Coroner slams cops' handling of Russian whistleblower's mystery death as he rules he 'could've been poisoned' but 'likely died of natural causes'

Multimillionaire Alexander Perepilichnyy, 44, collapsed in Weybridge, in Surrey, in November 2012 after spending the night with his mistress in Paris.

Coroner Nicholas Hilliard QC today ruled the Russian businessman had died of natural causes, namely sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (Sads).

However he complained of a “significant lost opportunity” to probe his death, which was not initially treated as suspicious at the scene as no-one reported any ill effects or concerns.

He said: “'I can't rule out that Mr Perepilichnyy was not killed by a poison that has not been detected. It's not impossible that a novel unknown substance was used.

“It is not possible to exclude death by poisoning but if he was killed in this way it left no trace which could be picked up at post mortem."

He continued: “I'm satisfied that it is more likely than not that he died of natural causes, namely SADS, sudden arrhythmic death syndrome. In my judgement it is likely that he died of natural causes.

“I cannot completely eliminate all possibility that he was poisoned but there is no direct evidence that he was killed or any compelling circumstantial evidence either.

"Whatever happened to Mr Perepilichnyy, it was highly unusual and in reality it was poisoning or Sads."

  • Coroner Nicholas Hilliard QC today ruled Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy, 44, died of natural causes
  • Mr Hilliard said there was "no direct evidence Mr Perepilichnyy was murdered"
  • He said Mr Perepilichnyy's 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 done until 18 days later and Mr Perepilichnyy's stomach contents were thrown away before it could be tested for poison
  • The Russian was said to have appeared on a hit list in Moscow before his death
  • Anti-corruption campaigner Bill Browder said the judge was “working on a puzzle with only 20 per cent of the pieces because of the Surrey Police incompetence”
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Perepilichnyy, 44, was in Paris the night before he died with his 28-year-old model mistress, Elmira Medynska

Surrey Police faced heavy criticism over its handling of the investigation.

Speaking after the inquest ruling, anti-corruption campaigner Bill Browder highlighted police failings, saying: "The judge was working on a puzzle with only 20 per cent of the pieces because of the Surrey Police incompetence in investigating."

Mr Browder, who describes himself as Vladimir Putin's "number one enemy", cited a "horrible lack of response" to a letter in 2012 alerting police to the organised crime connection.

He said: "We asked them to investigate his death as a potential murder and asked them to as quickly as possible secure the evidence and look for toxicology tests, based on the murder by poison of Alexander Litvinenko. The police didn't respond."

John Boshier, Detective Chief Superintendent of Surrey Police said: “We accept that some organisational failings were made in the early stages.

"Surrey Police has faced criticism around the way parts of the original investigation were handled and we accept some organisational errors were made in the early stages."

What is Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome?

Every week 12 young people die unexpectedly from a heart condition they didn't know they had – sometimes caused by SADS.

When no definite cause of death can be found, even after the heart has been examined by a cardiac expert, it is known as SADS.

The genetic heart condition is often passed down from parent to child, meaning each child of an affected parent has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting it.

Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome is occurs when someone has a ‘ventricular arrhythmia’ – also known as a disturbance in the heart's rhythm.

The diseases affect the electrical functioning of the heart but don't impact the heart's structure – so they can only be detected when a person is alive not during a post-mortem.

Not only were the contents of Mr Perepilichnyy's stomach thrown away, it also emerged that data on his computer had been lost.

It included alleged evidence of half-a-billion dollar transactions, threats and links to the money laundering case, the inquest was told.

On December 10 2012, Assistant Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney identified missed opportunities to alert senior management of issues surrounding the death, including a referral to Special Branch.

Coroner Mr Hilliard said the fact the death was not immediately treated as a suspicious hampered his investigation, as there were no photos of the scene when Mr Perepilichnyy was found, "limited" CCTV was seized, and the forensic post mortem did not happen until 18 days later.

But he added: "Faced with a middle-aged man in jogging clothes at the top of a steep hill, it is unsurprising those officers came to this view."

He told the court that had police looked "carefully" they could have found an article linking Mr Perepilichnyy to the alleged fraud and that he was "hiding in London".

The coroner said: "One significant lost opportunity was the absence of an early forensic post-mortem examination".

However Mr Hilliard admitted there was "no direct evidence Mr Perepilichnyy was murdered".

The Old Bailey heard a wealth of evidence that Mr Perepilichnyy had been blowing the whistle on alleged organised crime in Russia.

He had been helping UK-based campaigner Mr Browder's Hermitage Capital Investment £142 million money-laundering operation, the inquest was told.

Perepilichnyy, a dad-of-two, was said to have appeared on a hit list in Moscow before his death.

He had taken out £3.5 million of life insurance and applied for another £5 million of policies amid concern to provide for his family, it was claimed.

A month before his death he had fought off a legal challenge by a debt recovery firm allegedly led by a prime suspect in the Alexander Litvinenko poison case, Dmitry Kovtun.

It was claimed an assassin may have wanted to kill him either to silence him or seek retribution and had the means to do it undetected.

Extensive tests failed to identify any poison in Mr Perepilichnyy's body, although experts could not categorically rule out a toxin or even a nerve agent such as Novichok.

The night before his death, Mr Perepilichnyy had been sick after a meal out at a fish restaurant in Paris with his ex-model lover Elmira Medynska, 28, the inquest heard.

Ms Medynska recalled the businessman complaining about "bad tasting" food and vomiting after a meal out at a Japanese and Chinese fusion restaurant.

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.


November 9 2012: The married father spends the night with his ex-model girlfriend Elmira Medynska, 28, at the Buddha Bar in Paris.

November 10 2012: Mr Perepilichnyy, 44, returns from Paris where has been staying at the Hotel Bristol. His wife makes him sorrel soup and he collapses while out running near his Weybridge home.

November 14 2012: A first post-mortem examination is done. Nothing unusual is found in the stomach contents.

November 17 2012: Hermitage lawyers write to police urging them to investigate the death as a "potential murder", saying Mr Perepilichnyy was a whistleblower who had been co-operating with authorities and exposing Russian organised crime.

November 18 2012: Mr Perepilichnyy's immigration lawyer Roger Gherson calls Surrey police, claiming the Russian had been concerned for his safety in recent weeks and suggesting toxicology tests.

November 30: Second autopsy carried out and limited stomach contents are recovered.

June 2 2016: Pre-inquest review held by the Senior Surrey Coroner, Richard Travers.

November 2016: Home Secretary Amber Rudd wins High Court order preventing disclosure of sensitive material at the forthcoming inquest. The ruling says the position of the current Coroner, Richard Travers, was "untenable" because he did not have security clearance.

March 13 2017: Pre-inquest review held at Old Bailey by Coroner Nicholas Hilliard. Court hears claims Mr Perepilichnyy may have eaten poisoned sorrel soup on the day of his death. No evidence was found to back up the claim.

June 5 2017: Inquest gets under way at Old Bailey.

June 10 2017: Elmira Medynska says Mr Perepilichnyy appeared "very stressed" about his work and was "on another planet" when they went shopping to buy her a Prada bag and Louis Vuitton shoes. He was sick after a romantic dinner on their last night together, she says.

December 18 2018: Coroner Hilliard delivers his final conclusions in the long-running inquest at the Old Bailey.

December 19 2018: Coroner ruled he died from natural causes.

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