Boris Berezovsky: 'Roman Abramovich is not smart, just good at socialising'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

The Russian businessman and political exile Boris Berezovsky finally took to the witness stand at London's High Court yesterday to deny allegations of corruption and insist that it was mostly his own "intellectual capacity" that had seen him become one of the most influential people in Russia after the collapse of Communism.

Mr Berezovsky is seeking damages in excess of £3bn from the Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, who he claims intimidated him into selling his stake in the hugely profitable oil firm Sibneft at a discounted price.

Mr Berezovsky questioned Mr Abramovich's intelligence and attributed his fellow Russian's wealth to an ability to ingratiate himself with powerful people.

Journalists from all over the world packed the courtroom at the Rolls Building in the City of London for the fourth day of a trial that is expected to last more than two months, forcing dozens to listen in overflow rooms. "There isn't a courtroom in the land big enough to accommodate all of you," the judge Mrs Justice Gloster told reporters.

Mr Berezovsky was sworn in in English, and answered questions in English, but sat in the witness box with a Russian interpreter.

Acting for Mr Abramovich is arguably the country's leading barrister, Jonathan Sumption QC, who suggested that in post-Communist Russia "a businessman like Mr Abramovich had no chance of building business interests without political influence". Mr Berezovsky said: "It depends on how smart he is and how much leverage he has. To get leverage you need to be smart – and he is not so."

Mr Abramovich, he claimed, was "good at getting people to like him" and "good at psychology".

"He is good at appearing to be humble," he said. "He is happy to spend days just socialising with important or powerful people if that is what is needed so [that] he can get closer to them."

Surrounded by lawyers, Mr Abramovich listened through headphones to a Russian translation of proceedings. He gave little reaction as the court heard how Mr Berezovsky had been invited to join then Russian President Boris Yeltsin's "Presidential tennis club" and began to exert political influence over the President through Mr Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and her soon-to-be husband Valentin Yumashev, Mr Yeltsin's chief of staff.

It is alleged that Mr Berezovsky acted as a "political godfather" to Mr Abramovich and supported Mr Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential election via his TV network ORT. In return for this support, the court has heard, Mr Berezovsky persuaded Mr Yeltsin to sell two state oil companies at auction, via which Mr Abramovich built his considerable fortune. It is this, he has claimed, that entitles him to a share of the £7.4bn Mr Abramovich received when he sold Sibneft in 2005. Outlining the nature of the agreement between Mr Berezovsky and President Yeltsin, Mr Sumption said: "You will get the support of my television network, and in return you will put me in a position where I can extract large sums of money from these two businesses." "That is correct, yes." Mr Berezovsky replied. "Would it be fair to describe that as a corrupt bargain?" Mr Sumption asked. "Definitely not," Mr Berezovsky said.

Mr Berezovsky found himself in some difficulty when questioned about a libel action he brought against Forbes magazine in 2001 after an article in the magazine described him as a "corrupt and unscrupulous businessman, [who took] control of mass media companies for his own ends, both business and political".

Mr Sumption produced witness statements from the trial in which Mr Berezovsky denied he exerted significant influence over President Yeltsin, the very matter on which his claim in this case depends. "Why did you deny it, and then sign a statement in support of your denial?" asked Mr Sumption.

"That is a good question," Mr Berezovsky replied, prompting considerable laughter from Mr Abramovich's lawyers. "Yes," said Mrs Justice Gloster. "And it is a question which you will have to answer."

Mr Berezovsky was shown his statement from the Forbes libel action, in which he stated that after 1997 he "no longer [had] any role in the management of [Sibneft] nor any shareholding". Mr Berezovsky's claim in this case is that in 2001 Mr Abramovich forced him to sell his Sibneft shares for less than they were worth. Mr Berezovsky now claims his interests were only an "oral agreement", and they relate to half of the 50 per cent controlled by Mr Abramovich, and that the two positions are not contradictory.

Mr Berezovsky apologised for his English on a number of occasions and was frequently instructed by Mr Sumption to answer the question he had been asked. Later Mr Berezovsky refused to continue until a document he had signed was produced in its original Russian, and asked for all documents to be available in his native tongue. Mr Abramovich claims that a £1.3bn payment he made to Mr Berezovsky in 2001 was an acknowledgement of his "debt of honour" to Mr Berezovsky, whose political influence had made the creation of Sibneft possible, not a forced purchase of his stake, and that Mr Berezovsky held no shares in the company. Mr Berezovsky is expected to answer questions until the end of next week, while Mr Abramovich will give evidence in November.

Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
life“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
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 apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice