Abramovich, owner of Chelsea FC, sues the author of the KGB book | News | DW

Lawyers for Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich claimed he did not buy English top-flight side Chelsea Football Club ‘to bribe the West’ during a court case in England’s High Court on Wednesday.

Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Over Russia Then Attacked the Westwritten by British journalist Catherine Belton looks at Vladimir Putin and how the former head of the Soviet KGB became President of Russia.

Abramovich and Russian energy company Rosneft are suing Belton and book publisher HarperCollins over some of his statements.

What did the lawyers find defamatory?

“The applicant [Abramovich] is described in the book as Putin’s cashier and custodian of the Kremlin’s slush funds,” Roman Abramovich’s lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson, told the High Court.

The two-day case will attempt to establish what an ordinary person reading the book would think of its words ahead of a potential defamation case.

“The ordinary, reasonable reader would inevitably be of the opinion that Roman Abramovich was tasked with buying Chelsea… he was therefore being used as the acceptable face of a corrupt and dangerous regime,” Tomlinson said.

Lawyers working for Russian oil giant Rosneft said passages from the book could be seen as alleging the company “expropriated” the assets of the company it replaced, YUKOS, in what it describes as ” a ridiculously rigged auction”.

What are the lawyers saying about the book?

HarperCollins lawyer Andrew Caldecott said Abramovich was pressured into complying with Putin’s demands in the Kremlin or face ruin.

“Mr. Abramovich’s wealth was, to a large extent, available on demand,” Caldecott said.

He said Belton, a former Financial Times reporter in Moscow now working for Reuters, did not give a conclusive judgment but instead offered different viewpoints.

Two other Russians who had also sued the book publishers have since reached agreements with HarperCollins to issue apologies and remove their mention of the book.

jc/msh (Reuters, AP)

Alycia R. Lindley