THE LEGAL BATTLE between Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and his former friend, Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, rages on.
Berzovsky is suing Abramovich in a London court for several billion dollars, saying that the Chelsea Football Club boss had intimidated him into selling shares in their jointly owned oil company Sibneft at a fraction of their value.
But yesterday afternoon, Abramovich dismissed that claim as nonsense as he took the stand at London’s Commercial Court.
The Guardian reports that Abramovich spoke no words other than to say ‘Da’ in reply to all the questions he was asked by Berezovsky’s QC, Laurence Rabinowitz.
However, a written witness statement from him was read out in court.
In the statement, Abramovich told the court that he had never made a “legal, binding agreement” with Berezovsky over Sibneft, a Russian oil and gas conglomerate.
He also said Berezovsky “has already obtained a very substantial sum of money from me and I do not believe that he has any entitlement to be paid anything more, whether in law or honour.”
“There was at times something of a megalomaniac about him that could lead to fantastic suggestions on his part,” Abramovich said, citing one idea to restore monarchy in Russia.
Berezovsky, who amassed a fortune during Russia’s privatization of state assets in the early 1990s, has testified that during the chaotic years after the breakup of the Soviet Union he was a mentor to Abramovich and treated him like a son.
Together with a third partner they set up Sibneft.
But Berezovsky, an ally of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, fell out with Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, shortly after he became president in 2000.
Berezovsky fled to Britain, which granted him political asylum, and has since become a fierce critic of the Kremlin.
Abramovich sold Sibneft to Russia’s state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom in a multibillion-dollar deal in 2005. He said of Berezovsky (65): “I was not his protege and he was not my mentor.”
Abramovich used the Russian word “krysha,” or roof, to describe their relationship.
“A person giving krysha to another was a person who acted as a protector,” Abramovich said in his witness statement. “I had to pay Mr Berezovsky for the opportunity of creating the oil company under his protection.”
Abramovich’s lawyer has said that between 1995 and 2002, the younger man paid Berezovsky $2 billion for his patronage, including money for homes in France, private planes, art works and jewelry.
Abramovich’s statement read:
At times it was difficult to meet Mr Berezovsky’s demands and I thought they were often excessive. However I was concerned about what might happen if we lost the krysha.
If Mr Berezovsky needed to charter a plane in order to fly somewhere, or wanted a yacht to be chartered, he would ask me to pay for it.
The two men met in 1994 on a yacht in the Carribean
The case is expected to last for two months.
- Additional reporting AP