Murder or mishap? The mysterious death of Russian businessman Alexander Perepelichny

The Daily Telegraph

In any other circumstances, it might not have raised suspicion. But when Alexander Perepelichny, a reclusive Russian businessman, collapsed and died after jogging near his luxury Surrey home three weeks ago, police soon realised that they could not jump to conclusions.

Was it, as it seeemed, just a tragically early heart attack or stroke, brought on by a vigorous bout of exercise? Or, given his role as a witness to one of Russia’s most politically sensitive corruption scandal, was it a case of yet another awkward Russian being silenced on British soil?

Last week, 1,500 miles away inside Room 33 of the Tverskoy district court in northern Moscow, Natalya Magnitskaya was pondering that very question. Not, though, just in relation to Mr Perepelichny, but over her own son Sergei, who died a lingering, agonising death three years ago in a Moscow jail cell.

What links the two men’s deaths is that they both attempted to lift the lid on the so-called Hermitage Capital scandal, in which Russian tax officials defrauded a British-based investment company of some £140 million back in 2007.

The Hermitage case was just one of many examples of state gangsterism in Russia in recent times, with one important difference: namely, that the fraud’s victims fought back.

Mr Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage, compiled a detailed dossier identifying the alleged culprits, only to be thrown in jail himself, where he died through a combination of brutal beatings and deliberate neglect of his medical needs.

And there the affair might have ended, were it not for Hermitage continuing the fight on his behalf – aided, it now seems, by Mr Perepelichny, a former business associate of some of the accused, who recently turned “supergrass” on Hermitage’s behalf.

Mr Perepelichny, who fled Moscow three years earlier after falling out with a crime syndicate, passed documents to prosecutors in Switzerland, corroborating how officials first fingered by Magnitsky transferred huge tranches of cash to Credit Suisse accounts. It would mean there are plenty of people who might wish him ill.

“It looks strange at the least that an apparently healthy man should die like that,” said Mrs Magnitskaya, who last week attended the trial of a prison doctor accused of neglecting her son – the only official charged over his death. “There needs to be a thorough investigation.”

A softly-spoken 60-year-old, Mrs Magnitskaya had no reason to suspect she would join Russia’s long list of grieving relatives of Kremlin opponents.

But a fortnight ago, she herself was in London for the premiere of a play about her son, whose death has now become a cause celebre among human rights activists. She found herself sat alongside Marina Litvinenko, the wife of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB officer and Kremlin critic who died after being poisoned with radioactive polonium in London in 2006.

“She’s a very nice woman and we felt a mutual sympathy,” said Mrs Magnitskaya of Litvinenko’s widow. “Like my son, her husband was saying things that somebody didn’t want to hear.”

So could Mr Perepelichny’s death be a repeat of the Litvinenko case? On Friday night, Surrey Police said a second post mortem had still failed to establish a cause of death, and that toxicology tests to see whether he had been poisoned would not come through for several weeks.

What is clear, though, is that Mr Perepelichny was a man of some means, and who liked to keep a low-profile. His £12,500-a-month rented house was on Weybridge’s St George’s Hill estate, a “billionaires’ row” protected by security cameras, woodland and high fences. Over the years, it has provided discreet residency to celebrities such Kate Winslet, Cliff Richard and the late John Lennon.

Last week, outside the gates that lead to the estate, private security guards were turning reporters away – and would presumably have done the same to anyone who visited Mr Perepelichny uninvited.

Otherwise, relatively little has emerged about him. He graduated in physics and chemistry at the university of Moscow, and first worked in Britain between 2005 and 2007 as an independent director to The Ukraine Opportunity Trust Plc, a British investment fund where his knowledge of Russia and Ukraine was highly valued.

“I met him four or five times, although I don’t think he was living in Britain at that time,” said of the trust’s former associates. “His English was passable, and he looked perfectly fit and healthy to me. I didn’t get the impression that he mixed in dangerous company, but then you don’t discuss that in the boardroom.”

Mr Perepelichny is believed to have lived with his wife, Tatyana, 41, who has been in contact with Surrey Police since he died but has otherwise lain low. A flat is also registered in his name in Moscow, although last week a woman who answered the door – thought to be a relative – said: “I have no comment to make on this situation.”

The Hermitage Capital scandal began when the firm, one of the largest foreign investors in Russia, was raided by Russian tax officials in 2007. Acting in cahoots with a clique of corrupt police and lawyers, the officials then stole documents from daughter companies of Hermitage and used them to falsely claim massive tax rebates.

Mr Magnitksy, who was known for his integrity and tenacity, then investigated the fraud, and after months of painstaking detective work, compiled a detailed file of suspects.

Far from praising his crusading investigation, however, the Kremlin took offence at it, allowing Mr Magnitsky to be arrested by the very policemen he had accused. Thrown into a notoriously spartan Moscow prison, he was refused vital medication for problems with gallstones and pancreatitis, fed food ridden with insects, and kept in a damp, flood-prone cell with a window forced permanently open, exposing him to the icy Moscow wind.

Repeated official complaints and pleas for medical help were ignored, and he eventually died after a savage beating by wardens, lying in a pool of his own urine. He was just 37.

His death, however, simply encouraged Hermitage’s British-American boss, Bill Browder, to redouble the fight for justice, both for his firm and Mr Magnitsky. And that fight has proved far more successful than the Kremlin ever imagined.

Today, after intensive international lobbying and publicising of Mr Magnitsky’s grim demise, Hermitage is on the brink of persuading the US government to introduce the so-called Magnitsky Law, which could slap visa bans on not just the 60 officials implicated in Mr Magnitsky’s death, but also Russian officials suspected of misconduct in future cases.

The prospect of the law, which has also led to calls for similar measures in Britain, has caused apoplexy among Kremlin officials, for whom bolt holes like “Londongrad” are needed to salt away the spoils of office, and – if needed – take refuge from political enemies.

It is believed that Mr Perepelichny gave the Swiss courts dossiers showing how officials accused over the tax scam stashed tens of millions of dollars abroad, buying villas in Moscow, Montenegro and on Dubai’s famous Palm Islands. The Swiss authorities have subsequently frozen the accounts.

While Mr Pereplichny’s motives remain unclear, it appears he may have had a falling-out with the husband of one of accused, the two men having previously been business partners. That man, in turn, has accused Mr Pereplichny of losing him large amounts of cash in investment funds, and claims the allegations against both him and his wife are fabricated. He was unavailable for comment last week.

What is less in dispute is how rattled Russia’s ruling elite has been by the prospect of the Magnitsky Law. Although it not yet certain that it will get presidential approval, senior Russian politicians have already lined up to condemn it.

In an interview on Thursday – a day after British newpapers first reported Mr Magnitsky’s death – Russia’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, called the move “a huge mistake by American lawmakers, as well as by the whole US establishment”.

Mrs Magnitskaya is a strong supporter of the ban, and urges Prime Minister David Cameron and other EU leaders to introduce similar measures. It is thought Britain has already privately imposed a visa ban on the 60 “Magnitsky List” officials, although ministers have declined to confirm this.

“Europe is even more important than the US because that’s where these people have their bank accounts, their yachts and their villas; where they send their children to school,” she said. “As we say in Russian, it’s what affects their own skins; their belongings, their money. That’s the only thing they’re scared of losing. I don’t expect justice here, but maybe we’ll see some abroad.”

Since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin in May, accusations of corruption involving government figures have spiked, possibly as part of a clean-up campaign by Mr Putin to boost his own popularity.
In the highest profile case, Mr Putin last month sacked his defence minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, after prosecutors said £65m of state funds had gone missing from a military real estate agency.

While Mr Serdyukov himself has not been investigated, a woman said to be his lover who was a director at the agency was charged with large-scale fraud after millions of pounds-worth of jewellery and paintings were discovered during a raid on her apartment.

Meanwhile, though, Russian authorities are also continuing a posthumous prosecution of Mr Magnitsky. Last week, they charged the dead lawyer with tax evasion, and filed the same indictment against Mr Browder.

Mrs Magnitskaya said: “Our special services want to completely blacken my son with these fabricated accusations, to say he’s a criminal, in order to discredit the Magnitsky Act in the US and any other initiatives that would damage them.”

Meanwhile, back in Surrey, detectives await the toxicology reports that may say whether they are dealing with murder or mishap. Those involved in Russian business circles in Britain are likewise watching closely.
“My view is that to actually murder someone in the UK is really beyond the pale,” said one source, with connections to both British and Russian security circles. “There is an understanding between senior Russian officials and oligarchs that they mustn’t do anything to turn the British government against them. Not when they educate their kids there and have all their money and homes there.”

However, he added that the recent corruption probes and sackings in Moscow could have left the officials accused by Mr Magnitsky and Mr Perepelichny without a “krysha” (roof, or protector). “They might have suddenly thought that Perepilichny was able to hurt them after all,” he said. In which case, he added, nothing could be ruled out. payday loan микрозаймы онлайн https://zp-pdl.com/get-quick-online-payday-loan-now.php https://zp-pdl.com/online-payday-loans-cash-advances.php hairy woman

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