‘Terrible things will happen if you cross Putin’

Once upon a time in Londongrad (Sky Documentaries) comes at just the right time as the invasion of Ukraine throws the spotlight on the grim world of the UK’s super-rich Russians. This is a meaty – if at times disconcertingly dense – film about the suspicious death of Scot Young, a flashy Ferrari-driving wheeler dealer with ties to the Moscow high-roller community who fled Vladimir Putin’s regime to pursue a souped-up to lead life London.

The series occasionally bites off more than it can chew. The story begins with Young falling to his death from his girlfriend’s fourth floor apartment in Marylebone in December 2014. Police dismissed allegations that he had been murdered, while the coroner refused to confirm that he had committed suicide. Convinced there was more to the story, his ex-wife Michelle refused to believe that Young had jumped out of a window (for one, he was afraid of heights).

Her theory is picked up by BuzzFeed, which the film says is best known for its articles about cats. But here an already tangled thread is frustratingly knotted. Young was a fixer for Boris Yeltsin’s associate Boris Berezovsky, whose £10bn fortune had shrunk by £9bn after a row with Putin, and who is described by a colleague as a sort of Schrodinger’s oligarch, at once “friendly and evil”.

Berezovsky was found hanged in the bathroom of his home near Ascot in 2013 in what was initially believed to be a suicide. However, conflicting evidence meant the coroner couldn’t definitively decide how he died. Question marks also hung over the fatal heart attack of whistleblower Alexander Perepilichnyy 12 months ago, who collapsed while jogging near his home in Surrey.

Over the course of its six half-hour episodes, Once Upon a Time in Londongrad gets into the granular details of these and other suspicious deaths BuzzFeed has identified as potentially linked to Russia – 14 in all. And while the story is briskly told, it pulls never quite makes the connection or establishes beyond doubt that Young, Berezovsky and Perepilichnyy were victims of a targeted assassination attempt on the Kremlin.

But the questions asked are worth asking. Why were police and politicians so quick to dismiss the deaths as suicide or, in Perepilichnyy’s case, the result of a dubious portion of sushi? And how come these opinions were not revised after the 2018 Salisbury poisoning case confirmed beyond a doubt that Moscow was ready to target dissidents perceived as a threat to Putin?

“He has to absolutely terrify everyone,” says Bill Browder, the financier who fled Russia after a run-in with Russia’s vengeful president. “To put it bluntly, terrible things will happen if you get in Putin’s way.”

Once Upon a Time in Londongrad doesn’t always come across as confident in his arguments. In the final episode, a rotating crew of former Russian intelligence operatives and British police officers line up to cover up the idea that Young was the target of a Russian attack.

But the film already nailed it, that dirty Russian money is awash in London — and that dirty money often leads to dirty deeds. We may never know how or why Young fell out of that window in Marylebone. The disturbing message from Once Upon a Time in Londongrad is that the corrosive influence of the oligarchs and their wealth extends far beyond a suspicious death.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/0/upon-time-londongrad-review-terrible-things-will-happen-cross/ ‘Terrible things will happen if you cross Putin’


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