By the late morning of February 14, 2008, the crushed-stone circular drive in front of Downside Manor was already crowded with Mercedes and BMW limousines. Chauffeurs and bodyguards stood in clusters, chatting and smoking as the stream of guests, dressed in black, made their way up the marble steps into the home of the late Georgian billionaire Arkady “Badri” Patarkatsishvili. Most guests had driven the half-hour to the Leatherhead, Surrey, estate from London, but others had flown in from New York, Tbilisi, and Moscow as soon as they’d heard the news of Patarkatsishvili’s death, at the age of 52, two days before.
He had collapsed in his bedroom after a family dinner. It was so unexpected that his widow, Inna Gudavadze, had little time to plan for the wake. But news of his death traveled fast. In Georgia, the mourning had already begun for the former Soviet republic’s richest citizen and one of its biggest philanthropists, who in 2001 had reportedly paid the entire gas bill for all of Tbilisi, its capital city. The owner of one of Georgia’s largest television stations, Patarkatsishvili was also the leading financial benefactor of the political opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili, and a recent presidential candidate himself.
The news had also traveled the grapevine among the Russian billionaire oligarchs in exile. In their glory days, before 2001—when Vladimir Putin began to drive many of them out of Russia—Patarkatsishvili had been among the most powerful, credited with having helped engineer Putin’s ascension to the presidency. Along with his partners, Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, he had been among the men who, in the smash-and-grab capitalism that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse, amassed vast media, industrial, and business holdings—in Badri Patarkatsishvili’s case, a sprawling empire, said to be worth more than $12 billion.
Abramovich was not in attendance, but Berezovsky, still Badri’s closest friend, was there, along with Georgian political and media figures, bankers, lawyers, and family friends. The tables in the two formal dining rooms of Downside Manor were laden with Georgian and Russian delicacies, but people ate little. As mourners filled two cavernous living rooms and spilled onto the terrace overlooking the sprawling, manicured lawns of the $20 million estate, they spoke in hushed voices.
No one recalls exactly when the two men showed up. People were too grief-stricken to notice. The death of Badri—described as a warm and generous man who took care of everybody—“was an enormous loss,” says one friend. When the two men began mingling in the crowd, there was no reason to be suspicious. One of them, Joseph Kay, was well known to many of the guests. A 51-year-old Georgian-American from New York, Kay was Badri’s half-cousin and trusted business adviser. The other man, however, was a stranger to almost everyone present. He was introduced as Kay’s New York attorney, Emanuel Zeltser.
Badri’s 54-year-old widow, Inna, recalls being slightly baffled when, at some point, Zeltser asked to speak with her privately about Badri’s will. She says she hadn’t given it any thought. But what Zeltser had to say would change everything. Stating that he had been Badri’s lawyer, the 53-year-old Zeltser said that he was in possession of the billionaire’s last will and testament, and other signed documents—which gave him and Kay, as executor, full control over the disposition of the estate. Inna says she was taken aback: her husband had never mentioned he had a lawyer named Zeltser. But what Zeltser said next left her too stunned to speak. He told Inna that, as Badri’s wife of 29 years, she would inherit a significant chunk of her husband’s estate. However, he said, there was another woman, in Moscow, with a 14-year-old son, David. He did not specifically say they had a claim to the estate, but that was implicit, because although Inna did not yet know it, the boy, Zeltser said, was Badri’s son.
The next day, Zeltser and Kay arrived at the London office of one of Badri’s investment managers demanding information about the billionaire’s accounts. Within a week, Kay would have control over Badri’s Georgian television station, Imedi, and soon he would take control of Fisher Island—the fabled 216-acre island off Miami where Oprah Winfrey and Julia Roberts have had homes—which had also belonged to Badri. Horrified, his family and advisers began a frantic search—ransacking files, rifling through his safes—but they found no other will. It seemed to them that Badri had died without leaving one. Or had he?
Nineteen months after Badri Patarkatsishvili’s death, that question is at the center of one of the biggest estate battles in history. Playing out in court cases around the globe—including in London, New York, Tbilisi, Moscow, and Gibraltar—it has led to bitterly contested accusations of fraud, theft, and forgery. It has caused old friends to turn on one another, as is the case with Berezovsky and Inna, who are battling in court over Berezovsky’s claim that half of Badri’s global business empire belongs to him. Along the way it has featured plot twists befitting a Cold War spy thriller, including allegations of drugging and kidnapping on a private jet, and the incarceration of an American citizen in a Belarusian penal colony, with calls from Amnesty International, the U.S. State Department, and members of Congress for his release.
During his life, Badri Patarkatsishvili was a man everyone relied on, an extraordinary businessman—“the person who had everything under control,” says Vladimir Voronoff, a Russian businessman and friend of 15 years. Many of those who knew him well claim that the will produced by Emanuel Zeltser and Joseph Kay is a fake—this despite the fact that Georgian courts have ruled, and upheld on appeal, that Kay was the rightful executor of the estate. But people would learn that there were things that Badri kept hidden. The woman in Moscow would turn out to be a wife he had secretly married 11 years before—Zeltser would later produce copies of the marriage certificate and photographs from their wedding in St. Petersburg. And when Badri’s advisers began combing through his files, they were stunned. Huge chunks of his assets seemed to be missing; there were empty trusts wrapped around empty trusts, and major deals that had not been put in writing. Almost nothing was in Badri’s name, but in the names of childhood friends, casual acquaintances, and even virtual strangers. It was, says Martin Pompadur, a former News Corp. executive who worked closely with Badri, “a shock to everyone who knew him.” There were also millions of dollars’ worth of assets that he had put in Joseph Kay’s name.
Badri, it turned out, had secrets—enough to suggest that it was indeed possible, as Zeltser and Kay’s camp contend, that he had his reasons for wanting his will kept secret, too. And that, as they claim, he had signed it on November 14, 2007—three months before he died—under a lamplight on Franklin Street in New York, just around the corner from the restaurant Nobu Next Door, while his unsuspecting dinner companions, assuming he was taking a cigarette break, waited inside.
“A Great Friendship Between Men”
The last time Boris Berezovsky, 63, saw his best friend was four hours before his death. They had spent the day together in a marathon meeting at the London offices of one of Badri’s lawyers, former U.K. attorney general Lord Peter Goldsmith. They parted around seven p.m., each heading home to Surrey—Badri in his chauffeured $600,000 Maybach, Berezovsky to his $40 million estate in Egham. Berezovsky had gotten the call around two a.m. and drove at top speed to Downside Manor, but by the time he arrived the police had cordoned off the house and refused to let him in. Around three a.m., when he phoned Lord Tim Bell, the P.R. guru and former Margaret Thatcher campaign adviser, to tell him that Badri was dead, Berezovsky was in tears.
For 17 years they had seen or spoken to each other every day. “They were like brothers,” says Martin Pompadur, who has known both men for more than a decade. They were complete opposites. Berezovsky—short, black-eyed, intense, radiating nervous energy—was the intellectual. Badri—big, white-haired, with a thick Stalin-esque mustache—was “slow and deliberate,” always calm, a shrewd, intuitive man. But they were so connected, says one friend of Berezovsky’s, “they were almost like lovers.” Even with Berezovsky’s enormous family—which includes a wife, a longtime companion, an ex-wife, and six children—“there was no one closer than Badri for Boris,” says this friend, “except, maybe, for his mother.” The two men “called each other four or five times a day, about the smallest things,” says Inna. “It was a great friendship between men, in a really good sense.”
They met in 1987, in the waning days of the Soviet Union. Both were still living mainly from paycheck to paycheck then. Berezovsky, with a Ph.D. in mathematics, was working at the prestigious Institute of Control Sciences, in Moscow; Badri, who studied engineering, was working for Avtovaz, the Soviet car manufacturer, in Tbilisi. In 1989, Berezovsky and three friends—pooling their combined savings of $12,000—started a company called Logovaz, which would become the foundation of his business empire. Logovaz made its first big profit in the lucrative business of importing used cars from West Germany. By 1993, two years after Badri joined Logovaz, through a complicated series of financial maneuvers he and Berezovsky had effectively taken control of the cash-rich Avtovaz.
During the next seven years, through the government auctions known as privatization, the two men would assume control of an astonishing array of state-owned companies, including the national airline, Aeroflot, and Russia’s leading television station, ORT, as well as the publishing company Kommersant. In partnership with Roman Abramovich, they took over the oil-and-gas company Sibneft and much of the country’s aluminum industry—interests which were later merged into an entity named Rusal. In a single decade, Berezovsky and Badri—along with other oligarchs such as Abramovich and Mikhail Khodorkovsky—would become billionaires many times over, buying companies at cut-rate prices. Such was the case with Sibneft, a company which Berezovsky, Abramovich, and Badri “bought” for a mere $100 million at a government auction in 1995. When it was valued on the open market two years later, Sibneft was worth $5 billion.
Their meteoric rise to mind-boggling wealth as the economy collapsed and large numbers of people came close to starvation was by no means uncontroversial. But if to their many critics they were “bandit capitalists,” kleptocrats who had enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian people, it was the term “oligarch” that would stick because of their formidable political power. During Boris Yeltsin’s years as president, the oligarchs would act as a virtual shadow government, with Berezovsky as its leader. Charismatic, politically canny, and unrivaled in his powers of persuasion and capacity for dark intrigue, Berezovsky would become a financial and political Svengali to the frail and increasingly drunk Russian president and his corrupt inner circle. Indeed, it was Berezovsky who was credited with engineering the tottering president’s unlikely re-election, in 1996.
Badri Patarkatsishvili is hardly mentioned in accounts of the rise of the oligarchs. When he is, it is as one of Berezovsky’s minor partners, whose main job was dealing with the criminal gangs that held sway in the early 90s, and who are believed to have been responsible for the bomb which blew up Berezovsky’s car in 1994—decapitating his chauffeur and putting Berezovsky in the hospital for two weeks. But, according to Berezovsky, beginning in 1995, when he turned his attention almost exclusively to politics, not only had Badri become his equal partner, he was running their business empire. While Berezovsky dealt with strategic issues—identifying areas for expansion and developing political support—Badri handled everything else. He negotiated their deals, raised money, and structured their holdings.
Indeed, it was Badri who made the deal that facilitated Abramovich’s entrance into the Russian aluminum industry by providing political support and protection in the aluminum wars. It was Badri, according to Abramovich’s court filings excerpted in the London Times, who repeatedly provided that help in return for billions of dollars that Abramovich paid him and Berezovsky. It was Badri, too, who met Abramovich at the Saint-Moritz airport in 2001 and insisted that he pay $1.3 billion to Berezovsky. Abramovich—now one of the most visible oligarchs and the owner of Britain’s Chelsea Football Club—made that payment and, he has said, another one of $585 million that Badri demanded of him on the condition that it would terminate their association. Discreet and self-effacing, Badri, says Martin Pompadur, “let Boris stand out in the crowd, but he was always the guy behind Boris.”
“He was like my father, brother, and son—all at the same time,” says Berezovsky, sitting in the boardroom of his Mayfair offices. “We had an ideal combination, first of all as far as trust is concerned,” he says, pausing to light a Parliament 100, the same brand of cigarette that Badri smoked. “We never had any, any conflict at all. Not one time. I know I definitely made mistakes, and he definitely made mistakes. But I accepted his mistakes like my mistakes, and he accepted my mistakes as his mistakes,” he says. “He had an absolutely great heart. I am very—how do you say?—extreme. I have a lot of enemies; I have a lot of friends. But Badri had almost everybody become his friend. Even my enemies, if they met Badri, they became armless. They were not able to fight against him.”
Today, by far, the biggest of those “enemies” is Abramovich, whom Berezovsky is suing for $4.3 billion in London. In a hugely bitter and public battle—in which Berezovsky, backed by his bodyguards, personally served an “ashen” Abramovich with papers in the Hermčs boutique on Sloane Street—Berezovsky alleges that he and Badri were forced by Putin in 2001 to sell their shares of Sibneft and Rusal, as well as their TV station, ORT, for a fraction of their market value to Abramovich, who denies being a party to any threats or intimidation of his former partners. Although Badri did not join the suit, he agreed to testify on Berezovsky’s behalf. When he died, Berezovsky lost his leading witness.
And he lost a lot more, friends say. Badri’s death, according to one mutual friend, put Berezovsky’s life “completely in turmoil.” “Badri took care of Boris’s life. And imagine—the person who had everything under control dies, and it turns out that nothing was under control.”
Berezovsky says he was shocked by the “complete mess” Badri left behind. According to Berezovsky, they had split everything they owned—with the exception of their homes, cars, jets, and yachts—“50-50.” But, he says, they had never bothered to put the agreement in writing, because they totally trusted each other. “I didn’t pay attention to how much money we had, where the money was allocated, how Badri organized contracts. I didn’t know at all,” he says, his voice rising in anger. “And I never knew that he had such close connections to Joseph Kay and put so much trust in him.”
Back from Exile
Badri’s relationship with Joseph Kay was a mystery to just about everyone. Their mothers were half-sisters, and they spent part of their early childhood together in Tbilisi. Born Ioseb Kakiashvili, Kay had immigrated with his family to the United States in the mid-1970s, settling in New York, where he lived until he and Badri reconnected, around 1991.
Within a year, Kay was working for Badri at ORT, in Moscow. Kay eventually left the company, but he continued as an adviser to Badri. People were baffled. There was no question that the two men were close—Kay appeared to worship Badri—but virtually everyone in Badri’s circle disliked Kay. “He was extremely unpleasant,” recalls Vladimir Voronoff. Colleagues asked Badri why he placed such trust in him. “Boris was against him; everybody was against him,” recalls one friend. “And Badri said, ‘Guys, just leave me alone—I have my reasons.’”
Exactly what those reasons were nobody knows for sure, but one theory, according to one of Badri’s former associates, is that Badri began to rely heavily on Kay because he was in trouble. By mid-2000, six months after he was elevated to the Russian presidency—with Badri and Berezovsky’s help—Vladimir Putin had turned on the country’s oligarchs, warning them to stay out of politics. Berezovsky resisted, and soon he and Putin were sworn enemies. In late 2000, Berezovsky and Badri fled Russia. Berezovsky settled in England, where in 2003 he was given political asylum. Badri moved back to Georgia.
What followed was international finance out of the pages of a le Carré novel, as the Russian security services moved to undermine Badri’s and Berezovsky’s businesses, cutting off financing and frightening away investors. To protect their assets, which had long been sheltered in offshore shell companies, Badri began creating a Rubik’s cube of trusts to further conceal their holdings. He also began to put their assets in other people’s names, including Kay’s. In 2001, when several Western banks, under pressure from the Russian government, refused to accept Badri’s money, he began moving hundreds of millions of dollars in cash into bank accounts in Kay’s name. Over time, according to Inna’s court filings, Kay would take control not only of Fisher Island but also of New York mega-restaurant Buddha Bar and resort properties in Spain and Morocco. Looking back, one adviser speculates, Badri’s mistake was that “he thought he could control Joseph.”
Over lunch on the sunny back terrace of Downside Manor—surrounded by her daughters, Liana, 29, and Iya, 26, her three granddaughters, and a son-in-law—Inna says she paid little attention to Kay while Badri was alive, and had met Zeltser only once before the wake. Berezovsky, however, says he recognized him immediately. He’d met Zeltser in New York around 1994 and briefly considered hiring him, but he says he didn’t like him. Which is what he told Badri a year or so later, when he was looking for a Russian-speaking lawyer in the U.S. Berezovsky now believes that Badri may have hired Zeltser without telling him.
Born and raised in the Soviet Union, Zeltser immigrated to the U.S. in 1974, when he was 21. He worked at various jobs and briefly studied at the Juilliard School before passing the New York bar exam, in 1990—although there is some question as to whether he ever got a law degree in the Soviet Union, as he had claimed. Around the time Berezovsky met him, Zeltser was embroiled in a high-profile legal battle with the Russian bank Inkombank, a former client, which had fired him. According to court documents, Zeltser had moved about $2 million from the bank’s offshore accounts into accounts controlled by his ex-wife, Anna, and a business associate, an attorney named Alexander Fishkin. Denying that the money was stolen from Inkombank, Zeltser sued the bank, accusing it of stealing funds from shareholders and depositors, in a case that effectively ended when Inkombank collapsed in 1998.
The following year, Zeltser gained some renown in the U.S. for his role in the $10 billion Bank of New York Russian money-laundering scandal. Portrayed by the media as an expert on money-laundering and the Russian Mafia—a righteous fighter against corruption in the new Russia—he was asked to testify before Congress and became a leading source for the press. But he faded from the spotlight in 2000 after he was accused in a New York Times article of faking key documents, an allegation he denied.
When Zeltser met Joseph Kay is not clear, but in late 2004 Zeltser and Alex Fishkin registered a Delaware company called JWL Entertainment Group. As specified in the disputed will, it was the company, headed by Kay, that was to take control of all Badri’s assets. Assuming Badri was aware of this, he apparently never mentioned it to any of his closest business advisers at the time. Two years later, on December 14, 2006, at New York’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, Badri, according to Fishkin, signed the power of attorney that gave Zeltser control over all his affairs, even after his death—this despite the fact that, by then, Badri also had several top-drawer American and English law firms on retainer. The power of attorney was notarized by Fishkin, who, 11 months later, would also notarize the will, and who, like Emanuel Zeltser and Joseph Kay, refused to comment for this story.
By the end of 2006, after five years in exile from Russia, Badri had become a major power broker in Georgia. He’d financed the 2003 Rose Revolution, which catapulted Mikheil Saakashvili to the presidency. That year, before he became disenchanted with Saakashvili and what he perceived as his increasingly authoritarian rule, he founded Imedi, the only news station with no ties to the government. He had also begun to repair his relationship with Putin and was trying to establish himself in the West, and he’d moved to England. Eager to boost the public profile of his businesses and attract American and European financing, Badri, says one adviser, was determined to “clear his name.”
There was only one obstacle—Berezovsky. During the years in exile, Berezovsky had become one of Putin’s noisiest critics, which had earned him not only Putin’s enmity but also convictions in absentia on fraud and embezzlement charges, and an international warrant for his arrest. Badri had put up with Berezovsky’s political adventures reluctantly, but in early 2006, when Berezovsky publicly called for armed revolution in Russia, the toll became “enormous on Badri economically,” says Irakli Rukhadze, one of Badri’s principal business advisers and a director of Salford Capital, the company that managed many of Badri’s investments. “He was being shut out of economic activity around the world because of this association. He could not open bank accounts,” continues Rukhadze. “He was trying to do business in Western Europe and in other places, and I believe he didn’t feel that this was a burden, a cross, that he had to bear for the rest of his life.”
That February, Badri and Berezovsky publicly announced that they were divorcing, financially. Badri, they said, would buy out Berezovsky’s share of their business. Although, according to an associate, the payments would be made over three years, it seemed that Badri had freed himself from what one friend terms Berezovsky’s “nuclear” influence. But not completely. According to Inna, it was Berezovsky who, in the fall of 2007, pushed Badri into running for the presidency of Georgia, which she and a number of friends now believe was a disastrous decision.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘goaded,’” says a friend of both men, “but Boris said, ‘Look, Badri, this is your country. How can you look at [what Saakashvili is doing] to your motherland?’ In a way he provoked him a little bit,” this friend recalls, adding that, for Berezovsky, the prospect of having Badri become president of a country was “exciting.” Berezovsky, he says, was also looking for a new base of influence in his “fight with the Russian government.” And Badri was persuaded. “He took the bait,” this man says. Inna tried to dissuade her husband. “He was a businessman, not a politician,” she says. “He wasn’t ready for this.”
Badri wavered; he was tempted but fearful. That September, Georgia’s former defense minister claimed in a TV interview that Saakashvili had ordered him to have Badri killed. Saakashvili claimed the man was lying, but even Berezovsky—who denies that he pushed Badri into politics, insisting it was Badri’s own decision—says that he was worried about Badri’s safety. He had his friend’s security beefed up; at one point, Badri had 120 bodyguards. But in November 2007, Berezovsky told his friend that he had to return to Georgia. “If he didn’t, it would seem that he was afraid,” Berezovsky says. “Badri didn’t want to go, and I said, ‘Badri, you must.’ And he stood up, because he had to leave, and he said, ‘Boris, what will you do without me?’”
On November 2, Badri addressed a large rally in Tbilisi, but otherwise his visit was uneventful. On November 7, however, several days after he left Georgia, violent anti-government riots broke out. That night, while Imedi’s news announcer was on the air, police ransacked the station. Two days later, Georgia’s prosecutor general announced that Badri was under investigation for plotting to overthrow the government.
One week later, according to Zeltser and his colleagues, Badri signed his will. No one disputes that he was in New York on the night of November 14. He had decided to go that morning. Accompanied by several advisers, he left London late that afternoon on Berezovsky’s Bombardier Global Express jet because it was faster than his own. According to Vladlena Funk, Zeltser’s 32-year-old secretary, shortly after they’d taken off, Zeltser called her and asked her to meet him. “It was a very fast decision. Badri called Emanuel on the 14th and said, ‘I’m ready.’” Funk says that Badri had already sent Zeltser several drafts of the will. “He was afraid,” she recalls. He was also concerned about his two families. He wanted “both wives to be secure,” Funk says, and he chose Kay as his executor in part because he feared Inna might cut his other wife out of the inheritance. “Badri wanted it this way. He didn’t want anyone to know,” Funk recalls. The will, she says, was signed quickly, around 11 p.m., when Badri left a dinner he was having at Nobu Next Door. Funk was one of the official witnesses. “Badri was so friendly. He said to me how nice it was to see me and how he was sorry that he could not invite us into the restaurant.”
Looking back, Inna says, it all happened so fast. Badri hadn’t been dead 24 hours when, according to e-mails filed as court exhibits, Joseph Kay moved $12.8 million out of several of Badri’s trusts. Within a week he had taken over Imedi. Overnight, the government lifted the freeze it had put on the station’s shares and allowed Kay to assume ownership.
And then there was Berezovsky, urging Inna to sign documents acknowledging that he owned half her husband’s estate. Still in shock, she says, she signed them; so did her daughters, when a lawyer presented them with the papers on the family jet, shortly before it took off for Tbilisi for their father’s funeral. After two years of insisting that he and Badri had divorced financially, and that Badri was buying his assets, Berezovsky now claimed that the “divorce” had just been a ruse to free their businesses from harassment by the Russian security services. In reality, he said, nothing had changed.
There were only two problems. First, because he and Badri had no signed contracts between them, Berezovsky had nothing in writing to prove his claim. The second problem was the will. While it gave Joseph Kay, as its executor, full control of the estate to manage as he saw fit, the ultimate beneficiaries were Badri’s two wives, his three children, and other family members. It did not mention Berezovsky at all. If the will—or “Letter of Wishes,” as it was formally called—was genuine, then Badri had left nothing to his longtime business partner and closest friend.
From the outset, Berezovsky believed that the will had been “falsified.” Any doubts he may have had, he says, evaporated when, after repeated requests by Zeltser, Berezovsky agreed to meet him at the Halkin hotel, in Belgravia, where Zeltser was staying. It was there, according to both Inna’s court filings and to Berezovsky, that Zeltser tried to cut a deal with him to split the estate between Berezovsky, Kay, and Zeltser—leaving 10 to 15 percent for Badri’s family. Berezovsky says he was stunned when Zeltser later showed up at a meeting with him and his attorneys carrying a written draft of the deal. “He had no shame,” says Berezovsky. But how to stop Zeltser? Legally, the situation was labyrinthine—Badri lived in England, but he was a legal resident of Georgia, which would have jurisdiction over the estate. If the will proved to be a forgery, then the question of U.S. jurisdiction might also come into play, because it had purportedly been signed in Manhattan. “I recognized,” Berezovsky says, “it could take years and years and years.”
After Midnight in Minsk
At what point Berezovsky’s representatives got in touch with “people” in Belarus isn’t clear, although his jet was photographed at the airport in Minsk on the night of February 27, 2008, two weeks before Emanuel Zeltser and Vladlena Funk disappeared. Berezovsky says that he simply told his contacts that a man claiming to have “power to manage our assets” would be arriving in Belarus. On March 3, one of his lawyers, who at the time also worked for Inna, wrote a letter on her behalf to the prosecutor general of Belarus alleging that Zeltser and Kay “appear to have embarked on a concerted attempt to gain improper and unlawful access to Mr. Patarkatsishvili’s worldwide assets through the use of … false and improper documents.” In turn, Berezovsky told Zeltser that Badri had important assets in Belarus, and that if the will was genuine he needed to go and claim them immediately.
The fact upon which everyone agrees is that on the evening of March 11, 2008, Berezovsky had dinner with Zeltser and Funk at Nobu near Berezovsky’s London office. Also agreed upon is that around one a.m the next morning, Berezovsky’s jet landed in Minsk with Zeltser and Funk on board. They were arrested and later charged with industrial espionage and forgery. Both were convicted in a closed trial, sentenced—Zeltser to three years, Funk to one year—and incarcerated in separate Belarusian-K.G.B.-run penal colonies. Funk was released this past March; Zeltser was discharged early, on June 30, after repeated calls by the U.S. government reacting to reports that he was seriously ill. All parties also agree that Berezovsky testified at the secret trial in August 2008, whose witnesses included a top adviser to the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, a longtime acquaintance of Berezovsky’s. And it’s true, says Berezovsky, that he visited Zeltser in prison. “I tried to get him to tell the truth,” he says, “to make things easier. But he wouldn’t.”
There is a significant dispute, however, as to how voluntary the trip to Belarus had been. According to Zeltser and Funk, they were drugged and put on the plane against their wishes—a charge which Berezovsky denies. After dinner, Funk says, she and Zeltser walked to a nearby café with Berezovsky. She doesn’t remember its name, but she recalls that at one point Berezovsky left the table and soon returned with two coffee drinks—one for her and the other for Zeltser. “I know now that maybe it could have been something at dinner at Nobu,” she says, “but as soon as I drank a couple of sips of my cappuccino everything started losing shape. Voices were going from far, far away. There were weird sounds. It was very strange—I felt like I was losing my consciousness,” she says. “And then I don’t remember anything. The next thing, when I opened my eyes, I see myself on the plane. I am sure something was put in my food or my drink or my coffee.”
According to Berezovsky, Funk’s account is a complete fabrication. He says that “there was no café” and that Funk and Zeltser rushed to Luton Airport, some 30 miles outside London, right after dinner. He confirms that his jet transported them to Minsk, but insists it was their greed, not force, that got them on his plane. “How,” he says, “would it be possible to pass through immigration? How is it possible to pass by professional pilots? I mean, come on, wake up.”
It is late in the evening. Except for Berezovsky’s bodyguards down the hall, we are alone in his office. Lighting another Parliament, he slams the lighter down on the table between us. He is clearly angry. “Look,” he says, “I have had a complicated life. I have met many very dirty people, but I never have seen anything like this before.” Berezovsky says that, based on his lawyers’ investigations, he is convinced that Badri’s will was concocted by a group of people whose methods make them “very complicated to fight against” through conventional legal means. In particular, he questions the veracity of the witnesses involved.
Berezovsky is currently challenging the validity of the will in a London court. The outcome of that proceeding remains to be seen, but there do appear to be some questions regarding the authenticity of the will. To begin with, almost no one has seen the original. According to court documents, Zeltser only showed people a copy that he kept on his laptop. Vladlena Funk says that Zeltser may have had the original in a folder on the night they were allegedly drugged and flown to Belarus. But that scenario seems at odds with Zeltser’s own statement. Shortly after his arrest, Zeltser told the U.S. consul in Minsk that he was beaten in prison and forced to call his London hotel and instruct them to release documents in his room to Berezovsky.
There is also some mystery surrounding the witnesses to the will and the “deed of executor”—the two documents Badri purportedly signed on the night of November 14, 2007. Although the signatures are close to indecipherable, three different people appear to have signed the documents. However, in a court affidavit from late 2008, Alex Fishkin, who notarized both, says that there were only two witnesses, Vladlena Funk and Zlata Stepanenko.
The identity of Stepanenko is not clear. However, in early February 2008—shortly before Badri’s death—a woman by that name was put forward as a witness by Zeltser in a trial in Texas. The case, in which Zeltser’s clients were accused of theft and fraud, was a dispute involving an oil-and-gas-services company owned by a Russian businessman. Stepanenko would testify that she had witnessed the signing of a key document—testimony the district- court judge ruled “was not credible.” During the trial—in which a woman named “Lena Founk,” the Russian pronunciation of Funk, also testified for the defense—a handwriting expert would conclude that “many of the documents in the case were not authentic,” and that the “marks, signatures, and corporate seal embossments” were photocopies.
The biggest mystery, however, hinges on the presence of Joseph Kay’s 27-year-old son, David, at Nobu Next Door on the night of November 14, 2007. David Kay himself did not respond to requests for comment, but everyone else agrees he was there—Fishkin, Funk, and Vladimir Voronoff, who was attending Badri’s dinner. According to Funk, when David walked into the restaurant toward the end of dinner that night, it was the signal for Badri to come out and sign the will on the street. She says this happened at “around 11 p.m.”
But Voronoff recalls it differently. He says that Kay, though present, never came into the restaurant. “We met him in the street. I remember very well because Badri had in fact said that David would come, and he never came.” But, Voronoff says, at around one a.m. on November 15—the day after the will was purportedly signed—“when we came out onto the street, after dinner, David was there. He kissed Badri and they had a short chat. I think it was in Georgian, but I wasn’t really listening. But I was standing not more than two, three yards from them.” Then Voronoff and Badri got into a car headed for the St. Regis hotel. Voronoff says that Badri never left the group while Kay was there, never signed any documents, and was not given any by David Kay.
But if the will was forged, when could it have happened? Inna’s adviser Irakli Rukhadze suspects it occurred after Badri’s death. Indeed, he points out, it was several days before Zeltser produced the will on his laptop—and even then, according to Inna’s court filings, three secret attachments referred to in the will were missing. Two of them—lists of Badri’s assets and debts—have never been seen by anyone. The third—a list of Badri’s heirs—only surfaced 11 months after his death, when Alex Fishkin submitted to the Tbilisi court a notarized affidavit from Zeltser’s brother, Mark, claiming that he had found it when he was cleaning the guest bedroom of his Florida home. Asked to describe this discovery, Mark Zeltser, an internationally acclaimed concert pianist, declined comment. He also refused to comment on a July lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court by a fund in which Badri was the largest investor, alleging that Mark Zeltser had drained $4.3 million of the fund’s money out of an account four months after Badri’s death.
“I Never Was Boris’s Friend”
Like Berezovsky, Inna Gudavadze says she is convinced that the will is a forgery. But the two haven’t discussed it, because they no longer speak. Berezovsky was furious when, a month after Badri’s death, Inna backed out of their agreement to split the estate. After consulting with Badri’s attorneys and advisers, she says, she discovered evidence that Berezovsky and her husband had indeed begun to “divorce,” and that Badri had already started making payments to his longtime partner. Berezovsky would tell the press that Inna reneged on the agreement because she’d been threatened by the Russian government. But she says that is not the whole truth—she had decided she wanted Berezovsky out of her family’s life.
In late December 2007, six weeks before Badri died, the Georgian government had released an audiotape in which Badri appeared to be bribing a government official to secretly prevent the police from curtailing anti-Saakashvili demonstrations. Accused by the government of fomenting a coup, Badri denied this was his motive, but he was publicly humiliated nonetheless. His credibility was destroyed. “He was finished in politics,” says one former colleague, and he was devastated. “He knew he’d made a very bad mistake,” says one friend. “He said to us, ‘Is it O.K. if your dad is a loser?’” recalls his daughter Iya. “It was terrible.” The incident, says Voronoff, “was a heavy, enormous moral blow to Badri. I think it was the nail in his would-be coffin. His skin was ashen after that. He just looked worse every time I saw him.”
Although Scotland Yard would at first treat Badri’s death as “suspicious,” and the press would speculate that it could have been murder, the U.K. coroner would eventually conclude that he had died of a heart attack. As is the case with many of Badri’s friends, Inna has become convinced that his death was in large part triggered by the shock and stress of his political fall. And for that she blames Berezovsky.
“Boris, being a political gambler, pushed Badri into politics, and I can’t forgive him that, because Badri was sacrificed,” she says. “We were happy living here. Well, Badri had this big secret he was hiding from me about his son, but we could deal with that, but not these political things.” Badri stuck by Berezovsky all those years, and that, Inna says, “was the right thing to do. But I don’t feel obliged to follow that. I don’t want to be associated with that man again. I think our family has already suffered a lot being close to him.” She pauses. “To tell you the truth, I never was Boris’s friend.”
Which is essentially what she told Berezovsky at their last meeting, at the Lanesborough hotel in April 2008, making the point again in a public statement: “Friendship is not inherited.” Berezovsky, his lawyer Michael Cotlick says, was “devastated.” Indeed, recalling her words, Berezovsky still looks stricken. “That was the moment,” he says, “that I stopped all my connection with her, absolutely. Because knowing Badri’s and my relationship, and knowing Badri, to sell it all like that?”
After the break with Berezovsky, Inna, friends say, seemed transformed. Long seen as an “attentive wife who didn’t say very much,” a woman “who was very much in the background,” she shocked Badri’s friends when she started marshaling lawyers and financial advisers and began to fight. She sued Kay and Zeltser in New York and has gone to the Supreme Court of Georgia to challenge the appellate court’s ruling that the will is genuine. Determined to get Imedi back, Inna moved to put pressure on the Georgian government by hiring a public-relations firm to lobby the European Union. She has also taken her case to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. In summer 2008, she successfully sued in a Moscow court to have Badri’s second marriage annulled. With the help of Salford Capital, she believes she has located most of Badri’s assets. But with the battle over the will and Kay’s claims, for Inna and her family, most of those assets—worth billions of dollars—have effectively been frozen.
Inna is now also fighting Berezovsky, who filed suit against her in London in February. In an attempt to assert his claim over Badri’s estate, he’s had her access to bank accounts blocked. Today, she has mortgaged Downside Manor and is currently living on borrowed money.
Berezovsky is suffering, too. While they insist there is no way that Berezovsky is entitled to 50 percent of Badri’s estate, Inna’s advisers say that Badri still owed him money—one speculates it could be as much as $300 million. But as long as the battle over the will continues, those payments will not be made. Short of cash—with his wife suing him for divorce in London—Berezovsky has had to sell assets, including Darius, the $358 million yacht he was having built to compete with Abramovich’s super-yacht Pelorus. One of the six most expensive yachts ever built—with seven decks, two swimming pools, a gym, a movie theater, and an infirmary—the Darius also has the highest security ever installed on a private vessel: a military water cannon powerful enough to sink a boat 100 yards away, an “escape launch” turbocharged speedboat, and sonic guns capable of bursting the eardrums of approaching attackers.
For Inna the last 19 months have been “a nightmare,” like “a baroque history” or “a fairy tale,” and indeed the events that followed Badri’s death have sometimes been too strange for fiction. A will whose authenticity is in question is given validity by a court that may have been politically corrupted; a lawyer is incarcerated in a K.G.B. prison; a billionaire oligarch is suddenly cash-poor; and a fortune seems to vanish.
Today, with the drop in the stock market, and the assets that have gone missing, one of Badri’s advisers says that, in the end, his fortune may be worth only about $2 billion. Perhaps an odd, karmic justice is at work. If Zeltser and Funk are shown not to have forged the will, then they have suffered unfairly, but if it was forged, maybe Berezovsky’s oligarchic brand of justice was not, in an abstract way, as wrong as it might appear. And given their critics’ assessment of how the oligarchs made their money—at the expense of the average Russian citizen—then perhaps a good part of it wasn’t theirs to keep. Many friends say that Badri did not make a will because he was, deep down, a product of the Soviet Union—“Homo sovieticus,” as Berezovsky puts it—raised in a system where there “was no reason to make a will, because you had nothing to pass on,” as one friend says. In some way, history appears to have come full circle. Because, whether or not he left a will, it seems that a large part of Badri Patarkatsishvili’s fortune was, indeed, not meant to be passed on.