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By John Helmer, Moscow 

There have been only two painstaking records that an English journalist named Catherine Belton (lead image, centre) has been the fabricator of Russian oligarch and regime-changing plots when she was a Moscow reporter for the Financial Times, and since she moved to Reuters and published a book called  Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West.

The first record was mine, in print. The new one is Roman Abramovich’s – his is in the High Court in London.

The archive of my research started in 2008. Through 29 instalments  it has followed Belton’s associations with the oligarchs Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Oleg Deripaska, Suleiman Kerimov, and most visibly, Sergei Pugachev. In 2009 Belton won the Cat’s PAW (Personal Abasement Award) for publishing material about Kerimov, declining the efforts of the award committee to obtain verification of her claims.   The review of her book, published in April 2020, is the only one in print to identify its fabrications as a religious tract for “people who believe in the work of the devil, and who are paid to persuade other people to believe the same.” President Vladimir Putin is the devil in the Belton-Pugachev story. Casting him out is their mission.

Abramovich has come to the same conclusion. Starting a year ago, his representatives complained at Belton’s claims, and issued warnings to her that they would sue to stop the lying. Belton and her London publisher HarperCollins, owned by Rupert Murdoch (lead image, left), “refused to apologise for, correct or even suspend the continued publication of the words complained of, despite [Abramovich] placing them on notice of the false and defamatory nature of the allegations shortly after the electronic publication of the Book and prior to first publication of the hard copy version of the Book.” That was between April 2 and April 16, 2020, according to Hugh Tomlinson QC, Abramovich’s counsel.  

Almost a year later, on March 22, 2021, Abramovich filed suit in the High Court against Belton and HarperCollins. The text of the initial claim has just been released by the court registry.

“The political climate is one of deep suspicion and mistrust towards President Putin and the Russian State,” Tomlinson for Abramovich has written,  “with the result that allegations that the Claimant [Abramovich] has a close and corrupt relationship with President Putin and covertly acts under his direction will inevitably cause very serious harm to the Claimant’s reputation.” Belton and her publisher, Tomlinson charges, “have gravely injured the reputation of the Claimant and has caused him damage and upset.”

Abramovich is seeking damages, including aggravated or penalty damages; together with a stop to the circulation of the book, and all legal costs.  If Abramovich wins at trial, and depending on how long and expensive the proceedings will be, London lawyers estimate that Belton and Murdoch will face a penalty of up to £1 million. The combined legal costs, however, may reach £50 million.

The political risk for exposure of the Belton-Pugachev plot as a pack of lies is even more expensive. Not before has a British court adjudicated the truthfulness of these claims.  

The libel claim was filed for Abramovich by solicitor John Kelly of Harbottle & Lewis. Although he was called an Israeli-Russian businessman, Abramovich – who became an Israeli under the law of Jewish return in May 2018 and bought a residence near Tel Aviv – he was identified to the High Court at a well-known dacha address near Moscow. Belton is listed at the London Bridge Street address of Murdoch’s media holding.  

Source: https://drive.google.com

Three days after the filing, Kelly announced he had secured a printed apology, retraction and penalty from The Times, another Murdoch outlet, for an allegation about Abramovich’s relationship with Putin it could not prove.  In February the law firm reported three apologies for false reporting about Abramovich from The Times, The Independent, and Mail Online.  

Abramovich himself announced the lawsuit against Belton and HarperCollins through a spokesman for the Chelsea Football Club. Read the story here, and an analysis of the Murdoch media strategy of defence without truth,  click on this.  

Until Abramovich’s papers were served on Belton and her publisher, the court did not release copies. The papers for case QBD-2021-001025 became available this week. Read the Claim Form here , and the 19-page “Particulars of Claim” here.

Source: https://drive.google.com/

Tomlinson, Abramovich’s court advocate, is a well-known libel lawyer; in the past he has won high-penalty judgements against the Murdoch media.   He accuses Belton of lying to Abramovich and his spokesmen when seeking clarification and comment on points of fact she claimed to be investigating. She was “deceitful about the nature of the allegations that she intended to publish and then materially altered the limited response that the Claimant’s representative was able to provide in the circumstances: (a) the content of the Book as regards the Claimant was significantly misrepresented by her as ‘a very small part of a very long book’; (b) she materially altered, to the Claimant’s detriment, the quotations that she was given permission to publish in respect of the allegations in respect of which comment was sought, despite the precise terms of those quotations having been agreed via email; and (c) she misled the Claimant’s representative into believing that she already had, and was going to use, quotations from other sources that would rebut those allegations in any event, thereby contributing to the impression that she would not be giving credence to those allegations in the Book.”

This is not unusual behaviour by Belton. In Moscow in December 2009, she telephoned me following publication of details of an attempted assassination aimed at me by gunmen who told  Moscow police, after their capture,  that they had been employed by Deripaska and his Rusal aluminium group. Belton asked me what I planned to do next with the police and in court. I told her my contacts at Rusal believed she was close to Deripaska and his chief executive. I refused to talk to a spy, I said.  

Left: Hugh Tomlinson QC; right, Sergei Pugachev.

In a statement issued by HarperCollins on March 23, Belton and the publisher replied that they had been “willing to consider any reasonable representations made by Mr Abramovich via his legal team when the book was first published a year ago. Regrettably, Mr Abramovich’s legal team disengaged from discussions in August 2020 and a further offer of alternative dispute resolution, made before the claim was issued was also rejected.”  Their statement does not refer to the negotiations before publication nor to the charge of changing the meaning of Abramovich’s responses.  

In Abramovich’s presentation to the court, there is a direct-quote compilation of Belton’s allegations from 15 of the book’s 18 chapters.  These are set out over 12 pages, concluding that Abramovich “will rely upon the whole of the Book, including Notes and Index, for the full context and true meaning of the words complained of.”

Belton had faked the book, according to Tomlinson, with the help of men who were sworn enemies and plotters against the Kremlin, all of them abroad and on the run from prosecution for stealing their fortunes from Russia. Belton had “relied extensively upon sources that were obviously untrustworthy, including individuals who had obvious axes to grind and had been found to be unreliable and dishonest witnesses by judges of the High Court, namely Sergei Pugachev, Boris Berezovsky and Leonid Nevzlin.”  To counter the High Court rulings that Berezovsky and Pugachev were liars and fabricators themselves, Abramovich accuses Belton and HarpersCollins of creating the innuendo that the judge in the Berezovsky case, Lady Justice Elizabeth Gloster (now retired from the bench),  had been bribed.

Source: https://drive.google.com/

The core libel by Belton which Abramovich has asked the court to judge is that he “has a corrupt relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, covertly acting at his direction and for his benefit and operating as his cashier, as the custodian of slush funds that can be accessed and used by President Putin for his own purposes.”

Belton has not responded directly to the court case. Instead, she heads her Twitter stream with  an endorsement of her book by Alexei Navalny:

Source: https://twitter.com/

Reuters republished some of Pugachev’s allegations in a piece by Belton and her editor, Janet McBride, in July last year.  McBride has promoted Belton’s pieces but has so far failed to mention the High Court case.  

Reuters management was asked to respond to the claims against one of its employees, and to say whether Belton is fit to report to Reuters’ readers and subscribers until the charges are aired, cross-examined, and adjudicated by the High Court.

Joel Ivory-Harte, the spokesman at Reuters’ London office where Belton works, deferred to the New York headquarters of the company. Heather Carpenter responded from there. She identified a brief report by Reuters on March 23 focusing on Abramovich’s purchase of the Chelsea Football Club, and repeating the publisher’s defence of “the right to report on matters of considerable public interest.”    Reuters, said Carpenter, “have no further comment.”

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