Christopher Steele has lost his first court case brought by targets of his infamous dossier that falsely accused President Trump and his aides of a conspiracy with the Kremlin in the 2016 election.
But a British justice’s decision in London on Wednesday does not deal with Trump allegations but with Mr. Steele’s claims about billionaire Moscow bankers close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In his ruling in a libel trial held this spring, Justice Mark Warby focused on Mr. Steele’s claims that Alfa Bank partners Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven had arranged for delivery of large amounts of illicit cash to Mr. Putin in the 1990s.
Justice Warby found that assertion “inaccurate or misleading.” He imposed a nominal $22,000 fine.
The justice wrote in his opinion that the Russian bankers “have succeeded in demonstrating that this proposition is untrue.”
“Ever since these odious allegations were first made public in January 2017, my partners and I have been resolute and unwavering in our determination to prove that they are untrue, and through this case, we have finally succeeded in doing so,” Mr. Fridman said in a statement, according to Bloomberg News.
Mr. Steele and his Orbis Business Intelligence investigative firm posted a statement on Twitter thanking the judge: “The judge found that [the dossier] records accurately what Mr. Steele was told by the source and held that Orbis BI was not responsible for the wider publication of this report. Nor did the judge accept that Orbis should be held responsible for damages caused by third party republication.”
Mr. Steele, a former British intelligence officer, has staved off legal challenges in other jurisdictions. Judges in Washington, D.C., dismissed the Alfa libel case against Mr. Steele.
And in Florida, a judge dismissed a Russian entrepreneur’s libel case against BuzzFeed, which published the dossier in January 2017. Mr. Steele accused the entrepreneur of participating in the Kremlin’s hacking of Democratic Party computers.
The judge dismissed the case not on the truth of Mr. Steele’s dossier but because it was used by the FBI and thus the media enjoyed a fair reporting privilege.
Mr. Steele’s anti-Trump claims have proven untrue, according to government investigations. Former special counsel Robert Mueller said he did not establish that a Trump-Russia conspiracy existed.