Like the soccer team in Chelsea that he owns which won the European champions league last May, Russian billionaire tycoon, Roman Abramovich was the big winner in a London court last Friday when a judge dismissed a 51 billion dollar lawsuit filed against him by fellow Russian tycoon, Boris Berezovsky. Both men made their fortunes in the post-Soviet privatization battles in Russia during a time often referred to as the “Bandit 90s” where there were few laws and even fewer Sheriffs. Because of this, wealthy businessmen with connections to the Yeltsin administration could purchase large companies for pennies on the dollar.
Berezovsky’s lawsuit arose from this period wherein it was alleged that he and Abramovich purchased the Russian oil company, Sibneft, in 1995 for approximately 200 million dollars. Berezovsky accused Abramovich of threatening and intimidating him into selling his shares in the company for a fraction of the market value after he had been forced to leave Russia in 2000 due to a very public feud with Putin. Sibneft was later sold to Russian gas giant, Gazprom, in 2005 for 14 billion dollars.
Abramovich denied that Berezovsky was ever the co-owner of Sibneft and likewise, denied that any threats had ever been made to him. Abramovich admitted to paying Berezovsky almost 2.5 billion dollars over the years, but stated that those sums were payments for political protection and connections (“Kpysha” in Russian) and not a share of oil revenues.
After months of testimony, a judge dismissed the lawsuit stating that Berezovsky was an unreliable and sometimes dishonest witness. Conversely, the judge found Abramovich to be truthful and reliable, thus believing his version of events. In addition to losing the case, Berezovsky could be orderded to pay Abramovich’s legal fees and costs which have been estimated at 250 million dollars.
By all accounts, the judge made the correct ruling in dismissing the case. Berezovsky had no evidence outside of his own testimony to support his claims that he had ever been a co-owner of Sibneft. Frankly, his testimony lacked credibility. Berezovsky had been Abramovich’s mentor and Abramovich had treated him well and fairly paid him over 2 billion dollars for brokering the Sibneft deal with the Kremlin. Berezovsky should have thanked Abramovich. Instead, he sued him.
Rather than appealing the decision, Berezovsky should enjoy his freedom and remaining monies while in forced exile. He should also be thankful that England has never extradited him to the Russian Federation where a prison sentence awaits him for defrauding the Russian airline Aeroflot of hundreds of millions of dollars.
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