MANHATTAN (CN) – Portrayed as a dissident and a killer on state-run news in Russia, a microbiologist from New Jersey brought a federal complaint for damages against Channel One Russia and RT America.
The law firm Rottenberg Lipman Rich represents Alex Goldfarb, a professor at Columbia University who filed the Sept. 6 complaint in New York’s Southern District.
Goldfarb says the “propaganda offensive” against him began in March 2018 after the British government accused Russia of poisoning two Russian nationals, Sergei and Julia Skripal, that month in Salisbury, England.
With investigators noting the “uncanny similarity” between the Skripal attack and a 2006 poisoning that killed former Russian Federal Security Service officer Alexander Litvinenko, Goldfarb says Channel One Russia quickly launched into spin control.
“Defendants broadcast programs falsely accusing Dr. Goldfarb of murdering Litvinenko, as well as his own wife because she ‘knew too much’ about Litvinenko’s murder, and promoted a fictitious narrative attempting to discredit the findings of the UK Inquiry,” the complaint states.
But Goldfarb notes that, Litvinenko on his deathbed “accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder.”
Goldfarb describes himself as a friend and associate of Litvinenko, who was poisoned with the radioactive element polonium-210.
He also notes that Sir Robert Owen, a judge with the British High Court, found in 2015-16 “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Litvinenko had been murdered by Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun.
Owen also found a “strong probability” that the murderers were committed on behalf of the Russian state, probably on personal instructions from Putin.
Goldfarb says the false statements by Channel One and RT America were made in an effort to absolve Lugovoy, Kovtun and the Russian state.
“Defendants broadcast these falsehoods knowing full well that they had been debunked in the UK Inquiry,” the complaint states. “The fact that these lies have been revived, repackaged and broadcast years later as part of a well-orchestrated propaganda campaign evidences the Defendants’ malice.”
Goldfarb notes a series of false statements from the reporting on him this spring. Among other details, he says his wife was 51 when she died of cancer in 2010, but that the defamatory news articles described her as 28.
Channel One also opted not to air the hour-long interview he gave in response to the false accusations, according to the complaint.
“Instead, Channel One rebroadcast the same falsehoods in programs on March 30, April 4, and April 10, 2018,” the complaint states.
Five days before the last program aired, Goldfarm says a producer called him and conducted an approximately 15-minute telephone interview.
“Channel One broadcast a brief eighty-second excerpt of the taped telephone conversation with Dr. Goldfarb,” the complaint states. “This brief audio excerpt omitted Dr. Goldfarb’s detailed rebuttals and was obviously included to create the false impression that Dr. Goldfarb had been allowed to participate in the program.”
Goldfarb notes that the broadcast have been widely reproduced and republished around the world in Russian and in English.
“By falsely branding him a murderer in a high-profile case, defendants have caused Dr. Goldfarb public humiliation, embarrassment and irreparable damage to his reputation,” the complaint states.
Compounding the emotional turmoil that the stories have wrought, Goldfarb says the false allegations have caused him to “relive months and months of his wife’s excruciating fight with cancer while he sat helplessly at her bedside.”
Goldfarb also says that the developments led the FBI to check on him, saying they want “to make sure that nothing similar happens in our country.”
“Defendants’ wrongful conduct was intended to curry favor with the Russian government and thereby to obtain economic and other benefits,” the complaint states. “In particular, the Russian government has allowed Defendants to establish a near monopoly and dominate the broadcasting market, and thereby receive substantial advertising revenues and profits.”
Goldfarb is seeking punitive damages.
Representatives for the Russian news outlets have not responded to email seeking comment, sent after business hours in Russia on Friday.