A Swedish billionaire who is developing a controversial luxury hotel in Aspen is suing a city-based newspaper for defamation, claiming that The Aspen Times had wrongly placed him in the midst of that country’s war on Ukraine. Portrayed as a corrupt Russian oligarch.
Vladislav Doronin, who was born in the Soviet Union and made his fortune in Moscow’s real estate scene in the 1990s, says that newspaper coverage in both news and opinion pieces led to his $76.25 million Aspen land purchase and planned Took a moment on development. According to a complaint filed last month in the US District Court for the District of Colorado.
It is the latest escalation in an uphill battle between the newspaper and Doronin. The Aspen Times has been critical of Doronin’s purchase, while the billionaire’s public relations team has stoked the “oligarchic” label, denies allegations of corruption and has emphasized Doronin’s disapproval of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soviet-born Doronin left that country in the mid-1980s and gave up his citizenship. He now lives in Switzerland and is a citizen of Sweden. He separated from his Russia-focused business in 2014, the lawsuit claims, and “has not conducted any business in Russia since then,” his lawyers wrote.
The 59-year-old serves as CEO of Miami real-estate development firm OKO Group and CEO of Aman Group, a luxury resort brand based in Switzerland.
In March, OKO Group purchased a nearly one-acre parcel in Aspen based on Lift 1A of the Aspen Mountain ski resort from developers with local ties, who had only received voter approval to develop the lot by 26 votes, somewhat By emphasizing their commitment to the Aspen community.
The editorial board of the Aspen Times criticized the unexpected sale to an out-of-town developer, which occurred just months after the original developers bought the property – and the rights to build a hotel there – for $10 million.
The Aspen Times published a news story about the sale in March, initially referring to Doronin as an oligarch, later changing the story to remove that reference. In the latter opinion, columnist John Colson compared Doronin to Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich – whom he said also owned property in Aspen – and emphasized that the pair worked with Russian President Vladimir Putin. would have done.
“I don’t know whether Abramovich or Doronin currently have Putin’s ear or were privy to an advance plan for an invasion, but again, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both are finally wise to that whole ugly mess,” Colson said, adding that Doronin and Abramovich “at least .. almost certainly … were deeply embedded in the kleptocratic culture that emerged after the break-up of the USSR.”
Abramovich, which is subject to international sanctions in the wake of Putin’s war on Ukraine, is also the largest shareholder of the company that owns a steel mill in Pueblo.
According to an editor’s note added to the column, that column was also edited after Doronin’s public relations team threatened a lawsuit over his use of the word “oligarchy”. Later, the newspaper published a reader-submitted letter to the editor stating that Doronin’s money was tainted and that Aspen “should not become a ‘laundromat’ for bleaching, hanging and drying corrupt money.”
Doronin’s lawyers called the corruption allegations “outrageous lies” in their complaint against Aspen Times owner Swift Communications, and said the newspaper was taking advantage of “anti-Russian sentiment” amid the Ukraine invasion.
Doronin’s legal team did not respond to The Denver Post’s request for comment last week; Aspen Times publisher Alison Patillo declined to comment. An email listed for OKO Group was not working on Thursday.
At trial, Doronin’s lawyers argue that the term “oligarchy” is synonymous with corruption, and therefore should not be applied to Doronin.
“The oligarchs are not just wealthy people of Russian origin; They are individuals who have amassed their wealth through the exploitation of Russian natural resources, the corrupt direction of Russian state-owned enterprises, and close political affiliations with Vladimir Putin,” the complaint reads.
But Jeffrey A. Winters, author of the book “Oligarchy” and professor at Northwestern University, said the definition is incorrect, and part of an effort by today’s ultra-wealthy to deflect criticism over their wealth and power and distance themselves from the term. Is. ,
“It’s a definition that is volunteering on behalf of the oligarchs and it is part of diverting attention and criticism,” he said. “But it has nothing to do with the way the word has been used for thousands of years.”
The term “oligarchy” originated in ancient Greece and is traditionally used to describe people who are wealthy and obtain power through their wealth, he said.
“A person is an oligarch if they are empowered in a certain way, empowered by wealth,” he later said, “that the source of money is irrelevant, it is the power attached to money that defines someone as an oligarch. is. “
The oligarchs don’t like to be called oligarchs, he said, and it’s a common tactic for them to use “intimidation lawsuits against the press,” especially in countries with First Amendment protections, to shut down criticism. which threatens their wealth.
Denver attorney Dan Ernst, who is not involved in the lawsuit, said US law gives media outlets writing about matters of public concern additional protection against defamation allegations.
To prove a defamation claim against a media outlet the person making the claim needs to prove not only that the published information was false, but also that the publisher knew it was false and published it anyway, Or that it was careless or malicious.
“It’s not easy to argue,” said Ernst.
He said that there is also a difference in law between information presented as opinion and information presented as fact. In a 1994 Colorado Supreme Court case, justices found that opinion statements are generally protected from claims of defamation. Statements that can be proved to be true or false, and that a reasonable person can draw a conclusion, are statements of fact, which are not generally considered to be opinion.