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The 23-year-old girlfriend of the late Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky said Monday she did not believe he had killed himself and that they had been planning to go to Israel on holiday together days after he was found dead.
Katerina Sabirova said in a magazine interview she did not believe Berezovsky, 67, whom she first met in 2008, would have killed himself, and that in their last conversation a day before his death, his voice "had sounded better than usual."
Berezovsky was found on March 23 in the bathroom of a mansion outside London and a postmortem found that he had been hanged and no evidence of a struggle.
"He was definitely planning to come to Israel on Monday (March 25). I know that for sure," she told the liberal weekly New Times, and showed a printout of her air ticket to Tel Aviv.
"He had big plans" of going to the Dead Sea, she said, adding that he had been down but that she had not believed he was suicidal.
Berezovsky "used to say: 'Imagine if I'm not around, all the problems will go away,' but this wasn't a guide to action, I could not and cannot imagine that he could do this. It's very hard to believe this," Sabirova said.
Berezovsky was due to meet her at Tel Aviv airport's VIP lounge, after flying out with his bodyguard Avi, she said. He had proposed the trip on March 18, choosing Israel because Sabirova's British visa had run out.
The magazine printed a photograph of Sabirova with Berezovsky, his arm around her shoulder. Friends of Berezovsky confirmed that they were in a long-term relationship, it said.
When she came to a Moscow restaurant for the interview, "heads turned," the magazine wrote.
Sabirova also confirmed that Berezovsky had discussed with her his letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking for forgiveness, whose existence was revealed after the oligarch's death by Putin's spokesman.
"He said that he did not see another way (to return to Russia) than to bow down," she said, adding that she saw a draft and inferred that Berezovsky sent it in November but there had been no answer.
Alexander Goldfarb, a close associate of Berezovsky, wrote on his Snob.ru blog, that the businessman would have been likely to confide in Sabirova.
"It's true that Katya Sabirova was dating Boris, and this relationship was close and trusting enough for him to have shared his plans for such a letter, if he planned to write it," he said.
"I was in touch with Katya in the last days and I think she told the truth in her New Times interview."
Friends of Berezovsky concurred that he had been extremely depressed after losing a multi-million-pound court battle against fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea football club, last year.
Sabirova said she last met Berezovsky in November after his court defeat, when she brought him Chinese herbal medicine cures from Moscow to help him sleep.
"He smoked a lot -- he didn't drink but he smoked, sometimes several packs a day. He ate very little. By our last meeting, he had lost a lot of weight," she said.
Berezovsky, who made his fortune in the post-Soviet 1990s before quarrelling with Putin and gaining asylum in Britain, had a complicated love life. He was married twice and had six children by three different women.
In 2011 he agreed to pay a record-breaking divorce settlement to his second wife, Galina Besharova, set by a British court, even though they had not lived together for more than a decade.
His former long-term partner Elena Gorbunova last year went to a British court to freeze some of his assets to prevent him selling them to settle his debts.