Russia tycoon sues publisher and Reuters reporter over Putin book

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Europa League Final - Chelsea v Arsenal - Baku Olympic Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan - May 29, 2019 Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich in the stands beofre the match REUTERS/Phil Noble

(Reuters) - Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich has sued publishing house HarperCollins over a recent book that reported he purchased England’s Chelsea Football Club at the direction of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Lawyers for Abramovich, based in London, issued a statement alleging a “number of false and defamatory claims” in “Putin’s People,” a history of Putin’s rule published last year by Catherine Belton, now a Reuters correspondent based in London.

The statement, by law firm Harbottle & Lewis, said the book “falsely alleges that our client has acted corruptly, and makes false claims about our client’s purchase, and the activities, of Chelsea Football Club.” The lawyers’ statement didn’t specify further details about Abramovich’s claims.

A former aide to Putin, Sergei Pugachev, told Belton that Putin saw the acquisition of Chelsea as an opportunity to raise Russia’s profile and increase its influence.

HarperCollins said in a statement that it and Belton will “robustly” fight the suit and defend “the right to report on matters of considerable public interest.” The book, HarperCollins said, “is an authoritative, important and conscientiously sourced work on contemporary Russia.”

Belton’s book chronicles the rise to power of Putin and a circle of fellow former members of the KGB, the Soviet-era spy agency, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Reporting by Michael Williams. Edited by Janet McBride