Potanin, MT Lose Defamation Suit
Judge Nikolai Tarasov did not explain why he had backed Prokhorov. Potanin's lawyers presented documents in court supporting Potanin's comments in a disputed interview that was published in The Moscow Times as the billionaires struggled to divide their assets.
The judge promised to deliver a written court decision within 10 days.
"What's there to say?" Prokhorov wrote in his LiveJournal blog in reaction to the decision. "Everything is logical. I'm happy with the decision. I consider this topic closed."
Potanin will appeal the decision within five days, said Nina Dementsova, a spokeswoman for Potanin's Interros holding. "We are not happy with the court's decision. We don't understand why it did not review the relevant documents or listen to witnesses," she said.
The Moscow Times will decide whether to appeal after reviewing a copy of the judge's decision, said the newspaper's publisher, Ekaterina Son.
The court also ordered The Moscow Times to publish a retraction in the same place and font as the original phrase. The interview was published on the front page, but the phrase appeared on p. 4.
Prokhorov sued Potanin and United Press, the publisher of The Moscow Times, in July over an interview in which Potanin said Prokhorov had "promised" to sell a stake in Norilsk Nickel to him and billionaire Alisher Usmanov and to buy his stake in Polyus Gold, "but he avoided doing this." Moscow Times reporter Nadia Popova was later added to the lawsuit.
The phrase "promised but avoided doing this" paints Prokhorov as "an unreliable partner," damaging his reputation in business circles, Prokhorov's lawyer Marina Baryshnikova said at the hearing Wednesday.
Potanin's lawyers produced a protocol signed by Prokhorov and Potanin on Feb. 29, along with Andrei Klishas, vice president of Interros, and Dmitry Razumov, general director of Prokhorov's Onexim Group. Klishas and Razumov signed the protocol as trustees. The protocol outlines the conditions for an exchange of assets between Potanin and Prokhorov, including Potanin acquiring two-thirds of Prokhorov's 25 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel.
Potanin's lawyers argued that the disputed phrase in the interview was in fact true because Prokhorov had proceeded to sell his stake in Norilsk Nickel to Oleg Deripaska's RusAl in April in violation of the protocol.
The judge rejected a request by Potanin's lawyers to summon Usmanov, Klishas and Razumov to the court as witnesses. He then ruled in favor of Prokhorov.