By Sam Tobin
LONDON, March 22 (Reuters) – Russian aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska on Wednesday denied lying about the relocation of EN+ Group from Jersey to Russia to avoid U.S.sanctions, as he fights his former business partner’s attempt to jail him at London’s High Court.
Deripaska, founder of aluminium giant Rusal, has been locked in a dispute with former Russian finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin since 2010 over a joint venture to develop real estate in Moscow.
Chernukhin – whose wife Lubov Chernukhin has given more than 2 million pounds ($2.5 million) to Britain’s ruling Conservative party and its lawmakers since 2012 – says Deripaska is in contempt of court for allegedly allowing EN+ Group, which owns a 57% stake in Rusal, to “redomicile” in 2019 in response to U.S.sanctions.
Contempt of court can be punished by up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine.
Chernukhin’s lawyers argue Deripaska breached an undertaking to preserve 45.5 million EN+ shares in Jersey to meet a $95 million debt to Chernukhin, which has since been paid in full.
Jonathan Crow, representing Chernukhin, said on Tuesday that the shares were rendered “worthless” because of the difficulty in enforcing debts against Deripaska in Russia.
But Deripaska, who denies breaching the undertaking, argues the EN+ shares would have been worthless if the company was not redomiciled as the company would have been bankrupted.
Giving evidence via videolink from Moscow, Deripaska said he had agreed to reduce his shareholding in EN+ below 50% and to the appointment of independent directors to its board in order to get U.S.sanctions lifted, as there was “no way out”.
He added that Russian state-owned lender VTB, to which EN+ owed around $1 billion, required EN+ to move to Russia in order to agree with the plan.
His lawyer Thomas Grant said on Tuesday that Deripaska was giving evidence from Russia in part because British sanctions, imposed due to his perceived links to the Kremlin, prevented him travelling to London.
Grant also said U.S.charges for allegedly violating sanctions could have prompted U.S. authorities to seek Deripaska’s extradition from London.
($1 = 0.8167 pounds) (Reporting by Sam Tobin Editing by Mark Potter)