Four billion Russian billionaires and a giant giant in the country have sued HarperCollins in a book he published last year about the rise of Vladimir Putin.
Legal attacks on this book, Putin’s people, has appeared in several London court cases, all within weeks, including Mikhail Fridman, banking, retail and telecoms tycoon, and Roman Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea club.
The defense and data protection lawsuits call HarperCollins’ UK a hand in hand with the author of the book, Catherine Belton, a former Financial Times reporter. Putin’s people, released in April 2020, describes the rise of the Russian president and his close association with wealthy oligarchs.
The case underscores the importance of documenting the powerful oligarchs and the role of London’s lawyers in defending the interests of the world’s elite. The law firms that claim it are Carter-Ruck, CMS, Harbottle & Lewis, and Taylor Wessing.
HarperCollins described Belton’s book as “a reliable, important and careful work”. “We will be vigilant in defending this well-known book and the freedom of expression which may impress people,” he added. Belton had no comment.
Abramovich, who filed the first lawsuit, by March said “what he did was not done lightly” and that the book contained “lies and slander” about him. Court documents show Abramovich’s case contradicts Putin’s demand for Chelsea in 2003 and other charges. Abramovich’s spokesman did not comment further.
The report states that Sergei Pugachev, a former Russian prisoner of war, a former member of Putin’s party, fled the country and became an opposition leader. In a 2017 case, a Supreme Court judge ruled that Pugachev was an unreliable witness.
Among those who said they had not done so were Fridman, Peter Aven, a longtime businessman of Russia, Shalva Chigirinsky, and Rosneft, an oil producer in the Kremlin. Aven has brought what he wants according to the data protection law. Court documents in these cases do not exist.
The lawsuit was filed in March and April, at the end of a year of legal action in the UK over fraud.
“We can confirm that Mr Aven or Mr Fridman was unaware of any of the cases you mentioned,” Fridman’s spokesman said in a statement. “They did not communicate with them, nor did they agree with their views, grievances or their lawyers.
“Aven and Fridman’s cases were filed within a time of crisis and after the activists (HarperCollins) refused to discuss a number of options with the prosecutors who supported Aven and Fridman,” the spokesman said.
Rosneft did not respond to a request for comment. Mr Girinsky could not be immediately reached for comment.
Jessica Ní Mhainín of the Index on Censorship, a group that promotes free speech, said London courts are setting up a platform to “end oppressive journalism, not only in the UK, but around the world”.
He also said that the UK is keeping international companies that benefit from such cases from journalists, and called for change.