FILE - Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Photo: Reuters
FILE - Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Photo: Reuters

Russia's Roman Abramovich didn't buy Chelsea for Vladimir Putin - court hears

By Reuters Time of article published Jul 28, 2021

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LONDON - Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich is not President Vladimir Putin's "cashier" and nor did he buy Chelsea FC as a vehicle to corrupt the West, his lawyer told England's High Court in a defamation hearing over a book about Putin's Russia.

In the 2020 book, British journalist Catherine Beltonchronicles Putin's rise to power and how many of his associatesfrom the former Soviet spy services rose to positions of wealthand influence after he won the top Kremlin job in 1999.

A lawyer for Abramovich told the court that passages in thebook "Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and then Tookon the West", published by HarperCollins, were clearlydefamatory. Abramovich is suing both HarperCollins and Belton.

"The claimant is described in the book as Putin's cashierand the custodian of Kremlin slush funds," Hugh Tomlinson, alawyer for Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, told the HighCourt about the book.

"What is said to be happening is that Mr Abramovich ismaking his wealth available to Putin... secretly to Putin andhis cronies - that is the view the reasonable and ordinaryreader would take," Tomlinson said of Belton's book.

HarperCollins has said it would "robustly defend thisacclaimed and ground-breaking book and the right to report onmatters of considerable public interest".

Belton is a former Financial Times Moscow correspondent andnow a Reuters special correspondent. Belton, who attended thehearing, declined to comment. Law firm Wiggin is representingHarperCollins.

Tomlinson said Belton's book relied on what he cast as"unreliable" sources such as Sergei Pugachev, a Russianbusinessman who later fell foul of the Kremlin.

He said the book alleged that Putin ordered Abramovich topurchase Chelsea soccer club as "part of a scheme to corrupt theWest" and to "build a bulkhead of Russian influence."

"The ordinary and reasonable reader would inevitably comeout with the view that Roman Abramovich was instructed to buyChelsea... so he was being used as the acceptable face of acorrupt and dangerous regime," Tominlinson said.

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