Abramovich takes stand in battle of Russian oligarchs

31st October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich told the High Court in London on Monday that allegations he betrayed rival Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky were "wholly without merit."

Taking the stand for the first time in the case in which he is being sued by his fellow businessman for billions of pounds, the 44-year-old Abramovich said he had not made a "legal, binding agreement" with Berezovsky.

Exiled oligarch Berezovsky, 65, claims Abramovich "intimidated" him into selling shares in oil giant Sibneft for a fraction of their true worth and is seeking £3 billion (3.4 billion euros, $4.7 billion) in damages at a commercial court trial.

"I would respectfully hope that it will be apparent to this court that Mr Berezovsky's claims are wholly without merit," Abramovich said in a written witness statement given to the judge before he gave evidence.

"Mr 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."

Berezovsky claims the campaign of intimidation began after he fell out with Russia's then-president Vladimir Putin and was forced to flee to Britain in 2000.

Abramovich denies breach of trust and breach of contract, maintaining that he employed Berezovsky as a "political godfather" and not a business partner, and paid him millions of pounds for his services.

He also said he would hesitate to have called the older man a friend.

"I was not his protege and he was not my mentor. I was quite surprised by his extravagant lifestyle and even respected him for that. However, I was never interested in imitating this lifestyle," Abramovich said in the statement.

Later giving evidence in Russian which was then translated into English, Abramovich was questioned by his rival's lawyers about his educational background and employment history.

Abramovich is expected to testify for several days.

© 2011 AFP

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