Berezovsky was 'down' but would not bow to Putin: allies
Associates of exiled Russian oligarch and Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky, who was found dead Saturday, questioned claims that he had begged President Vladimir Putin for forgiveness, but said he had been depressed and perhaps suicidal.
Berezovsky, who helped Putin rise to power but then fled Russia as the new strongman cracked down on politically ambitious oligarchs, was found dead in his mansion near London on Saturday afternoon.
Putin's spokesman told state television that Berezovsky had recently written to Putin saying he wanted to go home and asking "forgiveness for his mistakes."
"This letter was addressed to Putin personally. I don't know if he will want to publish the full text," Peskov told the Interfax news agency on Sunday, adding that he had seen the letter but did not know whether Putin had ever answered it.
Berezovsky's associates cast doubt on the letter's existence, however.
"I absolutely don't believe in this letter. This is not possible," opposition activist Andrei Sidelnikov told TV Rain.
A journalist for Forbes Russia magazine, Ilya Zhegulev, claimed that Berezovsky had recently had a change of heart towards Putin, telling Echo of Moscow radio station that Berezovsky praised the president's strong will in an off-the-record conversation on Friday.
Berezovsky also told Forbes Russia that his "life had lost meaning," a transcript on the magazine's website said.
A top Russian lawyer, Alexander Dobrovinsky, claimed on state television Saturday that Berezovsky had committed suicide, quoting unnamed mutual friends.
"I don't believe that he was murdered. I do believe in a suicide," political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky, who worked with Berezovsky, told TV Rain, adding that he thought Berezovsky could also have written to Putin as a "last chance to save himself."
Other allies said this would be out of character.
"You need to know Boris Berezovsky quite well in order to understand that it's just impossible," said opposition activist Sidelnikov.
A source close to Berezovsky's family told Interfax on Sunday: "Today we can say 100 percent that the cause of death was natural."
Those who knew Berezovsky concurred he was depressed after recent setbacks such as losing a legal battle in London against billionaire Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, leaving him with reported costs of hundreds of millions of dollars.
"He did have signs or symptoms of depression. He was downcast, melancholy, not like himself," said Alexander Goldfarb, an activist and close associate of Berezovsky.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant leader of the nationalist and Kremlin-backing Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, said Berezovsky was downcast when they met in Israel in January.
"He was ready to return to Russia on any terms.... He looked very down and his eyes had lost their shine," Zhirinovsky told Echo of Moscow.
Berezovsky had been convicted of embezzlement and jailed in absentia by Russian courts.
Zhirinovsky said Berezovsky had told him that in exchange for his return to Russia, the exiled oligarch was ready to "close the case" on the murder of former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko.
Litvinenko, a friend of Berezovsky's and a fellow Kremlin critic, died of radioactive poisoning after drinking tea laced with polonium in London in 2006.
Zhirinovsky did not elaborate on what Berezovsky knew about the death or how his plan would have worked.
Litvinenko's murder, which cast a pall over British-Russian relations, is set to be examined at an inquest in Britain after Berezovsky gave evidence to investigators.
Britain's chief suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, is a lawmaker in Zhirinovsky's party. He has accused Berezovsky of masterminding the killing himself.
Berezovsky worked as an academic before making his fortune dealing in Lada cars and building a media empire after the fall of Communism.
© 2013 AFP