The lifeless body of Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky was found by a member of staff at his sprawling Berkshire mansion, inside a bathroom which had been locked from the inside, police said last night.
Officers investigating the death of the Russian businessman and political powerbroker at his home in Ascot said they were “retaining an open mind” about how he died, but added that the crime scene showed “no signs of third-party involvement”.
A handheld device which tests for background radiation – carried by one of the paramedics who were called to his mansion near Wentworth Park golf club – sounded on exiting the property. As a result, specialist chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear officers were called in to inspect the house for hazardous substances – but they found nothing and gave police the all clear to enter.
Thames Valley Police said that one of Mr Berezovsky’s employees claims to have found their employer on the floor of his bathroom at 3pm on Saturday, after becoming concerned over his whereabouts having not seen him since 10.30pm the previous evening.
The person, understood to be his bodyguard, forced his way through the door, which was locked from the inside.
According to unconfirmed press reports today the oligarch left no suicide note.
A very public enemy of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, the tycoon was also facing severe financial and personal problems. Having led an unimaginably extravagant lifestyle in his 67 years, it is unsurprising that foul play, suicide and natural causes have all been cited as potential causes for his death. Police have not revealed what state Mr Berezovsky’s body was in. A post-mortem examination is unlikely to take place until today at the earliest.
Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov elaborated on a letter supposedly written by Mr Berezovsky to the Russian President a few months ago, in which he is said to have asked for forgiveness for his mistakes and permission to return to Russia. “The letter was addressed to Putin personally, and I don’t know if he will want to make the full text public,” said Mr Peskov. He also said that if a request was made, the Kremlin would consider allowing Mr Berezovsky’s funeral to take place in Russia. “It’s true that he always wanted to go back to Russia, but I don’t believe he wrote to Putin, this sounds like something made up by Putin’s people,” said Evgeny Chichvarkin, a Russian businessman who fled to London in 2009 after criminal charges were launched against him in Russia.
Mr Berezovsky was the standout figure of Russian politics in the wild east days of the mid 1990s, but he fell out spectacularly with Mr Putin in 2000 in an argument almost entirely of his own engineering, and came to Britain in self-exile. Last year he lost a $6.6bn (£4.5bn) court battle against his one-time business associate, Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, on which his financial future was all but dependent.
Most damning of all the words spoken during the case were those of the judge, Mrs Justice Gloster, who described him in her verdict as an “inherently unreliable witness” and “someone who regarded truth as a transitory concept, that could be moulded to fit his current purposes”. According to friends he had been feeling down ever since, failing to make social engagements from which he once took immense pleasure. But many disputed he was the type to take his own life. “When I spoke to him he wasn’t in a good mood, he has been down ever since the court case. But it wasn’t such a bad mood to induce suicide,” said Mr Chichvarkin.
Yuri Felshtinsky, a historian and author who had known Mr Berezovsky since 1998, added: “We do not have facts yet, but we must bear in mind that there have been several questionable deaths of Russian émigrés in the UK. Badri Patarkatsishvili, Boris Berezovsky’s business partner, died in February 2008 [in Surrey] and until yesterday everybody including me thought that was a death by natural causes, but now I’m not so sure.”
Last night it was reported that the widow of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in London in 2006, said Mr Berezovsky had “many enemies” and that it was “not likely” he had committed suicide.
An interview given by Mr Berezovsky on the eve of his death, in which he spoke of his profound depression and his desire to return to Russia, has also emerged. The conversation, with a journalist from the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, was supposed to be an off-the-record chat, but the journalist said, given Mr Berezovsky’s death, he felt compelled to publish it. “I don’t want anything more than to be able to return to Russia,” the tycoon says. “I never quite realised how important Russia is to me, and that I’m incapable of being an emigrant.”
When asked whether he would have been prepared to go to jail in Russia, like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, another oligarch who fell out with Mr Putin, Mr Berezovsky said: “I don’t have an answer to that question. Khodorkovsky managed to stay true to himself though.”
The journalist noted Mr Berezovsky looked deeply confused and anxious throughout the interview. “I don’t know what I should do,” said the former oligarch. “I’m 67. And I don’t know what I should do next.”