Ukraine-born oligarch Mikhail Watford found dead at home in Surrey


A Ukraine-born oligarch has been found dead at his home in unexplained circumstances, Surrey police have said.

Officers are treating the death of 66-year-old Mikhail Watford, who made his fortune in oil and gas after the demise of the Soviet Union, as unexplained. But they said it was not thought to be suspicious.

The news comes as attention focuses on oligarchs in the UK who are thought to be members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It follows the attempted murder on UK soil of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, which the Kremlin is accused of ordering, as well as other attacks blamed on Russian authorities.

There is no suggestion, however, that Watford has been the target of British-backed sanctions owing to a proximity to Putin, or of a Russian operation.

Surrey police said his body was found on Monday at an address near Virginia Water, between Slough and Woking, to the west of London.

“We were called around midday on Monday 28 February following reports of the discovery of a man’s body at an address in Portnall Drive, Wentworth,” a spokesperson said.

“An ambulance was called but the man, who was in his 60s, was sadly pronounced dead at the scene. His next of kin are aware and are being supported by specially trained officers. An investigation into the circumstances of the death is under way but it is not believed there are any suspicious circumstances at this time.”

Watford was born Mikhail Tolstosheya in Ukraine in 1955, during the country’s Soviet era. He was commonly known as Misha and, according to the Sunday Times, anglicised his surname after moving to the UK. He initially settled in London, where he lived with his Estonian wife, Jane, before moving to Surrey.

The paper reported that Watford considered that his childhood, spent in a “big four-bedroom apartment with a bath, and a car,” was very comfortable in Soviet-era Ukraine. “In terms of luxury, [it] was the equivalent of travelling by jet now,” he told the paper in 2015.

His mother, who the Sun reported lived in a neighbouring apartment in his villa and was at home when his body was found, was said to have insisted on keeping her Soviet ID in a safe. “She strongly believes communists will be back to Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile, she’s enjoying modest spending of her capitalist son’s money … And we are praying her dream never comes true,” Watford told the Sunday Times.

According to the paper, he had three children: Michael, his son by his first marriage; his and Jane’s daughter, Michelle; and their youngest, Alexander.

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Olivia Wilson
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