By Kylie MacLellan and Andrew MacAskill
LONDON (Reuters) -The British government will soon put forward proposals to stop Russian oligarchs using Britain’s court system to sue those seeking to shine a light on corruption, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said on Friday.
The government wants to limit so-called SLAPP lawsuits, short for “strategic lawsuits against public participation”, which have been used by wealthy foreign businessmen to limit free speech by targeting journalists and activists.
In recent years, London courts have been used by Russian billionaires Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven to successfully sue a former British spy using data protection laws, and Roman Abramovich settled a case with the author of a book by a Reuters journalist that claimed he was directed to buy Chelsea soccer club by Putin.
“We’ve seen oligarchs and technocrats and those with links to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, coming into this country and suing under our libel laws those who are shining a light, whether it’s authors or NGOs, … on corruption and abuse, and that is an abuse of our system,” Raab, who is also justice minister, told BBC Television.
“I’m going to be putting forward proposals to deal with that and to prevent that. It cannot be right that kleptocrats and those with links to Putin can silence those shining a light on those excesses and use our courts to do so.”
Bob Seely, a Conservative lawmaker, on Tuesday criticised “amoral” lawyers who he said had allowed those with links to Putin to intimidate British journalists. He said these law firms were offering a form of “legalised intimidation” to silence critics.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Britain has imposed sanctions on 11 wealthy Russians, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused by opposition politicians and some of his own lawmakers of failing to take more speedy action.
British sanctions on Russian oligarchs are being partly delayed over concerns wealthy businessmen will take the government to court unless they have built solid legal cases against those targeted.
(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Kate Holton and Hugh Lawson)