This is what happens when celebrities get to sue UK journalists like me – the government ends up giving financial support to a Russian oligarch whose private army is currently rampaging through Ukraine.
It seems the UK Treasury helped a close ally of Vladimir Putin to evade sanctions imposed against him personally (this was before the Ukraine-Russia war) in order to sue a UK journalist.
Rishi Sunak was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time. The Russian oligarch was Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Wagner, a private army that is currently understood to be committing atrocities in Ukraine.
In the light of the Ukraine-Russia war, the UK’s apparent support for Ukraine in that conflict (while actually having supported a Russian through this case) makes it seem clear that both Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson before him are hypocrites.
Some say it should bring down the UK government. Here’s Phil Moorhouse of A Different Bias:
He took his information from the website Open Democracy, whose article can be found here.
Here’s where this story intersects with my own legal case, in which I was sued by a certain TV celebrity (I’m currently appealing against the judgment):
Revelations about Wagner and Prigozhin were exposed by Bellingcat in 2020, leading to the notorious libel case against Higgins.
Higgins was targeted individually, rather than as part of a legal case against Bellingcat. This meant that, instead of claiming Bellingcat’s investigations into Wagner were defamatory, the lawyers instead relied on tweets Higgins had sent to promote the investigations on social media.
The approach allowed Prigozhin to launch his legal attack in the UK – where Higgins lives, and where libel laws are more punishing for journalists – rather than in the Netherlands, where Bellingcat is headquartered.
The case collapsed when the lawyers from Discreet withdrew their services in March last year, a month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and was eventually struck out in May. Higgins was left with estimated costs of £70,000.
The case has been highlighted as an example of a SLAPP action (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation), an abuse of the legal process designed to intimidate and close down legitimate scrutiny.
You see, the idea is to intimidate the victim (Eliot Higgins in this case, or myself) by threatening them with huge damages to pay and/or huge legal bills.
Higgins told openDemocracy… it was clear that “wealthy individuals abuse the UK legal system to attack legitimate journalists with the assistance of British lawyers” and said the case demonstrated the need for “robust anti-SLAPP legislation” to protect journalists from similar actions in the future.
On a national level – and therefore more serious (even) than what happened to Mr Higgins or myself – is the allegation that the current UK government, and a department headed at the time by the current UK prime minister, deliberately evaded sanctions it had itself imposed, in order to help someone whose private army is currently attacking a country with which the UK has ostensibly allied itself.
How many other times has the Tory government done this? Is it still doing this? Why does Parliament not know about it?
This should be enough to bring Sunak down – along with his government. Please share – and ask your favourite national media outlets (newspapers, TV, whoever) to cover it.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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