U.S. Court Finds Kommersant Guilty of Libel

A court in Arlington, Virginia, has awarded $3 million to controversial Russian banker Alexander Konanykhine in a libel case against the newspaper Kommersant, his lawyer said.

It was the second time that Arlington County Circuit Court has handed Konanykhine a multimillion dollar verdict against a Russian newspaper.

On Dec. 16, the court found that Izvestia had libeled Konanykhine by calling him a crook and a bigamist, and awarded him $33.5 million in damages.

His Washington-based lawyer, J.P. Szymkowicz, said the court ruled against Kommersant last week but gave no specifics. "Kommersant published defamatory articles about Mr. Konanykhine. Mr. Konanykhine suffered damages because of the publication of the articles," Szymkowicz said. "This case is very similar to Izvestia."

Kommersant's lawyer, Robert Brooke of the Virginia-based Mays & Valentine law firm, said Monday he had no comment.

Szymkowicz said the county court had jurisdiction because English-language editions of the newspapers are available in the United States on the Internet.

Collecting on the verdicts, however, may prove difficult. After the Izvestia ruling, Konanykhine said he was negotiating with at least two Russian entities interested in buying the verdict.

The Washington Post reported that Konanykhine was once in charge of moving billions of dollars out of Russia for the KGB, an allegation Konanykhine denies vehemently.

He fled Russia in September 1992, saying KGB-connected thugs had taken over his business empire.

"I think that combined with the $33.5 million verdict in the Izvestia case, this verdict clearly demonstrates that major Russian publications engage in the practice of character assassinations on behalf of the Russian organized crime," Konanykhine wrote in an e-mail message.

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