LONDON, England, August 31 – Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky lost his long-running legal battle with fellow tycoon Roman Abramovich in a British court on Friday and was roundly criticised by the trial judge.
Berezovsky, 66, was seeking more than £3 billion ($4.75 billion, 3.8 billion euros) in damages after accusing the 45-year-old owner of Chelsea football club of blackmail, breach of trust and breach of contract.
But Judge Elizabeth Gloster at London’s High Court ruled in Abramovich’s favour and described Berezovsky as an “unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness” after a trial which ran from October last year to January.
Berezovsky claimed Abramovich “betrayed” him and “intimidated” him into selling shares in the Russian oil company Sibneft for a “mere 1.3 billion dollars”. Abramovich firmly denied the allegations.
The judge said the case boiled down to “whether to believe Berezovsky or Abramovich”.
Because the allegations “depended so very heavily on the oral evidence of Mr Berezovsky, the court needed to have a high degree of confidence in the quality of his evidence”, she said.
“That meant confidence not only in his ability to recollect things accurately, but also in his objectivity and truthfulness as a witness.”
In a lengthy judgement, she added: “On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes.”
She said that “on occasions he tried to avoid answering questions by making long and irrelevant speeches, or by professing to have forgotten facts which he had been happy to record in his pleadings or witness statements”.
Speaking outside court, Berezovsky said he was “absolutely amazed” by the ruling, which he claimed could have been written by Russian President Vladimir Putin, his arch-enemy.
“Lady Gloster took responsibility to rewrite Russian history,” Berezovsky said.
“I don’t understand. Sometimes I have the impression that Putin himself wrote this judgement.”
In a statement, Abramovich said his assertion that there had been no merit in Berezovsky’s allegations had been “comprehensively vindicated by the court”.
The two men spent a reported total of 100 million pounds fighting the case, which has involved an army of lawyers.
The case shone on a spotlight on the lavish lifestyles of the oligarchs, and the political influence that Berezovsky wielded when Boris Yeltsin was Russian president.
Abramovich told the court that Berezovsky was paid millions of pounds for his services as a “political godfather” but was not a business partner of his.
Berezovsky fled Russia in 2000 after he fell out with Putin during his first term as president.
He enjoyed the title of being the power behind the Kremlin throne in the 1990s when Yeltsin, in failing health, was forced to frequently remove himself from daily affairs and hand key decisions to advisors.
Berezovsky once claimed credit for the idea of picking Putin as Yeltsin’s chosen successor before admitting that the plan backfired when the new Russian leader surrounded himself with more trusted agents instead.
The so-called Kremlin “family” that clustered around Yeltsin at the time included Berezovsky and the president’s daughter as well as several other tycoons who suffered badly once Putin rose to power.