Oligarch Abramovich unsure if he owns firm

 

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The Independent Online

The magnitude of Roman Abramovich's empire was emphasised yesterday as he insisted he could not remember whether he owned a company or not.

The 45-year-old Chelsea football club owner is locked in a court room battle with another Russian oligarch, Boris Berezovsky, who is suing him for more than £3 billion, claiming he was forced to sell his share of a hugely profitable oil firm under threats and intimidation.

Yesterday during a seventh day of evidence at London's Commercial Court's Mr Abramovich was being cross examined on evidence that he had given to prove his movements during a time when he denies meeting and threatening Mr Berezovksy in France.

In Russia, the court heard, Mr Abramovich was accompanied by armed guards supplied by a firm called Centurion M, who kept detailed records of the weapons they checked out of the armoury, consequently backing up Mr Abramovich's claims he was in the country.

During questioning in which he suggested that much of the evidence Mr Abramovich had obtained to back up his movements had been given under pressure, Mr Berezovsky's lawyer Laurence Rabinowitz QC asked why he had not revealed that some of this had come from staff of a company he owned.

Conceding that he had a direct link with Centurion M, the billionaire continued: "There is no need to conceal the fact that it is interested in me as a customer. I have no idea, maybe I am a share holder, maybe it belongs to me in its entirety. It is such a tiny service company I can't really tell you anything about it."

However, he insisted there was no suggestion that any documents could have been falsified  as the weapons records were kept by the Ministry of Interior.

Later he denied claims that he had simply acted as a messenger for then President Vladimir Putin when he had bought out Mr Berezovsky's shares in the ORT television company after it had angered the government over claims of incompetence relating to the Kursk submarine tragedy.

He had no interest in its editorial content, he claimed, and denied handing an independent television station over to state control. The government had always owned 51 per cent of the shares, he said, while conceding that upon his purchase it had initially been the intention to place government officials on the board.

Explaining his decision to buy the shares, he said: "I was like a shadow to Mr Berezovsky. At some point if he didn't calm down and stop using ORT in his fight with the government I would suffer personally and most importantly Sibneft (his successful oil company) would not be stable."

Nevertheless, he conceded that his friendship with Mr Berezovsky had suffered after his TV company had accused the government of mishandling the submarine disaster in which 118 sailors were killed.

"After the situation with the Kursk submarine. I started to look at Mr Berezovsky in a different way. I think he took a completely dishonourable position. It was a large tragedy for Russia. Everyone knew they could  not be rescued, that was the horror. And he used that to demonstrate to the president who is boss, who has to be listened to, whose recommendations have to be adhered to. And from that moment I started treating him somewhat differently."

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