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Abramovich was prepared for the trial by a witness familiarisation course

Roman Abramovich has successfully defended a claim in excess of $5.6bn (£3.5bn) by his former business partner Boris Berezovsky, the High Court ruled today. Mr Abramovich prepared for the trial by undertaking a witness familiarisation course with leading legal consultancy Bond Solon.

Judge Mrs Justice Gloster, handing down her long awaited judgment in the new Rolls Building, found Mr Abramovich – who throughout the trial spoke entirely in Russian with the use of a translator – to be a reliable and trustworthy witness.

Mrs Justice Gloster said in her summary judgment:

“There was a marked contrast between the manner in which Mr. Berezovsky gave his evidence and that in which Mr. Abramovich did so. Mr. Abramovich gave careful and thoughtful answers, which were focused on the specific issues about which he was being questioned. At all times, he was concerned to ensure that he understood the precise question, and the precise premise underlying, the question which he was being asked.”

The advice given to Mr Abramovich as part of the Bond Solon course was not only to listen to the question being asked of him in Court, but to think before he spoke, answer the actual question being asked and not to answer a question that hadn’t been asked. The course also emphasised the need to be objective and under no circumstances to be argumentative.

Mrs Justice Gloster added:

“He was meticulous in making sure that, despite the difficulties of the translation process, he understood the sense of the questions which was being put to him. To a certain extent that difference, no doubt, reflected the different personalities of the two men, for which I gave every allowance possible to Mr. Berezovsky. But it also reflected Mr. Abramovich’s responsible approach to giving answers which he could honestly support.”

Mr Abramovich was also advised by Bond Solon to answer questions strictly from his own knowledge of the facts and never to speculate on an answer. Judge Mrs Justice Gloster notably observed:

“Where he [Mr Abramovich] had relevant knowledge, he was able to give full and detailed answers; he took care to distinguish between his own knowledge, reconstructed assumptions and speculation.”

In contrast the Judge found Mr Berezovsky to be:

“...an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes.”

She added:

“I gained the impression that he was not necessarily being deliberately dishonest, but had deluded himself into believing his own version of events. On occasions he tried to avoid answering questions by making long and irrelevant speeches, or by professing to have forgotten facts which he had been happy to record in his pleadings or witness statements.

“Accordingly, I concluded that, in the absence of corroboration, Mr. Berezovsky’s evidence frequently could not be relied upon, where it differed from that of Mr. Abramovich, or other witnesses.”

Mark Solon, founder and managing director of Bond Solon said:

“Witnesses should not be disadvantaged by ignorance of the process or taken surprise by the way in which the hearing works. There is a duty to put witnesses at ease as much as possible before their hearing. Most people wouldn’t attend an important meeting without first doing their homework, so why should witnesses be expected to attend court – an uncomfortable and sometimes frightening experience where millions or even billions of pounds is riding on their performance – without undertaking some form of preparation.”

Background Information for Journalists

The case, which began on 3 October 2011 under the intense glare of the media spotlight, saw Mr Abramovich, defended by Jonathan Sumption QC, accused by exiled Russian oligarch Berezovsky of intimidating him into selling shares in oil company Sibneft at a huge discount. Berezovsky, represented by Laurence Rabinowitz QC, alleged breach of trust and breach of contract.

Familiarisation is encouraged by the Bar Council but solicitors and barristers alike must be careful about helping their own witnesses to prepare for court. The Court of Appeal decided that in criminal proceedings there should be an outright ban on anyone with a personal knowledge of the case conducting familiarisation. Bar Council guidelines suggest that it is prudent to follow this ban in civil matters.

See: Witness Familiarisation Brochure for details of how the witness familiarisation programme works

See: transcript to cross examination

Please contact Mark Solon for comment on the trial: mobile: 07801 523 390, landline: 020 7549 2549, email:marks@bondsolon.com.


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