Berezovsky did not provide a cent to Abramovich empire, court told

The bitter public feud between two Russian oligarchs descended into further trading of insults yesterday as Boris Berezovsky was described as having a "lively sense of his own importance".

Mr Berezovsky, said to be worth £500m, is embroiled in a court-room clash with the Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, estimated to be worth £8.6 bn.

Mr Abramovich is being sued by Mr Berezovsky, who alleges breach of trust and of contract over the oil firm Sibneft and is claiming more than £3.2bn in damages. He claims he was "intimidated" into selling shares in the Russian oil company at a fraction of their value.

But yesterday the club owner's QC Jonathan Sumption accused Mr Berezovsky of grandstanding to members of his "private circle". He told the High Court that his actions appear to conform to the "classic psychology of the political exile". Mr Berezovsky is due to give evidence today at the Commercial Court in London in a trial that promises to lay bare the shadowy gangland world of mid-1990s Russia over the next two months.

Mr Abramovich denies the allegations, disputes that "oral agreements" were made and insists Mr Berezovsky is not entitled to damages, having not "contributed a single cent" to acquiring or building up Sibneft, nor made any managerial contribution.

His lawyer has told judge Mrs Justice Gloster that Mr Berezovsky left Russia in 2000 after a dispute with Vladimir Putin and subsequently settled in England.

He described Mr Berezovsky at the time as a "power broker" paid by businesses controlled by Mr Abramovich for his services as a "political godfather" following the collapse of communism in Russia in the 1990s.

In written papers presented to the judge, Mr Abramovich's lawyer said Mr Berezovsky's claims for damages are "difficult to justify".

"It may well be that Mr Berezovsky genuinely believes that having put Mr Abramovich on the road to one of the world's largest personal fortunes in 1995, Mr Abramovich owes him in some loose sense part of the benefits," said Mr Sumption, in a written outline argument before the court.

But he added: "Like many of his statements to members of his inner circle, it is grandstanding by a man with a lively sense of his own importance."

The hearing continues.