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.

Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky found dead at Surrey home – The Independent
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