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Boris Berezovsky: A Profile

Updated: 10:23pm UK, Saturday 23 March 2013

Boris Berezovsky was once one of Russia’s most powerful kingmakers, a member of the influential group of Russian tycoons referred to as the “oligarchs”.

Born in Moscow in 1946, the son of a civil engineer, he gained a doctorate in applied mathematics, before becoming one of a number of Russian businessmen who took advantage of Perestroika.

He made his money founding the car company LogoVAZ in 1989, selling local Russian cars and importing Mercedes.

As his wealth grew so too did his sphere of influence and in 1993 he entered the Kremlin’s inner circle, eventually earning the nickname Rasputin, after the mystic adviser to the Romanovs.

By the mid-1990s Mr Berezovsky owned a stake in the oil company Sibneft and had a majority share in Russia’s main television channel, ORT.

In 1997 Forbes estimated his wealth was $3bn.

At Davos in 1996 he joined forces with other businessmen who had flourished in the ruins of the Soviet Union and they formed a pact, known as the “Davos Pact” in which they agreed to bank roll Boris Yeltsin for his second presidential run.

Together with members of Mr Yeltsin’s family, like his daughter Tatyana Yumasheva, and like-minded politicians, like Anatoly Chubais, Yegor Gaidar and Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, they effectively ran Russia during Mr Yetsin’s second term as his health faltered.

When it was clear a successor was needed, it is said that it was Mr Berezovsky who hand-picked the ex-KGB head, Vladimir Putin.

He may have made him king but Mr Putin soon made it clear that he was not to be anyone’s puppet and shortly after he became President the two men fell out.

Mr Berezovsky resigned from the Duma and set himself up in opposition then left the country on business. He never returned.

In November 2000, while travelling, he was summoned for economic crimes but he did not respond and set up home in London. He was granted asylum in the UK in 2003.

Mr Berezovsky vowed that he would bring Mr Putin down, but after a series of assassination attempts, he also lived in fear for his life.

According to Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian FSB agent who was assassinated in London in 2006, a Russian agent was preparing a hit on Mr Berezovsky in September 2003.

Mr Litvinenko had also claimed in 1998 when he was an FSB agent that he himself had been ordered to kill Mr Berezovsky.

In 2007, Scotland Yard said it had foiled a plot to assassinate Mr Berezovsky in the UK. The alleged hitman, a Chechen national, was arrested in London and deported to Russia.

Mr Berezovsky also survived an assassination attempt in Russia in 1994 when a car bomb exploded, wounding him and decapitating his driver.

And as Mr Berezovsky’s power faded in his self-imposed exile, so did his wealth.

According to the Sunday Times Rich List by 2011, his net worth was only about $900m (£591m).

Mr Berezovsky’s stake in Sibneft eventually led to a court battle with Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, which is estimated to have cost him £100m, and speculation about his financial well-being.

In 2012, he lost the High Court case in which he accused his fellow oligarch of breach of trust, breach of contract and claimed Mr Abramovich “intimidated” him into selling shares in Sibneft for a “mere $1.3bn” (£800m) – “a fraction of their true worth”.

In July 2011 his ex-wife Galina Beshanrova, 53, won the biggest divorce settlement in history, said to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Mr Berezovsky ran up further legal bills of more than £250,000 later in 2012 fighting a case against his former lover, Elena Gorbunova.

Ms Gorbunova, who had two children with Mr Berezovsky, complained that she had not been given millions promised by him.

On Wednesday, Mr Berezovsky sold Red Lenin, an Andy Warhol screen print, for £133,875 at Christie’s auction house, prompting more speculation about his financial situation.

Demoralised by the Abramovich case, the Kremlin claims that Mr Berezovsky, the kingmaker, was a broken man in the days before he died.

He had written, Mr Putin’s spokesman claimed, to beg forgiveness and to finally return to Russia.

He never did.

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