MOSCOW, March 24 (RIA Novosti) - Self-exiled Russian businessman and Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky has died in his Surrey home at the age of 67, his son-in-law, Yegor Shuppe, said on his Facebook page Saturday.
“Boris Berezovsky is dead,” he wrote.
Berezovsky’s death was confirmed by Demyan Kudryavtsev, a long-time family friend, who told rbc.ru that Berezovsky had died at 11 a.m. GMT.
The precise cause of his death is not yet known. Initial suggestions that Berezovsky may have committed suicide were quickly quashed by his close associates.
Kudryavtsev told the Prime business news agency that Berezovsky had suffered a heart attack. A source in Berezovsky’s inner circle also cited the same cause of death, adding that Berezovsky had recently received treatment in Israel.
Meanwhile, the British media said Berezovsky’s body had been found by one of his bodyguards, and the South Central Ambulance Service received an emergency call from a property in Ascot, Berkshire, at 15:18 GMT.
British police opened an investigation and is treating Berezovsky’s death as “unexplained” for now.
Under President Boris Yeltsin, Boris Berezovsky had been known as Russia’s “kingmaker.” He was a trusted figure at the very heart of the Kremlin and was central to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in the late 1990s.
After Putin took office, however, Berezovsky’s relationship with the Kremlin quickly soured.
In 2001, he fled to France and then on to the UK. The Russian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him the following year on charges of money-laundering and illegal business activity.
In January 2004 British media reported UK Home Office confirmation that he had been granted political asylum in the country and issued with a UK passport in the name of Platon Elenin.
Russian courts have twice sentenced Berezovsky in absentia since he fled the country. First in 2007 over fraud charges relating to his time at Aeroflot in the 1990s, and then in 2009 on embezzlement charges relating to his time at carmaker Avtovaz, also in the 1990s.
Berezovsky denied these charges.
Throughout his time in the UK, Berezovsky remained fiercely critical of Putin's government.
Late last May Russia’s Investigative Committee initiated two criminal cases against Berezovsky over his public calls for riots to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin's inauguration and entry to the Kremlin on May 7.
Berezovsky had warned that “protest rallies may turn into the thunder of a cannonade.”
The British newspaper the Times reported that an Andy Warhol print sold by Christie’s auction house on Wednesday had previously been owned by Boris Berezovsky.
Citing “sources familiar with the oligarch’s affairs,” the paper reported that the artwork had been auctioned “to pay off creditors and legal bills.”
The limited edition print fetched over $202,000 at auction in London.
Boris Berezovsky suffered heavy financial blows in 2011 and 2012.
In August 2012, he lost a legal battle over a $4.7 billion damages claim against former business partner and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich.
Justice Elizabeth Gloster, who presided over the case, described Berezovsky as “an unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness.”
Berezovky responded by expressing his surprise that the ruling went against him, accusing Mrs Justice Gloster of “rewriting Russian history,” adding “sometimes I have the impression that Putin himself wrote this judgment.”
In July 2011 Berezovsky’s ex-wife, 53-year-old Galina Besharova, won a divorce settlement that British media dubbed the English legal system's largest ever divorce payout, rumored to be worth up to 220 million pounds sterling (over $330 million).
In January, the judge presiding over another case involving Berezovsky issued a ruling describing the businessman as “a man under financial pressure.”
President Putin has been informed of Berezovsky's death, the president's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russia 24 TV network.
Peskov also said that Berezovsky had written to Putin “perhaps a couple of months ago,” asking forgiveness for the mistakes he had made and “requesting permission to return to the motherland.”
According to an interview published on Forbes' Russian-language website (www.forbes.ru) on Saturday, Berezovsky said the day before his death that his life no longer made sense and he wished he could return to Russia to resume his former scientific pursuits.
Berezovsky survived several assassination attempts, including one that killed his driver in 1994.
Experts in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) emergencies are conducting a search at the British property where Berezovsky was found dead, police said on Sunday.
"Specially trained officers are currently at the scene, including CBRN trained officers, who are conducting a number of searches as a precaution," Thames Valley Police said in a statement.
The area around the property has been cordoned off to allow the investigation to take place.
"I would like to reassure residents that we are confident there is no risk to the wider community," Superintendent Stuart Greenfield said.
Berezovsky was a close friend of another Russian fugitive and former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in 2006 from poisoning by radioactive polonium-210.
Updates with paras 30-34.