HarperCollins settled a libel dispute with Russian businessman Roman Abramovich over a book about President Vladimir Putin by agreeing to amend certain passages relating to the reasons for buying Chelsea football club.
In the 2020 book, British journalist Catherine Belton chronicles Putin’s rise to power and how many of his associates from the former Soviet spy services rose to positions of wealth and influence after he won the top Kremlin job in 1999.
Lawyers for Abramovich had argued in court that the book was defamatory as it claimed he had bought Chelsea FC as a vehicle to corrupt the West – a claim Abramovich denied and has repeatedly cast as completely false.
“In contrast to events relayed in the book, Mr Abramovich’s ambition with Chelsea Football Club has always been clear and transparent: to create world-class teams on the pitch and to ensure the club plays a positive role in all of its communities,” Abramovich’s spokesman said.
“We are pleased that HarperCollins and the author have apologised to Mr Abramovich and agreed to amend the book, removing several false claims about him,” his spokesperson said. “These statements lacked evidence and were indeed false.”
The publisher said it had agreed to amend passages in the book and apologised, along with Belton, for “aspects of the book (that) were not as clear as they would have liked them to have been.”
Abramovich did not ask for damages to be paid but requested a donation be made to charity, according to Reuters.
Belton, a former Financial Times Moscow correspondent and now a Reuters special correspondent, said she and the publisher had agreed to add comments already made by Roman Abramovich’s spokesperson to “correct an error involving Mr Abramovich’s ownership of Sibneft and make clearer the reporting over the much-disputed motivations for Mr Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea – to show this was never intended as a statement of fact.”
HarperCollins said the book had “contained some inaccurate information concerning Roman Abramovich”.
“HarperCollins has now amended the book to record the position more accurately, and include additional comments from Mr Abramovich’s spokesperson,” the publisher said.
“While the book always included a denial that Mr Abramovich was acting under anybody’s direction when he purchased Chelsea, the new edition will include a more detailed explanation of Mr Abramovich’s motivations for buying the club.”
Abramovich’s spokesperson said publishing such false statements was clearly wrong.
“Publishing false, sensational, or defamatory statements about a public person in the pursuit of sales is wrong,” his spokesperson said.
“The outcome from these proceedings should have been considered prior to repeating false statements.”
A spokesperson for HarperCollins said: “There is no one more qualified than Catherine Belton to document the workings of modern Russia. Miss Belton’s knowledge, tenacity and bravery and seven years of research have resulted in a highly regarded and critically acclaimed work. It is commonplace for books of this depth and scope to be amended as new information emerges, and both publisher and author are happy to reflect such changes in Putin’s People.”
“As has been widely reported, in addition to the claim by Mr Abramovich, Putin’s People and Catherine Belton have been under attack from four other Russian oligarchs and the state-controlled oil giant, Rosneft, all with vast resources at their disposal. Each of those claims has been resolved with no damages or costs payable by HarperCollins.”
“HarperCollins is committed to publishing high quality investigative non-fiction and to defending free speech. It supports calls made by organisations such as Index on Censorship, English PEN and the Foreign Policy Centre to resist the use of SLAPP lawsuits through the English legal system that quell freedom of speech and deter others from publishing material in the public interest.”