Russian tycoon Berezovsky found dead, authorities in England say

LONDON — Boris Berezovsky, a self-exiled and outspoken Russian tycoon who had a bitter falling out with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was found dead in southeast England on Saturday. He was 67.

In recent years, the onetime Kremlin powerbroker fended off verbal and legal attacks in cases that often bore political undertones — and bit into his fortune.

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The cause of Berezovsky’s death was not immediately clear, and Thames Valley police said it was being treated as “unexplained.” The police would not directly identify him but read a statement saying they were investigating the death of a 67-year-old man at a property in Ascot, about 25 miles west of London.

Alexander Dobrovinsky, a lawyer for Berezovsky, told Russian state TV that his client — who had survived assassination attempts — 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.”

A mathematician-turned-Mercedes dealer, Berezovsky amassed his wealth during Russia’s chaotic privatization of state assets in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In return for backing former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, he gained political clout and opportunities to buy state assets at knockdown prices, making a fortune in oil and automobiles.

He also played a key role in brokering the rise of Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, in 2000. But Berezovsky later fell out of favor with Putin and eventually sought political asylum in the United Kingdom in the early 2000s to evade fraud charges he contended were politically motivated.

Over the years, Berezovsky accused Putin of leading Russia toward dictatorship and returning it to a Soviet-style system of state monopoly on the media. In England, he allied himself with an array of other Kremlin critics. Among them was ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who fled Russia with Berezovsky’s help after accusing officials there of plotting to assassinate political opponents. Litvinenko died in 2006, after drinking tea laced with a lethal dose of the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210 in a London hotel. British police named former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi as the prime suspect.

Berezovsky, too, was the target of assassination attempts. In 1994, a car bomb injured him and killed his driver. He also said he briefly fled the U.K. in 2007 when British intelligence services told him his life was in danger. Scotland Yard later arrested a man on suspicion of conspiring to murder the tycoon.

More recently, Berezovsky has made headlines for costly legal battles that have dealt serious blows to his finances. Earlier this week, the Times of London newspaper reported that Berezovsky was selling property — including an Andy Warhol portrait of Vladimir Lenin — to settle his debts and pay expenses owed to lawyers.

The Russian president’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in a telephone interview on state television that Berezovsky had sent a letter to Putin about two months ago asking to be allowed to return to Russia. In the letter, Berezovsky acknowledged having made many mistakes, Peskov said. He said he did not know how Putin reacted to news of the death.

— Associated Press

 
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