Boris Berezovsky, Russian oligarch billionaire was found was found lying dead on the floor of his locked bathroom more than 12 hours after he was last seen alive.
The billionaire Russian exile Boris Berezovsky was found lying dead on the floor of his locked bathroom more than 12 hours after he was last seen alive, police said in a statement this afternoon.
Mr Berezovsky, an oligarch who helped Vladimir Putin to power before becoming one of his most outspoken critics, was found by a bodyguard who forced the lock on the bathroom door at about 3pm yesterday, after becoming concerned at not having seen his employer since 10.30pm the previous night.
Boris Berezovsky was born in Moscow in 1946 into a Russian Jewish family. His transformation in little more than a decade from a Soviet mathematics professor and systems analyst earning 500 roubles (£12.18) a month to a multibillionaire, was one of the most extraordinary and revealing stories of the immediate post-Communist era.
He rose to power in the early-1990s by diligently cultivating Boris Yeltsin and his influential daughter Tatyana Dyachenko. As the Russian president and his advisers struggled to get a grip on Russia’s bankrupt economy, Berezovsky showed great financial skill as well as the ability to charm and manipulate. Thus he became the king of Kremlin intrigue, regarded by his many enemies as a latter-day Rasputin.
For the shattered remnants of the Soviet Union, he emerged as one of a group of seven businessmen who oversaw and influenced the break-up of Russia’s state sector, securing the lion’s share of the spoils for themselves. Berezovsky’s particular prizes were the airline Aeroflot, the Siberian oil company Sibneft and a 49 per cent stake in the state television station ORT, which he used to ensure Yeltsin’s re-election as president in 1996. By the end of the process, Berezovsky and his oligarch colleagues owned well over half of Russia’s entire GDP.
Berezovsky’s success had little to do with the market economics in which he professed to believe. He simply used his powers of persuasion, his political contacts and his ability to grant personal favours to turn the cash flow of former state enterprises his way. “Privatisation in Russia goes through three stages”, he explained in 1995. “First, the privatisation of profit; second, privatisation of property; third, the privatisation of debt. Aeroflot is now going through the intermediate stage between privatisation of profit and property. We want to take part in both.”
Physically Berezovsky bore a passing resemblance to his fellow billionaire, the Italian media mogul and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and he shared Berlusconi’s undeniable charm, taste for the good life and shady business reputation. Above all, however, he shared Berlusconi’s interest in political power. But while Berlusconi tapped into something deep in the Italian psyche, Berezovsky was regarded with hatred and suspicion by ordinary Russians who blamed him for their country’s parlous economic condition. In 1994 Berezovsky’s chauffeur had his head blown off by a bomb intended for his employer, who walked away from the explosion unscathed. The explosion did, however, introduce Berezovsky to a young agent of the FSB, successor organisation to the KGB, who was assigned to investigate: Alexander Litvinenko.
Berezovsky went on to support Vladimir Putin in his bid to become Russian president in 2000, funding the pro-Kremlin, pro-Putin Unity party and churning out pro-Putin propaganda on ORT. But his arrogance proved his undoing. In response to public anger and to secure his own position, Putin turned on his former backer, turfing him out of a state-owned country estate, and demanding back government number plates that Berezovsky used on his fleet of cars. In 2001 Berezovsky fled to France, then later to Britain, pursued by allegations of fraud and corruption.
Boris Berezovsky was born in Moscow on January 23 1946 into a Russian Jewish family. His father, Abram, was a civil engineer and his mother, Anna Gelman, a nurse. He studied Forestry and Mathematics at the Moscow Forestry Engineering Institute and took a doctorate in 1984 on the “theory of optimising and decision making”. He went on to become a professor, earning a wide reputation.
His commercial career began in the 1980s when he went into business, importing computer software from the west; but it was the end of the Soviet Union that made him. As Communist controls crumbled, he saw a chance to exploit the difference in price between cars sold cheaply for export and those sold in the home market. He established the Logovaz car dealership, which allowed him to sell off Russian-made Ladas at a profit. Logovaz evolved into a mammoth financial and business conglomerate and made Berezovsky a multi-millionaire.
Berezovsky met Boris Yeltsin in 1993, and soon established a mutually beneficial relationship with the Russian president and his circle. He subsidised the publication of Yeltsin’s biography and established a strong friendship with Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, and his chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, winning himself a key role in the Kremlin decision-making machine. Within two years Berezovsky had acquired his stake in ORT and bought the potentially lucrative Sibneft oil company for just $100 million.
He came to public prominence in 1996 when Yeltsin, who had slumped to just six per cent approval ratings in the polls, was embarking on what seemed a doomed re-election bid. Berezovsky mobilised his fellow oligarchs to provide millions of dollars in finance and organised a ruthlessly professional campaign with rock concerts and glossy advertising which crippled the opposition and rescued Yeltsin from defeat, although it brought on two heart attacks.
The oligarchs extorted a heavy price for their support. They received shares in the most valuable state-owned companies as security against loans they made to the state budget in an infamous “loans for shares” scheme. After Yeltsin won the election, these companies were put up for auction and the oligarchs divided them among themselves. In 1997 Berezovsky acquired Aeroflot. The same year, Forbes magazine named him the ninth most powerful entrepreneur in the world, with a fortune worth $3bn.
Rich and powerful, Berezovsky exerted ever greater influence on the unhealthy and increasingly confused president, who awarded him a Kremlin job as deputy secretary of the Security Council. Effectively, Berezovsky became the Kremlin’s man dealing with the breakaway republic of Chechnya, where a ceasefire had been agreed after 20 months of war. He helped forge the deal that had Aslan Maskhadov elected as Chechen president and Russia promise economic aid, although his detractors claimed his real interest was in getting his hands on the region’s oil. Maskhadov himself later claimed that Berezovsky had helped to finance warlords Shamil Basayev and Khattab in their separatist campaign. In 1998 his contacts in Chechnya enabled him to secure the release of two British men held hostages by Chechen rebels.
His appointment as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) — a loose league of 12 former Soviet republics — in 1997 carried little official weight but was another clear sign of his power. One Russian cartoonist depicted him as a black devil looking over the president’s shoulder.
It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment at which it all began to turn sour, but a raid by police on the offices of an obscure Moscow security firm in July 1998 might have marked a turning point. Among an arsenal of bugging devices, scanners and cameras, police found a library of video and audio cassettes reaped from years of snooping on top people, including members of Yeltsin’s family. The owner of the firm was Berezovsky. As a result of the raid, the bedrock of Berezovsky’s power — his access to the Kremlin — was shaken.
Details of the raid leaked onto newspaper front pages. Acting on instructions from the prosecutor general, Yuri Skuratov, police went on to raid other companies linked to Berezovsky. At first Berezovksy’s allies in the Yeltsin administration and law enforcement agencies tried to brush over the affair by forcing the prosecutor-general to resign – a lurid video of Skuratov having sex with two prostitutes was leaked, with extracts shown on prime-time television.
But the Russian parliament rallied behind Skuratov. He stayed in place, and launched an anti-corruption investigation. In 1999 an arrest warrant was issued for Berezovsky in connection with alleged profits skimming at Aeroflot, but was subsequently dropped.
Meanwhile Berezovsky had transferred his political allegiance to the up and coming Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s prime minister. Putin’s presidential victory, in March 2000, was largely secured during campaigning for the parliamentary elections of December 1999, when a ferocious smear campaign on ORT television effectively eliminated his two main rivals. In a series of popular news shows, Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov was portrayed as a murderous con-man, while gory footage of a hip operation was broadcast to demonstrate that the former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov (who had recently undergone surgery) was not up to the job. The parliamentary elections also saw Berezovsky elected as representative for the region of Karachevo-Cherkess, securing him immunity from prosecution.
Yet the honeymoon with Putin was short-lived. During his election campaign, Putin gained popular support by promising to crack down on the oligarchs, and in June 2000 he instigated criminal investigations against many of those who had flourished under his predecessor. Berezovsky was a particular target since he had used his media empire to criticise Putin over his handling of the war in Chechnya and the Kursk submarine disaster. In July 2000 he resigned from his seat in parliament in protest at “authoritarian trends” within Putin’s government.
In 2001, as investigations proceeded, Berezovsky fled to France, then to London, where he sought to reinvent himself as a champion of liberal democratic values. The irony did not go unremarked in Russia. Berezovsky professed to be immune to public cynicism about his motives. “I just hope to help people,” he said.
In 2002, the Russian authorities issued an arrest warrant on charges of money-laundering and illegal business activity. Berezovsky sought to resist moves to extradite him the following year, claiming to be a martyr to an “utterly corrupt” legal system, and arguing, more persuasively, that his life would be in danger if he returned.
In 2004, rumours swirled that Berezovsky had helped to finance Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, which ushered in a government in Kiev determined to break free of Moscow’s influence. Then, in 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, who had begun working for Berezovsky, and whom Berezovsky had helped to escape to London in 2000, died after being poisoned with radioactive polonium at a London hotel. He accused Putin of his murder.
But the coup de grace was yet to come. In 2007 Berezovsky served a writ on the Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, whom he had first met on a fellow oligarch’s yacht in 1995. Abramovich, one of the richest and most private men in the world, was accused of blackmailing Berezovsky into selling-off his interests both in Sibneft and an aluminium company for a fraction of the true worth.
Abramovich in turn claimed that between 1995 and 2002 he had paid Berezovsky $1.3bn not for any oil or metal stakes, but to buy political protection. When in 2012 the Chelsea owner won what turned out to be the biggest private court case in British history, it was a devastating blow to Berezovsky, financially and psychologically.
By the time of the verdict his billions were under assault from those in his personal life too. In 2011 he paid what was, at the time, the biggest divorce settlement in history, believed to be worth hundreds of millions, to his ex-wife Galina Besharova. Then, this January, his former lover Elena Gorbunova began legal proceedings claiming that she, too, was owed millions. A request by Berezovsky to impose “total privacy” on early rounds of his battle with Gorbunova was rejected by a High Court judge on January 22 – his 67th birthday.
Mr Justice Mann, presiding over the case, described Berezovsky as a “man under financial pressure”. And this week Berezovsky made headlines when it emerged that he was attempting to sell a limited edition Andy Warhol portrait of Lenin at Christie’s. The portrait was valued at up to £50,000.
With his once vast fortune and influence fast dwindling to nothing, Berezovsky cut an increasingly isolated figure at his home in Surrey, where a former phalanx of French foreign legionaries who once served as his close protection team had been whittled down to a single bodyguard. It was that bodyguard who reportedly found Berezovsky’s body, and though police sent in teams specialised in handling radioactive substances, the property was quickly given the all clear.
Boris Berezovsky had two children with his first wife, Nina. In 1991 he married Galina Besharova, with whom he also had two children. The marriage was dissolved in 2010. He also had two children with his partner Elena Gorbunova.