Christopher Steele Beats Russian Bankers’ Defamation Lawsuit

(Bloomberg) -- Former British spy Christopher Steele defeated a defamation lawsuit brought by the billionaire owners of Moscow-based Alfa-Bank over the dossier Steele compiled that examined then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin.

A District of Columbia Superior Court judge on Monday dismissed the lawsuit brought by German Khan, Mikhal Fridman and Petr Aven, agreeing with Steele that his report serves the public interest because it relates to possible Russian influence with the 2016 presidential election and Russian oligarchs’ involvement with the Russian government. In addition, plaintiffs didn’t provide evidence that Steele acted with malice, the judge said.

Superior Court Judge Anthony Epstein didn’t address whether the information in the Steele dossier was accurate, only whether Steele’s sharing of the report with the media was protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"The U.S. public today continues to have a strong interest in Russia’s relations with the United States and in the political and commercial relationships between Russian oligarchs and the Russian government," Epstein said in his ruling.

Steele, who President Donald Trump has called a “lowlife,” was retained by a Washington-based research firm, Fusion GPS, in June 2016 to examine Trump’s links to Russia, according to the ruling. Fusion had first been hired by Republicans during the primaries for the 2016 election. The Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton hired Fusion after Trump was headed for the nomination.

Alfa-Bank’s owners sued Steele over claims in his report that the bank had a close relationship with Putin, that “significant favors” were done in both directions and that an intermediary delivered “illicit cash” to Putin throughout the 1990s when he was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s decision, which we will almost certainly appeal," Alan Lewis, a lawyer representing the bankers, said in a statement. "We are, however, pleased that the court agreed that we have adequately proved Mr. Steele’s negligence in making unsupported accusations that our clients had something to do with alleged efforts to interfere in the 2016 election -- which they did not."

(An earlier version of this story corrected the timing of Steele’s retention by Fusion GPS.)

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