Bill targets overseas libel suits

A bill introduced in the U.S. Congress would penalize plaintiffs who use looser libel laws overseas to bring frivolous lawsuits.

The bill, introduced in recent weeks in the House of Representatives by Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and in the Senate by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), is based on Rachel’s Law, enacted May 1 in New York State.

That law arose from a suit brought in Britain by Saudi businessman Khalid bin Mahfouz against Rachel Ehrenfeld, the U.S.-based author of “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It.”

British libel laws tend to favor the plaintiffs, and Ehrenfeld refused to defend herself in the case, saying Mahfouz had “forum shopped” the British courts to obtain a favorable verdict. Mahfouz said he chose Britain because it’s where he does business.

The Free Speech Protection Act, said a joint statement from Lieberman and King, “provides protections that will deter foreigners, generally from Arab nations, from suing Americans.”

Under its provisions, the sued American can countersue in the United States, and may claim up to three times the award a libel plaintiff has won overseas plus legal fees.

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