Russian magnate takes libel row with Guardian to the PCC

By Dominic Ponsford

After first losing a libel action against the Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, The Guardian is now being taken to the Press Complaints Commission by the businessman.

Lawyers for the former oligarch, who now lives in London, say The Guardian has refused to publish details of a £20,000 libel settlement and so has broken the Editors’ Code of Practice, which states that newspapers "must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation".

The Guardian apologised for the piece by making a statement in open court last November, but the actual settlement was only agreed in recent weeks.

Berezovsky’s lawyers, Carter Ruck, wrote to The Guardian two weeks ago to demand that the level of the payout be published. And this week they told Press Gazette they were taking the paper to the PCC.

Lawyer Andrew Stephenson said: "The Guardian has declined a request that it publish a report of the financial terms of settlement; this is an issue which Mr Berezovsky will refer to the Press Complaints Commission for its consideration."

He added: "The level of the settlement is often seen as a mark of the gravity of the libel and the extent to which it is untrue."

The original Guardian article described Berezovsky as the "wanted defrauder of the Russian Region of Samara".

However, his lawyers argued that "contrary to the obvious implication of the piece", Berezovsky had not been convicted of any crime.

The article referred to accusations of corruption brought by the Russian authorities three years ago, seeking Berezovsky’s extradition from the UK.

"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," Stephenson said.

He continued: "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."

The Guardian apologised in open court for the distress and embarrassment Berezovsky had been caused by publication of the article.

Costs for both sides, payable by The Guardian, are estimated to be around £20,000.

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