Russian Billionaire Claims AP Defamed Him in Story on Manafort

WASHINGTON (CN) – A Russian billionaire close to Russian President Vladimir Putin sued the Associated Press Monday for defamation, claiming a March 22 story falsely reported he struck a $10 million deal with President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to advance Russian interests.

Aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska claimed in a 12-page federal complaint filed in Washington that the AP “acted with actual malice” when it ran the story by Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day that asserted he had an annual contract with Manafort from 2006 to 2009 to influence news coverage, politics and business in the U.S., Europe and former Soviet Republics to benefit Putin’s government.

AP general counsel Karen Kaiser said in an emailed statement that the AP stands by its reporting.

“We will defend the lawsuit vigorously,” Kaiser said.

According to the AP story Manafort proposed in strategy memos “that Deripaska and Putin would benefit from lobbying Western governments, especially the U.S., to allow oligarchs to keep possession of formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine.”

The story says Manafort proposed “building ‘long term relationships” with Western journalists and a variety of measures to improve recruitment, communications and financial planning by pro-Russian parties in the region.'”

Deripaska complained that the story’s structure implicated him in wrongdoing in the controversy surrounding Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

“Readers of the Article and of its numerous republications by news outlets around the world have been left with the impression that Mr. Deripaska’s private, commercial dealings were—and still may be—deeply intertwined with the Trump Campaign Controversy,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint takes particular aim at a 2005 memo written by Manafort, as quoted in the AP story: “We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success.”

The story goes on to quote Manafort as saying, “The effort will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

Deripaska’s lawsuit also challenges the certainty he claims is expressed in the AP story about the relationship between funds Deripaska paid Manafort, and the 2005 memo.

“Taken together, these assertions constitute a false and defamatory statement,” the complaint says.

“Mr. Deripaska never had any arrangement, whether contractual or otherwise, with Mr. Manafort to advance the interests of the Russian government or to implement the purported proposal in the 2005 Manafort Memo,” it continues.

The 2005 memo contained a pitch unrelated to contractual arrangements between Manafort and Deripaska, the lawsuit claims.

“On information and belief, the purported contract in the AP’s possession relates to ordinarily commercial dealings and in no way supports any assertion that Mr. Manafort was engaged by Mr. Deripaska to perform work to ‘greatly benefit the Putin government,'” the complaint reads.

Manafort had confirmed to the AP that he worked for Deripaska but said that work was not pro-Russian in nature.

A representative for Deripaska told the AP in a statement that appeared in the story that an agreement between he and Manafort existed “to provide investment consulting services related to business interests of Mr. Deripaska which now is a subject to legal claims.”

The AP story said it relied on strategy memoranda and other records that showed millions in international wire transfers to Manafort.

Deripaska claims he asked the AP to publicly correct and retract the story, but the AP declined.

“The requested retraction would have clarified that the AP is aware of no evidence, of any kind, to suggest that Mr. Deripaska and Mr. Manafort had a contractual relationship to advance the interests of the Russian government or Mr. Putin, and that the relationship between Mr. Deripaska and Mr. Manafort predated all of the alleged contacts between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign by many years,” the complaint states.

Attorneys for Deripaska — Jonathan Schiller and Jonathan Sherman of New York-based Boies, Schiller and Flexner — did not respond to a request for comment.

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