LONDON: Australian soldier Ben Roberts-Smith resigned as vice president of Seven West Media a day after losing a defamation court battle related to war crimes during his service in Afghanistan, The Guardian reported.
The ruling came about in a civil case where multiple newspapers defended a defamation lawsuit brought by Roberts-Smith, asserting that their reporting on the former soldier was accurate.
On Friday, Seven’s Managing Director and CEO James Warburton informed staff that Roberts-Smith had submitted his resignation.
In an email seen by Guardian Australia, Warburton stated: “As you’re all aware, the judgment in the defamation case was handed down yesterday.
“Ben has been on leave whilst the case was running, and today has offered his resignation, which we have accepted. We thank Ben for his commitment to Seven and wish him all the best.”
Roberts-Smith took a leave of absence from his Queensland position in 2021 to concentrate on the high-profile trial, backed financially and publicly by Kerry Stokes, the billionaire chairman of Seven who appointed Roberts-Smith general manager of Seven Queensland in 2015.
“The judgment does not accord with the man I know,” Stokes said after the verdict.
“I know this will be particularly hard for Ben, who has always maintained his innocence.”
In a groundbreaking civil trial that marked the first time a court examined allegations of war crimes by Australian forces, the judge found four out of six murder accusations were “substantially true,” despite Roberts-Smith’s denial.
The allegations consist of handcuffing and torturing civilians, ordering initiation murders for new soldiers, and shooting a Taliban fighter over 10 times in the back, taking his prosthetic leg as a trophy, and repurposing it as a drinking vessel.
The court also determined that allegations against the most decorated living Australian soldier, including the unlawful assault of captives and bullying of fellow soldiers, were true.
Roberts-Smith, who left the Australian Defence Force in 2013, has not been charged with any of the alleged war crimes in a criminal court, where the burden of proof is higher.
After the decision, a Taliban spokesman pointed to the case as evidence of the “uncountable crimes” committed by foreign forces in Afghanistan. However, they expressed skepticism about the global justice system’s ability to address these issues.
Australian troops were deployed to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021, spanning two decades of conflict. Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles declined to comment on the case, saying it was a civil matter.