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Berezovsky loses against Abramovich

Battle of the Russian billionaires

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    Battle of the Russian billionaires

Battle of the Russian billionaires 04:19

Story highlights

  • Boris Berezovsky, the Russian oligarch and fierce Kremlin critic, has lost his $6.5bn lawsuit.
  • Berezovsky claims that Abramovich intimidated him into selling his oil and gas stakes.
  • Justice Gloster's ruling contained a demolition of Berezovsky's character as a witness.

Boris Berezovsky, the Russian oligarch and fierce Kremlin critic, has lost his $6.5bn lawsuit against fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea football club, after one of the most expensive court battles ever heard in Britain.

Mrs Justice Gloster, who presided over the four-month High Court battle, dismissed Mr Berezovsky's claims in a ruling handed down on Friday.

In a devastating ruling, she said Mr Berezovsky's sworn evidence was at times "deliberately dishonest" and that he would have said "almost anything" to win the case.

The judge read a summary of her ruling to the assembled media, and legal teams representing the two men, but the full ruling will not be made public until at least mid-September, after it has been seen by the parties.

The case, which resulted in an estimated £100m in legal costs, is important because it explored in forensic detail the events after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when vast swaths of state-owned assets were sold at knock-down prices to a small group of oligarchs who built fabulous fortunes as a result. It pitched Mr Abramovich against his sworn enemy Mr Berezovsky in a dispute about key assets acquired in the murky "wild east" of the early 1990s.

The case centred around claims that Mr Abramovich intimidated Mr Berezovsky into selling his oil and gas stakes, including his holding in oil group Sibneft, at a "gross undervalue" after Mr Berezovsky's falling-out with Vladimir Putin, Russian president.

Mr Abramovich denied this and claimed he paid Mr Berezovsky $2.3bn for krysha, or political protection, when he was building up his businesses.

Mrs Justice Gloster's ruling contained a demolition of Mr Berezovsky's character as a witness.

She said: "On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes.

"At times the evidence which he gave was deliberately dishonest; sometimes he was clearly making his evidence up as he went along in response to the perceived difficulty in answering the questions in a manner consistent with his case; at other times, I gained the impression that he was not necessarily being deliberately dishonest, but had deluded himself into believing his own version of events.

"On occasions he tried to avoid answering questions by making long and irrelevant speeches, or by professing to have forgotten facts which he had been happy to record in his pleadings or witness statements. He embroidered and supplemented statements in his witness statements, or directly contradicted them.

"He departed from his own previous oral evidence, sometimes within minutes of having given it. When the evidence presented problems, Mr Berezovsky simply changed his case so as to dovetail it in with the new facts, as best he could."

She added in her ruling: "he would have said almost anything to support his case".

She concluded: "I regret to say that the bottom line of my analysis of Mr Berezovsky's credibility is that he would have said almost anything to support his case."

By contrast she said Mr Abramovich in his witness evidence gave "careful and truthful" answers and was a reliable witness.

Mrs Justice Gloster said very few issues of law were involved in the case and the court had to decide, in effect, whether to believe Mr Berezovsky or Mr Abramovich based on the evidence given in court.

She added for Mr Berezovsky to have won the court case, the court would have had to a great deal of confidence in his oral evidence.

The ruling reflected the cut and thrust nature of the evidence heard in the case.

The court had heard Mr Abramovich being accused by Mr Berezovsky's legal team of being a "thoroughly dishonest and cynical witness" and willing to perpetrate a false case by giving untrue evidence.

Mr Berezovsky, in turn, was accused by Mr Abramovich's side in court of being a man of "vanity and self obsession" and it was claimed that a "great deal of Mr Berezovsky's evidence can frankly only be described as dishonest".

Both oligarchs gave evidence during the trial. Mr Berezovsky spoke in English and at times became very emotional, whereas Mr Abramovich spoke in Russian and was cautious and at times monosyllabic in his answers.

Mr Abramovich was not in the packed courtroom to hear the verdict, but Mr Berezovsky was present, along with his large legal team and his girlfriend. There were so many lawyers and journalists present that an overspill courtroom had to be opened.

The case also underlined the growing status of London's High Court as the favoured destination for the super rich of the former Soviet Union to fight their legal battles. It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of the case load of the High Court's commercial division now comes from Russia and eastern Europe.

With the rule of law still weak in many former Soviet republics, oligarchs are relying on England's transparent and rigorous legal system to resolve conflicts.

Friday's ruling will have a direct bearing on a related battle between Mr Berezovsky and the family of his friend Badri Patarkatsishvili, a Georgian billionaire who died at his home in Surrey in 2008.

Mr Berezovsky is pursuing a share of Patarkatsishvili's estate, claiming that the assets were acquired as part of a joint venture.

The ruling will also be closely watched by lawyers embroiled in the legal dispute involving aluminium billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who is being sued by Michael Cherney, an Uzbek-born businessman, a case that resumes in October.

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