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But Berezovsky fell foul of the Kremlin early in Putin’s first term and moved to Britain, where he was given asylum.
Sheltered from criminal cases in which he has been sentenced to years in prison in absentia, and which he has dismissed as politically motivated, he harried Putin for a decade from London. He teamed up with other exiles to implicate the Russian state in killings and rights abuses.
Russian authorities have rejected those claims as bids to blacken Russia’s reputation and tried to turn the tables, with officials and state media casting him as an almost clownishly villainous figure responsible for some of the same crimes himself.
Berezovsky’s fortunes fell when he lost a $6 billion legal battle last year with Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, a former protege he accused of using the threat of Kremlin retribution to scare him into selling assets cheaply.
“After the loss in court … he was in deep depression,” said Alexei Venediktov, editor of Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio.
“I think it was probably his health, including depression, and his age,” Venediktov said of his death. “Boris Abramovich never took it easy - he was a fighter, he led an active lifestyle, and unfortunately he has left life in this way.”
Berezovsky leaves a deeply mixed reputation. Many Russians, Venediktov said, “see Boris Abramovich as a mythological figure – as Heracles or, on the contrary, as Hades.”