Faced with the English press, oligarchs draw up arms of defamation lawsuit

Catherine Belton spent seven years investigating Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. The book by this former “Financial Times” correspondent in Moscow, published in 2020, is considered one of the most thorough and careful investigations into Russian money irrigating the Western economy.

Less than a year later, he is the target of a series of complaints from Russian billionaires, including Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, who are now on the European sanctions list. “The number of complaints was unprecedented,” she told parliament’s foreign affairs committee last week. There were five lawsuits going on at the same time from the world’s richest men, and I didn’t know if we should pull the book. ,

1.5 million pound invoice

Some complaints were dropped in exchange for the removal of certain excerpts, others were the subject of a settlement. But the whole thing cost the publishing house HarperCollins £1.5 million. According to the author the bill could have increased to £5 million. “These cases are too expensive to defend. The dice are set in favor of the parties with deep pockets from the start,” explained Katherine Belton.

Journalists in the United Kingdom are exposed when trying to unearth money from “Londongrad”: the monster trial, which aims to deter people whose publishers are not strong enough to take financial risks.

In legal jargon, these procedures have a name – “strategic lawsuits against public partnerships” or “SLAPP”. The term qualifies legal actions considered abusive for the purpose of discouraging public criticism. “SLAPPs’ can be defined as abuses of legal process whose primary purpose is to harass, intimidate, financially and psychologically exhaust one’s opponent by unfair means”, indicates the Ministry of Justice in a consultation document. Is.

pressure on journalists

Tom Burgis, author of a book on kleptocracy in the world, testifies before Parliament. Pressure to obtain their sources or allegations of corruption before the courts… A letter from an elite law firm accusing them of deliberately conducting a meeting with a source, thereby avoiding any blockage of communication Turned out to be possible, it was a sign that he was probably tapped.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 14 cases of “SLAPPs” in 2021. Expression and Information,” the document continues.

British Justice Minister Dominic Raab has promised to change the defamation laws, which are the source of many controversies in the United Kingdom. Consultations on the subject are open until 19 May. It also aims to “disclose information on matters that have not been made public”. Katherine Belton believes her case is “only the tip of the iceberg”. “Some journalists have long been censoring themselves, especially when it comes to the activities of Russian oligarchs,” she says.

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