Two middle-aged men sat at a corner table inside Nobu, London’s hippest Japanese restaurant. One of them was slightly bent-over and heavy-browed, his frumpy clothing thoroughly stained with cigarette ash. The other wore a sweater and jeans, with a loose crop of hair clinging stubbornly to the top of his balding dome. Gravity and menace hung in his dark and dramatic eyebrows.
They spoke in emphatic Russian while female companions quietly picked at $15 slices of raw fish and two large bodyguards in suits and ties sat nearby. If you didn’t speak the language, you’d think they were old friends catching up. They weren’t.
Boris Berezovsky — the short, balding one — was a billionaire who once had the power to appoint presidents. He had been raised modestly in the gray muck of the Soviet Union before making immense fortunes through ruthless acquisition of entire Russian industries. He lived in exile as an enemy of Vladimir Putin.
The other man was Emanuel Zeltser, a New York lawyer who specialized in the representation of Russian oligarchs — ruthless businessmen possessing staggering wealth.
It was the night of March 11, 2008, and the pair was haggling over the estate of a mutual friend named Badri — one of the world’s most powerful men and a recent presidential candidate in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia — who had suddenly dropped dead a month earlier. His wealth had been estimated at $12 billion. But he had not planned for death at age 52, and his will was in dispute.
Up for grabs was a global package of real estate and business assets worth between $2 and $8 billion. The most valuable piece was Fisher Island, a posh 216-acre enclave just 200 yards from South Beach but accessible only by chopper or boat. Until the recent real estate meltdown, Forbes dubbed it “America’s most expensive zip code.” It is still among the leaders.
Berezovsky argued he was entitled to big chunks of those assets. “Without me,” he explained calmly, his right hand twirling in the air, “much of this would have never happened.”Fisher Island, Miami Beach, Miami New Times, Russian