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Google must disclose emails in Russian oligarch's divorce

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Google was ordered by a US judge to turn over the content of emails of the son of Farkhad Akhmedov to the Russian oligarch's former wife in her pursuit of a £450 million (S$807.9 million) divorce judgment.

[NEW YORK] Google was ordered by a US judge to turn over the content of emails of the son of Farkhad Akhmedov to the Russian oligarch's former wife in her pursuit of a £450 million (S$807.9 million) divorce judgment.

The skirmish over the email accounts is part of one of London's largest divorce fights - involving a super yacht in Dubai and litigation funder Burford Capital - which landed before a judge in San Jose, California, in the federal court closest to Google's Mountain View headquarters 14 miles (22 kilometres) away.

Tatiana Akhmedova alleges that her former husband transferred assets to their son Temur to avoid paying a London court's judgment that she says remains "almost entirely unsatisfied".

US Magistrate Judge Virginia DeMarchi said she was inclined to comply with the London court's ruling allowing Ms Akhmedova to seek her son's emails from Google. The judge said the information released should not go beyond the requirements of the litigation in London.

The information from the emails will be used to learn whether Temur assisted his father in the fraudulent transfer of assets, and if so, to win a judgment against him, Ms Akhmedova said in a filing.

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Judge DeMarchi's ruling follows a search of Temur's apartment by his mother's legal team that was authorised by a London judge who has accused the son, a financier, of destroying evidence, according to a report in the Times of London.

Google argued that it is forbidden under US law from disclosing contents of a communication without an account user's "express consent". Julie Schwartz, a lawyer for Google, told Judge DeMarchi that Google faces legal liability for improperly disclosing the information. "This has broader implications than just this case here today," she added.

In her order, Judge DeMarchi wrote that Mr Temur Akhmedov's "generally uncooperative behaviour" in the British litigation proceeding doesn't have any bearing on her decision, which instead turns on whether the accounts are his and whether he agreed to Google turning over the information they contain.

"Google points to no evidence suggesting that Mr Akhmedov is not the owner of the accounts, and he has clearly and expressly consented to production of their contents," Judge DeMarchi wrote.

Albert Gidari of Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society said the judge probably didn't want to hold up a trial set for Nov 30 in London.

"No one should read this decision as open season on compelled disclosure of user content in discovery proceedings," Mr Gidari said in an email. "To the contrary, the case stands for the unremarkable proposition that if a party can prove ownership of an account, and show discovery from the user can't be had through other means, the party can obtain provider assistance through court proceedings."

Nicholas Koulermos, a representative of Mr Temur Akhmedov, didn't immediately respond late Tuesday to phone and email messages seeking comment. Google didn't respond to a request for comment about the ruling.

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