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Breaking News: Abramovich is a "Gangster"

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In case you didn't already know, Roman is a bad bad man. Oh I'm going to have fun with the photo captions on this one. More, after the jump.

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BASWE, Rozay flow (no Bosingwa or Kelsey Grammer)

Boris Berezovsky, is wealthy. Forbes rates his net worth at approximately $3 billion. So you'd figure, he'd be spending his afternoons lounging in style across the globe, with a bevy of options for fun and excitement at his fingertips. But alas, Boris is not doing these things. Instead, he's firmly entrenched in a protracted legal battle against our own Roman Abramovich, in what is rapidly becoming a fascinating exposé highlighting the rise, expansion, and in some cases, fall of the Russian oligarchy. A bit of history, Russia's been a-changin' since 1992. Under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the Communist Party spearheaded 'perestroika', a political movement designed to overhaul the outdated economic remnants of the Cold War era. Around this time, circa '92, a number of enterprising entrepreneurs saw opportunities for tremendous growth, expansion, and wealth accumulation. Both Abramovich and Berezovsky fall into this category. Capitalizing on raw material exports and labor-based services, this new breed of Russian oligarchs took advantage of the failed 'planned economy' system. Example: Berezovsky's first company, AvtoVAZ, bought cars at the government-subsidized export price, and then "re-exported" said cars and sold them for higher prices on the domestic market. Without oversight to prevent this, many profited. These two did, for sure.

Fast-forward some 20 years since this noble start, and we find ourselves in the London High Court. Here, Berezovsky is accusing Roman of being a "gangster" who coerced Boris to sell shares in a number of businesses over a ten-year period for 'fractions of their true value'. His assertion is that Roman used his close affiliation with former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to 'deliver messages' on behalf of the Kremlin. The major crime, in contention, is the sale of Sibneft shares (Russian oil conglomerate) which Berezovsky cashed in to the tune of 1.3 billion quid. But now, some years after the close of the deal, Boris feels he has been shortchanged. Naturally, he's crying foul all over the place. First, he's accusing Roman of working on behalf of the Putin regime, even suggesting he receives political protection in exchange for 'favors'. Then, he asserts that Roman 'intimidated' him into liquidating his shares at a value below the market price, which he did, and had to watch as Roman sold the entire company to Gazprom (Russia's state-owned gas conglomerate) in 2005 at a multi-billion dollar price tag. Laurence Rabinowitz, Berezovsky's attorney, claims that the two men were close friends, acquiring capital together over a long period of lawless prosperity in Russia. But, when Boris had a falling-out with Putin and the Kremlin, he was exiled and ostracized by Roman, who chose his allegiance to the Kremlin over friendship. That, apparently, was the turning point in this case.

It's all highly circumstantial, and really hard to prove either way. Berezovsky, under cross examination yesterday, repeatedly changed the dates, times, locations, and conversations he had with Roman. And for his part, Roman could very well have utilized his vast cache of 'resources' to get Boris to sell. After all, Roman's own attorney made mention earlier in the case that after the fall of Communism in 1992, Russia existed in a 'period of lawlessness' marked by huge capital swings for savvy investors. Among the quotes:

"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."

"The courts were unpredictable at best - at worst open to manipulation by major political or economic interest groups.

"Mr Berezovsky was a highly controversial figure in Russian politics in the 1990s. Boris Berezovsky was a power broker."

And he said between 1995 and 2002 Mr Berezovsky had received $2bn from businesses controlled by Mr Abramovich. Mr Sumption also said that by the late 1990s Mr Berezovsky's personal expenses - which he said were on an "exuberant scale" - were being met by Mr Abramovich's companies. These included funding palaces in France, private aircraft, jewellery for his girlfriend and valuable paintings. Just damn.

....not that this has any bearing on footy proceedings, but hey, it's a soft news cycle this week. We'll keep you updated on the trial and any late breaking developments.

KTBFFH