Businessman wins damages over 'cynical' campaign which alleged he was a murderer

Updated: 

A businessman who sued over a "sustained, highly sophisticated, cynical and calculated" campaign which alleged he was a murderer has won £80,000 damages.

Issam Hourani brought the case in London's High Court after a June 2014 demonstration outside his Belgravia home and a similar event in Hyde Park five months later.

The protesters were not genuine, but paid to attend and instructed what to do and say, and the events were extensively reported on websites and social media.

Lebanese-born Mr Hourani, who has British nationality, claimed they alleged he was responsible for the torture, drugging, beating and sexual assault of TV presenter Anastasiya Novikova, and her death in Beirut in June 2004.

His counsel, Heather Rogers QC, told Mr Justice Warby that he had been the victim of a "sustained, highly sophisticated, cynical and calculated campaign".

The effect had been "devastating" both in business and personal terms.

On Friday, the judge awarded Mr Hourani £50,000 libel damages and £30,000 for harassment against US company Psybersolutions LLC.

Ms Novikova, 23, who worked for NTK television in Kazakhstan, was found dead, impaled on railings below an apartment.

Her death was investigated by the Lebanese authorities, who concluded that it was most likely suicide.

Ms Rogers said Mr Hourani "was not party to any crime committed against her before or in relation to her death and was not party to any cover-up of any crime".

He believed it was part of a campaign launched against him and his family by or through the government of Kazakhstan, stemming from a political falling-out between his late brother-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev, and President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The judge said the truth of the allegations against Mr Hourani had not been established and the allegations of murder were "untenable".

The judge said the campaign was organised and directed by US-based John Michael Waller for money on the instructions of one or more clients whose identity had not been disclosed.

Psybersolutions was under Dr Waller's control and used by him for the purposes of the campaign.

The company was responsible for all the conduct complained of which was not pursued for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, he added. 

Nor was it reasonable in all the circumstances.

Mr Hourani said he was very pleased with the ruling, which came after a 10-day trial.

"This case has revealed significant information about a campaign that was designed to destroy my reputation and put me under unbearable pressure."

He said the judgment was an important step in repairing the damage that had been done.

"In due course, I will be asking the court to make an order for disclosure of the identity of others who were responsible for instigating and paying for this terrible campaign.

"The battle for justice is not yet over."