5 April 2010

Playing on the Beach At Antibes Whilst Billions Were Lost


Let me first of all introduce the characters.
Roman Obramovich – the Russian owner of Chelsea Football Club and worth somewhere between £7 billion and £12 billion. A frequent visitor to these parts where he moors his enormous yachts.
Boris Berezovsky – a fellow oligarch (pictured) who claims he once owned businesses in Russia worth several billion pounds and who has a villa not far away in Antibes.
Arina Berezovsky – Boris’s daughter and Kitty Evans – my step-daughter.
A few years ago, Kitty returned from a sailing lesson having made a new friend. What was strange she said, was that as her new friend sailed her Laser off Cannes, a couple of dark suited men in sunglasses tracked her in a motor boat. At the end of the sailing season, Kitty exchanged e-mail addresses with the little girl and an on-line friendship started, which continues to this day. Frequent invitations for the girl to visit our house were declined and no offers to visit her house in Antibes were forthcoming.
When she returned to the UK, the girl, now known as Arina, would send e-mails innocently giving clues to her lifestyle which was dominated by bodyguards, CCTV cameras and high fences round their Berkshire home.
Intrigued, I spent a few hours on the internet and came to the conclusion (correct as it turned out) that Arina was Boris Berezovsky’s daughter.
Let me re-introduce her father Boris. Self-imposed exile in the UK after ‘falling out’ with Vladimir Putin who he is trying to overthrow. His lawyer/accountant killed in a mysterious helicopter crash and his friend Alexander Litvinenko, murdered with a radioactive poison in London, a couple of assassination attempts on his life and several countries after him for alleged money-laundering and various other misdemeanours. He already has a 6 year jail sentence hanging over him for supposed ‘crimes’ in Russia.
And now the latest twist in his feverishly complicated life:
In December 2000, two of Russia’s most powerful businessmen met at a villa at Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera. Once friends and business partners, Boris Berezovsky, who owned the villa, and Roman Abramovich, were about to begin a lasting and bitter rivalry that would end up being played out years later in the British courts.
According to Berezovsky’s account, Mr Abramovich was there to deliver a message from the Kremlin: surrender your business interests in Russia or they will be seized.
It was the first of several meetings at which Berezovsky claims he was coerced to hand over shares in some of Russia’s most valuable companies to Abramovich at a substantial discount to their value. He is now suing Abramovich in the High Court in London for more than £2 billion.
At one stage, Berezovsky had political power, playing a central role in helping Boris Yeltsin to retain power against the resurgent Communists in 1995.
Then Mr Berezovsky’s fortunes changed. He fled Russia in 2000 after falling out with Vladimir Putin, Mr Yeltsin’s successor, and became an exile. By contrast, Mr Abramovich, his former protégé, enjoyed close ties to the Kremlin and was on his way to becoming one of the richest men in the world. In 2009, The Sunday TimesRich List estimated Mr Abramovich’s wealth at £7 billion, while years in exile had cut Mr Berezovsky’s to £450 million.
Mr Berezovsky’s mistake had been turning against Vladimir Putin soon after he came to power in July 2000.
In Mr Berezovsky’s account, he claims that he was told to surrender his holdings to the state or “end up like Vladimir Gusinsky”, a Russian businessman who had been imprisoned on fraud charges several months earlier. Mr Berezovsky claims that the threats were repeated by Mr Putin himself at a meeting the following day where he was told to hand his Russian TV assets to the state for $175 million or they would be expropriated and a friend of his who was imprisoned in Russia would not be released. There was also the small matter where Berezovsky alleges that Abramovich coerced him into selling his stake in Sibneft, the Russian oil company, for $1.3 billion — far less than he believed it was worth. Mr Berezovsky argues that he had no choice but to sell his shares or they would be expropriated by the Russian Government. Stephen Curtis, a London lawyer/accountant, well-known for acting for Russian businessmen, handled the transaction. Mr Curtis died in a helicopter crash near Bournemouth shortly afterwards .
Mr Abramovich disputes Mr Berezovsky’s account. He denies that Mr Berezovsky ever had an interest in Sibneft and later sold the company to the Russian state for precisely 10 times what Berezovsky sold it for.
And so the whole affair, despite being entirely Russian in context will be played out in London’s Civil Courts where Berezovsky will try to recoup his ‘lost’ billions. Last week, Abramovich’s attempt to have the case thrown out was rejected and the case will be heard late next year.
In the meantime, Boris wanders around London with an entourage of bodyguards which would make a small army seem inadequate - the occasional invites for Kitty to stay at Arina’s house in London are being politely declined!
Postscript - Boris lost his High Court case and shortly afterwards died in an apparent suicide but which has been declared an Open case by the coroner. 

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