Azerbaijan MP discontinues defamation case against investigative journalist Paul Radu

Defamation proceedings brought by Azerbaijani MP Javanshir Feyziyev against a Romanian investigative journalist, Paul Radu, have been discontinued just before the two-week trial was due to commence on 20 January 2020.

Mr Radu is co-founder and executive director of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (OCCRP), which published an investigative series entitled “the Azerbaijani Laundromat” on an alleged money-laundering operation involving members of the ruling elite in Azerbaijan and bribery of EU officials in September 2017.

Mr Radu, a Romanian journalist who now lives outside of Europe, was sued for defamation by Mr. Feyziyev over two articles in the series about money-laundering out of Azerbaijan and the alleged involvement of pharmaceutical company, Avromed. Mr Feyziyev categorically denies all allegations of money laundering and corruption.

Jonathan Price, Jennifer Robinson and Claire Overman acted for Mr Radu, instructed by Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP.  Alexander Papachristou of the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice at the New York City Bar Association acted for OCCRP and coordinated its involvement in the matter.

The case raised important questions about public interest reporting on corruption and money-laundering, responsibility for publication for individual journalists in the context of collaborative and cross-jurisdictional reporting, proving substantial truth of reporting based on grounds to suspect, and the operation of the section 4 public interest defence under the Defamation Act 2013.  It also highlighted the ongoing persecution of Khadija Ismayilova, a leading Azerbaijani journalist working with OCCRP.  Ms Ismayilova is currently under a travel ban which would have prevented her from giving evidence in person at the trial, prompting concern from free speech and human rights groups

Mr Radu had been successful in two earlier judgments on meaning before Mr Justice Warby and in resisting a strike out application before Mrs Justice Whipple.  The claim was settled with the parties making this agreed statement. The two articles sued upon remain online.

Paul Radu said: “Thanks to our lawyers and our joint investigative efforts, this lawsuit leaves us stronger and a lot more resilient in the face of future threats.

Drew Sullivan, editor-in-chief of OCCRP said: “After two years of extensive work fighting to defend our reporting, we have reached a settlement that we're very happy with: the story will stay up and we can continue our reporting.

Alexander Papachristou said: “We are most grateful to Doughty Street Chambers and Weil Gotshal & Manges for their expert, successful defense of OCCRP’s interests in this matter.