Rolls Building

While it may not officially open until December the Rolls Building will see action in October when one of the biggest cases of the year comes to town – Berezovsky v Abramovich.

Jonathan Sumption QC
Jonathan Sumption QC

The build-up to the 12-week trial  has not been without its own controversies.

The elevation of Brick Court’s Jonathan Sumption QC to the Supreme Court has been delayed so he can conduct the case (6 April). Sumption was instructed by Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom partner Paul Mitchard QC to lead the case after Andrew Popplewell QC failed to have the claim struck out (23 February 2011). Since then Popplewell has been given a boost with an appointment to the High Court bench (29 July 2011).

While it may not be clear when Sumption learned of his appointment and whether it was before or after the Abrmovich instruction came in, the news was met with disapproval at the bar.

Many barristers queried why Sumption, who leapfrogged both the High Court and Court of Appeal benches, was allowed a final lucrative court outing before taking a huge wage cut for the bench.

It will be his swansong case and one which no doubt will go on to appeal and could even reach the Supreme Court when Sumption is on the bench – although a self recusal would be on the cards.

The claimants too had a few hiccups in the build-up to trial.

Addleshaw Goddard looked in danger of losing the case following the departure of its former litigation chief Simon Twigden.

Twigden, who launched his own boutique Enyo Law last October (8 October 2010) was involved in the team advising Berezovsky and questions were raised as to whether he might take the client with him.

Interestingly Twigden did act for Berezovsky in his recent divorce from Galina Besharova, but a fancy fees deal meant that Addleshaws kept the case with partners John Kelleher and Mark Hastings, instructing One Essex Court’s Laurence Rabinowitz QC.

It is a lucrative business for Addleshaws. Abramovich has twice attempted to have the claim thrown out on the basis that it had little chance of success. In March 2010, Mr Justice Coleman said it was “impossible to say that this claim has no real prospect of success…” and the following February the Court of Appeal agreed (23 February 2011).

At the heart of Berezovsky’s claims are allegations that Abramovich coerced him  into selling his 21.5 per cent share in Russian oil company Sibneft at a significantly reduced price.

According to Berezovsky, in the 1990s the pair had teamed up with Georgia’s richest man, Arkadi “Badri” Patarkatsishvili, to buy Sibneft. They agreed that Abramovich would own half of the business while Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili would share the other half, with Abramovich holding their shares in trust.

Abramovich disputes this and argues that in fact any payment to Berezovksy, his former mentor, was in recognition of his “political assistance and protection” during the creation of Sibneft. He denies that Berezovsky or Patarkatsishvili ever had an interest in the business.

The showdown begins on the 3 October at the new Rolls Building in Fetter Lane.