UK investigative journalist Oliver Bullough is being sued for libel for more than €500,000 in Portugal by the vice-president of Angola.
Bullough’s book Moneyland: Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule the World, published in 2018 and shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2019, examines what it describes as a hidden world of global kleptocrats. He regularly writes for titles including The Guardian, BBC and GQ.
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Three years after publication Bullough has been issued a writ informing him Angolan politician Bornito de Sousa Baltazar Diogo and his daughter are suing him for libel in Portugal. He is now searching for Portuguese lawyers who can help with his case.
De Souza’s daughter, Naulila Diogo (pictured), appeared on US reality show Say Yes to the Dress in 2015 and spent $200,000 on several dresses – the most spent by any bride in the history of the New York boutique that hosts the programme.
In his book, Bullough dedicated an eight-page chapter to the occasion including the criticism it received in Angola, where more than half of people live in poverty.
Bullough and his publishers in the UK and Portugal first received a threat of legal action from de Sousa in March this year.
His lawyer in Edinburgh responded by saying the case had no merit. Nothing further has come of that claim and UK publisher Profile Books has not received anything further.
However Bullough has now been served with a case in Portugal, a place to which he has never been and does not speak the language. He has had to read poorly translated copies of the legal papers.
Bullough is being sued for €525,000 in total by the vice-president and his daughter, who also want €225,000 from his Portuguese publisher, 20/20 Editora.
The case has been filed as a civil case but Press Gazette understands it could become a criminal matter. Portugal is one of around 20 EU countries where defamation remains a criminal offence.
Since the UK left the Brussels Regime and Lugano Convention when it left the EU any judgment in Portugal will be more complicated to enforce, although it will still be possible.
The case is already being seen by lawyers as a potential test case as this scenario has not yet happened since Brexit and the consequences of a conviction remain unclear.
Sunday Times bestseller Moneyland itself covers at length how the rich and powerful frequently use libel actions, especially in the UK, to block journalistic investigations into their actions.
And Bullough wrote in The Guardian earlier this year: “In my opinion, freedom of speech is under threat, but not from right-on students excluding rightwing speakers. Instead it is from wealthy people using British courts to shut down investigations into their wealth.”
Of the libel lawsuit against former Financial Times journalist Catherine Belton over her book Putin’s People, he added: “…the prospect of facing this kind of threat deters journalists from writing about the super-rich.”
The campaign group Index on Censorship has condemned the lawsuit against Bullough and filed a Council of Europe media freedom alert.
Jessica Ní Mhainín, the group’s policy and campaigns manager, said: “We need investigative journalism to hold power to account. How can journalists be expected do this if they are being subject to aggressive legal claims in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions?
“Bullough is being sued for more than half a million Euro in a jurisdiction he has never before set foot in, for publishing information that is clearly in the public interest.”