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Russian whistleblower ‘unlikely’ to have died from poisoning

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A rich Russian whistleblower who collapsed while jogging near his Surrey home is unlikely to have been poisoned and probably died from natural causes, a coroner has ruled.

However, anti-corruption campaigner Bill Browder said Surrey Police was “incompetent” and lost evidence relating to the death of Alexander Perepilichnyy, which is why the coroner came to the conclusion he did.

Mr Perepilichnyy, 44, was out running in Weybridge on 10 November 2012, after spending the night before with his mistress in Paris.

Granville Road on the St George's Hill private estate, where Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy collapsed on November 10, is seen near Weybridge in Surrey November 28, 2012. A Russian businessman helping Swiss prosecutors uncover a powerful fraud syndicate has died in mysterious circumstances outside his mansion in Britain, in a chilling twist to a Russian mafia scandal that has strained Moscow's ties with the West. REUTERS/Olivia Harris (BRITAIN - Tags: CRIME LAW)
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Granville Road on the St George’s Hill private estate, where Perepilichnyy collapsed

Coroner Nicholas Hilliard QC had been examining whether the married millionaire could have been murdered with poison or died of sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS).

“I do not think I can completely eliminate all possibility he was poisoned, although I regard it unlikely on all the evidence I have heard,” he said in his conclusion.

“I am satisfied that Mr Perepilichnyy was unlikely to have been poisoned taking into account all the evidence that we have heard.

“I’m satisfied that I can properly and safely conclude that it is more likely than not he had died from natural causes, namely SADS.”

Businessman Bill Browder speaks after the coroner ruled that Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy probably died of natural causes outside his home in 2012, after the inquest concluded at the Old Bailey, in London, Britain, December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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Bill Browder says the coroner only had ‘20%’ of the puzzle

However, Mr Hilliard said it was possible that evidence was lost because there was no detailed search of the area where Mr Perepilichnyy was found.

He said Mr Perepilichnyy’s death was not initially treated as suspicious at the scene as no-one reported any ill effects or concerns.

As a result, no forensic post-mortem examination was done until 18 days later and Mr Perepilichnyy’s stomach contents were thrown away before it could be tested for poison.

“The judge was working on a puzzle with only 20% of the pieces because of the Surrey Police incompetence in investigating,” Mr Browder said.

“They lost the stomach samples. They lost the computer files of Perepilichnyy, they lost financial records, never treated it as a crime scene and as a result he (the coroner) could not come to any conclusions about what happened up there.

“He could not get any direct evidence because police did not do an investigation.

“I do not know how he was murdered, there’s no way we can without a proper investigation.”

Mr Browder said he was determined not to give up, saying he would “work on this politically”.

He added: “Putin cannot be allowed to send his people here and the authorities sweep it under the carpet.”

Detective chief superintendent John Boshier of Surrey police speaks after the coroner ruled that Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy probably died of natural causes outside his home in 2012, after the inquest concluded at the Old Bailey, in London, Britain, December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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John Boshier of Surrey Police admitted some failings

The inquest heard evidence that Mr Perepilichnyy, a father of two, had faced threats in the months before his death and had taken out millions of pounds in life insurance.

He had recently fought off a legal challenge by a debt recovery firm allegedly led by a prime suspect in the Alexander Litvinenko poison case, Dmitry Kovtun.

Mr Perepilichnyy’s family insisted the coroner reached the only conclusion possible, despite “lurid conspiracy theories”.

In a statement they said: “The family have always believed that Alexander’s tragic death was of natural causes.

“After an inquest that has taken over six years and has seen endless media speculation and lurid conspiracy theories, the coroner has followed the evidence and drawn the only conclusion possible of death by natural causes.”

The family called for everyone to take note of the findings and “stop adding to the grief”.

The coroner told the Old Bailey: “There is nothing that points significantly towards poisoning rather than SADS. And there is nothing significantly that points away from poisoning and towards Sads.

“Whatever happened to Mr Perepilichnyy, it was highly unusual and in reality it was poisoning or SADS.”

Mr Hilliard said police did fail to treat the death as suspicious – missing the opportunity to gather crucial evidence to support or dismiss poisoning allegations.

The errors included:

:: Not carrying out a forensic post-mortem until 18 days after his death.

:: Throwing away Mr Perepilichnyy’s stomach contents before they could be tested.

:: Viewing only a “very limited” amount of CCTV.

:: Carrying out a “limited” search of the scene for evidence.

:: Failing to follow up house-to-house inquiries.

:: Failing to scrutinise one of his two mobile phones for intelligence before handing it back to Mr Perepilichnyy’s wife.

:: Losing Mr Perepilichnyy’s personal computer, which may have contained crucial evidence of recent correspondence.

:: Failing to do a basic open-source background check on the victim.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Boshier, of Surrey Police, said: “We accept that some organisational failings were made in the early stages.”

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