AFP-JIJI – Associates of exiled Russian oligarch and Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky, who was found dead Saturday, questioned claims that he had begged President Vladimir Putin for forgiveness, but said he had been depressed and suicidal.
Berezovsky, who helped Putin rise to power but then fled Russia as the strongman cracked down on politically ambitious oligarchs, was found dead in his mansion near London on Saturday afternoon. Putin’s spokesman told state television that Berezovsky had recently written to Putin saying he wanted to go home and asking “forgiveness for his mistakes.”
“This letter was addressed to Putin personally. I don’t know if he will want to publish the full text,” Dmitry Peskov told the Interfax news agency on Sunday, adding that he had seen the letter but did not know whether Putin had ever answered it.
However, Berezovsky’s associates cast doubt on the letter’s existence. “I absolutely don’t believe in this letter. This is not possible,” opposition activist Andrei Sidelnikov said.
A journalist for Forbes Russia magazine, Ilya Zhegulev, claimed Berezovsky had recently had a change of heart toward Putin, telling Echo of Moscow radio station that Berezovsky praised the president’s strong will in an off-the-record conversation Friday.
Berezovsky also told Forbes Russia that his “life had lost meaning,” a transcript on the magazine’s website said.
Berezovsky’s lawyer, Alexander Dobrovinsky, claimed on state television Saturday that the oligarch had committed suicide, quoting unnamed mutual friends.
Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky, who worked with Berezovsky, agreed.
“I don’t believe that he was murdered. I do believe in a suicide,” Belkovsky said, adding that he thought Berezovsky could also have written to Putin as a “last chance to save himself.”
However, other allies of Berezovsky said this would be out of character.
“You need to know Boris Berezovsky quite well in order to understand that it’s just impossible,” Sidelnikov said.
A source close to Berezovsky’s family told Interfax on Sunday, “Today we can say 100 percent that the cause of death was natural.”
Zhirinovsky said Berezovsky had told him that in exchange for his return to Russia, the exiled oligarch was ready to “close the case” on the murder of former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko, a friend of Berezovsky’s and a fellow Kremlin critic, died of radioactive poisoning after drinking tea laced with polonium in London in 2006.
Zhirinovsky did not elaborate on what Berezovsky knew about the death or how his plan would have worked. Litvinenko’s murder, which cast a pall over British-Russian relations, is set to be examined at an inquest in Britain after Berezovsky gave evidence to investigators.
Britain’s chief suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, is a lawmaker in Zhirinovsky’s party. He has accused Berezovsky of masterminding the killing himself.