Boris Berezovsky inquest: Exiled Russian oligarch 'was suicidal' after losing legal battle with Roman Abramovich

Oligarch said he was 'the poorest man in the world'

Crime Correspondent

The exiled Russian tycoon and political fixer, Boris Berezovsky, was plunged into deep depression and talked openly about killing himself after losing a high-profile £3.7 billion legal battle with his business rival Roman Abramovich, an inquest heard yesterday.

Mr Berezovsky – once said to be worth £1.8 billion before he fled from Russia in 2000 – was forced to settle a litany of legal disputes on unfavourable terms after a judge made a scathing assessment of his honesty in a damning ruling at the end of the so-called Battle of the Oligarchs in 2012.

The life of the one-time king maker in his native Russia unravelled dramatically in the final months of his life with colleagues saying that he was depressed at the loss of his reputation and felt that he was “not in the game any more” after a series of business and personal setbacks.

Mr Berezovsky, who was found dead at his ex-wife’s home with a ligature around his neck in March last year, was involved in a major financial dispute with another former partner and had been spending more time with his bodyguard than any member of his family, the inquest at Windsor was told yesterday.

The court case was a stunning low for a man who exploited his position within Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle to buy state assets at knockdown prices in the chaotic post-Soviet period in the 1990s.

He helped promote Vladimir Putin’s rise to the presidency before the pair fell out and the businessman became a vociferous critic of the regime from abroad. Mr Berezovsky, 67, told doctors that he had been mentally damaged and everything had collapsed after the court defeat.

Berezovksy lost a court case with Roman Abramovich last year Berezovksy lost a court case with Roman Abramovich last year The inquest heard that Mr Berezovsky had been the subject of two assassination attempts but told a psychiatrist that he had been so “destroyed” by the case against Mr Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, that he no longer felt at risk of attack, the inquest heard.

Mr Berezovsky had claimed that Mr Abramovich cheated him out of his stakes in the oil group Sibneft, arguing that he blackmailed him into selling the stakes vastly beneath their true worth after he fell out of favour with Mr Putin. The judge threw out the case in August 2012, ruling that Berezovsky was a dishonest and unreliable witness, leaving him with legal bills of at least £35 million.

He went abroad to Israel after the loss of his case, but was encouraged back to Britain by his ex-wife Galina and he stayed at her home in Titness Park in Ascot, Berkshire.

But his trappings of wealth had been scaled back: his 24-hour security team and dedicated drivers became one former special forces serviceman whose jobs included being butler and cook. The bodyguard was told that he might lose his job at the end of the month because of the financial crisis, the inquest heard.

“He told me he was not a billionaire, he was the poorest man in the world,” said the bodyguard, Avi Navama. Mr Berezovsky went on anti-depressants and took to spending hours in his room. He told Dr Saeed Islam, a consultant psychiatrist at the Priory clinic, that he could not see a way out of his troubles with eight on-going legal cases against him. “He had a very clear view that his enemies abroad will not leave him alone,” the psychiatrist told the inquest.

But he said that Mr Berezovsky was not considering suicide and cited his religious faith, the effect on his family and that he had been “too afraid” to act on his feelings.

Mr Navama, however, said that the oligarch spoke with many people about his plans to kill himself. He once held up a steak knife and asked where he should cut, said Mr Navama. He talked about it so often to himself and others that people ended up not taking him seriously, the bodyguard said.

Mr Navama kicked down the door and found the body on 23 March last year in the ensuite bathroom of the house. The businessman was found on his back with a black pashmina ligature around his neck with fragments on a shower rail. One mark found in the bathroom had not been identified despite inquiries through Interpol and the FBI.

The tycoon was closely linked to ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, another Kremlin critic, who died after ingesting polonium in his tea at a London hotel in 2006. The inquest heard that a radiation meter carried by the first paramedic on the scene was set off sparking a major alert – but police now believe that the alarm was caused by a fault with the battery and believe he took his own life.

The inquest heard that Mr Berezovsky had been the subject of two assassination attempts including a bomb on his car in Russia in 2004 that killed his driver in an attack linked to the Russian mafia, the inquest heard. His personal assistant, Michael Cotlick, told the inquest that Scotland Yard had warned the tycoon in 2007 that he should go abroad because of intelligence of a planned hit.

Mr Cotlick said that he did not believe the businessman was a target for assassination at the time of his death as he was more useful alive as a scapegoat for everything that went wrong in Russia.

He said that he took the court defeat against Mr Abramovich very personally but said he was not broke. He said in their final conversation, he told Mr Berezovsky that he could rebuild his finances with a year of hard work to become a well-off man, albeit not a billionaire. “I don’t know whether he believed it. But what I’m sure of is the prospect of hard work for a year he didn’t like,” Mr Cotlick said.

He said that the oligarch’s mental health deteriorated when he became embroiled in a financial dispute with his former partner of 22 years, and mother of two of his children, Yelena Gorbunova. The dispute was behind several attempts to change his will, which happened nine days before he died, the court heard.

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
film

News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is reported to be in final negotiations to play Doctor Strange for Marvel although the casting has not yet been confirmed
film
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Life and Style
fashion

World Beard and Moustache Championships held last week

News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Copycat culture: the Chateau Zhang Laffitte in China, top, and the building which inspired it, in Paris, bottom
architectureReplicas of Western landmarks are springing up in unlikely places
Sport
Rolando Aarons watches as his effort finds the corner of the Manchester City goal to give Newcastle the lead
footballManchester City 0 Newcastle 2: Holders crash out on home turf
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain