WINDSOR, England (Reuters) - Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky was a “broken man” after losing a multi-billion dollar court case to fellow Russian Roman Abramovich and regularly talked about killing himself in the months before his death, an inquest heard on Wednesday.
Berezovsky’s bodyguard Avi Navama said his employer had asked him about the best ways to commit suicide and told him he was “the poorest man in the world” after losing a $6 billion damages claim to the Chelsea football club owner in 2012.
Berezovsky, who became a Moscow powerbroker under the late President Boris Yeltsin only to fall foul of Vladimir Putin, was found dead a year ago in the bathroom of his former wife’s home near Windsor, west of London, with a scarf around his neck.
Navama said the court case against the tycoon’s former partner Abramovich triggered a change in the personality of Berezovsky who suffered from depression for six months before his death at the age of 67.
“He told me he’s not a billionaire, he’s the poorest man in the world,” Navama told the inquest at Windsor Guildhall.
A fast-talking former mathematician, Berezovsky scaled the heights of a ruthless post-Soviet business and political world, surviving years of power struggles and assassination attempts before fleeing to London in 2000 after a row with Putin.
Britain gave him political asylum in 2003 on the grounds that his life would be in danger if he went back, straining ties between London and Moscow, which cast Berezovsky as a criminal who should stand trial for massive fraud and tax evasion.
He suffered a blow in 2011 when he was forced to pay one of Britain’s biggest divorce settlements to former wife Galina and then lost a legal battle in London with Abramovich over shares in Russia’s fourth-biggest oil company.
The inquest heard that in the months that followed he began taking anti-depressants, having seen not just his financial affairs in difficulty but his status and reputation in Russia and abroad badly damaged.
He regularly talked about suicide with his friends and family.
Navama, who worked for the tycoon for six years, said Berezovsky owed 200 million pounds and was facing further litigation from his former partner.
Berezovsky’s legal adviser Michael Cotlick said that while he was not “broke” and had the potential to rebuild his fortune, he feared this case would expose the complicated corporate structures which hid his assets.
Dr Saeed Islam, who treated Berezovsky for depression, said he had talked of having eight outstanding legal cases and believed his opponents were trying to ruin him.
“He had a very clear view that his enemies abroad will not leave him alone,” he said. “They will make him homeless, they will make him poor.”
Navama’s wife Zoe Watson said in a witness statement he had become a different person and looked “a broken man”.
However, his family said they believed Berezovsky was becoming more optimistic about his future and suspect he was a victim of foul play.
Galina Besharova, the ex-wife whose house he was staying in when he was found dead, said in a witness statement read out in court that she was very suspicious of the idea that he killed himself.
Berezovsky himself often said he feared for his life. The inquest heard there had been two plots to kill him, the first an assassination attempt by suspected Russian mafia in 1994 when a bomb exploded in his car, decapitating his driver.
The second alleged plot was in the summer of 2007 when London police warned there was someone in the country planning to kill him and advised him to leave Britain.
He was also friends with former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko who was murdered in London in 2006 with a radioactive isotope put in his tea.
The inquest heard that a device to monitor radiation levels carried by a paramedic who was the first on the scene of Berezovsky’s death had sounded a warning tone while he was there.
But Detective Inspector Mark Bissell said tests by Britain’s atomic weapons establishment had not found any radiation and this had been ruled out.
Police also said there was no intelligence to indicate the tycoon’s life was at risk.
Asked about suggestions Berezovsky had faked his death or been assassinated, Bissell said: “These claims have no foundation. We believe Mr Berezovsky took his own life.”
The inquest continues.
Editing by Susan Fenton