AT least five Russian oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin may have been murdered, as the president purges his inner circle of former wealthy allies.
Since the start of the year, four gas industry bosses linked to the tyrant and a top medical executive have died in mysterious circumstances.
But sources believe they may have actually been murdered as it's claimed there were similarities in their deaths.
On February 25- the day after Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine – the body of Alexander Tyulakov, a senior Gazprom financial and security official at the deputy general director level – was discovered dead by his lover.
The 61-year-old's neck was in a noose in his £500,000 home.
Just three weeks prior – in the same elite gated housing development in the Leningrad region – Leonid Shulman, head of transport at Gazprom Invest, was found dead.
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The 60-year-old was discovered with multiple stab wounds in a pool of blood on his bathroom floor.
Meanwhile, wealthy Vladislav Avayev, 51, an ex-vice-president of Gazprombank and former Kremlin official, was found shot dead in his elite Moscow penthouse.
And days later, Sergey Protosenya, 55, was found dead by hanging in Spain.
Protosenya was a former deputy chairman of Novotek, a company closely linked to the Kremlin.
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Here are seven clues which suggest the five may have been murdered amid fears Putin is purging his inner circle as his invasion of Ukraine continues to stall.
'SIMILARITIES' IN DEATHS
At least four of the alleged suicides have all been labelled as "suspicious" by Russian sources – including a former FSB colonel on the Telegram messaging channel.
Writing on Mozhem Obyasnit – which means We Can Explain – Gennady Gudkov claimed there were similarities in the passing of top managers and their families from senior gas companies.
He claimed: "Don't let the 'rats' escape, they might talk.
“If we already understand that the regime is engaged in the elimination of its opponents and enemies, then why will they not deal with those who are considered traitors who have fled the system.
"Many cases of [suspicious deaths] are like settling scores.”
FAMILIES FOUND DEAD
In the two most recent macabre incidents, the families of the two oligarchs have been killed – raising suspicions that the "suicides" were staged.
Vladislav Avayev, 51, was found shot dead along with his wife Yelena, 47, and his 13-year-old daughter Maria at their home in Moscow.
The bodies were discovered by Avayecv's eldest daughter Anastasia, 26, alongside a total of 13 different weapons.
A law enforcement source said that a gun was found in Avayev's hand.
Kremlin analyst Olga Lautman said that Avayev previously worked in Putin's presidential administration, as well as in the parliament, or Duma.
Meanwhile, in a chilling echo of Avayev's death, Russian tycoon Sergey Protosenya, 55, his wife Natalya, 53, and his 18-year-old daughter Maria were discovered dead at their luxury Spanish villa.
Protosenya, who boasted a fortune of over £333million, did not leave a suicide note before allegedly hanging himself in the courtyard.
Natalia and Maria had been hacked to death in their beds with an axe in the Lloret de Mar on Spain’s Costa Brava, according to reports.
Police found the gruesome scene after the couple's teenage son, who was in France at the time, raised concerns.
Alleged inconsistencies at the crime scene and the coincidental death of two gas oligarchs and their families in a matter of days have raised suspicions.
OLIGARCH 'BADLY BEATEN' BEFORE DEATH
Just one day after Putin invaded Ukraine, the body of Gazprom deputy general director Alexander Tyulakov was found.
His hung body was discovered by his lover in his £500,000 home in Leningrad.
But according to reports, he had been badly beaten before his death – raising speculation over how he died.
KNIFE 'OUT OF REACH'
In the same gated housing development in the Leningrad region, Leonid Shulman – head of transport at Gazprom Invest – was found dead on January 29.
He was discovered with multiple stab wounds in a pool of blood on his bathroom floor.
A note was found, the contents of which have not been disclosed, and the Russian Investigative Committee reportedly refused to discuss the deaths.
It's reported a knife was found in the bathtub, seemingly out of reach.
Many cases of [suspicious deaths] are like settling scores
'LINKS TO KREMLIN'
Suspicions have been raised over the five deaths as they come amid a shake-up in ownership in Russian business.
The change was triggered by Western sanctions which have frozen many fortunes.
Engineer and economist Protosenya had been chief accountant of Novatek company, the largest independent producer of natural gas in Russia, between 2002 and 2014, and later vice president.
He had a fortune of $440 million, it is claimed.
Novatek is co-owned by close Putin friend Gennady Timchenko and the privileged giant had been recently excluded from the Kremlin leader’s edict to trade energy only in rubles.
The company is also closely linked to Pyotr Kolbin, a Putin childhood friend, allegedly a “shadow holder of Putin's wealth”.
“So, under strange and similar circumstances, the families of managers of two key private companies managing the money of Putin's entourage died,” stated Mozhem Obyasnit.
'STRUGGLE TO BELIEVE'
Last month, the bodies of Russian billionaire Vasily Melnikov and his wife and two sons were discovered in his luxury apartment in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, 250 miles east of Moscow.
All died from stab wounds, according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant.
The paper quoted police investigators, who said they had determined that Melnikov killed his family before committing suicide.
However, neighbours and relatives have since come forward and said they struggle to believe Melnikov could have done something so evil.
The businessman had been an executive at medical firm MedStom, which had suffered greatly as a result of economic sanctions placed on Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, according to Ukrainian publication Glavred.
PUTIN CRITIC FOUND DEAD
Early in March, just a week into the war, police in Surrey were called to the posh house of a Ukrainian business tycoon Mikhail Watford.
The 66-year-old was found hanged at his £18m home on the exclusive Wentworth Estate in Virginia Water.
A neighbour of Mikhail claimed he had told her that Putin had put him on a hit list.
She also said Mr Watford, known as Misha, had been a pal of Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, found hanged at his home in Ascot, Berks, in 2013.
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Mr Watford told her Berezovsky had been murdered by an intelligence agency.
The neighbour went on: “I find it hard to believe that Misha would have taken his own life. It doesn’t add up.”
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