Tech mogul’s defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed over Trump dossier moves to US federal court

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 2:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 2:55pm

A defamation suit brought against online news site BuzzFeed for its publishing of an intelligence dossier that alleges Kremlin ties to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been transferred to US federal court.

The suit, brought by Cyprus-based tech mogul Aleksej Gubarev, was transferred Tuesday at BuzzFeed’s request from a local Florida court to the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami.

Russian-born Gubarev’s defamation suit against BuzzFeed demanded a response by February 28, which has been extended. Since the lawsuit was filed, BuzzFeed has redacted Gubarev’s name from the document and apologised.

He’s made it clear he will open up his computers to any law enforcement agency in the United States that wants to take a look
Lawyer Val Gurvits, on his client, Aleksej Gubarev

“I have agreed to give them to March 24,” said Val Gurvits, an attorney with the Boston Law Group, which has represented Gubarev and his companies, XBT and Webzilla, for a decade.

Gurvits filed one of two suits on behalf of his client on February 3, claiming BuzzFeed defamed Gubarev when the news site published a 35-page dossier of uncorroborated, explosive allegations compiled by a former British spy.

One allegtion claimed that Gubarev and his companies were instrumental in the hacking of leaked Democratic Party emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton and other Democrats.

XBT and Webzilla offer web hosting, storage and a number of other tech services. Gubarev runs his tech empire from Cyprus, although Webzilla is based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida BuzzFeed published the entire document shortly after CNN reported on portions of it, and the salacious portions went viral.

At the time the document became public, Gubarev said he had no idea why the British spy, later outed as former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, would link Gubarev’s name to the alleged Russian hacking ahead of US elections.

The dossier claimed that Kremlin spies had coerced Gubarev because he had compromising information, something Gubarev flatly denied.

In an interview, his attorney said no one from US law enforcement had before or since reached out to Gubarev.

“He’s made it clear he will open up his computers to any law enforcement agency in the United States that wants to take a look,” Gurvits said. “It is important to us to make it very, very clear to anyone that is listening that we want to clear their name.”

The attorney also clarified who is paying for the defamation suit.

“Gubarev is paying for everything,” said Gurvits. “He can certainly (afford) it. It is a US$150 million company. It can afford to fight this fight.”

Defendants often seek to move cases from local courts to federal courts because of concerns about being “hometowned” by a presumably favorable local jury, said Joseph Little, a professor emeritus at the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida. That might be less of factor is this instance because — even though Webzilla is based in Florida — Gubarev is not a local businessman.

More likely, Little said, is that BuzzFeed wants the case to be heard in a federal court, which might be more current on constitutional issues, particularly since the First Amendment is likely to be central to the case.

A separate team of lawyers in Britain have brought a similar suit against Steele and his company Orbis Business Intelligence. Steele is believed to be in hiding, fearing for his safety.