Russian official sues for libel in High Court

The high-pressure worlds of Russian capitalism, British libel law and American journalism were brought together yesterday when Boris Berezovsky, one of Russia's most prominent businessmen and government officials, issued a writ for libel in the London High Court against Forbes, the US-based business magazine. Mr Berezovsky contends that Forbes defamed him in an article last December that referred to the 1995 murder of Vladislav Listiev, the chairman of Russia's biggest television network.

"Vladislav Listiev was my colleague and friend," Mr Berezovsky said in a statement quoted by his lawyers, who include the libel specialists George Carman and Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners.

Mr Listiev was killed shortly after he became the head of the television company now known as Russian Public Television (ORT), of which Mr Berezovsky is a chairman. No one has been brought to trial for the murder.

Mr Berezovsky's lawyers said he had chosen to bring the case in London because he had important business and official contacts in Britain, where Forbes was widely distributed.

Mr Berezovsky, a business tycoon who is also deputy head of Russia's influential Security Council, was joined in his libel action by Nikolai Glushkov, who is first deputy managing director of the Russian state airline Aeroflot. Mr Glushkov argues that the magazine defamed him by stating that he had been convicted of a crime in 1982.

The two men's lawyers said they intended to take the libel case to trial unless Forbes apologised in court for the alleged defamations. They said Mr Berezovsky was principally interested in clearing his reputation, rather than in making money out of the case, but that if they won their case they expected damages would be in the region of pounds 100,000.

The Forbes article, published on 30 December 1996, consisted mainly of a profile of Mr Berezovsky. It charted his rise to prominence since 1989 and noted his important role in supporting Mr Yeltsin's presidential re-election campaign last year.

The article was, however, unusual in that its authors were left unnamed. Mr Berezovsky's lawyers said that statements at the front of the magazine to the effect that readers would understand the need to omit the authors' names implied that their lives would be in danger from the businessman.

Forbes representatives were not immediately available for comment.