A federal court in Manhattan will hear a libel suit brought by Alex Goldfarb against two Russian state television propaganda stations, Channel One Russia and Russia Today (RT). The case stems from the 2006 murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London. Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive Polonium-210.
Following Litvinenko’s murder, British authorities ruled that former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Andrei Lugovoi and former KGB officer Dmitry Kovtun were sent by Russia’s FSB spy agency – likely with the approval of President Vladimir Putin – to assassinate Litvinenko in retaliation for speaking out against wrongdoing by Russian government officials.
Russia denied Britain’s request to extradite the men in 2007, and that same year Goldfarb and Litvinenko’s widow published a book arguing that Lugovoi and Kovtun killed Litvinenko on Putin’s orders.
Six years later, the two Kremlin-backed networks both aired segments accusing Goldfarb of poisoning Litvinenko at the behest of the CIA despite Goldfarb being in New York on the date of the poisoning, leading him to sue the networks for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The networks moved to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming New York lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.
In a 20-page opinion released Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York denied the motion to dismiss the case, ruling that New York had personal jurisdiction over the matter because the networks maintain a Manhattan studio where they interviewed Goldfarb in relation to the allegedly defamatory story.
“Despite having Plaintiff’s taped interview, Channel One broadcast the allegedly defamatory allegations that directly contradicted Plaintiff’s statements in three programs in March and April 2018, all after Goldfarb’s interview, without ever airing or disclosing Plaintiff’s contrary statements,” Judge Caproni wrote. “Thus, although Plaintiff’s interview never aired, it constitutes activity in New York directly related to the creation of the allegedly defamatory statements subsequently broadcast by Channel One.”
Judge Caproni ordered the parties to meet and jointly propose a reasonable schedule for jurisdictional discovery by the end of March.
As for the two men British authorities believe to be responsible for Litvinenko’s murder, Lugovoy was elected to the Russian parliament in 2007 and awarded a medal “For Services to the Fatherland, Second Degree” by Putin in 2015, while Kovtun is currently a general director of a company in Moscow.
Read Judge Caproni’s full order below:
[image via Omer Messinger/Getty Images]