The Guardian has apologised in Court to Russian Businessman, politician and long-standing client of the firm Boris Berezovsky. The allegations related to the charges on which the Russian Prosecutor had sought Mr Berezovsky’s extradition.
Boris Berezovsky Guardian Apology
Apology 21 December 2005
The Guardian Newspaper today apologised to Boris Berezovsky, the prominent businessman and politician, over a 25 October 2005 article in which he was falsely described as the “wanted defrauder of the Russian Region of Samara”.
Mr Berezovsky was granted refugee status in this country and extradition proceedings brought against him were discharged in September 2003.
At a High Court hearing today before Mr Justice Eady Mr Berezovsky’s solicitor, Andrew Stephenson of Carter-Ruck, told the Court that not only had the British Government accepted but also the Russian Courts had conclusively ruled that there was no foundation to the Russian Prosecutor’s allegation of fraud against Mr Berezovsky.
The Court was told that the amount of damages payable to Mr Berezovsky, unless otherwise agreed, would be decided at a separate hearing.
Enquiries to Andrew Stephenson
Statement in Open Court
Boris Berezovsky and Tristram Hunt and Guardian Newspapers Ltd
Statement in Open Court 21 December 2005
My Lord, in this libel case, I represent Boris Berezovsky, the prominent Russian businessman and politician. My friend, Debbie Ashenhurst, represents the Defendants, who are the author and publisher of an article headed “Why do we welcome these robber barons to Britain?” which appeared in the Guardian on 25 October 2005.
In the article Mr Berezovsky was, to his great offence, described as the “wanted defrauder of the Russian Region of Samara”. Contrary to the obvious implication of these words, as the Defendants accept, Mr Berezovsky has not been convicted of any crime. The words were intended to allude to the charges on which the Russian authorities in March 2003 sought Mr Berezovsky’s extradition from this country. Mr Berezovsky’s case has always been that the charges against him were bogus, trumped up for political reasons after he had publicly criticised policies adopted by the Putin regime. On 10 September 2003, Mr Berezovsky was granted refugee status and the extradition proceedings were accordingly discharged. Under the provisions of the 1951 Geneva Convention concerning the Status of Refugees, Mr Berezovsky would not have been given political asylum if the British Government had thought there were “serious reasons for considering that … he has committed a serious non-political crime” whether in Russia or elsewhere.
It is not only the British authorities that have accepted that the charges against Mr Berezovsky were unfounded; it is also the view of the Russian courts. The Russian Prosecutor’s Office brought proceedings in Russia to have the agreement on which the criminal charges had been based declared a sham, a device to conceal fraud. The Prosecutor’ s case was rejected on 25 August 2004 by the Arbitration Court of the Samara Region, a decision which was upheld by the Federal Arbitration Tribunal on the Volga Circuit on 29 November 2004. The Prosecutor then invoked the contentious “supervisory review” court procedure, which has itself been the subject of criticism in the European Court of Human Rights. Even this manoeuvre failed with the Supreme Arbitration Court on 20 April 2005 deciding that there were no grounds to interfere with the previous binding decisions of the appellate courts. Still not satisfied, the Prosecutor then impermissibly applied to the Supreme Arbitration Court yet again, asking it to reconsider its decision with a new panel of judges. On 1 November 2005 the Supreme Arbitration Court did so, but it stood by its previous decision.
Accordingly, there can be no doubt that, as Mr Berezovsky has always maintained and as was accepted by the British government and as has now been finally and conclusively ruled by the Russian Courts themselves, there is no foundation to the Russian Prosecutor’s allegation of fraud against Mr Berezovsky. Accepting this, the Defendants have acknowledged that this false allegation should not have been published and appear here today publicly to offer their sincere apologies to the Claimant for the publication of their article. Under the offer of amends procedure, the amount of compensation to be paid by the Defendants to Mr Berezovsky, unless otherwise agreed, will be determined at a separate hearing.
My Lord, on behalf of the Defendants, I confirm what my friend has said. The Defendants apologise to Mr Berezovsky for the distress and embarrassment he has been caused by the publication of the article.
My Lord, with that the Claimant is content to let the matter rest.
on behalf of the Claimant
Guardian Newspapers Ltd
on behalf of the First and Second Defendants
Mr Berezovsky was represented by Andrew Stephenson