The billionaire-backer of a pro-Brexit think-tank has won a libel claim against campaigners who accused him of being a “dishonest hypocrite” over his stance on the European Union.
Christopher Chandler, a Dubai-based businessman who funded the influential think-tank the Legatum Institute, had been accused of pushing for Britain to leave the EU while buying Maltese citizenship to ensure continued visa-free travel across the 28-nation bloc.
Malta is the EU’s smallest member state and has been criticised by lawmakers for introducing a citizenship-for-sale scheme that allows non-EU citizens to secure a passport in return for investment in the island nation.
The pro-EU campaign Group Another Europe is Possible published a tweet and video in February which said the "secretive billionaire" had used his fortune to ensure he had continued rights and freedoms enjoyed by nationals of EU member states, London's High Court heard. On Facebook, it posted a message saying: "Meet Christopher Chandler, He's a #BrexitHypocrite," according to a statement read out in London's High Court.
Mr Chandler’s lawyer said that the businessman had started preparing his Maltese citizenship claim in early 2015 - before then-premier David Cameron won May elections and delivered on his campaign promise to hold a referendum on EU membership.
The application was thus “submitted long before the wholly unexpected referendum result in June 2016”, the High Court heard.
Another Europe is Possible is a left-wing coalition that campaigned to stay within the EU and promote internal reforms. Since the UK voted narrowly to leave the EU in 2016, it has campaigned for a second vote on the eventual terms of the deal.
Mr Coad said the organisation falsely claimed that Mr Chandler was trying to persuade the UK government to pursue the most extreme form of Brexit, while knowing his personal wealth would protect his family from the impact of withdrawing from the world’s largest trading bloc.
The video and tweet had been deleted and an apology was due to be posted on the campaigning group’s social media channels last night, said Mr Coad. An unspecified sum was due to be paid to charity.
The legal win follows a turbulent month for the businessman who was accused in parliament of being a possible Russian agent who was targeted in a French investigation.
The claims appear to have been linked to Mr Chandler’s business activities through his investment company the Legatum Group in the 1990s when he traded in stock of Russian companies including the energy producer Gazprom.
Mr Chandler denied the spying claims and criticised the “harsh, public attack” on his integrity because of his apparent support for the UK’s decision to leave the EU next year.
The Sunday Times reported this week that the claims appeared in a 87-page dossier that was circulated around UK media months ago. It included claims that Mr Chandler had acted as a front for senior Russian officials. The dossier also alleged he laundered funds on behalf of non-Russian companies including the “Trump Group”.
“You may as well have put Mother Teresa in there and Mary Poppins,” Mr Chandler told the newspaper. “I’ve never had personal contact with Trump or his organisation. When I say that I am stupefied, you can maybe get a sense as to why.”
Mr Chandler denied all the allegations and said that the dossier included key errors. He told the Sunday Times he believed he was the victim of a Russian disinformation campaign.