Another lawsuit in Irving’s arsenal

LONDON, April 17 (JTA) — Holocaust denier David Irving is proceeding with a libel action against a London Sunday newspaper and a British writer, despite his much-publicized recent defeat in a similar lawsuit.

The Observer and journalist Gitta Sereny are asking the courts to nullify Irving’s action against them in light of his defeat last week against Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt.

Irving lost his lawsuit against Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, with the judge ruling that Irving is an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier and Hitler apologist who distorted historical data to suit his own ideological agenda.

Irving’s latest case is based on an article by Sereny, “Spin Time for Hitler,” which was published in The Observer on April 21, 1996.

Irving claims the article accuses him of inflating tenfold the death toll in the wartime Allied air raid on Dresden, of obtaining the microfiche plates of the Goebbels diaries in Moscow by subterfuge and of using “invention, omission or distortion to express an obsession.”

Irving is claiming damages on the grounds that The Observer failed to publish his reply to the article and that Sereny had pursued a campaign of defamation against him for nearly 20 years.

The Observer has already spent some $1 million preparing its defense against Irving’s charges.

Sereny, born in Vienna, achieved international acclaim with her study of Treblinka death camp commandant Franz Stangl, “Into That Darkness,” published by Random House in 1983, and her study of Hitler’s architect and armaments chief, “Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth,” published by Knopf in 1995.

The disgraced Irving, facing bankruptcy from a bill for costs of some $5 million as a result of his defeat in the Lipstadt trial, is also facing arrest warrants in Germany and the United States.

The German warrant, issued by a court in Mannheim, accuses Irving of engaging in Holocaust denial — a criminal offense in Germany — during a speech he made there in 1996.

Also, a California court has issued a warrant for his arrest for failing to repay a $10,000 loan.

The loan, made in 1997 to help Irving publish and reprint four of his books, came from an American supporter, Max Kerstan, a former member of Hitler’s army who died that same year.

The loan agreement stipulated that the money had to be repaid over a four-month period at 15 percent interest. But soon after Kerstan’s death, Irving claimed that the former German solider had converted the loan into a gift.

He also claimed that Kerstan had changed his will, leaving him the bulk of his $2 million estate.

When Kerstan’s widow, Irma, sued to recoup the loan in 1998, Irving told the court that his late benefactor intended to cancel the debt and change his will because his own family did not share his controversial views on Holocaust denial.

Irving lost the case, but he failed to repay the loan or to attend a debtors’ court to which he was summoned shortly after the court judgment. He has now been found in contempt and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

There was more bad news not only for Irving, but also for those supporters who made financial contributions to his libel lawsuit against Lipstadt.

After Irving said he will not be able to pay Lipstadt’s costs, her legal team said it will try to recover the funds from his financial supporters.

“Irving will be pursued for every penny of the costs,” said a member of the defense team, “and if we don’t get the money from him we will go to the judge and ask him to order Irving to divulge the names of his financial backers.”

Irving, who defended himself in his lawsuit against Lipstadt, appears to be facing severe financial difficulties.

His main asset, a $1.5 million apartment in London, is heavily mortgaged, and he is already facing bankruptcy proceedings by a firm of London lawyers.

There are also a number of court judgments against him, mostly for relatively small amounts.

Irving has claimed to have received backing from more than 4,000 supporters, including 2,000 in the United States, 900 in Britain and 1,200 in other parts of the world.

He has said that donations to his “fighting fund” have amounted to some $500,000.

Those donors will now be sought for payment of costs by Lipstadt’s lawyers on the grounds that they helped Irving sustain his case against her.

If Irving refuses to divulge the names of his backers, he could face time in a British jail, as he did briefly during another financial dispute in 1994, when he refused to disclose details of his assets.

Irving told journalists that he had no doubt that Lipstadt’s lawyers “will come for their pound of flesh, but I can assure them I am made of British beef. I know how to fight.”

In another development, an Australian official said it is unlikely that Irving will obtain a visa to visit a daughter who recently became an Australian citizen.

A senior government source told JTA that any application from Irving would be judged on its merits, but added it is “highly unlikely” that the finding in the Lipstadt case “would count in Irving’s favor.”

Irving, who recently stated he wanted to make the visit, has since 1992 been refused visas to visit Australia by a succession of governments, which have declared him a person not of “good character.”

(JTA correspondent Jeremy Jones in Sydney, Australia, contributed to this report.)

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