Wealthiest woman in Russia wins damages from Forbes

RUSSIA'S richest woman yesterday won a controversial defamation case against Forbes magazine over an article suggested she profited from being married to the mayor of Moscow.

Yelena Baturina is reported to have amassed a fortune of almost 3 billion through her construction business, Inteko.

The Russian edition of the magazine's December cover story explored Mrs Baturina's rise and discussed persistent allegations by critics that the firm benefited from the political position of her husband, Yuri Luzhkov.

However, a court backed her claim that the seven-page article had damaged the reputation of her firm and ordered the publisher to pay about 2,000 in compensation.

Although the pay-out was small, the magazine's editor yesterday claimed the verdict was another attack on freedom of speech in Russia.

A previous editor of the Russian Forbes, Paul Klebnikov, an American, was shot dead outside the magazine's offices in 2004. Some suggested that he met his death because he had published the first "rich list" of Russian oligarchs, playing a little more light than some had wished on their business affairs.

According to the latest Forbes list, Mrs Baturina has a 550 million fortune, but a rival business magazine, Finans, estimates her worth at about 3 billion.

That puts her in 17th place on Russia's league table of oligarchs, not far behind better known figures such as Roman Abramovich, Chelsea FC's owner.

Mrs Baturina is the only woman on both lists and one of a handful of female members of the billionaire's club. She presides over a conglomerate, which stretches across Moscow's booming construction industry into the financial sector. Inteko is also one of the leading companies behind the vast Moscow City project, which is building Europe's highest skyscraper.

Mrs Baturina also recently sold her cement assets to Eurocement in a single deal that increased her net value by 400 million.

Mr Luzhkov, the city's long-serving mayor, consistently brushes off the question of his wife's wealth.

When one German journalist asked him about it recently, Mr Luzhkov said there wasn't much he could do about the fact his wife was good at business.

Both Mrs Baturina and Mr Luzhkov have strenuously rejected any suggestions her construction firm benefited from his political office.

The Forbes issue at the centre of the current controversy was nearly pulped when she tried to block its initial publication last year.

It was only after the editor appealed to the magazine's American headquarters did it go on sale.

Maxim Kashulinksy, the magazine's editor, announced his resignation in protest at the original decision, but later withdrew it.

Forbes has a readership estimated at 360,000 in Russia.