Analysis: Fear of the super-rich Russian fugitivesLast updated at 23:52pm on 13th February 2008
The scene would be a fitting start to a novel by John Le Carré. A mysterious foreign tycoon is found dead in his Surrey mansion. On the surface, it looks like a heart attack.
But within hours the fingers of suspicion are pointing to warlords from Chechnya, acting as contract killers, or to the ruthless and sophisticated assassins of the Kremlin.
It is a fair bet that until yesterday, few people in Britain had heard of Badri Patarkatsishvili, and even those who did hesitated before trying to pronounce his tongue-twisting name.
Genial and ruthless, he epitomised the world of post-Soviet business, where mysteriously-gained fortunes could be used to topple governments and settle scores.
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Friends under threat: Patarkatsishvili with Boris Berezovsky
Mr Le Carré might think it a plot twist too far, however, to put the investigation of a renegade Georgian tycoon in the hands of the Surrey Major Crimes Investigations Unit, more used to dealing with small-scale racketeering in Weybridge than international murder plots.
Even the sharpest Russia-watchers and spycatchers of Britain's security services, the latter-day heirs to George Smiley, find it hard to unravel the feuds, rivalries, interests and alliances of this country's ex-Soviet super-rich. And that's the way the oligarchs who have made their homes in Britain like to keep it.
Most guard their privacy jealously. Roman Abramovich, once the Kremlin's in-house banker but now only an occasional visitor to Russia, has a motto: "Money likes peace and quiet".
His famous reluctance to give interviews is in sharp contrast to his former friend, and now bitter foe, Boris Berezovsky.
Wanted for fraud in Russia, Berezovsky - who was with Patarkatsishvili on the day of his death - strikes many British officials as a nuisance because of his repeated attacks on Vladimir Putin and the ex-KGB officers now running Russia.
More typical are the rich Russians who arrive by private jet and are whisked from the VIP lounge to their closely-guarded mansions in Hampstead and Surrey.
They spend liberally on lawyers, PR men and financial advice - but if they have views on politics in Russia, or indeed anything else, they wisely keep their thoughts to themselves.
Russia's super-rich might like holidaying in France and banking in Geneva, but London is still by far their preferred place to live.
One reason is a strong - some might say quaint - belief in the ability of British justice to protect their property from seizure and themselves from extradition to Russia.
The Kremlin has repeatedly asked the British authorities to send Berezovsky back to stand trial but successive governments always say no.
The reason, it is rumoured, is that Berezovsky brokered a deal in 1999 to release two British hostages held in Chechnya.
In return, he was promised that should he need safety in Britain, he would have it, and Britain has honoured that pledge to the fury of the Kremlin.
To be on the safe side, the Russian Londonchiki (Londoners) employ the most advanced security systems money can buy.
Visits to their offices involve body searches, security scans and scrutiny by some of the best bodyguards in the world. Some are veterans of the French Foreign Legion. Other Russians prefer to buy British, opting for the understated menace of former SAS men.
The lifestyle that these muscular, taciturn watchers protect is both enviable and claustrophobic. Nothing is spontaneous: a restaurant visit means booking not one table but half the room, with lookouts posted at the door and in the kitchen. Favoured transport is the £500,000 Maybach limousine - with armour plating, bulletproof windows and independent air supply.
London is good for family life too: children can go to the top private schools (Millfield and Wellington for the dimmer ones, Winchester and Westminster for the brainboxes).
A new day school in Knightsbridge, central London, has opened on the specific promise of high security for the children of the super-rich.
Even so, some find any kind of schooling too risky for their offspring, opting for private tutors to the relief of many public-school headmasters who find the Russian clientele's lavish spending and disregard for rules a source of grief.
London is also becoming the world capital for glamorous Russian-speaking women. Mistresses can be kept safely and conveniently, while wives can be let loose on the boutiques of Sloane Street and Mayfair.
Local friends are few and far between. Russians in particular tend to prefer old friends to new ones, even among compatriots. British forms of socialising, such as the dinner party, strike them as offputtingly-formal. The language barrier- many of the Londonchiki speak only limited English - presents a problem too.
Those Britons who do bridge the gap are cherished. Prince Michael of Kent, who speaks impeccable Russian, is a particularly welcome guest.
So too are a handful of British investment bankers who served in Moscow in the 1990s when many Russian super-rich made their fortunes.
long this will last is an open question. An increasingly xenophobic Kremlin looks with disdain at Russians-with a penchant for lavish lifestyles in exile.
And whether or not Patarkatsishvili was murdered, many super-rich (and not only from Russia) regard the prospect of dealing with the British tax authorities as on a par with assassination or extradition.
More pertinently, if the death proves to be the work of political assassins, it will be the second such death on British shores following the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.
Even in their luxurious British fortresses, it seems, there is no guarantee of safety for the oligarchs in exile. It might be time to move on to an even more secretive playground.
In the boutiques of Geneva, the staff would do well to be studying their Russian dictionaries.
• Edward Lucas is author of The New Cold War, Bloomsbury, £18.99