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Row between Russian tycoons hits London courts

in English Premier League 28 Apr 2008

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Boris Berezovsky says he was intimidated into selling shares in some of Russia's biggest companies, a court ruling on his claim against fellow Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich heard Monday.

Berezovsky, who was at London's High Court for the preliminary hearing in the two billion pound (2.5 billion euro, four billion dollar) claim, says he was forced to sell shares in oil company Sibneft, aluminium giant Rusal and television channel ORT at well below the market rate.

The two businessmen were once partners and are both among the world's richest people. Chelsea Football Club owner Abramovich, 41, is reportedly worth nearly 12 billion pounds and Berezovsky, 62, more than 650 million pounds, according to The Sunday Times rich list published this month.

Berezovsky says he served Abramovich with a writ in the case in a branch of luxury goods shop Hermes in central London last year after pursuing him for the previous six months.

Abramovich's lawyer Andrew Popplewell said the allegations against his client were “without foundation” and has indicated he may apply to have the case thrown out.

“We want to know when the oral threats were made so that witnesses could be called if Mr Berezovsky says they were there,” Popplewell said.

“This is basic information that should have been sent to us.”

Judge David Mackie reserved his judgement on Abramovich's request, plus an application from Berezovsky to amend his claims, to an unspecified later date.

Both businessmen made their money in sectors including oil following the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union.

Berezovsky has lived in Britain since 2000 after falling out with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while Abramovich spends much of his time in London.

In September 2005, Abramovich received a huge pay-day with the 13-billion-dollar sale of Sibneft to state-owned gas behemoth Gazprom.

Analysts estimate that Abramovich gained some nine billion dollars on a company bought in one of many opaque deals between oligarchs and then Russian president Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin in the 1990s.

Abramovich is seen as loyal to Putin, while Berezovsky was convicted by a Russian court in absentia in November on charges that he embezzled from state airline Aeroflot and was sentenced to six years in prison.

He has said the charges were politically motivated.

Last month, Russia's state prosecutor said a fresh criminal probe had been launched into a claim that Berezovsky invented an assassination plot.

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