- A British judge ordered Christopher Steele to pay damages to Russian bankers that the former British spy accused in the infamous Trump dossier of having illicit ties to Vladimir Putin.
- The judge ruled that Steele’s allegations were inaccurate and that he failed to verify the information before including it in the dossier.
- The ruling marks Steele’s first loss in a dossier-related lawsuit. Other aspects of Steele’s report have been debunked by reports from the special counsel’s office and the Justice Department’s inspector general.
A British judge on Wednesday ordered former British spy Christopher Steele to pay damages to two Russian bankers he accused in the infamous Trump dossier of having illicit ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The ruling, handed down by Sir Mark Warby, a justice on the High Court of England and Wales, marks Steele’s first lost in a dossier-related lawsuit.
Warby ordered Steele and his firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, to pay £18,000 to Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, two owners of Alfa Bank, for violating their rights under the Data Protection Act.
Fridman, Aven and a third Alfa Bank owner, German Khan, sued Steele in the British court in May 2018 alleging that he violated their rights under the Data Protection Act, a British law that grants individuals legal remedies to ensure that information about them in the public domain is accurate.
The bankers sued Steele over a Sept. 14, 2016, memo that the ex-spy compiled as part of an investigation for the Clinton campaign into Donald Trump’s possible ties to the Russian government.
Steele, a former MI6 officer, alleged that the bankers made “illicit” cash payments to Putin in the 1990s and continued to do “significant favours” for the Russian leader.
Warby determined that Steele’s allegation about illicit payments was false and that he failed to conduct due diligence to verify the information once he received it.
Warby ruled that Steele’s allegations were “inaccurate or misleading as a matter of fact.”
“The steps taken to verify [this] proposition fell short of what would have been reasonable,” the justice said, adding that “the allegation clearly called for closer attention, a more enquiring approach, and more energetic checking.”
“My findings are analogous to a finding of liability for libel,” Warby said.
Warby emphasized Steele’s admission during cross-examination in mid-March that the dossier contained inaccurate information regarding a Russian he claimed served as the bag man for an alleged scheme between the bankers and Vladimir Putin.
Steele alleged that Oleg Govorun made the secret payments to Putin on Alfa’s behalf when Putin served as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.
But the bankers’ lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson, forced Steele to concede that the allegation was inaccurate because Govorun did not start working for Alfa Bank until Putin was no longer deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.
Steele testified that he conducted a single internet search regarding Govorun before adding the information to the dossier.
“It is unclear what efforts Mr Steele made to verify this allegation, other than the one relevant internet search to which he has referred,” Warby said in his ruling.
“Mr Steele’s evidence as to the single relevant internet search he undertook was unimpressive.”
Fridman, one of the Alfa Bank owners, celebrated Warby’s decision, saying that it confirmed that Steele’s memo about the bankers was “inaccurate and misleading.”
“Ever since these odious allegations were first made public in January 2017, my partners and I have been resolute and unwavering in our determination to prove that they are untrue, and through this case, we have finally succeeded in doing so,” Fridman said in a statement provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Fridman and Aven plan to donate the damages they receive from Orbis to charity.
“This suit was never about money, it has always been about principle and truth,” according to Geraldine Proudler, a lawyer for the bankers.
Steele goes to trial in another dossier-related lawsuit later this month. Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian tech executive, claims that Steele falsely accused him of using his companies to help Russian hackers steal information from Democrats in 2016.
Both Gubarev and the Alfa Bank executives have lost lawsuits filed in the U.S. over the dossier.
Gubarev sued BuzzFeed News for publishing the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017.
The heads of Alfa Bank sued Steele in Washington, D.C., but lost that case on appeal. They are also suing Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Steele on behalf of the law firm that represented the Clinton campaign and DNC.
The proceedings in the Alfa Bank case revealed new details about the methods Steele used to put together the dossier.
He said under cross-examination that he relied on a lone source to collect information from a network of sub-sources, many of whom lived in Russia.
Steele said that he paid his source up to $5,000 a month on retainer. The former spy also said that his communications with the source — and other documents related to the Trump dossier project — were “wiped” in late 2016 or early 2017.
Steele also revealed why he included information about Alfa Bank in the dossier. He disclosed that a lawyer for Perkins Coie, the firm that hired Fusion GPS, told him during a July 2016 meeting that Alfa Bank may have had covert communications with the Trump Organization through both organizations’ computer servers.
Steele said that Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, directed him to further investigate Alfa Bank.
The theory of illicit server contacts first appeared in public in an Oct. 2016 article at Slate. Sussmann has acknowledged that he was a source for the article.
The Justice Department’s inspector general poured cold water on that story, saying in a report that the FBI determined by Feb. 2017 that there was not a secret channel of communication between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.
Steele’s dossier has suffered a series of other setbacks over the past year.
The special counsel’s report, released on April 18, 2019, undermined the dossier’s core allegation of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
Steele’s most explosive allegation was that Trump associates — including former campaign aide Carter Page and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen — conspired with Russian operatives to steal and release Democrats’ emails.
The special counsel’s report said that investigators could not establish that any Trump associate conspired with Russia.
The report also said that no Americans, including anyone affiliated with Trump, took part in the theft or release of emails stolen from Democrats.
The IG report further undercut Steele’s work. The report said that Steele’s primary source disputed many of the allegations in the dossier.
The IG report also said that the FBI had evidence that Russian intelligence operatives fed disinformation to Steele, who worked as a spy in Moscow until he left MI6 in 2009.
Orbis Business Intelligence, Steele’s firm, did not respond to a request for comment about Warby’s ruling.
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