Roman Abramovich went to Hermès – and came home with a writ


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The Independent Online

The moment that encapsulated the extent of Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich falling out was described by Mr Berezovsky as being "like a scene from The Godfather". But, in truly oligarchical style, it was played out in a Sloane Street branch of Hermès.

It was there, almost exactly four years ago, that Mr Berezovsky chanced upon his one-time friend and served him with the writ that set off the chain of events leading to yesterday's court appearance. When Mr Berezovsky spotted Mr Abramovich, he retrieved the writ from his limo. "I've got a present for you," he is reported to have said. "This is for you, from me."

It was an extraordinary encounter. But it was far from the only remarkable moment in the career of either man. Mr Berezovsky has for so long been a rabidly anti-Kremlin, angry exile that it is easy to forget just how close he once was to the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Seen as the Kremlin Kingmaker and perhaps the most powerful man in Russia, Mr Berezovsky is the central character in a seminal book about the rich and powerful of the 1990s, The Oligarchs. Mr Abramovich hardly gets a mention. But the younger man, who started out as a market trader before becoming a successful businessman and earning the trust of Mr Berezovsky, was soon to outstrip his master.

When Mr Berezovsky realised that his political protégé, Mr Putin, was not going to let him call the shots, the two men fell out, and the oligarch fled Russia in 2000. As Mr Berezovsky's lawyer put it yesterday, Mr Abramovich was essentially forced to decide between siding with his former mentor and fleeing the country, or abandoning him and proving his loyalty to Mr Putin and the Kremlin. He stayed. Unlike Mr Berezovsky, the Chelsea owner has never appeared particularly interested in power and has been content to defer to the Kremlin in the interests of making more money. An intensely private man, Mr Abramovich will be aghast at the press attention surrounding the court case. The oligarch almost never gives interviews or discusses either business or private life. Mr Berezovsky, however, enjoys media attention and being in the spotlight.