Whitehall fears ‘another Litvinenko’ as police probe businessman’s death

The Times

Ministers were warned six months ago about the activities of Russian officials linked to a “whistleblower” businessman who was mysteriously found dead outside his Surrey mansion.

Police are investigating after the body of Alexander Perepilichny was discovered in the grounds of his home in Weybridge. Mr Perepilichny, 44, had passed vital documents to campaigners fighting to expose a massive tax fraud in Russia that had led to the death of an anti-corruption lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.

The businessman, who is said to have sought refuge in Britain three years ago after falling out with a crime syndicate, had been helping Swiss prosecutors to investigate a money-laundering scheme involving Russian government tax officials.

He is the fourth person linked to the Magnitsky case to have died in unexplained circumstances. Surrey Police said that a post-mortem examination had been “inconclusive” and that further tests were being carried out before an inquest.

Mr Magnitsky, 37, died in agony in Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow in November 2009 after being held for a year in pre-trial detention and denied medical treatment for serious illnesses. He repeatedly complained that he was tortured in prison to try to force him to withdraw testimony against a group of Interior Ministry police who he had accused of stealing $230 million from businesses owned by Hermitage Capital, a British investment company.

His death caused an international outcry and has led to a campaign — fiercely opposed by President Putin — to ban 60 officials accused of complicity from entering the United States and the European Union.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was given an extensive dossier on the 60 Russians on the “Magnitsky list” and urged to bar them from Britain in May. A senior government figure told The Times that the Government was urgently trying to establish whether it had “another Litvinenko” on its hands.

Anglo-Russian relations plunged to their worst since the end of the Cold War over the murder in London in November 2006 of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium-210. They are only now slowly being repaired as David Cameron seeks to strengthen trade ties.

Dominic Raab, a Conservative MP who has pursued the Magnitsky case for months, demanded yesterday that detectives be given full resources to discover the cause of Mr Perepilichny’s death.

In a letter to Mrs May, he said: “I understand Mr Perepilichny was found dead … a month after the Swiss authorities interviewed Vladlen Stepanov, the husband of Olga Stepanova, who is one of the Russian tax officials widely regarded as implicated in the tax fraud and cover up in the Magnitsky case.”

Mr Perepilichny approached Hermitage Capital and handed over documents that linked the Stepanovs to millions of dollars in two Swiss bank accounts. The accounts were used to buy luxury properties in Dubai and Montenegro — the Stepanovs also owned a multimillion-pound mansion in Moscow despite declaring income averaging only $38,000 a year.

Bill Browder, Hermitage’s chief executive, said: “In 2010 we were approached by Alexander Perepilichny who had a number of documents proving the involvement of Russian government officials in the theft of $230 million that Sergei Magnitsky discovered. We then filed a criminal complaint to Swiss prosecutors in January 2011 that led to a major international money-laundering investigation.”

Mr Stepanov hit back in an open letter last year, in which he claimed that Mr Perepilichny had been his former business partner and had fled Russia owing “a lot of money” to him and dozens of other creditors. He denied the allegations of money-laundering and accused Mr Perepilichny of “pocketing my money and assets” that had been earned from Mr Stepanov’s involvement in mining.

“Since 1995, Perepilichny had been in charge of my money … Both of us were also involved in investment business by putting money, for example, into lucrative real estate in the United Arab Emirates. However, the ‘financial wizard’ had failed to see the financial bubble burst coming and was responsible for my money and property losses,” Mr Stepanov wrote.

Mr Perepilichny collapsed outside his £12,500-a-month rented mansion on November 10. Police have ordered toxicology reports and a second post-mortem examination is likely to take place to try to establish how the apparently healthy businessman died.

“Surrey Police continues to work closely with the coroner’s office while the investigation remains ongoing,” a spokeswoman said.

The Kremlin’s own human rights council declared last year that Mr Magnitsky had been arrested illegally and that he had been beaten to death.

The mystery over Mr Perepilichny has come at a sensitive time: Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, the Trade Minister, and John Cridland, the Director-General of the CBI, are in Moscow leading a British trade delegation. British exports to Russia have jumped by 80 per cent in value to about £5 billion in the past two years as tensions over the Litvinenko affair have eased.

A delegation of Russian MPs is also in London. It is led by Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of the International Relations Committee at the State Duma. Mr Pushkov said yesterday that the US and European governments were keen to avoid confrontation over the “Magnitsky list”.

“In the majority of European states, neither the public at large nor the politicians have even heard of Mr Magnitsky,” he said. “I don’t think it will have a serious influence on the economic and political relationship between Russia and the EU.” онлайн займы займ онлайн на карту без отказа https://zp-pdl.com https://zp-pdl.com/apply-for-payday-loan-online.php займ срочно без отказов и проверок

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