A month-and-a-half after it began, the extraordinary £3.5bn court case between the Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich and his former business partner entered into perhaps its most lively exchanges so far yesterday.
Mr Abramovich's trusted lieutenant Eugene Tenenbaum, a director at Chelsea, was called to the stand, having sat by Mr Abramovich's side almost every day since the trial began, where he calmly claimed that a further Russian oligarch, and potentially one of Mr Abramovich's most important witnesses, was too scared to appear because Mr Berezovsky had sent him a text message stating: "I know you're helping them. I'm watching you. I'm listening to your phone calls. I'm controlling your Skype," before signing off the message, "I'm Dr Evil."
Looks of disbelief exchanged across the courtroom, as Mr Berevovsky's barrister Laurence Rabinowitz QC questioned why neither Mr Tenenbaum, nor a second Abramovich aide, Eugene Shvidler, also a billionaire, who Mr Tenenbaum claimed had been forwarded the text message, had mentioned the matter before. "Mr Tenenbaum, I have to suggest to you that you are making all of this up and it's completely untrue," he said.
Mr Berezovsky's lawyers have written to Mr Abramovich's lawyers, asking for proof of the text message's existence to be produced by this morning. Even if they are able to do so, the Abramovich team had not wanted the matter discussed in court. The Chelsea owner reacted to the revelation by spending the afternoon break conducting a loud phone call in Russian in the atrium at London's Commercial Court before returning to his briefing room and expelling his lawyers in order to carry on the conversation.
At the heart of the matter is a meeting in Georgia that took place most likely some time in 2003, but certainly before one of the attendees, the British "lawyer to the oligarchs" Stephen Curtis, died in a helicopter crash in 2004.
Mr Berezovsky's lawyers have produced notes taken at the meeting by Mr Curtis, also attended by Mr Berezovsky's former business partner Badri Patarkatsishvili, as well as Mr Tenenbaum and Ruslan Fomichev, the billionaire Russian said to have received the text.
They claim the notes show that Mr Abramovich's aides sought to prevent Mr Berezovsky and Mr Patarkatsishvili from registering their shareholding in Sibneft, the hugely profitable oil firm that Mr Abramovich sold in 2005 for $13bn, and for which Mr Berezovsky is now suing him for the half he claims he owned.
Mr Abramovich maintains the meeting notes are a fake document, dictated to Mr Curtis after the meeting had taken place, and that the meeting was in fact held in light of Mr Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea FC, and regarded a potential investment in the Brazilian football club Corinthians through Media Sports Investments, the same company that held controversial "third party ownership rights" over Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez.
Mr Abramovich's barrister, Jonathan Sumption QC, said they had chosen not to use the text message in evidence as Mr Fomichev's decision not to appear as a witness was "quite a complicated matter" and "we should not be leading such information if we were not in fact prepared to call him."
Mark Hastings, Partner at Addleshaw Goddard LLP, the law firm representing Mr Berezovsky, said: "If the Court concludes that Mr Curtis' notes are an accurate record of what was discussed at the meeting in Georgia, it confirms Mr Abramovich's case to be entirely false".
Today, via video link from New York, the court will hear from Oleg Deripaska, the aluminium magnate even richer and even more secretive than Mr Abramovich, who shot to the British public's attention in 2008 when details emerged of a meeting on his yacht off Corfu between Chancellor George Osborne and Lord Mandelson.Reuse content