Putin’s ex-oligarch friend once claimed he faces ‘death or prison’ after Kremlin fall-out

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After Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, the Kremlin strongman’s inner circle was placed under the spotlight. His ministers and security chiefs were sanctioned by the UK, the US and other nations. Powerful oligarchs who have links to the Kremlin were also slapped with asset freezes and other financial punishments. Russia’s oligarchs are a tight-knit group of billionaires who operate in a notoriously cutthroat world at the top of Russian society.

The potential consequences of leaving this shadowy elite were exposed in a documentary two years ago by the oligarch Sergei Pugachev, who was brutally cast out of Putin’s inner circle.

Once known as “Putin’s banker”, the former billionaire was a close friend of the ex-KGB agent, helping propel him into the presidency and presiding over backroom deals to help him cling onto power.

However, in a dramatic fall from grace, Pugachev was accused by the Kremlin of enriching himself through his bank Mezhprombank, which went bust, owing hundreds of millions of pounds.

The oligarch, now exiled in France, appeared in the 2020 Netflix film, ‘The Countess and the Russian Billionaire’.

Speaking about his stark reality after being pursued by the Kremlin, he said: “I had a choice of two things.

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“Either they would kill me there.

“Or they’ll put me in prison then send me to Moscow and kill me there.

“Or I would live at home in France.”

The documentary explores Pugachev’s relationship with his then-partner British-born Countess Alexandra Tolstoy.

The billionaire has children with the socialite, who comes from a long line of Russian nobility.

The Kremlin succeeded in winning a High Court case against the fallen billionaire in the UK, which froze his assets and stopped him leaving the country, although he later fled to France.

Journalist Luke Harding explained in the documentary what life is like for oligarchs who fall out with the Kremlin.

He said: “He is in the South of France. He told me he was down to his last $70million.

“But actually, 70million does not sound too bad.

“But generally, if you are an oligarch and you fall from power, you can guarantee you will spend the next 20 years with your lawyers.”

‘The Countess and the Russian Billionaire’ is available on Netflix.

On Monday, the DUP formally launches its campaign ahead of May’s poll while Sinn Fein is expected to unveil its line-up of candidates.



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