Swiss court rejects oil trader Kolmar’s defamation lawsuit against NGOs


Petrochemicals group Kolmar, based in Zug, Switzerland, sued three journalists and two NGOs, for publishing a report alleging that the company was sourcing refined oil from the Zawiya refinery in Libya during the civil war. In February 2024, a Swiss court found that the report was in the public interest and ruled against Kolmar.

“The court’s decision helps protect the right to freedom of expression and the work of human rights defenders trying to hold companies to account,” Mark Dummett, Amnesty International’s Head of Business and Human Rights.

Fuel Smuggling

“Libyan Fuel Smuggling: A Swiss Trader Sailing Through Troubled Waters,” a report authored by Trial International and Public Eye, two Swiss NGOs, was published in March 2020. The report documents how Kolmar was storing fuel in Malta in 2014-2015 that appeared to be Libyan government-subsidized refined fuel bought at discount prices. (Kolmar ceased operating in Malta in early 2016.)

War Profiteering

Investigators in Italy say that the fuel was obtained from a smuggler named Fahmi Ben Khalifa who bought the fuel from the Shuhada al Nasr Brigade, whom the United Nations accuses of exploiting and smuggling migrants. They say that the fuel was likely sold in Europe at the time at the market price of 53 cents per liter -  almost double the government subsidized price of 28 cents in Libya.  

“Remember, if there is no international buyer for Libyan fuel, there can be no smuggling. Fuel smugglers are able to grow fabulously rich at the expense of ordinary law-abiding Libyan citizens. Imagine what could be achieved to improve the lives of ordinary Libyans with such a huge sum – hospitals, medication, schools, housing,” Mustafa Sanalla, chair of Libya's National Oil Corporation.


In September 2023, Kolmar sued Trial International and Public Eye, as well as the three authors of the report (Agathe Duparc, Montse Ferrer and Antoine Harari) at the Cantonal Court in Zug, Switzerland, for infringement of personal rights, demanding US$1.8 million in damages. Activists labeled the action as a Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit.

Coalition Building
Multiple NGOs stepped forward to support Public Eye and Trial International including groups like Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) coalition. Together they published a letter stating that the Kolmar lawsuit was a violation of the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


In January 2024, Andrea Gysi, president of the District Court of Bern-Mittellan held a hearing on the lawsuit, in which she questioned the three authors of the report. On February 20, 2024, she announced that she would acquit the accused. (Kolmar immediately announced that they would appeal the ruling.)

Company Response

“At no point did the Court rule on the credibility of the report, neither did the Court rule on the veracity of the allegations presented as facts in the report.”

Company Statement

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