Boris Abramovich Berezovsky
Boris Abramovich Berezovsky was the most infamous of the Russian oligarchs, a group of prominent businessmen that emerged in the post-Soviet era as a result of radical economic and market transformations. Berezovsky, born in 1946, received a Ph.D. in physics and mathematics before entering the business field in the mid-1980s by importing and distributing automobiles. Berezovsky increased his business ventures throughout the 1990s to include Aeroflot, Russia's airline; Avtovaz, the state's auto manufacturer; ORT, a powerful media outlet and the largest television network in the nation; Siberian Oil Company (Sibneft), and the bulk of Russia's aluminum industry. In 1997 Forbes Magazine estimated Berezovsky to be worth $3 billion.
Berezovsky's business policies and actions were continuously scrutinized, however, and have often been considered corrupt. Those within the business community questioned how the oligarch's enterprises continuously floundered while Berezovsky's wealth increased considerably. Numerous investigations were launched against Berezovsky and his companies and corporations. The authorities uncovered numerous instances of embezzlement, fraud, and tax-evasion, but were incapable of prosecuting Berezovsky because of his political power and influence.
Berezovsky enjoyed a close relationship with President Boris Yeltsin and became a prominent member of the leader's inner circle, known as the "family." This group included the President's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, the current and former heads of the Presidential Administration, Alexander Voloshin and Valentin Yumashev, the Minister of Finance, Mikhail Kayanov, and fellow oligarchs Oleg Deripaska and Roman Abramovich. Berezovsky was eventually appointed deputy secretary of the National Security Council, and in 1999 he won a seat in the lower level of Russia's parliament.
Berezovsky used his political and economic power to influence internal events. Prior to the 1996 Presidential Election he reportedly turned the ORT television network into a mechanism of propaganda for Boris Yeltsin. In addition, he convinced a powerful group of oligarchs to support Russia's leader, which was believed to have played an integral role in Yeltsin's reelection victory. Berezovsky had a reputation for using his influence to appoint political officials, and was nicknamed Rasputin [after the monk who held seemingly hypnotic influence over the Romanov court in its later years]. Ironically, the oligarch is believed to have played an essential part in the ascendancy of Vladimir Putin to Prime Minister and eventually President. In August 1999 Putin was appointed Prime Minister. Analysts deduced Berezovsky's political decisions were part of an attempt to retain his power and status in the approaching post-Yeltsin era. According to various members of the inner circle Putin allegedly guaranteed the group they would maintain their authority under his leadership.
The President turned his attention directly towards Berezovsky. Putin removed government officials that were known to have ties with Berezovsky, and an "anti-oligarch" campaign was launched against him and Vladimir Gusinsky, a fellow oligarch that had attained immense control of the media. Putin denounced oligarchs and described their negative impacts on domestic and economic affairs in his State of the Nation Address in July 2000. In the same speech the President made comments that many argued had indirectly implicated Berezovsky. Later that year, the state's prosecution office launched a series of inquiries and reopened its investigations against Berezovsky and his business operations. The oligarch did not enjoy the level of political protection he had in the past. Amidst growing pressure and the possibility of criminal charges, Berezovsky fled Russia in November 2000 into self-imposed exile, and was granted asylum in Britain. In 2001 Berezovsky was officially charged with fraud and political corruption, but requests for his extradition by Moscow were rejected.
Berezovsky responded to the attacks against him by targeting President Putin. The oligarch repeatedly called for Putin to be overthrown, by force if necessary. He utilized his power in ORT to transform the network into an anti-Putin outlet and attempted to warn Russians that the freedoms they had grown accustomed to would be torn away by the new President. In addition, Berezovsky was a driving force in the creation and financing of political opposition parties, such as the Liberal Russia Party, comprised of officials and leaders who shared his antipathy for Putin. In early 2001 he reportedly sold off his 49-percent stake in Russian Public Television (ORT) for US$80 million, even though he never formally owned the shares. In June 2001 Berezovsky claimed that he still owns half of Sibneft [at that time Russia's sixth largest oil company], though Sibneft denied that Berezovsky owned any of its shares. This exchange followed a deal in which a group of companies affiliated with Sibneft bought 27-percent of its shares from Runicom, a trading company associated with Berezovsky, for US$541 million.
As of 2007 Berezovsky remained in exile and resided in London. Over the course of his time in Britain Berezovsky developed close relationships with Ahmed Zakayev, a former Chechen warlord, and Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer. Berezovsky and Litvinenko reportedly shared similar beliefs and animosities towards Russia's leader, and the oligarch is believed to have convinced Litvinenko to publicize a series of negative remarks and incriminating evidence against Putin. In November 2006, however, Litvinenko died from radiation poisoning. Berezovsky, who continuously warned that his own life was in danger, accused Russian agents of being directly involved in Litvinenko's death.
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