Roman Abramovich takes early lead in High Court battle over claims he bought Chelsea under orders of Vladimir Putin

Roman Abramovich has claimed victory in the first stage of his High Court battle with HarperCollins over a book which said he bought Chelsea under orders of Vladimir Putin.

The Russian is suing the publishing giant over "defamatory" allegations in "Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and then Turned on the West."

Catherine Belton quotes exiled oligarch Sergei Pugachev – once dubbed "Putin’s Banker" – as the source, but Abramovich insists the claims are false.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Abramovich said Mrs Justice Tipples had ruled that his case against HarperCollins Publishers can proceed.

"We welcome today’s judgment which rules that the book “Putin’s People” indeed makes several defamatory allegations about Mr Abramovich, including false allegations about the nature of the purchase of Chelsea Football Club," a spokesperson for Mr Abramovich told the Telegraph. 

"We are pleased that the judgment has found that the book carries a total of 9 defamatory allegations against Mr Abramovich, in line with the arguments in Mr Abramovich’s initial claim. Today’s judgment also rules that these allegations are allegations of fact and not an expression of opinion, as argued by the defendants."

Abramovich, 54, launched a defamation case against HarperCollins and former FT Moscow correspondent Belton last year over claims he bought the club in 2003 on the order of the Russian president.

Hugh Tomlinson, QC, for Abramovich, previously told a hearing at the High Court that the allegations are completely without foundation. "The claimant is described in the book as Putin’s cashier and the custodian of Kremlin slush funds," he told the court. "The book alleges Abramovich covertly paid Putin large sums of money, then purchased Chelsea FC at his request in order to corrupt the British elite."

Mr Tomlinson said the book repeats lazy inaccuracies about Abramovich’s role in various events and makes false and damaging statements about him.

Court documents prepared by the defendants described Pugachev as "one of the author’s significant sources". Wednesday’s judgment "further underscores the need for the false and defamatory claims about Mr Abramovich to be corrected as soon as possible", his spokesperson added.

In her ruling, the judge says the book states as fact that Chelsea was bought under orders from Putin. "The defendants maintain that the reasons why the claimant has made the fortune from his business empire available for the use of President Putin and his regime, purchased Chelsea Football Club, invested in Rosneft and moved to New York are statements of opinion," she writes. 

"I disagree. These reasons are verifiable as facts, and that is how the words would strike the ordinary reasonable reader. The statements complained of are all statements of fact."

The judge says of the book’s reference to the Chelsea purchase: "In my view, these passages would not be understood by the ordinary reasonable reader as providing sufficient reason to doubt that the claimant purchased Chelsea Football Club on President Putin’s orders. 

"First, the person close to the claimant is not an independent source and, in any event, conceded that it was likely that the claimant had spoken with President Putin before agreeing with the deal. Second, and more importantly, it is at odds with the defendants’ own case on meaning (which I agree with) which is that, as a Yeltsin-era oligarch, he had little choice but to comply with orders from the Kremlin or his wealth would in effect be forfeited to the state."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *