Abramovich attempted to obtain British citizenship

Roman Abramovich once tried to obtain a British passport via Gibraltar, it was claimed yesterday as part of his bitter legal battle with another Russian oligarch.

Almost a decade before he bought Chelsea football club he asked if a British lawyer could arrange citizenship, it was suggested at London's Commercial Court.

The 45-year-old billionaire is locked in a court room battle with Boris Berezovsky, who is suing him for more than £3 billion, claiming he was forced to sell his share of a hugely profitable oil firm under threats and intimidation.

Yesterday, on Mr Abramovich's eighth day of giving evidence, Mr Berezovsky's lawyer Laurence Rabinowitz QC asked him whether he tried to obtain a Gibraltarian, or even British, passport.

In evidence he produced a letter from Mr Abramovich's close associate Eugene Shividler to the British lawyer Stephen Curtis. Hugely wealthy, Mr Curtis was known for his dealings with Russian oligarchs but died in a helicopter crash in 1994 on the way to his castle on an island off Dorset.

In the letter dated 2 November 1994, Mr Shividler said that Mr Abramovich has asked him to look into information on Gibraltarian travel documents, adding: "Regarding the British passport I can only say everybody is still thinking".

Mr Abramovich insisted he had no recollection of such a request, adding: "This was Mr Curtis's proposal. At the time Russian citizens had difficulty obtaining visas, there were long waiting queues and big hassles.

"He suggested that the problem might be solved this way. But we never went further than this."

He continued: "To this day I don't even know whether such passports exist."

The Gibraltar passport is a British passport issued to its citizens. As a result of the British Nationality Act 1981 Gibraltarians were considered British Overseas Territories citizens by default, but could apply for registration as a British Citizen.