Boris Berezovsky, the Russian oligarch who died of an apparent suicide last year, was a “broken man” on anti-depressants after he lost a court case against Roman Abramovich in 2012, witnesses told an inquest.
Berezovsky, 67, was found dead just over a year ago in his mansion outside London. Avi Navama, the bodyguard who was the first to discover Berezovsky’s body, told a coroner’s inquest today that his employer frequently complained about financial problems and couldn’t pay creditors about 200 million pounds ($331 million).
Once a multibillionaire, Berezovsky had lost one of the largest U.K. civil lawsuits ever filed against Abramovich, the Russian owner of the Chelsea Football Club. Berezovsky was an “unimpressive and inherently unreliable” witness, the judge said in the ruling in the case.
“Before the verdict, he was very active,” Navama told the inquest in Windsor, England. “Very dynamic.”
He took the ruling “very personally,” Michael Cotlick, an adviser to Berezovsky, told the inquest. There had been an offer of a loan from a wealthy Russian colleague to ease any cash flow concerns, Cotlick said.
Berezovsky died March 23, 2013, from hanging with no evidence of a violent struggle, U.K. police said following an initial autopsy.
Navama’s wife, Zoe Watson, said in a statement read by Coroner Peter Bedford that Berezovsky “looked like a broken man” and had discussed ways of “killing himself” with his son.
Berezovsky had lived in self-imposed exile in the U.K. to avoid prosecution in Russia. No stranger to Russian power as a friend and confidant of Boris Yeltsin, he sparred publicly with President Vladimir Putin.
He fled Russia for the U.K. in 2000 after backing Putin in his first presidential campaign. He was given political asylum three years later. Berezovsky said in a 2007 interview that he was worth $4 billion and that he was using a part of his fortune to finance “a revolution in Russia without blood.” Forbes magazine dropped the tycoon from its rich list in 2010, after estimating his wealth at $1 billion the previous year.
Cotlick said that there had been two known attempts on Berezovsky’s life in 1994, when a bomb killed his driver, and one in 2007, which was prevented by British police.
Both Navama and a paramedic, John Pocock, told the inquest today that they believed Berezovsky committed suicide. Navama said he went to Berezovsky’s room at his Ascot estate to see what he wanted for lunch. The bathroom door was locked and there was no answer.
He called emergency services before he kicked the door down.
“I spent time with him more than I spent with my wife,” Navama said. “I counted him as a family.”
Inquests in England and Wales are held to examine sudden or unexplained deaths. Coroner’s inquests can come to a limited number of verdicts including death by accident, suicide, or unlawful killing. If there is insufficient evidence for any of those, they record an “open verdict.”
Peter Bedford, the coroner, read out a series of statements from various family members including Berezovsky’s children. His ex-wife Galina Besharova said he wasn’t the type to commit suicide. “I am very suspicious that my former husband did not kill himself,” she said in the statement.