Russia's Berezovsky battles ex-partner in UK court

LONDON Thu Jan 24, 2013 8:06pm GMT

Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky arrives at a division of the High Court in London January 18, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky arrives at a division of the High Court in London January 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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LONDON (Reuters) - Exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky's ex-partner, with whom he has two children, is pursuing him in a British court for a share of his assets, adding to financial pressures on him months after he lost a $6 billion dispute with rival Roman Abramovich.

A High Court judgment published late on Wednesday modified an earlier ruling granting Yelena Gorbunova's request that up to 200 million pounds ($317 million) of Berezovsky's assets be frozen, and said only those at risk could be restricted.

Berezovsky was saddled with over $100 million in legal costs when his protracted battle against Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, ended in defeat last August.

The oligarch had tried to keep the proceedings between himself and Gorbunova confidential. Some hearings took place last week behind closed doors, but the latest judgment on the asset freeze was published on an online database after complaints from journalists.

"On the evidence, Mr Berezovsky is a man under financial pressure. It is likely that he will feel a more pressing need to satisfy creditors than satisfy Ms Gorbunova," judge George Mann wrote in his judgment.

Berezovsky, who lives in self-imposed exile in London, did not respond to a Reuters request for a comment.

In her application for the asset freeze order, Gorbunova said Berezovsky had promised that, when he sold his 25-million-pound Wentworth Park country estate, she would receive 5 million pounds from the proceeds.

Instead, when the estate near London was sold last year, the money went to his creditors and she saw none of it.

She also said Berezovsky had told her she was the owner of two French properties which he was now in the process of selling, and she was concerned she would not receive anything from those sales because he needed the money for himself.

Berezovsky's application to have the freeze on his assets lifted was heard by judge Mann in the High Court last week.

His lawyers argued that Gorbunova's application for the asset freeze had not followed the correct procedures and that the scale of the freeze was excessive.

"PRESSING NEED"

Mann's judgment that only the assets at risk, namely the French properties, should be frozen, means Berezovsky will not be able to sell them and dispose of the proceeds until his dispute with Gorbunova is resolved.

The judgment did not put a figure on the value of the properties.

Regarding the Wentworth Park sale, Mann wrote that if Gorbunova was right and "the 5-million-pound bird has already flown", then there were no funds on which any injunction could bite.

Noting the French properties were held through "obscure offshore structures", he said there was a risk Berezovsky could manipulate matters to deprive Gorbunova of what she said she was entitled to.

The judge also made reference to Berezovsky's "propensity to go so far as giving dishonest evidence in pursuit of a claim against another in the Abramovich proceedings".

This was a reference to judge Elizabeth Gloster's ruling last year in the Berezovsky-Abramovich case, when she said Berezovsky was an "unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness".

Mann stressed that he made no judgment about the substance of Gorbunova's assertions about the assets and the promises she said Berezovsky had made, or the evidence she had put forward.

"That evidence has not yet been tested, and it is to be anticipated that Mr Berezovsky will vigorously contest the claim, dispute a lot of the evidence and advance evidence of his own," the judge wrote.

($1 = 0.6313 British pounds)

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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