Claims Against OCCRP Dismissed
A Maryland court today dismissed claims filed against OCCRP by Maxim Stepanov, owner of Midland Consult, a firm mentioned in The Proxy Platform series published in November 2011.
OCCRP filed a motion to dismiss the charges in February. The judge granted the motion and ordered that Mr. Stepanov pay all court costs for his unsuccessful suit.
“The court has affirmed what we knew – that we told the truth and we were fair, as we always are,” said Drew Sullivan, editor of OCCRP.
The case stemmed from a four-article series that explored a system of phantom, proxy companies in Eastern Europe being used for criminal activity. The articles showed how criminals launder money through shell companies that they get third parties to set up as legal entities.
Stepanov’s company was mentioned as having “registered many companies for organized crime” and in some cases appointing proxy directors of those companies. Midland argued that it was not responsible for the activities of the companies it registered.
Midland stated it had nothing to with corruption and accused OCCRP of making false and defamatory allegations. They claimed the OCCRP articles implied they were doing business with companies associated with corrupt governments, drug cartels, terrorist groups, and organized crime groups.
OCCRP reported that Midland created companies that were purchased by criminals, and stood by its story, viewing the case as harassment for having revealed an unpleasant truth. OCCRP claimed that the alleged defamatory statements did not concern Stepanov, that none of the statements about Midland were defamatory, and that the alleged defamatory statements were privileged under Maryland law as fair and accurate reporting.
The Maryland court agreed with OCCRP that the articles in question were not defamatory and that defaming a company does not defame its owner.
“Midland Consult must live with the truth that they registered companies for organized crime, as many companies in the criminal services industry have done. They are a tool that makes it easy for organized crime to cheat, steal and rob people,” said Sullivan.
“If these companies and laws did not exist, it would be hard for criminality to flourish as it has. Banks have to do due diligence. Why shouldn’t these companies?”