Exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky found dead in his Berkshire home at 67

Police investigate death in Britain of exiled Russian tycoon who had made a powerful enemy in Vladimir Putin

Boris Berezovsky, the Russian tycoon and former Kremlin insider who became one of President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critics, died at his Berkshire home yesterday. Initial reports said he died in his bath, and several sources claimed he had been depressed. Other accounts said he had recently suffered heart attacks. Thames Valley Police are now investigating.

There was immediate speculation in Moscow and elsewhere that he had committed suicide, but, until a thorough investigation is completed, and possibly thereafter, doubts will surround both the cause of death and his complex legacy. Berezovsky, 67, who had been granted asylum in Britain, was a man not without enemies, up to and including powerful elements in his home country. Nor, according to some quarters, was he short of financial concerns.

Last year, he lost his £3bn claim against fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich, in which he accused the Chelsea Football Club owner of blackmail, breach of trust and breach of contract. He said the billionaire Russian businessman had "intimidated" him into selling shares in a Russian oil company at a fraction of their value and broken a promise made during a deal relating to a Russian aluminium company. Mr Abramovich said the claims had "no merit".

Mrs Justice Gloster ruled in Mr Abramovich's favour in August following a trial in London at which both men gave evidence. The judge described Berezovsky as an "unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness", but said she found Mr Abramovich to be a "truthful, and on the whole reliable, witness".

In October, the judge was told by lawyers that Berezovsky had agreed to pay £35m towards Mr Abramovich's legal costs in the wake of her ruling. She was given no detail of the amount of costs run up by Berezovsky, but The Lawyer legal magazine said the case was thought to have generated "total fees" of more than £100m.

Two months ago, Elena Gorbunova, his former girlfriend and the mother of his two children, who claims he owed her millions of pounds, tried to have £200m of Berezovsky's assets frozen. In making that case public, something Berezovsky fought against, the judge said: "On the evidence, Mr Berezovsky is a man under financial pressure. It is likely he will feel a more pressing need to satisfy creditors than satisfy Ms Gorbunova. There is a risk (which, if the evidence is correct, is a serious risk) that he would apply property promised to Ms Gorbunova for other purposes." Berezovsky's costs relating to this case are said to have so far reached £250,000. Last Wednesday, he sold Red Lenin, an Andy Warhol screen print, for £133,875, including the buyer's premium, at Christie's.

Berezovsky was a former mathematician who prospered mightily in the 1990s, initially by importing Mercedes cars into Russia. His fortunes rose to the point where he had control of the Sibneft oil company and Channel One, a leading Russian television station. He was then a member of Boris Yeltsin's inner circle, and widely thought to be Mr Putin's kingmaker, persuading the declining Yeltsin to make the young ex-KGB officer prime minister, and so, in due course, acting president.

But his fall from grace in Moscow was swift, leading to his conviction in absentia of "economic crimes". He was still, at the time of his death, a wanted man in his home country. He had survived several assassination attempts, including one in which a bomb decapitated his chauffeur.

President Putin's spokesman claimed last night that Berezovsky had recently written to him asking for forgiveness and for permission to return to Russia. If true, it would certainly back those, including his son-in-law, who said that he had recently been depressed and had failed to keep in touch with friends.

Aleksandr Dobrovinksy, the head of the Moscow-based law firm Alexander Dobrovinsky & Partners, was earlier reported to have written in Russian on a social media page: "Just got a call from London. Boris Berezovsky has committed suicide." He later told Russian television that his client lately had been in "a horrible, terrible" emotional state. "All he had was debts," Dobrovinsky said. "He was practically destroyed. He was selling his paintings and other things."

Damian Kudriavtsev, the former CEO of Kommersant Publishing House, also commented on the businessman's death, saying he passed away at 11:00 GMT in London. On his Twitter account, according to Russian media, Mr Kudriavtsev said there were no signs of a violent death. Among those suggesting otherwise was an anonymous editor on Wikipedia. Less than half an hour after Berezovsky's death was reported, his entry had been amended to include a claim that he had been assassinated.

Such was Berezovsky's position, and so sticky the ends of a few who have seriously crossed the Kremlin, that speculation is bound to pursue his memory, regardless of how he actually died.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: General Manager

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of global logisti...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager - £70,000 OTE

£35000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Manager (Vice President...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Marketing Executive i...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable