In June 2009, U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and seven members of Congress traveled to Belarus to demand Zeltser's release. The last day of that month, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko caved, remarking, "I have never thought that this man could become an issue in relations between our countries."

Zeltser was pardoned and released into American custody, having spent nearly a year and a half in Minsk prison. (His assistant Vladlena Funk, who was also imprisoned, had been released four months earlier.)

Immediately upon returning to the United States, Zeltser fired off legal motions to retake Fisher Island, Ajna Bar, and other properties in contention.

Joseph Kay (right) is battling over Fisher Island.
Courtesy of Emanuel Zeltser
Joseph Kay (right) is battling over Fisher Island.
Curt Merlo

No one would have dared to seize the companies had Badri been alive, Zeltser grumbled in Miami court. "He would have just moved his mustache — a very big mustache — and they would go away."

In January 2010, Zeltser filed the wrongful death suit in New York Supreme Court against Berezovsky, Inna, and a few alleged co-conspirators. He claimed Berezovsky had spiked Badri's drink with the KGB death serum before sending him off to die. "I realize I don't have the evidence to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case," he reasons. But he points to the O.J. Simpson saga, in which the former football player was acquitted of murder but found culpable in civil court. "I think a jury will find it more likely than not that Badri was murdered."

The claim is only one in a worldwide maze of legal action sparked by Badri's death. Suits have been filed in Georgia, London, and Gibraltar, as well as others in New York.

Much of it now hinges on a bankruptcy case being handled in Miami: that of Fisher Island Investments. In March 2011, creditors for the island and Ajna Bar dragged the company into federal court to collect $32 million in debt — from whomever it is who owns it.

U.S. bankruptcy Judge A.J. Cristol is apparently exasperated by the saga. In an April 11 court hearing to decide which side should pay for a bankruptcy examiner on Fisher Island, he quipped, "Can we sell a ferry or something?"

The judge later ruminated, "It seems to me a simple solution would be we should get a big sword and cut all the lawyers in half, and cut all the claiming owners in half, and put them all in one big dumpster and then shake it up, and see what tumbles out."

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