Eminentoes

Goodbye, Mr. B.

How Boris Berezovsky really was done in by Russian intelligence.

By 4.5.13

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There was a time not too many years ago when Boris Abramovich Berezovsky was written about as the don-of-dons of multi-millionaire manipulators that made up the Russian exile community living in the UK protected by former Soviet security officers. Boris Abramovich was supposed to be the financial backer for Alexander Litvinenko, the one time FSB Lt. Colonel who was mysteriously poisoned in London by a lethal dose of polonium 210 administered by a former associate from his old intelligence organization sent for just that purpose from Moscow.

In better times in 1997 Forbes magazine listed Berezovsky as worth three billion dollars as one of Russia’s newly minted “oligarchs” whose consortiums were the new mode of the Russian economy. When he died on March 23 this year, it is doubtful his overall fortune that once had included a full complement of planes, limos, yachts and mansions throughout Russia and Western Europe could have still been listed assets in his onrushing state of bankruptcy. Boris Abramovich, the super wheeler-dealer, was broke, stony broke.

He was found dead on the floor of his locked bathroom by his lone remaining bodyguard (at one time he was reported to have a team of eleven). The police initially reported he had a “ligature around his neck,” indicating possible hanging. From the outset strict controls were placed on information released by the Thames Valley Police and their principal investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Kevin Brown. Yes, the same police jurisdiction in which British television’s famous DCI Morse so brilliantly entertained viewers worldwide. As they say, you can’t make up this stuff.

Berezovsky had been unable to extricate himself from onrushing penury caused among other things by his failed legal case against another Russian exiled plutocrat  (and current owner of the Chelsea-FC, one of the major British football clubs) The issue was over whether BB actually owned any of the Russian oil company, SIBNEFT. The loss of the case, in addition to its vast accrual of legal fees, meant Berezovsky no longer could raise any additional money based on this last, but now non-existent, asset. His many personal properties had long since been pledged against loans.

The Berezovsky saga began back in the last days of perestroika and the Gorbachev-encouraged loosening of Soviet governmental controls on private business dealings. Boris’s strength had always been his extraordinary mathematics ability. He had received his doctorate in 1983. For him swift business calculations were child’s play. By the nineties he was arranging auto consignment deals on the telephone and telex that would have taken corporations weeks to figure out. Additionally the entrepreneur had a riverboat gambler’s instinct for chance-taking. This combination of talents allowed Berezovsky to enter the free wheeling world of the Yeltsin era with a bankroll adequate to take advantage that administration’s loose legality in allowing easy sale of state assets.

Most importantly, Berezovsky understood the game of political corruption that followed the breakdown of the USSR. In particular the mathematician-turned-businessman-turned-power broker found the now substantially reduced security service of what had been the KGB an excellent source of aid and information. Retired security personnel not only provided the muscle, but they also had excellent knowledge of the tradecraft of covert activities so increasingly useful in Russian commercial and political life. Top among these “best and brightest” of the old Soviet apparat was the ex-KGB officer and recent deputy to the mayor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir V. Putin.

Putin, a Leningrad native, already had established himself in the Yeltsin period as an up and comer. Berezovsky placed his money and connections on Putin going all the way to the top -- first by returning as the head of the re-formed internal security service, FSB, and then on to national political prominence and the presidency. Unfortunately for Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Putin had no intention of being saddled with a business shark such as his earlier benefactor. The former security and intelligence circle around Putin, known as siloviki, made sure Berezovsky “got the message” and the billionaire fled to the UK in 2000 and formally sought asylum in 2003.

At this stage Berezovsky tried to parlay his contacts with the British security services into a more extensive relationship. Their Russian counterparts, however, passed the word in no uncertain terms that BAB was considered not only persona non grata in respect to the Russian Republic, but he was a personal enemy of President Putin. To make matters worse for Berezovsky, his earlier attempts to utilize his contacts with the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, became embarrassing for the Israelis . They clearly indicated they wanted no confusion over any personal or professional relationship with Mr. Boris A. Berezovsky. The Israeli service was particularly unhappy over having some former employees of theirs now reported as providing security for BB and his family.

The problem that Berezovsky faced was that his belief in his own abilities and financial entrées just did not match up with the reality of the “burn notice” that Russian intelligence and Putin’s personal security structure had put out on him. It didn’t matter that among BB’s “friends” were relatives of past U.S. presidents and the British Royal Family. In fact his past high level contacts around the world found that any relationship they had had with him now was something to be avoided and even denied. Worse were the repeated indications that Berezovsky no longer could cover his financial expenditures and loans.

Boris Berezovsky still had enough status that the investigation of his death led by the Thames Valley Police team became a top priority, if only to keep the details from being leaked publicly before MI5, Special Branch, FSB and all the other security services got their stories straight. Even now a great many friends and associates are hiding behind legal counsel as the press is still digging for clues. The unraveling of the complex Berezovsky financial structure had begun long before his death, but it is expected to pick up speed as creditors and family members vie for the leftovers.

The final story of Boris Abramovich Berezovsky most likely never really will be written, but that will not keep “insider” versions from being published as long as some juicy bits can be discovered. One thing is certain: Vladimir V. Putin doesn’t have to worry about Boris’ threatened exposé of the financial wheeling and dealing of Russia’s president. And Putin is not the only international political figure to breathe a sigh of relief that Boris is no longer in business.

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.