LawFuel retracts the wrong and defamatory allegations it has made against Mr Sergey Grishin, and unreservedly apologises to Mr Grishin for the damage caused to his reputation by such allegations. What follows is a brief background to this retraction and apology.
Between April and October 2020 we published a series of articles about Mr Grishin, Ms Anna Fedoseeva, and Ms Jennifer Sulkess. The articles were highly defamatory of Mr Grishin who we wrongly and falsely portrayed as an evil Russian oligarch involved in serious crimes. We have since removed the articles from our website.
The articles were published under the by-lines “LawFuel Editors” and “LA Correspondent”. One of the articles was published under the by-line “Dan Garner”. By doing so, we intended to disguise the identities of the true authors of the articles; and to portray them as being written by authors who were independent of the parties referred to in the articles. In fact, the authors were parties to the litigation and events being written about.
The background material and drafts of all but one of the articles were provided to LawFuel by Jennifer Sulkess. She and Ms Fedoseeva are involved in civil litigation with Mr Grishin in California. Ms Fedoseeva is Mr Grishin’s former wife who is involved in matrimonial proceedings with Mr Grishin. Ms Sulkess and Ms Fedoseeva are not only business partners, but also in a personal relationship with each other.
We acknowledge that the articles published under the by-lines “LawFuel Editors” and “LA Correspondent” were primarily crafted by Ms Sulkess herself, and on behalf of Ms Fedoseeva. Our stories were a major part of a campaign by them to denigrate Mr Grishin, and do the utmost damage to his reputation, and also to disadvantage him in the California litigation. We failed to refer to the relationship between Ms Sulkess and Ms Fedoseeva.
LawFuel knew, or should have appreciated, that the articles would be used by Ms Sulkess in particular to damage Mr Grishin in both mainstream and social media, which she has done. However it was LawFuel itself which described Mr Grishin as a “Scarface” mobster, so that our stories would capture the attention of international media, and for maximum impact on social media. We were wrong to do so.
We acknowledge we took no steps to independently verify what Ms Sulkess and her advisers said to us about Mr Grishin. Nor did we question their motives and agenda to vilify Mr Grishin. Nor did we afford Mr Grishin, or his lawyers, any opportunity to comment on any of our proposed articles.
As a result, our articles gave a one-sided portrayal of the proceedings in California, in favour of Ms Sulkess and Ms Fedoseeva, and did not convey a fair and accurate report of the proceedings. We also acknowledge the California proceedings we reported on are essentially a domestic dispute between Mr Grishin and Ms Sulkess and Ms Fedoseeva with no public interest in New Zealand.
We also acknowledge that the photo that accompanied the articles (which portrayed Mr Grishin as a gangster like figure) was a clip taken from one of Mr Grishin’s family holiday videos when he was married to Ms Fedoseeva. This photo was used by us totally out of context so as to denigrate Mr Grishin. The video was itself wrongly supplied to us by Ms Sulkess. We acknowledge that we published it in breach of Mr Grishin’s copyright.
One of the articles in the series was written under the by-line “Dan Garner”. This was in fact written by a Mr Don Lewis, and was a continuation of other articles written by Mr Lewis under the name “Dan Garner”. These articles portrayed Mr Lewis in a favourable light having, of course, been written by Mr Lewis himself about litigation he was involved in. The other parties to the litigation were portrayed by Mr Lewis in an unfavourable light. At no time did we independently check Mr Lewis’ background or question his motive in writing stories favourable to himself under the name “Dan Garner”.
We acknowledge it was misleading of us not to disclose the true identity of the so called “LawFuel Editors” and “LA Correspondent” as relates to Ms Sulkess and Ms Fedoseeva, and “Dan Garner” as relates to Mr Lewis. This displayed a lack of objectivity and journalistic standards on our behalf.
We also acknowledge that we were wrong to portray Mr Grishin’s lawyer Mr Amman Khan in a defamatory and derogatory manner, and to undermine his integrity. Again this was instigated by Ms Sulkess as part of her campaign to undermine the credibility of Mr Grishin’s case in California. We apologise to Mr Khan for the embarrassment caused to him, his firm, and family for our unfounded attacks on his reputation and integrity.
Overall with regard to the allegations we made against Mr Grishin, we expressly acknowledge that no criminal allegations have ever been made by any law enforcement agencies, or state prosecutors, in any jurisdiction against Mr Grishin. Nor has he been charged with any offenses in relation to the allegations that we made.
We also acknowledge that the Court proceedings that Mr Grishin commenced against us are as a result of our decision to obstruct Mr Grishin by not providing the identity of the by-lines “LawFuel Editors”, “LA Correspondent” and “Dan Garner” when asked by his lawyers to do so. Mr Grishin’s lawyers did not seek to uncover the identity of genuine sources. Nor did the High Court orders preclude us from claiming privilege to protect genuine sources. We acknowledge that the way we have portrayed the Court orders as an attack on media freedoms, and in particular the protection of sources, has also been misleading, which we now sincerely regret.
We wish to acknowledge that the articles and the allegations we made fall well short of accepted media standards of fairness, balance, accuracy, objectively and independence that readers would expect of us. We readily acknowledge that we have let ourselves and our readers down.
As a result of all of this we repeat that we retract the defamatory allegations we made against Mr Grishin, and unreservedly apologise to him, and his legal team, for the damage, embarrassment and distress that has been caused by our stories. We have undertaken not to repeat the allegations, and also to pay the High Court costs awarded against us. In view of the wide circulation and republication of the wrongful allegations we made, we have undertaken that this retraction and apology will remain on our website for a period of six months.