Chelsea owner wins first round in book libel case

Roman Abramovich has welcomed a ruling in the first round of a libel claim over allegations that he bought Chelsea FC on Vladimir Putin’s orders as part of a plot to gain influence in the West.

The 55-year-old billionaire is suing journalist Catherine Belton over her best-selling book Putin’s People: How The KGB Took Back Russia And Then Took On The West, which was published by HarperCollins last April.

Ms Belton said Mr Abramovich “was acting under Kremlin direction” when he bought the Premier League club for £150m (€179m) in 2003.

His barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC told the High Court in July that readers of the book would conclude Mr Abramovich “had been used as the acceptable face of a corrupt and dangerous regime” and had a corrupt relationship with Mr Putin, acting as his “cashier”.

However, Andrew Caldecott QC, representing Ms Belton and HarperCollins, pointed out that the reference to Mr Abramovich being a cashier was “in quotation marks, suggesting it is someone else’s observation”.

In a ruling yesterday, Mrs Justice Tipples found readers of the book would understand Mr Abramovich to be “under the control of President Vladimir Putin and, on the directions of President Putin and the Kremlin, he has had to make the fortune from his business empire available for the use of President Putin and his regime”.

“The claimant has had little choice but to comply with these directions because, if he had not done so, he would have lost his wealth to the Russian state and could have been exiled or jailed,” she said.

The judge found nine of the allegations were defamatory against Mr Abramovich.

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