'Berezovsky begged me for cash when he fled Russia – and was down to his last $1m'

Flamboyant oligrach 'would not have lived long on that', Roman Abramovich tells court

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The Independent Online

The billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich told a London court yesterday how his former business partner Boris Berezovsky begged him for money after fleeing Russia in 2000, when his television station had criticised the then-President Vladimir Putin.

"All he had was $1m to call his own," Mr Abramovich said, adding that his notoriously extravagant fellow Russian "would not have lived long on that".

Mr Berezovsky's business partner Badri Patarkatsishvili came to him and asked him for $305m (£190m), Mr Abramovich said. "Boris cannot go back to Russia," Mr Abramovich said Mr Patarkatsishvili told him. "Please give us a large amount of money and we shall keep it for a rainy day."

Mr Berezovsky claimed this version of events is entirely untrue and has promised 5 per cent of any winnings in this case to an unknown party for a secret recording of a meeting between the three men at Le Bourget airport in Paris in December 2000, which he said proves as much.

Mr Berezovsky claimed that he and his partner were merely asking for the money owed to them from the profits generated from the oil and aluminium companies they jointly owned with Mr Abramovich. These disputed assets form the heart of the ongoing case at London's Commercial Court.

In 2000, the oil firm Sibneft that Mr Abramovich set up after his success in the controversial loans-for-shares auction had generated $1.45bn, an amount vastly inflated by the sale of Sibneft's oil at artificial prices between his own holding companies abroad and in Russian tax havens. Some of these companies, he has admitted, were staffed by disabled workers to qualify for tax exemptions.

Whether the money paid by the two men represented an ownership stake or, as Mr Abramovich contends, "krysha" (the Russian word for roof, meaning protection, from physical violence or political interference), the sums paid closely match the ownership stake Mr Berezovsky maintains he had.

Mr Abramovich was asked why Mr Patarkatsishvili continually uses the word "we" when referring to decisions that need to be made with regard to the shares.

"Badri's Russian wasn't native, it was his second language – he mix up sometimes his grammar," Mr Abramovich said,contradicting his own barrister, Jonathan Sumption QC, who said on the very first day of the case that Mr Patarkatsishvili's Russian was "excellent". On Thursday, Mr Abramovich also said: "I always say 'we'. I don't like to say 'I'."

Mr Berezovsky's barrister, Laurence Rabinowitz, said the recording also showed that Mr Abramovich was close to Mr Putin, a matter central to their allegation that it was with the Kremlin's backing that the Chelsea owner arrived at Mr Berezovsky's chateau on the French Riviera the next day and demanded he sell him his shares in his television network, ORT, or face them being seized by the state.

The network's offices had recently been raided by Russian authorities and Mr Patarkatisishvili, ORT's director, was fearful he would be arrested if he returned to Moscow. "If you know that I [will] have no problems... I shall come with pleasure," Mr Patarkatsishvili says on the recording.

"You won't have any problems," Mr Abramovich replies.

Mr Abramovich said that they "were not discussing arrest".

The recording was made by Andrei Lugovoi, then Mr Patarkatsishvili's chief of staff, and the man who is now an elected member of the Russian Duma and wanted by the British Government in connection with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. The case will run until after Christmas.

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