The Mystery of A v B Uncovers a London Fight Club for the Rich

(Bloomberg) -- On a sunny Friday morning in central London, journalists were looking for A v B, a case scheduled for London’s commercial court.

Finding the lawsuit could lead to illuminating details about a fascinating case of sanctions, alleged corruption and mines producing a metal used in Tesla Inc. batteries.

Unfortunately, A v B is the way the courts help keep litigation private, in cases where there are links to arbitration or the danger of leaks of commercial secrets. And on Friday, A v B was listed six times at London’s bland Rolls Building, tucked behind the more ornate Royal Courts of Justice. In recent days, the commercial court has hosted tussles involving Russian oligarchs, a commodities tycoon, an Israeli billionaire and the son of Angola’s president.

It was a handy reminder -- if one was needed -- that London’s revered courts are the jousting grounds where the finest lawyers defend the affairs of the mega-rich. Poignantly, none of what they were fighting over even touched on the U.K. 

What reporters didn’t find is what they’d been looking for: the legal show-down between commodity trader Glencore Plc and its former partner, Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler.

$3 Billion

Glencore and Gertler were joint owners of copper and cobalt mines in Democratic Republic of Congo, where Gertler is friendly with President Joseph Kabila. In 2016, American prosecutors alleged that Gertler had bribed the president, something both deny, and last year, Gertler was hit with U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. action meant Glencore was unable to pay the Israeli the funds he was due. He sued for $3 billion of past and, mostly, future payments, and won a Congolese freezing order on some of Glencore’s assets. That put a key mine in jeopardy and Glencore went to London court to oppose the order.

So the London reporters scrambled to Court 25 on the third floor. After some inquiries led to no clear answers, the room seemed the best bet -- more than a dozen suited lawyers crammed into a small chamber with onlookers in the back.

Other Cases

But it was the wrong hearing. Instead, it turned out to be a case brought by oil-rich Angola, which is trying to recover funds from Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the debonair son of the former president and the manager of the nation’s sovereign wealth fund until January. Angola accuses him of a $500 million fraud, which he denies.

On Monday, it’s the turn of another sanctions target to make use of London’s courts: Oleg Deripaska, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is trying to stop compatriot Roman Abramovich from selling shares in a joint nickel company to a rival, who happens to be another friend of Putin’s. That case, however, isn’t hidden behind a set of initials.
Glencore’s case against Gertler never went ahead on Friday, with both sides trying to see if they can sort things out between themselves.

Sometimes a London court might not be the best option after all.

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