Self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky lost his multibillion-dollar legal battle against fellow Russian mogul Roman Abramovich on Friday after a British judge ruled that he did not tell the truth in the clash over vast oil wealth.
The case in London’s High Court sparked broad interest because of its focus on the two oligarchs’ personal and business relationship in the chaotic days of post-Soviet Russia. The months of testimony included juicy details about their rise to riches, their jet-set lifestyles on yachts and in luxury hotels, and allegations of “gangster” behavior.
The 64-year-old Berezovsky, a former Kremlin power broker who fell out with Russian President Vladimir Putin, alleged that Abramovich had betrayed and intimidated him into selling his oil stakes vastly beneath their true value, and sold his gas shares without his consent. Berezovsky had sought more than US$5.6 billion in damages.
Abramovich had denied all the charges.
On Friday, Judge Elizabeth Gloster scathingly dismissed Berezovsky’s case, calling him “an unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be molded to suit his current purposes.”
“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,” Gloster said in a 38-page summary of her judgment.
In contrast, she found the 45-year-old Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea soccer club, to be “a truthful, and on the whole reliable, witness.”
Berezovsky, who had alleged blackmail and breach of contract, shook his head in court on Friday as his defeat became clear. Abramovich did not attend.
“I am absolutely amazed by what happened today,” Berezovsky told reporters. “Sometimes I have the impression that Putin himself wrote this judgement.”
A statement issued by Abramovich’s representatives said he was “pleased and grateful” that his position had been “comprehensively vindicated by the court.”
In Moscow, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed satisfaction with the decision.
“It’s always pleasant when slander is called by its own name,” he told news agency RIA Novosti.
A mathematician turned Mercedes dealer, Berezovsky amassed his wealth during Russia’s chaotic privatization of state assets in the early 1990s. In return for backing former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, he gained political clout and opportunities to buy state assets at knockdown prices. Berezovsky said he mentored Abramovich, treating him like a son, and founded the oil giant Sibneft with him and a third partner. Berezovsky claimed that the friendship faltered when he fell out with Putin, at which point Abramovich “intimidated” him into selling US$1.3 billion of his Sibneft shares, which he claimed were really worth almost US$6 billion.
Abramovich said Berezovsky never had “a cent” of investment in Sibneft. He said he had paid more than US$2.5 billion to Berezovsky for his services as his “political godfather” and reluctantly funded Berezovsky’s extravagant lifestyle of yachts and vacation homes because he feared retaliation from Berezovsky, who he alleged had connections to gangsters in Chechnya.