Russian tycoon found dead in Britain: Is it suicide?

Russian tycoon found dead: Boris Berezovsky was found in his Surrey, England, home, dead. Cause of death is not known yet. But there is speculation that the once-wealthy Russian tycoon committed suicide.

AP Photo/Sang Tan, File
Boris Berezovsky in 2008 as he arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice in London for his hearing against Roman Abramovich. United Kingdom police have said that Berezovsky has been found dead Saturday March 23, 2013.

Boris Berezovsky, once a wealthy Russian oligarch, was found dead in his home in Surrey, England.

The cause of death is unknown at this time. But speculation that Berezovsky committed suicide is rampant, especially in Russian media.

Two things are prompting the speculation. First, a Russian lawyer, Alexander Dobrovinsky, was among the first to announce his death and posted in social media the following, according to RT.com:

“Just got a call from London. Boris Berezovsky committed suicide. He was a difficult man. A move of disparity? Impossible to live poor? A strike of blows? I am afraid no one will get to know now,”

There's no indication of the quality of Dobrovinsky's source. Certainly, British police have not yet made public a cause of death.

The second factor fueling the suicide talk is the very public decline in Berezovsky's wealth. He had lost several court cases and was known to be selling off real estate, a yacht, and art to raise funds. As The Guardian of London reports:

"Berezovsky's death comes only months after he lost a high-profile and personally disastrous court case against fellow Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. He had accused the Chelsea football club owner of blackmail, breach of trust and breach of contract in relation to a Russian oil company. After the claims were dismissed, he was ordered by the high court to pay £35m of Abramovich's legal costs.

His financial difficulties were recently further exacerbated after his former mistress Elena Gorbunova, 43, claimed that Berezovsky owed her $8m (£5m) in compensation over the sale of their $40m residence in Surrey."

Just days ago, Berezovsky sold his Andy Warhol limited edition print of Vladimir Lenin, known as "Red Lenin," for just over $200,000, according to the Russian media outlet RIA Novosti.

Berezovsky's political and financial success follows the arc of recent Russian history. In the 1980s, with the political opening and rise of free enterprise, he went from a quiet mathematician to powerful oligarch. His first business foray  - which Russian prosecutors later said was  illegal profit skimming - involved car sales for the state auto giant AvtoVAZ. Berezovsky used his initial wealth to build a media empire that included partial ownership of two national television networks and several respected newspapers.

As his wealth grew, so did his political clout.

In 1996, Berezovsky was among a group of businessmen who helped Boris Yeltsin's career. "It is no secret that Russian businessmen played the decisive role in President Yeltsin's victory," Berezovsky later told Forbes magazine. "It was a battle for our blood interests."

In return, Yeltsin sold to his backers Russian national industries at a fraction of their actual value. By the late 1990s, Berezovsky had an 80 percent ownership share in Sibneft, an oil company.

But as Agence France Presse reports "his most significant political move was the one that inadvertently sealed his fate: helping Yeltsin choose then-secret services chief Vladimir Putin as Russia's second president.

Berezovsky quickly became a key target of Putin's crackdown on the oligarchs' political independence. He fled the country and fired back with his entire media arsenal, painting the new president as a budding dictator."

The Guardian notes that "Berezovsky is been on Moscow's most wanted list since 2001 on charges of fraud, money-laundering and attempted interference in the Russian political process. A Russian court sentenced Berezovsky in absentia for embezzling $2bn from two major state companies."

But in the past year, there are reports that Berezovsky was seeking to return to Russia. The Irish Times reports that he had recently written to Mr. Putin seeking a pardon, according to Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

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