Monday 19 February 2018

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich operated as a 'political godfather', court hears

Roman Abramovich. Photo: Getty Images
Roman Abramovich. Photo: Getty Images

CHELSEA Football Club owner Roman Abramovich operated in a Russian state in which the ''rule of law'' had disappeared, where police were ''corrupt'', courts ''open to manipulation'' and businessmen needed access to a ''political godfather'', a High Court judge in London heard today.

A barrister representing the billionaire Russian businessman told Mrs Justice Gloster that ''quite extraordinary conditions'' prevailed in Russia following the collapse of communism in 1992 and said it was ''not easy'' for English lawyers to assess the behaviour of people who lived in ''such a world''.

Jonathan Sumption QC described Russia in the 1990s as he summarised Mr Abramovich's defence in a multi-billion pound legal battle at the Commercial Court in London.

Mr Abramovich is being sued for more than £3 billion by fellow Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky in a case which began this week and is expected to last for more than two months.

Mr Berezovsky is claiming Mr Abramovich ''intimidated'' him into selling shares in Russian oil company Sibneft at a fraction of their value - and alleging breach of trust and breach of contract.

Mr Abramovich denies the allegations.

Both men were at today's hearing.

"There was no rule of law," said Mr Sumption. "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. If you didn't have political power yourself you needed access to a godfather who did."

He added: "It is not easy for English lawyers to assess the behaviour of people who had to live in such a world."

Mr Sumption said Mr Berezovsky was paid millions of pounds by businesses controlled by Mr Abramovich for his services as a "political godfather".

"Mr Berezovsky was a highly controversial figure in Russian politics in the 1990s," he added. "Boris Berezovsky was a power broker."

And he said between 1995 and 2002 Mr Berezovsky had received "two billion dollars" from "businesses controlled by Mr Abramovich".

Mr Sumption also said that by the late 1990s Mr Berezovsky's personal expenses were met by Mr Abramovich's companies.

He said they were on an "exuberant scale" - funding "palaces in France", "private aircraft", "jewellery for his girlfriend" and "valuable paintings".

The case continues.

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