Indian police are investigating “all possible angles” after a Russian politician and businessman, who had reportedly criticised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, appeared to have fallen from a hotel balcony while he was on holiday.
Pavel Antov, a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and a multimillionaire, was on a trip to India with friends to celebrate his 66th birthday when he was found dead at the hotel in Rayagada in eastern Odisha state on Saturday.
Mr Antov’s body was found two days after the mysterious death at the same hotel of his travel companion Vladimir Budanov, aged 61.
Empty wine bottles were found in the room.
Police initially said that Mr Antov was “suffering from depression” and took his life after his friend’s death.
“He came here with four friends. In the first case, there seems to have been a dispute as there were beer bottles found in the room, and hotel staff said they were drunk,” South-West Odisha's police chief Rajesh Pandit told The National.
“Two days after, Antov died. He allegedly jumped off the balcony. But the balcony wall has a [60cm] barricade”, he said.
“It could have been an accidental fall. The post-mortem report found that he suffered a cardiac arrest but there are rumours of other conspiracies. An investigation is going on into all possible angles.”
Mr Pandit said that police have secured CCTV footage, photographs of the sites where the men died and that a post-mortem is ongoing.
Alexei Idamkin, Russia’s consul-general in Calcutta, told the Russian Tass news agency that there was no “foul play” involved the politician’s death.
Mr Antov founded the Vladimir Standard meat processing plant and was one of the richest people in the country.
He was also one of the highest-earning politicians, with a declared annual income of $156 million, according to Forbes.
He was a well-known figure in the city of Vladimir, about 200km east of Moscow, and played an important role in the legislative assembly, heading a committee on agrarian policy and ecology.
The sausage magnate in July appeared to criticise Russia’s missile attack on a residential block in Kyiv, calling it “terrorism” in a WhatsApp post.
But he retracted the statement and apologised publicly soon after, while pledging his support to President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Antov’s death is the latest in a series of deaths of several high-profile Russian tycoons and President Putin critics, who according to western media have died in mysterious circumstances since Russian invaded Ukraine in February.
At least seven similar cases have been highlighted.
Dan Rapoport, a Latvian-born American who was a vocal critic of Mr Putin, was found dead after allegedly falling from his luxurious Washington apartment in August.
In September, the chairman of Russia’s largest private oil company Lukoil, Ravil Maganov, reportedly died after falling from a hospital window in Moscow while he was undergoing treatment.
His death came weeks after Ivan Pechorin, a top manager and a Kremlin critic, died after apparently falling off his luxury yacht near Cape Ignatyev in the Sea of Japan, in September.