He is the billionaire banker who left Russia for Britain just hours before he could be detained. Granted political asylum in February – to the fury of President Vladimir Putin – Andrey Borodin has settled in the UK, taking up residence with his wife and daughter in Britain’s most expensive home.
Now, in his first face-to-face interview since he arrived in March 2011, the former president of the Bank of Moscow has warned David Cameron to beware of the Russian leader.
“I would tell him things that most probably he knows without my advising,” said Mr Borodin, 46, softly-spoken, in heavily-accented English. “That he should not trust Mr Putin. He should not – how do you say in English? If you have a wolf, and you want to make the wolf your dog?”
To tame it? “Yes. You just want to make a wild animal your friend. Mr Cameron should not try to make Mr Putin his friend.”
He speaks from painful experience. In March 2011, as his plane was in mid-air on the way to London, an aide hurried to tell him that the tide was turning in the murky waters of Moscow politics – waters which he had navigated with supreme success for decades.
A criminal investigation had been opened. He had two days until his return flight to decide whether to face down the £4 billion allegations of corruption or, as his lawyers urged, stay in London until the storm subsided.
He has been in Britain ever since.
In February he was granted political asylum – something which infuriated the Kremlin, who said the allegations against him were “purely criminal” and that Britain had fallen for a “simple ruse”. Whatever the facts of the fraud charges, the truth is that Mr Borodin is just the latest to have felt first-hand what happens when you fall out of favour with the Kremlin.
In December, MI5 alerted the man worth an estimated £520m of “credible threats” against his life. Security sources said they had information that a hitman had been approached by political figures in Chechnya, and offered $1m to kill him.
“What I can say is Thames Valley police are still investigating,” he said. “But they took this quite seriously. And I can say that the traces are going back to Russia.”
And yet he insists that he feels safe in the UK. His wife of 13 years, Tatiana, lived here for two years when modelling; the couple’s daughter Varya, seven, was born here and had an English nanny when they lived in Moscow.
“It’s a comfortable country,” said Mr Borodin. “The people are very nice people. It’s normal. It’s safe, a nice feeling, a relaxed country.”
Indeed, it is a world away from the couple’s life in Moscow. “If you do business in Russia, you can be a target,” he said. “By competitors, by the state. And then of course you are thinking: what would I do if I am attacked?”
Mr Borodin’s mentor, Yuri Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow for almost 20 years, was removed from his post in 2010 by then-president Dmitry Medvedev, who said he “had lost confidence” in the veteran ruler. Mr Luzhkov was replaced by a close confident of Mr Putin.
“The Kremlin decided to take control of all assets which in one way or another are connected to the city of Moscow, or to Mr Luzhkov,” said Mr Borodin, a former financial adviser to the mayor, and president of the bank since 1995.
“And of course one of the targets was the Bank of Moscow. And in order to take over the Bank of Moscow, which was run by myself and my partners, they started several criminal investigations, which are completely of a political nature and fabricated. I was told that someone at the very top of Russian politics had instructed the court to arrest me.
“I definitely can imagine it was Mr Medvedev.”
Mr Borodin is accused of defrauding the city of Moscow by making dubious loans from the bank, which then ended up in an account belonging to the wife of the Moscow mayor. Swiss prosecutors have frozen Mr Borodin’s accounts in that country, and the head of Russia’s audit commission, Sergei Stepashin, wrote to his British counterpart this month to detail “all violations committed by this wretched banker”.
For Mrs Borodin, 33, a former face of Max Factor and L’Oreal, the experience of her husband being under intense official scrutiny was even more traumatic.
She recalled the moment when the couple realised the danger they faced. “We received a telephone call saying that we would have the police round. And when I talk about police, it’s not like the police in the UK.”
Her husband explained: “When they come round and search, their goal is not to find something. It’s part of their psychological games, it’s to put you under stress – you and your family. They want to show to you that you are nothing and they can just kill you completely. It is Stalin’s system of destroying you, physically and mentally.”
Less than 24 hours later Mrs Borodin had left the country with her daughter. A few weeks later her husband joined them.
They admit to missing their house in Russia but must surely take consolation in their current abode: the £140 million Park Place in Henley-on-Thames, Britain’s most expensive private residence.
Set in 200 acres of parkland, the 300-year-old palace comes with cottages, stables and a boathouse on the Thames and was once owned by Frederik, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of King George II.
With the preoccupation of applying for asylum behind him, only now does Mr Borodin consider himself ready to return to the world of finance – despite having an Interpol “red notice” against him, meaning he cannot leave the country without the risk of arrest.
He has been described as “the new Berezovsky” after the Russian oligarch who previosuly turned against Mr Putin and took up residence in the UK. Boris Berezovsky, who he had met once or twice, was found dead at his home in Ascot – 14 miles from Mr Borodin’s home – in March.
“We should not forget that Mr Berezovsky was one of the major forces that helped elevate Mr Putin to the Kremlin,” he said. “He hoped maybe to manipulate Mr Putin. But Mr Putin was clever enough to play his own game.
“Yet I think Berezovsky’s death was of a natural character. I think he was destroyed, financially and mentally.”
His own family, he said, were not rich – “in Soviet times, no one was wealthy”. But as the son of a missile engineer and a German translator, his childhood was comfortable, if not luxurious.
He recalls going to Germany to study finance in 1989 – the first time he had ever left Russia. “It was like a different planet,” he said. “Even to buy a different beer was amazing – especially a foreign one.”
An avid water skier, he has recently taken up polo. What would his 20-year-old self say if he could see himself now, with the supermodel wife, and the life he leads? Mr Borodin laughed. “Life is great!” he said.
He dismisses accusations that he has bankrolled dissident organisations like Pussy Riot, describing them as having “done a very stupid thing” – albeit for which they were punished too harshly. But he does admit to funding Russian human rights organisations.
“We are trying to help them survive because they are a very important part of Russian society,” he said. “I think there are a number of people disappointed by the style of running the country. But they are scared because then they become victims of the regime.
“So it is time to wait. And one day this system will have its weakness, and then you will see how it falls. It is just a matter of time.”
What about Alexander Litvinenko? He was another prominent Putin critic, but the former KGB spy was murdered with radioactive poison in London in November 2006. The political assassination has cast a long shadow over relations between Britain and Russia.
“It was serious that in effect there was no proper investigation,” he said. “It seems that the British government is not interested in exploring everything they can with the different authorities.”
Was he suggesting Britain is holding back to protect other interests? He laughs, leaning back on his chair in the suite of The Dorchester Hotel. “Well, big politics is a big game. And if you put all your cards on the table, then the game is over…
“Life is long. You never know which card will be played at which time. In Gorbachev’s time, Russia was a friend. In Yeltsin’s time it was a foe. In Putin’s time it is the ice age. But all Empires must end.”
This post is also available in: Русский (Russian)