London, Apr.29 : Roman Abramovich, the owner of the Chelsea Football Club, was an undeclared member of President Putin's regime in Russia, documents in a clash-of-the-oligarchs court battle have suggested.
Abramovich emerges from legal papers signed by Boris Berezovsky, his friend turned rival, as an "enforcer" figure, passing on alleged threats so that the Kremlin could get its way over media and business.
Berezovsky, accompanied by minders, arrived at the Commercial Court in London to hear legal arguments in his four billion dollar case against Abramovich over oil and aluminium assets that he claims he was forced to surrender.
Abramovich was conspicuously absent during the court hearing. His lawyers, however, denied that their client had made threats.
The claim details how the Chelsea boss allegedly leaned on Berezovsky and his colleague, the Georgian oligarch Arkady "Badri" Patarkatsishvili, who was found dead of a suspected heart attack at his country house in Surrey two months ago.
The case paints a chilling picture of Putin's use of his security machine to avenge criticism from Russian television of his handling of the Kursk disaster, when all hands were lost after a submarine sank in the Barents Sea.
Abramovich was formerly a trusted friend and close business associate of Berezovsky. Berezovsky resigned from the Russian parliament after Putin became President in 2000 and said he would start an opposition movement.
In August 2000, the Russian TV channel ORT, 51 per cent owned by the state but with most other shares controlled by Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili, was critical of Putin's handling of the Kursk tragedy.
Putin told Berezovsky that he would be imprisoned unless he sold the shares. He told Patarkatsishvili that they "were friends, but if Patarkatsishvili stayed in television, he would become his enemy.
Berezovsky then fled from Russia.
In December 2000, Nikolai Glushkov, a close friend of both the ORT oligarchs, was arrested. By that time, Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili knew that Abramovich was close to Putin and part of his regime.
Abramovich met the pair on the French Riviera and told them that he had come on the orders of Putin. If they sold their TV interests, their friend would be freed.
They sold their shares, but Glushkov remained in jail.
The same ploy was allegedly used to deprive the pair of their shares in the oil company Sibneft.
In August 2000, Abramovich began to make threats.
Abramovich allegedly promised that Glushkov would be freed if they sold their shares at half price. They did so, but Glushkov was not liberated.
The hearing has been adjourned.