A Conservative candidate who won £200,000 libel damages over a claim that he helped to fund Islamic State has described the allegation as like someone of Jewish background being accused of Nazi collaboration.
Nadhim Zahawi, who was MP for Stratford-on-Avon for seven years until Parliament was dissolved for the General Election, was also awarded legal costs of £138,483 against Press TV and UK-registered Press TV Ltd.
Mr Zahawi, 49, sued the English language news and documentary network – which is affiliated with Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), owned by the Iranian state – over a July 2015 website article which went viral.
It alleged that Mr Zahawi, who escaped from Saddam Hussein’s regime as a child, played a pivotal role in IS’s million-dollar-a-day black market oil trade by purchasing crude oil from the militant group at a low price and selling it to markets in Israel and Europe, thereby funding and profiting from trade with a terrorist group.
Awarding the damages at London’s High Court on Thursday, Master Victoria McCloud said the case was heard 48 hours after the attack on Parliament on March 22 when heightened security measures were in place.
“Those measures were to safeguard against acts of terrorism of the very type with which, by the libels in this claim, Mr Zahawi has been wrongly associated by way of `fake news’ on the internet, with the consequence being very significant harm to his reputation.”
Mr Zahawi, who is chief strategy officer of Gulf Keystone Petroleum, said later: “The ludicrous allegation that I, while a Member of Parliament, had firstly betrayed all of my deepest held moral principles, and secondly had somehow managed to avoid international security services, and the law, to personally trade oil with Daesh, was of course completely untrue.
“Given my background as an Iraqi-born British citizen, the false accusations were clearly calculated to be as damaging as possible on every level.”
He said it felt like alleging that someone of Jewish background was a Nazi collaborator.
The judge said the libel was removed from the website in August last year and was not published in mainstream media, but there had been extensive repetition elsewhere and it would continue to spread.
Mr Zahawi had incurred very substantial costs attempting to get republications removed over many months, without co-operation from the defendants.
“Despite having no basis in anything close to reality, the allegations spread like wildfire on social media and clearly some people believed them.
“I was forced to defend myself to family members, friends, my constituents, fellow MPs, Government whips, and both local and national media.
“It was a profoundly embarrassing and deeply upsetting experience for my family and me.”
He added: “In my role as a member the Foreign Affairs Committee, I have often spoken out against the malign influence Iran has so often chosen to exercise in international affairs.
“It was of particular note that the libellous article was published on the exact same day that I had publicly criticised Iran in Parliament.
“I hope that this libel judgment can draw a line under this episode and deter outlets such as Press TV, and by extension states such as Iran, from attempting this sort of attack on anyone again.”
Neither Press TV nor Press TV Limited defended the case and judgment was entered in default.
The judge said an allegation of enabling and funding terrorism – and moreover doing so for profit – was “exceptionally grave”.
It did not allege direct terrorist action by Mr Zahawi but an allegation of being a funder of terrorism was “practically indistinguishable” from that.
Mr Zahawi’s position as an MP added to the gravity of the libel.
MPs were expected to tolerate more than would be expected of others, and to have thick skins, but the allegation was outside the scope of the sort of “routine unpleasantness” politicians and those wishing to discuss politics in public sometimes engaged in.
An injunction was granted against the defendants restraining future publication.