However, there were conflicting claims that he may have taken his own life
after suffering from severe depression.

Friends raised the possibility of suicide and said Berezovsky had been
“destroyed” by losing a £3 billion legal action with
his former business partner, Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football
club. Berezovsky had been living in exile in Britain since 2000.

He was given asylum in 2003, which created tensions between London and Moscow.

Once worth as much as £3 billion, he had suffered financial and
personal problems, his friends said.

News of Berezovsky’s death emerged in a posting on Facebook by his son-in-law,
Egor Schuppe. Mr Schuppe simply posted: “Boris Berezovsky is dead.”

Police stand guard at a roadblock near where it is believed Boris
Berezovsky lived (Getty Images)

Berezovsky, an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, had
long feared for his life and had survived repeated assassination attempts —
although none in recent years. He had been due to be a witness at the
inquest next month into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB
spy who was murdered in 2006 after being poisoned by radioactive
polonium-210 in what is believed to have been a Kremlin-sanctioned

The police investigation into Berezvosky’s death is the first of its kind
since the murder of the spy. The scale of the investigation was announced at
1am this morning by police in a reflection of its seriousness.

Mr Putin’s spokesman said the Russian president had been informed of
Berezovsky’s death. The spokesman claimed that in recent weeks the oligarch
had written a letter to Mr Putin “asking for forgiveness” and seeking “help
to return to the motherland”.

Such a move would have been a dramatic change for Berezovsky as he had been
for 13 years an enemy of the Kremlin. In a report which deepened the
mystery, Russia’s Channel One state television claimed that Berezovsky had
suffered several heart attacks in the past week.

Boris Berezovsky with Roman Abramovich in 2000 (AP)

Lord Bell, the PR executive who had acted as Berezovsky’s spokesman and was
also a good friend, told The Sunday Telegraph that he had last seen the
oligarch three weeks ago.

“He was extremely depressed,” said Lord Bell. “He has been very low since the
court ruling against him. He had huge financial problems and personal
problems, too.”

Berezovsky had sued Mr Abramovich over allegations that he had been
intimidated into selling the football club owner shares in Sibneft, the
Russian oil conglomerate. The ensuing legal battle is thought to be the most
expensive of all time, with legal costs as high as £100 million.

In a devastating ruling against him in August last year, Mrs Justice Gloster
had “found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable,
witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could
be moulded to suit his current purposes”.

Yelena Gorbunova and Boris Berezovsky (Reuters)

Lord Bell said yesterday that the ruling had wrecked his reputation and that
he had never recovered. “That judge destroyed his morale. It destroyed his
self-esteem,” he said.

Lord Bell added: “He was an extremely nice man, very kind to me and all the
people around him. I had a huge amount of admiration for him.”

Berezovsky said after the trial: “Sometimes I have the impression that Putin
himself wrote this judgment.”

Lord Bell said his friend, whom he had known for 14 years, had long lived in
fear of his life after making enemies with Mr Putin.

“Russia is a very dangerous place,” said Lord Bell, the founder of Bell
Pottinger, the public relations company.

The alarm over Berezovsky was raised at one of his homes in Ascot by his
bodyguard. His private lawyer told Lord Bell that an ambulance had been
called but that Berezovsky could not be revived.

Boris Berezovsky walks to his car after a press conference in Westminster
in July 2007 (PA)

A South Central Ambulance Service spokesman said: “We were called at 3.18pm by
a caller who was concerned for the welfare of a gentleman at an address in
Ascot. A 67-year-old man was confirmed dead at the scene. The death is
unexplained and is being investigated by Thames Valley Police.”

Berezovsky had been facing a new legal battle brought by his former
girlfriend, with whom he had two children.

Elena Gorbunova had sat at Berezovsky’s side throughout his High Court battle
with Mr Abramovich.

But the couple subsequently split up and in January she had applied to the
court to freeze £200 million of his assets to prevent the sale of
property in Britain and France.

At a preliminary hearing Mr Justice Mann said: “On the evidence, Mr Berezovsky
is a man under financial pressure.”

Berezovsky, a former mathematician who had made his fortune in oil, aviation
and television in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Communism, fled
Russia in 2000 and was put on the country’s official wanted list in 2001 on
charges of fraud and money laundering.

The British Government granted him political asylum in 2003 and he used London
as a base from which to launch critical attacks on Mr Putin and to call for
his overthrow.

Among his circle of exiles was Mr Litvinenko, who lived in a house in north
London which was owned by Berezovsky.

The oligarch had survived several assassination attempts while in Russia,
including a bomb that decapitated his chauffeur. Demyan Kudryavtsev, a
journalist and former associate of Berezovsky, yesterday wrote on Twitter:
“There were no signs of violent death.”

Alexander Dobrovinsky, a lawyer whose partnership has offices in Park Lane —
where Berezovsky was also based — told Russia’s Rossiya 24 channel that he
had been called from London and told the oligarch had committed suicide.

“He was in a terrible, awful state recently. He had so many debts, he was
practically ruined,” said the lawyer. Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman,
claimed that Berezovsky had been in contact with the president in recent
weeks, asking for forgiveness.

Mr Peskov told Rossiya 24: “Berezovsky addressed Putin in a letter, written by
him personally, in which he admitted he made a lot of mistakes and was
asking for forgiveness and to help him to return to the motherland.”

Thames Valley Police said Berezovsky’s death was being treated as
“unexplained” and had cordoned off the property while investigations were
carried out.

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