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Forbes Wins Key Ruling in Saudi Prince Libel Suit

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

Forbes has won a key ruling in the UK libel suit filed against the magazine by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a member of the Saudi royal family, the magazine’s website reported.

The suit revolved around Forbes’ 2013 Billionaires list. The Prince rejected the accusation by the magazine of manipulating his company’s share price to inflate his net worth in order to raise his ranking on the Forbes list.

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The Court rejected the prince’s claim, finding that the articles simply offered information backing the magazine’s suspicion that the prince had sought to mislead readers of the billionaire list by inflating Kingdom Holding’s share price, and consequently his own net worth, by billions of dollars.

The court also dismissed the standings of Kingdom Holding, the Prince’s company, as a plaintiff in the case.

The ruling is a major setback for bin Talal, according to Forbes, in a defamation case that has already cost him over $2 million.

Forbes has not wavered from it position supporting the articles about the prince and plans to continue defending the libel suit vigorously.

Kai Falkenberg, Forbes’ legal advisor, noted a passage in the ruling that’s likely to have significance beyond this case, in clarifying an age old doctrine in libel law known as the repetition rule. Under that rule, Falkenberg explained, publishers are liable for repeating a defamatory allegation made by another party, suggesting that republication by the media lends credibility to the original statement.

Libel lawyers have questioned the viability of the rule, Falkenberg wrote, in light of the staggering accumulation of media republication of rumors and unverified accusations online (in which we are engaged as we speak).

The Court notes that the main Forbes article included claims by Alwaleed’s former executives that he was using his public company to inflate his net worth. And since Justice Tugendhat did not apply the repetition rule to the republication of those claims, since he believes Forbes used them as a basis for its investigation, as detailed in the article.

As Justice Tugendhat explained: “The allegations are repeated in the article for the purpose of raising a question which the following passages in the article purport to examine. And in my judgment the examination is to be understood to be a genuine one with a view to arriving at the truth, and not an extended repetition of the allegations of the informants.”

Prince Alwaleed decided to sue Forbes in London, rather than the U.S.—where the magazine is based—because its libel law is a lot more plaintiff friendly. In the U.S., see, we a thing called Freedom of the Press.



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