Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy wanted to make peace with the group of officials he had accused of being behind a Swiss money laundering scheme in the run up to his death, a Moscow based lawyer claimed today.
Andrei Pavlov told Kommersant newspaper that he had met with the 44-year-old businessman twice in the last year and said that he appeared “stressed” but wanted a rapprochement with the people he had fled from two years earlier.
Mr Perepilichnyy was found dead outside his home in Weybridge, Surrey, two weeks ago. The results of his first post mortem proved inconclusive but police are running further tests including toxicology.
This week The Independent revealed that he had been helping Swiss prosecutors investigate a series of Credit Suisse bank accounts thought to have been used by Moscow tax officials and their families who became incredibly wealthy in the immediate aftermath of a tax fraud they signed off on.
The fraud was originally uncovered in 2008 by Sergei Magntisky, a lawyer who had been hired by the British investment fund Hermitage Capital Management. Mr Magnitsky named a string of Russian interior ministry officials and underworld figures as being behind the scam.
Instead of investigating his leads, Russian police arrested him and handed him over to the very people he had accused. He died in prison nine months later in a case that has become a domestic scandal for Russia and a major source of international embarrassment.
One of Mr Perepilichny’s acquaintances told Kommersant today that the Russian businessman had been involved in offering semi-legal banking services. “He was given money, he put it into shares and eventually legalised it,” the paper’s source was quoted as saying.
The source added that Mr Perepilichny had businessmen and corrupt Russian officials as his clients, and was handling hundreds of millions of dollars. However, during the financial crisis, he lost a huge amount of money and begun receiving threats from those whom he owed, deciding to flee to London in January 2010.
In London, he is believed to have passed documents to Hermitage Capital implicating a number of officials in the expropriation of $230m from the Russian state budget, notably tax official Olga Stepanova and her husband Vladlen Stepanov. Mr Stepanov has claimed previously that Mr Perepilichny was a business partner who had managed his finances and caused him losses, with investments in Dubai that dropped in value during the financial crisis.
Later, Mr Perepilichny wanted to patch things up with Mr Stepanov, according to Mr Pavlov, a lawyer whom Hermitage Capital have named as another of the key figures involved in the disappearance of the money that Mr Magnitsky was tracking, and who apparently met Mr Perepilichny twice last year. “He wanted to make peace with Stepanov,” the lawyer told Kommersant.
Mr Pavlov says Mr Perepilichny was worried about his security, and he advised him to deal with Mr Stepanov directly. Subsequently Mr Stepanov and Mr Perepilichny “apparently came to an agreement on everything,” according to Mr Pavlov.
The new details came as Russia’s prosecutor office officially forwarded their own criminal case against William Browder, the CEO and co-founder of Hermitage, and Mr Magnitsky. The move is part of an extraordinary posthumous prosecution of the man who brought Russia’s largest declared tax fraud to light and the British businessman who has spent years campaigning against the Russian government following the death of his lawyer.
Hermitage denies the charges against both Browder and Magnitsky and says they are politically motivated.