By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Michael E. Miller
(The condo plans were scrapped after the economic downturn. Once a speculator's haven, Fisher Island is now riddled with foreclosures. No longer the globe's most expensive zip code, it has fallen to 37th.)
As Kay cavorted around the tropical island in a black Ferrari Spider — also titled to Fisher Island Holdings — Badri finally split from Berezovsky back in Europe. They announced their financial "divorce" in March 2006.
Observers speculated, and Berezovsky himself would later maintain, that publicly separating their business interests was a ruse. Badri had decided to run for office, and his notorious partner would make that difficult.
But Zeltser insists his client had finally heeded his warnings. "Berezovsky is no good for you," the attorney says he had told Badri for years. "He's going to hurt you one of these days."
Just a month later, a personal tragedy shook Zeltser. His 26-year-old son, Edward — himself a musician — was found dead in his Manhattan apartment. Police called it an "accidental overdose."
But Zeltser immediately thought of KGB methods of assassination. He knew that Soviet spooks liked to use a "death serum" called sodium fluoroacetate, which disappeared from a victim's bloodstream within a few hours.
"He went home and never woke up," Zeltser says. "He was with some girls, partying the night before, but nothing that would have killed him."
But when he told New York detectives his suspicions involving untraceable poison, their eyes glazed over. "You're talking about an international matter," Zeltser says they responded. "This stuff is way beyond our reach."
At the advice of his ex-wife, Zeltser let it drop. According to the New York City coroner's office, Edward died of "acute intoxication due to the combined effects of opiates, cocaine, and benzodiazepines."
In 2007, Badri — the freewheeling Bruce Wayne of the Baltic — announced his candidacy for the next year's presidential election in Georgia. His opponent: entrenched quasi-dictator Mikheil Saakashvili. That move might not have been a smart one. Within weeks of the announcement, a high-ranking official alleged on national television that Saakashvili was attempting to have the challenger assassinated.
"I have 120 bodyguards, but I know that's not enough," Badri professed to a Georgian newspaper. "I don't feel safe anywhere."
So in November of that year, Badri finally decided it was time to clarify his estate, Zeltser says. He flew to New York City and penned a "letter of wishes." The document, which Zeltser did not reveal until after Badri's death, has been ruled authentic in a Georgian court. Berezovsky — and Badri's wife Inna, who formed an alliance with the billionaire — maintain it is a forgery.
"I believe that my political ambitions," the letter reads, "may have brought me to the point of being placed in the jeopardy of being physically eliminated either by my political opponents, if I succeed, or by my own allies, if I should fail... I did what I did with open eyes and seek no revenge against or prosecution of anyone."
According to the missive, Kay was to be made executor of his estate, which he was to distribute among Badri's wives and children. Badri put aside nothing for Berezovsky.
On January 4, 2008, as expected, the incumbent Saakashvili soundly walloped Badri in the presidential race. The billionaire became fatalistic, Zeltser says. "If I'm killed, it's Boris [Berezovsky] and Inna who did it," Badri purportedly told his lawyer. "I failed them. If it happens, it happens."
Not only Zeltser claims to recall such conversations. Sophie Boubnova — an ex-wife of Kay and good friend of Badri — later said the billionaire's wife was enraged by his bigamy. "Badri on many occasions told me that he expects to be killed by people who are closest to him," Boubnova told an interviewer on Russian television, "[and] that Inna is simply going crazy over the fact that he had this second family."
Badri spent the last hours of his life with Berezovsky. On February 12, he was in the billionaire's downtown London office until around 7 p.m., according to accounts given to police. He then left in a chauffeured Maybach to his Surrey estate.
Badri collapsed that evening. Berezovsky would later tell reporters that he sped to Surrey in tears, only to be turned away by police. Though investigators initially declared the death "suspicious," it was ultimately attributed to a heart attack.
Zeltser was in New York when he received a call about the death. He has no doubt Badri was poisoned. "From the very first moment, I thought Berezovsky was behind it," he declares matter-of-factly, "and whoever knows Berezovsky would think that way."
He would ultimately make that claim in a wrongful death suit in New York court, accusing Berezovsky and Inna, among others, of planning Badri's murder. Both the billionaire businessman and the widow have angrily denied the allegation. They blame somebody else.
"I believe there has been a criminal agreement between two groups of swindlers," Berezovsky told the Russian Novaya Gazeta when asked about Badri's demise. "The first group includes Joseph Kay [and] Emanuel Zeltser... The other group includes [former Georgian president] Saakashvili and his ring."
The fight for Badri's estate began the day after his death, when Inna signed an agreement giving Berezovsky half the estate. (She then later "changed [her] mind," resulting in a lawsuit between Inna and Berezovsky.) After revealing the disputed "letter of wishes," Kay attempted to transfer $21.3 million from the Fisher Island corporate account to his personal holdings.