A Soviet-born real estate and luxury hospitality magnate is suing The Aspen Times, alleging defamation and libel against him in such a way that could undermine his recent $76.2 million investment.
Vladislav Doronin — the billionaire CEO of both the Aman luxury resort group as well as the OKO Group, a real estate development firm based in Miami — on April 13 filed a lawsuit in the Colorado District Court against Swift Communications, LLC, which operates the publication and is owned by West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers. In the complaint, Doronin’s legal team asserts that the Times, through a series of publications including news articles, a letter to the editor, a column and an editorial, “has chosen to weaponize the widespread negative sentiment toward the Russian Federation (“Russia”); ) and sensationalize the false narrative that targets Mr. Doronin simply because he was born in what is today Russia in order to attack the development of a luxury resort in Aspen.”
Doronin purchased the near-acre parcel on Aspen Mountain in March that choosers narrowly approved in 2019 to be developed into the Gorsuch Haus, a proposed 81-room boutique hotel — part of a larger vision to revamp the Aspen Mountain base area in what has become known as the Lift One project. His identity was first reported by the Times on March 4. On March 11, a subsequent article ran, with the headline, “Oligarch or not, new Aspen investor has Russian ties.” One week later, on March 18, the newspaper published an editorial titled, “Lessons learned from the Gorsuch Haus flip.”
“The timing of the sale’s closing could not have been worse. Regardless of what you think about Doronin, who also runs Aman Resorts, the transaction closed in early March and just days after Russia had invaded Ukraine and scores of sanctions were raining down on the country’s oligarchs and billionaires,” the editorial reads. “Dornin might be squeaky clean and his publicists insist he has no ties to Vladimir (sic) Putin or Russia, but the optics of the sale’s details — whether the price, the buyer’s identity, the timing — were simply astounding.”
Then a letter to the editor appeared in the March 22 edition of the newspaper from Basalt resident Bernard Grauer (who also submitted a different version of his letter to the Aspen Daily News, albeit focused more on criticizing sellers Jeff Gorsuch, Jim DeFrancia and Bryan Peterson , who together comprised Norway LLC which bought the land $10 million from Aspen Skiing Co. and sold it to Doronin less than a year later). In the letter published in the Times, Grauer writes, “The city should consider the damage to the reputation of the Aspen brand by allowing Vladislav Doronin, a billionaire who made his seed money under the corrupt regime of Russia’s war-criminal president, Vladimir Putin , to swoop in and buy the project.”
While Doronin’s lawsuit includes exhibits of all of these publications as evidence in its complaint, Doronin’s legal team, of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, focuses first on Grauer’s letter.
“The Letter’s defamatory statements have caused and continue to cause significant reputational damage to Mr. Doronin and his businesses, including his recent substantial investment in Aspen real estate, ”the complaint reads. “Both before and after The Aspen Times published the defamatory letter, Mr. Doronin, through his agents and counsel, explained that his assertions are false.
“Mr. Doronin’s real estate development work, which brought modern, private development to the Russian economy, was categorically different from the types of exploitative businesses operated by the so-called ‘oligarchs’ in Russia, who profited from their close affiliation with Mr. Putin, Russia’s natural resources and its state-owned businesses,” the complaint continues. “But despite these crucial facts, and the letter recklessly and basedlessly assert that Mr. Doronin engaged in the types of corruption that characterize ‘oligarchs’ including bribery and the pilfering of Russian natural resources.”
The complaint also details some biographical information about Doronin — that in denouncing his Soviet citizenship in 1986, he became a political refugee as designated by the United Nations, which later made void any eligibility for Russian citizenship when the country formed in 1991; that he became a Swedish citizen in 1992 and has only ever had a Swedish passport since; that in 1993 he founded the Capital Group in Moscow, growing the real-estate firm in its early years by developing commercial spaces in Russia for Western companies including IBM and Philip Morris International, Inc. Doronin has not had any business dealings in Russia since 2014, as he sold his shares of Capital in 2013.
“Mr. Doronin has never — while operating Capital Group or in any other business — bribed or otherwise sought to improperly influence any member of the Russian government or any other government. Nor has he ever been the subject of any investigation into or allegation of such misconduct. He founded Capital Group nearly a decade before Vladimir Putin first became president of Russia and has never had any affiliation with Mr. Putin or Russia’s political leadership,” the complaint maintains. “He has also never had any ownership interest in any company owned by the government of Russia or its predecessor, the Soviet Union.”
The lawsuit seeks actual, assumed and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief. While the complaint did not include a specific monetary amount, the number sought does exceed $75,000.
When reached for comment Monday, Allison Pattillo, publisher of The Aspen Times, said that because the lawsuit is active, she could not offer comment on the situation.
“It’s all being discussed between attorneys right now,” she said.
The Aspen Times did make edits to a March 7 opinion piece by columnist John Colson — in which Colson initially identified Doronin as an oligarch — and the news article, “Oligarch or not, new Aspen investor has Russian ties.”
“In response to Mr. Colson’s opinion piece, Mr. Doronin’s spokesperson reached out Tuesday morning to The Aspen Times to threaten a lawsuit about the use of the term ‘oligarch’ — which the Times has amended — and pointed out that Doronin has publicly denounced Putin’s invasion of Ukraine via his Twitter account,” an editor’s note reads at the bottom of the online edition of Colson’s column.