Boris Berezovsky was found dead by his bodyguard at his Berkshire mansion, and nobody is surprised.
If you happen to be one of these so-called Russian oligarchs, and you happen to have pissed off Putin, my advice to you is simple. Be afraid. Be very afraid. It doesn’t matter how many billions you have — sooner or later they’ll come and get you.
It isn’t easy being a mega-rich oligarch these days. If the Russian president, who happens to be a former KGB officer and sixth-dan karate black belt, doesn’t kick you to death himself, the chances are some spook will feed you enough radioactive material to wipe out all of Chechnya. When they killed Alexander Litvinenko back in 2006, they used Polonium-210, an extremely rare substance , safe to handle but deadly when swallowed. How rare? So rare that Russia’s total monthly exports weigh about 8 grams. A quarter of an ounce.
These guys don’t mess around when they want to whack you.
Of course, Berezovsky can’t have been too happy with the money situation either. In the last few years, he spent something like €100 million on legal fees. Then he paid his ex-missus another €100 million after their divorce. Throw in the odd ten or twenty million here and there, fighting Roman Abramovich in court and you can see how he might be down to his last luxury yacht, but it doesn’t end there. If he had any readies stashed in a Cypriot bank – and what self-respecting Russian oligarch doesn’t? – tomorrow he’d be looking at a 40% haircut on his hard-earned money. Or if not hard-earned, exactly, certainly earned using all the cunning cleverality available to a former professor of mathematics who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Don’t you love the way they talk about people “gaining control” of Russian companies after the collapse of Yeltsin’s rule in a flood of vodka? They all woke up one morning to discover that somehow, by magic, they were the new owners of all the industry in the former Soviet Union. All the gas. All the oil. All the uranium. Everything.
In 1995, 49-year-old Berezovsky and his 28-year-old business partner Roman Abramovich, each paid €100 million to purchase Sibneft, a company whose true value turned out to be in the billions. To achieve this, they recruited gangsters and bribed hundreds of government officials to turn a blind eye. How two men who grew up in in the former Soviet Union acquired the €100 million each, history doesn’t record. Abramovich was a street hustler and punk, while Berezovsky was a shrewd mathematician, well able to manipulate a deal by using hyper-inflation to purchase goods in advance and delay payment until his real debts were reduced to nothing.
One way or another, they were both shady dealers, political insiders feeding at the Yeltsin trough, even though one of them had the cloak of academic respectability, and that shady dealing came to a head when Berezovsky sued Abramovich for €3 billlion over the ownership of Sibneft, among other things. Ultimately, the High Court in London found Berezovsky a less credible witness than Abramovich, which was hardly a resounding endorsement of either. The word of one fly-by-night against another.
It didn’t help that Abramovich remains a close personal and political associate of Putin while Berezovsky went into self-imposed exile after a very public quarrel with the man he once helped to make King.
Thames Valley police are saying they don’t suspect any third-party involvement in Berezovsky’s death, which suggests he died from natural causes or else killed himself. But since the police are still waiting for the results of the post-mortem it’s hard to know how they can conclude anything. Until they have the toxicology reports and the radiological results, who can say what happened to the man?
All I know is this — I personally would never annoy Vladimir Putin and neither should you if you know what’s good for you.
Oh, and make sure never to gain control of a Russian mega-business.
By the way: Irish Nationwide Bondholders