Lara Prendergast Lara Prendergast

The University of Cambridge must choose its donors wisely

Just over three years ago, when I was editor of Varsity, Cambridge’s student newspaper, we ran a story documenting how Dmytro Firtash was using his Cambridge connections to bring libel charges to British courts. Here’s an extract:

‘A billionaire donor to the University of Cambridge has filed a libel lawsuit against a Ukrainian paper, the Kyiv Post, citing his donations to the University as one of the reasons he has chosen to pursue the case through the British courts.

Dmytro Firtash, a gas-trading oligarch with strong connections to the President of Ukraine, has donated on a number of occasions to the University to help fund Cambridge Ukrainian Studies, based within the University’s Department for Slavonic Studies.

His most recent donation was in October 2010, when he donated £4.3m to fund the creation of two permanent academic posts central to the Ukrainian Studies programme.

On July 2 2010, the Kyiv Post, Ukraine’s leading English-language publication, published an article online about Ukraine’s natural gas sector. Following the publication of this article Mr Firtash issued libel proceedings in London against the Kyiv Post.

Talking to Varsity, the Kyiv Post described the decision to file the lawsuit in London “as without merit and frivolous”.

In court documents seen by Varsity, Mr Firtash is detailed as “a prominent businessman who lives in Ukraine but also enjoys a reputation in the UK”.

In the documents, Mr Firtash’s solicitor cites his donations to the University of Cambridge, as well as the fact that he attended a dinner with the Queen in 2005, as explicit reasons as to why he has a reputation to protect in the UK. When questioned upon the issue of Mr. Firtash’s donations to Cambridge being used in such a way, a spokesman for the University simply confirmed the receipt of the donations.

When we spoke to the Kyiv Post, they claimed that the University’s “acceptance of funding from Firtash was enabling him to try and curb media freedom in the Ukraine”.

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Lara Prendergast
Written by
Lara Prendergast
Lara Prendergast is executive editor of The Spectator. She hosts two Spectator podcasts, The Edition and Table Talk, and edits The Spectator’s food and drink coverage.

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