Russians are coming to London for property, business, high life and now it seems justice
Oligarchs may restrict physical attacks to Russian television studios (you can watch eye-popping footage of Evening Standard owner Alexander Lebedev punching Russian property tycoon Sergei Polonsky here).
But when it comes to legal assaults, London is cementing its reputation as the destination of choice among Russia’s richest men.
Take the High Court case of Boris Berezovsky versus Roman Abramovich, which opened last week.
The case centres on allegations that Chelsea Football Club owner Abramovich used bullying tactics to force exiled Russian billionaire Berezovsky into selling his stake in Russian oil firm Sibneft.
Berezovsky – who has successfully used the UK high court in the past to sue for libel over a Russian state television broadcast – is suing Abramovich for an eye-watering $6.5bn over the issue.
Abramovich denies any wrongdoing.
So why is London, rather than Moscow, centre court for Russian courtroom drama?
The relative stability of the UK’s legal system is a key factor.
History of corruption
“Russia has had a very turbulent history in the past 100 years in particular. Russians see the continuity of Parliament and other institutions; of buildings that are hundreds of years old,” Stephen Dalziel executive director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, told LondonlovesBusiness.com this year.
“To many Russians this sends the message that this is the country where tradition and stability counts.”
A quick look at the statistics makes it even clearer why Russians prefer to thrash out their legal disputes in London.
In Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, the UK is ranked 20th-least-corrupt country, while Russia is ranked joint-154th – along with countries such as Cambodia, Laos and the Republic of Congo.
Indeed, speaking in court in London last week, Berezovsky declared that Russia is more corrupt today that it was during the Wild West days of the 1990s.
What of the future?
Back in January, Russian’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, pledged to clean up his country’s legal system, vowing to “make the courts become… independent from the authorities.”
But judging by Transparency International’s analysis, the Berezovsky versus Abramovich case is unlikely to be London’s last courtroom battle of Russian business titans.