Divorce could cost Berezovsky £100m

Oligarch's wife hires lawyer who represented Princess Diana and Jerry Hall

Robert Verkaik
Tuesday 27 October 2009 01:00 GMT

Boris Berezovsky has survived assassination attempts by KGB hitmen, trumped-up criminal charges brought against him by the Kremlin and international lawsuits that have threatened to ruin his reputation. But the extraordinarily rich Russian oligarch's latest spot of bother is closer to home and looks set to cost him millions of pounds.

Galina Berezovsky, his wife of 18 years, has asked her husband for a divorce and instructed a top London law firm to enforce her case. Should she win, Mrs Berezovsky, 50, could walk away with up to £100m of Mr Berezovsky's fortune, once estimated at £1bn. She could also have the honour of being the first oligarch wife to fight a big-money divorce case in the British courts.

The only problem is that Mrs Berezovsky has been separated from her husband for most of the marriage, perhaps as long as 16 years. Such a long time apart will make it difficult for her lawyers to argue that she made a valuable contribution to building up her husband's business empire.

That will be the job of Sandra Davis, the divorce lawyer at Mishcon de Reya, whom Mrs Berezovsky has taken on to fight her case. Ms Davis, head of the firm's family department, is an expert in high-profile divorces; her previous clients include Princess Diana, Jerry Hall and Thierry Henry.

Mrs Berezovsky, who lives in London with their two teenage children, has been estranged from her husband since the mid-Nineties, although they never divorced. The couple met in 1981 when Mr Berezovksy was a poor Moscow mathematician earning £60 a month; they were married 10 years later.

Mr Berezovsky started in business in 1989 during the perestroika era and made his fortune importing Mercedes cars into Russia in the 1990s and distributing cars made by Russia's AvtoVAZ. He later acquired stakes in state firms including AutoVAZ, Aeroflot, and several oil properties. Together with London's even more famous oligarch, Roman Abramovich, he bought into the massive Sibneft oil company.

Mr Berezovsky was at the height of his power in the later Yeltsin years, when he was deputy secretary of Russia's security council and a member of Yeltsin's inner circle. He helped Vladimir Putin get close to Yeltsin, and gave money to the party that formed Mr Putin's parliamentary base. But it backfired when the new president moved to curb the political ambitions of Russia's oligarchs. Mr Berezovsky left Russia for self-imposed exile in the UK at the end of 2000.

An attempt to promote opposition to Mr Putin, by funding the Liberal Russia party, ended in disaster when its two most prominent members were assassinated. Mr Berezovsky has survived a number of assassination attempts himself, including a bomb that decapitated his chauffeur. He has been a wanted man in Russia, charged with fraud and political corruption, since 2001. He now divides his time between an office in Mayfair and an estate in Surrey.

The other Russian dissidents he has had contact with in London include the former Chechen warlord, Ahmed Zakayev, and Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian Federal Security Service officer, who was assassinated in 2006. Mr Berezovsky helped Litvinenko publicise claims that Mr Putin organised the bombings of apartment blocks in Russia, in 1999, which paved the way for Russia's second military intervention in Chechnya. Described by critics as the epitome of Russian "robber capitalism", Mr Berezovsky denies having ever taken part in the violence that tainted Russian business in this era.

Mr Berezovsky is said to be relaxed about the official break-up of his second marriage. He has been cohabiting with Yelena Gorbunova, 41, by whom he has two children, for many years. Mr Berezovsky's spokesman, Lord Bell, said: "It is true that Galina has asked for a divorce. But he hasn't lived with Galina for 16 or 18 years. If he is divorced, then he intends to marry Yelena."

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