‘Wolves’ circled oligarch’s widow over £9bn estate
He was a sworn enemy of Vladimir Putin, so when the billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili dropped dead in his sprawling Surrey estate aged 52 suspicions of foul play soon followed. He had good reason to claim that his enemies “want to kill me” after falling foul of Mr Putin due to his business partnership with the Kremlin’s bête noir, Boris Berezovsky, who would also die in strange circumstances aged 67. It can now be revealed that the intrigue did not end with Patarkatsishvili’s death in 2008. It prompted a battle over his secretive £9 billion business empire that left his widow, Inna Gudavadze, 63, and her daughters at the mercy of “wolves”.
Two of his closest lieutenants fell out bitterly over the spoils and fought for them at the High Court. The death also plunged his family into a “financial nightmare” in which they were “so short of cash that they could not even afford to pay for a funeral”, according to the court judgment. Patarkatsishvili moved from Georgia to Russia at the end of the Communist era and met Roman Abramovich, now the owner of Chelsea Football Club, and Berezovsky.
Their business dealings in the privatisation of state-owned assets made him rich but when Berezovsky fled Russia in 2000, after falling out with Mr Putin, Patarkatsishvili soon followed, moving back to Georgia and then to Downside Manor in Leatherhead in 2006. After his death a dispute started between his associates Eugene Jaffe, 51, and Irakli Rukhadze, 52. They were trying to shore up his estate but when the family sided with Mr Rukhadze, Mr Jaffe sued his former associate and his allies. In her judgment Mrs Justice Cockerill said that Patarkatsishvili “had little time for documents or legal structures” and concealed his assets with subterfuge and a network of trusted managers. Foremost was his cousin Joseph Kay, who held a Russian steel plant and prime land in Florida in his own name even though they were owned by Patarkatsishvili, the court was told. The judgment noted that with his death “threats did appear at once”, with “many of the informally appointed managers of Badri’s assets [taking] advantage of Badri’s [Patarkatsishvili] death to claim the assets as their own”. The court was also told that “virtually all of Badri’s cash was held or administered by Joseph Kay in his name and a Russian businesswoman called Natalia Nosova” and that “neither of them would release funds to the family”. Mrs Justice Cockerill said that Mr Kay “was not the only wolf circling the family”, with Berezovsky “initially painting himself as the family’s protector” but then trying “to manoeuvre himself into a position of control”. Mr Jaffe, the court was told, described Patarkatsishvili’s widow as a “juicy steak”, and Mr Rukhadze said in one “angry exchange” with Mr Jaffe that “Inna is mine”. Mrs Justice Cockerill found that Mr Rukhadze, and his allies Igor Alexeev and Benjamin Marson, a British lawyer, had breached their fiduciary duties to Mr Jaffe’s companies, and had engaged in a conspiracy to ensure they came out on top in winning the family’s favour. The two sides have been asked to make submissions to the court on damages. A spokesman for Mr Jaffe and his companies declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Mr Rukhadze, Mr Alexeev, Mr Marson and their company, Hunnewell Partners, said that the company would appeal. Representatives of Mr Kay and Mr Nosova did not respond to requests for a comment.