LONDON – Britain’s High Court on Monday threw out a libel case brought by a former Russian police officer against a London-based financier who is a fierce critic of corruption in Russia.
Retired policeman Pavel Karpov sued Hermitage Capital Management and its chief executive, William Browder, who has accused Karpov of being part of a network of corrupt officials complicit in the death of a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.
Judge Peregrine Simon dismissed the suit, ruling that Karpov had only minor links to Britain and “there is a degree of artificiality about his seeking to protect his reputation in this country.”
Browder called the judgment a victory against so-called libel tourism — the practice of litigants taking cases to court in Britain, even when there is no strong link to the country, because the British legal system is perceived as friendly to their claims.
“I think this is a precedent-setting case,” Browder said “If you are a dubious foreign chancer, this precedent makes it much less likely you will succeed in the libel courts.”
The case is part of the labyrinthine saga surrounding the death of Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer hired by Hermitage Capital, who accused Russian police officials of stealing $230 million in tax rebates after illegally seizing Hermitage subsidiaries.
Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 for tax evasion and died in prison the next year of pancreatitis at age 37, allegedly after being beaten and denied medical treatment. He had not been brought to trial.
His death spurred efforts in Europe and the U.S. to punish Russian officials who may have been complicit in human rights abuses. The United States imposed sanctions on 18 Russians including Karpov, one of the Interior Ministry officers who put Magnitsky behind bars.
Russia responded by banning Americans from adopting Russian children.
Russian authorities have also pursued Browder and Magnitsky, who was convicted of tax evasion in July, three years after his death. Browder was convicted in absentia and sentenced to nine years in prison.