Libel Tourism: Kyiv Post sued by Ukrainian Oligarch

The Kyiv Post ( has taken the unusual step of blocking off access of its website to UK citizens after being sued by a second Ukrainian oligarch. 

Dymytro Firtash has sued the Post claiming the story about his gas company RosUkrEnergo was libelous. The Post story was about how current President Viktor Yuschenko's reinstated 11 billion cubic meters of gas to RosUkrEnergo that his predecessor, former President Yulia Tymoshenko had ordered the state to seize the gas. Tymoshenko said the gas seizure was part of a deal signed with Vladimir Putin and Gazrpom.  Yuschenko reinstated the gas and paid RosUkrEnergo a significant fine.

The story also mentions Yuschenko put Firtash associates into top places of the state gas company. 

"The story wasn’t libelous, and we – then and now and in the future — have and will repeatedly offer Mr. Firtash the opportunity to correct, respond and tell his side of the story. He has chosen so far to talk in court,” said Kyiv Post editor Brian Bonner. “If news media cannot report on public allegations made by current or former top public officials involving a public figure, then how can find out what is happening in their nation?"

RosUkrEnergo is a controversial company that is co-owned by Firtash, Gazprom and a another businessman.  For reasons that are not clear, Gazprom gave the company a complete monopoly on its sales to Ukraine.  RosUkrEnergo also has an agreement with Turkmenistan to supply gas.  Tymoshenko abolished the monopoly during her time in office and accused Firtash of underwriting Yuschenko's political parties and election campaign.

Firtash, whose companies cover many different industries from basketball teams to banks, has also taken over state-owned titanium resources.  He started from a failed food company to becoming a billionaire largely through energy deals.

The US in leaked documents and media have speculated that RosUkrEnergo is partially owned by Semion Mogilevich, probably the best known Russian organized crime figure who is wanted by the FBI for a multimillion dollar stock fraud. A Wikileaks document just released has Firtash acknowledging the link to US Embassy officials but arguing he had to because Mogilevich was too powerful.  He has since denied the substance of the cable.  The cables also quote him as saying he is friends with and a strong supporter of Yuschenko.

The Post was sued in London with Firtash claiming to have status there based on the fact that he has status in the UK having attended a dinner with the Queen in honor of the new President.  He is also funding Ukrainian language classes at Cambridge.   One of his many companies is registered in the UK.

“This is about a Ukrainian billionaire with a controversial past using a terrible libel law in a faraway land to stifle one of the few remaining independent news sources in Ukraine. It’s just wrong,” Bonner said.

“Public allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest in the gas trade form the basis of the story. That much seems indisputable, especially since Mr. Firtash and his associates have charged that Tymoshenko’s government wrongly took RosUkrEnergo’s gas away from him – essentially ‘stole’ it --- while Tymoshenko said she properly acquired it through an agreement with Russia’s Gazprom as part of the Jan. 19, 2009, deal she made with Vladimir Putin. Moreover, the story cites ongoing criminal investigations and arrests of officials of Tymoshenko’s government in connection with the disputed gas. So the real question is: whom do you believe, Firtash or Tymoshenko?” said Bonner.

In 2007, the Kyiv Post was sued in London by Rinat Ahkmetov, another controversial oligarch. The Post apologized and settled the suit. 

OCCRP is a partner of the Kyiv Post.

Drew Sullivan
Advising Editor
Center for Investigative Reporting (
Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
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+387 61 139 403 (mobile)

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