Reiman Goes to Court Against Kompromat.ru
Published: September 2, 2005 (Issue # 1101)
MOSCOW — Prosecutors in St. Petersburg have opened a criminal case alleging that the muckraking Kompromat.ru web site published an article that slandered IT and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman.
The article claimed that Reiman took a $1 million fee in 1992 when he was the deputy director of a major St. Petersburg telecoms company for “greasing the wheels” to help British businessman Anthony Georgiou establish a mobile phone company.
A spokesman for Reiman’s ministry denied the allegations, adding the investigation into the site began at the ministry’s request.
“The prosecutor replied to us saying they found that the article contained information that was false,” said spokesman Alexander Parshukov.
The kompromat.ru article, published in early July, retold some of the allegations already made in a Carribbean court by Georgiou, who said he was a former business partner of Reiman’s.
Georgiou claimed in a court affidavit lodged in a British Virgin Islands court last year that Reiman abused his public position to gain interests in the mobile phone industry.
Georgiou’s testimony was given as part of a sprawling legal battle being fought in courts in Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands between Alfa Group and IPOC, a Bermuda-based fund, which Jeffrey Galmond, a Reiman business associate, says he owns.
The two sides are fighting over the rights to a 25.1 percent stake in MegaFon, the country’s No. 3 mobile phone provider, which is partly owned by IPOC. The Bermuda fund holds a 31 percent stake in MegaFon via Telekominvest, the holding company that Reiman helped found.
The court battle has ensnared Reiman in a mass of allegations he abused his position to build up holdings in the telecoms industry, charges he denies.
Reiman’s ministry has claimed that Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa has launched a PR war of false accusations against Reiman in order to win the MegaFon case. The ministry has said it is considering suing several publications that have reported on the trials.
In the July article, Kompromat.ru also published a letter from Georgiou to Reiman that was presented to the British Virgin Islands court as part of Georgiou’s affidavit. The letter, signed by both Georgiou and Reiman, confirmed payment of the $1.04 million fee into Reiman’s account at Credit Suisse First Boston.
But even though Georgiou’s claims have been published before by other media outlets, the Kompromat.ru article did not cite Georgiou’s affidavit as a source, leaving it open to attack. The site rarely publishes its own material and mainly acts as a collection point for the most scandalous stories on corruption from other newspapers.
“The site presented this information as fact. It was making concrete conclusions on the basis of unconfirmed information,” Parshukov said. “The trial in the British Virgin Islands has not ended. There has been no verdict or charges. The judge is still looking into this.”
“Not every document presented in court is genuine,” he said, referring to the letter confirming the fee.
An aide to St. Petersburg prosecutor Artyom Bakonin said an initial probe had found that the material presented in the Kompromat.ru article gave grounds for a criminal investigation. The case has now been handed to the city’s police for further investigation, he said.
Sergei Gorshkov, the owner of Kompromat.ru, could not be reached for comment. Vedomosti on Wednesday cited him as saying he had yet to receive official notice of the case, which he said was groundless. Georgiou could not be reached for comment.
The prosecutors’ case is yet another in a growing spate of criminal investigations launched at the request of state officials as relations between the authorities and independent media become increasingly tense, media analysts said.
“Now the main line of attack against journalists is not physical, it’s court cases,” said Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.