Fake death theory in case of missing millionaire

Shaun Walker
Wednesday 26 March 2008 01:00 GMT

Latvian police are investigating the possibility that a millionaire backer of a free London newspaper, who mysteriously disappeared from his villa in Latvia a week ago, may have faked his own death.

Leonid Rozhetskin, a Russian-born American citizen, vanished from his £1m mansion in the Latvian resort of Jurmala on 16 March. Latvian police are investigating several theories, including murder, kidnapping, and that Mr Rozhetskin faked his own disappearance. They have also applied to Interpol to put out a global search warrant for the missing businessman.

According to local reports, Mr Rozhetskin flew into Latvia on 15 March on his private plane, after spending several days in London at the Dorchester hotel. His plane, apparently without crew or passengers, left Latvia for Zurich on 17 March.

At 2.30am on 16 March a taxi was called to Mr Rozhetskin's house. It picked up two young men, dropping them off a few miles away. The taxi driver told the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta: "I don't know where they went afterwards, but I dropped them off near the gay club XXL. When I left, Rozhetskin's car was parked outside the house, so I guess he was still at home."

A Latvian news agency said that when Mr Rozhetskin's housekeeper arrived on 17 March she found no one at home and the property in disarray, with sofas and bookshelves overturned. Traces of blood were found in the house and in Mr Rozhetskin's car, which police are currently subjecting to forensic tests.

"It's a complete mystery," said Derk Sauer, the head of one of Russia's leading publishing houses and, along with Mr Rozhetskin, a shareholder in the free London business daily City AM. "I last spoke to him a week before his disappearance and he sounded very relaxed."

Mr Rozhetskin was born in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, in 1966 and emigrated to the US in 1980. He studied at Harvard Law School and returned to Russia in the early 1990s, co-founding the investment bank Renaissance Capital and becoming vice-chairman of the mining company Norilsk Nickel. Russian prosecutors placed him on an international wanted list two years ago in connection with an alleged £20m fraud linked to a blocking stake he sold in the mobile phone operator Megafon in 2003.

Last year, he teamed up with Eric Eisner, the son of the former Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner, to found a film production company in Hollywood, L+E Productions.

If Mr Rozhetskin has been murdered, it would be the third contract-style killing in Latvia this year. Ella Ivanova, an ethnic Russian and one of the country's richest women, was shot dead outside her house in early January. A few days later, Aigars Lusis, the director of a meat-processing plant that Russian media have linked to Russian criminal organisations, was also shot dead.

But those close to Mr Rozhetskin expressed scepticism that the Russian criminal underworld was involved in his disappearance. "I've read the stories linking this to Russia and I don't find them plausible at all," said Mr Sauer.

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