Oligarch challenges court ruling

Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska today challenged a court ruling that a £2 billion-plus lawsuit launched against him by a former friend should be tried in England rather than Russia.

A year ago, a High Court judge in London held that the claimant, Michael Cherney, was entitled to a hearing in England - to ensure he received a fair trial and to protect him from the risk of "assassination or arrest on trumped-up charges".

Today, Mr Deripaska's lawyers argued in the Court of Appeal that the case should be heard in Russia and that the earlier jurisdictional judgment was wrong as it effectively amounted to an allegation that the Russian Federation was unable to exercise its sovereignty by administering justice.

In his pending lawsuit, Mr Cherney, resident in Israel, is claiming a 20 per cent share in Mr Deripaska's aluminium company, Rusal, on the basis of their former "effective partnership" and joint shareholding.

His claim is based on a pact said to have been agreed at a London hotel in March 2001 against a background in which their company, Sibal, was to be merged with another aluminium group controlled by Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky, with the post-merger group to be known as Rusal.

Mr Cherney wants the court to declare that Mr Deripaska, said to be the richest man in Russia, holds 20 per cent of the shares in Rusal "on trust for Mr Cherney and to his order", and to direct an inquiry into what has happened to any dividends or other monies taken from Rusal by Mr Deripaska.

Mr Deripaska denies he was ever Mr Cherney's partner. He alleges that Mr Cherney was engaged in a protection racket and that £130 million was paid to Mr Cherney to "buy him off". No other money is due, he insists.

Today, Ali Malek QC, for Mr Deripaska, told Lords Justices Waller and Moore-Bick and Sir John Chadwick that the lawsuit had "absolutely nothing to do with this country".

The governing law of the disputed contract was Russian law, large parts of it were in the Russian language and the events leading up to it all took place in Russia.

The High Court judge, Mr Justice Christopher Clarke, had no grounds for finding that Mr Cherney might be under threat in Russia.

There was no evidence that he was a political opponent of the current regime in Moscow or that he was regarded as an exile and therefore persona non grata.

In any event, there was no question of the Russian state exercising improper influence over a litigant for political reasons.

"There is no evidence that Mr Deripaska has ever received support from the Russian government that involves improper government interference, whether in the legal system or in any other aspects of his companies' business dealings," Mr Malek said.

Any suggestion that Mr Deripaska's influence extended to the Russian courts, and the implied improper behaviour of the government and judiciary, was "completely unjustified and unwarranted".

Mr Deripaska had been treated like any other litigant - his companies had in fact lost 16 recent cases.

"It isn't true that oligarchs always win in the Russian courts," Mr Malek said.