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High Court judge forced to go to UAE to take evidence from sanctioned Russian oligarch

Andrey Guryev
Andrey Guryev is based in Russia but has proposed travelling to Dubai, a popular base for wealthy oligarchs, to give evidence - Chris J. Ratcliffe

A High Court judge is to travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to take evidence from a sanctioned oligarch as part of a £1bn battle over a Russian chemicals business.

Andrey Guryev, an ally of Vladimir Putin, will give testimony in Dubai because of a UK travel ban stopping him from attending a trial in London.

It comes after the High Court found that restrictions placed on the billionaire Russian businessman left him at a “potential disadvantage” in the proceedings.

Mr Guryev, who is worth $10bn (£7.91bn), is a former Russian senator who ultimately owns Witanhurst, the £300m mansion with 25 bedrooms that is London’s second largest house after Buckingham Palace.

Witanhurst Mansion
Mr Guryev owns the £3000m Witanhurst Mansion

The oligarch was among those targeted by UK sanctions in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

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Mr Guryev was described as “a known close associate of Vladimir Putin”. He is the founder and former chief executive of PhosAgro, which the Foreign Office described as “a vital strategic company that produces fertilisers”.

He is now being sued by Alexander Gorbachev, a Russian political exile based in London, for control of the near $10bn chemicals empire.

Mr Gorbachev claims that Mr Guryev, a judo master who reportedly owns a penthouse apartment in Vauxhall near MI6, unlawfully seized his 25pc stake in the Moscow-based business.

He has accused Mr Guryev, who remains the largest shareholder of PhosAgro, of breaking a previous deal reached during a series of meetings in 2005 at locations including a London pub and a sauna.

Mr Gorbachev will argue that his stake in the company would now be worth £1bn during a six-week trial at the High Court starting in April.

Mr Guryev, who is also subject to US sanctions, is based in Russia but has proposed to travel to Dubai to give evidence.

The UAE has not imposed sanctions on Russian nationals since the invasion of Ukraine and the country has become a popular base for many oligarchs as a result.

Both Mr Guryev and Mr Gorbachev have requested that the trial judge in the PhosAgro case, Mr Justice Pelling KC, appear in the Dubai International Financial Centre as a special examiner to hear evidence from Mr Guryev.

They have argued that Mr Guryev is unable to appear in the High Court in person because of sanctions.

Mr Justice Pelling KC noted that requiring a judge to travel overseas for evidence is typically costly, disruptive and can inconveniently extend the length of the trial.

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

However, he found that major language barriers would require interpreters based in Russia and London to translate evidence given by Mr Gorbachev if done remotely.

The judge also noted that travelling to Dubai would ensure a “level playing field” given the lawsuit hinges on oral evidence, rather than a dispute over documents.

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

Lawyers for Mr Gorbachev supported the application over concerns that cross-examination of Mr Guryev and his son, who is appearing as a witness, would be “blunted” unless conducted face to face.

Mr Guryev’s solicitors will be responsible for shouldering the costs of the judge’s flights and accommodation.

Neil Micklethwaite, Mr Guryev’s lawyer, said: “The client is very grateful to the English Court for being willing to travel to Dubai for part of the trial.”

Lawyers for Mr Gorbachev were contacted for comment.