on disparaging anonymous forum entries

The position

I) The Hanseatic merchant

Crystal-clear, honest and frank when debating an issue, structured and efficient in handling business. Always available for his customers and their needs: these are the characteristics that my clients have been appreciating since I started working as a tax consultant in Hamburg. I am a direct contact person for my clients and always accompany them throughout the process personally and at eye level. Totally in line with the conduct of a Hanseatic merchant. This results in a growing, long-standing and satisfied customer base. The high number of referrals by clients proves just this.

II) The aggrieved honest merchant

The background
In April 2013, a gentleman approached me to see if we could build a working relationship. At the time, he was the managing director of several companies. As far as I know, he still is today. A contractual relationship was thus entered into between my former company, Finanz-Kontor Hamburg BJB Steuerberatungsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, and a) a private limited company (GMBH), (b) a sole proprietor business selling erotic products online, (c) a civil-law association (GbR) and (d) a private person. At the beginning of the relationship, I presumed the tax situation was orderly. An employee and I soon realised in April 2013 that the accounting was “chaotic”:

  • In my view, their former tax consultant had left a chaotic situation with no transparency,
  • and there had also been obvious consultation mistakes.
  • The cost for consultation that I had expected and calculated when the client was new thus increased considerably within a short period of time.
  • In July 2013, this topic was broached in a meeting between the client and myself. I explained the difficult situation to him and explained, in front of a colleague, that there would be additional costs involved in correcting the situation. The conflict that ensued was irreparable and the foundation of trust deeply shaken: the client proved to be immune to advice. He did not want to accept the additional costs as described and was not prepared to pay for them.
  • In August 2013, I then decided to end the working relationship, a fact that I soon informed him of by e-mail. Initially, it seemed like he was ready to compromise by confirming in an e-mail my suggestion of settling the situation with a reasonable one-time payment of approximately EUR 5,500 and to end the business relationship amicably. But what ensued was not in line with our agreement. On the contrary: the gentleman decided to use what I consider to be dubious means.

Disparagement protected by internet anonymity and the British Virgin Islands.
The said compromise did not arise. The client did not want to pay anything. Therefore, proceedings at a local court in North Germany took place in 2014 and 2015. The claimant was Finanz-Kontor Hamburg BJB Steuerberatungsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG. The respondent was the GmbH which had been the client. The subject matter of the proceedings was the outstanding claim by Finanz-Kontor Hamburg BJB Steuerberatungsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG against the client GmbH. One response by the client GmbH was to offset the asserted payment claims against alleged counterclaims. The court accepted this.

In summer 2016, an acquaintance told me that for some time there had been quite a number of defamatory, untrue negative ratings and false assertions on the internet.

  • These accusations are malicious and are not true. I am taking legal steps against these lies: following warning letters and deletion requests, two rating platforms had to delete disparaging contributions.
  • On another portal, which already seems dubious due to the operator’s address on the British Virgin Islands, a group of “neutral” users had decided to use pseudonyms and, protected by the anonymity of the internet, to systematically ruin my reputation. All this detailed storytelling serves just one objective: to directly and indirectly confirm the unproven allegations made by an anonymous key player. SEO specialists were obviously used to place the defamatory search results at the top of the Google ranking.
  • The forum deals mostly with vending machines for video rental shops: apparently things that people use in the erotic industry.
  • The forum can be reached via a top level “.de” domain, which gives the impression that the operator is based in Germany. Upon closer inspection, however, the domain owner is located on the British Virgin Islands. The laws on the British Virgin Islands make it very easy to hide company owners. The person behind the malicious campaign against me is obviously using this fact to make taking legal action against the defamatory content as difficult as possible.
  • There are a lot of indications that the initiator of this malicious campaign is the former client who is using several pseudonyms within the forum.
  • The main ally must be the admin-c of the portal listed with DENIC. Based on my current knowledge, I assume that the admin-c is also the factual managing director or director of the owner of the internet sites in the British Virgin Islands.
  • We assume that he is an IT expert. It seems that he uses the Ltd. that owns the said internet portal and is headquartered on the British Virgin Islands to operate various sites with erotic or similar content on the internet. The names of the sites make it obvious what content is shown on the sites.
  • I have brought charges against the “admin-c” of the internet site in questions as well as against John Doe.
  • I take the view that my former client has the following motive for this lavishly staged malicious campaign against me: he feels personally insulted, which I must have caused by terminating our working relationship. The erotic industry in which he works is still less accepted by society than other industries. My perception is that this is the reason why he strives for a higher social standing and social acceptance, and in his eyes it was my conduct that denied him this.

Even if the untrue negative comments have not had a noticeable detrimental effect on the order situation in my company, the malicious campaign does harm me economically as it puts a shadow on my reputation as a tax consultant without any reason.