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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Kremlin to target family of dead oligarch Boris Berezovsky for $450m it claims he owes Russian state

The Kremlin is to pursue the family of dead oligarch Boris Berezovsky over £300 million it claims he owed the Russian state.

Mr Berezovsky, 67, was found dead at his estate in Ascot, Berkshire, on March 23 after spending 13 years in exile campaigning against Vladimir Putin's regime. But yesterday Moscow said it would target

Mr Berezovsky's 'heirs' to recover his fortune, which it said belonged to the Russian government.

The move led to claims that Putin was persecuting Mr Berezovsky's family in the same way that he had orchestrated a 'campaign of harassment' against the tycoon while he was alive.

Mr Berezovsky's friends have blamed the Kremlin's 'war of litigation' for his recent depression which many believe contributed to his death. A post mortem revealed that his injuries were consistent with hanging.

The claims against Mr Berezovsky's 'heirs' relate to money Moscow prosecutors say belongs to national airline Aeroflot and the AvtoVAZ car company.

Mr Berezovsky's six children, two former wives and former girlfriend face defending legal action from Russian investigators in the UK, where many of them live.

Mr Berezovsky's former £2 billion fortune had been reduced by a divorce settlement of £200 million for his second wife Galina Besharova, 53.

He also ran up lawyers' bills of £150 million, while former partner Yelena Gorbunova had secured a court order freezing £200 million of his assets.

The oligarch's property portfolio, including the £20 million Ascot mansion, is vulnerable to litigation.

Acutely aware that the Kremlin might one day come after his family, Mr Berezovsky had set up elaborate offshore trusts to protect his former wives and his children.

In a separate development, The Mail on Sunday has learned that Mr Berezovsky was due to tell the inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko that the former spy was working with Western agencies investigating Putin over money-laundering allegations.

Mr Berezovsky had spent the last weeks of his life preparing his evidence for the inquest. But in a new twist, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Sir Robert Owen, the coroner who will hear the Litvinenko case, had told him to submit his witness statement to the court by Friday, March 22.

Mr Berezovsky's body was found shortly after 3pm the next day.

Mr Berezovsky had not filed his statement to the court and his lawyers are seeking instructions from his family about how to proceed with the oligarch's crucial evidence.

A Kremlin spokesman would not comment on the allegations.

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