Russian oligarchs fight mine battle in London court

Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich is preparing for a London court battle with two other billionaire Russian oligarchs over control of Russia’s biggest mining company.

Abramovich is being taken to court by Oleg Deripaska to prevent the Chelsea owner from selling his minority stake in mining firm Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) to Deripaska’s rival Vladimir Potanin.

Deripaska, who has an estimated £6bn (£4bn) fortune and entertained George Osborne and Lord Mandelson on his 73m Queen K superyacht, and Potanin, who is worth an estimated $20bn, have been battling for control of Nornickel for years.

The dispute was temporarily resolved in 2012 when Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened and installed Abramovich as a “white knight” minority shareholder to the peace between the other billionaires, who hold stakes of about 30% each via companies they control.

The deal saw Abramovich’s investment vehicle Crispian Investment control 5% of Nornickel, worth about £1.5bn. The five-year peacemaker deal expired in December 2017 and Abramovich is reportedly trying to sell his stake to Potanin.

Deripaska’s aluminium company Rusal went to the high court in London on Friday seeking an injunction to prevent Abramovich’s investment firm selling its stake to Whiteleave. Rusal is struggling under vast debts and might not have enough money to fight for Abramovich’s stake, which if it were sold to Whiteleave would give Potanin control of Nornickel.

Potanin, who is Nornickel’s chief executive, was represented in court on Friday by Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general. Goldsmith has reportedly charged other Russian billionaires £960 an hour for his services.

Judge Stephen Phillips delayed the injunction hearing until 5 March, and said a trial would likely begin before June.

The case is the latest in a series of high profile battles Russian billionaires have chosen to fight in London, turning many City lawyers into millionaires.

Abramovich won a £3bn battle against exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky in 2012, who was found dead at his multi-million pound home near Ascot the following year. Abramovich’s barrister Jonathan Sumption QC was said to have earned more than £1m representing the Chelsea owner.