Boris Berezovsky accused of money laundering


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The Independent Online

The exiled Russian businessman and former politician Boris Berezovsky was accused of money laundering at the Commercial Court in London today.

Mr Berezovsky is suing Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich for more than £3bn relating to what he claims were forced sales of his assets under threats and intimidation from his former friend and business partner.

Answering questions for a fifth day from Mr Abramovich's barrister Jonathan Sumption, the court heard in great detail the complex financial arrangements pertaining to the transfer of $1.3bn (£800m) from Mr Abramovich to Mr Berezovsky, which Mr Berezovsky claims was for his share in Sibneft, a hugely profitable oil firm Mr Abramovich forced him to sell, and which Mr Abramovich claims was no more than a gift, his "debt of honour" or "krysha", meaning protection, for Mr Berezovsky's help in setting it up.

Yet another extraordinary character emerged in the extraordinary tale between the two men, that has already embroiled two ex Russian Presidents and a host of billionaires.

The court heard how in 2001 the money was transferred through Devonia, an investment vehicle set up by Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, brother of the now Emir of Abu Dhabi.

Eventually the Clydesdale Bank stopped accepting the payments as the instalments did not match that which had been set out in agreements drafted by Stephen Curtis, a fantastically rich UK lawyer who died in a helicopter crash in 2004 on his way to his castle on an island off Dorset, which he had bought with the proceeds from acting as lawyer to several of the most prominent so called "oligarchs." Documents shown to Mr Berezovsky show Mr Curtis was paid in excess of $18m for his role in setting up the Devonia vehicle.

"I put it to you that the whole transaction was a sham to deceive your banks and hide your assets wasn't it?" Mr Sumption asked Mr Berezovsky.

"This is details," Mr Berezovsky said. "They [my staff] never inform me of details."

He also revealed that he signed the paperwork relating to Devonia at 10pm in London's Nobu restaurant, which he agreed was "wrong."

He described the Devonia deal as a "headache" and said angrily: "If he [Abramovich] just gave me one more present, if it [the $1.3bn] is just his goodwill, if it is political krsyha, why should we go through all this?"

Ending his cross examination for the day Mr Sumption said: "I suggest to you Mr Curtis had performed for you a service that was worth a lot of money. He had helped to launder your money, hadn't he, with your consent?"

Mr Berezovsky replied: "I never made anything illegal. It is not help for money laundering because it would be discovered as money laundering, that's it."

It was at a meeting set up by Mr Curtis at which the Sheikh Sultan, Mr Abramovich and Mr Berezovsky were all present, that the bank's compliance officer is reported to have asked the Sheikh for a passport and a utility bill to confirm his identity. The Sheikh responded by presenting him with several dirham banknotes saying "my face is on these." The meeting descended into laughter.