Witness to huge Russian fraud found dead at Surrey home

Alexander Perepilichnyy handed over evidence linking Russian officials to Hermitage Capital fraud case

LAST UPDATED AT 09:15 ON Wed 28 Nov 2012

A RUSSIAN who was a key witness in a multi-million dollar tax fraud case which led to the death in custody of the whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky has been found dead at his luxury home in Weybridge, Surrey.

Alexander Perepilichnyy, a wealthy businessman who fled to Britain three years ago to escape a Russian criminal network, collapsed suddenly two weeks ago despite being a seemingly healthy 44-year-old, The Independent reports today. He died at the scene.

Surrey police say a post-mortem on Perepilichnyy was inconclusive and the case is now in the hands of a coroner.

Perepilichnyy is known to have provided Swiss authorities with the evidence they needed to open an investigation into an alleged tax fraud involving Russian tax officials and underworld criminals known as the "Klyuev Group". Members of this group are the subject of attempted visa bans in the EU and United States.

The case centres around a British hedge fund called Hermitage Capital Management, which was once one of the largest foreign investors in Russia.
Hermitage became the victim of a $230m scam in 2007 after a police raid during which corporate seals were allegedly stolen.

Tax officials and Interior Ministry staff then allegedly used the seals to apply for tax rebates which were waved through by the courts. The money from the scam was transferred to a bank which was liquidated shortly afterwards.

Hermitage, which now stood accused of tax fraud, hired Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who was arrested after publicly naming the Interior Ministry officials he believed were involved in the scam. Magnitsky was held in increasingly squalid conditions and died in November 2009 after being denied medical treatment.

Earlier this year, Swiss authorities opened an investigation into accounts held at Credit Suisse after Perepilichnyy provided evidence that claimed to show how Russian tax officials suddenly became very wealthy and used Swiss bank accounts to buy luxury property in Montenegro and Dubai.

A source confirmed to The Independent that Perepilichnyy was the man who had provided the Swiss with records of shell companies, Credit Suisse accounts and property transactions - "The whole lot." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.