AEJ condemns legal actions by Roman Abramovich and Rosneft

The AEJ joined 18 other media freedom groups to condemn lawsuits against journalist and author Catherine Belton and her publisher HarperCollins.

Russian businessman and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich and the Russian state energy company Rosneft claimed defamation in Belton’s book Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West published in 2020. Abramovich’s complaint relates to 26 extracts in the book, including a suggestion that his purchase of Chelsea Football Club in 2003 was directed by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Rosneft’s complaint relates to claims that they participated in the expropriation of Yukos Oil Company, which had been privately owned by businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

A UK High Court judge ruled on November 24 2021 that the allegations in the book are defamatory but emphasised that the court was only, at this stage, adjudicating on meaning, not deciding whether the allegations made about Abramovich or anyone else were true.

The joint statement from the AEJ and other organizations said the lawsuits against Belton, a former FT Moscow correspondent now special correspondent with Reuters, and HarperCollins amounted to “strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs)”, a form of legal harassment used by wealthy and powerful entities to silence journalists and other public watchdogs.

AEJ and Article 19 statement
Abramovich wins ruling – UK Press Gazette
Abramovich wins first round – The Guardian