Roman Abramovich wins first round in defamation case against Putin’s book People allegations
Oman Abramovich welcomed a first-round decision in a defamation complaint over allegations he bought Chelsea FC on orders from Vladimir Putin in a plot to gain influence in West.
The 55-year-old billionaire is suing journalist Catherine Belton over her bestselling book Putin’s People: How The KGB Took Back Russia And Then Took On The West, which was published by HarperCollins last April.
Ms Belton, a former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, said Mr Abramovich was ‘acting under the direction of the Kremlin’ when he bought the Premier League club for £ 150million in 2003.
His lawyer Hugh Tomlinson QC told the High Court in July that readers of the book would conclude that Mr Abramovich “had been used as the acceptable face of a corrupt and dangerous regime” and had a corrupt relationship with President Putin, acting as his “cashier”. ”.
Today’s judgment further emphasizes the need to correct the false and defamatory allegations against Mr Abramovich as soon as possible
However, Andrew Caldecott QC, representing Ms Belton and HarperCollins, pointed out that the reference to Mr Abramovich as cashier was “in quotation marks, suggesting that this is someone else’s observation.”
Mr Caldecott also told the court that the book “records a firm denial from a ‘person close to Abramovich'” that he bought Chelsea on Mr Putin’s orders.
Madam Justice Tipples was asked to determine the “natural and ordinary” meaning of the allegations concerning Mr. Abramovich.
In a ruling on Wednesday, she found readers of the book would understand that Mr Abramovich was “under the control of President Vladimir Putin and, on instructions from President Putin and the Kremlin, he had to make his fortune with his business empire.” available to President Putin and his regime.
“The applicant had no choice but to comply with these instructions because, had he not done so, he would have lost his wealth to the benefit of the Russian state and could have been exiled or imprisoned. . “
Ms Justice Tipples also said that an ordinary reader would understand that the book alleges that “the plaintiff purchased the Chelsea Football Club in 2003 under the leadership of President Putin so that Russia could gain acceptance and influence in the UK. United”.
The judge added that the chapter on Mr Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea FC is “a striking part of the book, which will impress the reader”.
She also decided that a reader would understand that the billionaire had moved to New York at the behest of President Putin to influence the family of former US President Donald Trump on behalf of Russia.
The judge found that nine of the allegations that a normal reader would take out of the book were libelous against Mr. Abramovich.
Madam Justice Tipples also ruled that the allegations in the book are presented as statements of fact, rather than expressions of opinion as argued by HarperCollins and Ms. Belton.
Following the judgment, Mr Abramovich’s spokesperson said: “We welcome today’s judgment which rules that the book ‘Putin’s People’ indeed makes several defamatory allegations about Mr Abramovich, including false allegations about the nature of the Chelsea Football Club purchase.
“We are pleased that the judgment concluded that the book contains a total of nine defamatory allegations against Mr. Abramovich, in line with the arguments in Mr. Abramovich’s original claim.”
The spokesperson continued, “Today’s judgment further underscores the need to correct the false and defamatory allegations against Mr. Abramovich as soon as possible.”
HarperCollins and Ms Belton are also being sued for libel by Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft for the book.
However, in a second judgment handed down on Wednesday by Madam Justice Tipples, she ruled that three of the four allegations the energy company had complained about were not defamatory.
A spokesperson for the publishing house said: “HarperCollins is carefully examining Justice Tipples’ judgment on meaningful hearing this morning on Catherine Belton’s book Poutine’s People, an acclaimed work of considerable public interest. .
“We are delighted that the judge found that three of the four passages denounced by the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft do not have any defamatory meaning towards the company and will therefore not be prosecuted, and that several serious meanings in Mr. Abramovich’s claim were also denied.