Coroner is urged to show ‘courage’ in Russian whistleblower inquest

Coroner is urged to show ‘courage’ when considering whether Russian fraud whistleblower who died mysterious death at 44 may have been poisoned by Putin

  • Inquest has been hearing evidence about the death of Alexander Perepilichnyy
  • Insurers and firm he helped say he may have been assassinated by Russians
  • His wife says she believes his death was not suspicious and wants closure
  • Lawyers urge coroner to be ‘courageous’ when considering open verdict 

Alexander Perepilichnyy collapsed near his home in Surrey after helping expose corruption in Russia. His life insurers have said he may have been poisoned

A coroner has been urged to show ‘courage’ when considering whether a Russian whistleblower who collapsed in his estate may have been poisoned by Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Alexander Perepilichnyy, 44, collapsed and died jogging near his £3million St George’s Hill estate in Weybridge, Surrey, on 10 November 2012.

He had been helping Swiss prosecutors and investment firm Hermitage Capital Management expose a £150m money-laundering case involving fraudsters with links to the Kremlin.

Staff who discovered Perepilichnyy’s body saw nothing suspicious about his death, and paramedics said it looked like a ‘textbook cardiac arrest’.

But Perepilichnyy’s life insurance firm Legal and General (L&G) suggested he may have been poisoned by Russian agents.

Experts from the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew initially opined that an ‘unknown compound’ found in his system could have been a plant toxin.

But subsequent tests ruled out the presence of any such poisons ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’.

A picture taken on the day he died shows his body covered in a road in front of a police car

He was found in a road not far from his mansion. Paramedics said he’d suffered a cardiac arrest

Addressing the coroner at Mr Perepilichnyy’s inquest in London today, Robert Moxon-Browne QC said: ‘You have to grapple with the circumstances of Mr Perepilichnyy’s life.

‘Whether he was associated or connected with the Hermitage fraud and whether as a result of that there might be some people who had a motive to kill him.’

He told the judge that an open verdict was not something he should be ‘ashamed of’. He added: ‘That is the most courageous course – to say: “I don’t know”.’

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Referring to the Salisbury novichok attack, Mr Moxon-Browne said: ‘The Skripal case demonstrates as clearly as anything could the lengths to which the Russian state is prepared to go in order to make an example out of, or to punish, people perceived as enemies, traitors or turncoats.’

The coroner resisted calls for disclosure on whether Mr Perepilichnyy was in contact with British intelligence after a Government application for secrecy in the national interest.

He explained the material was ‘minimal’ and did not help him answer the question of how Mr Perepilichnyy died. 

The married father had spent the night before with his ex-model girlfriend Elmira Medynska, 28, at the Buddha Bar in Paris. She said he seemed ‘somewhere else’ and was sick

Extensive tests have failed to identify any poison in Mr Perepilichnyy’s body, although experts could not categorically rule out a toxin or even Novichok, which was used in the Salisbury case.

Surrey Police has faced criticism over its handling of the investigation and during the inquest it emerged that the contents of Mr Perepilichnyy’s computer was lost.

However, Detective Superintendent Ian Pollard, of Surrey Police, has insisted there were no signs of ‘third party involvement or foul play’.

John Beggs QC, for Mr Perepilichnyy’s widow Tatiana, called for all the ‘florid’ theories of murder and intrigue be put to bed for the sake of his children.

He accused Legal and General of having a commercial motivation and Hermitage a long established political reason for casting suspicion on his death.

Perepilichnyy had been helped campaigner Bill Browder (left) expose corruption in Russia. Another Russian who helped Mr Browder, Sergei Magnitsky (right), died in custody in Russia

Married Mr Perepilichnyy dined with his ex-girlfriend, Ukrainian former model Elmira Medynska, at a Parisian restaurant the night before he died.

She said he was sick after the meal and had been shaking, drinking a lot and seemed ‘somewhere else’,

She told an inquest she received death threats from his email address three months after his body was found. 

The coroner adjourned the inquest to a future date when he will record his verdict. 

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