Image: Badri Patarkatsishvili
Georgy Abdaladze  /  AP
Billionaire businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili is seen in Tbilisi, Georgia, in this February 2006 file photo.
updated 2/13/2008 4:31:11 PM ET 2008-02-13T21:31:11

A Georgian tycoon who claimed he was the target of assassination plot after helping lead anti-government protests in his homeland was found dead in his mansion near London, and police said Wednesday they were treating the death as suspicious.

In Georgia, Badri Patarkatsishvili's spokesman said the 52-year-old billionaire was believed to have died of heart failure.

Opposition leader Giorgy Khaindrava, though, said that "nothing can be ruled out" until after the cause of death is confirmed.

"He was a healthy man. Let's wait for the results of medical examination to be clear about what has happened," Khaindrava said.

Patarkatsishvili said in December that he had obtained a tape recording of an official in his country's Interior Ministry. He said the official was heard asking a Chechen warlord to murder him while he was London.

"I believe they want to kill me," Patarkatsishvili said by telephone. It was not possible to verify his claim.

In a Dec. 23 statement released in London through the Bell Pottinger public relations firm, he demanded police in Georgia investigate the "plot to assassinate me."

"If the authorities fail to respond to this urgent appeal and do not take appropriate steps, they will be held responsible for that," he said in the statement.

‘Being treated as suspicious’
Scotland Yard said at the time that the Georgian had not contacted British police about any plot to kill him. On Wednesday, Scotland Yard said they would not discuss the alleged threat.

Britain's Foreign Office said they were aware of Patarkatsishvili's death, but that it was a matter for police in Surrey.

Surrey police said they were called Tuesday night to Patarkatsishvili's house in Leatherhead, 20 miles south of London.

"As with all unexpected deaths it is being treated as suspicious," a police spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity in line with force policy.

Leading anti-government protests
Patarkatsishvili helped lead anti-government protests in November and was under investigation at home on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

He denied accusations that he tried to overthrow the government, but acknowledged offering a senior police official $100 million to side with the opposition in street protests after the January election.

Patarkatsishvili placed third in last month's election with 7 percent of the vote. Presidential incumbent Mikhail Saakashvili won with 53 percent. Opposition groups have alleged the vote was rigged.

Patarkatsishvili left Georgia in November and lived in self-imposed exile in Britain and Israel.

Partner of Berezovsky
Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, a longtime business associate of Patarkatsishvili's who also lives in London, told The Associated Press that Patarkatsishvili had not been ill but had complained about his heart when they met Tuesday.

Patarkatsishvili built his fortune in Russia, where he became Berezovsky's business partner. However, the two men claimed in British court documents that the Russian government forced them to sell their stakes in oil company Sibneft, Russian Aluminum and television channel ORT for a fraction of their value. Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili made nearly $1 billion each from the sale.

He was wanted in Russia on charges of stealing cars from Russia's largest car maker AvtoVAZ and plotting an escape from police custody in 2001 for a business associate who was under fraud investigation.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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