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Friday, September 21, 2007

Annals of Svetlichnaya

The situation between the Aftenposten newspaper and Julia Svetlichnaya (click here to read our numerous prior reports on Ms. S.) appears to have resolved itself in a draw. On September 6th the paper published the following announcement:

Svetlichnaja and Litvinenko: Clarifications

In connection with the death of Alexander Litvinenko in London last year, Aftenposten reported on statements made by Russian-born doctoral student Julia Svetlichnaja of the University of Westminster in London. She had reported in the British media on her several meetings with Litvinenko including claims that he told her he planned to extort money from leading Russian businessmen. Aftenposten cited unnamed Russian experts who in turn claimed that Julia Svetlichnaja had been assigned by the Russian authorities to discredit Mr Litvinenko. Aftenposten clarifies that the newspaper has no basis for asserting that these claims are correct.

In reference to its front-page summary of the story on 9 December 2006 and an article published in Aftenposten's online English-language news service on 11 December, Aftenposten also clarifies that it was not Julia Svetlichnaja who tried to prevent Aftenposten's correspondent from asking questions at a press conference held in London. Aftenposten clarifies that their correspondent's questions were answered in full by Julia Svetlichnaja at the press conference. Aftenposten also clarifies that the headline on their report of the conference "Litvinenko's Accuser Turns Her Fury on Aftenposten" was incorrect.

Aftenposten's online English-language news service also noted in its article that British media had linked the website of Russian Investors which featured Ms Svetlichnaja's name to the Russian state. The company is registered as privately owned. Ms Svetlichnaja had in fact formerly worked for a British services company which had designed a website for Russian Investors in 2005.

In March of this year, a court in London granted Ms Svetlichnaja compensation from The Sunday Times for an article published 10 December last year. The newspaper had suggested that she may have taken part in a Kremlin effort to discredit Litvinenko. The Sunday Times was also ordered to withdraw its report, and apologize in open court and pay to Ms Svetlichnaja substantial undisclosed damages.

So Aftenposten does not apologize to Svetlichnaya, much less pay her any damages, nor does it even issue a "correction" much less a "retraction." All it does is "clarify" certain points of the story. It does not state that the central accusation made against Svetlichnaya (that she was acting in the interests of the Kremlin, and for political reasons, to discredit Alexander Litvinenko when she spoke to the British press to him after his demise) was false. Rather, it merely states that it does not have the ability to independently verify that accusation (hardly surprising, given that the Kremlin is ruled by a proud KGB spy trained to hide such evidence, a spy who could easily have intimidated the witnesses into silence), and admits that it too-aggressively characterized Svetlichnaya's personal efforts to obstruct their investigation (the efforts, it seems, came mostly from her entourage, which includes an avowed Marxist who uses a pseudonym). It says that the Russian firm Svetlichnaya previously worked for "is registered as privately owned" -- but anyone with half a brain knows that the Kremlin controls plenty of businesses that are so registered, so this says nothing about the extent of her connections to the Russian government or the murky figure Alexei Golubovich.

To date, as far as we know, Svetlichnaya has still not sat down for an aggressive interview with any significant journalist to defend herself on the merits against the charges that have been made against her (for instance, [1] the fact that her name was suddenly removed from the Russian firm's website, as reported by the Komisar Scoop (which also reported that Litvinenko was investigating Golubovich, Svetlichnaya's employer) or [2] the fact that, whilst claiming not to be a supporter of the Kremlin, no record of Kremlin-critical statements has been produced, or the fact that [3] no explanation has yet been given for how Svetlichnaya contacted Litvinenko or began to work with him when such work has no apparent relations whatsoever to her doctoral research). There has been much discussion about what Aftenposten can and cannot prove, but virtually none about what Svetlichnaya can and cannot prove concerning her accusations smearing Alexander Litvinenko -- allegations which she oh-so conveniently waited until he was dead to make, hence unable to defend himself, allegations which Litvinenko's wife has repudiated. We challenge Svetlichnaya to come out from behind her lawyers and face the music in the court of public opinion, as she should have done long ago.

More important, Svetlichnaya could have gone to a court of law. She could have insisted on it. Once there, she could have laid out all her evidence before a jury, and allowed the newspapers to do likewise, and allowed the court to make a formal finding as to exactly who she is and what she was up to when she spoke about Litvinenko. Instead, she apparently opted for murky settlements behind closed doors. Granted, the newspapers involved could have insisted on a court battle as well, but corporate businesses very rarely take stands based on principle when they can avoid it, it's just good business. The Sunday Times settled with Svetlichnaya simply because it wasn't their story and they could not treat it as if it were, and because Britain has rather draconian libel laws that err on the side of the subject rather than on the side of the press, as American law does. It was Aftenposten's story, and as shown above the paper is largely standing behind it, with the very limited "clarification" stated, which Svetlichnaya has apparently accepted as an end to the matter rather than proceeding in a Norwegian court. The net result is that the whole sordid business has now been swept under the carpet, and we may never get the full story from Svetlichnaya.

Interestingly, that's exactly how the Kremlin would have wanted it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Many unanswered questions....

Will we ever know the truth?