The exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky has lost his legal battle with Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich.
Judge Elizabeth Gloster ruled in Abramovich’s favour on Friday and described Berezovsky as an “unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness” after a trial that started in October last year and ended in January.
Berezovsky, 65, claimed to have been a business partner of Abramovich, 45, and accused him of a breach of contract.
Berezovsky claimed Abramovich “betrayed” him and “intimidated” him into selling shares in the Russian oil company Sibneft for a “mere $1.3bn”. Abramovich firmly denied the allegations.
He said he was intimidated into selling shares in Russian oil company Sibneft for a “fraction of their true worth” and claimed more than $4.7bn in damages.
Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from outside the court in London, said the case was significant not only for the enormous sums of money involved.
“This is also an historic case in terms of the interest it has generated, especially in Russia where the two men were among the most well-known of the nation’s oligarchs. The Russian press has even call the case their version of the Wikileaks revelations,” Baba said.
“In the verdict, the judge completed rejected the claims by Boris Berezovsky. She said there is no evidence he came to this [alleged] agreement in the 1990s over a private oil company and was forced to sell at a knockdown price.”
Russian billionaires battle in court
Abramovich said Berezovsky was paid millions of pounds for his services as a “political godfather” but was not a business partner.
The judge said the case boiled down to “whether to believe Berezovsky or Abramovich”.
The judge added: “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 analysis, 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”.
Mark Hollingsworth, author of the book From Russia with Cash, told Al Jazeera that he was surprised the case went this far, which made Abramovich take to the stand revealing details about his business.
“A lot of secrets came out about how these people made billions of dollars in the 1990s acquiring lucrative state assets at maybe 25 per cent of their real value,” Hollingsworth said.
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.
Berezovsky fled Russia in 2000 after he fell out with Vladimir 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 advisers.
Berezosky once claimed credit for the idea of picking Putin as Yeltsin’s chosen successor before admitting that the plan backfired when the new Russian 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.