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Chelsea owner Abramovich accused of ‘cynical’ manipulation of trial process


Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at the High Court in  London

Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at the High Court in London

Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at the High Court in London

CHELSEA Football Club owner Roman Abramovich produced a "performance" which was a "cynical and deceitful manipulation of the trial process" during a multibillion-pound High Court battle with Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a lawyer alleged today.

The barrister leading Mr Berezovsky's legal team told a High Court judge that Mr Abramovich had shown an "apparent willingness and ability to manufacture evidence to suit his case" during a trial which began in October.

Laurence Rabinowitz QC told Mrs Justice Gloster, in written submissions, that Mr Abramovich had "colluded" with witnesses to put forward a case "directed solely" at defeating Mr Berezovsky's claim "without regard to the truth".

Earlier in the trial, the lawyer leading Mr Abramovich's legal team had accused Mr Berezovsky of being "persistently and deliberately untruthful" when giving evidence about his dealings with Mr Abramovich.

Jonathan Sumption QC told the judge that Mr Berezovsky had "made up the facts" on "many occasions".

Mr Berezovsky, 65, is suing Mr Abramovich, 45, for billions in a Commercial Court trial in London.

He says Mr Abramovich "betrayed" him and "intimidated" him into selling shares in Russian oil company Sibneft for a "mere $1.3 billion" - "a fraction of their true worth".

He alleges breach of trust and breach of contract, and is claiming more than £3bn in damages.

Mr Abramovich denies the allegations and denies that Mr Berezovsky is entitled to damages.

He says Mr Berezovsky was paid millions of pounds for his services as a "political godfather" but was not a business partner.

The court has heard that Mr Berezovsky "fled Russia, never to return" in late 2000, after falling out with then-president Vladimir Putin - travelling initially to France, and then settling in England.

Mr Abramovich and Mr Berezovsky were both in court today to hear Mr Rabinowitz outline his submissions to the judge.

"The evidence strongly suggests that Mr Abramovich colluded with his major witnesses - all of them his close friends or long-standing employees - to put forward a case directed solely at defeating Mr Berezovsky's claim, without regard to the truth," Mr Rabinowitz told the judge in a closing submission.

"It was a highly controlled performance by Mr Abramovich, who was meticulously prepared for the evidence he would give, and who had worked closely with his witnesses to put forward a story which he calculated would be accepted by the Court.

"It was also, however, a highly cynical and deceitful manipulation of the trial process."

Mr Rabinowitz said Mr Abramovich's witnesses had "descended into smears and innuendo" in an attempt to "discredit" Mr Berezovsky.

He said they had accused Mr Berezovsky of having "connections to organised crime in Chechnya"; "concocted" a story about Mr Berezovsky "appearing at a meeting in a dressing gown, with the plain intention of portraying a man who was a 'godfather' rather than a businessman"; and "fabricated" a story about a text message signed "Dr Evil" which was "supposedly" sent by Mr Berezovsky in an attempt to intimate a potential witness.

Mr Rabinowitz said Mr Abramovich's "approach to trial documents" also "discredits him". He said documents were either not disclosed or disclosed very late.

He added: "Even more significant, perhaps, than Mr Abramovich's unreliability as regards disclosure is his apparent willingness and ability to manufacture evidence to suit his case."

Mr Rabinowitz also said Mr Abramovich had passed of "reconstruction as recollection" and made "false statements about his educational background".

Mr Sumption, who this month became a Justice of the Supreme Court and took the title Lord Sumption, delivered his closing submissions on behalf of Mr Abramovich in December.

"In the face, in our submission, of a large number of anomalies about Mr Berezovsky's story, your Ladyship would have to have a very high degree of confidence in the quality of his recollection and in his objectivity and truthfulness as a witness in order to accept (his) case," Mr Sumption told the judge.

"Now, there are in fact quite serious problems about the way that Mr Berezovsky has set about devising his case and giving his evidence."

He added: "In our submission, Mr Berezovsky was a persistently and deliberately untruthful witness.

"There are so many occasions when he can be shown to have made up the facts in which he had no positive belief or which he positively knew to be false, but it is simply not possible to take his word for anything without proper corroboration independent of Mr Berezovsky himself."

Mr Sumption said Mr Berezovsky was an "angry and embittered man" and "much of the evidence" had demonstrated his "indifference to the truth where it does not serve his immediate purposes".

He said Mr Berezovsky had called witnesses to provide "artificial corroboration" and told the judge: "It is impossible to regard as reliable the chorus of supporting actors, most of them drawn from the small circle of Russian courtiers who have gathered round him in England."

Mr Rabinowitz to expected to complete his submissions tomorrow and the hearing is expected to end later this week.