Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia is suing Forbes magazine for damages for defamatory comments made about him, his wealth and his company.  The claims are said to relate to (i) his personal wealth (apparently underestimated by the magazine by some $9.6bn) and (ii) the method used in valuing his personal wealth.

Apparently the method used in calculating the Princes’ wealth was “irrational and deeply flawed… [being] ultimately subjective and discriminatory”.  The consequence is that there may be serious misrepresentations about the nature of the business run by the Prince through his company and the business culture in Saudi Arabia – the suggestion being that there is lighter regulation allowing more care free trading.

Claims for defamation can be brought to protect a personal or corporate brand.  Defamation happens when someone publishes matters which contain untrue statements (or implied statements) against the reputation of those individuals or companies. The normal test is that the statements should undermine the reputation of right thinking members of society generally by exposing the victim to hatred, contempt or ridicule.

If the words are found to be defamatory the publisher may find itself paying damages.  It can however defend itself if the publication was true, in the public interest or where it is protected as being confidential information passing between a lawyer and his or her client, for example.

What is important is that the statement or statements made should lower the reputation of the individual in right thinking members of society, it is therefore unlikely that this case will rest on the actual ranking of the Prince (whether he is 1st or 26th or 50th is not something most people concern themselves with) but rather the reason why the Prince and his business were valued in the way that they were – did the valuation reflect an incorrect or wrong understanding of the actual business culture in Saudi Arabia? Are there in fact good regulations in place which would mean that the business has more value?

Defamation law continues to provide avenues for apparently untrue statements made about businesses and business people. Where such statements have a marked impact on the value, it remains an important arsenal to deal with misstatements. Clearly it remains something which business people will turn to, particularly over here.  It is interesting that the claim has been started in the High Court in England, despite no discernible reason why it should be.  Businesses may be attracted to UK libel laws and courts because the burden is on the defendant to show that what was printed was not defamatory.  In recent times the courts have tried to make it harder for non-UK residents to sue over here, or where only a small percentage of defamatory work was distributed here.

For further information about this or other areas of dispute law, please don’t hesitate to contact Bhavini Kalaria on 0208 445 6753, or by email, info@londonlawpractice.com

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