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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy