Abramovich wins payout over gambling claim

CHELSEA FC owner Roman Abramovich accepted a public apology and substantial libel damages at the High Court in London yesterday over false newspaper allegations that he had a serious gambling problem.

His solicitor John Kelly told a judge in London that the claims had caused the “internationally well-known and wealthy” Russian businessman “distress and embarrassment”.

The action arose out of allegations in Italian newspaper La Repubblica last May in an article titled, “A black year for Abramovich as he loses a yacht at poker”.

Kelly told Mr Justice Eady that the newspaper’s publisher, Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso, had agreed to pay Abramovich “substantial damages”, which he intends to donate to charity.

Kelly said the report alleged that Abramovich had “suffered a heavy loss in a poker game and had been forced to hand over a luxury yacht worth half a million euro to cover his gambling debt”.

“The report also alleged that Mr Abramovich’s poker playing had led to a crisis with his long-term partner Dasha Zhukova and that Mr Abramovich was now gambling online,” he said.

The claims were damaging and untrue, he said.

“The article would have been understood to mean that he had such a serious gambling problem that he was not only jeopardising his relationship with his long-term partner Dasha Zhukova, who had been forced to issue him an ultimatum that he either give up playing poker or she would end their relationship, but he was also seriously risking his financial stability and had already been forced to liquidate assets, through the sale of one of his yachts, in order to cover his heavy gambling debts.”

He added that if these allegations were put to Abramovich or his representatives before publication, “the defendant would have been advised of the utter falsity of the allegations”.

Sarah Toolan, solicitor for the publisher, said: “The defendant accepts that the allegations are untrue and ought never to have been published.”

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