Rinat Akhmetov goes for media criticizing his failure to counter separatists
The US lawyers for Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest oligarch, are demanding that Ukrainian and Azerbaijani media remove material about the billionaire. The law firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP have, for example, approached the provider for TV channel Еспресо.TV demanding that an article entitled “Why Akhmetov won’t stop Donetsk separatism” be removed.
The article was a reprint of a facebook posting by journalist Serhiy Vysotsky who considers Akhmetov’s position regarding the situation in Ukraine to be akin to “treason” since the latter is not carrying out any policy aimed at stabilizing the situation or fighting separatism in the Donbass region. “There is another possibility. Akhmetov may himself be provoking the conflict in order to be able to do a deal with Kyiv”
The lawyers assert that Akhmetov is linked in the article to a criminal gang which is detrimental to his reputation. They demand removal of the article and that nothing similar reoccurs.
Espresso.tv is angered firstly that the lawyers approached the provider, not the channel. It comments that it has no idea how the provider could force it to remove the material, which it quotes in full. Given the reaction by Ukraine’s richest man who was until recently closely associated with Viktor Yanukovych, a summary of the text which has riled him seems in order.
Vysotsky comments that after another oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky became governor of the Dnipropetrovsk oblast, “all, shall we say, issues of dispute in the region were resolved within two days”. The author then goes on to suggest openly enough that the process in Dnipropetrovsk may have resulted in casualties buried in some forest or another.
He then points out that in Donetsk the problems are only growing, with three people already killed, he alleges, by Russian “tourists”, i.e. people brought into Eastern Ukraine to take part in separatist activities.
In the meantime, Akhmetov continues making bland statements about Ukrainian unity. This is despite the fact that Akhmetov has at least the same level of possibilities as Kolomoisky, possibly more.
It is presumably the following that has elicited the reaction from Akhmetov’s lawyers:
“Rinat is the absolute boss for the oblast, he controls the border, has key influence on the local enforcement bodies, a wide network of his own members of criminal gangs and could easily put a stop to this whole nightmare. But he doesn’t.”
The author asserts that this was the same situation with Maidan – fine-sounding statements (about the inadmissibility of violence against protesters - HC) against a background of total inaction. There is, however, a difference. If Maidan could to some degree have been seen as anti-Akhmetov, failure to react at the present time is akin to treason, the author asserts.
Espresso.tv acknowledge that the quote above alleging criminal ties should have been removed. They apologize and offer to allow Akhmetov or his media to present their point of view on the channel as to what is happening in the Donetsk oblast.
They do, however, point out that the article was published on March 14 immediately after people were killed in Donetsk and after Kolomoisky called on Akhmetov to head the Donetsk regional administration and take personal responsibility for what was happening in the oblast (see, for example, Donetsk front in Putin’s dirty war)
Espresso.tv does not have the money to fight Akhmetov in a London court, and has no idea how events will develop. There are grounds for concern since the same format seems to have been followed against the Azerbaijani website haqqin.az.
In both cases the providers have been approached, not the media itself, with a foreign law firm simply demanding that the material be removed and that such material does not appear again. LB.ua reports that the material was taken up by a number of publications including Kyiv Post, Newsweek Polska, Le Figaro and others. Akhmetov’s lawyers apparently claim that after similar approaches to those media, the material was removed.
Since the lawyers have bypassed the channel although the latter is willing to give Akhmetov a chance to air his point of view, it seems likely that these measures are an unorthodox method of silencing criticism, rather than a prelude to seeking legal redress for defamation.