July 23, 2015 by AK
Up until 2012, Vladimir Slutsker (Sloutsker) was a second-tier Russian oligarch. He was a member of the Federation Council, a senator in colloquial usage, in 2002-2010. His detractors claim that Slutsker largely owed his success to being good at obtaining “protection” for his businesses from high-placed government officials, typically with backgrounds in intelligence.
Together with his wife Olga, known in Russia as the owner of the World Class gym chain, Slutsker bought a house in Kensington for £6 million in 2000. The Slutskers got divorced in 2009 and after a legal battle in London, Vladimir lost the house, then worth £40 million, to his ex in 2012. In the same year (or 2011 according to some sources) he left Russia and permanently settled in Israel.
Olga Romanova is an experienced Russian journalist, a professor of journalism at a leading university, and a human rights activist. She co-founded a movement called Rus’ Sidyaschaya, “Russia behind bars” or “Russia doing time,” seeking to reverse wrongful convictions and improve prison conditions. Her activism was triggered by the prosecution and conviction of her husband, Alexei Kozlov, on likely trumped-up embezzlement and laundering charges. Kozlov was jailed in 2008-11 and then again in 2012-13. Although the Russian Supreme Court quashed his conviction in 2011, Kozlov was re-convicted in 2012 and had to serve another year until the Supreme Court acquitted him on some of the charges.
Kozlov had managed one of Slutsker’s businesses for several years before charges were brought against him. About the time of Kozlov’s first arrest, in 2007, Olga Romanova accused Slutsker of orchestrating the judicial assault on Kozlov. In 2010 she was reported to file a formal complaint against Slutsker with the prosecutor-general’s office. When Kozlov was re-arrested in 2012, Romanova claimed that Slutsker had arranged for her husband to be murdered in custody.
Slutsker filed a libel suit in London in 2012 based on four instances of Romanova’a publlicizing these two allegations. There was much wrangling between the parties over the issues of jurisdiction and service of process. In March 2015 the judge ruled that England and Wales was the proper place for the claim and that valid service had taken place.
At that point, Romanova declined to take part in further proceedings. In July the judge entered a default judgment , ordering her to pay £110,000. The court never got down to examining the merits of Slutsker’s and Romanova’s claims. I cannot come up a good reason for Romanova’s sudden refusal to defend herself. It seems to me that she would have invoked the “fair comment” principle to shield herself. She has said somewhere that she expected police investigators who worked on the Kozlov case (and feel bad about their involvement, apparently) to testify for her, but now they are not allowed to travel abroad.
I don’t quite agree with this logic, but that’s a minor puzzle compared with the fact that it was allowed to proceed in London. I’m not questioning the judge’s finding of Slutsker’s substantial link to the UK despite his never being a resident. Rather, I am looking at the big picture, a purely Russian dispute between two non-UK residents getting resolved in London.