An associate of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident poisoned to death in London in 2006, has filed a defamation suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against two Russian government-aligned media broadcasters over broadcasts that claimed the plaintiff murdered Litvinenko—not Russian agents, on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The suit, filed by Dr. Alex Goldfarb, points to programming that aired March and April on both Channel One Russia and RT America that he claims falsely accuses him of not only murdering Litvinenko by poisoning him with a rare radioactive metal, but also Goldfarb’s own wife.
The claims run counter to the findings found by a British High Court judge in 2016, after a yearlong investigation into the murder. Sir Robert Owen’s report found beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder was executed by Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, probably on personal instructions of Putin.
“Dr. Goldfarb brings this action to hold Channel One Russia and RT America accountable for the substantial damages he has suffered, and will continue to suffer, as a result of defendants’ malicious and reckless conduct, and to deter the dissemination of false narratives fabricated by master propagandists deceitfully posing as journalists,” the complaint states.
Goldfarb, a New Jersey resident and U.S. citizen, said he befriended Litvinenko in the 1990s, after Litvinenko went public with allegations of corruption inside Russia’s primary security service, the FSB, in which Litvinenko was an officer. He fled to London in 2000, where he sought asylum. There he became a well-known Russian dissident, receiving funding from a Goldfarb nonprofit to write books critical of Putin, as well as a consultant to MI6, Britain’s secret service.
In 2006, Litvinenko was hospitalized after falling ill. After he died in November, London police announced he had been poisoned with Polonium-200. Two days before he passed, Litvinenko signed a written statement accusing Putin of ordering his poisoning. Goldfarb and Litvinenko’s father, Walter, read the statement publicly on the morning of his death.
Two critical events occurred that set the stage for Goldfarb’s complaint. The first was the change of Litvinenko’s father’s tune years after his death. Despite maintaining Putin’s role as “executioner” of his son in the years immediately after his death, Litvinenko’s father changed his story in 2012, telling both Channel One and RT that his son was, in fact, a “traitor” and that it was in fact Goldfarb and another friend who killed him, according to the complaint. Goldfarb claims the flip was a result of a deal to allow the father, then destitute and living in Italy, to return to Moscow.
The second was the investigation done by the British government into the death of Litvinenko. In 2012, during the probe’s initial stage, Owen announced evidence that the Russian dissident was murdered on behalf of the Russian state. The investigation moved from a public inquiry to an inquest, which allowed the findings to potentially be used in future criminal or civil proceedings.
The investigation ultimately found Walter Litvinenko’s statements about Goldfarb’s involvement in the murder of both his son and, additionally, of Goldfarb’s wife, who died in 2010 of cancer, not to be credible. The investigation did, on the other hand, find a large body of evidence that pointed to Lugovoy and Kovtun as the killers.
The lawsuit comes just days after another pair of Russians have been identified by U.K. officials in connection with a separate poisoning in March of Sergei Skripal, a reported Russian double agent, and his daughter. British officials believe the pair are officers in Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU. Skripal was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok.
When news of Skripal’s poisoning became public earlier this year, it kicked off a new round of interest in Litvinenko’s death, resulting in the broadcasts at the core of Goldfarb’s suit.
Goldfarb claims both Channel One and RT continued to maintain a false narrative around Litvinenko’s death after the final British report was released. Beginning in March, five separate programs on Channel One, which aired in the United States, contained segments in which Walter Litvinenko reiterated his claims that Goldfarb was a CIA agent who murdered his son, or where guests repeated these claims during segments, Goldfarb claims. In a separate contemporaneous broadcast, an RT reporter reiterated the claim that Goldfarb killed his wife to silence her, after she became aware he killed Litvinenko, according to the complaint.
RT Deputy Editor-in-Chief Anna Belkina, responding to a request for comment from the broadcaster, said they had not received any formal notice of “the alleged court filing or lawsuit” and were unable to comment until they had done so.
A request for comment from a spokesperson at Channel One went without a response.
Rottenberg Lipman Rich member Richard Rosberger represents Goldfarb in the suit. He called his client a distinguished person, a protege of another well-known Soviet-era activist Andrei Sakharov, who has worked on humanitarian projects funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros over the years.
“We look forward to help him vindicate his rights, as an American citizen, to not be falsely accused of murder,” Rosberger said.