Prokhorov Lawyers Petition for New Judge

The Moscow Arbitration Court on Thursday postponed hearings on a defamation suit filed by Mikhail Prokhorov against Vladimir Potanin, after Potanin's lawyers filed a motion calling for the replacement of the judge in the case, citing suspicions of bias.

Prokhorov filed the suit against Potanin, his former business partner, and United Press, the parent company of The Moscow Times, following claims made by Potanin in an interview published in the newspaper in June that Prokhorov had reneged on an agreement to sell his stake in Norilsk Nickel to Potanin and Metalloinvest chief Alisher Usmanov.

Calling for the replacement of judge Nikolai Tarasov, Potanin lawyers Anna Razumovskaya and Mikhail Repnikov said that Prokhorov's lawyers had acted improperly in filing the case twice with the same court.

The opening of the first suit, filed July 21, was postponed by judge Yana Larina, citing procedural violations and giving Prokhorov's lawyers until Aug. 22 to put their case in order.

Instead, his legal team filed another suit on July 28, which was assigned to Tarasov.

"According to the arbitrage-procedural code, the court can't consider two absolutely similar suits at the same time," said Dmitry Zilinsky, managing partner at Dia Law International. "But it doesn't seem like the second suit was an attempt to get a different judge. It must have been a technical mistake."

"Now preference will be given to the first suit, and the case will be returned to the first judge," Zilinsky said. "Up to five more days will be allowed to correct the procedural violations."

Prokhorov's lawyer, Marina Baryshnikova, said the second suit was filed because the deadline for making corrections to the first had expired.