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Roman Abramovich wins £3bn high court battle against Berezovsky

Fri 31st Aug 2012 | Legal

Roman Abramovich has won his multi-billion pound court battle against his former friend and business partner, Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

Mr Berezovsky, 66, was seeking more than £3bn damages after accusing the 45-year-old Russian billionaire of blackmail, breach of trust and breach of contract.

The legal fight centred on deals done in Russia following the break-up of the Soviet Union two decades ago.

Mr Berezovsky claimed Mr Abramovich had "intimidated" him into selling shares in Russian oil company Sibneft at a fraction of their value.

He also accused the fellow tycoon of betrayal, alleging he had broken a promise made during a deal relating to Russian aluminium company RusAl.

Mr Abramovich, who owns Chelsea Football Club, said the claims were "wholly without merit" and denied the allegations. He also denied that Mr Berezovsky was entitled to damages.

Mrs Justice Gloster, sitting at the High Court in central London, ruled in Mr Abramovich's favour after a three-month trial.

Both men "rose to enormous wealth and influence" in Russia in the 1990s as state-owned firms were privatised in the wake of the collapse of communism, the court heard.

Mr Berezovsky said the pair became friends when working together to acquire Sibneft.

Mr Abramovich said Mr Berezovsky was paid millions of pounds for his services as a "political godfather", but made no managerial contribution.

Announcing her decision, the judge said she found Mr Abramovich "to be a truthful, and on the whole reliable, witness" and dismissed Mr Berezovsky's claims in relation to Sibneft and RusAl "in their entirety".

She described Mr Berezovsky's evidence as being "deliberately dishonest" at times, while sometimes he appeared to have "deluded himself into believing his own version of events".

Mr Berezovsky fled Russia, never to return, in late 2000, after falling out with President Vladimir Putin. He spent some time in France, before settling in England.

Speaking outside court, Mr Berezovsky said: "I don't know about an appeal. I will have to talk to my lawyers.

"I am absolutely amazed. I am surprised completely. Lady Gloster took responsibility to rewrite Russian history.

"I don't understand. Sometimes I have the impression that Putin himself wrote this judgment."

Mr Abramovich's team said it was pleased all the allegations had been rejected and that the judge had recognised him as a truthful witness.

"We appreciate that, to many people, this case has been a uniquely Russian one, and should therefore have been heard in the Russian court system," it said in a statement.

"Nevertheless, Mr Abramovich has always had great faith in the fairness of the English legal system and is both pleased and grateful for today's outcome.

"He stated from the outset that there was no merit to the allegations made by Mr Berezovsky, and this position has now been comprehensively vindicated by the court."

It hasn't come as much of a surprise that Boris Berezovsky did lose.

The British courts here are unlikely to uphold an oral agreement because in fact there were no written contracts made between these two oligarchs. Most of their business deals were done on Caribbean cruises, on yachts, or five star London hotels.

It has been quite a hefty defeat for Mr Berezovsky, and it has been a very high-profile case that has attracted a lot of attention because of the figures involved and what has been at stake.

Posted by: Kev Howland

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