Irina Izmestieva, her husband and oil tycoon, was in his filthy Russian Urals prison cell, three thousand miles from where she was discovered dead.

Irina, a glamorous 52-year-old former Moscow TV presenter and film-maker, was discovered ten days ago in mysterious circumstances after concerned friends summoned police to her £15 million house.

Just a stone’s throw from Kensington Palace, Irina had been enjoying a life far removed from the dismal existence of Igor, the multi-millionaire father of her two daughters and, latterly, enemy of Vladimir Putin.

Russian socialite Irina Izmestieva was found dead in her London mansion earlier this month and friends are demanding MI5 investigate

Russian socialite Irina Izmestieva, a Russian socialite, was discovered dead at her London home earlier in the month. Friends are now requesting MI5 to investigate

The White Swan penal colony, where her 55-year-old husband is incarcerated in a cell with two others, is one of Russia’s toughest prisons.

It is home to serial killers and cannibals, as well as Izmestiev, a former Moscow senator and oil dealer who has been locked up there since 2010 for crimes including murder and tax evasion — although his supporters insist he was framed after falling foul of the Kremlin.

Built during Stalin’s purges, the high-security jail on the edge of the town of Solikamsk is circled with barbed wire and guarded by machine gun towers.

Igor remains behind bars while Igor sews prison overalls eight hours a days, survives on buckwheat and is allowed to enter the exercise yard for one hour. Irina was raising their twins privately, and she worked on her filmmaking career.

However, the Mail can confirm that Irina managed to coordinate a legal struggle against the Russian government in order to release her husband.

She had failed to obtain justice for Igor from Russia and she was forced to turn to the European Court of Human Rights (Strasbourg) in her desperate attempt to find justice. A move that, one source told the Mail, may have been embarrassing for Russia’s government.

It’s no surprise then that her friends were shocked to discover her body at Kensington’s three-storey 19th century mansion.

Tough regime: Irina’s husband Igor photographed in jail

Tough regime: Irina’s husband Igor photographed in jail

What was behind her strange, unexplained passing in one of London’s wealthiest and most peaceful enclaves?

This week, a senior British barrister, who asked not to be named, told the Mail that her ‘untimely death’ was ‘highly suspicious’ and that she had been the ‘driving force behind Igor’s appeal to Strasbourg’.

Without Irina, he said, Igor Izmestiev’s appeal was ‘likely to fall by the wayside’, something which would no doubt be a relief to the Kremlin. For his part, Igor, who has been told by his lawyer that his wife is dead, is said to be ‘in utter shock’ at what has happened.

While Irina was apparently enjoying a life of luxury in London and at the vast Hampshire country estate she and her husband owned — her Instagram account shows her chatting with Prince Harry, and posing with actor Jeremy Irons — in reality she was never able to escape her husband’s murky past.

One of her friends describes her as constantly ‘looking over her shoulder’ for her husband’s enemies. Speaking to the Mail this week, the friend said Irina was ‘nervous’.

‘She did not seem like a particularly free lady,’ the friend said. ‘Her children and her life were financed by her husband.

“He held her in financial stranglehold.”

‘It was a difficult marriage — she was always looking over her shoulder even after he was put in prison. She was nervous.’

Irina Izmestieva

Igor Izmestyev

Igor, the ex-husband of Ms Izmestieva was sentenced to life imprisonment in a Russian high security prison

So nervous, in fact, that when her now 21-year-old twins, Sasha and Arina, were children she employed a driver to take them to and from the gates of their private girls’ school — a journey of less than a mile.

Another of Irina’s friends, Miranda Mirianashvili, said this week that the couple’s Kensington home, which was bought in 2006 for £8.85 million by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, was the subject of a property dispute.

Whatever the truth about Irina’s tragic death, money lay at the heart of much of the Izmestiev family’s troubles.

As many Russian fortunes, the shadowy fortune was created in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Izmestiev, a former soldier and a native of the oil-rich Russian republic of Bashkiria, made his millions on the back of oil deals in the 1990s after becoming close to members of the family of the republic’s president.

Apart from owning Korus Oil Company, which is a major oil company, his assets also included shipping. He was elected senator for the area in 1999.

He was considered to be a Putin friend for a large part of the time. At the start of 2005 the Russian President presented him with an expensive gold watch, as an indication of his respect.

But Izmestiev appears to have suffered a reversal in fortunes after Putin’s move to crack down on powerful regional leaders in Russia and to take back control of the oil fields.

It is believed that instead of becoming a whistleblower and helping the Kremlin to assist, he declined to cooperate, possibly fearing incriminating him.

The £15million home of Russian senator's dead wife Irina Izmestieva, just a stone's throw from Kensington Palace

The £15million home of Russian senator’s dead wife Irina Izmestieva, just a stone’s throw from Kensington Palace

In the year that followed, Izmestievs left Russia and moved to Germany and London. Sources in Moscow claim that Izmestiev took substantial amounts out of Russia and kept them out of reach from the confiscatory power of the Russian government.

In Kyrgyzstan, he believed he was going on a business visit two years later.

He was immediately taken into custody and flown to Russia for his murder of the wife, business associate. Izmestiev is accused of being part of a criminal network that used Mafia elements to take control over oil refineries.

In addition to multiple murders in 1992-2004, he was charged with tax evasion and attempting to bribe an FSB agent. He also attempted the murder of the son his ex-alliance, Bashkiria’s president.

He could face additional charges for terrorism at the last minute, though he was accused of setting fire to a station petrol pump and a publication house.

Izmestiev’s 2010 trial in Moscow provoked outrage among human rights activists, including the late Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a former Soviet dissident and founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group.

One year earlier than her death in 2017, she claimed she convinced Putin to pardon Izmestiev. But a year later the official Russian ‘Pardons Commission’ turned down the request.

Mother-of-two Ms Izmestieva was pictured at a sporting event with Prince Harry in 2012

The mother-of-two, Ms Izmestieva, was seen at a 2012 sporting event alongside Prince Harry

Russian sources state that any future pardon is impossible without Izmestiev’s return of billions upon billions.

The friend of Irina’s who spoke to the Mail this week, also pointed towards question marks around the family’s money.

‘Obviously because of all the stories surrounding her husband, you can’t help but feel a little bit eerie about her dying so suddenly,’ she said.

Despite her beauty and her husband’s wealth, Irina was no mere trophy wife.

Born in Ukraine in 1969, she studied systems engineering before moving to Moscow, where she gained a media diploma and worked for three-and-a-half years as a presenter for Russia’s TDK channel.

After her husband’s incarceration, she studied at London Film Academy, setting up her own film-making business, IZM Productions, and producing award-winning short films which have been screened at Cannes, Rome and Venice.

Irina described one of her first IZM films, Picture Perfect, as being about ‘age, regret, forgiveness and longing to change the past’.

One of many high-profile Russians have been mysteriously killed on British soil over the past few years.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy was shot to death by radioactive polonium210. This radiation was administered by the FSB in 2006.

Irina Izmestieva, 52, smiles at an event where she went on to speak briefly with Prince Harry

Irina Izmestieva (52), smiles during an event, where she spoke briefly with Prince Harry

Alexander Perepilichnyy (exiled Russian banker) was found in Surrey’s road collapsed. Expert botanist tests suggested that a plant toxin caused cardiac arrest.

The following year, Boris Berezovsky, a one-time friend of Putin who became a fierce critic of the Kremlin, was found hanged in his bathroom — although an asphyxiation expert found that the ligature marks on his neck suggested strangling.

Three years ago, Putin-backed agents poisoned Sergei Skripal (ex-Russian spy) and his daughter with Novichok in Salisbury.

In Russia, Irina’s death has been attributed by some newspapers to the coronavirus, although her friend Miranda Mirianashvili says she had tested negative and was taking antibiotics for a cough.

It is thought that a concerned friend raised the alarm and flagged down officers passing by who broke into the house through the basement window to find Irina trapped on the couch inside.

Other friends have told the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets that she was prone to depression and speculated that she had been suffering from ‘empty-nest syndrome’ and loneliness since her daughters had grown up.

She had been to visit her mother, but she left days prior. The U.S. is one of the daughters, while the other lives out of the city.

One friend described the fact that Irina was alone as ‘a fatal coincidence of circumstances’, adding: ‘Maybe if someone was home to call an ambulance, Ira could have been saved.’

Police have said that they are not treating Irina’s death as suspicious. The barrister who spoke to the Mail this week said: ‘Scotland Yard’s insouciance over the cause of death is puzzling, unless it’s a ploy designed to induce the Russians to drop their guard’.

Well connected: Irina (main) and (above) with actor Jeremy Irons

Irina (main), and (above), with actor Jeremy Irons

The Westminster coroner said yesterday that Irina’s death had been reported to them, suggesting it will now be the subject of an inquest.

Russian exile and anti-corruption campaigner Evgeny Chichvarkin, who now runs Hedonism Wines in London, believes it is important that the case is ‘properly’ looked into: ‘I very much hope that the UK’s special services will investigate this case properly, thoroughly, and perhaps, one day, we’ll learn what happened,’ he wrote on Facebook this week.

Irina’s family are said to be considering asking for a private post-mortem examination to ensure that no stone is left unturned in the quest to find out what happened to her. Her daughters, in particular, are said to be ‘inconsolable’.

The friend who spoke to the Mail added: ‘I hope we find out the truth. Irina was absolutely lovely and it’s so horrible and rather odd she should come to a sudden death.

‘I remember Irina talking about things and you can’t help feeling nervous. Her husband lived in a frightening world, one where people seem to be happy to pick on other people with impunity.