Names not so easy to clear: Fridman, Khan and Aven’s defamation claim against Buzzfeed dismissed

End of March, Ken Bensinger, an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News, tweeted ”At last! After nearly 4 years, a NY judge has granted a motion for summary judgment dismissing the defamation lawsuit filed by Russians Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven & German Khan against @BuzzFeed & myself for publishing the Dossier.”

The Supreme Court of New York granted the petition by BuzzFeed and several others, who demanded a simplified rejection of the defamation claim filed by Alfa Group shareholders Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and Herman Khan after BuzzFeed had published the information contained in the so-called Trump dossier.

The three Russian billionaire moguls filed their lawsuit in May 2017, claiming that the BuzzFeed article and dossier published on January 10, 2017 contained numerous allegations damaging the plaintiffs’ reputation as well as the business of the group of companies in which they have significant beneficial interests.

The publication, in turn, applied to the court with a motion to dismiss the claim.

Referring to the US law, the defendants argued that the media have the right to release information that raises issues related to the activities of official authorities, and the situation with the dossier, as indicated in the petition, presumably complies with this requirement, especially considering the important public discussion going on in the country.

The dossier by a former British spy Christopher Steele alleged ties between Moscow and Donald Trump’s campaign by naming Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan ”creatures of the Kremlin.”

Mikhail Fridman and his business-partners denied any ties with Trump’s campaign, and filed corresponding defamation claims against Steele first in US and then in British court to ”clear their names”. 

However, two years ago, one of the three, Petr Aven told US prosecutors that he regularly met Mr Putin to discuss economics at one-on-one meetings in the Kremlin where the Russian president gave ”implicit directives”, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report last year.

Mr Aven’s efforts to build a back channel to the White House were unsuccessful, the report added.

It has been almost four years since a group of computer scientists disclosed that two internet servers belonging to Alfa Bank had looked up the address of the Trump Organization server 2,820 times between May and September 2016.

In response to that, over the years Alfa Group issued two very inconsistent statements: first, it claimed that any server-related activity between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization was the result of an automated email-based campaign to market Trump properties to Alfa Bank employees.

However, afterwards Alfa bank filed lawsuits that alleged a criminal conspiracy by unidentified defendants, who forged emails by manipulating DNS data to make it appear that the bank was communicating with the Trump Organization.

The lawsuit against Mr. Steele in D.C. Superior Court was tossed just four months after it had been filed, when the judge ruled that Steele’s dossier examined Russian influence on the presidential election, and therefore served the public interest.

Now Buzzfeed is free of prosecution for roughly the same reasons.

There remain Alfa’s lawsuits against the computer scientists who raised the alarm in regard to potential foreign interference with the US elections – Alfa Bank’s lawyers have issued aggressive subpoenas in the Florida case to computer scientists and DNS records custodians.

Buzzfeed’s warning, upon being sued by Alfa Bank in 2017, about the bank’s “shameless attempts to bully and intimidate” should be taken to heart.

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