June 29, 2012 / 12:08 PM / in 5 years

Leviev wins London court battle over Angola diamonds

LONDON (Reuters) - A court battle between two multi-millionaires who fell out after making a fortune from Angolan diamonds ended on Friday when Arkady Gaydamak lost his bid to reclaim hundreds of millions of dollars he said he was owed by “king of diamonds” Lev Leviev.

The two are among a handful of buccaneering businessmen who have made fortunes in countries like Angola, Congo and Guinea, securing positions of influence that have helped their companies profit hugely from the continent’s rich natural resources.

The case, brought by the Russian-Israeli tycoon over disputed unpaid commissions and dividends against Uzbekistan-born Israeli Leviev, also involved testimony on the roles of a Russian rabbi and an Angolan general - and was heard in London.

It was the latest of a rash of cases brought by billionaires from Russia and the former Soviet republics to the august courtrooms of the British capital, revealing at times a clash of cultures - and some less than complimentary comments.

Gaydamak, described by the judge as a “volatile and impulsive character” who was “distinctly prone to exaggeration”, became involved in Angolan business and politics in the 1990s.

He claimed to have suggested to the Angolan government that it obtain control of the country’s diamond industry at the height of the civil war so as to cut off the rebels’ flow of cash from so-called “blood diamonds”.

Angola is one of the world’s most significant diamond producers and has long been attractive to traders and buyers.

Gaydamak also said he was instrumental in setting up Ascorp, the Angolan Diamond Selling Corporation, which had sole purchasing rights to Angolan diamonds.

He said he had tried to make Leviev, a renowned diamond trader, a front man for his activities because of a French inquiry into illegal arms supplies. Gaydamak was later cleared of involvement in such supplies.

RUSSIAN BILLIONAIRES, LONDON COURTS

Speaking by video link from Israel because of an outstanding French tax charge, Gaydamak told the High Court on the first day of the trial that he believed he was entitled to about half Leviev’s diamond assets in Angola.

His argument rested on his claim that there was a written agreement between them dated December 2001.

Leviev, who has a home in London and who made his name challenging diamond giant De Beers’ monopoly on the sale of rough diamonds, denied signing the agreement.

Gaydamak argued that Leviev agreed to hold their joint assets, in particular their share in Ascorp and any income from those assets, on trust in equal shares.

Leviev’s lawyers argued that those claims were compromised by a settlement agreement between the two in August 2011 in which Gaydamak signed away his rights to the assets. Gaydamak said he was induced to sign it.

High Court judge Geoffrey Vos said in his judgment on Friday: ”I find that the 2001 agreement was indeed signed by Mr Gaydamak and Mr Leviev, and was a valid and enforceable agreement.

”But the parties entered a valid and binding settlement agreement which took effect on August 6 2011, whereby each party released all claims against the other.

“Accordingly the claim will be dismissed.”

But Leviev did not escape criticism from the judge, who spoke of his arrogance and his “rewriting the history” by leaving some crucial characters out of the story.

Mr Justice Vos said he was “conscious that I have not accepted either side’s evidence in its entirety”, with reference to evidence surrounding the disputed 2001 agreement.

The Angolan government ended the Ascorp monopoly in 2003, creating a semi-open market regulated by the state.

Other Russian billionaire cases being fought in British courts include a $6.5 billion dispute between exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich.

The cases tend to involve complex and opaque business dealings that have challenged British judges used to more traditional litigation.

Gaydamak later issued a statement in which he said he would apply for permission to appeal.

Reporting by Avril Ormsby; editing by Tim Pearce

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