Abramovich speaks – then pops out for a sandwich

Drama and comedy in legal battle of Russian oligarchs as Chelsea owner gives evidence

With an aggressive voice at odds with his usually placid demeanour, Roman Abramovich was sworn into the witness box at London's Commercial Court yesterday – and, in Russian, denounced the claim for $6bn (£3.5bn) of his money as "wholly without merit".

Mr Abramovich is being sued by his former business partner Boris Berezovsky, who was also in court, over business interests he claims he was forced to sell 11 years ago. Mr Berezovsky argues that he used his influence over President Yeltsin's Kremlin in the mid-1990s to facilitate the creation of energy company Sibneft, and, as a silent partner, was entitled to 50 per cent of it until Mr Abramovich, whom he has said he thought of as a son, forced him to sell his shares at a heavily discounted price.

Mr Abramovich claims a $1.3bn payment made to Mr Berezovsky in 2001 represented his "debt of honour" in helping to establish Sibneft, but that Mr Berezovsky was never a shareholder.

In his first oral submission to the court Mr Abramovich said: "I am not his protégé, he is not my mentor."

From the end of 1999, Mr Abramovich said Mr Berezovsky's "outlook on life seemed to become detached from reality" and that "the boundaries between fact and fiction are blurred and that he would often start believing his own PR". At one point he claimed Mr Berezovsky even suggested trying to return the monarchy to Russia. "I still felt a sense of moral responsibility towards him," Abramovich added. "He still inspired in me a powerful sense of loyalty and respect because I owed so much of what I had to him."

He said he finds it "awkward to defend in England what are essentially Russian claims arising out of a uniquely Russian story" but that "Mr Berezovsky's claims are wholly without merit."

Having sat silently watching proceedings for the last four weeks, Mr Abramovich was first asked by Mr Berezovsky's barrister Laurence Rabinowitz QC to describe his early life, but his answers differed from his written statements. Mr Abramovich had claimed to have graduated from the Moscow Road Institute but said in evidence that he did not receive a degree despite studying there for four years. "I did not graduate," he said. "I did not finish it." Journalists from all over the world filled what little space in the courtroom not taken up by the two men's lawyers and associates, listening on cheap aeroplane-style headsets. Mr Abramovich wore a more expensive silver-coloured pair.

Mr Abramovich will answer questions for over a week, many pertaining to the establishment of Sibneft, the oil firm that he acquired for $100m in 1996, and sold in 2005 for $13bn. Much of the opening day's evidence was particularly detailed, but the court descended into laughter on a number of occasions.

Mr Abramovich's close associates, including billionaires Eugene Shvidler and David Davidovich, have attended almost all of the trial. Many of them will appear as witnesses, prompting Mr Berezovsky's lawyer to ask if anyone had helped Mr Abramovich prepare his evidence. Misunderstanding, Mr Abramovich replied he has had lessons in "breathing smoothly and looking at the judge", prompting laughter in the court.

The Chelsea owner –Britain's second richest man – also raised eyebrows when at the lunch break he strolled into the sandwich bar Pret a Manger and took a seat downstairs to escape the press. He appeared rattled when shown notes from a 1995 meeting involving military equipment and asked if he had been involved in weapons trading in the mid-1990s. He vigorously denied the suggestion. Mr Abramovich, worth an estimated £8.6bn and the owner of a fleet of at least five yachts, brought attention to his charitable work, and improvements in infrastructure to the state of Chukotka where he served as Governor from 2001 to 2008. He said he "never aspired to be a public figure" and is interested in "real business and the development of business strategies." Over the next week Mr Abramovich will have to explain quite how the two men's accounts of their relationship are so different. Mr Abramovich, unlike his opponent, has never been greatly concerned by public opinion, and his answers already seem much more to the point than those given by Mr Berezovsky in more than a week of evidence. Plus, he knows that the burden of proof is not on him. The case continues.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on Scotland's oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
News
news

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballThe latest scores and Twitter updates from tonight’s games, featuring Bayern Munich vs Man City and Chelsea vs Schalke
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
i100
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

Extras
10 best table lamps
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week