Russia’s Abramovich denies buying Chelsea for Putin, court hears
Reuters, LONDON – In a defamation proceeding over a book about Putin’s Russia, Roman Abramovich’s lawyer told England’s High Court that he is not President Vladimir Putin’s “cashier” and that he did not buy Chelsea FC to corrupt the West.
After winning the top Kremlin job in 1999, British journalist Catherine Belton documents Putin’s rise to power and how many of his former Soviet spy service acquaintances climbed to positions of wealth and influence.
Abramovich’s lawyer told the court that passages in HarperCollins’ book “Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West” were obviously defamatory. Both HarperCollins and Belton are being sued by Abramovich.
Hugh Tomlinson, a lawyer for Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, told the High Court of the book: “The claimant is described in the book as Putin’s cashier and the custodian of Kremlin slush funds.”
What is said to be happening is that Mr Abramovich is making his wealth available to Putin… secretly to Putin and his cronies – that is the view the reasonable and ordinary reader would take,” Tomlinson said of Belton’s book.
HarperCollins has said it would “robustly defend this acclaimed and ground-breaking book and the right to report on matters of considerable public interest”.
Belton is a former Financial Times Moscow correspondent and now a Reuters special correspondent. Belton, who attended the hearing, declined to comment. Law firm Wiggin is representing HarperCollins.
Belton’s book, according to Tomlinson, relied on “unreliable” sources like Sergei Pugachev, a Russian businessman who eventually got into trouble with the Kremlin.
Putin allegedly instructed Abramovich to buy Chelsea soccer club as part of a “plan to corrupt the West” and to “construct a bulkhead of Russian influence,” according to the book.
“The ordinary and reasonable reader would inevitably come out with the view that Roman Abramovich was instructed to buy Chelsea… so he was being used as the acceptable face of a corrupt and dangerous regime,” Tomlinson said.
Lawyers for Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil company, said in documents submitted to court that they took issue with passages in the book which said the company expropriated the YUKOS oil company and purchased the assets at a rigged auction.