Lawyers have claimed there are "potential parallels" with the death of Litvinenkoby John Keenan / September 12, 2016 / Leave a comment
When 24-year-old chef Liam Walsh happened upon a dead body in a quiet street on the exclusive St George’s Hill estate in Weybridge, Surrey, in November 2012, he did what any millennial would do—he took out his mobile phone and made a short video clip.
Later, he told the Reuters news agency: “He wasn’t breathing. We had to get him on the back and start doing CPR. He was probably dead for a while.”
The dead man was a Ukrainian-born businessman called Alexander Perepilichnyy, and almost four years after his corpse was discovered the circumstances surrounding his death have become murkier and more disturbing.
Last week at Surrey coroner’s court in Woking, attempts to get at the truth were stymied once more. The inquest was postponed until next spring when the British government insisted that national security would be undermined if documents requested by the coroner, Richard Travers, were made public.
Travers said he had “no choice” but to delay proceedings because the government wanted to secure Public Interest Immunity status for sensitive documents related to the investigation into the Russian citizen’s death. Lawyers have alleged there are “potential parallels” between the deaths of Perepilichny and the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. In January this year a public enquiry in London concluded that Litvinenko died after being poisoned in an operation ordered by the Russian state.
Speaking after the latest delay to the Perepilichnyy inquest was announced, Litvinenko’s widow Marina told me she was disappointed that the British state had made the inquest process political.
She said: “I was offered support from British politicians from all sides but I always refused their involvement. I was very independent. I knew I had the right to know who killed my husband. But when William Hague said in 2013 that evidence had to be kept secret then I knew there had to be a public inquiry.”
The question is why would the British government now want to cover up the truth about how and why Perepilichnyy died?
An earlier pre-inquest hearing was told Perepilichnyy moved to Britain from Moscow in the wake of the global financial crash. His job had been to provide financial services to wealthy clients. As journalist Luke Harding points out in his forensic account of the Litvinenko affair A Very Expensive Poison, once domiciled in the expensive and, he thought, secure surroundings of St George’s Hill, Perepilichnyy made contact with American financier Bill Browder. Browder had been kicked out of Russia in 2005 after accusing Vladimir Putin of approving the theft of millions of dollars from Browder’s asset management company Hermitage Capital. Browder’s Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested and tortured. He died in an isolation cell in 2009.
In London, Perepilichnyy provided documents to representatives from Hermitage which he said contained evidence of a multimillion pound tax fraud involving Russian officials. Acting on the evidence that the proceeds of a fraud were put into Swiss bank accounts and Dubai real estate, the Swiss authorities froze millions of dollars of one of the alleged fraudsters. Perepilichnyy began to receive threats from Moscow. His name was included on a hit list discovered when Chechen assassins were arrested in France.
None of this troubled the Surrey Police who could find no evidence of third-party involvement in Perepilichnyy’s death.
That was not good enough for the number crunchers at insurance firm Legal and General. The firm was used by the 44-year-old man to insure his life for millions of pounds. His body was discovered eight days after his policy became active. Legal and General hired Monique Simmonds, a plant expert at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, to conduct further tests. She told yet another pre-inquest hearing that Perepilichnyy had been poisoned. The lethal toxin was Gelsemium Elegans. It grows only in Asia and is said to be favoured by Russian and Chinese gangsters.
Last week, following the adjournment of the inquest, Professor Simmonds told me that Kew would not be in a position to make a statement until its report was published, and the inquest verdict delivered. But earlier this year, Legal and General’s QC, Bob Moxon Browne, named a Russian lawyer, Andrei Pavlov, as a prime suspect. Pavlov, he said, had fled the UK the day after Perepilichnyy’s death.
Moxon Browne told the coroner: “Mr Pavlov is certainly a candidate for the killing. It is not just the fact that he was here, but the fact that he left.”
The delay has infuriated Bill Browder. Speaking to me by phone at the end of last week he said he had come to the conclusion that Surrey Police has an agenda which appears to include an unwillingness to get to the truth. Browder told me he believes the delay could be putting at risk his life and the lives of his staff.
A spokeswoman for Surrey Police said: “Surrey Police, along with all other interested parties, has and will continue to co-operate fully as part of the on-going coronial process into the death of Alexander Perepilichnyy. We are unable to comment any further at this time.”
But Browder told me: “The coroner is not able to do his job. This is where it gets confusing. The police are saying there is nothing suspicious about the death. The government is saying it is a matter of national security. Those two things are mutually inconsistent. I would like to see a full ventilation of the facts. I believe that will lead to the conclusion that Alexander Perepilichnyy was murdered. That means people are getting away with murder in the UK.”