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.”

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Goalkeeping howler allows Man City to scrap a draw – but Premier League title is Liverpool's to lose
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Consultant – Building Management

up to £45,000 + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Green ...

Senior Industrial Energy Consultant

Up to £45,000 + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Green ...

Mechanical Building Services Energy Engineer

up to £45K basic + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Gr...

Building Services Energy Engineer

up to £45K basic + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Gr...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal