– ‘Shameful abuse’ of courts –
Abramovich, in a statement released by his lawyers in March, said the book was having “a damaging effect, not only on my personal reputation but also in respect of the activities of Chelsea Football Club”.
But representing Belton and HarperCollins, lawyer Andrew Caldecott said the libel claim “starts on the wrong foot”.
The book did not accuse Abramovich of being part of the web of former KGB agents in Saint Petersburg who rode to power under Putin, and the claim he was a custodian of slush funds “simply isn’t in the book”.
“In terms of describing the Putin regime as autocratic and kleptocratic, there are a whole host of facts presented as supporting that,” Caldecott added.
The case has renewed criticism over the way wealthy foreigners not resident in the UK use British courts and costly London law firms to pursue claims for defamation.
England has some of the toughest libel laws in the world, and the onus is on publishers to prove that contentious material is factually true or in the public interest.
Successful claims can lead to hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages, as well as punitive legal costs for defendants.
In the House of Lords last month, opposition Labour peer Jeff Rooker condemned a “strategic lawsuit” that aimed to “silence a journalist.”
He slammed the “coordinated, shameful abuse of our courts, which must have started life in the Kremlin.”
When Abramovich brought his claim in March, HarperCollins said both it and Belton would “robustly defend the claim and the right to report on matters of considerable public interest”.
The publisher said the book was “an authoritative, important and conscientiously sourced work on contemporary Russia, that was much praised on publication by experts in the field.”