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 Abramovich in libel case over ‘Kremlin stooge’

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Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Credit: Mike Egerton/PA

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Credit: Mike Egerton/PA

PA

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Credit: Mike Egerton/PA

Roman Abramovich was accused of buying Chelsea FC as "part of a scheme to corrupt the West" on Vladimir Putin's orders in a "seriously defamatory" book about the Russian President's regime, his lawyers have told the High Court.

The 54-year-old billionaire is suing journalist Catherine Belton over her best-selling book Putin's People: How The KGB Took Back Russia And Then Took On The West, which was published by HarperCollins last April.

Ms Belton, the former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, said Mr Abramovich "was acting under Kremlin direction" when he bought the Premier League club for £150m in 2003.

His barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC told the High Court on Wednesday that readers of the book would conclude that Mr Abramovich "had been used as the acceptable face of a corrupt and dangerous regime".

Mr Tomlinson argued that Putin's People said Mr Abramaovich was "part of a scheme to corrupt the West... aimed at building a block hold in the UK for Russian influence".

A reader of the book would conclude that "rather than being interested in football, he was just doing the president's bidding to infiltrate British society", Mr Tomlinson added.

In written submissions, Mr Tomlinson said the book "states in terms" that Mr Abramovich bought Chelsea "to corrupt and manipulate the British elite" — an allegation he described as "serious and sensational".

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He also said the description of Mr Abramovich as the "cashier" to the family of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and later to Mr Putin, meant his client was portrayed as "clearly corrupt".

But Andrew Caldecott QC, representing Ms Belton and HarperCollins, pointed out that the reference to Mr Abramovich being a cashier was "in quotation marks, suggesting it is someone else's observation".

He argued that readers of Putin's People would believe that "there are grounds to suspect Mr Abramovich was acting at the Kremlin's direction" when he bought Chelsea, not that he definitely was.

Mr Caldecott also told the court that the book "records a firm denial from a 'person close to Abramovich'" that he bought Chelsea on Mr Putin's orders.

Ms Belton is also being sued for libel by Russian state-owned energy giant Rosneft, while Russian businessman Mikhail Fridman (57) is bringing a similar claim against HarperCollins.


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