The Royal Court of London has upheld most of the claims of Russian businessman Roman Abramovich against the author and publisher of the book “Putin’s People. How the KGB Got Russia Back and Offensive in the West” by Catherine Belton. Rosneft also filed a similar lawsuit, but the plaintiffs were less fortunate.
The decision of the Royal Court of London was published on Wednesday. It says that the court considers substantiated most of Roman Abramovich’s complaints against Belton’s book, but most of Rosneft’s claims were considered unfounded. Both Abramovich and Rosneft believe that the book contains information that tarnishes their business reputation.
The author of the book is a former Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times Catherine Belton. She lived in Russia for 16 years.
The book “Putin’s People” has provoked a series of lawsuits from businessmen to the author and publisher. Apart from Roman Abramovich and Rosneft, who accused the author of publishing information that tarnished their reputation, Alfa Bank co-founders Mikhail Friedman and Peter Aven filed lawsuits, but a pre-trial agreement was reached with them.
Apparently, the lawsuits of Abramovich and Rosneft are pending.
Roman Abramovich’s lawsuit reached the court in March this year. The businessman was outraged by the description of his relationship with the Russian president.
In “People of Putin”, Abramovich is portrayed as the “cashier” of Putin, and before that – the Yeltsin family. Belton claims that Abramovich is just “looking” for his capital, and in fact Vladimir Putin can dispose of it at any time at his discretion. Belton calls the money Putin’s “secret fund,” or obschak.
In addition, Belton, in the court’s view, accuses Abramovich of acting in the interests of the Russian president by “pretending to be an independent businessman.” In particular, Belton writes that Abramovich actually put his $ 13 billion profit from the sale of Sibneft to Gazprom in 2005 as part of the consolidation of Russia’s energy assets in the hands of the state.
The famous purchase of Chelsea, Belton said, was also made by Putin’s decree in order to influence FIFA and, as the case file says, “corrupt and manipulate the British elite.”
Finally, Belton claims, Abramovich moved to New York on Putin’s instructions to establish ties with President Trump’s family, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Separately in the case there is a payment of $ 203 million, which Abramovich made to the company “Petromed” through his fund “Pole of Hope” in 2005. Belton claims that the money did not go to buy medical equipment, but again to Putin’s “secret fund” offshore.
Belton’s book also says that Abramovich “helped the Kremlin harm its enemies by using the British judiciary.” We are talking about his lawsuit with the late Boris Berezovsky. Belton believes that Abramovich coordinated his actions in court with Moscow.
Abramovich’s lawyers consider this information unacceptable, claiming that it casts a shadow over Abramovich’s reputation as an honest businessman. In order to expose him as a central figure in the case of political corruption, Belton does not have enough testimony from sources. Thus, all assumptions about Abramovich’s role remain assumptions, his lawyers point out. This does not justify the tone of the book and the semi-criminal vocabulary used by the author, they believe.
One of the central themes of the lawsuit was the relationship between Putin and Abramovich and the question of whether the oligarch voluntarily participated in “corruption schemes.” The judge considered that in the context of the defamation case the important question was whether Abramovich could refuse to cooperate with Putin and his people.
Such a confrontation within the case is unleashed around each of the significant episodes of Abramovich’s biography. However, the judge concluded that almost all of his lawyers’ arguments were substantiated, and passages concerning Putin’s control over the oligarch, Abramovich’s payment to Petromed, Berezovsky’s trial, and corruption with the Yeltsin family could tarnish his business reputation.
The judge did not accept only one point – that the information about the purchase of the club “Chelsea” in order to promote Russia’s political interests in Britain could tarnish the dignity of the businessman.
The process is still ahead, but so far the parties are reacting to today’s decision. Abramovich’s lawyers expressed satisfaction with today’s court decision. HarperCollins said it was studying the solution closely.
It should be noted that Judge Amanda Tipples’ task was not to establish whether Abramovich was really Putin’s “cashier” and whether Severnaya Neft was really sold by the price is twice as high as the market price for the sake of “kickback”. She only decided what impression the text made on the average reader and whether it led him to any conclusions.
The lawsuit of the Russian company “Rosneft” was filed in court in July this year. Representatives of the company told on the second day of the preliminary trial what exactly Rosneft was outraged about this summer.
Igor Sechin’s lawyers consider the following episodes from Belton’s book to tarnish their reputation:
- Purchase of Severnaya Neft at a price that analysts called inflated. Belton claims that half of the proceeds from the sale of the company went to “rollback” to the security forces.
- Purchase of Yukos by Rosneft. The book describes Rosneft’s process of consolidating oil assets as a scheme of organized robbery, Rosneft’s lawyers say.
- IPO of Rosneft on the London Stock Exchange. Belton claims that Roman Abramovich and a number of other businessmen bought shares in the Russian company after their first placement by decree of the Kremlin, which really wanted the IPO to be successful. Her interlocutors in the book call this placement “an exercise in extortion.”
- Rosneft’s offer to finance the Italian right-wing League of the North. Journalists wrote that the party’s sponsorship from Russia through a scheme involving Rosneft was allegedly being discussed. Rosneft has already stated that this is not true.
However, the court accepted only the first complaint concerning Northern Oil. The judge said that the book described only the author’s suspicions that 300 million from the “rollback” from the sale were taken away by “Putin’s people.” According to Judge Tipples, such a description could cast a shadow over Rosneft today. Therefore, the lawyers representing the company will be given a chance to prove their allegations of defamation in court.
The court did not consider the other passages defamatory. In the case of the League of the North, there is no question of negotiations in which Rosneft as a company would be one of the parties, in the episode with the collapse of Yukos and the takeover of the Yugansk refinery, Rosneft is not accused of participating in any illegal schemes.
In the story about Rosneft’s IPO, criticism is not directed against the company itself, but rather against the Kremlin and the FSB, the court said.