Judicial reform protest leaders are facing lawsuits for accusing Israeli businessman Michael Mirilashvili of being tied to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner mercenary group, Georgian criminal organizations, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the mogul’s lawyers said Thursday.
Media consultant and former Ehud Olmert consultant Lior Chorev, entrepreneur and hi-tech protest leader Ami Dror, entrepreneur and alleged anti-reform advertising backer Ilan Shiloah, and other activists were sent warning letters from Mirilashvili’s attorneys before pursuing defamation charges.
The activists could be sued NIS 150,000 for each offending social-media post, attorneys Shlomi Weinberg and Arkadiy Eligulashvili said in a letter. Mirilashvili would donate the money to charity, they said.
The activists must publish notices of correction and apology and provide financial compensation, which would also be donated to charity, to avoid the lawsuit, the letter said.
The defaming allegations, made on social media, stem from the belief that the Georgian-born businessman is the owner of Channel 14, the lawyers said. His son, Yitzhak Mirilashvili, is the controlling shareholder, and Mirilashvili has never visited or communicated with anyone from the outlet, they said.
Channel 14 is an Israeli news outlet with a right-leaning political orientation and has published pro-judicial-reform content.
“Warning letters were issued on behalf of our client, Mr. Michael Mirilashvili, concerning the serious and inflammatory defamation disseminated against him on social media. These false claims have severely tarnished his reputation,” Weinberg and Eligulashvili wrote. “It is time to put an end to the campaign of hatred and slander on social networks, one that includes the dissemination of baseless facts, presenting distortions of the truth as undeniable truths, and making false accusations and misrepresentations masquerade as facts – matters completely divorced from the truth.”
Shiloah said Mirilashvili was silencing those who were expressing their views.
“This is not Russia yet,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “People who express their views are not yet murdered here. We will fight for freedom of speech and opinion.”
Several accusations against Mirilashvili
Mirilashvili’s lawyers said while Prigozhin had worked for him briefly in the 1990s at several St. Petersburg restaurants, he had not had communication with the man over the past 25 years.
Prigozhin, according to Wagner-affiliated Telegram channels and Russian media, was killed in a suspicious plane crash on Wednesday night only two months after he led his mercenary group in a short-lived mutiny against his rivals in the Russian Defense Ministry and military leadership. The oligarch was known as “Putin’s chef” because of his catering business contracts with the Kremlin.
Mirilashvili had no personal acquaintance with Putin, his lawyers said, adding that they reportedly only had limited interaction through his participation in conferences related to Russia’s Jewish community or Israel.
The activists also accused Mirilashvili of involvement in murder and kidnapping. Mirilashvili was convicted and imprisoned in 2001 for alleged involvement in an incident in which his father had been kidnapped, and Russian authorities said some men alleged to have been involved in the incident were killed by Mirilashvili’s associates.
קורא במעריב שמיראשווילי החליט להשתיק את מובילי המחאה ולאיים עליהם ועלי בתביעות השתקה.פה זה לא רוסיה עדיין.פה עדיין לא רוצחים אנשים שמביעים את עמדותיהם.נלחם על חופש הביטוי והדעה.פושעי מקלדת": למיליארדר נמאס וזה הצעד שלו נגד "פעילים במחאה" | פרסום ראשון https://t.co/TI6LR5e96t— אילן שילוח (@IlanShiloah) August 24, 2023
According to Mirilashvili, the kidnappers had released his father voluntarily through contact with their criminal associate. Mirilashvili said those who were spreading falsehoods and distorting his past disregarded the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2008 ruled that his trial had been unfair.
Mirilashvili, who immigrated with his family to Israel in 2009, said he has faced “groundless” attacks against him on social media and by media outlets since he made aliyah.
"These lies and attacks have intensified due to recent events in Israel, leaving me with no choice but to confront all forms of online slander. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous individuals in Israel who spare no effort to further their interests and agendas, including spreading falsehoods..."Michael Mirilashvili, Israeli businessman believed to have ties to Wagner Group
“These lies and attacks have intensified due to recent events in Israel, leaving me with no choice but to confront all forms of online slander,” Mirilashvili said. “Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous individuals in Israel who spare no effort to further their interests and agendas, including spreading falsehoods.
“I hope that my case serves as a lesson and prevents other good people, regardless of their status, origin, or political views, from falling victim to these online attackers.”Mirilashvili owns Watergen, an Israel-based global company that develops atmospheric water generator systems, and is president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.