Libel tourism - a new season opens as Elena Baturina comes to town

The Court of Appeal has allowed a libel (tourism) action to proceed against the Times after TimesOnline upset Russia's wealthiest businesswoman, Elena Baturina, billionaire and wife of former Moscow Mayor, Yuri Luzhko.

The Times published an article speculating she had bought a £50m pied a terre in London and was planning further work on it - supposedly a further £50m - which will get you quite a long way on a Homebase discount weekend. The story turned out to be unfounded and the article was removed and a correction published but that did not prove enough to appease Baturina - why not?

Well where the Times came unstuck was that the story suggested that Baturina was purchasing her property through an offshore company (so presumably anonymously or to tax advantage) which might not seem that objectionable but for the fact that under Russian law officials are under a duty to declare their assets (so a bit like UK MPs and their expenses except more tightly controlled and enforced it would seem). So this left the Times exposed to Baturina, claiming has she has done, that she was the victim of defamation by way of innuendo.

To make that claim stand up Baturina's lawyers will have to show that there were enough readers who would have made the connection between how Baturina was supposedly paying for the property and the fact that it was potentially an offence under Russian law.

At the earlier High Court hearing Mr Justice Eady allowed the defamation action to proceed in relation to potential Russian readers who might have made this connection. The Times questioned whether there were in fact enough or any readers who may have understood the innuendo and therefore thought less of Baturina to the extent that would be defamatory.

The Court of Appeal has allowed Baturina's claim to proceed but they didn't grant her a full tourist visa and confined the claim to the specific categories of reader who might have understood there to be an innuendo and understood that innuendo.

So while the Court of Appeal has granted Baturina a right to roam it has restricted that to being allowed to prove the specific innuendo being relied on as the basis for the defamation action.

Mediabeak thinks this case has probably run its course now and while it does have a sniff of libel tourism about it (which recent developments had us believe was being clamped down on) the case has been allowed to progress on very narrow grounds. It will be interesting to see what happens next - the defamation cases of the Jameel brothers provides a useful pointer as to where the current case might go. If Baturina cannot show that people actually read the article and were capable of understanding the innuendo then her cause of action will fall away.

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