Tycoons battle it out in court over £2bn 'con'
Roman Abramovich threatened his fellow Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky into selling him billions of pounds of shares cheaply by telling him that Vladimir Putin would seize his assets if he did not comply, a London court heard yesterday.
In an insight into the world of Russia's super-rich and claims of Kremlin intrigue, it is alleged Mr Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, conned his former friend and mentor out of more than £2bn (€2.3bn).
The High Court saw two of the richest men in Britain go head to head as they made allegations about protection rackets and political abuse, with Mr Berezovsky claiming £3.5bn (€4.1bn) in damages.
It is thought that security measures have included sweeping the court for bombs and ensuring the building is sniper-proof.
Mr Berezovsky, a former maths professor described as the "godfather" of the oligarchs and worth £580m (€675m), is said to have met Mr Abramovich, a former mechanic now worth £8.6bn (€10bn), on a Caribbean cruise in 1994 when they agreed to work together.
But the pair fell out badly, to the point that yesterday was one of the few times they have come face to face in more than 10 years.
They sat at opposite ends of the courtroom in London, dressed in expensive suits and surrounded by their entourages.
Mr Berezovsky claims he was threatened at a meeting in his home in Cap d'Antibes in the south of France and forced to sell his shares in Sibneft, a Russian oil and gas conglomerate the two men had created with a third partner.
Mr Abramovich is said to have vowed to get Mr Putin, the prime minister and former president of Russia, to reclaim Mr Berezovsky's assets and to prevent the release of one his friends from jail.
The Chelsea owner was "a man to whom wealth and influence mattered more than friendship and loyalty", said Laurence Rabinowitz, representing Mr Berezovsky.
However, Mr Abramovich claims that the two were never friends and that he only hired Mr Berezovsky to provide political influence and protection from Chechen gangsters.
The case continues. (©Daily Telegraph, London)