had already paid out several hundred million pounds to his ex-wife Galina Besharova.

There had been reports that Berezovsky had been seeking peace with Putin and wanted to return home. But Sasha Nerozina, a family friend, told The Independent “He did want to go back to Russia ... To me he was very much full of life.” Berezovsky's body was found by an ambulance crew at his home in Ascot. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.

Boris Berezovsky, businessman: born Moscow 23 January 1946; married 1970 Nina Korotkova (divorced 1991, two children), 1991 Galina Besharova (divorced 2010, two children); partner to Elena Gorbunova (two children); died Ascot 23 March 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all