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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Forbes Suit: A Chance to Clear the Air

Good for Boris Berezovsky. He was accused by an important publication of being the financial crook and perhaps murderer he is so often rumored to be by people sitting on stools in smoky Moscow bars, and he is taking the magazine to court over it.


Now comes the interesting part. The American magazine Forbes has said it stands by its story, and Berezovsky says he wants a retraction and damages. So far so good. But the usual routine would be for this kind of dispute to get settled out of court.


From the point of view of the public interest -- and, indeed, of Berezovsky's reputation -- that would be a shame.


Forbes printed some serious allegations last December in its article, headlined "Is He the Godfather of the Kremlin?" The magazine tied Berezovsky to numerous criminal deals and scams, as well as to the murder of Vladimir Listyev, the popular television host and official killed in 1995.


If Berezovsky had not decided to fight back, one could only have assumed it was because Forbes was right. On the face of it, Forbes did not have much evidence to back its charges, and much was couched in the language of innuendo.


But settlements out of court set nobody's mind at ease. Just think of the case of Michael Jackson, who paid undisclosed millions to avoid having to go to trial for allegedly molesting a young boy. That settlement may have kept Jackson out of jail, but he was nevertheless judged by the public.


Of course, if Berezovsky can get a retraction without going to court, this could amount to a clear admission by Forbes that it did not have the evidence it needed to go public with such a story. But there are all kinds of face-saving retractions that can be negotiated if the two sides so wish.


Doubtless, neither Forbes nor Berezovsky believe it is worth spending large sums of money to go to court and risk adverse publicity. But from the point of view of a spectator in Russia, a courtroom battle would have enormous value.


Berezovsky is among Russia's most powerful men. He has far-flung media, banking and industrial interests, not to mention a seat on the Russian Security Council. He also has one of the most unsavory reputations of any man in Russia. The Forbes suit offers him and the Russian public a rare chance to clear the air.


Berezovsky evidently has good legal advice. He has gone to Britain to sue, where it is much easier to win a libel judgment than in the United States. But the legal process nevertheless can force a degree of disclosure that news articles achieve only rarely. How far is Berezovsky prepared to go?