Book Putin’s People ‘seriously defamatory’ to Roman Abramovich, high court hears

28 July 2021, 22:51

The high court has heard that the book is "seriously defamatory" towards Roman Abramovich
The high court has heard that the book is "seriously defamatory" towards Roman Abramovich. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Roman Abramovich was accused of buying Chelsea FC as "part of a scheme to corrupt the West" on Vladimir Putin's orders in a "seriously defamatory" book about the Russian president's regime, his lawyers have told the High Court.

The 54-year-old billionaire is suing journalist Catherine Belton over her best-selling book Putin's People: How The KGB Took Back Russia And Then Took On The West, which was published by HarperCollins last April.

Ms Belton, the former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, said Mr Abramovich "was acting under Kremlin direction" when he bought the Premier League club for £150 million in 2003.

His barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC told the High Court on Wednesday that readers of the book would conclude that Mr Abramovich "had been used as the acceptable face of a corrupt and dangerous regime".

Read more: 'Getting jabs will help, not hinder you' as England moves out of lockdown, PM tells LBC

Read more: Councillors pass vote of no confidence in former health secretary Matt Hancock

Mr Tomlinson argued that Putin's People said Mr Abramovich was "part of a scheme to corrupt the West ... aimed at building a block hold in the UK for Russian influence".

A reader of the book would conclude that "rather than being interested in football, he was just doing the president's bidding to infiltrate British society", Mr Tomlinson added.

In written submissions, Mr Tomlinson said the book "states in terms" that Mr Abramovich bought Chelsea "to corrupt and manipulate the British elite" - an allegation he described as "serious and sensational".

He also said the description of Mr Abramovich as the "cashier" to the family of former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, and later to Mr Putin, meant his client was portrayed as "clearly corrupt".

But Andrew Caldecott QC, representing Ms Belton and HarperCollins, pointed out that the reference to Mr Abramovich being a cashier was "in quotation marks, suggesting it is someone else's observation".

He argued that readers of Putin's People would believe that "there are grounds to suspect Mr Abramovich was acting at the Kremlin's direction" when he bought Chelsea, not that he definitely was.

Mr Caldecott also told the court that the book "records a firm denial from a 'person close to Abramovich'" that he bought Chelsea on Mr Putin's orders.

Read more: Brexit: EU pauses legal action over Northern Ireland deal

Read more: Spain 'on verge of amber-plus list', but France could move to quarantine-free travel

Ms Belton is also being sued for libel by Russian state-owned energy giant Rosneft, while Russian businessman Mikhail Fridman, 57, brought a similar claim against HarperCollins over Putin's People.

Petr Aven, 66, the head of Russian lender Alfa-Bank, also brought a data protection claim against HarperCollins over the book.

But the court heard that the pair have settled their claims against the publisher during the course of Wednesday's hearing.

Mr Tomlinson said Mr Fridman and Mr Aven "have reached an accommodation with HarperCollins", whereby the publisher has "agreed to remove effectively all the material on which the actions are based from future editions of the book".

A reference to Mr Fridman having allegedly been "cultivated by the KGB" will be removed from Putin's People, as will a reference to Mr Aven having allegedly "protected Putin", according to an order submitted to the court.

HarperCollins will also "apologise for not having approached (Mr Fridman and Mr Aven) before they published", Mr Tomlinson added.

The publisher will also "publish a statement on their website" confirming the settlement, the court heard.

The statement will say that HarperCollins and Ms Belton "recognise and regret that comment was not sought earlier from Mr Aven and Mr Fridman in relation to statements suggesting Mr Aven or Mr Fridman had connections with the KGB in the early part of their careers in the late 1980s".

Read more: Charles and PM unveil memorial to honour 'police who risk their lives to keep us safe'

Read more: Watch in full: Nick Ferrari interviews Prime Minister Boris Johnson

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr Aven and Mr Fridman said the pair were "pleased that HarperCollins has recognised that the book Putin's People was inaccurate in what it said about them, in particular that there was no significant evidence that they had connections with the KGB".

At a two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mrs Justice Tipples is being asked to determine the "natural and ordinary" meaning of the allegations about Mr Abramovich and Rosneft.

Mr Tomlinson, who represents Mr Fridman and Mr Aven, as well as Mr Abramovich, said there was "no relationship" between the claims, saying he was instructed to act for the trio "coincidentally and entirely independently".

The barrister also rejected the suggestion the claims were an "attack on free speech and public interest journalism", arguing the book "holds itself out as a serious work of contemporary history, but unfortunately it repeats lazy inaccuracies".

The hearing before Mrs Justice Tipples is due to conclude on Thursday and it is expected that judgment will be reserved.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Inside the health retreat in Australia

Suspected 'mushroom' drink poisoning at Australian health retreat as woman dies and two others are rushed to hospital

Greece Olympics Paris Flame Lighting

Paris Olympics flame to be lit at Greek cradle of ancient games

Holly Willoughby has teased her TV return

'It's happening' Holly Willoughby teases TV return after This Morning exit

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Lord Kim Darroch the former UK National Security Advisor for his assessment of the performance of "the current PM, the man who was PM and the man who wants to be PM"

Rishi Sunak has 'left the pitch free' for Lord Cameron to be Foreign Sec and 'toughen the line on Israel', says former diplomat

Iran's direct assault: Escalation in Israeli-Hamas conflict signals a broader regional shift

Iran's direct assault and escalation in Israeli-Hamas conflict signals a broader regional shift

Israel will aim to 'minimise civilian casualties'

Israel planning ‘painful’ strike on Iran despite Western calls for calm after unprecedented missile attack

Greater Manchester Police said it is aware of the footage

Shocking moment ‘child steals police car’ and reverses it along pavement while officer chases suspect on foot

Trump Hush Money

Trump to return to court after first day of trial ends with no jurors picked

Susan Hall plans to extend the Night Tube to the Hammersmith & City line

Susan Hall announces plans to expand Night Tube in bid to 'revive' London’s night economy

A girl was allegedly attacked in the early hours of Friday morning, police have said

Police release CCTV images of man after schoolgirl, 16, ‘raped in Liverpool city centre’

The attacker is 15, police say

Sydney church stabbing declared a terror attack ‘motivated by religious extremism’ - as teenage boy arrested

Indonesia Landslide

Bodies of final victims recovered after Indonesia landslides that killed 20

Australia Church Stabbings

Knife attack against bishop and priest being treated as terrorism, police say

The family moved from Bedfordshire to Portugal in 2016

Brit family hounded out of Portugal told their situation 'wasn't desperate enough' for help after returning to UK

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer

Trans athletes should be banned from competing against women, says Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer

Ben Wallace has said Iran must be 'hit back twice as hard'

Iran must be 'hit back twice as hard', says ex-defence secretary Ben Wallace as Rishi Sunak calls for 'restraint'