Businessman Roman Abramovich has filed a lawsuit against the author and the publishers of a sensational book in which it’s alleged that he’d bought Chelsea Football Club on the direct orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Abramovich’s legal team said the the book, Putin’s’ People by Catherine Belton, “falsely alleges our client has acted corruptly, and makes also claims about our client’s purchase, and the activities, of Chelsea Football Club.”
Writing in a personal message posted to his London club’s website, Abramovich said that “the book contains a number of false and defamatory statements about me.” However, he added, “it has never been my ambition to gain a public profile and I have always been reluctant to provide commentary on any matters, including any false or misleading statements.” However, he said that the insinuations were having a detrimental effect on his reputation, and that efforts to reach a compromise with the Rupert Murdoch-owned publishers had failed.
A source close to Abramovich confirmed to RT that the lawsuit would name both HarperCollins and Belton as part of the legal action over the allegations.
The book had stated that the Russian-Israeli business mogul had shelled out for Chelsea as part of a Kremlin-directed campaign to improve the country’s reputation overseas.
Belton, a former Moscow-based correspondent for the UK’s Financial Times, received glowing reviews from Western media colleagues for her debut tale, in which she alleges that Putin has woven a shadowy network of influence, binding together ex-KGB officers, oligarchs and the Russian state. Veteran Kremlin critic Anne Applebaum described the book as “the definitive account of the rise of Putin and Putinism,” while The Guardian wrote it up as a “fearless and fascinating account.”
However, not all readers were so supportive of the author’s conclusions. One academic took to Twitter to describe the books as “untenable as history,” while noting that, “as fiction, yes it’s well written.” Other experts pointed out the fact that Belton relied heavily on one source – exiled former Russian banker Sergei Pugachev. The ex-financier is wanted on criminal charges in Moscow.
So I promised a thread on Belton’s Putin’s people, and why I think it’s untenable as “history” (as fiction – yes, it’s well-written). There are so many problems with the book that I don’t even know where to begin, so instead of having a thousand examples, I will just mention two.
— Sergey Radchenko (@DrRadchenko) October 17, 2020
In a statement issued later on Tuesday, the publishers of ‘Putin’s People’ issued a statement announcing that they and Belton had been served with court papers. In it, they said that they would “robustly defend the claim and the right to report on matters of considerable public interest.” The publishing house claimed that Abramovich’s team had disengaged from a mediation process before a compromise could be reached.
In February, the UK’s The Independent newspaper was forced to apologize to Abramovich and pay his legal fees after publishing a story in which its Moscow correspondent Oliver Carroll described the tycoon as a “bag holder” for Putin’s “illicit presidential wealth,” and advocated sanctions against him by foreign governments.
In the retraction, its editors said that “The Independent accepts that Mr Abramovich is not a ‘bag carrier’ for President Putin and we did not mean to allege that he should be subjected to punitive sanction.”