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25.02.2011

Firtash libel suit against Kyiv Post thrown out by London court

   

Kyiv Post reports that on 24 February a judge in London dismissed the libel claim lodged by Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash, saying that its link to English jurisdiction was “tenuous in the extreme.” Observers of the two-hour hearing in the High Court in London said the judge also called the Firtash lawsuit against the Kyiv Post “almost an abuse of process.”

The article in dispute was a July 2 Kyiv Post front-page news story that reported accusations of corruption and conflict of interest in the highly lucrative yet frequently non-transparent Ukrainian gas trade.

Judge Leslie also ordered Firtash to pay the legal costs incurred by Public Media and the three other defendants in the case, including Kyiv Post owner Mohammad Zahoor, Kyiv Post Chief Editor Brian Bonner and ex-Kyiv Post staff writer John Marone, who authored the article in dispute.  

The said article had apparently only been downloaded in the UK 21 times. Firtash had claimed that the story damaged his reputation in the UK, where he has given to money to a Ukrainian studies program at Cambridge University and engaged in other activities. Firtash is a co-owner of RosUkrEnergo, a highly controversial and major gas intermediary between Russia and Ukraine.
Kyiv Post quotes Viktoria Siumar, Head of the Institute for Mass Information, who praised the UK court’s decision:

“I think the reason Firtash sued your newspaper in the first place is because he saw an easy, quick way to use the loopy British libel law to clean his reputation, " Siumar said. “Billionaire Rinat Akhmetov's successful 2008 lawsuit against the website Obozrevatel, which didn't even defend itself, set a bad example." Akhmetov won a default judgment in that case. Like Firtash in his lawsuit against the Kyiv Post, Akhmetov has said he was merely trying to defend his reputation, not silence free speech.
Siumar said the dismissal could set a better precedent for Ukrainian media to defend their interests more vigorously. "I think the decision will help Ukrainian media because Ukrainian media will study the case to learn how to successfully defend themselves if accused of libel, " she said

This is probably also an important victory for those in the UK who have been extremely critical of the UK’s very liberal libel laws and the ease with which they are used by rich foreigners in cases with dubious connection to the UK. The report can be read in full here:

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