UK’s ‘The Independent’ apologizes to Roman Abramovich, pays Chelsea owner’s legal fees after parroting ‘Putin’s bag carrier’ claim

Britain’s The Independent has been forced to make an apology to Russian tycoon and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, after publishing a story accusing the billionaire of holding illicit cash for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Amid the uproar surrounding the jailing of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, The Independent, like many Western media outlets, has sided with Navalny’s associates in demanding punitive sanctions on Moscow. Yet in its fervor to boost the protest leader, the liberal journal has fallen foul of the law.

In an article published last week, the Independent quoted an associate of Navalny as saying that Abramovich is a “bag holder” for Putin’s “illicit presidential wealth,” and should be sanctioned by foreign governments.

Its editors made an about-turn on Friday and issued an apology to Abramovich. “The Independent accepts that Mr Abramovich is not a ‘bag carrier’ for President Putin and we did not mean to allege that he should be subjected to punitive sanction,” the apology read. 

The Independent is owned by the Russian-born British peer Evgeny Lebedev, now styled as Baron of Hampton and Siberia. He is the son of Moscow-based multi-millionaire Alexander Lebedev, who himself is a major backer of the liberal Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. 

The offending article was written by The Independent’s Moscow-correspondent Oliver Carroll, a former managing editor at The Moscow Times before it closed its print edition in 2017. Carroll has been criticised in the past, by RT, for sloppy reporting

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“In view of these errors we have agreed to make a donation to a charity nominated by Mr. Abramovich and to pay his legal costs,” the London-based news outlet added.

The exact amount of legal fees that The Independent will have to cough up is unclear. To Abramovich, however, any legal expenses would be a drop in the ocean compared to the Russian businessman’s vast fortune. Best known as the owner of Chelsea Football Club since 2003, Abramovich is worth an estimated £10.15 billion ($14.05 billion), according to a Sunday Times report last year.

On top of an extensive portfolio of real estate, the Chelsea tycoon – who made his fortune during the chaotic privatization of Russia’s oil and metal industries in the 1990s – also owns the world’s second-longest yacht, the 535ft (163m) ‘Eclipse’, which he bought for half-a-billion dollars in 2010.

The Independent’s correction marks the second time this month that a major British news outlet has been forced to issue a public apology to Abramovich. Just last week, Rupert Murdoch’s The Times, which is also well known for its heavily biased and frequently inaccurate coverage of Russian affairs, admitted that it had “wrongly claimed that Mr Roman Abramovich had lost his UK citizenship and reported that he had made his money selling state assets after the fall of the Soviet Union.”

The newspaper pointed out that “Mr Abramovich did not lose UK citizenship, as he never held UK citizenship and the assets sold had first been purchased from the State.” It also made a donation to charity at his behest. 

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