Another investigation into a member of the Forbes list resulted in oppositionist Alexei Navalny losing in court. In late April, the politician accused Mikhail Prokhorov of bribing former Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Khloponin. Now Navalny has to disprove this and pay the billionaire one ruble
The Lyublinsky Court in Moscow has agreed with the arguments of Mikhail Prokhorov’s lawyers #11 who demanded that opposition politician Alexei Navalny deny information about the “bribe” the billionaire allegedly gave to former Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Khloponin. Now, the head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation must publish a video in which he reads the court ruling. In addition, Navalny owes Mikhail Prokhorov one ruble as compensation. However, the defendants intend to appeal this decision, said Navalny’s representative Vyacheslav Gimadi.
Russian service of the BBC first wrote about the purchase of a small Tuscan villa by Mikhail Prokhorov from Alexander Khloponin in late April. Referring to the document of the Cyprus registry and cadastre extracts, the publication reported that his record earnings of 2.9 billion rubles, which Khloponin (then Deputy Prime Minister) declared for 2017, he received through the sale of the villa in the seaside town of Forte dei Marmi. Last year, the villa of about 800 square meters and a plot of 0.8 hectares was bought by the Cypriot offshore Neptolino Holdings, owned by Mikhail Prokhorov.
A few days later, Alexei Navalny released an investigation in which he claimed that Khloponin’s family bought the villa in 2008 for €11 million and sold it for €35.5 million, while property prices in Italy, according to Navalny, not only have not increased during this time, but have even fallen. “At least €25 million is a bribe,” Navalny argued, recalling that Khloponin was in charge of subsoil use in the previous cabinet of ministers, and “Prokhorov’s interests are connected with this very sphere.”
On the same day, Mikhail Prokhorov’s representative announced plans to sue the politician. “The deal was absolutely transparent. Navalny’s allegations of a bribe are a lie,” the Onexim holding company representative said. According to Prokhorov’s lawyer Timofei Gridnev, Alexei Navalny’s statements are “the very real provocation aimed at drawing attention to himself once again in the media space, using the court tribune not to protect his rights, but as a populist tool.”
In turn, Navalny’s representative asked the court to call Khloponin himself as a witness. But Judge Marina Vasina refused this request, as well as others. In particular, they asked to postpone the case until the Interior Ministry makes a decision on the FBK’s alleged bribery claim, and also requested the recusal of the judge herself, who had also sided with the plaintiff in a similar lawsuit brought by Alisher Usmanov #7 a year earlier.
The decision of the Lyublinsky court was quite expected, according to the lawyers interviewed by Forbes. Since we are talking about the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation, the obligation to prove the objectivity of the information disseminated lies with the defendant, says Roman Terekhin, managing partner of the Delovoy Farwater law firm.
In order to have his lawsuit dismissed, Navalny’s representative had to prove to the court that his interpretation of the deal as a bribe was correct, adds Andrei Stupnikov, head of dispute resolution practice of Coleman Legal Services. A different situation would have been possible if there had been a conviction in the criminal bribery case, Terekhin points out. “So already when [Prokhorov’s] lawsuit was filed with the court, it was clear that it was very likely to be satisfied by the court,” the lawyer concludes. – And the chances of successfully appealing the decision are also not great,” he says.