Is Billionaire's Defamation Win Libel Tourism? Ethiopian Review Claimed he 'Hunted' Daughter to be Stoned

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Ethiopian Review was ordered to pay a libel payment after its story claiming Sheikh al-Amoudi 'hunted' his daughter down. (Credit: BBC, screenshot)

The Ethiopian Review must pay Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi  £175,000 in a libel payment, the BBC reported. Al-Amoudi is an “Ethiopian-born billionaire” who “spends his time at homes in central London, Surrey, and Saudi Arabia.”

The lawsuit came after The Ethiopian Review’s Jan. 2010 article claiming that Al-Amoudi “hunted his daughter and granddaughter across London in an attempt to ensure they were stoned to death in Saudi Arabia,” according to the BBC.

Ethiopian Review also claimed that Al-Amoudi “disgracefully and callously” arranged the marriage of his 13-year-old daughter “to an elderly member of the Saudi royal family as a gift.”

Ethiopian Review also suggested Al-Amoudi was behind the murder of “his daughter’s lover in Iraq.”

Al-Amoudi claims the account is “wholly untrue.”  The article was unpublished in August 2010.

But, the Ethiopian Review didn’t stop there, according to the BBC.  When Al-Amoudi first complained over the article, Ethiopian Review’s publisher and editor, Elias Kifle, reportedly stated: “Here is my formal statement: Screw yourself.”  Kifle confirmed with iMediaEthics that statement is accurate.

Kifle also reportedly alleged Al-Amoudi gave money to al-Qaeda,” which Al-Amoudi has denied.

In Al-Moudi’s testimony, posted here on the Ethiopian Review website, Al-Amoudi described his reaction to the article as “horrified” and “very angry.”  He stated:

“Although I have a significant profile as a business man, I have always kept my personal and family life very private. I was therefore particularly angry that such offensive personal attacks were made in the Article and published on the internet.  Given that information about my private life is not generally known, I believe that people are more likely to believe the claims made in the Article.”

Libel Tourism?

In a Jan. 4, 2011 story, Kifle reported on the lawsuit and questioned why the suit was filed in the UK “since Ethiopian Review is based in the U.S.”  According to Ethiopian Review’s website, the site is based in Washington, D.C.

In a Feb. 2011 report, Bloomberg listed Al-Amoudi’s lawsuit as perhaps one of “the last of the so-called libel tourists in the U.K.”  As iMediaEthics has been reporting, there have been calls and efforts to revise UK libel law.  As is, the UK is often considered a libel tourist destination as it is easier for plaintiffs to win a libel lawsuit.

Bloomberg reported that Libel Reform’s Mike Harris commented that Al-Amoudi’s lawsuit is “definitely libel tourism because Sheikh Al-Amoudi lives for the most part outside the U.K. and is not a British citizen and the majority of readers of the Ethiopian Review are outside the U.K.”

iMediaEthics wrote to Harris asking for further comment regarding the payout and if he still views this case as an example of libel tourism.

Harris, who is also the head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, told iMeaEthics via e-mail that “the law is used by rich people who will pay whatever they can to defend their reputations. With hourly legal fees as high as 800 pounds per hour, there’s no surprise that the editor of the Ethiopian Review decided not to fight the case against one of the richest people on earth.”

Harris added:

“The unproven allegations made against Mr. Al-Amoudi were extremely serious indeed.  It’s a pity that English libel law is so unbalanced towards the claimant against the defendant the case could not be heard with both sides present.”

iMediaEthics asked Kifle if this is a libel tourism case.  He responded via e-mail that it is and that he “didn’t try to move the suit out of the U.K.”  He added “there was no way I could defend myself in U.K.” against Al-Amoudi and his attorneys “without ruining myself financially.  Even then I would still lose because of how the U.K. libel law is written.”

iMediaEthics wrote to Al-Amoudi’s website for comment on the ruling.  We were provided “the official news release related to the court case.”

In that statement, Al-Amoudi stated that the judge “defended the Sheikh…against suggestions of ‘libel tourism,'” and reportedly noted that the Ethiopian Review is “widely read by Ethiopians living in the UK.”

The judge stated in his ruling that Al-Amoudi is “a man with real, substantial and long established connections to this country, where he is well known within the business community. He is plainly a man with an established reputation to protect in this jurisdiction.”

The press release noted that “‘similar’ allegations [of terrorism connections] have been made and retracted in the past by responsible media organisations” and listed a series of apologies to Al-Amoudi from Times Newspapers Ltd  (2000), the National Review (2004), and the Boston Herald (2002).

We wrote to Al-Amoudi’s “legal counsel,” DLA Piper’s Eben Black for more information about Al-Amoudi’s filing in the U.K.

Black explained why Al-Amoudi filed in the U.K. as opposed to the U.S.:

“The judge accepted and mentioned in his judgement that Sheikh Al Amoudi has substantial connections with the UK, including that he has companies registered here, he has two homes here, three of his daughters live here (including Sarah Al Amoudi), that his other children will be educated here when they reach the right age, that he is well known in the business community in the UK, that he is often in the UK and that his activities have been reported in the UK media. The ‘Saudi Princess’ story is well established with the London media. None of this could be said of the US.”

Black added that “it is estimated that there are around 50,000 members of the Ethiopian community in the UK, and a number of witnesses came forward from that community to testify that they had read the article, that they had discussed it with their friends and that it was a matter of discussion within the community in the UK.”

iMediaEthics reported in 2010 when the SPEECH Act was signed into law.  Under the law, if a U.K.  libel ruling wouldn’t be upheld in the U.S., people in the U.S. don’t have to abide by it.

We asked Kifle if that law will make it so he isn’t obligated to pay the libel fee.  Kifle told iMediaEthics via e-mail that from his “discussions with legal experts, he doesn’t know that until “a hearing in a U.S. court is held and the judge approves the U.K. court ruling. “

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Is Billionaire’s Defamation Win Libel Tourism?

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