Chelsea owner Abramovich faces US$6b court ruling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 12:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 12:14pm

Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich will find out on Friday whether he owes his former partner Boris Berezovsky as much as US$6 billion after a British court battle that has laid bare the post-Soviet carve-up of Russia’s vast natural resources.

After a legal odyssey stretching from the gilded corridors of the Kremlin to the offshore enclaves favoured by Russia’s richest tycoons, Judge Elizabeth Gloster will rule on whether Berezovsky was extorted out his business empire by Abramovich.

Berezovsky, a fast-talking former mathematician who became a Kremlin powerbroker under late President Boris Yeltsin only to fall foul of Vladimir Putin, says Abramovich used the threat of Kremlin retribution to intimidate him into selling out of Russia’s fourth biggest oil company at a knockdown price.

Abramovich, the world’s 68th richest man with a US$12.1 billion fortune, denies that and says he merely paid Berezovsky money for political cover and protection – known in Russian bandit slang as “krysha” or “roof”.

“I am a genetic optimist but I shall not say anything more until we see the verdict,” Berezovsky told Reuters by telephone on Tuesday.

Judge Gloster will spend about an hour reading out a summary of the decision at the High Court’s modern Rolls Building, starting at 5.30pm Hong Kong time on Friday. The final judgment will be published after September 17.

Abramovich spokesman John Mann declined to comment until the ruling was handed down, though either party could appeal in the case, which has cost tens of millions of pounds in legal fees.

Besides the personal drama of a public battle between two of Russia’s most dazzling businessmen, one of the biggest private litigation cases in the world has detailed the treacherous business world of post-Soviet Russia.

Ownership means nothing, offshore cash is king and while Yeltsin granted favoured tycoons control over the oil and metals producers of a former superpower, President Putin can wrestle assets back from errant oligarchs no matter how powerful.