Resolution Statement – 29243-20 Delo v The Times
Summary of Complaint
1. Ben Delo complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Bitcoin tycoon’s £5m gift gives Oxford the jitters”, published on 24 October 2020.
2. The article reported that there were concerns about donations made to academic institutions by Ben Delo, as he had been “charged [..] with facilitating money laundering” by “US authorities.” It reported that a university college was “asking lawyers what they should do with the endowment” and a school was “understood to be in talks about a £500,000 donation from him.” It then said that the complainant intended to “vigorously defend” himself against the charges, though this quote was not attributed to the complainant. It also noted that Mr Delo “could get five years if he is convicted.” The article said that representatives of Mr Delo “could not be reached.”
3. The article included more information about Bitcoin, stating that “Bitcoin is an electronic currency which is popular with criminals laundering money because it is almost impossible to trace.” It also included a comment from an author of a book about Bitcoin, who was quoted as saying that: “The pseudo-anonymity [of Bitcoin] has attracted many dodgy people who are blatantly money laundering, drug dealing or ransomware gangs. There’s a lot of really dirty money two or three steps away and it’s a very small pool so not getting dirty is extremely hard.”
4. The article also included further background information about Mr Delo, saying that “[i]n his university year book Mr Delo was voted the most likely to become a millionaire and the second most likely to end up in prison” and that “[i]n 2018 The Sunday Times Rich List named him as the UK’s youngest billionaire.”
5. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Billionaire Ben Delo’s £5m gift stirs up trouble for Oxford”. The online article was updated twice prior to a complaint being made to IPSO. It was first updated to include a comment from Mr Delo’s representative; the second update altered the article so that instead of stating that Mr Delo had been charged “with facilitating money laundering”, it stated that he had been charged with “failing to implement anti-money laundering procedures.” The second update also removed the reference to Mr Delo having appeared on The Sunday Times Rich List, and added the following footnote to the article:
“This article was amended on October 24 to clarify the charges against Mr Delo.”
6. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He first said that he had not been charged with “facilitating money laundering”; rather, an indictment against him alleged that he had caused "a financial institution to violate the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to establish, implement, and maintain an anti-money laundering program" that satisfied certain statutory requirements. The complainant said that this was a significant inaccuracy, as facilitating money laundering was a separate, more serious criminal offence. The complainant noted that the online article had been updated to more accurately reflect the indictment against him, but that the original print article remained uncorrected.
7. The complainant also said that the article had failed to make clear that he was based outside the US, and as such he was under no obligation to comply with United States legislation, such as the legislation the indictment alleged he had contravened.
8. The complainant said that it was also inaccurate for the article to state that a university college “was asking lawyers about what they should do with the endowment.” He had been personally assured by the interim Provost of the college that this was not the case. The complainant said that it was also misleading for the article to state that a school he had donated £500,000 was “in talks” about the donation as, in the context of the article, it may mislead readers into believing that the school had concerns about the propriety of his donation. The complainant had understood from the school that there were no such concerns.
9. While the article stated that his representative could not be reached, the complainant said that this was not the case; a journalist from the newspaper had contacted his Chief of Staff the day before the publication of the articles, and had followed the call up with a text message and an email. The text messages requested a comment by 6pm in order to meet print publication deadlines; the complainant’s representative provided a comment an hour prior to the deadline. As such, the complainant said it was inaccurate to report that he could not be reached for comment, where the complainant’s representative had provided a comment to the publication within its specified timeframe. He said that this was a significant inaccuracy, as it may mislead readers into believing that he had something to hide and was refusing to comment. He also noted the shortness of the deadline (less than five hours) and said that he was not given a reasonable opportunity to reply, where his staff had made clear he was out of the country and the story was not time sensitive.
10. The complainant also said that the article was framed in a manner that was unfair and lacked balance, and that it contained the following references to “general criminality” which inaccurately portrayed him as being either guilty or likely to be convicted: a description of Bitcoin as “an electronic currency which is popular with criminals laundering money because it is almost impossible to trace”; a quote from a writer in which he referred to Bitcoin as “attract[ing] many dodgy people who are blatantly money laundering, drug dealing or ransomware gangs”; the reference to him having been voted “the second most likely to end up in prison”; the implication that educational institutions were concerned about his donations; and the reference to his representatives not being available for comment.
11. The complainant also noted that he had not appeared on The Sunday Times Rich List in 2018, as reported by the article.
12. The publication said it did not accept that the Code had been breached. It said that, while the original article had briefly summarised the charges against the complainant as “facilitating money laundering” for ease of understanding for British readers who would not understand the technical nature of the charges, it did not accept that this was an inaccurate summary of the charges. The indictment against the complainant stated that the company he had founded “made itself available as a vehicle for money laundering and sanctions violations.” It said, therefore, that as the complainant had been charged with “failing to implement anti-money laundering procedures” it was not inaccurate nor misleading to summarise this as “facilitating money laundering.” It said that it had amended the article to change the description of the charge and added a footnote clarifying this change as a gesture of goodwill only and had not accepted a breach of the Code in doing so.
13. The publication further said that it had been provided with credible information from authoritative sources that fellows at the university college had been in touch with lawyers regarding the donation. It said that it had put these claims to the university college, and had been informed it had no comment to make. It said that it had also received information from a credible source associated with the school in receipt of the £500,000 donation, and that it had again approached the school for comment and had been told it had no comment to make. For these reasons, it did not accept that the article was inaccurate to report that a university college was “asking lawyers what they should do with the endowment” nor that a school was “understood to be in talks about a £500,000 donation from [the complainant].”
14. The publication stated that email issues had led to the quote from the complainant’s representative not being included in the print version of the article. It was therefore not inaccurate for the print article to state that his representative could not be reached for comment. It noted that, nonetheless, the article made clear that the complainant intended to “vigorously defend” himself; his position with regards to the charges against him was therefore clear even without the quote. It further noted that a quote from the complainant’s representative was added to the online article, the day after its initial publication.
15. The newspaper said that the US Attorney’s office had confirmed to it that Mr Delo was facing a sentence of up to five years imprisonment in relation to the charges against him, it said, therefore it could not be inaccurate to report this. Nor it said, was it inaccurate to state that Bitcoin was “an electronic currency which is popular with criminals laundering money because it is almost impossible to trace”, or to include a quotation from an author with expertise in Bitcoin. It provided a news article which referred to Bitcoin in the context of money laundering, and noted that it had included this reference to Bitcoin and a quote from the expert as it explained the importance of anti-money laundering procedures with regard to businesses dealing in Bitcoin.
16. The newspaper then said that it was not inaccurate to report that: Bitcoin is “an electronic currency which is popular with criminals laundering money because it is almost impossible to trace”; that a writer referred to Bitcoin as “attract[ing] many dodgy people who are blatantly money laundering, drug dealing or ransomware gangs”; and that the complainant had been voted “the second most likely to end up in prison.” As such, it said that the complainant’s concerns on these points did not raise a breach of the Code.
17. The newspaper accepted that the complainant had not appeared on the 2018 Sunday Times Rich List, and noted that the online version of the article had been amended to remove this reference. However, it said that this inaccuracy did not represent a serious inaccuracy in need of correction, where it was not in dispute that the complainant is “extremely wealthy.”
18. The complainant said that, given the seriousness of the charges which the newspaper said had been brought against him, it was imperative that the publication report the charges accurately; it was no defence under the code to state that the spirit of the charges was accurate, when the charges themselves were not accurately reported. He further said that, regardless of email issues on the part of the publication, his representative had replied with a comment; it was inaccurate to report that he had not. He also said that, while information had been put to the school and university college, neither institution had confirmed the accuracy of the information; the publication could not, therefore, state that the article was accurate on the points relating to the school and university college. He noted that no apology or correction had been published, and that this represented a further breach of the Code. He also noted that, while the online article had been amended, the print article remained uncorrected and unamended.
Relevant Clause Provisions
19. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
20. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
21. The publication offered to print the following clarification, both in the print edition of its newspaper and online:
In an article published on 24 October 2020 (News), we stated that Ben Delo had been charged with facilitating money laundering in the US and that, as a result, his former Oxford college was seeking legal advice on an endowment previously received from him. Mr Delo has been charged with failing to implement adequate anti-money laundering procedures at his company, a separate charge under US law. We have been assured that Worcester College has not sought legal advice in relation to Mr Delo’s donation. We are happy to set the record straight.”
22. It also offered to update the article under complaint to include a link to the clarification, and to ensure that tweets relating to the charges against the complainant from the social media accounts of a journalist working for the publication were deleted.
23. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
24. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 03/12/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/04/2021Back to ruling listing