Defamation claim against Bellingcat founder struck out


A defamation claim brought by Yevgeniy Prigozhin against the founder of Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins, has been struck out by the High Court.

Mr Higgins is an award-winning independent investigative journalist, who was previously the Chairman and Executive Director of the Bellingcat Foundation.

Mr Prigozhin is a prominent Russian businessman. Mr Prigozhin is widely known by the nickname ‘Putin’s Chef’. He is subject to financial sanctions in the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States of America.

Mr Prigozhin alleged that five tweets published to Mr Higgins’ personal Twitter account, and three news articles to which those tweets provided links, were defamatory. The tweets and articles related to an investigation into Mr Prigozhin’s business affairs conducted by the Bellingcat Foundation, together with The Insider and Der Spiegel.

Mr Prigozhin claimed that the tweets and articles conveyed imputations that, inter alia, Mr Prigozhin was responsible for the unlawful activities of the paramilitary organisation known as the Wagner Group, and that Mr Prigozhin used the Wagner Group to “unlawfully surveil, threaten, and harass independent journalists in order to frustrate and discredit the investigation of his paramilitary operations and involvement in the murder of three Russian journalists.” In the claim, Mr Prigozhin said that those allegations were untrue.

The claim was maintained against Mr Higgins personally (rather than the organisations which published the articles in issue). Mr Higgins had always maintained that the claim was a quintessential ‘SLAPP’ claim (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), designed to silence Mr Higgins’ journalistic investigation of the affairs of Mr Prigozhin and individuals associated with the Putin administration.

The claim was struck out for repeated non-compliance with orders of the Court.

Guy Vassall-Adams QC and Tim James-Matthews acted for Mr Higgins, instructed by Matthew Jury and Joe Snape of McCue Jury & Partners.