LONDON (Reuters) - Britain should disclose whether Alexander Perepilichny, a Russian whistleblower who died in 2012, had been working for UK intelligence as it is relevant to suspicions that he was murdered, an inquest heard on Wednesday.
Perepilichny, 44, was found dead near his luxury home on the exclusive St George’s Hill estate in Weybridge, Surrey, southwest of London, after he had been out jogging in November 2012.
The sudden nature of the death of Perepilichny, who had sought refuge in Britain in 2009, and his role in helping a Swiss investigation into a Russian money-laundering scheme has sparked speculation that he might have been murdered.
Bob Moxon Browne, the lawyer for Legal & General, with whom Perepilichny had taken out a large life insurance policy, said the inquest should hear whether he had worked for British intelligence as “it would be very powerful evidence that he was in special danger,” adding the court should be told either way.
“If it be the case that Mr Perepilichny was not working for British intelligence, then let us know that,” he told the Old Bailey court.
British police have said there was no evidence of foul play, but the inquest was put on hold after the government said it would investigate 14 Russian deaths, including that of Perepilichny, not originally treated as suspicious but linked to Russia in media reports.
That review followed a nerve agent attack in March on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, southern England, which Britain blamed on Russia. Russia denied involvement.
Coroner Nicholas Hilliard said he had been updated by the government on the review of those deaths, and Peter Skelton, the lawyer to the inquest, said lawmakers had indicated that they did not intend to investigate the death of Perepilichny.
Hilliard said he was satisfied that the inquest into the death was being “fully and fearlessly conducted”. But a lawyer for the government declined to give sensitive details of what the interior ministry had found, saying that the risks of disclosure outweighed the public interest.
Moxon Browne said an exception should be made in the case of Perepilichny.
“The Skripal case demonstrates... the lengths to which the Russian state is prepared to go to make an example of people perceived as enemies, traitors or turncoats. Perepilichny... falls into the same bracket,” he told the court.
The inquest went into a closed hearing on Wednesday afternoon, and the court did not set a date for closing submissions.
Editing by Stephen Addison