Judge rubbishes claims Chelsea owner bought club on 'Putin's orders'

Judge rubbishes claims Chelsea owner bought club on 'Putin's orders'

November 24, 2021

Roman Abramovich WINS first stage in HarperCollins court battle as judge rules claims Vladimir Putin ‘ordered him to buy Chelsea FC’ are defamatory

  • Ex-FT journalist Catherine Belton’s book ‘Putin’s People’ at the centre of libel row
  • Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich had sued publisher HarperCollins over false claims Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered him to buy club in 2003
  • Justice Tipples found nine claims made against Mr Abramovich were defamatory

Roman Abramovich has won the first stage of his defamation court battle against HarperCollins over claims he was ordered to buy Chelsea Football Club by Vladimir Putin.  

Mr Abramovich, 55, has received early vindication of his continuing law suit against the publishing giant and author Catherine Belton after a judge ruled that nine statements made against him in a 2020 book were defamatory.

A ruling from judge Mrs Justice Tipples has upheld Abramovich’s claims that false statements were made against him in Belton’s book Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and then Turned on the West.

Belton’s book includes claims from leading figures within Putin’s regime in the early 2000s that Abramovich bought Chelsea for £150million in 2003 on the personal orders of the Russian president.

The former Financial Times journalist’s book quotes exiled oligarch Sergei Pugachev – once dubbed ‘Putin’s Banker’ – as the source of the Chelsea FC claims – but Abramovich maintained the allegations were untrue and damaging both to him and the club. 

The Russian billionaire took the rare step of fighting the claims in court in a bid to set the record straight on his aims and ambitions for the London-based football club. 

And a ruling on Wednesday has left the Chelsea owner calling for the claims to be corrected.

Roman Abramovich, 55, has received early vindication of his continuing law suit against HarperCollins and author Catherine Belton after a judge ruled that nine statements made against him in a 2020 book were defamatory

Former Financial Times journalist Catherine Belton’s book quotes exiled oligarch Sergei Pugachev – once dubbed ‘Putin’s Banker’ – as the source of the Chelsea FC claims – but Abramovich maintained the allegations were untrue and damaging both to him and the club

‘We welcome today’s judgment which rules that the book ‘Putin’s People’ indeed makes several defamatory allegations about Mr Abramovich, including false allegations about the nature of the purchase of Chelsea Football Club,’ said a spokesperson for Abramovich.

‘We are pleased that the judgment has found that the book carries a total of 9 defamatory allegations against Mr Abramovich, in line with the arguments in Mr Abramovich’s initial claim.

‘Today’s judgment also rules that these allegations are allegations of fact and not an expression of opinion, as argued by the defendants.

‘Today’s judgment further underscores the need for the false and defamatory claims about Mr. Abramovich to be corrected as soon as possible.’

Court documents prepared by the defendants described Pugachev as ‘one of the author’s significant sources’.

Pugachev is a former banker, industrialist and senator who left Russia for London in January 2011. He claimed in the High Court in 2018 that Putin had ordered Abramovich to purchase Chelsea.

Pugachev’s witness statements were branded ‘self-serving’ and ‘impossible to believe’ by Mrs Justice Rose, in his dispute with JSC Mezhdunarodniy Promyshlenniy Bank.

A ruling from judge Mrs Justice Tipples has upheld Abramovich’s claims that defamatory statements were made against him in Belton’s 2020 book ‘Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and then Turned on the West’

Fugitive Russian oligarch Sergei Pugachev (right), known as ‘Putin’s Banker’, pictured with Putin in 2000, was quoted within Belton’s book

Pugachev went on to lose the High Court case, but his allegations about Abramovich and Chelsea were repeated in interviews for the 2020 book Putin’s People.

The High Court judgement has ruled that the disputed statements in Putin’s People are presented as fact, not opinion.

‘In my view, these passages would not be understood by the ordinary reasonable reader as providing sufficient reason to doubt that the claimant purchased Chelsea Football Club on Putin’s orders,’ read Mrs Justice Tipples’ judgement.

‘In conclusion, therefore, the meanings I have identified are all defamatory of the claimant at common law.’ 

The Russian billionaire took the rare step of fighting the claims in court in a bid to set the record straight on his aims and ambitions for the London-based football club. He is pictured above with Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta (right)

In a statement following the ruling, HarperCollins said: ‘HarperCollins is carefully considering the judgment on the meaning hearing handed down this morning by Mrs Justice Tipples regarding the book Putin’s People by Catherine Belton, an acclaimed work of considerable public interest.

‘We are pleased that the judge has found three of the four passages complained of by the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft do not bear a meaning defamatory of the company and therefore will not proceed, and that several serious meanings in Mr Abramovich’s claim have also been rejected.’

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