Berezovsky 'loaned £8.5m for deal'

 

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The Independent Online

Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska loaned Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky £8.5 million to finance a property purchase in England, a High Court judge heard today.

Mr Deripaska, a metals tycoon, told Mrs Justice Gloster how he handed over the money after Mr Berezovsky offered to "use his influence" to "tone down" his Russian television station's coverage of "problems in the aluminium industry".

But Mr Deripaska said Mr Berezovsky was "not in a hurry to repay" and nearly three years later fellow Russia billionaire businessman Roman Abramovich - owner of Chelsea Football Club - agreed to "take care of the debt" during a meeting at the Dorchester Hotel in London.

Mr Deripaska, 43, was giving evidence in a trial at the Commercial Court in London, where Mr Berezovsky, 65, is suing Mr Abramovich, 45, for billions of pounds.

He told the court how he spoke to Mr Berezovsky, who then ran Russian television station ORT, after a spate of "negative" reports about "aluminium wars".

"I had spoken with Mr Boris Berezovsky about reducing ORT's coverage of the problems in the aluminium industry," said Mr Deripaska, in a written witness statement given to the judge.

"Mr Berezovsky offered to use his influence to ensure ORT's coverage was toned down. In return, on 17 October 1997, one of my companies ... loaned £8,500,000 (with interest at 7% per annum) to a company owned and controlled by Mr Berezovsky."

Mr Deripaska, who said his "entire business career" had been focused on the development of the Russian aluminium industry, added: "Mr Berezovsky said that he required this money to finance the purchase of a property in England.

"Initially, I was grateful for Mr Berezovsky's assistance but by 2000 I had strong suspicions that he had in fact encouraged the negative coverage so he had a means of exerting pressure on me."

He said he had a meeting with Mr Berezovsky and Mr Abramovich at the Dorchester in March 2000.

"The repayment of the debt Mr Berezovsky owed to me was discussed but only very briefly - it was agreed that Mr Abramovich would take care of the debt," said Mr Deripaska.

"I was not friends with Mr Berezovsky ... and I was particularly wary of discussing business in Mr Berezovsky's presence, since I did not want to give him the opportunity to meddle in my affairs."

Mr Deripaska today gave evidence - via a video link from New York - at the trial. He spoke in Russian and his words were translated by a interpreter.

He said he was "friends" with Mr Abramovich, but Mr Berezovsky was "absolutely indifferent to me".

Mr Deripaska told the judge that in March 2000 he had "disliked" Mr Berezovsky and added: "Mr Berezovsky owed me a large amount of money over a long period of time and he was not in a hurry to repay."

Mr Berezovsky claims that Mr Abramovich "betrayed" him and "intimidated" him into selling shares in Russian oil company Sibneft for a "mere 1.3 billion" US dollars (£800 million) - "a fraction of their true worth".

He alleges breach of trust and breach of contract, and is claiming more than £3 billion in damages.

Mr Abramovich denies the allegations and denies that Mr Berezovsky is entitled to damages.

He says Mr Berezovsky was paid millions of pounds for his services as a "political godfather" but was not a business partner.

The court has heard that Mr Berezovsky "fled Russia, never to return" in late 2000, following a fall-out with then-president Vladimir Putin - travelling initially to France, then settling in England.

PA