Alexander Perepilichnyy dropped dead after going for a jog near his home in Weybridge, Surrey in 2012. But was he murdered and if so, by whom?
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When Russian businessman Alexander Perepilicihnyy died in 2012 it was not long before the British media leapt to the conclusion that he had been poisoned by dark forces with links to the Kremlin.
But when the inquest resumed recently after a long hiatus the mystery became even more bafflying.
Journalists had been intrigued by one theory – that Perepilichnyy (pictured, left) had been poisoned with gelsemium elegans, a rare plant toxin from a Chinese plant known as “heartbreak grass”, possibly in a portion of traditional Russian sorrel soup which he had consumed shortly before his death.
At the inquest – held at Court 2 of the Central Criminal Court in front of Old Bailey Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC – this theory was soon blown apart and several other suspects emerged.
What had not been reported before was that Perepilichnyy – who was married – was having a secret affair with a young Ukrainian fashion designer, Elmira Medynska.
Medynska, who had been tracked down by a journalist with Buzzfeed, was persuaded to give evidence by videolink from Paris, where she now lives.
She said she met Mr. Perepilichnyy in March 2012, when she was 23, through a dating website but had no idea the 44-year-old was married or had children.
Medynska said he flew to meet her in Kiev in May 2012 and switched hotels within hours of arriving in the Ukrainian capital.
They met again for a “romantic holiday” in the south of France in the summer of 2012 and stayed at the luxurious Negresco Hotel in Nice.
Their final tryst was in Paris only days before his death on November 10, 2012 and she revealed that he had fell ill after eating in a restaurant and had vomited several times, only hours before his death.
Miss Medynska (pictured, left) told the inquest how he wined and dined her in some of the city’s most exclusive restaurants and bought her expensive gifts — a Prada handbag and Louboutin shoes.
After he died she received three phonecalls from someone with an English accent who claimed to be from the hospital or ambulance service and claimed Mr. Perepilichnyy had been in a car accident.
She said the caller refused to give her any details about his condition and she decided it must have been a “bad joke”.
Several months after he died she received an email from Perepilichnyy’s email address which told her she “was going to die soon” from AIDS.
She said she concluded it had probably been sent by Mr. Perepilichnyy’s widow Tatiana.
Professor Monique Simmonds, a botanist and Deputy Director of Science at Kew Gardens, said she had found no traces of scopolamine, a toxin found in gelsemium and also in deadly nightshade (belladonna).
Bob Moxon Browne QC, a lawyer representing for Legal & General, the life assurance company who insured Mr. Perepilichnyy’s life, tried to get her to admit that an “unknown ion” which was found in the dead man’s body could have been a sign of gelsemium but she was not biting.
Perepilichnyy died outside his £3 million home in St George’s Hill, a luxurious gated community in Weybridge, Surrey.
According to the original press stories his death was linked to a huge fraud committed against Hermitage Capital Management, a hedge fund run by US businessman Bill Browder.
But the inquest heard suggestions that Browder might be a CIA agent, which were quickly dismissed by Judge Hilliard.
The inquest heard Perepilichnyy was also being sued by Dzhirsa, a firm which allegedly was founded by Dmitry Kovtun.
A high court judge in London had ruled that Mr Kovtun — along with Andrei Lugovoi — had been responsible for murdering Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium in 2010.
The inquest also heard evidence about how Surrey Police used an untrained civilian to translate the contents of Perepilichnyy’s computer and then managed to lose the hard drive.