November 23, 2014
Open verdict recorded by coroner on death of oligarch Berezovsky
A British coroner has said he could not be sure if exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky killed himself at his former wife's British home or was the victim of foul play.
Berezovsky, a sworn enemy of President Vladimir Putin, was found dead in March last year with a scarf tied around his neck in the bathroom of a luxury mansion in Ascot, an affluent English town near Queen Elizabeth's Windsor Castle, west of London.
The family of the 67-year-old tycoon, once one of Russia's most powerful figures who wielded immense influence for a decade after the Soviet Union's collapse, feared he might have been murdered by his enemies in Russia.
But police and forensic experts concluded he had committed suicide, saying there was nothing to suggest anything suspicious, no sign of a struggle and no sign of any poisoning.
Pathologists at the inquest, held in Britain when someone dies in unexplained circumstances, gave differing views on the cause of death.
Bernd Brinkmann, acting for the family, said that Berezovsky could not have hanged himself and was likely to have been strangled.
A state pathologist, Simon Poole, said that the oligarch, who had suffered depression after losing a $6 billion damages claim to Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich in 2012, had hanged himself using his scarf.
Coroner Peter Bedford recorded an open verdict saying he could not be absolutely certain Berezovsky killed himself or was unlawfully killed.
"What I am saying is that the burden of proof sets such a high standard it is impossible for me to say," he said.
Friends and family said the once-dynamic Berezovsky fell into a deep depression after the London High Court legal battle with his former protege Abramovich went against him.
Berezovsky, who had claimed Abramovich used the threat of retribution at the hands of Putin's Kremlin to intimidate him into selling out of Sibneft - Russia's fourth biggest oil company - at a knockdown price, was left a "broken man" who regularly talked of suicide.
Not only was the ruling a major a terrible blow to his fortune with his legal costs estimated to exceed $100 million, he was scarred by the judge's description of him as an "unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness" who sometime gave dishonest evidence.
The year before he was forced to pay one of Britain's biggest divorce settlements, reported by local media to have also topped $100 million, to former wife Galina Besharova in whose house he was staying when he was found dead.
The inquest heard when he died he was facing eight further litigation cases, including one from his former partner, while his bodyguard Avi Navama said his employer owed 200 million pounds ($331.29 million).
His finances were further complicated by the death of another friend and business partner, Badri Patarkatsishvili, who died in unclear circumstances in Britain two years later.
Navama said Berezovsky had told him he was "the poorest man in the world".
Despite revealing he had regularly talked about suicide with those he knew, his family said he had given no indication he would take his own life.