FORMER Kremlin power broker and exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky was found dead in his Berkshire home.
The death of the 67-year-old – a wanted man in his home country and an opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin – came after a political downfall that cost him most of his fortune.
The circumstances surrounding his death were unclear last night. There were unconfirmed reports he had died from heart failure and others that he had taken his own life.
Berezovsky is believed to have been found dead in his bath. Paramedics were unable to revive him.
News of his death first emerged on a Facebook post, apparently by son-in-law Egor Schuppe.
Thames Valley Police issued a statement last night saying the death was being treated as “unexplained” and that an investigation was under way.
A police cordon was in place around the property in Ascot while detectives and forensic officers examined the scene.
A spokesman for Berezovsky’s company, Bell Pottinger, said the body was found by his bodyguard.
The oligarch had survived several assassination attempts, and speculation last night surrounded his death.
He was a close friend of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy who was fatally poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 in London in 2006.
An outspoken critic of the Moscow regime, Berezovsky’s death comes just six months after he lost a High Court battle with Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich.
The judge in the high-profile legal showdown ruled against Berezovsky, who was seeking £3 billion in damages after accusing Abramovich of blackmail, breach of trust and breach of contract.
Berezovsky alleged the football club owner had “intimidated” him into selling shares in Russian oil giant Sibneft for a fraction of their value.
He was instead ordered by the High Court to pay £35 million of Abramovich’s legal costs after the claims were dismissed.
The three-month hearing revealed Berezovsky had “fled Russia, never to return” after a fallout with Putin.
The case left his reputation in tatters, with the judge declaring him to be an “inherently unreliable witness”. The case is thought to have cost him more than £100m in fees.
In a separate case, former mistress Elena Gorbunova, 43, claimed Berezovsky owed her £5m in compensation linked to the sale of their £26m residence in Surrey.
A friend of Berezovsky said last night that his family was “devastated”, adding that she did not believe his death to be suspicious.
Sasha Nerozina said: “It is shocking, terrible news. It is not something you expect. He was full of life and love.”
The businessman had been left “demoralised” by losing his high-profile legal battle with Abramovich, as he had expected to win, she added.
However, Berezovsky was “looking forward to adventures to come” and was so busy with work that he hardly slept, according to Nerozina.
“Boris cannot be dead – it is almost incredible to put those words together,” she said. “We expected him to outlive us all.”
While he had feared for his life in the past, he had no such worries in his final months, said Nerozina.
“There is nothing to be suspicious about, as far as I understand”, she said.
The businessman, a former maths professor and Soviet systems analyst, became a multi-billionaire within less than a decade in the immediate post-Communist era.
He made much of his wealth during the 1990s selling imported Mercedes as well as Russian-made cars.
An ascent to political prominence came from cultivating his relationship with former Russian president Boris Yeltsin.
Berezovsky was one of seven businessmen who influenced the break-up of Russia’s state sector. Prizes to come from his involvement were ownership of Sibneft, airline Aeroflot and a 49 per cent stake in the state television station ORT.
Berezovsky developed those assets into a news empire, building shares in another national television network and several respected newspapers.
The first attempt on his life came in 1994 when he was the target of a car bombing in Russia. A remote-controlled bomb exploded as he left the LogVaz club. Berezovsky survived the assassination attempt, but his chauffeur was decapitated.
Berezovsky helped choose the then secret services chief Putin as Russia’s second president. But he soon became a major target of a crackdown on oligarchs’ political independence under Putin’s leadership.
The businessman fled to London in 2000, becoming one of the Kremlin’s greatest enemies.
He has appeared on Moscow’s most-wanted list since 2001 on charges of fraud, money-laundering and attempted interference in the Russian political process.
Berezovsky was granted political asylum in 2003, defying years of attempts to extradite him.
In 2007, Berezovsky said he had been told to leave England by British police for safety reasons, with UK security services claiming they had evidence of an assassination plot against him.