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Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich sued for £3.2bn after he ‘betrayed and blackmailed’ fellow Russian oligarch during oil deal

Accused: Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich arrives at the High Court with
his entourage for the start of the case against Boris Berezovsky

They assembled their legions like
Russian generals on a battlefield: Roman Abramovich, one of the
wealthiest men in the world, versus Boris Berezovsky, once regarded as
the Soviet Union’s most powerful oligarch.
Among
their armouries were some of the nation’s finest and most expensive
legal brains, a battalion of personal bodyguards, mountains of paperwork
and evidence… not to mention a couple of classy looking redheads.
Against a backdrop of the High Court in London, this was day one of what looks set to become Britain’s most epic legal wrangle.

And at a cost of something like £50 a second when it opened yesterday, probably among its most expensive.
At
stake is not just the question of a £3.2billion damages claim against
the celebrated Chelsea Football Club owner, but the reputations and
credibility of both men, once said to have been friends and business
partners.

Mr Berezovsky (centre)  is claiming Mr Abramovich
‘betrayed and blackmailed’ him over £3.2billion of oil shares

Berezovsky accuses Abramovich of
having ‘betrayed and blackmailed’ him over the sale of oil shares,
‘intimidating’ him into getting rid of them at a fraction of their true
value.
The 65-year-old,
who fled to Britain from Russia 11 years ago after falling out with
those in power, alleges breach of trust and breach of contract over the
deal, struck after the collapse of communism during the 1990s.
Yesterday
Laurence Rabinowitz QC, for Berezovsky, told Mrs Justice Gloster the
two men had worked together to acquire Russian oil company Sibneft.
‘This
is a case about two men who worked together to acquire an asset that
would make them wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most people,’ he
said.


They were ‘good friends’ until
Berezovsky became an enemy of the Kremlin through his increasingly
political profile and his ownership of influential media outlets.
The
oligarch says he was forced to sell his shares in Sibneft and in the
Russian aluminium giant Rusal before leaving the country, for fear they
would fall into the hands of Russian authorities.
Abramovich,
said the QC, ‘was in effect required to make a choice – to remain loyal
to Mr Berezovsky … or instead, as we submit, to betray Mr Berezovsky
and to seek to profit from his difficulties.
‘It
is our case that Mr Abramovich at that point demonstrated that he was a
man to whom wealth and influence mattered more than friendship and
loyalty.’

Six years ago the Chelsea owner,
currently said to be worth £10.3billion, sold Sibneft to Russia’s
state-owned gas monopoly in a multi-billion dollar deal
Now
he denies Berezovsky’s claims and insists the two men were never
friends or partners. He says he had simply hired Berezovsky to protect
him from Chechen criminal gangs as the initial deal went through.
His
lawyers have yet to outline their case in court, but in written
arguments before the judge they said Berezovsky’s accusations were
‘devoid of merit’ and his evidence had ‘an overtly political purpose’

The complex story of everyday Russian billionaires unfolded as the two men sat 20 yards apart.

Both are expected to give evidence and
each packed the court with some of the country’s top lawyers.
Abramovich alone had three QCs and a clutch of juniors and solicitors.
Team Berezovsky, whose security men include ex-Foreign Legionnaires,
filled his side of the court. Legal fees are thought to have topped
£1million for the five hours the court sat.

The case is expected to last up to three months.

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