‘Bunker billionairess’ claim survives strike out bid

Times' abuse of process argument fails in front of Eady J

A libel claim brought by a Russian businesswoman in respect of articles published in the Sunday Times has been allowed to proceed in respect of the publications of hard copies of the articles in Russia but not within this jurisdiction.

Yelena Baturina, the wife of the Mayor of Moscow and the richest woman in Russia brought a libel claim against TNL for their publication in the Sunday Times of two articles, one of which was headed: “Yelena Baturina: Bunker Billionairess digs deep”. The articles alleged that she had purchased a large mansion in Highgate for £50m through an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands and that she was planning to spend a further £50m renovating and extending the property, including building a huge basement area under the property. The Claimant had not in fact purchased the property and claimed that in light of her obligations in Russia to publish her assets including any property owned by her, it would be understood by some readers of the articles who knew that she had not disclosed this property in her recently published declaration, that she had breached Russian law. The Claimant also relied on the republication of the story in the Russian media.

TNL argued at the summary judgment hearing that the articles were not defamatory and that the claim was a Jameel type abuse. It also advanced the novel argument that in relation to the third party publications in Russia the Claimant would need to establish not only that it was foreseeable that the words published by TNL would be repeated, but that they would be understood by readers in the innuendo sense contended for and would cause damage to the Claimant. The Judge held that as long as the repetition was foreseeable, the law relating to liability for an innuendo meaning would be the same irrespective of where publication took place (i.e. here or in Russia). TNL’s abuse of process argument also failed and the Judge has allowed the claim to proceed in relation to the publication of the articles in Russia and their republication on the pleaded inferential case that a substantial number of readers there would have had the special knowledge required to understand the articles in a defamatory sense. The parties are now in the unusual position of facing a libel trial in the High Court based solely on publications in Russia.

A further consequential hearing is due to take place early next term.

5RB‘s Anna Coppola (instructed by Lass Salt Garvin) is junior counsel for the Claimant.