Daily Mirror in libel payout over article which alleged businessman had 'dealt with Assad regime'

A businessman has accepted a public apology and a donation to the charity Save the Children over an allegation in the Daily Mirror that he had "courted controversy" by dealing with the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Ayman Asfari, group chief executive of oil and gas industry services supplier Petrofac, sued MGN Ltd over articles which appeared in the Daily Mirror and on its website on 9 February this year.

The two articles speculated on the financial benefits to a number of wealthy individuals, including Asfari, of tax changes made by the Conservative government, his solicitor, Jonathan Coad, told Mr Justice Warby at the High Court.

Coad went on: "The last paragraph of the articles, however, stated that Mr Asfari had 'courted controversy by dealing with [the] Assad regime in Syria'.

"The print version of the article also referred to a photograph which featured both Bashar al-Assad and Mr Asfari."

Coad went on: "Mr Asfari has never had any dealings with the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

"The photograph which featured both Mr Asfari and Mr Assad was taken at the conclusion of a contract with Petrofac had with a Canadian company for the building of a gas plant which was completed before the uprising in Syria.

"Bashar al-Assad and Mr Asfari were separately invited to the event by Petro-Canada, and Mr Asfari was photographed (along with others) with President Assad during a tour of the completed site."

Asfari, Coad told the judge, has established the Asfari Foundation, which funded the education of young people and supported initiatives to promote civil society and provide humanitarian relied aid, and had recently tried to alleviate the suffering of refugees in Syria by donating some £3m million in humanitarian aid.

"Mr Asfari is also a supporter of the moderate opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad," Coad said.

He went on: "Mr Asfari abhors the violence being meted out to his fellow Syrians by the Bashar al-Assad regime and has committed much of his time and resources to alleviate that suffering.

"He has also tried to assist the process of transferring powers from the Assad regime to one which treats Syrians with respect and humanity.

"He was therefore profoundly distressed and angered by the suggestion made by the Daily Mirror that he in any way supported or assisted the regime of Bashar al-Assad."

Barrister Gervase de Wilde told the judge: "I accept on behalf of the Daily Mirror that neither Mr Asfari not Petrofac has ever had dealings with the Regime of Bashar al-Assad, and that Petrofac has had no dealings with any Syrian state enterprise since the uprising in 2011."

The Daily Mirror, he added, had withdrawn the allegation, agreed not to repeat it, made a contribution to Mr Asfari's costs and made a donation to Save the Children in lieu of damages.

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