Miratorg Agribusiness Holding, a Russian privately-held agribusiness company based in Moscow and one of the largest producers and distributors of meat products in Russia, is well known in the country. It is not only because of its aggressive advertising campaign. Recently, it has become known that the arbitration rejected for the most part the claim of the owners of this holding against the electronic edition of The Moscow Post as unfounded. The details are in the article below.
The appeal denied Miratorg's claim to remove both the scandalous publications about the company and specific phrases. Also, the owners will not receive 1 mln rubles ($13,310.) The Linnik brothers, "offended" by independent journalists, could not compensate for their moral suffering with 1 mln rubles and get the material containing details of their business removed.
According to a Moscow Post correspondent, the litigation between our newspaper and Miratorg, Alexander and Viktor Linnik, which has dragged on for more than a year, is over. The 13th Arbitration Appeal Court of St. Petersburg only partially granted the demands of the plaintiffs who wanted to remove the high profile article which told that a pig farm of the Miratorg Agribusiness Holding might be built at the place where the battle of Kursk had taken place. They demanded that our magazine pay them 500,000 rubles ($6,655) each "per brother." Moreover, the brothers did not just fail to achieve "their" goal in full. They contributed to the fact that many more people found out about the publication.
In the end, the plaintiffs were denied the removal of both the entire material and the specific information in dispute. The court did not share their moral suffering, for which they wanted to get 1 mln rubles for both of them, and refused to reclaim it from our editorial board. During the hearings, the lawyers couldn't explain where this figure came from and how exactly the Linniks suffered. It was as if they tried to act on the principle “maybe it would work.” But it didn't.
In addition, on appeal, the Bryansk Meat Company, a claim to recognize the phrase in the form of an assumption insulting and, as a consequence, not corresponding to reality and defaming the reputation was denied.
However, three phrases were still recognized as "defamatory." By the way, initially, the Linniks made claims on seven accidents but after the examination and numerous additions, the number was more than halved. At one point, it even seemed as if the brothers were looking for something that would not bear close scrutiny, and even playing for time. Therefore, it was no surprise that the process dragged on for more than a year.
They still have an opportunity to appeal to the court of cassation if they do not agree with the ruling of the St. Petersburg judges. Chances are they will, because it seems that preventing the activities of independent media was their main task. Indeed, when will one ever have time to investigate if one is constantly being stuck in the courts?
In this case, The Moscow Post will have something to say.
"We strongly believe that the information presented in our article is generally true, and in support of them we have presented the court with what we believe to be sufficient evidence. Probably, the court, first of all, relied on the conclusions of the expert. According to them, the disputed information is a negative statement. In addition, the expert did not scrutinize the question of their correspondence to reality. In this category of cases, these situations occur quite frequently in practice. It is important to remember that even negative statements, if true, are not subject to legal defense," said Maxim Madaminov, a lawyer at The Moscow Post.
Form but not Content?
So what exactly displeased the Linnik brothers? As strange as it may sound, but, in fact, the information is from the Unified State Register of Legal Entities. As it is known, Miratorg is fully owned by two Cypriot companies Agromir and Saudade Enterprises Limited. The Moscow Post said in its article that there was a scheme when loans were taken from the Russian banks, and then part of the funds ended up in the foreign accounts of related offshore companies. The author of the article further asked the question, "Is it likely that Miratorg uses it (such a scheme)?
Apparently, the very fact that the correspondent asked this question offended the Linnik brothers. However, it was nothing more than a reflection. In addition, the mere movement of funds within the companies of the holding, including foreign ones, is not a crime. Considering the fact that Linniks paid so much attention to this very phrase the question arises: well, maybe there is something we really do not know about their offshore activities? It turned out that the Linnik brothers, on the contrary, only raised interest in their activities.
Notably, the same Cypriot firms Agromir and Saudade Enterprises Limited also own Miratorg-Bryansk. At the end of 2019, the company showed strange financial indicators. With zero revenue, if the Rusprofile data are trustworthy, it had losses of 598 mln rubles ($7,959.38.) All of this, of course, causes a lot of questions. Sometimes this state of affairs might indicate that money is "leaking out" of a firm somewhere. Anyway, why does everybody keep silent?
Miratorg's beneficiaries did not like the following phrase: "The state bank is in a stake with a private entity that conducts business at the expense of taxpayers' money. And then it sells products to them.”
The fact is that the shares of one of Miratorg's subsidiaries, Bryansk Meat Company, are pledged by the state bank VEB.RF. Everybody can take loans from banks, including state-owned ones. It's legal, and many companies do that. However, there's one interesting thing. The stake is pledged until the loans provided back in 2010 are fully repaid, and another condition is that the proceeds from the sale of the stake are deposited into VEB.RF accounts. Consequently, the bank gets a percentage of the company's profits. It is no surprise that all this looks very strange. This is what surprised the author of the original article.
Here is another sticking point for the Linnik brothers with The Moscow Post: "What competitors of the Linnik brothers' company can we talk about when they have virtually unlimited state funding in the form of loans? Their competitors couldn't even dream of that.”
However, as it was said before, Miratorg really did receive a solid "infusion" of state financial institutions, and this is common practice. For example, in addition to VEB.RF, Sberbank allocated 7.6 bln rubles ($101.16 mln) to the company in 2015, as reported by RIA Novosti. Maybe Mr. Linniks is just being modest?
In the case between our newspaper and Miratorg the conclusions of the linguistic expertise were used, on which the plaintiffs insisted very strongly. It seems that the expert may have paid more attention to the form than to the content of the fragments studied. In addition, there were doubts about the unbiasedness of the experts the Linniks wished to involve.
Thus, they provided an out-of-court report prepared by the LIGA Center for Linguistic Expertise. Galina Shcherban is one of the founders and experts there.
The Arbitration Court of Saint-Petersburg and Leningrad region has three cases on protection of business reputation with Miratorg and Linnik brothers as plaintiffs and our editorial office as defendants. In each of the cases, the plaintiffs proposed to have linguistic expertise at IND&SEC where Scherban also works. Apparently, the Linnik brothers could find a "favorite" among the experts. Maybe that's why they are trying to attract her again and again? In this case, we can assume that Shcherban might have certain agreements with the company.
Nevertheless, the expertise was carried out and its conclusions follow from the ruling of the court. It is not clear on what grounds the motion of the defendants to repeat the examination was rejected.
Does "Number one" Want to be "in Shadows"?
It is noteworthy that in addition to the demand to withdraw the disputed text from publication and write a refutation, Linniks wanted to exact from the editors as much as 1 bln rubles. One must realize that this is a pretty hefty sum of money for any independent media outlet, deprivation of which is highly likely to even jeopardize its existence. Might this really be the ultimate objective of the businessmen?
In addition, the strange reports should be also recalled. They started to reach the editorial office at one point. Even before the start of the proceedings, unknown people introduced themselves as people associated with Miratorg demanded that Alexei Kozlov, the editor-in-chief of The Moscow Post, name the person who asked to write the story. After that, they asked for half a million for each Linnik for a settlement with them. Later in the lawsuit, Linniks demanded just that amount for moral damages.
These people were very surprised to find out that there was no customer and that it's just that the activities of such prominent entrepreneurs attracted attention. Of course, the official website of the company itself makes it clear how important it is to the country: "We are more than twice ahead of the nearest competitor in the production of pork with an indicator of over 420,000 tonnes and came in first place in Russia in beef production. Over 100,000 tonnes were produced in 2018. So, it is not surprising that journalists are interested in the activities of industry leaders.
Here it comes to mind the trial of Miratorg with another independent publication, Readovka.ru. In June 2019, it published an investigation ‘Miratorg Main Asset may Leave Market Because of Bankruptcy." The claims of Miratorg holding to journalists of Readovka.ru were the following: "In particular, the phrases about the impending termination of Bryansk Meat Company due to bankruptcy, the impossibility of paying a fine, the impossibility of improving the financial performance of Bryansk Meat company in 2018-2019 are not true and defame the business reputation of both Bryansk Meat Company" and the entire holding, and Agroindustrial Holding Miratorg as a management company in the holding.
However, while the court battles were going on, the journalists of the online edition found out that Bryansk Meat Company increased its net loss 3 times. In addition to the claim, the financial statements of BMK for 2018 appeared in the public domain. The Agroinvestor magazine published an article about it. As a result, our colleagues managed both to prove their case and to publicize even more interesting facts about the activities of the Miratorg holding.
We would like to remind our esteemed readers once again that we are officially registered in Russia. We operate in strict compliance with the law, and all court rulings on this and other cases are executed within the prescribed deadlines.
Two other lawsuits filed by Miratorg against The Moscow Post are currently at various stages of consideration. Therefore, it is too early to draw the final line in our relationship. Since the work of the holding is of public interest, we, as journalists, will continue truthfully informing people about their activities.
The original material: http://www.moscow-post.su/politics/bratyam_linnikam_ukazali_na_mesto_v_zakone35333/