Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was not ‘directed’ to buy club for Putin, court hears

Roman Abramovich was not “directed” to buy Chelsea FC by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the High Court has heard.

The Russian billionaire’s lawyer told the High Court he is not Mr Putin‘s “cashier” and did not purchase the club as part of a plot to corrupt the West.

Mr Abramovich, 54, is suing Catherine Belton and her publisher HarperCollins over her best-selling book Putin’s People: How The KGB Took Back Russia And Then Took On The West.

Mr Putin said the Russian navy can detect any enemy

Mr Abramovich’s lawyer said the book alleged Mr Putin ordered the billionaire to purchase the club as ‘part of a scheme to corrupt the West’

Ms Belton, the former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, alleges Mr Abramovich’s £150m purchase of Chelsea in 2003 was made on the orders of the Russian president.

“The claimant is described in the book as Putin’s cashier and the custodian of Kremlin slush funds,” Hugh Tomlinson QC, Mr Abramovich’s lawyer, told the court.

“What is said to be happening is that Mr Abramovich is making his wealth available to Putin… secretly to Putin and his cronies – that is the view the reasonable and ordinary reader would take.”

Announcing the legal action in March, Mr Abramovich said Putin’s People “contains a number of false and defamatory statements about me, including about my purchase, and the activities, of Chelsea Football Club”.

He added that “false allegations” in the book were “having a damaging effect, not only on my personal reputation, but also in respect of the activities of Chelsea Football Club”.

Mr Tomlinson said the book alleged Mr Putin ordered Mr Abramovich to purchase the club as “part of a scheme to corrupt the West” and to “build a bulkhead of Russian influence”.

A general view of the Bovril Gate entrance in front of Stamford Bridge Millennium Hotel in London. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is to provide NHS staff with free accommodation at Stamford Bridge's Millennium Hotel as they continue to battle the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Abramovich said ‘false allegations’ in the book were ‘having a damaging effect, not only on my personal reputation, but also in respect of the activities of Chelsea Football Club’

He said: “The ordinary and reasonable reader would inevitably come out with the view that Roman Abramovich was instructed to buy Chelsea… so he was being used as the acceptable face of a corrupt and dangerous regime.”

Ms Belton is also being sued for libel by Russian state-owned energy giant Rosneft, while Russian businessman Mikhail Fridman is bringing a similar claim against HarperCollins over Putin’s People. Petr Aven, head of Russian lender Alfa-Bank, has also brought a data protection claim against HarperCollins over the book.

Mr Tomlinson, who is representing Mr Abramovich, Mr Fridman and Mr Aven, said there was “no relationship” between the four claims.

He told Mrs Justice Tipples he was instructed to act for the three men “coincidentally and entirely independently”.

Mr Tomlinson added: “There is not any kind of co-ordination between these claimants.”

HarperCollins has said it will “robustly defend this acclaimed and ground-breaking book and the right to report on matters of considerable public interest”.

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