A central allegation by a former British spy in his dossier about alleged ties between Moscow and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was “inaccurate and misleading,” a London judge ruled.
Christopher Steele stated in his report that Mikhail Fridman and his fellow Alfa Group billionaire Petr Aven arranged for the delivery of “large amounts of illicit cash” to Vladimir Putin in the 1990s. But Judge Mark Warby ruled Wednesday that Steele’s intelligence firm “failed to take reasonable steps to verify the allegation” as he awarded 18,000 pounds ($22,600) in compensation to each man.
“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,” Fridman said in a statement.
Before the London lawsuit, the so-called Steele Dossier had been a major political issue in America because of its allegations.
Steele, whom Trump once called a “lowlife,” was retained by a Washington-based research firm, Fusion GPS, in June 2016 to examine Trump’s links to Russia. The Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton hired Fusion after Trump was headed for the nomination.
While Steele admitted during questioning at trial that the individual who allegedly delivered the cash didn’t work for Alfa at the time, he insisted that it didn’t mean the incident was inaccurate, the judge said.
Steele’s firm, Orbis, said in a statement on Twitter that the judge held off on steeper sanctions, deeming them neither necessary nor appropriate.
The firm “will ensure that our company’s data handling procedures incorporate” the judge’s findings, Orbis said.
During the trial, Fridman said he was simply a businessman and that the idea of doing Putin’s political bidding made no sense.
“There is nothing that casts doubt on Mr. Fridman’s evidence on this issue,” the judge said.
Steele had argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the subject matter fell within the remit of national security.
Steele is facing a separate libel suit brought by Aleksej Gubarev, the Russian technology entrepreneur whose tech firm was named in Steele’s dossier.
The five-day trial begins in London later this month, where both Steele and former British diplomat Andrew Wood will give evidence.
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