The Russian whistleblower allegedly assassinated outside his Surrey mansion was being ruthlessly pursued by a company linked to Alexander Litvinenko’s killer, his inquest has heard.
Alexander Perepilichnyy had been sued for millions by a company founded by Dmitry Kovtun, the former KGB agent said to have poisoned Mr Litvinenko in London using Polonium 210.
Mr Perepilichnyy, 44, had won a civil case against the firm Dzhirsa just a month before he collapsed and died while out jogging near his £3m home in Weybridge, Surrey in November 2012.
The court heard that Dzhirsa bought debts from other companies at reduced rates and had a “reputation in Russia” for “ruthlessly” pursuing them through other means when the courts ruled against them.
Mr Perepilichnyy’s death was originally thought to have been a heart attack but suspicions were raised when it emerged that he had been on a hit list and had refused to return to his homeland amid fears for his life.
At the time of his death he had been helping specialist investment firm Hermitage Capital Management uncover a 230 million US dollar (£150 million) Russian money-laundering operation.
Surrey Police found no evidence of toxins in his body and concluded that there had been no third party involvement, a decision that his since been questioned by security sources in the UK, the US and France.
Professor Monique Simmonds, from Kew Gardens, found a compound similar to gelsemium, a rare plant known as ‘heartbreak grass’ which is used by assassins, in his stomach contents. Though she told the inquest she only had a small amount of material to test and her research had proved inconclusive.
The inquest, which was adjourned last summer and resumed on Tuesday, also heard from lawyer Dmitry Lipkin by video link from Russia, who had represented Mr Perepilichnyy in a number of civil cases relating to his alleged debts.
One company which was pursuing around 10 cases was Dzhirsa, founded by Kovtun and which listed him as its general director.
Peter Skelton QC, counsel for the inquest, asked Mr Lipkin: “Dmitry Kovtun was found by a British High Court judge to have murderer Alexander Litvinenko.
“Were you aware of a connection between Mr Kovtun and Dzhirsa?”
Mr Lipkin replied: “I don’t remember such a thing.”
Mr Skelton QC continued: “Is Dzhirsa the type of company that if it does not succeed in the court might resort to the threat of physical violence?”
Mr Lipkin said that he “did not know anything about it”.
They had won one case in the Supreme Court after a handwriting expert said that a signature on the security for the loan was not in Mr Perepilichnyy’s hand. The judge had been told that he was “not in Russia as he feared for his life”.
Bob Moxon Browne QC said that Dzhirsa were pursuing around 10 cases against Mr Perepilichnyy in the years before he died, for a £3million bank loan as well as seperate claims for around 200million Rubles – around 3 million US Dollars.
Mr Moxon Browne QC, acting for Legal and General which had issued a substantial life insurance policy to Mr Perepilichnyy, pointed out the Dzhirsa lost an appeal in one of their cases against him a month before his death.
In 2012 in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, quoted in court, Kovtun said that he did not know Mr Perepilichnyy or that his company had had dealings with him. He said that he set up the company for friends as “I enjoy a certain reputation”.
“They are former officers who help resolve business disputes – people call them ‘the military men’,” he said.
Mr Lipkin’s firm, the Bureau of Corporate Consultations LLP, had been instructed on behalf of Mr Perepilichnyy in Autumn 2010, but he first met his client later that year in London. “He did not want to come to Russia because he feared for his life”, Mr Lipkin said.
However, others dismissed the the idea that he may have been assassinated as “unproven speculation”, including his brother-in-law and business partner Rishat Ismagilov.
He said in a letter read to the hearing at the Old Bailey: “There were no death threats… Had he felt insecure I am certain that I would have become aware of it.”
Mr Perepilichnyy passed information to Swiss prosecutors which implicated senior police officers and state officials in a tax fraud, which had been uncovered earlier by lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
Mr Magnitksy’s fate caused worldwide condemnation following his arrest – allegedly by some of the same policemen he accused of fraud – and his death in custody in 2009 after being beaten and denied medical treatment.
Shortly before his death the married father-of-two was in Paris with Ukrainian model Elmira Medynska, 27, who is expected to give evidence tomorrow.
The inquest is being heard at the Old Bailey before Coroner Nicholas Hilliard QC.
The hearing continues.
Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/10/russian-dissident-poisoned-outside-surrey-mansion-pursued-assassin/