Key fingerprint 9EF0 C41A FBA5 64AA 650A 0259 9C6D CD17 283E 454C

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MPs in uproar after attack on WikiLeaks

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December 19, 2008

WIKILEAKS PRESS RELEASE / EDITORIAL (WikiLeaks)

MPs in uproar after Blagojevich linked billionaire attacks WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks and the New Statesman are the focus of a legal attack by one of the world's richest men, Nadhmi Auchi, a controversial UK-Iraqi billionaire connected to inner circle of the disgraced Illinois Governor, Rob Blagojevich.

Yesterday three cross-party British MPs, including Denis McShane (Labour) and Norman Lamb (Liberal-Democrat) responded to the attack, by telling the British parliamentarians that UK courts had become a "Soviet-style organ of censorship".

Mr. MacShane: "The practice of libel tourism is now an international scandal. It shames Britain and makes a mockery of the idea that Britain is a protector of core democratic freedoms".

Nr. Lamb accused Mr. Auchi of using defamation threats to close down legitimate reporting. "Many are concerned that creating a link on a blog to a newspaper article--which may have been available for years... can result in action be threatened or taken. Is that legitimate?"

WikiLeaks released seven articles on Mr. Auchi that had been quietly removed from the on-line archives of The Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph and The New Statesman earlier this year, a Pentagon anti-corruption report and other information relating to the billionaire's business dealings.

(Eight stories on Obama linked billionaire Nadhmi Auchi censored from the Guardian, Observer, Telegraph and New Statesman)

At issue is the integrity of the electronic historical record, the "libel tourism" crisis and whether merely linking to a document in a foreign country causes it to be "republished" in the country it was linked from.

Mr. Auchi is represented by the London firm Carter Ruck, ably described by its former partner David Hooper in the Guardian as "doing for freedom of speech what the Boston strangler did for the door-to-door sales man".

In the past few years Carter Ruck, Shillings and others London firms have made millions hawking the UK libel system to the world's litigious hyper-rich. According to Ruck:

"[in the UK] A libel claimant does not have to prove that the words are false or to prove that he has suffered any loss. Damage is presumed... The onus is on the defendant to prove that the allegations are true."

In other words, cashed-up billionaires can force a win, regardless of the merits, by strategically prolonging litigation. When publishers run out of resources to fund ongoing court costs, they instantly lose as a result of the reversed burden of proof.

But it gets better. A losing publisher not only suffers their own legal costs--they must pay the plaintiff's costs as well. These costs can run into millions of pounds and are frequently tens or hundreds of times the damages.

This medieval system, which evolved to protect landed Earls, Barons and other home-grown oligarchs from public accountability, is now responsible for the suppression of investigative writers and publishers the world over.

Sensitive billionaire's, from Kazakhstan to the Congo, have lined up to gut constitutional protections in the United States and elsewhere by suing in the UK.

In late 2007, to give one of many examples of jurisdictional overreach, Ukranian oligarch Rinat Ahkmetov, brought two successful UK libel suits against the online journals Kyiv Post and Obozrevatel. Hugh Tomlinson QC, a UK-based libel barrister, described the case as about the London suit of "a Ukrainian attacked in a Ukrainian newspaper in Ukrainian in Ukraine".

The British libel system also grants legal and spiritual succor to brutal crackdowns on journalists across the former 53 sovereign nations of the British Commonwealth. In November, Zakari Alzouma, the editor of Nigeria's independent weekly, Opinions, was charged following a libel complaint by the country's Interior Minister:

Alzouma was formally charged yesterday with being "caught in the act" of libel although he had already spent four days in police custody. (Reporters Without Borders, Nov 4, 2008)

Foreign writers using even the most well-regarded UK publishers have, literally, had their books destroyed.

Denis MacShane, MP, asked Westminster "What is happening when Cambridge University Press, one of the flowers of British publishing for centuries, has to pulp a book because British courts will not uphold freedom of expression?".

Cambridge University Press pulped all remaining copies of the "Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World" by US authors Robert Collins and J. Millard Burr. That action followed legal threats by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim A. Bin Mahfouz, who made 33 other attacks using UK courts, including a successful suit against a book by US author Rachel Ehrenfeld on terrorism funding published only in the United States--a mere 27 copies of which had been mail-ordered into the UK. At the time of writing, the Cambridge University book, "Alms for Jihad" is only available on WikiLeaks.

(Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World)

Responding to the UK suits by Kahlid Bin Mahfouz and others against US authors and publishers, on Sep 27, 2008, the United States Congress unanimously passed H.R 6146, a bill designed to protect US publishers and authors against UK "libel-tourism" judgments.

H.R 6146 is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by Barack Obama next year, until then US publishers have to slog it out. As for journalists in the UK and elsewhere, some are wondering if their publishing companies can be moved offshore.

What tragic irony; obsequious British class-pandering, codified in UK courts and whored off to foreign billionaires, may see English writers and publishers quit England.

* * * * *

Nadhmi Auchi came to attention of the US press in early 2008 as a close business partner of Antoin "Tony" Rezko, the principle financial fixer for the now disgraced Governor of Illinois, Rob Blagojevich. Rezko was convicted of serious bribery, corruption and fraud charges on June 4. Blagojevich was indicted earlier this month over political corruption, which according to the FBI, includes an attempt to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

(FBI complaint against Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich, 7 Dec 2008)

Prior to Nadhmi Auchi's own corruption conviction in 2003 by a Paris court for his role in the Elf-Aquitaine frauds, Mr. Auchi rubbed shoulders with Tony Blair's inner circle and met with two US Presidents.

In the UK Auchi took to hiring a string of senior Labour party figures. By 1999 he had received, at one of his lavish London parties, a congratulatory painting signed by 130 members of the UK parliament, including the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

According to June 2008 company filings, Baroness Marcia Falkender, a member of the UK House of Lords, continues to direct Auchi's UK private holding company.

Rob Blagojevich (middle) applauding Nadhmi Auchi on a party arranged by Tony Rezko (potentially in the right)

Back in January, Nadhmi Auchi appears to have become concerned about US press interest in the unfolding Rezko case. After an ABC News report on the pair, Auchi's General Mediterranean Holding SA website gmhsa.com removed a group photo of Rob Blagojevich, Auchi, and a man resembling Tony Rezko at a 2004 private dinner in Chicago arranged by Rezko.

Within three months, Auchi had employed Carter Ruck to bully the UK press into taking their 2003 investigations offline.

By the time of Rezko's June 4 conviction, when US journalists were looking to British publications for information on Auchi, at least six articles, which had sat unmolested for five years, had been quietly removed. Gone were stories from the electronic archives of The Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph (and Google). Only The Times, backed by its own billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, appears to have kept its newspaper archives intact.

Two brief on-line columns, in June and October, by the New Statesman's Political Editor Martin Bright reported on the archive censorship. Bright's reportage was in turn censored after threats from Carter Ruck to the New Statesman. Ruck argued that to report the censorship might lead people to look for the censored articles. Ruck also argued that linking to WikiLeaks (which had "uncensored" the articles), was to republish WikiLeaks in the UK.

Ruck demanded substantial compensation and a statement saying that the linked material was "significantly inaccurate".

On the weekend of Dec 13, the New Statesman folded rather than paying ongoing legal costs and a ludicrous front page apology now adorns the New Statesman website as the result of a mere link by one of its columnists--which was in any event removed within 48 hours of Carter Ruck's complaint.

Nadhami Auchi had a specific interest in going after the New Statesman.

Martin Bright previously worked for the Guardian and had attended Auchi's Paris trial, co-authoring two of the censored news reports. As Political Editor of the New Statesman, he had become widely read by the same UK political class that Nadhmi Auchi had courted. The attack on the New Statesman was a warning to its publishers: do to permit Martin Bright to report on Nadhmi Auchi. The attack worked-- as it had done so earlier in the year with the Guardian, the Observer or the Telegraph. None of these publications have mentioned Nadhmi Auchi's name since that time, despite the US election, Auchi's extensive dealings in the UK and the spectacular Rezko and Blagojevich cases.

All four publications have kept their readers in the dark about the issue. Tying "will redact for the wealthy" and "fearless journalism" to the same mast head does not engender reader loyalty. Yet, over time, this strategy of quiet appeasement has lead to the UK having the worst press protections in the Western world. As long as the public is kept ignorant there can be no political will to reform.

The removal of politically substantive documents from the electronic record show that George Orwell's warning of "He who controls the present controls the past and he who controls the past controls the future" is still true and arguably, has never been truer.

Centralized newspaper and search engine archives have proved to be a censor's dream--in a way that distributed library archives never could. While paper archives still exist for six of the articles, readers do not know they need to look. Publishers redact their their indexes, camouflaging removals with "not found". Fine investigative reports cease to exist -- and then cease to have ever have existed.

The pages of history, including the "papers of record", are our common heritage. They are, as Orwell reminds us, not merely a window into the past, but the means by which we chart our future.

For more information, see

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