A lawyer for Roman Abramovich has told a court in London the billionaire's purchase of Chelsea FC was not directed by Russian president Vladimir Putin who used him as the alleged "acceptable face" of a corrupt scheme.
Abramovich is suing publishing giant Harper Collins and journalist Catherine Belton over claims made in her book ‘Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West' that he acted on direction from Putin in purchasing Chelsea FC in 2003 as part of a scheme to corrupt the West.
On the first day of the preliminary hearing, Hugh Tomlinson, QC, defending the 54-year-old owner, claimed "lazy inaccuracies" in Belton's book overstate Abramovich's position in Russian politics.
Abramovich denies his £150m purchase of Chelsea was “directed” by the Russian president and was “part of a scheme to corrupt the west by corrupting local elites” and to “build a bulkhead of Russian influence”.
“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,” Tomlinson said, the Guardian reported.
He added: “At no stage is the reader told that actually Abramovich is someone who is distant from Putin and doesn’t participate in the many and various corrupt schemes that are described. On the contrary, he’s described as making corrupt payments.”
Belton had quoted Sergei Pugachev in her work when covering the relationship between Putin and Abramovich, but claimed that readers would factor in fugitive billionaire Pugachev's questionable credibility when reading his account.
Pugachev, who previously been referred to as 'Putin's banker' was discredited by a High Court judge as being "impossible to believe" in 2016, but was nevertheless afforded a central role in the book.
Belton, a special correspondent with Reuters and a former Moscow-based Financial Times reporter, is also being sued by Russian energy company Rosneft.
Following the court proceedings, a spokesman for Abramovich said: "We have now had an opportunity to make our concerns clear to the court and to explain why Mr Abramovich has brought this claim.
"The defendants have also clarified their position regarding a number of the false and defamatory statements made about Mr Abramovich in the book."
Since acquiring the club, Abramovich's stewardship has overseen five Premier League title wins, the same number of FA Cups and two Champions League titles.
Abramovich and Putin are said to enjoy a close relationship, one reported as being like father and son.