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U.K.: Georgian opposition figure died naturally

/ Source: The Associated Press

British police said Thursday that interim tests indicate Georgian billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, a presidential candidate in the ex-Soviet republic who claimed he was targeted for assassination, had died of natural causes.

Patarkatsishvili, 52, died Tuesday night in his mansion near London less than two months after making the claim that he was being targeted for killing for his role in a protest movement against Georgia's government.

Though the initial autopsy results did not point to foul play, police said they were still waiting for the results of toxicological tests.

More tests
"Following initial inquiries and the post mortem carried out last night, Surrey Police can confirm that at this stage there is no indication that the sudden death of Badri Patarkatsishvili was from anything other than natural causes," the department said in a statement.

"However, extensive toxicology testing is yet to be carried out. This will take a number of weeks."

A coroner's inquest will be opened on Friday, police added.

Family members and other unidentified people were with Patarkatsishvili when he collapsed around 11 p.m. Tuesday in his home in Leatherhead, 20 miles south of London, Surrey Police said.

In Georgia, Patarkatsishvili's spokesman, Guga Kvitaishvili, said the cause of death appeared to be heart failure.

Berezovsky ally
Patarkatsishvili built his fortune in Russia after the break-up of the Soviet Union through a partnership with fellow tycoon Boris Berezovsky, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's most vocal foes.

"I have lost my closest friend," Berezovsky said, adding that Patarkatsishvili had not been ill, but had complained about his heart when they met Tuesday.

Patarkatsishvili told The Associated Press in December that he had obtained a tape recording of a Georgian Interior Ministry official asking a Chechen warlord to murder him.

"I believe they want to kill me," Patarkatsishvili told the AP. It was not possible to verify his claim.

In a Dec. 23 statement released through the Bell Pottinger public relations firm, he demanded Georgian police investigate what he called 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.

Scotland Yard said at the time 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.

Ran for president
Campaigning from Britain, Patarkatsishvili ran for president last month and lost to incumbent Mikhail Saakashvili. Opposition groups have alleged the vote was rigged.

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

He denied the accusations, but acknowledged offering a senior police official $100 million if police agreed not to respond with force during street protests after the January election.

Patarkatsishvili left Georgia in November, spending time in Britain and Israel.

He became Berezovsky's business partner in 1989. During the major privatizations of the 1990s, the pair invested in oil, airlines and the auto industry.

Patarkatsishvili was responsible for their media holdings, including national television network ORT. Among his businesses was the Imedi television station, which is managed by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The station had been critical of Saakashvili's government, and is now closed, at least temporarily.

Patarkatsishvili fled Russia to Georgia in 2001 after he was accused of helping a colleague try to break out of prison. He denied the charges and claimed the Kremlin had targeted him in a crackdown on independent media.