Billionaire Russian whistleblower 'murdered with poisoned vegetable soup'

Sean Morrison
Inquest: Russian billionaire whistleblower 'murdered with poisoned vegetable soup'

A billionaire Russian whistleblower who died outside his Surrey home could have been killed by a poisoned vegetable soup, an inquest has heard.

Alexander Perepilichnyy, 44, died after collapsing while jogging near his multi-million-pound home in Weybridge, Surrey, in November 2012.

The businessman's death was initially attributed to natural causes, but traces of a chemical that can be found in the poisonous plant Gelsemium elegans were later found in the father-of-two’s stomach.

In a pre-inquest hearing at the Old Bailey, a lawyer suggested the victim may have dined on a popular Russian dish based on the herb, which could have been switched.

Before his death, Mr Perepilichnyy was helping a specialist investment firm uncover a £150 million Russian money-laundering operation, a coroner heard at the same hearing.

A capital management company had previously claimed that Mr Perepilichnyy could have been deliberately killed for helping it uncover the scam involving Russian officials.

Bob Moxon Browne, QC, for Legal and General Assurance Society, queried why no one appeared to have asked Mr Perepilichnyy's widow what he had for lunch that day.

He said: "The contents of Mr Perepilichnyy's stomach were flushed away very shortly after his death. There is no bag of stomach contents.

“There is a quantity of material that was subsequently retrieved from the stomach cavity."

Tests had shown a "suspect compound" that matched the atomic weight of a "vegetable poison", he added.

Mr Moxon Browne said: "If he was murdered, it does seem likely he was poisoned rather any other method of bringing about his death.

"It is almost incredible a fact no statements have been taken by police from the widow, who was with him that day and had lunch with him."

He said there was a "rumour" he had soup containing sorrel, which is a component of a popular Russian dish, but tests did not identify the herb in his stomach contents.

The examination was either "not fit for purpose" or there was a "possibility somebody had substituted another vegetable matter for sorrel", Mr Browne added.

The court heard of evidence Mr Perepilichnyy had received threats by phone from an organised crime group and had taken out "multiple" life insurance policies before his death.

Henrietta Hill QC, for Hermitage, called for a "wider" investigation and said on the day of his death, his daughter had spent a "significant" amount of time with her father.

Ms Hill said: "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."

The coroner set a three to four-week full inquest for June 5 at a London court, but said he was proposing to deliver his conclusions in Surrey.

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