Putin in libel case over TV claims

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Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin is being sued for libel

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin is being sued for libel in a Moscow court in a rare case of the Kremlin-loyal justice system agreeing to hear a case against him.

The action was taken against Mr Putin after he used a TV call-in show to accuse his political enemies of stealing from the state.

Allowing a civil action against Mr Putin is out of character for Russia’s Kremlin-loyal courts, where the big decisions are thought to be dictated from above. Observers say it may be a carefully choreographed attempt to make the courts appear objective at a time when their reputation has been all but eroded.

It is equally possible that the case will be used to silence Mr Putin’s opponents – his legal team could incriminate the plaintiffs, if it presents what it calls evidence to back up the prime minister’s claims.

Mr Putin alleged in December that a trio of opponents who were once in the government or parliament took billions from state coffers in the 1990s.

He said former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, once-Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov and former independent MP Vladimir Ryzhkov had gone broke and were now seeking power again to fill their pockets.

Before the court hearing Mr Nemtsov said he did not expect to win but the fact the suit was even admitted was a victory. Of the three, only Mr Ryzhkov was absent from Savyolovsky District Court. Mr Putin had a lawyer present. The plaintiffs are demanding Mr Putin retract the comments and pay a million roubles (£21,000) compensation.

In the call-in show, Mr Putin was asked what the three were pursuing.

“Money and power, what else do they want?” he said. “In their day they wrought havoc, in the 90s, (and) they stole quite a few billion along with the Berezovskys and others who are now in prison,” he said, referring to Boris Berezovsky, the London tycoon who made his riches in the post-Soviet privatisation period and fled in 2000 after falling out with Mr Putin.

“They’ve been deprived of the hand that feeds them, they’ve gone broke and now they want to come back and fill their pockets. But I think if we let them do that, they won’t stop at a few billion, and they’ll sell out the whole of Russia.”

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