Abramovich Trial Decision

Judgment in the biggest trial in UK history was rendered on 31 August after being reserved for seven months. The claim by Boris Berezovsky against Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich (owner of the Chelsea football club) for damages of $5 billion was dismissed.

In part Berezovksy claimed that Abramovich used intimidatory threats to coerce Berezovsky into selling his interest in the Sibneft oil company at a price that was substantially undervalued. He also alleged that Abramovich breached a shareholders’ agreement concerning an aluminum business RusAl, causing damages.

Here is an executive summary of the judgment.

There was apparently little or no contemporary documentary evidence of the crucial agreements alleged by Berezovsky. He failed to meet the plaintiff’s onus. In withering language the judge found Berezovsky to be an unimpressive, inherently unreliable witness who, “…regarded the truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes”, and would have said “almost anything” to support his case.

Abramovich’s lead counsel was Jonathan Sumption Q.C., who is the newest member of the UK Supreme Court. The press reported that in closing argument he submitted Berezovsky could not be believed but added that he didn’t want to be unfair to Berezovsky. Not everything he said was dishonest. Some of it was due to his “prodigous capacity” for self-deception.


  1. I am not sure if this is a paradox or ironical but faced with a decision by an English court arbitrating a quarrel over the ill-gotten proceeds (fraud and corruption) is astounding. Britain seems to be in the process of developing an international reputation for evenhandness in the adjudication of money laundering operations. According to Jeffrey Sachs (shock doctrine adviser to Poland and Russia’s Yeltsin) Abramovich et al. acquired these assets for 1% of their value (a fact which is not in dispute). This “sale” was arranged by the complainant who was instrumental, bribing, etc. Yeltsin’s entourage, for the acquisition these “assets”. Tremendous fortunes were made inside and outside of Russia but all are based on the initial corruption and subsequent “windfall” as a result of the acquisitions.

    As the story goes, these parties had a falling out and as a result decided that since neither side was likely to receive a “fair” hearing and decision under the Russian justice system, and since billions of US dollars, etc. were brought to Britain, why not use the British legal system (which UK government has been promoting for years for these kinds of disputes).

    But the most astounding part is the legal counsel for the complainant has been elevated to the UK Supreme Court. It is more than likely he will be more than competent in adjudicating cases involving money laundering and extortion. We can suppose that hearings and decisions is a step up from contract interpretation by way of brass knuckles, guns and/or IEDs. And it is probably easier for the British legal system to swallow these proceedings based as they are on a new source of income which itself is based on money laundering in all its forms. However they must not rest on their laurels. The US since 2008 has been running to catch up. Not to be left out, the Canadian legal system reputedly offers a “soft touch” on white collar crime.