Oligarch Berezovsky was Abramovich's 'political godfather'

4th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich relied on his "political godfather" Boris Berezovsky when he ran businesses in a post-Soviet Russia blighted by corruption, a British court heard Tuesday.

In the 1990s, following the collapse of communism, "quite extraordinary conditions" prevailed in Russia and it was impossible to get anywhere in business without political influence, Abramovich's lawyer told the court.

Lawyer Jonathan Sumption made the claims on the second day of a case against the billionaire brought by Berezovsky, who claims Abramovich intimidated him into selling shares in the oil company Sibneft at below their value.

Berezovsky, 65, helped Abramovich, 44, a great deal in the acqusition of Sibneft but his contribution was entirely political and the younger businessman at all times controlled a majority of the shares, the lawyer said.

Berezovsky, who lives in exile in Britain, is claiming more than $5 billion (£3.2 billion, 3.8 billion euros) in damages over the share sale.

Abramovich is also accused of breach of trust and breach of contract. He denies the allegations.

Describing Russia's turbulent post-communist years, Sumption said: "There was no rule of law.

"The police were corrupt. The courts were unpredictable at best -- at worst open to manipulation by major political or economic interest groups.

"Nobody could go into business without access to political power."

Abramovich came to regard Berezovsky as his "political godfather" and the older man was paid millions of pounds from Abramovich's businesses, said Sumption.

Berezovsky's contribution to the acquistion of Sibneft was "indispensable" but it was "almost entirely political", he continued.

While Abramovich recognised he would have to pay Berezovsky back for his help, the Chelsea owner's case is that the majority of Sibneft's shares "were (indirectly) owned by him through companies he controlled."

Berezovsky fled to Britain in 2000 after falling out with then-president Vladimir Putin and was granted political asylum in 2003.

Both Berezovsky and Abramovich were present at Tuesday's hearing, sitting at opposite ends of the courtroom with large entourages of bodyguards and lawyers.

The trial is expected to last around two months.

© 2011 AFP

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