A Palo Alto businessman embroiled in a libel dispute with the Soviet government newspaper Izvestia filed a $10-million claim against the U.S. government on Monday, alleging that it was improperly attempting to pressure him to give up his fight.
Raphael Gregorian charged the United States with wrongdoing for attempting to help Izvestia, which called him a spy, serve him with documents from a Moscow court.
Izvestia is suing for libel--"for direct insults of the newspaper"--because Gregorian said the paper made up the story that he was a spy.
Gregorian received the Moscow court documents in the mail recently from the U.S. Marshal's Service, which notified him that his libel trial in Moscow City Court was set for next month.
"I'm upset that the United States government is spending taxpayer money to do the Soviets' work for them," Gregorian's attorney, Gerald L. Kroll, said. "Why can't the Soviets hire a process server?"
The lawyer added that he views the government's aid to the Soviets as "the United States government . . . helping the Soviets to get a judgment against my client."
Marshal's Service Comments
A spokesman for the Marshal's Service, which was served with Gregorian's $10-million claim as the precursor to a lawsuit, said he was unaware of the facts of Gregorian's case. But he said his agency routinely serves legal papers for foreigners suing American citizens in foreign courts.
"We serve a lot of foreign process," said Alan Jeannerett, supervisory deputy at the Marshal's Service office in San Francisco.
Jeannerett said foreign court papers are passed to the Marshal's Service by the Department of Justice, which gets them from the State Department. Spokesmen for those agencies, both of which were also served with Gregorian's $10-million claims on Monday, declined comment.
Under federal rules, the agencies have six months to decide whether to pay Gregorian's claim. If they decide not to, he may sue in U.S. District Court.
Gregorian, who exported medical equipment to the Soviet Union, was the subject of a 1984 Izvestia article headlined "Double-Faced Merchant," which accused him of being an American spy.
He sued the newspaper and the Soviet government in Los Angeles federal court.
Wins Default Judgment
The Soviets did not defend themselves and Gregorian won a two-part, $413,000 default judgment--$250,000 for libel and $163,000 for the Soviet government's failure to pay for medical equipment he delivered.
However, when he attempted to seize Soviet assets in this country, the Soviets tried to get the default judgment overturned.
They received the backing of U.S. government attorneys, who urged U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon to reopen the case and hold off on any judgment awards for foreign policy reasons, including the future of arms control talks. Kenyon acceded in April, overturning the libel portion of the award. The judge said the Soviet Union's sovereign immunity meant Gregorian had no redress for libel, even though Izvestia apparently fabricated the article.
Kenyon let stand his award of $163,000 for merchandise the Soviets accepted but did not pay for.
Both sides are appealing.
So far, all Gregorian has collected is one typewriter, seized from an Izvestia correspondent in the United States, Kroll said.