British police say exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, whose body was found over the weekend, left no suicide note and that there was no evidence of third-party involvement in his death.
Berezovsky, 67, a one-time billionaire who sought asylum in the U.K. after a high-profile falling out with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was found dead at his home in Ascot in Berkshire on Saturday. Authorities have not released a cause of death and say that for now they are treating it as unexplained.
Berezovsky was a Soviet-era mathematics professor who exploited the chaos in the waning days of the Soviet era to wrest control of oil company Sibneft and state TV station ORT, in the process becoming not only one of the world's richest men but also a king-maker in Russian politics.
NPR's Philip Reeves reports on Morning Edition that a bodyguard is said to have found the body on the floor of a bathroom in Berezovsky's lakeside mansion, after forcing open the locked door Saturday.
Reeves says police called in a team trained in chemical, biological and nuclear emergencies to search the home, a move that fueled rumors that he may have been poisoned.
That's what happened to Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who was mysteriously murdered in London in 2006. Litvinenko was found to have been poisoned by a cup of tea laced with radioactive polonium 210. Two former KGB officers were linked to the murder, but British officials were unable to extradite them and they have never faced a court.
Litvinenko's widow, Marina, is among those who doubt that Berezovsky killed himself. She was quoted by The Telegraph on Sunday as saying it was "not likely" that he committed suicide and noted that Berezovsky had "many enemies."
On Saturday, a Kremlin spokesman said the tycoon had written to Putin in recent months saying he wanted to return to Russia.
The spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Russian state television that Berezovsky "asked Putin for forgiveness for his mistakes and asked him [to help him] return to the motherland."
Asked how Putin reacted to the news, Peskov said: "It is doubtful that news of the death of a person such as him can prompt any positive response."
But Berezovsky's death comes only months after the tycoon lost one of the largest private lawsuits in history — a $5.6 billion battle with fellow Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich over ownership of Sibneft.
As the Russian news website RT.com explains:
"The case left his reputation in tatters, with the judge presiding over the case describing Berezovsky as an 'unimpressive' and 'inherently unreliable witness,' who was 'deliberately dishonest' and viewed 'truth as a transitory, flexible concept.'
"He was further ordered to pay Abramovich's $56 million in legal costs."
As recently as last week, RT reported that Berezovsky was being forced to sell parts of his art collection to pay off creditors.
"Friends of the 67-year-old said he had become 'extremely depressed' after losing court battles against Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, and his former partner Yelena Gorbunova.
"In an interview with a journalist from the Russian edition of Forbes less than 24 hours before his death, he said he no longer saw the point of life.
"He said: 'I've lost the point ... there is no point [or meaning] in my life. I don't want to be involved in politics. I don't know what to do. I'm 67 years old. And I don't know what I should do from now on.' "
Update at 6:57 p.m. ET. 'Consistent With Hanging':
The AP reports:
"UK police say post-mortem finds death of Russian tycoon Berezovsky 'consistent with hanging.'"