Abramovich 1, Berezovsky 0 is High Court verdict

Boris Berezovsky has lost his £3bn battle against fellow Russian Oligarch - and Chelsea FC owner - Roman Abramovich.

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 30 Sep 2015
The four-month trial cost an estimated £100m, making it one of the most expensive ever heard in the UK. It centred on whether Berezovsky - one of the first generation of post-Soviet era Russian business tycoons - had been intimidated into selling his protégé-turned-arch-rival Abramovich huge stakes in formerly-state owned assets including oil business Sibneft, at knock-down prices.

Judge Mrs Justice Gloster dismissed Berezovsky’s claims, but in many ways it is not the verdict so much as the light shed on the Post-Soviet Russia of the 90s that has been the trial’s most revealing aspect. The court heard that both men exploited their political connections at the highest level to buy assets - particularly oil and gas businesses - at a fraction of their true value. Berezovsky in particular was close to the Yeltsin regime, and has often claimed to have been instrumental in securing the presidency for his successor, Vladimir Putin.

However, it was after falling out with Putin that Berezovsky alleged the intimidation had taken place, which Abramovich denied claiming in his turn that he had paid Berezovsky $2.3bn for political protection.

Rather as high profile divorce cases tend to spill the beans on jealously-guarded personal lives, this trial provided a fascinating glimpse into a nation dominated by patronage and huge power wielded by a handful of individuals, fortunes made and lost overnight and eye-poppingly lavish lifestyles. Abramovich denied that he had once spend $47,000 on lunch, or bought an $870m private plane complete with missile defence system.

Abramovich’s barrister Lord Sumption at one point told the court that it would necessary to return to 15th Century England to find anything remotely resembling the economic and political turmoil in Russia in the 90s. ‘To understand it, read Shakespeare’ he said.

Given that background, it’s hardly surprising that the odd ‘disagreement’ over who said or did what, when and to whom arises. The murky ground of 90s Russia provided plenty of scope for such conflict, and the sums involved are huge.

What is perhaps more pertinent to UK plc is that so many of those who feel themselves wronged choose to come to London to have their cases heard. Berezovsky himself is engaged in another battle with the family of Georgian billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, who died in 2008, the verdict of which will in turn be watched closely lawyers acting for Oleg Deripaska in his case against Uzbek-born Michael Cherney. Phew!

It may not the most edifying sight to watch these super-tycoons slugging it out in the witness box, but they employ armies of lawyers and support staff and their faith in British justice is clearly strong. In these straitened times the UK economy needs all the help it can get…

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