When two oligarchs go to war: Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky in £3bn fight

 

The Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich listened intently at London's High Court yesterday as his former friend and business partner Boris Berezovsky accused him of betrayal and of "valuing wealth and influence more than friendship and loyalty".

Lawrence Rabinowitz QC, acting for Mr Berezovsky, 65, told the court his client was seeking "in excess" of $5.5bn (£3.2bn) from Mr Abramovich, who he claims intimidated him into selling Mr Abramovich his shares in their oil firm, Sibneft, at a fraction of their market value. He is also claiming in excess of $564m with regard to the unlawful sale of his shares in the aluminium giant Rusal.

In the latest installment of a long-running legal saga, the two men sat at either end of a packed courtroom, in the first case to be heard in the High Court's new Rolls Building in the City of London. The two legal teams were so large they took up seats in an already full public gallery. Several members of the public were forced to stand for the morning session, among a phalanx of large bodyguards. Mr Abramovich's wealth was estimated earlier this year at £8.6bn; Mr Berezovsky's at £500m.

"This is a case about two men who – and this is common ground – worked together to acquire an asset, that is Sibneft, that would make them wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most people," Mr Rabinowitz told Mrs Justice Gloster, in the opening summary of a case expected to last 15 weeks.

"In the process, we say, (they) became and remained good friends until, that is, Mr Berezovsky, who had adopted a high political profile in Russia, not least through his control of certain media outlets, fell out with those in power in the Kremlin and was forced to leave his home and create a new life abroad."

He said Mr Abramovich was left with the choice of remaining loyal or betraying Mr Berezovsky.

"To remain loyal to Mr Berezovsky, his friend and mentor and the person to whom he owed his newly acquired great fortune, or instead, as we submit, to betray Mr Berezovsky and to seek to profit from his difficulties," Mr Rabinowitz added.

Mr Berezovsky claims Mr Abramovich forced him to sell the shares at a knockdown price, or face having them seized by Russian authorities.

Mr Abramovich's lawyers, led by Jonathan Sumption QC in what is his last case before taking up an appointment as a Supreme Court judge, have previously argued that the High Court in London should not hear the case as it is a matter for the Russian legal system.

But Mr Berezovsky claimed that at a meeting at London's Dorchester Hotel in March 2000 it was agreed his shares in the aluminium company Rusal would be held in a trust governed by English law, meaning that an English court was the appropriate venue to hear the case.

Mr Abramovich and Mr Berezovsky acquired their controlling interest in Sibneft, the large oil company, for about £60m each in 1995, an undertaking that Mr Abramovich has since admitted cost him billions of pounds in "favours" and "protection fees". Its value quickly grew to billions

Mr Abramovich listened to proceedings through headphones feeding a Russian translation. He is expected to be called as a witness in the trial early next month.

Oligarchs head to head

Boris Berezovsky
Age 65
Fortune £500m (was $3bn in 1997). After importing Mercedes cars into Russia, took control of Sibneft oil company and Russia's main TV channel, ORT.
Business interests Few since his exile. Has a box at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.
Children Six.
Ex-wives Two.
Divorce settlement £220m, paid to second wife Galina Besharova.
Yachts Had to sell the 360ft Darius for £200m to ease cashflow problems.

Roman Abramovich
Age 44
Fortune £8.6bn
Business interests Chelsea FC, stakes in steel group Evraz and Highland Gold. Built business trading oil products. Has held stakes in Sibneft, Aeroflot, Russia's national airline, and Rusal, the country's aluminium oil monopoly.
Children Six.
Ex-wives Two.
Divorce settlement £155m out of court, paid to second wife Irina.
Yachts Four, including 557ft, £1bn Eclipse.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Officer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee Teacher - Maths

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organization is the larges...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor