Case to Watch: Gubarev v. Buzzfeed
Posted on April 19, 2018
The Trump/Russia scandal now has an international judicial assistance angle. In early 2017, Buzzfeed published the Steele dossier, which contained the following assertions:
[redacted] reported that over the period March-September 2016 a company called XBT/Webzilla and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct “altering operations” against the Democratic Party leadership. Entities linked to one Alexei GUBAROV [sic] were involved and he and another hacking expert, both recruited under duress by the FSB, Seva KAPSUGOVICH, were significant players in this operation. In Prague, COHEN agreed contingency plans for various scenarios to protect the operations, but in particular what was to be done in the event that Hillary CLINTON won the presidency. It was important in this event that all cash payments owed were made quickly and discreetly and that cyber and that cyber and other operators were stood down / able to go effectively to ground to cover their traces.
Alexei Gubarev, apparently the GUBAROV mentioned in the dossier, sued Buzzfeed for defamation in Florida, claiming that the statements about him and his firms were false and that banks had refused to loan him money because of the supposedly false statements.
Buzzfeed removed the case to federal court. Gubarev moved for issuance of a letter of request to the UK central authority seeking the deposition of Christopher Steele, the former intelligence officer who wrote the dossier. The judge issued the letter of request over Steele’s objection (he claimed that there were parallel defamation proceedings in England and that his deposition would be impermissible in the English case, and thus that Gubarev was seeking to circumvent English restrictions on evidence-gathering. Late last month, the High Court, in a characteristic lucid decision by Senior Master Fontaine, granted leave to take Mr. Steele’s deposition with some tinkering with the schedule of topics to be covered.
Not to be outdone, Buzzfeed has now moved for a letter of request addressed to the Dutch Central Authority seeking to take evidence from BNP Paribas and Der Lage Landen, two banks. In particular, they are seeking to discover the basis for the assertion, in the complaint, that banks have refused to do business with Gubarev. Gubarev has not opposed the motion, so I assume the court will grant it as a matter of course. To the extent there might otherwise be any bank secrecy issues, perhaps Gubarev’s assent solves them, but we will have to see how the banks respond.