Billionaire Abramovich began business career 'selling toys'
Chelsea owner in court battle to protect fortune
Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea Football club owner, yesterday told a court how he created a multi-billion pound fortune despite leaving school at 16 and originally starting his business career selling plastic toys.
The Chelsea Football club owner was giving evidence in a High Court battle in London with exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.
Fighting off a legal battle for £6.5bn (€7.55bn), almost half his fortune, Mr Abramovich gave short answers in Russian as he was probed about his background.
He faces accusations from Mr Berezovsky, his former "mentor", that he blackmailed him into selling his shares in the oil conglomerate they founded together after Mr Berezovsky fell out with Vladimir Putin, then the newly elected president of Russia.
Mr Abramovich claims that Mr Berezovsky never had any interest in his companies and was paid $2.5bn (€1.8bn) for "Krysha" -- his protection from criminal gangs and his political patronage. Mr Abramovich told the court he left school at 16 and went to a local college but was called up for national service before he could graduate.
He spent two years in the Soviet army in the late-1980s, leaving as a private and returning to college in Ukhta in northern Russia but leaving before he graduated from the Moscow Road Construction and Automobile Institute.
After four years at the institute, Mr Abramovich left without a degree. "I did not write the final dissertation but I did everything else," he said.
His first job was as head of the welding unit of the construction and installation directorate of the Soviet government. Soon afterwards he organised a co-operative that made plastic toys and from there entered the oil trading business.
Mr Abramovich also told how he had eventually followed a one-year correspondence course at the Moscow State Law Academy in 2000, after making his fortune.
But asked by Laurence Rabinowitz, counsel for Mr Berezovsky, if that meant he understood legal commercial and business matters, he said: "I never insisted that I was a good student, that I know everything about the law."
The Chelsea chairman will accept that Mr Berezovsky was "indispensable" in setting up his oil company Sibneft.
But he says Mr Berezovsky used him as a "cash cow", receiving around $1.2bn (€866m) for his "services", which he spent on his TV company and a French chateau.
In January 2001, Mr Abramovich flew into the French alpine ski resort of Megeve by helicopter and says he met Mr Berezovsky and his business partner Badri Patarkatsishvili at a cafe where he agreed to pay another $1.3bn (€938m) to "buy my freedom".
He said he saw it is an opportunity to "close this particular chapter in my life", adding that Mr Berezovsky's "time had passed" but the decision to pay so much was "not only a business decision but also a personal one."
"Until that time, I had paid whatever expenses he asked. He may well have felt that he 'owned' me and that whatever I had was his," he said. But Mr Abramovich said he built his own fortune by "hard work and by taking risks associated with doing business in Russia".
He added: "I am not part of his family; I am not his keeper and I have no obligation, legal or moral, to fund his lifestyle or attempt to indulge his demands." (© Daily Telegraph, London).