After two autopsies, the cause of death of Russian whistleblower Alexander Perepilichny remains unclear. The 44-year-old tax official was found dead near his home south of London on November 10 and had been in good health at the time. Perepilichny was assisting Swiss banks in an investigation of the massive Russian tax fraud which another whistleblower, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered in 2008. Magnitsky died in a Russian prison after he was tortured and denied healthcare.
Yesterday, specialist detectives in Britain’s Major Crimes Unit took over the case from local police, a move which local media say suggests the death may have been a murder. Police have ordered toxicology tests on the body, but a local police spokesman told reporters that the toxology report could take a “number of weeks” to be processed. Another spokeswoman suggested it might take months.
The Guardian and others have reported that Perepilichny may have been poisoned in a manner similar to that of former spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210, a substance which is difficult for doctors to identify.
Russian officials have downplayed the link between Perepilichny and the Magnitsky case. It’s a particularly sensitive subject in the wake of the Magnitsky Act, passed by US House of Representatives last month. The act would allow the US to apply targeted sanctions against persons involved in the Magnitsky case or other human rights abuses.
The Russian embassy in London stated, “We cannot see any connection between the death of Mr. Alexander Perepilichny, the causes of which are yet to be established, and the so called 'Magnitsky case"
Russian officials have denied any state officials were involved in the Magnitsky theft and continue to pursue crimes against Magnitsky even though he is dead. They have threatened the US with retaliatory legislation if it pursues plans to apply sanctions.
Last month, OCCRP identified two persons who received transfers from accounts where the Magnitsky money had been kept, including the son of a prominent businessman and the husband of a tax official allegedly involved in the theft.