More and more Russian oligarchs are dying, some in unclear circumstances


The land of the Catalan villa rented by Sergei Protosenja seen from the street, photographed in 2011.
Photo: Google Street View

At least seven Russian oligarchs have been found dead in recent weeks.

Some died with their wives and children. Authorities often assume prolonged suicides – but there are doubts about this explanation.

Several of the deceased oligarchs had ties to major Russian gas companies Gazprom and Novatek.

Just two weeks ago, Russian oligarch Sergei Protosenja was found dead in Spain along with his wife and daughter. Local police believe it was an extended suicide. But Protosenia’s son has publicly denied the theory, telling MailOnline news outlet his father was ‘not a murderer’.

A day earlier, another oligarch, Vladislav Avayev, was found dead in Moscow along with his wife and daughter. Also in this case, the authorities spoke of an alleged suicide.

The two cases add to a string of similar incidents that have killed at least six Russian oligarchs, some with their families, in recent months. Some of them had links with large Russian gas companies.

“In any case, it is suspected that the deaths were simply staged as suicides, but who could have done it and why,” Grzegorz Kuczyński, director of the Warsaw Institute’s Eurasia program, told Fortune.

Here are the individual cases and the background known so far.

Sergei Protosenia

Sergei Protosenya was found hanged in a rented luxury villa in Spain on April 19, Spanish TV channel Telecinco reports. His wife and their 18-year-old daughter were found dead in the apartment with stab wounds.

The Catalan police agency investigating the deaths believe them to be murder and suicide, a spokesperson for the city of Lloret De Mar told our colleague Mia Jankowicz.

Protosenya was 55 years old. He was a former director of Novatek, one of Russia’s leading natural gas producers.

The Novatek company itself expressed doubts about the theory that Protosenya killed himself and his family, calling him “an outstanding person and a wonderful family man”.

Her surviving son, Fedor, also dismissed the suicide theory, telling the MailOnline news outlet that his father ‘could never do anything’ to his mother and sister.

“I don’t know what happened that night, but I know my father didn’t hurt them,” Fedor said.

According to Telecinco, Sergei Protosenya had a personal fortune of over US$433 million.

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Vladislav Avaev

Vladislav Avaev, 51, was found dead in his Moscow apartment on April 18, along with his wife and 13-year-old daughter, Russian news agency TASS reported.

Avayev was the former vice president of Gazprombank, a private subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom. It is the bank that Western gas customers must now use to pay their gas bills.

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The Avayevs’ apartment was locked from the inside and investigators assumed he shot his wife and daughter before killing himself, TASS reports.

Vasily Melnikov

In mid-March, Vasily Melnikov was found dead in his apartment in Nizhny Novgorod, Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on March 23 this year.

The billionaire was stabbed, as were his wife and two sons, aged ten and four. Knives were found at the scene, suspected to be the murder weapon, according to the newspaper.

Police are investigating the theory that Melnikov killed first his family and then himself.

Melnikov owned the company MedStom, which supplies medical equipment. Ukrainian newspaper Glavred reported that the company suffered losses due to Western sanctions.

Another theory, according to Glavred, is that Melnikov was murdered after a dispute with a former business partner. This is corroborated by the fact that he had previously taken extra safety precautions.

However, “Kommersant” reports that there are no signs of a break-in in the apartment.

Mikhail Watford

Ukrainian-born oligarch Mikhail Watford was found hanged in the garage of his home in Surrey, England on February 28, according to the BBC.

Born in Soviet-era Ukraine, Watford, 60, made his fortune in oil and gas. In the early 2000s, he moved to the UK with his Estonian wife, according to the BBC.

Surrey Police said the investigation was ongoing but “at this stage” there were no suspicious circumstances, according to the BBC.

Alexander Tyuliakov

Alexander Tyulyakov was found hanged in the garage of an apartment near Saint Petersburg on February 25, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports.

Police said they found a suicide note next to his body.

Tyulyakov, 61, was a senior executive at Russian energy company Gazprom, which Novaya Gazeta said was also investigating Tyulyakov’s death.

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The newspaper cites a report by the Russian website Fontanka, according to which Tyulyakov was beaten by unknown persons on the eve of his death.

Leonid Schulman

Another senior Gazprom executive, Leonid Schulman, was found dead in a shack in January, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to Russian media RBC.

A suicide note was found next to his body, saying he didn’t want to be a ‘burden’ on his family and complaining of excruciating pain in his leg, Novaya Gazeta and the Russian site ’78.ru’.

Schulman was on sick leave with a broken leg, 78.ru reported. According to “Novaya Gazeta”, however, investigators doubt the authenticity of the note.

Andrei Krukovsky

On May 2, the list of oligarchs found dead added another name. The dead was 37-year-old Andrei Krukowski, reports the news portal “NTV”. Krukovsky was the ski resort manager of Krasnaya Polyana, Russia’s main winter resort. According to the media, Putin also likes to invite his guests to go skiing there.

Krukowski reportedly fell off a ledge while hiking. “Andrei loved the mountains and found peace there,” Russian newspaper Kommersant wrote of his death.

This article was first published on May 2, 2022 and was last updated on May 6, 2022.

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