A libel claim brought by a Kazakh mining giant against a FT journalist Tom Burgis’ book about “dirty money” has been dismissed by a High Court judge.
Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) sued Burgis over his book Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World, first published by Harper Collins in September 2020.
ENRC’s lawyers had argued that parts of two chapters of the book would be understood by a ordinary reader as claiming that the corporation had three men murdered to protect its business interests, or there was a reasonable ground for suspicion.
However, at a preliminary hearing in the case on Wednesday, Mr Justice Nicklin ruled that those parts of the book did not refer to the corporation, dismissing the claim.
He said: “Only individuals can carry out acts of murder or poisoning, only individuals can be motivated to do so to protect their business interests.”
ENRC must pay both sides’ costs, and it was denied leave to appeal.
Burgis said: “Thanks to my courageous sources, I wrote a book about what I believe is the greatest threat to freedom today: the rise of kleptocracy. I’m delighted that this attempt to censor Kleptopia has failed.”
A Harper Collins UK spokesperson said it was “delighted that this egregious case of lawfare has been dismissed”.
“HarperCollins is committed to publishing high quality investigative non-fiction and to defending our authors in the face of legal attacks from those who would seek to use the UK courts to silence them.
“It is grossly unfair that yet again HarperCollins and our author have had to risk substantial legal costs and personal liability defending public interest journalism. This threat came from a company which the judge correctly described as ‘a legal device’, which shamelessly claimed that it, not the oligarchs named in the book as the people who had secrets to protect, had been libelled.”
Harper Collins was separately recently targeted by another case relating to former FT Moscow correspondent Catherine Belton over her book Putin’s People.
Cases brought by several Russian oligarchs, most prominently Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, were all settled with apologies and amendments made to the book but the case cost Belton alone £1.5m according to David Davis MP.
Both cases were dubbed strategic litigation against public participation, or SLAPPs, which aim to intimidate and silence journalists using UK courts.
Labour MP Liam Byrne has described Burgis’ case in Parliament as “oligarchs… seeking to silence him”. In January he told a Commons debate that SLAPP claimants “file the most ludicrously exaggerated claims”, in this case the allegation that Burgis had “said that a corporate entity had ordered the murders”.
“There are extraordinary exaggerations and twisting of what has actually been written,” Byrne said.
Additional reporting by PA Media
Picture: Jess Glass/PA Wire
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