by WorldTribune Staff, December 18, 2017
Three of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs have filed a libel lawsuit against Fusion GPS, claiming they were defamed by Fusion’s Trump dossier written by ex-British spy Christopher Steele.
The lawsuit filed by Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan, the three primary investors in Russia’s Alfa Bank, describes the three billionaires as international businessmen who became “collateral damage” in Fusion’s effort to take down the Trump campaign, Rowan Scarborough noted in a Dec. 17 report for The Washington Times.
“This is a defamation case brought by three international businessmen who were defamed in widely disseminated political research reports commissioned by political opponents of candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election cycle,” says a Dec. 12 filing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“The reports are gravely damaging in that, directly or by implication, they falsely accuse the plaintiffs – and Alfa, a consortium in which the plaintiffs are investors – of criminal conduct and alleged cooperation with ‘Kremlin’ to influence the 2016 presidential election,” says the complaint by the New York law firm Carter Ledyard & Milburn.
The dossier portrayed Fridman, Aven and Khan as corrupt bankers linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Fusion responded to the lawsuit by claiming the three Russian billionaires are public figures under U.S. law.
“Unlike private citizens, public figures face a high bar in libel lawsuits. In this case, the Russian businessmen, if deemed public figures, must prove that Fusion spread the dossier charges with malice – meaning the opposition research firm knew its accusations were untrue or showed reckless disregard for the truth,” Scarborough wrote.
On that basis, lawyers from Zuckerman Spaeder asked U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon to dismiss the lawsuit.
“Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan are three of the most prominent oligarchs in Russian history,” Fusion’s lawyers said in a court memo. “With their incredible wealth and political power, each has had a pronounced influence on the economic and political affairs of Russia. … Any search returns an avalanche of articles about their business endeavors, their wealth, their political and economic power, their close relationship with the Kremlin and their misconduct.”
Alfa bank lost a libel lawsuit in the 2000s on the same grounds. It had sued the Center for Public Integrity for an article that linked Alfa to organized crime. In 2005, a judge dismissed the case, saying that while the story was flawed, the center did not show malice in its reporting.
In the dossier, Steele wrote that Alfa Bank paid “illicit cash” directly from Fridman and Aven to Putin via Oleg Govorun, now a senior Kremlin figure, “throughout the 1990s.”
The Russians’ lawsuit says the dossier’s assertions “falsely accuse” the three and Alfa “of criminal conduct and alleged cooperation with the ‘Kremlin’ to influence the 2016 presidential election.” It says Fusion recklessly spread the charges to journalists.