Re:Baltica successfully defended a defamation suit brought by Maxim Stepanov and his company Midland Consult (Cyprus) Limited. Re:Baltica was successful in the first instance and on appeal. Now the complainants have failed to launch a further appeal within the time limit.
The case concerned an article published by Re:Baltica in 2011 called ‘Russian Laundering Machine’ based on reporting by Re:Baltica’s parter OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project). In the article a Moscow lawyer related that a man he could identify only as ‘Maxim’ had hired him to set up offshore companies. Later in the same article Maxim Stepanov and his company Midland Consult are mentioned. The article states that Midland Consult set up a company in New Zealand, and that Hermitage Capital later suspected this New Zealand company of money laundering.
Maxim Stepanov and Midland Consult alleged that the article defamed them because it gave the impression that the two Maxims were the same person. At trial and on appeal the courts rejected this argument.
The appeal court decided that the decision and reasoning of the court of first instance were correct. It agreed that the complainants had not shown that any facts asserted in the article where untrue. The complaint failed because it was based only on the subjective interpretation that two people with the name Maxim were the same. The appeal court also found that the court of first instance had correctly assessed the expert opinion to conclude that the article did not injure the complainants. The expert (hired by the complainants) had made a survey in which only 2.5% of respondents believed after reading the article that the two Maxims could be the same person. The appeal court also accepted the conclusion of the court of first instance that the author of the article had tried to explain the situation comprehensively, and in so doing had included the information which was the subject of the complaint.
The appeal court awarded costs of 2,133.48 euros be paid to the defendant Re:Baltica. Irina Kostina of LAVIN (Riga) represented Re:Baltica.
Inga Springe of Re:Baltica made the following statement after the ruling:
My colleagues and I are very pleased that the court ruled in our favor and we won this case. We felt wrongly accused, and I strongly believe the plaintiff was attempting to use the court system to intimidate the media. There are many challenges a small non-profit like Re:Baltica faces everyday, and I am very grateful for the vigorous legal defense from our lawyer and the critical assistance and financial support that MLDI provided during the trial.