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High Court Judge Compelled to Travel to UAE for Testimony from Sanctioned Russian Oligarch 2024

A High Court judge is set to travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to gather testimony from a sanctioned oligarch, Andrey Guryev, in a legal battle worth £1bn concerning a Russian chemicals business.

Andrey Guryev, a close associate of Vladimir Putin, will provide evidence in Dubai due to a UK travel ban preventing his attendance at a trial in London.

Putin permits Rosbank to acquire the Russian assets of Societe Generale.
Putin permits Rosbank to acquire the Russian assets of Societe Generale.

This decision follows the High Court’s acknowledgment that restrictions imposed on the billionaire Russian businessman could potentially disadvantage him in the legal proceedings.

Mr. Guryev, whose net worth is $10bn (£7.91bn), is a former Russian senator and the ultimate owner of Witanhurst, a £300m mansion boasting 25 bedrooms, making it London’s second largest residence after Buckingham Palace.

Mr Guryev owns the £3000m Witanhurst Mansion
Mr Guryev owns the £3000m Witanhurst Mansion

The oligarch, Mr. Guryev, was among the individuals targeted by UK sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Described as “a known close associate of Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Guryev is the founder and former CEO of PhosAgro, a company deemed by the Foreign Office as “a vital strategic company that produces fertilizers.”

He is currently embroiled in a lawsuit brought by Alexander Gorbachev, a Russian political exile residing in London, over control of the nearly $10bn chemicals empire.

Mr. Gorbachev alleges that Mr. Guryev, a judo master who purportedly owns a penthouse apartment near MI6 in Vauxhall, unlawfully acquired his 25% stake in the Moscow-based business.

According to Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Guryev—the largest shareholder of PhosAgro—violated a previous agreement forged during meetings in 2005 at various locations, including a London pub and a sauna.

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During the upcoming six-week trial at the High Court commencing in April, Mr. Gorbachev will contend that his stake in the company would now be valued at £1bn.

Despite being subject to US sanctions and being based in Russia, Mr. Guryev has proposed to travel to Dubai to provide evidence.

The UAE has refrained from imposing sanctions on Russian nationals post-Ukraine invasion, making it an attractive destination for many oligarchs.

Both Mr. Guryev and Mr. Gorbachev have requested that the trial judge in the PhosAgro case, Mr. Justice Pelling KC, serve as a special examiner at the Dubai International Financial Centre to hear Mr. Guryev’s testimony, citing his inability to appear in the High Court due to sanctions.

Acknowledging the logistical challenges, Mr. Justice Pelling KC noted that requiring a judge to travel overseas for evidence could be costly, disruptive, and potentially prolong the trial.

Mr Justice Pelling KC noted the difficulties that language barriers would present to holding a remote interview

However, the judge identified significant language barriers that would necessitate interpreters based in both Russia and London to translate Mr. Gorbachev’s testimony if conducted remotely.

Furthermore, the judge emphasized that traveling to Dubai would ensure a “level playing field” for both parties, particularly since the lawsuit heavily relies on oral evidence rather than a dispute over documents.

He stated, “In such a case, the opportunity to witness the witness giving evidence in person is likely to be significantly more important than it would be in many, and perhaps most, commercial trials.”

Mr. Gorbachev’s legal team supported the application, expressing concerns that cross-examination of Mr. Guryev and his son, who is set to testify, would be less effective unless conducted face-to-face.

The costs associated with the judge’s flights and accommodation in Dubai will be borne by Mr. Guryev’s solicitors.

Neil Micklethwaite, representing Mr. Guryev, expressed gratitude to the English Court for its willingness to travel to Dubai for a portion of the trial.

Requests for comment from Mr. Gorbachev’s legal representatives were made but not immediately responded to.

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