LONDON – Boris Berezovsky, a self-exiled and outspoken Russian tycoon who had a bitter falling out with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was found dead in southeast England on Saturday. He was 67.
In recent years, the one-time Kremlin powerbroker-turned-thorn in Putin’s side fended off verbal and legal attacks in cases that often bore political undertones – and bit into his fortune.
The cause of Berezovsky’s death was not immediately clear, and Thames Valley police said it was being treated as “unexplained.”
Lawyer Alexander Dobrovinsky told Russian state TV that his client – who had survived assassination attempts in the past – lately had been in “a horrible, terrible” emotional state.
“All he had was debts,” Dobrovinsky told Russian state TV. “He was practically destroyed. He was selling his paintings and other things.”
A mathematician-turned-Mercedes dealer, Berezovsky amassed his wealth during Russia’s chaotic privatization of state assets in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In return for backing former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, he gained political clout and opportunities to buy state assets at knockdown prices, making a fortune in oil and automobiles.
He also played a key role in brokering the rise of Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, in 2000. But Berezovsky later fell out of favor with Putin, and eventually sought political asylum in the U.K. in the early 2000s to evade fraud charges he contended were politically motivated.
Berezovsky was one of several so-called Russian “oligarchs” to butt heads with Putin.
After coming into power, the Russian president effectively made a pact: the oligarchs could keep their money if they didn’t challenge him politically. Those who refused often found themselves in dire circumstances. Some were imprisoned – like the former Yukos Oil chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky – while others, like Berezovsky, fled Russia.
The assets of these pariah businessmen, meanwhile, were acquired by state corporations or cooperative tycoons, often at bargain prices.
Over the years, Berezovsky accused Putin of leading Russia toward dictatorship.
In the U.K., Berezovsky allied himself with an array of other Kremlin critics. Among them was ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who fled Russia with Berezovsky’s help after accusing officials there of plotting to assassinate political opponents.
Litvinenko died on Nov. 26, 2006, after drinking tea laced with a lethal dose of the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210 in a London hotel. From his deathbed, Litvinenko accused the Kremlin of orchestrating his poisoning.