Europe

Vladimir Putin’s bitter feud with oligarch Boris Berezovsky explored

Alexander Litvinenko's widow speech

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It has now been 16 years since Alexander Litvinenko was murdered with the Russian defector ingesting an extremely dangerous substance, Polonium-210, in an unsuspecting cup of tea. The story of his death and his wife’s consequent battle for justice has come to the fore once again as it has been dramatised in a new ITVX production starring David Tennant as the former FSB agent on his deathbed, who was once employed by the Russian oligarch, Boris Berezovsky — the man who Litvinenko said he was asked to murder in his role as an FSB officer. Now, Express.co.uk takes a look at who Mr Berezovsky was, and the complicated dynamic between him, Mr Litvinenko and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

Born in Moscow, Mr Berezovsky was an incredibly powerful and wealthy Russian oligarch, acquiring his money in the nineties, profiting from the privatisation of state property following the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

According to the author of the 2000 book Godfather of the Kremlin, Paul Klebnikov, “no man profited more from Russia’s slide into the abyss” than Mr Berezovsky.

By 1997, Forbes estimated that the tycoon was worth $3million, approximately £5million today. However, it was later estimated that he was worth a far lesser £1.9billion. 

Using his wealth, Mr Berezovsky bought political influence in Russia and helped his protege Putin secure his Presidency in 2000. 

But his relationship with the Russian leader quickly disintegrated, his wealth soon investigated by the authorities, his life in danger. 

Fearing the worst, he sought refuge in the UK where he was granted political asylum and attempted to turn the British upper classes against Putin. 

He had many friends who were anti-Kremlin, including Mr Litvinenko, the former agent for the Federal Security Service (FSB) — the organisation that succeeded the Committee for State Security (KGB) — who was once, it has been claimed, ordered to murder him. 

For just over £4,000 a month, Mr Berezovsky employed Mr Litvinenko to write books and other material, exposing corruption in Russian institutions including the FSB of which Putin was briefly director. He also paid for Mr Litvinenko’s home in North London as well as his son’s private school fees prior to the former spy’s death. 

The employment was a turn of affairs, as in 1998, Mr Litvinenko and several other Russian intellignece officers said they had been ordered to assassinate Mr Berezovsky. The revelation led to a life-long pursuit of Mr Litvinenko by the Kremlin which, it has been claimed, ultimately led to his poisoning and death. 

Later, Mr Berezovsky lost a £3billion damages claim at the High Court against the former owner of Chelsea Football Club owner, Roman Abramovich, which cost him an eyewatering £100million. A very public fall from grace, Mrs Justice Gloster damningly described him as both “dishonest” and “deluded”. 

She told the court in 2012: “On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be molded to suit his current purposes.”

This came as a huge shock to the tycoon, launching him into a depressive period, with his friend Alex Goldfarb telling The Observer at the time: “The court case was a massive blow to him personally, politically and financially. He was depressed. We were concerned about him.”

Prior to his death, Mr Berezovsky wrote two letters to Putin, begging for forgiveness, offering to relinquish his claims that Putin caused the death of Mr Litvinenko in 2006. 

Part of one of the letters, which was quoted on the Russian TV show Iron Ladies, read: “I made a lot of mistakes. I understand it may be hard to forgive me, but I got tangled here and I am begging (you) to forgive me.”

Although he was once Russia’s richest man, he died without a penny and in hundreds of millions of pounds in debt, owing £46million in tax alone.  

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On March 23, 2013, he was found hanged at his ex-wife’s £20million mansion in Ascot Berkshire. 

Although there were initially no signs of a struggle, “contradictory” evidence lead the coroner to record an open verdict the following year. 

While the Home Office pathologist, Dr Simon Poole, said there was no indication that anyone else was involved in his hanging, Professor Bernd Brinkmann said the marks on his neck could not have come from hanging. 

His daughter, Elizaveta Berezovskaya, told the inquest that there were a lot of people who would be “interested” in her father’s death.

The entire Litvinenko series is available now on ITVX. 

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