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"Moskovskaya Pravda" newspaper ordered to pay damages for article quoting Moscow governor's statement concerning federal corruption

(CJES/IFEX) - On 16 June 2007, the Moscow Koptevsky Court ruled in favour of the plaintiff in a defamation lawsuit filed by the Moscow region's governor, Boris Gromov, against Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of the Federal Service for Supervising Natural Resources, and the newspaper "Moskovskaya Pravda".

The suit was filed over an article entitled "How Can Gromov Answer for Everything?", which was based on a press conference held on 29 January, where Mitvol spoke about illegal construction in the village of Nikolina Gora, Odintsovo district, and embezzlement of public funds. Gromov was seeking a damages award of 50 million rubles (approx. $1,932,000).

The judge found Mitvol's statements on the "embezzlement of public money" in the Moscow region contained in the publication to be defamatory to Gromov's business reputation. The plaintiffs were ordered to pay a total of 110,000 rubles (approx. US$4,250) in moral damages, of which 100,000 rubles were to be paid by the newspaper. In addition, the newspaper was ordered to publish a retraction.

At the trial, the plaintiffs tried but failed to prove that the statements contained in the article were not aimed against Gromov. "Yes, the article mentioned embezzlement, but it did not say who did it. None of the statements in question mentioned Boris Gromov," said Mitvol's lawyer Mikhail Mazhirin. He also provided to the court the results of a linguistic analysis of the article, which stated that Mitvol's words were not a statement, but a personal judgment. "It was just a call on the authorities to pay attention to the problems of the administration in the region," said the lawyer. However, the judge was unconvinced.

"The position of the court is very strange. Under the law on the mass media, we cannot be held responsible if we quote an official speaking at a press conference," said "Moskovskaya Pravda" lawyer Zhanna Tolstova.

Mitvol's lawyer Mikhail Mazhirin said an appeal will be filed.

Gromov's lawyers said they were satisfied with the outcome of the trial. "It was important for us to prove that the information disseminated by Oleg Mitvol and the newspaper is untrue. Mitvol is a public official and the law does not allow such public statements about public bodies. As for compensation, it is not so important, and therefore we will not appeal," said Gromov's lawyer Yelena Ruban.

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