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Rosneft scores legal win against Russian media group

December 12, 2016

Rosneft oil giant on Monday won a court victory against a Russian independent media group but was awarded only a fraction of the $52 million in damages it had sought.

The RBK media group said on its website that Moscow’s commercial court ruled it must pay Rosneft 390,000 rubles ($6,391), while four journalists were ordered to pay 4,500 rubles each.

Rosneft had sued RBK over damage caused to its business reputation by television coverage and an article published in April about alleged efforts by the company’s managers to keep British oil major BP, the largest minority shareholder in Rosneft, from bidding for a 19.5 percent stake to be privatised in Rosneft.

Rosneft said at the time that the allegations were “groundless fantasies of journalists and their so-called sources.”

Last week the Russian government said it had finalised a deal to sell the 19.5 percent Rosneft stake to commodities trader Glencore and Qatar’s sovereign fund, while retaining a controlling stake.

BP did not submit a bid.

Rosneft’s legal team asked for compensation of 3.179 billion rubles, an unprecedentedly high amount.

Lawyers defending RBK had argued this amount would force the media group to close down and ruin the journalists personally named in the suit.

The RBK media group includes a business news website, newspaper and a television channel, known for in-depth independent reporting. It is controlled by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

State-controlled Rosneft is headed by Igor Sechin, a powerful ally of President Vladimir Putin.

The RBK newspaper article was headlined: “Sechin asked the government to protect Rosneft from BP”.

Rosneft’s lawyers said the company had been forced to go to great lengths to convince BP the report was untrue.

On Monday, liberal business daily Vedomosti wrote ahead of the ruling that “among all the associates of Putin, the head of Rosneft probably has the most controversial reputation.”

In recent months Sechin has taken legal action against two other influential independent media outlets over claims about his personal life.

In November, Vedomosti was ordered to take down an article claiming Sechin was building a house costing tens of millions of dollars in a pricey Moscow suburb.

In October, a court ordered Novaya Gazeta liberal opposition newspaper to take down and retract an article linking Sechin to a luxury yacht.

Asked for his reaction to the latest decision on Monday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists the Kremlin does not comment on court rulings.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.