The book’s claim that Abramovich bought Chelsea on Putin’s orders is defamatory, the judge ruled

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  • Book about Putin is defamatory – judge
  • Abramovich says “false” claims need to be corrected
  • Book claims Abramovich tried to court Trump
  • HarperCollins is considering the ruling

LONDON, November 24 (Reuters) – Claims in a book about President Vladimir Putin that billionaire Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club on orders from the Kremlin to spread Russian influence in Britain are defamatory, a British judge ruled Wednesday .

In the 2020 book, British journalist Catherine Belton recounts Putin’s rise to power and how many of his former Soviet espionage workers rose to prosperity and influence after winning the highest post in the Kremlin in 1999.

An attorney for Abramovich had argued in court that passages in the HarperCollins book “Putin’s People: How the KGB took Russia back and then took the West” were clearly defamatory. Abramovich is suing both HarperCollins and Belton.

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“The reader has the impression that the Kremlin used the purchase of Chelsea Football Club to gain acceptance and influence for Russia in the UK,” said judge Amanda Tipples in a ruling.

“This was accomplished in an underhanded way, using the plaintiff, who was considered the acceptable face of the Russian economy, as an excuse. That was my impression when I read the book,” said the judge. “The meanings that I have identified are all defamatory to the common law plaintiff.”

The judge decided what a sane and common reader would understand was the meaning of certain controversial passages in the book. The passages form the basis of a defamation process in which the author and editor must defend their use.

The judge said the court only ruled on the meaning of the passages – not whether the claims made in the book were true or not. The defendants have not yet been obliged to defend themselves.

The judge also ruled that a normal reader of the book would understand that Abramovich had been sent to the United States by Putin to influence the family of former US President Donald Trump on behalf of Russia.

“The common, sane reader will understand that on the instructions of President Putin, the plaintiff was sent to New York to influence Donald Trump’s family on behalf of Russia,” the judge said.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

“PUTINS PEOPLE”

“We applaud today’s verdict which states that the book ‘Putin’s People’ actually makes several defamatory allegations against Mr Abramovich, including false allegations about the nature of the Chelsea Football Club purchase,” said an Abramovich spokesman.

“Today’s judgment underscores the need to correct the false and defamatory allegations about Mr Abramovich as soon as possible,” the spokesman said.

HarperCollins said it was considering the verdict.

“HarperCollins is carefully considering the meaningfulness hearing judgment delivered this morning by Ms. Justice Tipples on the book of Putin’s People by Catherine Belton, an acclaimed work of considerable public interest,” it said.

“We are pleased that the judge has found that three of the four passages objected by Russian state oil giant Rosneft (ROSN.MM) are not defamatory to the company,” said HarperCollins.

The judge ruled that the book did not defame Rosneft by describing his struggle with YUKOS, another oil company, because the meaning of the book was that Igor Sechin, one of Putin’s top advisors and leader of a Kremlin clan of former spies, known as “silowiki” and not Rosneft is behind the attack on YUKOS.

Rosneft did not respond to requests for comment. Sechin, who is now head of Rosneft, was not available for comment.

The judge ruled that the book’s allegation that Rosneft made an overpayment of $ 300 million to acquire Severnaya Neft oil company in 2003 was defamatory.

“The meaning I have identified is defamatory to the common law plaintiff,” said the judge when she understood the book to mean that the overpayment of $ 300 million would be paid to Putin or his KGB employees.

Belton, former correspondent for the Financial Times Moscow and now special correspondent for Reuters, declined to comment.

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Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Adaptation by Giles Elgood

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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