* 44-year-old Alexander Perepilichny found dead on Nov 10
* Had been helping Swiss investigate Russian
* Also provided evidence linked to killing of Sergei
* Police say post-mortem inconclusive, more tests under way
By Maria Golovnina
LONDON, Nov 28 A Russian businessman helping
Swiss prosecutors uncover a powerful fraud syndicate has died in
mysterious circumstances outside his mansion in Britain, in a
chilling twist to a Russian mafia scandal that has strained
Moscow's ties with the West.
Alexander Perepilichny, 44, sought refuge in Britain three
years ago and had been helping a Swiss investigation into a
Russian money-laundering scheme by providing evidence against
corrupt officials, his colleagues and media reports said.
He has also provided evidence against those linked to the
2009 death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a case
that caused an international outcry and prompted the United
States to push for a bill cracking down on Russian corruption.
Perepilichny, a Russian citizen, collapsed and died abruptly
outside his home on an upmarket estate in the English county of
Surrey on Nov. 10, police said on Wednesday, the first time the
case has come to light.
Perepilichny is the fourth person linked to the Magnitsky
case to have died in strange circumstances.
"It is being treated as unexplained," a police spokeswoman
said. "A post-mortem examination was carried out which was
inconclusive. So further tests are now being carried out."
British media reports said Perepilichny appeared to be in
good health when he collapsed in the evening outside St George's
Hill, one of Britain's most exclusive estates, where he was
renting a house for 12,500 pounds ($20,000) a month.
Dubbed as Britain's Beverly Hills and surrounded by neatly
trimmed golf courses, the sprawling leafy estate is home to many
prominent magnates and celebrities, its list of one-time tenants
boasting stars such as Elton John and Ringo Starr.
Far beyond Russia's borders, Magnitsky's death has become a
symbol of corruption in Russia and the abuse of those who
challenge the authorities there.
This month the U.S. House of Representatives voted
overwhelmingly to "name and shame" Russian rights violators as
part of a broader trade bill, brushing off warnings from Moscow
that the move would damage relations.
William Browder, a former employer of Magnitsky and a
prominent London-based investor, said Perepilichny had come
forward in 2010 with evidence involving the Magnitsky case that
subsequently helped Swiss prosecutors open their investigation.
"Alexander Perepilichny approached us in 2010 as a
whistleblower with evidence about the complicity of a number of
Russian government officials in the theft of $230 million which
Sergei Magnitsky had uncovered," said Browder, founder of
Hermitage Capital Management.
"He provided us with copies of many of the original bank
documents. In January 2011, Hermitage filed an application to
the Swiss authorities seeking an investigation. It was announced
in March that the Swiss prosecutor's office opened an
investigation and froze the assets in a number of accounts."
Browder, whose grandfather was the general secretary of the
American Communist Party, was one of the biggest Western
investors in Russia but was barred from Russia in late 2005 and
most of his staff left the country as Hermitage found itself
coming under increasing official pressure.
Magnitsky was jailed in 2008 on suspicion of tax evasion and
fraud, charges that colleagues say were fabricated by police
investigators he had accused of stealing $230 million from the
state through fraudulent tax refunds. The Kremlin's own human
rights council has said Magnitsky was probably beaten to death.
Leaked secret diplomatic cables from the U.S. embassy in
Moscow once described Russia as a "virtual mafia state", and
London has long been the chosen destination for Russians seeking
refuge from trouble at home.
But concerns have been growing in recent years that Britain
might be turning into a playground for Russian mobsters as
gangland violence seems to be spilling over Russian borders.
In April, a former Russian banker was shot near London's
Canary Wharf financial district, sending a chill through the
immigrant community. In 2006, former Russian spy Alexander
Litvinenko died after drinking tea poisoned with polonium-210.
Asked about Perepilichny's case, Swiss prosecutors said it
started its criminal investigation in March 2011 following a
complaint made by London law firm Brown Rudnick filed on behalf
of Hermitage Capital Management.
"Concerning the death of Mr Perepilichny and its
consequences on the criminal proceedings, we'd like to stress
that our strength resides in our ability to minimise the
influence of such a regretful event on our investigation," the
Swiss Office of the Attorney General said in a statement.
"A good cooperation with other judicial authorities is also
essential to carry on our investigation efficiently."
Perepilichny was also a witness against Russia's notorious
Klyuyev Group, a murky network of officials and underworld
figures implicated in tax fraud who used European bank accounts
to buy luxury property in Dubai and Montenegro, Britain's
Independent newspaper reported.
"Perepilichny was the guy who brought all the evidence they
needed to open the investigation," a source told The
Independent. "He brought with him records of shell companies,
Credit Suisse accounts, property transactions. The whole lot."