Sheikh Aids Berezovsky, Abramovich
Published: May 14, 2010 (Issue # 1573)
MOSCOW — The children of royal families have different ways of earning a living.
Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, for example, brokered two deals between Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky, possibly earning a commission of $260 million, Vedomosti has learned.
Information on deals between the Russian billionaires appeared in a recent ruling by the High Court of London in a lawsuit Berezovsky filed against Abramovich. Sheikh Sultan took part in two transactions between Berezovsky and Abramovich totaling $1.475 billion, according to a verdict by the judge, Anthony Coleman.
In 2001, a company controlled by Sheikh Sultan mediated a deal in which Berezovsky and Badri Patarkatsishvili, now deceased, sold a stake in the ORT television channel to firms controlled by Abramovich for $175 million.
Another deal, also reached in 2001, concerned a $1.3 billion transaction. Berezovsky claimed that the funds were Abramovich’s payment for 45.3 percent of oil company Sibneft. Abramovich insisted that Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili had no stake in Sibneft and that the $1.3 billion was compensation for their help in privatizing the company.
Berezovsky said he sold “a beneficiary stake” in Sibneft to Devonia Investments Ltd. Sheikh Sultan acted as a guarantor for the deal: He paid Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili himself before selling the assets to Abramovich.
Sheikh Sultan, 45, belongs to the royal family that has ruled Abu Dhabi for almost 250 years. His grandfather, Sheikh Zayed, was the founder of the United Arab Emirates and the first president of the federation. Sheikh Sultan’s father, Sheikh Khalifa, the eldest of Zayed’s 19 sons, had to wait for 37 years before finally becoming king of Abu Dhabi and president of the country in 2004. Last year, Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $18 billion.
Sheikh Sultan has a degree in international studies and is a graduate of several colleges, including the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and the University of Salford.
He is a member of the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi and heads a number of nonprofit organizations in the U.A.E., including the Emirates Equestrian Federation.
How exactly Sheikh Sultan met the two Russian businessmen is unknown. Spokespeople for Berezovsky and Abramovich refused to comment, and requests sent by Vedomosti to the U.A.E. presidential administration, the U.A.E. Embassy in Moscow and the Emirates Equestrian Federation went unanswered.
Berezovsky said Sheikh Sultan’s mediation was necessary to hide the fact that Abramovich was the final buyer of Sibneft.
Abramovich’s representatives gave an alternative explanation: According to court documents, the former Chukotka governor only learned about the deal between Berezovsky and Devonia in 2007, after court proceedings were opened in London. Sheikh Sultan’s involvement seems to have been needed to circumvent the English banking laws on money laundering, which required the payment to be registered as a “real transaction,” representatives of Abramovich were cited as saying in the court papers.
Sheikh Sultan received a 20 percent commission for his involvement in the $1.3 billion deal with Berezovsky, Abramovich’s lawyers said. This means that the Arab prince may have earned $260 million. Representatives of Berezovsky did not comment on the size of the commission, and Abramovich’s lawyers refused to reveal their sources of information.
Experts were not surprised to learn of a third party taking part in the deals. It is common for citizens of the U.A.E. and other countries to be asked to serve the interests of “unnamed beneficiaries,” said Dmitry Klyonov, a partner at UFG Wealth Management,. He added that the rank of the intermediaries depends on the size of the deal: The bigger it is, the higher the status of the parties involved.