Roman Abramovich wins pay-out over gambling claim

Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich accepted a public apology and substantial libel damages at the High Court today over false newspaper allegations that he had a serious gambling problem.

His solicitor John Kelly told a judge in London that the claims had caused the "internationally well-known and wealthy" Russian businessman "distress and embarrassment".

The legal action arose out of allegations published in Italian newspaper La Republica last May in an article entitled "A black year for Abramovich as he loses a yacht at poker".

Mr Kelly told Mr Justice Eady that the newspaper's publisher, Gruppo Editoriale L'Espresso, had agreed to pay Mr Abramovich "substantial damages", which he intends to donate to charity.

The damages sum was not disclosed in court.

Mr Kelly said the report alleged that Mr Abramovich had "suffered a heavy loss in a poker game and had been forced to hand over a luxury yacht worth half a million euros to cover his gambling debt".

He added: "The report also alleged that Mr Abramovich's poker playing had led to a crisis with his long-term partner Dasha Zhukova and that Mr Abramovich was now gambling online."

The claims were damaging and untrue, said Mr Kelly.

"The article would have been understood to mean that he had such a serious gambling problem that he was not only jeopardising his relationship with his long-term partner Dasha Zhukova, who had been forced to issue him an ultimatum that he either give up playing poker or she would end their relationship, but he was also seriously risking his financial stability and had already been forced to liquidate assets, through the sale of one of his yachts, in order to cover his heavy gambling debts."

He said: "Regrettably, these allegations were not put to Mr Abramovich or his representatives before publication. If they had been, the defendant would have been advised of the utter falsity of the allegations."

Mr Kelly said that although La Repubblica was primarily circulated in Italy, copies were also distributed in this country.

Sarah Toolan, solicitor for the publisher, said the defendant "offers its sincere apologies to Mr Abramovich for the distress and embarrassment this article has caused".

She told the judge: "The defendant accepts that the allegations are untrue and ought never to have been published."