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segunda-feira, 1 de abril de 2013

O mistério da morte de Boris Berezovsky
Enviado por luisnassif, seg, 01/04/2013 - 08:08
Por Adir Tavares
Do Financial Times
Boris Berezovsky: A death in exile
By Neil Buckley
Russian tycoon was mired in debt and depression but contradictory messages raise questions about his death
Just after 3pm last Saturday, Boris Berezovsky’s bodyguard returned from running errands to the grey-stone mansion in Ascot, west of London, where the one-time Russian oligarch was living. On a table downstairs, Berezovsky’s cellphone showed several missed calls. Concerned he had not seen his boss since the night before, the Israeli bodyguard went upstairs and smashed down a locked bathroom door. Berezovsky’s body was slumped on the floor, his hand cold to the touch.
It was a lonely end for one of the most flamboyant figures to emerge from the wreckage of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. Not since the media tycoon Robert Maxwell disappeared from his yacht off the Canaries 22 years ago has the death of a controversial, politically connected businessman provoked such intrigue.
Berezovsky made billions by taking control of former Soviet assets after communism collapsed, and was a founder member of the “oligarchy”, the new tycoons who parlayed wealth into political influence. Yet political manoeuvring always interested Berezovsky more than business. After he helped bring Vladimir Putin to power, then quarrelled with him and fled to Britain, it would prove a flaw that would be his undoing.
Friends say Berezovsky was deeply depressed in recent months and, in the words of one, “broke”. According to police, he was found with a “ligature” around his neck, his death consistent with hanging. No evidence of foul play has been found, although police say it cannot yet be ruled out.
His decade-long role as Russia’s public enemy number one means some of Berezovsky’s circle are suspicious. He had, after all, long claimed President Putin ordered the 2006 poisoning with radioactive polonium-210 of one of Berezovsky’s protégés, Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent. He was set to be a witness in a potentially explosive inquest in October into Litvinenko’s death.
Two friends told the Financial Times that Berezovsky, the day before he died, had been booking a trip to Israel this week. “I don’t believe that he committed suicide and I will never support the idea,” says Nikolai Glushkov, an associate who once ran the Aeroflot airline for Berezovsky.
If Berezovsky did take his own life, friends agree on the trigger: his loss on August 31 last year of the UK’s biggest civil lawsuit – his $6.5bn damages claim against Roman Abramovich, a former associate and owner of Chelsea Football Club.
Berezovsky claimed that he and Mr Abramovich had jointly owned Russia’s Sibneft oil company in the 1990s, and that Mr Abramovich, who stayed loyal to Mr Putin, had in 2001 intimidated Berezovsky into selling his stake at below true value, warning that the Kremlin would otherwise expropriate it.
Dame Elizabeth Gloster, the judge, endorsed Mr Abramovich’s alternative version. He said Berezovsky never owned a Sibneft stake. Payments totalling $2.5bn that Mr Abramovich made to him over several years had been fees for Berezovsky acting as a krysha or “roof”, meaning he provided political protection and contacts.
The judge labelled Berezovsky an “inherently unreliable witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept”. Berezovsky spluttered that he “had the impression that Putin himself wrote the judgment”. The ruling was psychologically and financially devastating.
“He never, never, could even suspect that he could lose the case in this way, because he knew perfectly well that he was telling the truth,” insists Yuli Dubov, who knew Berezovsky for 41 years. “I have great respect for the British legal system but the judge in this case rewrote Russian history.”
Another member of his inner circle, Alex Goldfarb, says Berezovsky viewed it as a crushing defeat by Russia’s president, seeing Mr Abramovich as “a surrogate for Putin”. “Before this trial, whenever Russian prosecutors went after him anywhere ... he was always able to fight it on the same grounds – that it was politically motivated,” adds Mr Goldfarb.
The defeat would create a financial double whammy. Not only did Berezovsky not receive the billions he had expected from the Abramovich litigation but less than two weeks later he settled another case against the family of a former associate, Badri Patarkatsishvili, from which he had also expected to receive billions.
The Abramovich loss had left him without money to fund the case and, says Mr Goldfarb, “after that verdict, the lawyers told him ‘you have no chance [in the Patarkatsishvili case]. You are not a reliable witness.’ ” Berezovsky, say Mr Goldfarb and another friend, came away with just a few tens of millions of pounds.
Berezovsky claimed to have a similar relationship with Patarkatsishvili to that he described with Mr Abramovich in its heyday. “I didn’t run the business,” Berezovsky told a Russian journalist who met him just hours before his death. When money came in from selling businesses after Berezovsky left Russia, including the Sibneft money from Abramovich, “I handed it to Badri. I trusted him fully to take care of my finances.” Berezovsky drew money only for his political activities, including funding opposition groups in Russia.
Berezovsky always said he and Patarkatsishvili had an unwritten agreement that their assets were owned 50-50. But the Georgian died in February 2008, aged only 52, from a heart attack at his Surrey estate.
He left a disputed will and scant information about where the assets were located. Russian prosecutors pursuing Berezovsky on fraud charges had been going after his assets since the early 2000s, prompting Patarkatsishvili to hide them in a web of trusts. Some were tied up in Georgia, where in 2007 Patarkatsishvili tried to run for president but found himself under investigation for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government; he feared assassination.
In a further complication, Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili had in 2006 announced a financial “divorce”, saying the latter would gradually buy out the former’s share of their joint businesses. Berezovsky said later this was a ruse to confound Russian investigators. Years of asset searches and litigation followed.
Berezovsky’s failure to secure what he claimed from Mr Abramovich and the Patarkatsishvili estate left him in financial straits. The Patarkatsishvili settlement went straight into paying Mr Abramovich’s £35m legal costs. “It was a rob Peter to pay Paul situation, and it was getting worse,” says one British friend.
With costs from the Abramovich case topping £100m, Berezovsky’s total debts were estimated at even more. He had borrowed money from friends to fund the litigation. “I didn’t ask for it back. I knew he didn’t have any money,” says one.
. . .
Berezovsky had been under financial pressure for some years. After he and Patarkatsishvili sold their last assets in Russia in 2006, the British friend says, the ex-oligarch had no business interests. Only his several luxury homes and his “boats and planes” were in his control. He sold his £200m superyacht, Darius, in 2009, but much of the proceeds went into an estimated £100m-£200m divorce settlement with Galina, his second wife.
By last autumn, Berezovsky had sold his £25m Wentworth Park estate in Surrey and a 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom. He was trying to sell two palatial residences on the French Riviera. In his final months, he closed his offices in London’s Mayfair, reduced his 10-strong security retinue to one, and sold artworks including an Andy Warhol screen print, Red Lenin, which went for £133,875. He also stopped paying the legal costs of Marina Litvinenko, widow of the poisoned ex-agent, Mr Goldfarb says.
In January Berezovsky’s lawyers were in court again, running up £250,000 costs in a dispute with Elena Gorbunova, until last year his long-time girlfriend. She claimed she had not received £5m Berezovsky had promised her from selling Wentworth Park, and tried to freeze the sale of his French homes.
Inevitably, the pressure told. “He was depressed and he complained of the classic symptoms,” says Mr Goldfarb, “lack of interest in life, mood swings and all these gloomy thoughts that his life is over, that they had destroyed him.”
Friends say Berezovsky was on antidepressants, but suffered side-effects and may have stopped taking them. He was treated for depression in Israel and at the Priory clinic in the UK. Though he had talked “every three months” of returning to Russia, he began to speak about it more.
But did he seek forgiveness from Mr Putin? In what may become one of the enduring questions around Berezovsky’s death, the Russian president’s press secretary insisted Berezovsky had sent a handwritten note asking to be allowed to return to Russia. One friend calls this a “complete fabrication”.
Another question, if an inquest ultimately concludes Berezovsky’s death was suicide, is why he sent such contradictory signals. Several people who met or spoke to him recently said he seemed to be returning to his ebullient, fast-talking self.
The journalist from Russian Forbes magazine who met him hours before his death said Berezovsky seemed “distressed”, his hand shaking, and had said his “life had lost meaning”. Yet the same day, Michael Cherney, an Uzbek-born businessman now living in Israel, said Berezovsky had asked him to book a hotel for a visit this week.
“He was going to stay in Tel Aviv for three days, then go to Jerusalem. Then he wanted to go to the Dead Sea,” said Mr Cherney. “The hotel was booked ... He said that he would come.”
Additional reporting by Jane Croft and Catherine Belton

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