A libel lawsuit brought forward by a sanctioned Russian oligarch against the founder of investigative news site Bellingcat has been thrown out of court.
A High Court judge dismissed Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s lawsuit against Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins, due to the oligarch’s “repeated failure to comply with simple court orders,” following his lawyers exit from the case, Higgin’s solicitors said.
The case comes after the Russian businessman, dubbed “Putin’s Chef,” sued Higgins over a series of tweets about Prigozhin, in bringing forward a case that critics have labelled a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
The judge’s decision comes after Prigozhin’s lawyers, Discreet Law, pulled out of representing the oligarch due to fears the surrounding the reputational damage they may face, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Higgins’ solicitors McCue Jury & Partners later referred London law firm Discreet Law to the UK’s Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) watchdog, in claiming Prigozhin’s lawsuit is an “obvious case” of a SLAPP action.
The complaint to the SRA notes that Higgins’ tweets contained no new information apart from what had already been reported by sites including CNN and Der Spiegel.
In turn, the SRA complaint claims the lawsuit had been intended to cause “maximum personal distress” to Higgins, with a view to deterring him from publishing further content.
The lawsuit comes after the UK, US, and EU sanctioned Prigozhin over his links to the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary company that has in the past assisted pro-Russian separatists fighting in the Donabas in Ukraine.
EU officials have also raised concerns around the “destabilising” effects of the Wagner Group in various African countries including Syria, Libya, and the Central African Republic.
Higgins said: “It is absurd that an individual sanctioned not only in the UK, but US and EU as well, for his connections to Wagner can sue a UK citizen for reporting on those same connections.”
“I have no reasonable expectation that the costs incurred to me and Bellingcat as part of this case can ever be recovered, nor the hours lost to responding to this abuse of the UK legal system.”
“This is a clear defeat for Prigozhin; but it is a hollow victory for our Client who should never have been the subject to these abusive and meritless proceedings.”
The decision comes amid mounting scrutiny over use of spurious lawsuits to silence and intimidate critics.
The case comes as the Law Society called for government action on SLAPPs including rules limiting legal costs incurred during SLAPP litigation and providing funds for victims of SLAPPs to use.
Discreet Law has been approached for comment.