They were business partners before their relationship soured. Now it seems that the animosity between Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, two of Russia's most famous and wealthy expatriates, has reached a new low at a very high-fashion spot -- Hermes.
British tabloid the Daily Mail reported that shoppers enjoying a spot of sunshine on London's exclusive Sloane Street were treated to a bizarre sight last weekend when archrivals Berezovsky and Abramovich staged a very public showdown inside the luxury-goods boutique.
According to the Mail, Berezovsky, 61, was shopping in the designer shop Dolce & Gabbana when he spotted Abramovich, 41, in the Hermes store, two doors away.
The Russian tycoon then ordered one of his bodyguards to bring him a $10 billion legal writ for Abramovich from his limousine parked near the store. As Berezovsky headed into the Hermes shop, legal documents in hand, reports say that Abramovich's bodyguards tried to block him from entering the shop.
As both men's bodyguards scuffled with each other, the 61-year-old tycoon barged his way past them and confronted his former protégé and one-time partner.
According to an unidentified onlooker quoted in the Mail, Berezovsky told the owner of London's famous Chelsea soccer club, "I've got a present for you. This is for you, from me."
Abramovich's reported response was to pull his hands away, letting the legal documents fall straight to the floor.
Monday, neither Hermes staffers nor those at the nearby Christian Dior boutique were willing to confirm reports of this incident.
When ABC News contacted the Hermes store, nervous employees would only say, "We can't say anything about this. We know the story you are talking about, but we cannot confirm anything."
The response was much the same at Christian Dior's Sloane Street store. The Mail reported that one of the shop's security guards said, "There seemed to be a lot of tension and confusion" between the two men.
"It wasn't clear what was going on, but people were getting very excited. Then the groups headed off in different directions," the unidentified guard told the Mail.
When ABC News contacted the company's U.K. press office, a spokeswoman said only that she "didn't think anyone at Christian Dior would comment on such an incident."
One person who was willing to talk about it was Berezovsky himself.
No stranger to press attention, the Russian millionaire is well known in Britain for his open defiance of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the past six months alone, he has claimed to be an assassination target on Putin's orders, and gave an interview to ABC News saying that he had had to flee Britain for three weeks in the summer to ensure his safety.
Monday morning, he released a statement to ABC News, confirming the weekend's events.
"I did take the opportunity Saturday to serve a writ on Mr. Abramovich," Berezovsky said, adding, "this means that the matter can now formally enter the legal system and be resolved in that way."
Berezovsky first discussed plans to sue Abramovich in July 2005.
He claimed that Abramovich had pressured him into selling his stakes in the Sibneft oil firm, Russian Aluminium (Russia's biggest aluminium maker) and the television channel ORT, at knock-down prices, after he left Russia and found political asylum in the United Kingdom.
Berezovsky said he made less than $1 billion from the sale of these assets, despite their market value being significantly higher. He claimed that Abramovich had acted on behalf of Putin.
Saturday, it seemed as if Berezovsky had gotten his wish, having handed over the legal summons to his bitter rival, now one of Britain's richest men, worth a staggering $22 billion.
But no confirmation was forthcoming from Abramovich's camp.
According to the Russian newspaper Vendomosti, Abramovich's spokesman John Mann said it was impossible for Berezovsky to have served the writ to the Russian billionaire Saturday, as Abramovich left London on Wednesday.
But when ABC News contacted John Mann, he refused to confirm the incident or comment on the matter.
The only way to verify if the legal summons was indeed served is by viewing the Hermes store's CCTV footage.
Berezovsky's lawyers are believed to have already asked the shop to hand over the footage, as proof that the tycoon has served Abramovich with a legal writ.
If the summons has been served, Abramovich "is now legally obliged to deal with the consequences," according to a legal expert interviewed by ABC News. The ensuing case will now fall under British jurisdiction.
Both men are currently based in London. Berezovsky fled to Britain in 2000 and was granted political asylum in 2003. Since buying Chelsea Soccer Club four years ago, Abramovich has spent much of his time in London, all the while holding the title of governor of Russia's remote Chukotka region, near Alaska.
Unlike his one-time mentor, Abramovich is said to maintain close ties with Putin, who is believed to have advised Abramovich in the aftermath of his divorce from his second wife, Irina.
But unlike the four-times-married Berezovsky, who cuts a colorful figure across Britain's tabloids, Abramovich is known for his reserved and more reclusive lifestyle. Since his divorce, he has been dating a 24-year-old Russian model, Daria Zhukova, and makes every effort to keep his private life under wraps.
If plans for a proposed musical about his life go ahead, however, Abramovich may well see an end to his cherished anonymity. Last month, producer Tony Cartwright shared his intention to begin work on a musical about the Russian billionaire.
Early reports say that the production will feature a character modeled on Berezovsky, who will send a solo number titled "I'm Thinkin' of Shootin' Putin."
Whether last weekend's fracas will make it into the final stage version is anyone's guess. For the time being, Berezovsky's lawyers are waiting for Hermes to release the CCTV footage to British police, so that the case against Abramovich can get under way.
Marko Zoric contributed to the reporting of this story.