Three Russian tycoons and the Rosneft oil giant have filed libel and data protection lawsuits in Britain against the publisher of journalist Catherine Belton’s acclaimed 2020 book “Putin’s People,” the Financial Times has reported.
The billionaires — Mikhail Fridman, his longtime business partner Peter Aven and real estate tycoon Shalva Chigirinsky — and Rosneft filed the flurry of suits in March and April, around the one-year deadline for libel actions in British law, FT reported Saturday.
HarperCollins defended “Putin’s People,” which centers on the rise of President Vladimir Putin and his relationship with wealthy oligarchs, as “authoritative, important and conscientiously sourced work.”
“We will robustly defend this acclaimed and groundbreaking book and the right to report on matters of considerable public interest,” FT quoted the publisher as saying.
Fridman’s spokesperson told FT that neither the banking, retail and telecoms tycoon nor Alfa Bank Group head Aven had prior knowledge of the other lawsuits and that they did not coordinate legal strategy with the other plaintiffs.
The outlet said that British free expression activists have called for reforms to London’s judicial system, which they accused of becoming the global elite’s venue of choice for lawsuits against critical journalism in the United Kingdom and worldwide.
Belton is a special correspondent for Reuters, a former Moscow correspondent for The Financial Times and has previously reported for The Moscow Times.
Billionaire Roman Abramovich previously filed a defamation lawsuit against Belton and HarperCollins over the book. Abramovich disputed the book’s claims — sourced to fugitive billionaire Sergei Pugachev, whom a British court described as an unreliable witness — that he bought the Chelsea Football Club in 2003 at Putin’s direction to raise Russia’s profile in the West.
Russian Billionaire Abramovich Sues Author Catherine Belton for Defamation
Russian billionaire and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich has launched a defamation lawsuit against author Catherine Belton over claims that he had bought the club at President Vladimir Putin’s orders.
According to Belton’s critically acclaimed 2020 book “Putin’s People,” Abramovich allegedly bought Chelsea in 2003 at Putin’s direction as part of an effort to raise Russia’s profile in Britain and the wider West.
Abramovich’s legal team said it issued legal proceedings for defamation on his behalf against Belton and publisher HarperCollins following efforts to “find an amicable resolution,” according to a statement on Chelsea’s website.
“The false allegations in this book are having a damaging effect,” Russia’s 10th-richest billionaire said.
Abramovich said the English High Court previously held the claims false in earlier legal proceedings, adding that he hopes the courts “will give me a fair hearing, as they have in the past.”
The Independent reported that a British judge ruled in 2018 that the claims, made by fugitive billionaire Sergei Pugachev in a separate legal dispute, were “self-serving” and “impossible to believe.”
Abramovich, 54, reportedly withdrew his UK visa renewal application in 2018 after British authorities delayed it due to tighter vetting of the applicants’ sources of wealth. Abramovich, whose net worth is estimated at $14.3 billion by Forbes, acquired Israeli citizenship later that year.