Mystery London death of Putin's billionaire enemy who feared he was about to be murdered

Other News Materials 13 February 2008 14:56 (UTC +04:00)
Mystery   London death of Putin's billionaire enemy who feared he was about to be murdered

( Thisislondon ) - A British-based Russian billionaire who feared he was about to be murdered has been found dead at his home.

Badri Patarkatsishvili, 52, was found dead at his ?10million home near Leatherhead, Surrey, at about 11pm last night of a suspected heart attack.

Surrey police are investigating and are treating his death as suspicious.

The oligarch, who made his ?6billion fortune in his native Georgia, said recently of his political enemies: "I believe they want to kill me."

He was an opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin but the most likely threat is believed to have come from Georgia.

He is charged there with plotting a coup after standing unsuccessfully against president Mikhail Saakashvili in elections.

Mr Patarkatsishvili was a close friend of Boris Berezovsky, another so-called oligarch who is also an outspoken critic of Mr Putin.

The oligarch appeared in good health during a four-hour meeting held in the City yesterday with Mr Berezovsky and two other exiled tycoons, Nikolay Glushkov and Yuli Dubov, all wanted in Moscow.

He had said in December that he had 120 bodyguards but did not feel safe anywhere.

Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, who was acting for Mr Patarkatsishvili, said he was taking the death threats "very seriously".

Mr Patarkatsishvili had claimed he had obtained a tape recording of an official in his country's interior ministry asking a Chechen warlord to murder him while he was London.

Lord Bell, the PR guru and Mr Patarkatsishvili's spokesman, who was also at the City meeting, said today: "The death needs to be investigated. He had advised police recently that he was fearful of an assassination attempt.

"He appeared in good health at the meeting. At one point, he complained he was a little overcome by the warmth of the room and left to get some fresh air.

"Knowing Badri, he was probably having a cigarette. When he came back, he seemed absolutely fine and full of energy."

Lord Bell said Mr Patarkatsishvili, whose body was found at his Surrey home Norbury Park, lived with his wife, with whom he had two children.

He was seen as a driving force behind anti-government protests in Georgia in November and was under investigation on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

He denied the accusations but acknowledged offering large sums of money to police to side with protesters. The protests were violently broken up by police.

Mr Patarkatsishvili left Georgia in November and has spent time in Britain and Israel. He amassed his fortune from the privatisation of state industries in Russia in the Nineties.

He hired Lord Goldsmith and other lawyers after he claimed to receive taped evidence of an assassin apparently being briefed to kill him.

Methods discussed in the 45-minute audio tape included a plan to murder him in the UK or Israel, where he also has a home, or as he flew in his private plane from Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, to Batumi on the Black Sea.

Mr Patarkatsishvili also claimed six to eight weeks ago that a squad of four Georgians came to London, "sent to do something against me".

The taped conversation is thought to be between Uvais Akhmadov, a Chechen warlord, and an official in Georgia's interior ministry.

According to transcripts published in the Sunday Times, the official described Mr Patarkatsishvili as "a political problem" and said Georgia did not want to be seen to be involved in an assassination abroad.

"Because of that, I called you. This person is very frequently in London, constantly. In a month, he'll spend two weeks there, two weeks in Israel," he said.

"I've been given a clear order to check whether there is the possibility on your side to help us in this business. We want this person to disappear completely, with his escorts, with everything."

A spokesman for the Georgian embassy in London said the alleged plot "sounded like a conspiracy theory most probably designed to boost a presidential candidate's profile".

Mr Berezovsky spoke of his shock today at his friend's death, which will inevitably raise comparisons with the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, an enemy of Mr Putin.

Mr Litvinenko, a former KGB spy, died in London in November 2006 after he was poisoned with Polonium-210.

His death sparked a host of conspiracy theories, fuelled by a message recorded by him but only played after his death in which he directly accused Mr Putin of being involved in his murder.

The Crown Prosecution Service later said they wanted to charge Andrei Lugovoi, also a former KGB officer, with his murder but extradition has been blocked by Russia where he has immunity from prosecution as an MP.

Mr Berezovsky said that Mr Patarkatsishvili had not been ill but had complained about his heart when they met yesterday.

He said he had gone to the Georgian's home after learning of his death but that police were handling the matter and were not letting people in.

Mr Patarkatsishvili fell out with Mr Saakashvili despite financing the so-called "rose revolution" that swept Mr Saakashvili to power four years ago.

He ran against Mr Saakashvili in a snap election in January, getting about seven per cent of the vote.

Opposition groups have alleged that the vote, which Mr Saakashvili won with 53 per cent, was rigged.