Apparently healthy people do drop dead, so Surrey Police were not unduly exercised by the sudden demise of Alexander Perepilichny. The body of the Russian businessman was found near his home on the St George’s Hill estate in Weybridge on Saturday, November 10. A member of staff at his house, rented for £12,500 a month, happened upon the body as darkness fell. Perepilichny, aged 44, had been seen jogging earlier that day and was still in his running gear. There were no signs of violence, nothing to suggest foul play. The gated community, a collection of secluded detached houses selling for £3 million and above, is one of the most exclusive in Britain, favoured in the past by singers and soccer stars, and supposedly one of the most secure. For officers assigned to the case, Perepilichny’s death initially represented a personal tragedy, but nothing more. Only later, when the alert was raised by his associates, did they begin to consider the possibility that something darker may have occurred. Following an inconclusive first autopsy, a second was ordered. A toxicology report is not expected for months.
Assassinations, successful or attempted, are rare things in Britain, but when they happen there is a reasonable chance that a Russian will be involved. Russia is a far less violent place than it was even five years ago, but for the many criminal entities in that vast country, some rooted deeply in government, there are still vendettas to be pursued and inconvenient people to be rubbed out. The fact that the target has sought shelter in the United Kingdom may serve as a deterrent to a would-be assassin, but it would not put them off completely.
Britain is home to 300,000 Russians, and London in particular has benefited from an influx of billionaires and millionaires grown fat on the privatisation of Russia’s state assets in the Nineties. Some 100 Russian millionaires accounted for a quarter of Tier 1 UK visas in the year to June. The privileged permits allow long-term, non-domicile residence here in return for a minimum investment in British property, shares and bonds of £1 million.