Greek Orthodox Patriarch launches London libel claim bid

The head of the Greek Orthodox Church has launched a legal battle for libel damages against an Arab newspaper in a bitter dispute.

His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos is suing HH Saudi Research and Marketing (UK) over a story in the UK version of the newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, which he claims was defamatory.

The story claimed that he had improperly and illegally sold real estate, parted with church properties in Jerusalem, and disposed of money raised, he says.

Patriarch Theophilos claims the allegations damaged his reputation, and caused him great distress and embarrassment. He is also seeking aggravated damages, claiming that the publishers did not put the serious allegations to him first, and that a real and worthwhile attempt was made to contact him and publish his response.

There was no urgency to the story which meant it had to be published before both sides had been obtained, he claims.

Patriarch Theophilos says that the paper’s response to his complaint about the story on March 31 last year has been characterised by evasion and delay, and that solicitors did not reply until six weeks later.

The publishers added insult to injury by relying on a defence of common law qualified privilege, on the spurious basis that the article fairly represented the claims of competing camps, according to a High Court writ.

Patriarch Theophilos argues that his stated public position was not made clear in the story, although the paper had an article published in an Arab newspaper containing an interview with him.

He accuses the publishers of putting forward a series of spurious and shifting explanations for not getting a comment from him before publication, and fears that without an injunction, the allegations may be repeated.

He is seeking damages and aggravated damages for libel, and an injunction banning the publishers from repeating the allegations at the centre of his claim.

The writ was issued by solicitors Carter-Ruck.

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