A British court has ordered intelligence firm Black Cube to pay £350,000 (NIS 1.5 million) in legal fees to the investigative program Uvda after withdrawing a £15m. (NIS 66m.) defamation lawsuit.
Court documents filed in the High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division show that Black Cube was ordered to pay the legal fees of Uvda’s broadcaster, Keshet, and the five journalists who had all been sued.
Black Cube filed the lawsuit after a June 2019 expose alleging that Israeli tycoon Idan Ofer had hired the firm in 2014 to investigate and find leverage to pressure then-finance minister Yair Lapid and other officials.
Investigative journalist Ilana Dayan also reported that the firm, which includes some former Mossad members, tried to block a communications sector reform and to discredit a leading Israeli businesswoman.
A spokesperson for Black Cube confirmed the court’s ruling, originally reported by The Guardian, to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, and responded saying, “The company, based on the unanimous recommendation of its British lawyers, has withdrawn its defamation claim against Uvda for a documentary which was broadcast over a year ago.”
Further, Black Cube said it made the decision because, “there was no harm to its income in the year following the broadcast, which meant that the claim that the company has suffered financial loss because of the broadcast was undermined.”
It added that this is an especially significant issue for defamation claims in the British legal system.
“The company continues to state that aspects of the broadcast were wrong and misleading, and that it always acts strictly according to the law in every country where it operates,” said Black Cube.
Keshet refused to comment for this report.
Despite Black Cube’s nuanced explanation of the court order to pay the parties it had sued, had it continued the case and been successful in at least proving the broadcast material was untrue, it might have avoided the legal fine.
The company’s decision to pay the legal fine without moving further with the case appeared to indicate that it might fail both at proving damages as well as at disproving the veracity of the reports about it.
Black Cube has offices in Tel Aviv, London and Madrid, but decided to try the case in London hoping for a larger judgment or settlement if it had won the case.
Press freedom advocates published an open letter in July 2019 to highlight for the UK government what they framed as a “growing trend to use strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP) lawsuits as a means of intimidating and silencing journalists.”
Media reports have previously alleged Black Cube worked to discredit US officials who negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement, and the company was named in the New York rape trial of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.