Owners of a Russian bank are suing BuzzFeed for publishing an unsubstantiated dossier that claimed that the businessmen were part of Moscow's campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Politico reported Friday.
Alfa Bank's Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan filed a defamation lawsuit in New York state court in Manhattan Friday and are seeking unspecified damages, Politico reported. BuzzFeed's editor-in-chief Ben Smith, reporter Ken Bensinger and editors Miriam Elder and Mark Schoofs were also named in the suit.
Alfa Bank's attorneys argued in a civil complaint, obtained by Politico, that BuzzFeed admitted in its article introducing the dossier that the allegations made in the document were unverified and, therefore, BuzzFeed harmed the bank and the owners' professional reputation "with reckless disregard of whether they were true or false."
"The Article clearly states that the allegations contained in the Dossier were unverified and that the Dossier itself contined errors, including the repeated misspelling of Alfa's name, and could not be verified despite substantial efforts," wrote Alan Lewis and John Walsh of Carter Ledyard and Milburn, the law firm representing the bank owners. "The false and defamatory statements published by Defendants of and concerning the Plaintiffs and Alfa, and the implications of those defamatory statements, were made with knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard of whether they were true or false."
A spokesman for BuzzFeed said in a statement to Politico that the dossier was of vital national importance and publishing it was serving the public interest.
"The head of a Russian bank sued our news organization for publishing a document that alleges financial ties between Putin, Trump, and Russian entities—including this very bank," BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal said. "Given that the allegations contained in the dossier were presented to successive presidents and remain under active investigation by intelligence agencies and Congress, there is little doubt that their publication was and continues to be in the public interest. That makes it all the more important that this shameless attempt to bully and intimidate BuzzFeed News not have a chilling effect on other journalists who continue to report this important story.”