Turab Musayev, the Azeribaijani-British National who was SOCAR Trading’s representative on the Board of Electrogas is threatening to take legal action against The Shift in the UK in what is known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), a financially crippling lawsuit filed in another country.
The London-based law firm representing Musayev is Atkinson Thomson Solicitors. In a letter sent to The Shift dated 26 June 2020, Musayev’s lawyers said he had instructed them to communicate with this newsroom “in respect of a number of false, damaging and libellous articles which have appeared in the last week” in relation to the Montenegro story.
“We will take all necessary action to protect and/or restore our client’s reputation if you publish any material defamatory of him,” the letter stated.
The firm said it had written to a number of publications and is taking legal action against others. “We are currently considering your article.”
The letter by Musayev’s lawyers stated in bold letters at the start that the correspondence was “not for publication” and that it was “strictly private and confidential”. The Shift has chosen to publish the letter since the silence behind such SLAPP threats has in the past succeeded in getting newsrooms to withdraw stories and alter the public record.
In its reply, The Shift said this intimidation on behalf of Musayev was unacceptable.
“You may wish to advise him that if and when necessary, my client will report on any and all news that is relevant to the public, whether this is based on information sourced directly by my clients or if it consists in re-publishing material published by other media.”
“I do not seek to facilitate my clients resorting to SLAPP tactics in an effort to stifle freedom of expression on matters of public interest,” the reply sent by The Shift’s lawyers, BCGL Advocates, which is also being published in full.
The Shift’s reply also included a link on how international press freedom organisations are concerned about the legal threats made against EUobserver for its reporting on the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta in October 2017.
This SLAPP threat comes after investigations carried out by The Shift revealed corruption in the wind farm project in the hills of Mozura in Montenegro.
The Shift had first exposed the corrupt dealings behind the wind farm project in Mozura, which involves Montenegro’s government, Malta’s State-owned electricity company Enemalta, China’s Shanghai Electric, and several offshore companies including one owned by Musayev, who was also SOCAR Trading’s representative on the Board of Electrogas.
This is not the first time The Shift has fought off such threats. Only weeks after its launch, it faced a similar threat from Henley and Partners, which later admitted it consulted the Maltese government on which journalists to sue.
A similar threat was received from Russian banker Ruben Vardanyan, as well as the man behind the White Flag scheme, Croatian Kristijan Curavić, who demanded The Shift deposit €300,000 into his bank account within 15 days.
In each case, The Shift has remained resolute in its determination to fight back, refusing to remove articles published on investigations in the public interest.
Lawyers in London have informed The Shift that mounting a defence against Musayev’s threat will require €50,000 to €100,000 even if their case is weak.