'Ruthless' Abramovich cast me aside, says Russian tycoon
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich behaved in a "ruthless" fashion in post-Soviet Russia, gaining power and influence before casting aside the oligarch who helped him, a British court heard Thursday.
Boris Berezovsky, an ex-businessman forced into exile in Britain a decade ago, claimed he took the football tycoon under his wing and helped him into business, only to be cast aside.
Berezovsky, 65, is suing billionaire Abramovich, 44, for $5 billion (3.7 billion euros, £3.2 billion), claiming the younger man forced him to sell at a knockdown price his shares in the Sibneft energy company.
Giving evidence at London's Commercial Court, Berezovsky said Abramovich launched a campaign of intimidation directed at him after the elder tycoon fell out with then president Vladimir Putin and was forced to flee to Britain in 2000.
The owner of the Premier League club stepped up his threats against Berezovsky from late 2000 as he tried to force his ex-patron to sell him the shares in Sibneft, the exiled tycoon said.
"It was, finally, clear to me how how ruthless Mr Abramovich was, and I had no doubt that he would use any means necessary to achieve this end, legal or otherwise," Berezovsky said in a written statement given to the judge.
The owner of the Premier League club vehemently denies the allegations made against him by the man described as his "political godfather."
Abramovich was in court to hear Berezovsky give evidence in halting English, with constant interruptions from a lawyer and the judge who demanded he stick to answering questions.
Abramovich is also accused of breach of trust and breach of contract in the trial, which started this week and is expected to last more than two months, laying bare the murky world of Russia's oligarchs in the 1990s after the fall of communism.
In his statement, Berezovsky accused Abramovich of "disgraceful behaviour", saying the younger man made it clear that Sibneft and its management would face persecution if he failed to give up ownership of his shares.
"For as long as I continued to possess any financial interest in Sibneft, that company, its management and its owners would face continued persecution from the Russian prosecutor's office and the tax authorities," he said.
Berezovsky described how his ties to the Kremlin cleared the way "in 1995 for (Abramovich's) inclusion into the circle of highly influential individuals who surrounded president (Boris) Yeltsin at the time."
By late 2000, six years after he and Abramovich first met on a Caribbean cruise, Berezovsky said he felt "hurt and betrayed" by his former protege.
Berezovsky was granted political asylum by Britain in 2003.
Abramovich's lawyer, Jonathan Sumption, questioned whether the elder tycoon ever owned any of the shares in Sibneft at all, citing a newspaper article and a book in which Berezovsky is quoted as saying he had no shares. Berezovsky claimed he was seeking to spread disinformation as a form of protection from people "who want to kill you."
Sumption has previously said that Abramovich owned the majority of the shares.
© 2011 AFP