Deripaska dips into past to fight off UK lawsuit
LONDON, (Reuters) - Billionaire Oleg Deripaska was successful and “established” by the time he met rival oligarch Michael Cherney in 1994 at 26, his lawyers told a London court, arguing the magnate would not have needed his rival’s support to build his aluminium empire.
Lawyers delved into the early career of one of Russia’s richest men yesterday, in a case that has shone a spotlight on the often lawless 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well-connected Russians jostled for privatised state assets and organised crime and “protection” groups became influential.
Deripaska is fighting a claim from Cherney, an Israeli-based billionaire who says the two were partners and alleges he is owed a 13.2 percent stake in the now-listed RUSAL, the world’s largest aluminium producer, of which Deripaska controls the largest stake.
Deripaska accuses his opponent of links to criminal gangs but, with this week’s opening statements drawing to a close before the case is adjourned until September, he is facing allegations made to prosecutors abroad that he himself was involved in bribery and murder.
Deripaska, who is expected to call compatriot and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich as one of his witnesses in the latest High Court battle between billionaires from Russia and the former Soviet Union, denies he and Cherney were allies.
He says he was forced into a protection racket – or “krysha” in Russian, from the word for “roof” – orchestrated by Cherney and supported by some of the country’s most powerful criminal gangs in the mid-1990s after receiving threats.
In opening statements to the court from the defence on Wednesday, his legal team argued Deripaska had no need for the contacts and financing that Cherney says he provided to build an aluminium empire. Cherney had, Deripaska’s side alleges, in fact fled Russia in late 1993 or early 1994 to escape a fraud probe.