A Ukrainian tycoon who was found hanged in the garage of his Surrey mansion had been ‘worried for two years’ after being told he was on Vladimir Putin‘s hit list, a close friend has claimed.
A female neighbour of Mikhail Watford, 66, said the property mogul – who made his fortune in oil and gas – feared he was a prime target for the warring Russian president in the months leading up to his death.
The body of Mr Watford was found Monday at his home in the luxury Wentworth Estate in Virginia Water, where properties sell for up to £20million.
The neighbour also told the Sun that Mr Watford, known as Misha, had been a friend of Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, who was found hanged at his home in Ascot, Berkshire, in 2013.
She claimed Mr Watford had told her that Berezovsky was murdered by an intelligence agency.
The neighbour added: ‘I find it hard to believe that Misha would have taken his own life. It doesn’t add up.’
News of Mr Watford’s death emerged on the day Boris Johnson told the Commons that he will publish a full list of people associated with Vladimir Putin‘s regime, a significant proportion of whom will face sanctions.
Police were called after the property magnate, who is not among those oligarchs already sanctioned, was found dead at midday on Monday.
His Estonian wife Jane, 41, posted a photo on social media showing her kissing her husband in the grounds of their mansion.
It comes after the 2012 death of millionaire Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy, 44, who lived in the exclusive St George’s Hill area of Weybridge.
Surrey Police were accused of ‘incompetence’ over their investigation amid claims he was poisoned, perhaps with a plant toxin known as ‘heartbreak grass’ – although a coroner concluded in 2018 that he died from natural causes.
According to The Sun, a family friend previously said that Watford’s state of mind could have been rattled over the war in Ukraine, launched by Russia last week.
‘The timing of his death and the invasion of Ukraine was surely not coincidental,’ the source told the newspaper.
Another associate told The Sun Watford’s death ‘raises questions’ after other suspicious deaths of Russian nationals.
Born Mikhail Tolstosheya in 1955 in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, Mr Watford made his fortune in oil and gas before building a property empire in Britain.
He changed his name to Watford when he moved to the UK, where he snapped up homes in Eaton Square in Belgravia, central London, an £18 million mansion in Virginia Water, Surrey, and, most recently, a series of properties on the Wentworth estate.
In 2015, he complained about how difficult it was to find a ‘superyacht-perfect’ mansion outside of London.
Unable to find a house to meet his exacting standards, Mr Watford commissioned his own 9,640 sq ft sprawling property, boasting that the wrought-iron gates were made by the company that supplied Kensington Palace, and the £56,000 driveway was modelled on the circular stone piazzas outside King’s College, Cambridge.
‘I want perfection, nothing less,’ he said.
‘In London – Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Belgravia – it’s possible to find top quality.
‘But outside London, no. Not even near. It wouldn’t be right for me to say the houses are cheap.
‘I don’t want to be rude, but they’re wrong style, wrong finishes, not high-end quality. Not for us.’
Mr Watford claimed his weakness for ‘top, top quality’ came from building superyachts.
In 2007, the twice-married tycoon hit the headlines when he sued two women from his Chelsea property development and design firm, High Life Developments, after they claimed he had made improper advances at an office party.
In a High Court writ, he said the two women defamed him.
Friends reacted with shock and sadness to his death this week.
Gazolina Di Pitim wrote a message on Facebook to Mrs Watford, saying: ‘He had such a beautiful life because he met you. To me your story is one of the greatest love stories. This is love for ever.’
A Surrey Police spokesman said: ‘We were called around midday on February 28 following reports of the discovery of a man’s body.
‘An ambulance was called but the man, who was in his 60s, was sadly pronounced dead at the scene.
‘An investigation into the circumstances of the death is under way but it is not believed there any suspicious circumstances.’