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U.S. Judge Throws Out Libel Lawsuit By Khodorkovsky’s Wife Over D.C. Play

Inna Khodorkovskaya, pictured in 2010.
Inna Khodorkovskaya, pictured in 2010.

A U.S. judge has thrown out a libel lawsuit filed by the wife of former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, over a play staged in the United States that she asserted was part of a Kremlin campaign to malign Khodorkovsky.

The ruling, issued January 22 by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, ends for now legal questions regarding Kleptocracy, which had a brief run at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage theater last year.

In the lawsuit filed last year, Inna Khodorkovskaya argued that the production depicted her as a "prostitute and a murderer” and was a "highly inaccurate and [offensive] play that sacrifices the truth to support the Kremlin's agenda" and "an integral part of the efforts of the Russian government to malign Mr. Khodorkovsky.”

"This action is brought to restore Ms. Khodorkovskaya's good name and expose the false and malicious campaign being conducted by the Russian government and the Defendants," the complaint said.

The action was filed in March, less than a month after the play ended its run at Arena Stage.

A representative for Khodorkovsky said they were awaiting the judge's written ruling before commenting.

Barbara Wahl, a lawyer for the playwright, Kenneth Lin, and director, Jacquelyn Gay, could not immediately be reached for comment.

But the judge’s ruling agreed with Wahl’s earlier motions that argued, among other things: “the play is a work of fiction, which is clearly shown by not only its tagline but also by the context and content of the work itself [and] the First Amendment allows breathing room for the dramatization of the events and characters depicted.”

Once among Russia’s richest tycoons, Khodorkovsky clashed with President Vladimir Putin early in Putin’s tenure. He was arrested in 2003 and convicted on tax and fraud charges that he and his supporters were politically motivated. He served 10 years in detention before being pardoned by Putin in December 2013.

In recent years, after fleeing Russia to live in London in exile, Khodorkovsky has become an outspoken opponent of Putin, funding an online media organization and backing opposition groups.

In 2015, the federal Investigative Committee -- the Russian equivalent of the FBI -- filed new criminal charges against Khodorkovsky, accusing him of ordering the murder of a Siberian mayor during the time when Khodorkovsky was building up his oil company, Yukos.

Yukos was dismantled after Khodokovsky's 2003 arrest and its main production assets were sold at auction and ended up in the hands of state oil company Rosneft.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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