Financial Times withdraws ‘incorrect and unverified’ Putin nepotism allegations against Russian businessman

The Financial Times has apologised and withdrawn “incorrect and unverified allegations” made against a Russian businessman who has been linked to Vladimir Putin and a campaign adviser for Donald Trump.

Kirill Dmitriev and his company Russian Direct Investment Fund made a claim for libel damages against the newspaper over an article published online on 1 April, and in print the next day, with the headline: “Trump adviser’s Russian contact closely linked to Putin family.”

The article suggested Dmitriev (pictured) had obtained his position as chief executive as a result of nepotism and his wife’s close friendship with the Russian president’s youngest daughter, Katerina, rather than merit.

Dmitriev previously made headlines after he met Trump ally Erik Prince in the Seychelles just weeks before the US president’s inauguration. The meeting featured in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

Dmitriev’s lawyers said the FT’s story had caused serious harm to his reputation and that of his company, RDIF, which is a sovereign investment wealth fund set up by Putin and the Russian Government to help attract foreign investors.

Dmitriev said it was also likely to cause serious financial loss to RDIF.

Dechert Solicitors, acting on behalf of Dmitriev and RDIF, filed a claim on 10 April for libel damages and an injunction stopping the publication of any more stories making similar allegations.

The claim, seen by Press Gazette, read: “The allegations against the claimants are of the utmost seriousness, particularly within their sphere of business.

“The claimants depend on a reputation of excellence and integrity and any suggestion of impropriety may have a devastating effect.”

It added that the allegations were “insidious, particularly in the current geopolitical climate” and said they were “likely to be difficult to dispel” given the Russian nationality and domicile of Dmitriev and his company.

The allegations have since been republished or repeated on at least 18 Russian language news sites and one in the US, the writ said.

“The FT has a reputation for reliable, accurate journalism and is treated with substantial respect, particularly within the financial sector,” it added.

The FT was said not to have approached either Dmitriev or RDIF for comment before publication.

Dmitriev found this “particularly galling” since the newspaper had interviewed him when he became chief executive in 2011 and “welcomed his appointment”, the claim said.

The FT was also accused of acting in a “dilatory and entirely unreasonable way” when the claimants complained about the article. They said the newspaper “declined meaningfully to engage, let alone to publish an apology or retraction”.

On 3 April, two days after the initial publication, the online article was amended with the deletion of two sentences and one further minor change. A footnote was also added, which said: “This article was amended on April 3 2018 to remove references to how Mr Dmitriev secured his job…”

This, the writ said, was “gratuitous and offensive” in its lack of an apology and implication that the original article was correct and facts have simply been removed.

The case was heard at the High Court on Wednesday last week and resulted in an apology from the FT to both Dmitriev and RDIF.

In a statement, published in print and online, the FT said: “A recent article (‘Trump adviser’s Russian contact closely linked to Putin family’, April 1, 2018) contained incorrect and unverified allegations from unnamed sources about Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (‘RDIF’), suggesting that he was appointed to the RDIF position (‘rose to the top’) other than on professional merits.

“The Financial Times has therefore withdrawn the allegations, undertaken not to repeat them and, in the High Court of Justice in London on June 20, apologised to both Mr Dmitriev and RDIF for the errors.”

Picture: Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed

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