A Russian whistleblower who helped uncover a €171 million money laundering scam may have died after eating a bowl of poisoned vegetable soup, a UK inquest has heard.
Billionaire Alexander Perepilichnyy collapsed and died while out running near his British home in November 2012.
Investigators initially attributed his death to natural causes, but a pre-inquest hearing at the Old Bailey yesterday heard traces of a chemical found in poisonous plant Gelsemium elegans were later discovered in his stomach.
Perepilichnyy’s employer Hermitage Capital Management has claimed he may have been assassinated by state agents for helping to uncover a sophisticated money laundering plot involving Russian officials.
British police ruled out foul play at the time of Perepilichnyy’s death, but the Old Bailey yesterday heard he may have dined on a popular Russian dish based on the sorrel herb that could have been tampered with.
Post-mortem tests conducted on Perepilichnyy’s body failed to identify any traces of the sorrel herb in his stomach contents, but did detect a “suspect compound” that matched the atomic weight of a “vegetable poison”, lawyers said.
Bob Moxon Browne, QC, for Legal and General Assurance Society, which issued a large life insurance policy to Perepilichnyy shortly before he died, asked why no one appeared to have asked Perepilichnyy’s widow what he had eaten the day he passed away.
“The contents of Mr Perepilichnyy’s stomach were flushed away very shortly after his death,” Browne said.
“There is no bag of stomach contents. There is a quantity of material that was subsequently retrieved from the stomach cavity.”
Moxon Browne said: “If he was murdered, it does seem likely he was poisoned rather any other method of bringing about his death.”
The court was told Perepilichnyy had received death threats by phone from an organised crime group. He had also taken out multiple life insurance policies in the period leading up to his death.
Henrietta Hill, representing Hermitage, told the hearing: “There is an issue why Mr Perepilichnyy had so much life insurance. It has been suggested at one point he was advised to take out multiple policies by his bank manager.”
A number of pre-inquest reviews into Perepilichnyy’s death have taken place, with one hearing being told the circumstances surrounding his case bear similarities with the murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.
Litvinenko was poisoned when radioactive substance polonium-210 was slipped into his tea at London’s Millennium Hotel in November 2006. It has been suggested his murder was ordered by Vladimir Putin after Litvinenko claimed the Russian President was a practising paedophile.
A full inquest into Perepilichnyy’s death is due to start on 5 June.