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Six Russian billionaires and executives at oil giant Gazprom ‘died by suicide within three months’

Mystery continues to shroud the alleged suicides of six Russian oligarchs and leading businessmen since the onset of the war in Ukraine.

Four billionaires and two executives at state-owned gas and oil giant Gazprom have died since Russian troops began preparing to invade their neighbour in late January.

They include Mikhail Watford, a Ukraine-born gas and property tycoon who told friends he feared Putin’s hit list ‘for years’.

The 66-year-old was found hanged at his £18million mansion in Surrey last month in what authorities said was an ‘unexplained’ death without evidence of foul play.

Mr Watford told friends and neighbours he was ‘on Putin’s hit list’ for two years, with fears for his life rising in the months before he died.

Ukraine-born tycoon Mikhail Watford was found dead in his £18million Surrey home last month

Wealthy Gazprom bureaucrat Leo Shulman was found hanged in his home near St Petersburg

Dead Gazprom deputy director Alexander Tyulakov lived in the same housing complex

Wealthy Gazprom bureaucrat Leo Shulman (left) was found hanged in his home. Right: dead Gazprom deputy director Alexander Tyulakov lived in the same housing complex

A neighbour also said ‘Misha’ was friends with fellow Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who was found hanged at his home in Ascot, Berkshire, in 2013. 

Mr Watford was convinced Berezovsky was killed by an intelligence agency, she said.

The neighbour added: ‘I find it hard to believe that Misha would have taken his own life. It doesn’t add up.’

Surrey Police will hold a coroner’s hearing on July 29, CNN reported.

The suspicious spate of killings began on January 30 when Gazprom bureaucrat Leo Shulman was found hanged at his home near St Petersburg.

Mr Shulman was head of transport at the oil giant’s finance arm Gazprom Invest.

Gazprombank vice-president Vladislav Avayev was found dead with his wife and daughter in their Moscow apartment

Medical supplies tycoon Vasily Melnikov was killed in the alleged murder-suicide of his wife and children

Gazprombank vice-president Vladislav Avayev (left) was found dead with his wife and daughter in their Moscow apartment. Right: medical supplies tycoon Vasily Melnikov was killed in the alleged murder-suicide of his wife and children

Tyulakov and Shulman died in the same luxury housing development outside St Petersburg

Tyulakov and Shulman died in the same luxury housing development outside St Petersburg

Three days beforehand, Joe Biden told Volodymyr Zelensky to ‘prepare for impact’.

Less than a month after Shulman’s death, Gazprom deputy director Alexander Tyulakov was found hanged at the same St Petersburg housing complex.

Three days later Mikhail Watford was found dead – and three weeks after that, medical supplies tycoon Vasily Melnikov was killed in the alleged murder-suicide of his wife and children.

The billionaire owner of MedCom, 43, is thought to have murdered his wife, 41, and two children aged ten and four before taking his own life.

Local investigators said there were ‘no signs of unauthorized entry into the apartment’.

‘We are considering several versions of what happened’, police in western city Nizhny Novgorod added.

On April 18, Gazprombank vice-president Vladislav Avayev was found dead with his wife and daughter in their Moscow apartment. 

Russian reports said the gas executive shot and killed his family before turning the gun on himself. He was reported to have tortured his wife for hours.

But Avayev’s ex-colleague Igor Volobuev said the suicide is ‘hard to believe’ and alleged it was staged.

Avayev's ex-colleague Igor Volobuev (pictured in 2010) denied his friend had left Gazprom

Avayev’s ex-colleague Igor Volobuev (pictured in 2010) denied his friend had left Gazprom

Mr Volobuev denied that Avayev – who may have had FSB links and was found with an FSB gun after his death – had left his role as the senior vice-president at Gazprombank, as had been widely reported.

Mr Avayev was still at the bank and would have had access to the accounts of its most elite clients, including Putin’s circle and possibly the president himself, his co-worker added.

Mr Volobuev told CNN: ‘Did he kill himself? I don’t think so. I think he knew something and that he posed some sort of risk.’

The next day, billionaire gas executive Sergey Protosenya was found dead in his Spanish holiday home, with his wife and daughter ‘hacked to death with an axe’.

Sergey Protosenya poses with wife Natalya, who he is alleged to have killed with an axe

Sergey Protosenya poses with wife Natalya, who he is alleged to have killed with an axe

Spanish authorities suggested that Mr Protosenya, 55, executed the pair before killing himself in an uncharacteristic fit of rage while the family enjoyed an Easter break on the Costa Brava last week.

But Protosenya’s son Fedor, 22, said his father ‘could never harm’ his family in that way. 

He told MailOnline: ‘He loved my mother and especially Maria my sister. She was his princess. 

‘He could never do anything to harm them. I don’t know what happened that night but I know that my dad did not hurt them.’

The Spanish holiday home of Sergey and Natalya Protosenya in Lloret de Mar, Costa Brava

The Spanish holiday home of Sergey and Natalya Protosenya in Lloret de Mar, Costa Brava

Fedor, a 22-year-old student, was not at the villa as he spent Easter in their Bordeaux house

Fedor, a 22-year-old student, was not at the villa as he spent Easter in their Bordeaux house

Mr Protosenya did not leave a suicide note and no fingerprints were found on the weapons – an axe and a knife – used to kill. There were no bloodstains on his body.

Fedor, a 22-year-old student, said the police had told him not to discuss the case.

Protosenya’s friend Anatoly Timoshenko also told MailOnline: ‘Sergey did not do it. Sergey did not kill his family. It is impossible. I do not want to discuss what may have happened at the house that night but I know that Sergey is not a killer.’

Another friend, Roman Yuravich, added: ‘Sergey did not kill his family. I have known him for ten years. He was a happy man.

‘He loved his family. He did not kill his wife and child. I am sure.’

If you have been affected by anything in this article and need support call the Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

The Kremlin ‘suicides’: Four gas chiefs and their suspicious deaths

Vladislav Avayev: The Gazprombank vice-president, 51, was found dead in his penthouse Moscow apartment on April 18 alongside his wife Yelena and daughter Maria.

They were found by Avayev’s eldest daughter Anastasia with a gun in the father’s hand in the locked apartment.

Initial reports in Russia said Yelena was pregnant by their driver and Vladislav killed her in a fit of rage.

Others have doubted this and questioned why an FSB gun was found inside the flat. 

Sergey Protosenya: The oligarch worth £350million was found dead in Spain with his wife Natalia and daughter Maria.

He was found hanged outside their Costa Brava villa while the two others were hacked to death inside.

But investigators found no blood on Sergey, no suicide note and no fingerprints on the weapon.

Sergey’s son Fedor said his father would never harm his family.

Alexander Tyulakov: On February 25, the day after the Ukraine war started, the senior Gazprom official’s body was discovered by his lover.

His neck was in a noose in his £500,000 home in a luxury Leningrad housing development.

Reports say he had been badly beaten shortly before he ‘took his own life’.

Leonid Shulman: In the same gated housing estate three weeks earlier, the head of transport at Gazprom Invest was found dead with multiple stab wounds on his bathroom floor.

Investigators said a note was found but they have not released its contents. 

A knife was found on the bathtub, seemingly out of reach.

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