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Tycoon's Death Was 'Consistent With Hanging'

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Russia's tycoon Boris Berezovsky. ©AFPRussia's tycoon Boris Berezovsky. ©AFPRussian tycoon Boris Berezovsky died in a manner "consistent with hanging," British police said in a brief statement Monday evening announcing the results of a postmortem exam.

The exam found "nothing to indicate a violent struggle," the statement said.

"Further tests will now be carried out, including toxicology and histology examinations, the results of which are likely to take several weeks," the statement added. A forensic exam of the countryside home where Mr. Berezovsky died will continue for several days, police said.

Mr. Berezovsky, a formerly powerful oligarch who fled Russia in 2000 after falling out with President Vladimir Putin, was found dead Saturday afternoon by a household employee at a residence in Ascot, England. The employee found him after forcing open a bathroom door that had been locked from the inside, police said earlier this week, adding they had no evidence of third-party involvement in the death.

Friends and former colleagues of Mr. Berezovsky's have described him as depressed in recent months over a series of troubles, including a dramatic courtroom battle he lost last year to rival Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich. The court branded Mr. Berezovsky an "inherently unreliable" witness and ruled against him, leaving him to pay his own and Mr. Abramovich's large legal bills.

"He was extremely depressed and very low," Tim Bell, a prominent London public-relations adviser and longtime friend of Mr. Berezovsky's, said by telephone Monday. "He'd lost all his money, he'd received a complete character assassination from a British judge, he was under serious harassment from the Russian authorities….he was having difficulties in his private life."

Mr. Berezovsky had been taking antidepressants in recent months, according to Mr. Bell, and around Christmas spent 48 hours at the Priory clinic in London being treated for depression. Recently he had been trying to sell "everything" to pay off his debts, Mr. Bell added, including an Andy Warhol print, "Red Lenin," which sold for about $200,000 at a Christie's auction in London last week.

Alex Goldfarb, who previously worked for Mr. Berezovsky and has known him since 1995, said he last spoke to him by phone two weeks ago. "He said, 'I'm not well, I'm depressed, I'm taking pills. I think that my life is essentially over,' " Mr. Goldfarb said in a telephone interview Monday. Losing the court case to Mr. Abramovich "effectively ruined him in every respect," he said.

As Mr. Berezovsky struggled to pay legal bills tied to that case, his relationship with longtime partner Elena Gorbunova was breaking up and descending into a legal battle over his assets. In December, at Ms. Gorbunova's request, a British judge froze some of Mr. Berezovsky's assets and forbade him from selling two seafront properties in the south of France, according to documents from London's High Court.

Ms. Gorbunova told the court that Mr. Berezovsky promised her certain sums of money and ownership of the French properties, but that she was fearful he would "renege on his assurances" because he "needs the money himself," according to the documents. She said Mr. Berezovsky told her in mid September that he was "in financial difficulties" and that the French properties "had to be sold immediately" because a creditor was asking for "security for their loan," according to the documents.

She said he had already failed to fulfill a promise to give her £5 million from the 2012 sale of a mansion outside London called Wentworth Park, and to buy a new U.K. home for her and their two children. "She was told that the proceeds had been paid to repay loans and to pay lawyers' fees," the documents say.

Lawyers for Ms. Gorbunova declined to comment on the case. Ms. Gorbunova herself couldn't be reached to comment. Mr. Berezovsky's lawyers from the case didn't respond to requests to comment.

Mr. Goldfarb said Mr. Berezovsky described that court case as "another blow to him."

Mr. Berezovsky constantly spoke about wanting to return to Russia, Mr. Goldfarb added, though he said he had no information about Mr. Berezovsky allegedly sending Mr. Putin a letter a few months ago asking for permission to return to Russia, as the Kremlin has claimed.

"I don't exclude that Boris…tried to explore the possibility of going back," Mr. Goldfarb said. But if there was such a letter, "I would like to see that letter," he said.

March 26 2013, 13:22

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