Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich listened intently at London's High Court yesterday as his former friend and business partner Boris Berezovsky accused him of betrayal, and of "valuing wealth and influence more than friendship and loyalty".
Lawrence Rabinowitz QC, acting for Mr Berezovsky, 65, told the court his client was seeking "in excess" of $5.5 billion (£3.2bn) from Mr Abramovich (right), who he claims intimidated him into selling to Mr Abramovich his shares in their oil firm, Sibneft, at a fraction of their market value. He is also claiming in excess of $564m (£364m) with regard to the unlawful sale of his shares in aluminium giant Rusal.
In the latest installment of a long-running saga, the two men sat at either end of a packed courtroom. "This is a case about two men who worked together to acquire an asset – that is Sibneft – that would make them wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most people," Mr Rabinowitz told Mrs Justice Gloster in the opening summary of a case expected to last 15 weeks.
"In the process, we say, (they) became and remained good friends until, that is, Mr Berezovsky, who had adopted a high political profile in Russia, not least through his control of certain media outlets, fell out with those in power in the Kremlin and was forced to leave his home and create a new life abroad."
He said Mr Abramovich was left with the choice of remaining loyal or betraying Mr Berezovsky.
Mr Abramovich's lawyers, led by Jonathan Sumption QC, had argued that the High Court in London should not hear the case as it was a matter for the Russian legal system.
The two mens' legal teams were so large they took up seats in the public gallery and bodyguards stood in the crowded court. Mr Abramovich's wealth was estimated earlier this year at £8.6bn, Mr Berezovksy's at £500m.Reuse content