Let’s Play Some Russian Roulette In A British Courtroom

November 1, 2011 – 11:45 pm by Matthew Glenesk

It’s been called the Lawsuit of the Year.

A team owner in the midst of a high-profile breakup that could cost big bucks.

No, I’m not talking about Frank and Jaime McCourt and the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Though who doesn’t love limo driver-induced infidelity that brings one of MLB’s banner franchises to its knees?)

Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea FC and “connected” Russian billionaire, is being sued by a former business partner for $6.8 billion, including interest. (Yes, that’s billion with a B.)

Boris Berezovsky alleges Abramovich intimidated him into selling his stakes in state-owned companies for less than they were worth and claims the Chelsea owner told him the Russian government would seize his shares unless he sold them.

Berezovsky claims he and Abramovich were business partners and close friends. Abramovich says Berezovsky was more of a political player than an actual stakeholder in the company and they weren’t nearly as close as Berezovsky leads on.

Abramovich testified on Tuesday that he paid Berezovsky $2.5 billion for his political pull and lobbying inside the 1990s Boris Yeltsin regime. Berezovsky, the first businessman to join Yeltsin’s exclusive presidential Moscow Tennis Club, was living the high life in the 1990s in which select politically-connected, muscle-backed Russians cashed in on the country’s helter-skelter transformation to capitalism – and played the occasional set against Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

But in 2000 when Berezovsky landed on the bad side of Russian president Vladimir Putin, he fled to England in political exile. As far as Abramovich was concerned, Berezovsky was no longer of any political use, therefore he stopped paying the man.

Berezovsky was cross-examined for seven days, more than 30 hours of court time, and painted Abramovich as a not-so-smart, personable gangster and “bastard.”

During the hearing, Abramovich and Berezovsky have sat on opposite sides of the courtroom. The Chelsea owner has been stoic with headphones providing a Russian translation. Though if he’s really the gangster Berezovsky claims he is, Roman is probably banging to some NWA plotting his next move.

Real slow, and before you know
I had my shotgun pointed out the window
He got scared and hit the gas
Right then I knew I had to smoke his ass.

Berezovsky has looked relaxed throughout the hearing, often conferring with his entourage of lawyers, and even giving an occasional hug and kiss on the cheek to his girlfriend, or wife, or whatever. According to a 1999 St. Petersburg wedding certificate, Boris wed the young Ms. Yelena Gorbunova at “Wedding Place Number One.” Unfortunately for Berezovsky, it was Wedding Number Two. He married wife Galina in 1991, and only divorced her three months ago (to the tune of $400 million). “Bigamy was a serious offense in Soviet times, but was removed from the Russian criminal code in 1995. It remains illegal, but is effectively without punishment.” Good to know.

Up to this point, little documentary evidence has been presented. Arguments have centered on what was said in a series of private meetings held on luxury yachts and in hotels from 1995 to 2000. Abramovich admitted in testimony that Berezovsky and his family had spent eight holidays together, including cruises to Spain, Sardinia, Corsica and the Caribbean, but that they weren’t really that close.

There’s not much these guys can agree on – other than Arsene Wenger is a tool.

The two are even arguing in court over who was responsible for the release of British aid workers, who were captured in Chechnya, you know that lovely war torn paradise. Abramovich testified that Berezovsky is tight with Chechen gangsters, while Berezovsky’s lawyer claims his client only knows five people of Chechen origin.

“(Berezovsky’s lawyer) said it was Mr. Berezovsky who managed to secure the release of two British aid workers, Camilla Carr and Jon James, who were captured in the Chechen capital Grozny in 1997 and held for more than a year. He said more than 1,000 hostages were released thanks to the intervention of Mr. Berezovsky…”

Quite a lot of pull for someone who only knows five Chechens.

Abramovich testified that it was he who paid the ransom that led to Carr and James’ release. Though to be honest, Abramovich usually doesn’t pay for English talent. He prefers to splash $80 million on Spaniards.

The trial is still going on, and it’s good TV. I mean come on, we’ve got gangsters, government corruption, bigamy, 560-foot yachts and Chechen hostages. If you get BBC News, give it a few minutes. It will be worth your time.

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