BBC to pay 'substantial' damages to Ukraine president over false claim he authorised corrupt payment to meet Trump

Story which ran on News at Ten and broadcaster's website 'seriously defamatory', High Court told

Chris Baynes
Thursday 28 March 2019 17:07
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Petro Poroshenko sued to BBC over false claims he signed off a six-figure payment for a meeting with Donald Trump
Petro Poroshenko sued to BBC over false claims he signed off a six-figure payment for a meeting with Donald Trump

The BBC is to pay considerable damages to Ukraine’s president over false allegations he authorised a corrupt payment to arrange talks with Donald Trump.

Petro Poroshenko took legal action after the broadcaster wrongly claimed Michael Cohen, the US president’s former personal lawyer, received a $400,000 (£305,000) payment to help secure "substantial talks" with the US president.

The story ran on the BBC’s website and as a headline news item on the News At Ten on 23 May last year.

Mr Poroshenko has accepted an apology and “a substantial sum by way of compensation” from the corporation, which has agreed to pay his legal costs and publish a correction, the High Court in London heard on Thursday.

The Ukrainian president’s solicitor, Graham Atkins, told judge Julian Knowles the allegation that Mr Poroshenko “procured or authorised a corrupt payment” was “seriously defamatory”.

He added: “Put simply, this allegation and the facts on which it purported to be based are simply false.

“Mr Poroshenko did not authorise or procure any payment to Mr Cohen of any kind, nor was any such payment ever made to Mr Cohen or any other individuals for that purpose.

“Mr Poroshenko did not instruct close associates to open up any back channel with Mr Trump in order to secure substantial talks with him, far less did he do so through Mr Cohen.”

Mr Atkins told the court Mr Poroshenko “deeply regrets that it took the BBC so long to accept liability” and to remove the article from its website, adding: “He believes that the resulting delay will inevitably have increased the damage caused to his reputation by the publication of this allegation.

“It has certainly added to the distress and embarrassment that he has felt since the story was first published.”

The lawyer added: “The allegation that Mr Poroshenko was guilty of serious corruption is self-evidently an extremely grave and damaging one ... especially so given the emphasis which he has chosen to place during his presidency on the promotion of a number of anti-corruption measures.”

He said the BBC’s reports were “clearly likely to undermine the hard work undertaken by the president during his time in office, and to cause him very considerable political embarrassment not only in Ukraine, but in the United Kingdom and across the global stage”.

“In this connection it is relevant that inevitably, given the serious and sensational nature of the allegation (especially as it also related to the US president, Mr Trump), and the prominence given to it by the BBC, the allegation was picked up and republished in other media publications.”

Jane Phillips, counsel for the BBC, said: “The BBC is happy to acknowledge that these claims about the claimant are completely untrue, and it is here, through me, to apologise to the claimant for any distress and embarrassment caused to him by the article and the broadcast.”

The figure to be paid by the BBC was not disclosed in court.

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A BBC spokesman said in a statement following the hearing: “In our News At Ten bulletin and in an online article published on 23 May 2018 we incorrectly reported that Petro Poroshenko, the president of the Ukraine, had procured or authorised a corrupt payment of $400,000 to be made to Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer of Donald Trump, to extend a brief meeting between Mr Poroshenko and President Trump, that had already been agreed, into more substantial talks.

“We believed that the publications made a less serious allegation against Mr Poroshenko, but in the light of a finding by the High Court that the allegation was as set out above, we are happy to accept that this allegation was untrue.

“We apologise to Mr Poroshenko for any distress caused and have agreed to pay him damages, legal costs and have participated in a joint statement in open court.”

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