The exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky hanged himself in the bathroom of his Ascot home, a postmortem examination released last night concluded.
After two days of speculation about whether the businessman turned Kremlin critic had become a victim of an assassination plot, a statement released by Thames Valley Police said: "The results of the postmortem examination, carried out by a Home Office pathologist, have found the cause of death is consistent with hanging."
It added there were no signs of a violent struggle. Pathologists will now carry out further tests, including toxicology and histology, which are likely to take several weeks. A formal identification process, which has not yet been carried out, will be completed today. The Guardian understands Berezovsky's ex-wife Galina saw the body on Saturday and saw marks around his neck consistent with strangulation of some kind.
Berezovsky had been suffering from depression after a shattering high court defeat last year by his former business partner, Roman Abramovich. He was also financially stricken, with assets frozen and legal bills of up to £100m. He was found dead by his bodyguard on Saturday afternoon in a mansion owned by his ex-wife in Mill Lane in an exclusive area of Ascot. The bathroom had been locked from the inside and a scarf is understood to have been found next to his body.
He had reportedly told a Russian journalist the previous day: "I have lost the meaning of life", telling him at a meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel on Park Lane: "I am 67 years old. And I don't know what to do any more."
The findings of the postmortem surprised Lord Bell, Beresovsky's PR adviser and one of his closest friends, who had spoken to him regularly over the last few months as he struggled with the judge's findings in the Abramovich case that he was an "unimpressive, and inherently unreliable witness".
"He struck me as very low, but not that low," Bell said last night. "It is very sad. It is horrible. It won't stop people writing about [other theories of] how he died, because people don't understand suicide."
Bell said his thoughts were with Berezovsky's family – he has six children by two wives and a long-term partner. "You would rather think somebody had died by accident," he said. "But we have lost him. How he died is almost beside the point."
Friends had said they felt he had got over the worst of his depression, which was treated with medication and a spell at the Priory clinic. He had started to travel into London more regularly for lunches and meetings and earlier this month held a conference with his lawyers to prepare for his testimony at the inquest into the death by radiation poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. However, he still lacked his usual ebullience.
Sasha Nerozina, a close friend of Galina Berezovsky, said the family were keen for a speedy conclusion to the official process so they could bury Berezovsky and get on with their grieving.
She said they had been distressed by speculation in Russia about the cause of death. "They are trying to be as quiet as possible and grieve on their own,"
Nerozina said: "For the children it is the most tragic time. They are extremely shocked and devastated. If you look at Russian TV, some are saying he was killed, some are saying he may have staged his own death to appear as if it came from Putin's hand. There are a lot of conspiracy theories and when you lose someone you love, you don't want them to interfere with your grief."
Nikolay Glushkov, another friend of Berezovsky, was among those who had feared that he may have been murdered, and the finding by the UK government pathologist that Berezovsky's injuries were consistent with hanging is unlikely to end speculation entirely.
This was the third suspicious death in the past five years to befall a businessman from the former USSR in the area. Less than 10 miles away, Russian supergrass Alexander Perepilichnyy died while jogging last year – his death remains unexplained – while 15 miles away, Berezovsky's former business partner, Badri Patarkatsishvili, died suddenly in 2008, sparking fevered speculation. A pathologist concluded that he died of heart disease.
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