(CN) – A businessman won reinstatement of his defamation claim against a nonprofit group that had listed his business as one of Slobodan Milosevic’s “crony companies.” The D.C. Circuit cited “serious problems” with proper attribution in rejecting the International Crisis Group’s fair report defense.
The ICG had named Milan Jankovic and his company, Zepter Group, in its 2003 report on stalled Serbian reform. The group says it works “to prevent and resolve deadly conflict” by distributing reports and briefing papers to officials in foreign ministries and international organizations.
The 2003 report blamed the deceleration of Serbian reform on “Milosevic-era financial structures” that had “transformed themselves into a new Serbian oligarchy that finances many of the leading political parties and has tremendous influence over government decisions.”
Many of these companies “profited from special informal monopolies” and “privileged exchange rates” for their support of the Milosevic regime, the report stated.
Jankovic and his company appeared on a list of individuals and companies who were purportedly “well known to average Serbs.”
The district court initially dismissed Jankovic’s defamation claim, but the D.C. Circuit reversed in 2007 on the grounds that some passages could be interpreted as defamatory.
ICG successfully moved to dismiss, claiming the statements were opinion and fair comment, and were protected by the fair report privilege.
Jankovic appealed, and the D.C. Circuit again reversed, this time reinstating the plaintiff’s defamation and false light claims.
“There are serious problems on the score of proper ‘attribution,'” Judge Williams noted.
ICG had merely cited a now-defunct government Web site listing Zepter Banka as having had its assets frozen to conclude that Jankovic supported the Milosevic regime, the ruling states.
“While we affirm dismissal of the claim for intentional interference with business expectancy,” Williams wrote, “we hold that none of the privileges or protections raised by ICG applies to the assertion that Jankovic supported the Milosevic regime and that he received advantages in exchange.”