Putin’s People’s Journalist and Editor Settles Roman Abramovich’s Defamation Claim

Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich has settled his libel claim against the journalist and publisher behind the book Putin’s People.

The 55-year-old billionaire sued former FT Moscow correspondent Catherine Belton and HarperCollins over allegations made in the 2020 book, including that he was “acting under the direction of the Kremlin” when he bought Chelsea for 150 million pounds sterling in 2003.

Abramovich (photo) received an apology and the promise that several points of contention in the book will be changed. HarperCollins also agreed to donate to charity in lieu of damages.

High Court Judge Madam Justice Tipples last month ruled that nine statements in the book were libelous against Abramovich, including that readers would understand he was “under the control of President Vladimir. Putin and, on the instructions of President Putin and the Kremlin, he had to put the fortune of his business empire at the disposal of President Putin and his regime ”.

Madam Justice Tipples also said that an ordinary reader would understand that the book alleges that “the plaintiff bought the Chelsea Football Club in 2003 under the leadership of President Putin so that Russia could gain acceptance and influence in the UK” .

HarperCollins said Wednesday it settled the dispute with Abramovich over “certain passages” from the first edition of Putin’s People that contained “inaccurate information” about him. He has now changed the text “to record the position more accurately”.

The publisher said the new edition would include a more detailed explanation of Mr Abramovich’s motivations for buying Chelsea, although he noted the book still contained a disclaimer that he was acting under anyone’s direction.

It was also made clear in the book that there was no evidence relating to the purchase of the football club beyond what three people told Belton.

The publisher also said: “The statements in the book that Boris Berezovsky had in fact owned [Abramovich’s former oil company] Sibneft have been corrected to make it clear that while this view is widely held in Russia, it was ruled false by a UK High Court following an extensive trial in 2012, which (like the book always noted) concluded that Berezovsky was an “inherently unreliable witness”. In recognition of this error, HarperCollins agreed to make a payment to charity.

“The book has also been edited to clarify that Berezovsky was the public source of rumors regarding the sharing of the proceeds from the sale of Sibneft and that this is not an established fact.

“HarperCollins and the author apologize that these aspects of the book were not as clear as they would have liked and are happy to have now clarified the text.”

Abramovich’s spokesperson said in a statement to PA: “We are pleased that HarperCollins and the author have apologized to Mr. Abramovich and edited the book, removing several false claims about him. These statements lacked evidence and were in fact false.

“This follows the decision of the High Court of England that the book did contain several defamatory allegations against Mr Abramovich. In total, changes resulting in the deletion or addition of more than 1,700 words were approved.

As Mr Abramovich said when issuing his request earlier this year, his sole purpose was to refute the false claims published regarding his name and have them corrected, including the false claims made about the nature the purchase and activities of the Chelsea Football Club.

“Contrary to the events recounted in the book, Mr. Abramovich’s ambition with Chelsea Football Club has always been clear and transparent: to create world-class teams on the pitch and to ensure that the club plays a positive role in all its communities.

“The successes and activities of the club over the years speak for themselves, including the trophies won, the expansion of the Chelsea academy, the development of the women’s team and the Chelsea Foundation becoming the largest ever. Premier League charity.

“We are delighted that today’s changes and the resulting apologies respond to the false claims made on this matter and look forward to further developing Chelsea’s many positive initiatives in the UK, including our anti-cancer programs. anti-Semitism and racism.

“HarperCollins should be, and now has been, held to reasonable publishing standards and be financially resourced to withstand a well-founded legal action seeking to correct the case.

“As the objectives of this legal action were never punitive, we did not ask for any compensation. We did, however, ask HarperCollins to donate in lieu of damages to charity, which they agreed to.

Belton said in a statement: “This past year has looked like a war of attrition in which HarperCollins and I have been bombarded from all sides by lawsuits from four Russian billionaires and Kremlin oil champion Rosneft. Although the claimants denied it was coordinated, it struck me as similar to the Kremlin’s multi-pronged campaign against Ukraine in which it sought to exhaust the West from making security concessions on the expansion. of NATO. Fortunately, the fate of my book does not involve the lives of tens of millions of people.

“So we were happy today to come to a settlement on the only remaining trial by making some more changes to Putin’s people. We basically agreed to add to comments already made by spokesman Roman Abramovich, correct an error involving Mr. Abramovich’s ownership of Sibneft and make the report clearer on the much contested motives behind the purchase of Chelsea by Mr. factual statement. ”

Belton added, “Throughout, HarperCollins has been a strong champion of the book. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more courageous publisher, more committed to public service journalism.

A group of 19 press freedom organizations and journalists had expressed serious concerns about the case, claiming it was a “strategic trial against public participation” (SLAPP), a type of legal action used by wealthy and powerful entities to silence journalists and other public watchdogs.

Groups, including Article 19, the National Union of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and Index on Censorship, said: “SLAPPs are used to drain as much time, money and energy as possible from their targets in order to silence. ”

Image: Reuters / Dylan Martinez / Livepic

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