A High Court judge in London ruled that Russian native billionaire Roman Abramovich did not acquire the Chelsea FC on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was alleged that he did so as part of a ploy by Putin to gain influence in the West.
Last April, journalist Catherine Belton, a former correspondent for the Financial Times in Moscow, published her best-selling book, “Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia And Then Took On The West”, (HarperCollins). It alleged that Abramovitch was a soldier of Putin’s in England.
Belton claimed Abramovich “acted under Kremlin instruction” when he paid £150 million for the Premier League club in 2003.
According to the Mirror, Abromovich’s lawyer Hugh Tomlinson said that readers of the book would conclude that Abramovich “had been used as the acceptable face of a corrupt and dangerous regime” and had a corrupt relationship with President Putin, acting as his ‘cashier’.”
However, Belton’s and HarperCollins’ lawyer, Andrew Caldecott, pointed out that the reference to Abramovich being a cashier was in quotation marks, which they said implied that this was simply someone else’s perspective. Furthermore, the book “recorded a clear denial from a ‘person close to Abramovich'” that he purchased Chelsea on Putin’s orders.
In a ruling issued on Wednesday, Justice Tipples determined that readers of the book would interpret Abramovich to be “under President Vladimir Putin’s control, and on President Putin’s and the Kremlin’s orders, he has had to make the fortune from his business empire available for the use of President Putin and his regime.
“The claimant had no choice but to comply with these directives since, if he had not, he would have lost his fortune to the Russian state and could have been banished or imprisoned.”
Justice Tipples further stated that an average reader would interpret the book to say that “the claimant purchased Chelsea Football Club in 2003 at the direction of President Putin in order for Russia to achieve recognition and influence in the UK.”
The judge ruled that all nine of the meanings were defamatory to Abramovich.
She also concluded that the charges in the book are presented as declarations of fact, rather than as expressions of opinion, as HarperCollins and Belton had contended.
Abramovich’s spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the judge has found that the book carries a total of nine defamatory allegations against Mr. Abramovich, in line with the arguments in Mr. Abramovich’s initial claim. Today’s judgment further underscores the need for the false and defamatory claims about Mr. Abramovich to be corrected as soon as possible.”