Abramovich settles libel claim over Putin book

·2-min read
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich sued the author and publisher HarperCollins over claims about his purchase of the football club in 2003 (AFP/Ben STANSALL)

Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich said Wednesday he had accepted an apology and rewrites after suing the author and publisher of a book about Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

Abramovich sued publisher HarperCollins and investigative journalist Catherine Belton in the High Court over passages about the Russian billionaire's acquisition of the English club and business dealings in Russia in her bestselling book "Putin's People".

Chelsea released a statement from Abramovich's spokesperson saying: "We are pleased that HarperCollins and the author have apologised to Mr Abramovich and agreed to amend the book, removing several false claims about him."

A High Court judge in November had ruled that claims in the book were defamatory against Abramovich, opening up the possibility of a full libel trial, which The Guardian reported could have cost some £10 million.

A group of oligarchs and Russian oil giant Rosneft had launched libel action, but two other oligarchs agreed to small changes, while a High Court judge ruled that only one passage concerning Rosneft was defamatory.

The libel action prompted rights groups including Reporters Without Borders to criticise the use of lawsuits to silence critical reporting.

Belton, a former Financial Times journalist in Moscow who now works for Reuters, said in a statement she was "glad" to have reached a settlement.

She said she had been "bombarded from all sides by lawsuits" in what felt like a "war of attrition".

Chelsea said the case had been misreported and it was mounting "a well-founded legal claim" that was not seeking to be punitive. It said it had asked HarperCollins to make a charitable donation in lieu of damages.

HarperCollins said it "has now amended the book to record the position more accurately, and include additional comments from Mr Abramovich's spokesperson".

It stressed, however, that none of the claims have resulted in damages and praised Belton's "knowledge, tenacity and bravery".

Chelsea said the rewritten passages amounted to 1,700 words including "false statements" about Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea Football Club.

The book included claims by former Putin associate Sergei Pugachev that it was on Putin's instigation in a bid to increase Russia's influence.

Harper Collins said it had now made clear "there is no evidence, beyond the statements of the individuals themselves, supporting claims made to the author by Sergei Pugachev and two other unnamed individuals about the purchase of Chelsea Football Club".

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