Vance Center Client Sees Judicial Vindication
Long-standing Vance Center client the Organized Crime and Corruption Project (OCCRP) saw justice go full circle in the London courts. A judge approved the seizure of £5.6 million ($7.56 million) from Azerbaijani parliamentarian Javanshir Feyziyev and his family, based on a submission by the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) that Feyziyev had participated in the laundering of $2.9 billion from Azerbaijan.
OCCRP had reported in 2017 on what it called the Azerbaijani Laundromat, specifically identifying the key role that Feyziyev’s company had played. Feyziyev brought a defamation claim against OCCRP and its co-executive director Paul Radu, ultimately maintaining the claim against only him as an EU resident.
The Vance Center organized and coordinated Radu’s defense with OCCRP, recruiting representation by Christopher Marks of Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Jonathan Price of Doughty Street Chambers. The case lasted two years, ending with a January 2020 settlement highly favorable to Radu and OCCRP.
The attention from the lawsuit and OCCRP’s reporting led the NCA to investigate fabricated documents designed to give the laundering operations an appearance of legitimacy. Based on the NCA’s report, the Westminster Magistrates Court District Judge found overwhelming evidence of a money-laundering scheme in Azerbaijan, Estonia, and Latvia and ordered Feyziyev’s forfeiture of £5.6 million pounds.
OCCRP recently published a series of stories disclosing Swiss bank accounts belonging to various “corrupt politicians, criminals, spies, dictators, and other dubious characters” as part of reporting by a consortium of investigative media organizations. This followed OCCRP’s disclosures last year of surveillance of opposition politicians, human rights defenders, journalists, and others in authoritarian countries using software of the NSO Group, again through collaboration with other journalism outlets.
OCCRP and other investigative media face frequent threats of litigation in London where a defamation industry of specialized law firms enables oligarchs and former government officials to retaliate against reports of their corruption. Proceedings are lengthy and expensive, even when exonerating the media defendants, leading to calls for anti-SLAPP legislation in the United Kingdom, which the Vance Center has joined. Similar efforts to support investigative journalism in the European Union include the European Commission Anti-SLAPP Working Group, of which Vance Center executive director Alexander Papachristou is a member.