Berezovsky humbled by verdict that leaves reputation in tatters

‘Unreliable’ oligarch facing huge legal bill after Roman Abramovich’s crushing victory over business deal

It could hardly have been more emphatic. In the footballing terms that Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich so loves, he won the so-called Battle of the Oligarchs at London’s High Court something like ten-nil.

After almost eight months of deliberation on the biggest private litigation ever brought before the British courts, Mrs Justice Gloster dismissed every aspect of the £3.7 billion claim brought against him by former business associate and Moscow power broker Boris Berezovsky.

The verdict was as damning as it could possibly have been, and the words of the judge may haunt Mr Berezovsky in any future litigation.

“On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes,” Mrs Justice Gloster said, describing some of his evidence as “deliberately dishonest”.

Mr Abramovich, by contrast, she said, “gave careful and thoughtful answers, which were focused on the specific issues about which he was being questioned. At all times, he was concerned to ensure that he understood the precise question, and the precise premise underlying the question which he was being asked.

“He was meticulous in making sure that, despite the difficulties of the translation process, he understood the sense of the questions which were being put to him.

“Where he had relevant knowledge, he was able to give full and detailed answers; he took care to distinguish between his own knowledge, reconstructed assumptions and speculation … In conclusion I found Mr Abramovich to be a truthful, and on the whole reliable, witness.”

The case, which has resulted in legal bills totalling an estimated £100m, had explored in forensic detail the events after the collapse of the Soviet Union, focusing on a claim by Mr Berezovsky that Mr Abramovich had intimidated him into selling his lucrative oil and gas stakes at a “gross undervalue”.

Mrs Justice Gloster ruled that Mr Berezovsky had never owned a legitimate stake in Sibneft, the oil business that made him and Mr Abramovich billions, and he had not proved he had been intimidated by Mr Abramovich, acting as President Putin’s messenger, to sell them on the cheap or face the consequences.

Before the ruling was read out at London’s Commercial Court, which was again packed with journalists and surrounded by television cameras, Mr Berezovsky said that that he felt “confident” – a feeling not shared by many others on his behalf. Mr Abramovich did not attend, sending his legal team instead.

The case has shed light on Russia in the lawless mid-nineties, when a handful of quick-thinking, fast-moving men appropriated a vast chunk of their country’s natural wealth at knockdown prices, as the communist state apparatus crumbled. While the British public have on the whole been mildly seduced and intrigued by the extravagant wealth involved, for Russian people, who feel it was their resources stolen and subsequently argued over in London, the case has generated significant anger and resentment.

The result will please Russian President Vladimir Putin. Boris Berezovsky has been an outspoken critic, and faces arrest if he ever returns to Russia. Mr Abramovich on the other hand remains on favourable terms with Mr Putin.

Unfortunately for Mr Berezovsky, who is now liable for a large percentage of the legal fees, the events on which the case rested all occurred more than a decade ago, and little had been recorded in writing.

The “burden of proof was on Mr Berezovsky”, Mrs Justice Gloster confirmed, adding: “The court needed to have a high degree of confidence in the quality of his evidence.” Which, she made all too apparent, it didn’t.

Mr Berezovsky said he didn’t know yet if he would appeal, but could hardly have been more scathing in his appraisal. “Lady Justice Gloster took responsibility to rewrite Russian history,” he claimed outside the court building. “All Russians know I was the owner of Sibneft.”

He added: “Churchill said that democracy is bad but there’s nothing better. I was going to say an English court is bad but there’s nothing better. Today I have doubts about whether that’s accurate. Sometimes I have the impression that Putin himself wrote the judgment.”

The two men’s lawyers will convene in October to decide, among other things, how much of Mr Abramovich’s legal costs Mr Berezovsky will have to pay. Mr Abramovich was represented by Jonathan Sumption QC, the country’s top barrister, who was elevated to the position of Supreme Court judge as soon as the case concluded. Mr Abramovich’s lawyers raised the fact that Mr Berezovsky has recently sold his estate in Wentworth Park, and claimed that he may be selling off assets, and may claim to be unable to meet costs.

The result may be of interest to others the dozens of other, lesser, though still vast financial cases involving Russian assets scheduled to be heard in London’s Commercial Court in the coming months, not least Oleg Deripaska, who is being sued for in excess of £1bn by the Israeli-born Uzbekh aluminium magnate Michael Cherney. Such cases will at some point rest on one man’s word against the other, yet Mrs Justice Gloster pointed out that this case “fell to be decided almost exclusively on the facts.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones