MOSCOW – A Moscow court on Wednesday ruled in favor of multi-billionaire Alisher Usmanov in his libel suit against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Usmanov, estimated to be worth $15 billion, has sued Navalny over his investigation into Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's alleged secret wealth.
The judge at Moscow's Lyublinsky district court on Wednesday ordered Navalny to remove his YouTube documentary about Medvedev's alleged wealth from the web and publish a retraction. The video got nearly 22 million views since it was released in March and became one of the most- viewed Russian-language videos this year.
Navalny vowed to appeal the ruling and refused to comply with it.
"You heard the key phrase in the verdict just now, the reason why this trial was held: 'To remove the video and remove the investigation'," he told reporters outside the court. "We are not going to do that. This investigation is based on facts."
Even if he complied, others may well have copied the hour-long documentary and could keep it in circulation on the web.
Navalny, who made his name with a blog exposing official corruption, has published legal documents showing that Usmanov, along with several other Russian billionaires, transferred lucrative assets to a charity foundation run by Medvedev's former classmate.
Medvedev has denied any connection to the property while Usmanov has insisted that the transfer of the ownership of a luxurious mansion to the charity foundation was a bona fide business deal.
In a trial which lasted two days, the judge dismissed nearly all of the motions that Navalny filed, including to summon Medvedev to testify. She did not allow any witnesses to appear in front of the court or review the documents that the investigation was based on.
Earlier this month the reclusive Usmanov released a YouTube video dismissing Navalny as a "loser" and concluded the 12-minute clip with "I spit on you." A week later, the 63-year-old tycoon released another angry video, signing off with "I spit on you again."
Forbes magazine earlier this year listed Usmanov as Russia's fifth-richest man with an estimated fortune of $15 billion. Earlier this month, Britain's Sunday Times published similar estimates.
Street protests in dozens of Russian cities and towns in March, and triggered by the investigation, were some of the most widespread in years. Navalny has called for more protests on June 12, and activists in about 200 cities and towns have already applied for permission to rally.
Navalny said on Wednesday the verdict in Usmanov's favor should bring even more people to the streets at the upcoming protests.