Hamburg, August 24th, 2023 — The Hamburg Regional Court has issued a landmark judgment in a claim brought by Russian-Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov against the Austrian newspaper Kurier. The court found that the newspaper failed to substantiate its statement that Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to Usmanov as his “favourite oligarch,” and that this statement violated the businessman’s rights.
The court’s decision, disclosed exclusively to EU Today, marks a critical ruling on the boundaries of journalistic expression and the verification of potentially damaging statements amid widespread coverage of prominent business people with reported ties to the Russian state.
The dispute stems from an article published by Kurier in August 2023, titled “Oligarchs of Russia: Financing Putin’s Wars and Profiting from Them.”
The article stated about Usmanov: “The native of Uzbekistan enjoys the reputation of being ‘Putin’s favourite oligarch,’ a title bestowed upon him by Putin himself.” Given that there is apparently no public record of Putin having made such a statement, the court has effectively prohibited spreading this claim on the grounds that it is factually incorrect.
The court ruling, secured by Usmanov’s Hamburg-based attorney Joachim Nikolaus Steinhöfel, goes on to state: “Kurier newspaper failed to demonstrate the veracity of the defamatory assertion that Putin referred to Usmanov as his ‘favourite oligarch.'”
In its defence, the newspaper cited a point in the EU sanctions rationale, which describes Usmanov as “one of Putin’s favourite oligarchs.” The court in its assessment found that this reference was not enough to substantiate the statement.
Usmanov was sanctioned by the EU in 2022 after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. He is currently contesting the sanctions in court.
Usmanov’s lawyers earlier told an EU court that he was targeted as “prey” by officials due to his high visibility as a public figure, and that his reputation as one of Russia’s wealthiest men made him a prime candidate for sanctions. Usmanov, who has Russian and Uzbek citizenship, is reported to mainly reside in his native Uzbekistan. He has said that he retired from business activity to focus on his philanthropic projects.