Sergei Pugachev
Former Russian senator Sergei Pugachev pictured in September 2015 Reuters

The oligarch Sergei Pugachev, once dubbed "Putin's banker" because of his close ties to the Russian president, is facing two years' jail for contempt of court after a UK judge found him guilty on Monday (8 February) of breaching a dozen court orders.

The 53-year-old is in a bitter battle with the Kremlin, accused of owing hundreds of millions of pounds to the liquidator of his bank Mezhprombank, which went bust in the global financial crisis.

Russia's state deposit agency alleges Pugachev siphoned taxpayers' money from the bank to a private account and was "vicariously liable" for its subsequent collapse. He is subject to a $2bn (£1.39bn) worldwide asset freeze.

Judge Vivien Rose said Pugachev was guilty of deliberately giving false evidence to the court. He had also failed to hand over his French passport or other travel documents while the case was being investigated, which allowed him to flee the UK. He was not present when the verdict was read out and a warrant has been issued for his arrest, Bloomberg reports.

But Pugachev claims Russia stripped him of his investments after he fell out with the Kremlin. Before the court ruling, from his home near Nice, in the south of France, Pugachev told IBTimes UK via Skype, that the charges were "politically motivated" and that he had faith in British justice.

He said: "I think that the freezing order in London is just a PR move, nothing more. I believe in the justice of the British court and I believe the consequences will not be significant."

He told IBTimes UK that the deterioration of his relationship with Putin lay behind Russia's pursuit of him in the courts.

Alexandra Tolstoy
Writer Alexandra Tolstoy, descendant of Leo Tolstoy, is the partner of Sergei Pugachev Getty

"I had a very close relationship with Putin which lasted for a long time. But close relations do not necessarily mean you think the same. We did not have the same points of view.

"We were in close communication with each other. It was an informal relationship, I didn't feel inferior to him. Our relations were close, but I was critical, strong and free. I didn't cherish our relationship more than my freedom and my feelings and opinions.

"I think that was one of the main reasons why Putin no longer needed my advice, meetings and conversations and so on, because 99% of those surrounding him agreed with everything he said."

Criticism of Putin

His partner, the broadcaster and writer Alexandra Tolstoy, with whom he has three children, is a distant relative of the War and Peace author Leo Tolstoy.

In 2002, he became a Russian senator, representing the southern Siberian region of Tuva. He spent 10 years at the top of Russian politics as a senator and business leader.

Prior to Monday's ruling, he had delivered a damning verdict on the current state of Russia and its president.

I had a very close relationship with Putin which lasted for a long time. But close relations do not mean you think the same

"First of all, Putin has never concerned himself with the economy, he is not an economist and he is not a strategist. Of course over the last decade nothing has been built. There has been no infrastructure, there is of course no free media, everything has gone backwards. Today's situation in Russia is totally corrupt. Russia has African levels of corruption," he said.

However, his committal could prompt a lengthy extradition battle, especially as he has moved to France where he has citizenship after he said his life had been threatened in the UK.

The judge found Pugachev guilty of breaching 12 of 17 court orders. He was cleared of breaching the remaining five, including removing the yacht Victoria from the jurisdiction, Bloomberg reported.

Another hearing is fixed for Thursday (11 February) when the judge will decide on his contempt. The liquidator is seeking the maximum two years in prison.