The judge presiding over the acrimonious High Court battle between Russian oligarchs has criticised the ‘heavily lawyered’ nature of the case that undermined witness statements.
Mrs Justice Gloster (pictured) said the high-profile case involving Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky had gone through such scrutiny from both legal teams that it was difficult to establish the truth. In her judgment released today, which found in favour of Abramovich, the judge said the heavy presence of lawyers meant that ‘no evidential stone was left unturned, unaddressed or unpolished’.
She added: ‘Those features, not surprisingly, resulted in shifts or changes in the parties’ evidence or cases, as the lawyers microscopically examined each aspect of the evidence and acquired a greater in-depth understanding of the facts.
‘It also led to some scepticism on the court’s part as to whether the lengthy witness statements reflected more the industrious work product of the lawyers, than the actual evidence of the witnesses.’
But the judge praised the ‘highly professional and efficient’ way in which the case was conducted, not only by the teams of counsel and solicitors but by the respective participants. ‘Whatever tensions or undercurrents there may have been between the parties, or indeed the lawyers, in what were, heavily fought, acrimonious disputes involving serious allegations of dishonesty and blackmail, the case was battled out in a courteous, disciplined and restrained manner.’
Berezovsky, who was claiming a stake in Abramovich’s business interests worth £3bn, was funding his legal team at Addleshaw Goddard through a contingency fee agreement. However, a spokesman for the firm today denied the case was run on a 'no win, no fee' basis, instead describing it as ‘no win, smaller fee’.
The judgment noted that Berezovsky had denied that any of his witnesses stood to gain financially, a claim that was later found to be untrue.
According to the judgment, two of his witnesses, Dr Nosova and her husband Mr Michael Lindley, a solicitor, stood to gain ‘very substantially’ if Berezovsky was to win. The court found his excuse for not giving a truthful answer was ‘unconvincing’.
Mrs Justice Gloster said: ‘It appeared that, despite specific enquiries having been made earlier in the proceedings by Mr Abramovich's solicitors, these contingency agreements had previously been concealed from them, and indeed even from Mr Berezovsky's own solicitors.’
Mrs Justice Gloster said it was significant there were no contemporaneous notes or other documents recording any of the four agreements under dispute. Instead, the court was relying on oral evidence that was ‘extremely stale’, based on events occurring many years ago where witness accounts were understandably unreliable.
Berezovsky had claimed to be a business partner of Abramovich and accused him of a breach of trust and breach of contract. But while the judge found some of Berezovsky’s evidence to be ‘deliberately dishonest’, Abramovich was considered a ‘truthful, and on the whole reliable, witness’.