The coroner examining the mysterious death of a wealthy Russian whistleblower has ruled he died of natural causes and was not murdered on the orders of Vladimir Putin.
Alexander Perepilichnyy, 44, collapsed and died while jogging near his home in Weybridge, Surrey, in 2012, after spending the night with his mistress in Paris.
Coroner Nicholas Hilliard QC said the most likely cause of death was Sads – sudden arrhythmic death syndrome, which claims between 800 and 1,500 lives in the UK each year.
A number of suspicious facts surrounding the death had lead to speculation he was murdered, and an extensive investigation by BuzzFeed claimed there was evidence of a “suspected Kremlin assassination plot”.
The inquest previously heard how the married father-of-two had appeared on a “hit list” in Moscow before his death.
He had taken out £3.5m worth of life insurance and applied for another £5m worth of policies amid concern to provide for his family, it was revealed during the inquest.
Around that time, Perepilichnyy had been helping UK-based campaigner Bill Browder’s Hermitage Capital Investment to expose a 230m US dollar (£142m in November 2012) money-laundering operation.
And, a month before his death, he had fought off a legal challenge by a debt recovery firm allegedly led by the prime suspect in the Alexander Litvinenko poison case, Dmitry Kovtun.
Extensive tests have failed to identify any poison in Perepilichnyy’s body, although experts could not categorically rule out a toxin or even Novichok, which was used in the Salisbury case in 2018.
Surrey Police has faced criticism over its handling of the investigation and during the inquest it emerged that the contents of Perepilichnyy’s computer were lost.
Speaking on Wednesday, the coroner said the 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 carried out until 18 days later, and Perepilichnyy’s stomach contents were thrown away before they could be tested for poison.
There was only a “limited search of the scene so any potentially incriminating evidence was missed and police failed to follow up house-to-house calls at properties where no-one was home.
Only a “very limited” amount of CCTV footage was viewed from two of the six entrances to the St George’s Hill estate where Perepilichnyy lived, Hilliard said.
The handset of Perepilichnyy’s second mobile phone was never obtained and data from his computer was lost.
On why Surrey Police did not at first treat the death as suspicious, Hilliard said: “Faced with a middle-aged man in jogging clothes at the top of a steep hill, it is unsurprising those officers (at the scene) came to this view.”
He also rejected the BuzzFeed article in which it was claimed Perepilichnyy was murdered on the orders of Vladimir Putin or those close to him and said the allegation British authorities were involved in hushing it up for the sake of relations with Russia did not bear scrutiny in light of the response to the Skripal poisoning.
Hilliard said there was “no direct evidence Perepilichnyy was murdered” but told the inquest there was an “obvious” motive of those behind the Hermitage to stop Perepilichnyy from giving evidence against them in Switzerland.
However, the alleged fraudster, Vladlen Stepanov, never had a visa to enter the UK, he said.
Even though Andrei Pavlov, with whom Perepilichnyy had two meetings, was in Britain until November 11 2012, there was no evidence to suggest he was an “assassin”.
The court heard that Swiss authorities had referred to the deaths of three witnesses in the fraud case, and that Perepilichnyy was not a high-profile critic of the Kremlin, unlike others who were obviously murdered.
Hilliard said he received a letter on Tuesday from the Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism unit confirming they “are not conducting an investigation into Perepilichnyy’s death” at the hands of a “hostile” agent.
He 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 usual and in reality it was poisoning or Sads.”
In the two days before his death, Perepilichnyy had been on a romantic break in Paris with his ex-model girlfriend, Elmira Medynska, 28, and had vomited after eating fish during their last supper.
While he may have suffered from food poisoning, the coroner said it did not contribute to his death the next day, after he went home.
Solicitor Marvin Simons, head of litigation at Seddons law firm which represented Perepilichnyy’s family, said of the verdict: “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 invasive and speculative media coverage has served to magnify the distress and trauma that followed Alexander’s death. The family sincerely hopes the media and all those who have used the family’s tragedy for their own ends will take careful note of the coroner’s findings and stop adding to the grief.”