Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich wins court battle with Boris Berezovsky that laid bare Russia’s elite
Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich yesterday declared he had been “comprehensively vindicated” after winning a High Court battle with Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and being described by a judge as truthful and reliable.
• Boris Berezovsky claimed Roman Abramovich ‘intimidated’ him into selling shares in oil firm
• Judge casts doubt on Berezovsky’s testimony, calling him ‘unimpressive and inherently unreliable’
A judge yesterday rejected allegations against 45-year-old Mr Abramovich of blackmail, breach of trust and breach of contract and said Mr Berezovsky, 66, was an unimpressive and unreliable witness.
The oligarch was seeking £3 billion damages after claiming the football club owner had intimidated him into selling shares in Russian oil giant Sibneft. Mr Berezovsky said he was “shocked” at the decision and claimed the move had rewritten Russian history.
Mrs Justice Gloster said: “On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes.”
The judge also told how she found Mr Abramovich “to be a truthful, and on the whole reliable, witness”.
The London trial gained worldwide attention as it delved into business deals done in Russia following the break-up of the Soviet Union two decades ago.
During the three-month hearing, it was revealed that in 2000 Mr Berezovsky had “fled Russia, never to return” after falling out with president Vladimir Putin.
Mr Abramovich opted not to appear in court for the decision and was instead in Monte Carlo for his team’s Super Cup Final.
A statement issued by the billionaire last night said: “There were many serious allegations made against Mr Abramovich by Mr Berezovsky, including attacks on Mr Abramovich’s honesty and integrity.
“We are pleased that the judge has firmly rejected all such allegations and has described Mr Abramovich as a truthful and frank witness who showed a responsible and honest approach when giving evidence in this case.”
The statement added: “We appreciate, to many people, this case has been a uniquely Russian one, and should therefore have been heard in the Russian court system.
“Nevertheless, Mr Abramovich has always had great faith in the fairness of the English legal system and is both pleased and grateful for today’s outcome.
“He stated from the outset that there was no merit to the allegations made by Mr Berezovsky, and this position has now been comprehensively vindicated by the court.”
During his evidence, Mr Abramovich said Mr Berezovsky had been paid millions of pounds for his services as a “political godfather” but said he was not a business partner. Mr Berezovsky claimed Mr Abramovich was a “gangster”.
Mr Berezovsky alleged Mr Abramovich had “intimidated” him into selling shares in the oil company at a fraction of their value. He also told the judge that Mr Abramovich had broken a promise made during a deal relating to a Russian aluminium company.
Mr Berezovsky’s first claim related to an interest he alleged he had in Sibneft, which was created by a decree of the Russian Federation in 1995 as part of a programme of privatisation. Sibneft subsequently became a “major integrated oil company generating large profits”, said the judge.
The second claim related to an interest Mr Berezovsky alleged he had in a company known as RusAl, “which became a substantial company in the Russian aluminium industry”.
Mrs Justice Gloster said she rejected the “serious allegations” that Mr Abramovich was a thoroughly “dishonest and cynical witness” who deliberately called witnesses whom he knew would give “as they were intended to do, thoroughly untrue evidence designed only to mislead the court”.
The judge also ruled that Mr Abramovich did not make
either express or implied threats to Mr Berezovsky with the intention of intimidating him to dispose of his alleged interests in Sibneft.
Speaking outside court, Mr Berezovsky said: “I am absolutely amazed. I am surprised completely. Lady Gloster took responsibility to rewrite Russian history. I don’t know about an appeal. I will have to talk to my lawyers.”
During the trial, Mr Abramovich told how he left school at 16, worked as a mechanic and began his business career selling plastic toys. He said he also served in the army and studied law. He claimed he had “never aspired to be a public figure”.
Mr Abramovich had previously objected about the hearing taking place in the UK, claiming it was “essentially Russian claims arising out of a uniquely Russian story”.
Commenting on the ruling, Alexandr Shokhin, head of Russian Unions of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said last night: “It’s a good signal for all Russian businessmen and also power structures – highlighting that all relations should be built lawfully, on paper, and witnessed by reliable and independent witnesses.”
But Vadim Malkin of Transitional Markets Consultancy said: “It’s bad news for Russian business. The court in fact has proven that the majority of assets owned by the country’s oligarchs have very questionable origins.”
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