Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich is being sued by fellow Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, and the English court case has elucidated the corruption in post-Soviet Union Russia.
Berezovsky attests that Abramovich, who is currently the ninth richest person in Russia, bullied him into selling shares of the Sibneft oil company at a fraction of their value. Abramovich allegedly told Berezovsky that Vladimir Putin, then President of Russia, would seize his assets if he did not comply. Berezovsky is suing for 3.5 billion pounds ($5.4 billion) in damages.
The trial is expected to take months, but the opening days of the case have already proved to be enlightening.
A barrister for Abramovich took the stand Tuesday, explaining to judges and lawyers the strange and difficult economic condition of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Jonathan Sumption said that the chaos of new capitalism fostered questionable behavior, which was necessary to survive.
There was no rule of law, said Sumption, according to The Telegraph. The police were corrupt. The courts were unpredictable at best - at worst open to manipulation by major political or economic interest groups.
Nobody could go into business without access to political power. If you didn't have political power yourself you needed access to a godfather who did.
It was a crucial testimony for Abramovich, because, as Sumption claims, it is not easy for English lawyers to assess the behavior of people who had to live in such a world.
According to claims made in court, Berezovsky is not free from guilt either. The oligarch known as a “political godfather” allegedly accepted billion of dollars from Abramovich and Abramovich's businesses in exchange for government leniency
Mr Berezovsky was a highly controversial figure in Russian politics in the 1990s, Sumption claimed. Boris Berezovsky was a power broker.
Berezovsky eventually went into self-imposed exile in England after he publicly criticized Putin the early 2000s.