Exclusive interview: German Gorbuntsov - the banker shot six times in London
Guarded by 20 armed police in his hospital bed, Russian victim of assassination attempt says: 'They decided if there was no person, there was no problem'.
German Gorbuntsov, the Russian banker who was shot six times in an attempted assasination in London in March, has called on Russia to mount an "honest" investigation into the hit, and arrest the high-powered businessmen he believes were behind it.
Speaking from his hospital bed in London where he has round-the-clock protection by a team of 20 armed police guards, Mr Gorbuntsov says he thinks people with connections at the top of the Russian government were behind the attack on 20 March, when a lone assassin fired at him as he entered his rented flat on Byng Street in the capital's Docklands.
In an interview with The Independent, his first since the shooting that put him in a coma, Mr Gorbuntsov said he believed his former business partners were behind the attack. "I ask the authorities to be honest and to investigate what happened in a fair way," he said. "I want them to question me quickly, and hand over documents to Britain quickly."
The men he named claim to be friends of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, which, Mr Gorbuntsov said, could explain why Russian authorities have been so slow to mount a real investigation.
Speaking slowly, and frequently pausing, apparently from pain, Mr Gorbuntsov spoke via a Skype internet connection set up from the Moscow office of his lawyers. He said he had been repeatedly questioned by British police, but no one from Russia had been to see him. "The evidence I have is enough to put them behind bars," he said. "Of course they have good connections, but I'd like to believe there is justice in Russia."
The 45-year-old banker had fled to London to hide from his former business partners and said nobody knew where he was living. But in the days before the attack he had noticed he was being followed. "I thought that in London you are safe, and this kind of thing can't happen here," he said. He did not see the person who shot him, but can remember the sequence of events well. "I got out of the taxi, and went to the entrance. I began to enter the code when I started to feel pain. I understood that I was being shot at. I opened the door quickly, jumped inside, slammed it shut, slammed the second one shut, and jumped towards the lift, which you can't see from the street. During this time he kept shooting at me, and hit me six times."
Mr Gorbuntsov, who has been told not to disclose his current location, said he felt safe at the hospital where at least eight people were on duty at any one time. Doctors have told him his condition is stable, but he will need to remain in hospital for up to three months. "I'm learning how to walk again," he said.
The banker and his lawyers believe he was attacked because he was preparing to give evidence to Russian prosecutors about a botched assassination attempt on Alexander Antonov, who was his former business partner. Mr Antonov, father of Vladimir Antonov, former owner of Portsmouth Football Club, was shot in Moscow in 2009 but survived.
Mr Gorbuntsov was a suspect in the attack, due to a financial disagreement with Mr Antonov, but he claims the disagreements were manufactured by the former business partners. "We had our disagreements, but when everything happened with Antonov [the attack in 2009], we met and talked things over. It became clear the same people had created disagreements between us where there were none."
When he also fell out with the same men he believes were behind the attack on Mr Antonov, Mr Gorbuntsov fled to London in 2010, fearing for his safety. He had been seeking political asylum, and was sure that in London he would be safe. "This is a country where there is justice, and where the police look into things properly," he said. In the days after the assassination attempt on him, he had planned to meet a delegation of Russian investigators in London and implicate his former business partners in the murder attempt on Mr Antonov.
"I think it was because I was ready to give evidence," he said, of the reasons behind the decision to have him killed. "They decided that if there is no person, there's no problem." Mr Antonov has visited him in hospital several times, said Mr Gorbuntsov, and the pair are now on friendly terms.
The relationships and links between Mr Gorbuntsov, Mr Antonov and the men implicated in the assassination attempts are murky and convoluted. The story involves loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars, links to controversial figures in Chechnya, and a possible huge defrauding of the Russian state railways conglomerate. As with the majority of wealthy Russian businessmen, there are suggestions of powerful backers within the government and the FSB security services, successor to the KGB.
There is a hint as to the kind of world in which Mr Gorbuntsov operates in office of his lawyers in Moscow. The walls are adorned with mounted handguns and a hanging carpet embroidered with "FSB". Photos of special forces troops in action are everywhere, and a stack of 5,000 rouble (£100) notes is on the table.
Vadim Vedenin, one of the lawyers, claimed British detectives plan to travel to Russia to question suspects but are being blocked by their Russian counterparts, who are showing little desire to mount a real investigation.
Detective Chief Inspector Russell Taylor, leading the investigation at Scotland Yard, denied the Russians were being obstructive, and said there were no named suspects in the case. "We are still at the fact-finding stage," he told The Independent. However, in the 10 weeks since the shooting, British officials have not travelled to Russia, and Russian officials have not travelled to the UK.
For Mr Gorbuntsov, once he is released from hospital, he will face a life of looking over his shoulder. "At the moment I am well guarded," he said. "But I don't think that the danger has passed."