-will collect $27.5M
JUSTICE Sandil Kissoon, on Friday, awarded $27.5M to the owner of Sleepin Group of Hotels, Clifton Bacchus, for a defamation of character lawsuit filed against former Guyana Chronicle Editor-in-Chief (EiC), Nigel Williams, and the Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL).
Additionally, Pasha Global Inc. and Yokohama Trading Guyana Inc., were each awarded $12.5M in damages.
Bacchus, along with Pasha Global Inc. and Yokohama Trading Guyana Inc. took GNNL– the printers of the Guyana Chronicle– and Williams to court following the publication of an offensive article on August 15, 2017. The front-page headline of the article read, “Tracking the money…Sleepin boss, associate snared in money laundering probe… SOCU tells Gaming Authority investigation since 2016.”
Further, on page 2 and 8 of the August 17, 2017 edition of the newspaper , Williams published or caused to be published an article under the heading, “The Dutch Connection…Sleepin Casino Surinamese partner was jailed for money laundering…Bacchus quizzed about permission to import slot machines.”
The former EiC and, by extension, the newspaper had tried to create a nexus between Bacchus and the Surinamese businessman’s legal troubles.
According to the newspaper, Bhagwandath Parmasar is the owner of Yokohama Trading Company, the parent company of Pasha Global Group, which the paper claimed was the main player in the setup of the Carnival Casino, owned by Bacchus.
In delivering his judgement, Justice Kissoon found that the publications were defamatory to the Claimants in that they were published maliciously and falsely conveyed to the ordinary man that Bacchus and the companies were part of a criminal enterprise that engaged in money laundering in various jurisdictions and that Bacchus had no independent legitimate source of income.
The judge said that it was falsely conveyed that the alleged crimes included transnational drug trafficking and money laundering.
Justice Kissoon found also that the publications painted an image to the public that Bacchus’ hotel was part of a criminal enterprise engaged in money laundering, and that Pasha Global worldwide casino operations and the importation and resale of motor vehicles by Yokohama Trading Guyana Inc. were fronts for unlawful acts and were not legitimate businesses. The false narratives that the Pasha Global worldwide and Yokohama Trading Guyana Inc. were partners in Bacchus’ hotel and the owner jailed for money laundering and drug trafficking, were also reflected.
The newspaper alleged that the hotel was not financially sound, hence their money laundering activities, and that the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) had trapped and caught Bacchus and associates laundering money in an investigation that it had undertaken in 2016.
The court found that the news articles lowered the reputation of Bacchus in the eyes of right-thinking members of society and discredited the Claimants in their trade and business and destroyed their financial standing in the business community.
Having considered the foregoing aggravating and mitigating factors, the judge ordered GNNL and its former EiC to pay $25M for general damages, along with $2.5M for exemplary damages.
Further, with regards to Pasha Global Inc. and Yokohama Trading Guyana Inc., GNNL and Williams were ordered to pay $12.5M to each of the companies.
The Court also granted permanent injunctions restraining the GNNL and its servants and/or agents from publishing any statement whatsoever concerning Bacchus, which will suggest, or tend to suggest or convey, the impression that his business, Sleepin International Hotel and Casino Inc., Yokohama Trading Guyana Inc. and Pasha Global Inc. are engaged in, connected to, associated with, and funded by criminal conduct and from criminal proceeds derived from illicit or criminal activities.
The newspaper was also ordered to remove the published articles from its website within 48 hours.
The award of compensation by the court was motivated by several aggravating factors including Bacchus’ despicable conduct; malice on the part of the GNNL and Williams, and the publication of false statements as facts knowing that they were not true.
The court also took into consideration GNNL and its former EiC’s failure to issue an apology to Bacchus or publish a retraction.
It was noted that the newspaper had Bacchus’ application for a Casino Licence including his financial statements in their possession at the time of publication. Although the financial statements established that Bacchus had registered financial charges secured on his assets in Guyana for almost $1 billion, the newspaper portrayed in their publications that Bacchus was without legitimate income, was involved in money laundering and drug trafficking, and that his application for a casino licence was refused because he was without financial standing.
The court further noted that the first publication was made a day before the Gaming Authority was expected to visit the hotel for an inspection, pursuant to an application for a casino licence and that the second publication was made a day after the Gaming Authority’s visit, and was done maliciously to influence the process and/or to ensure that Bacchus’ application was refused.
Lastly, the Court found that the newspaper and its former EiC failed to verify the facts and that they were aware that Bacchus had issued a statement on the August 15, 2017, after the first publication and nevertheless went on to publish a more elaborate and malicious article two days later without ever carrying the businessman’s statement.
Consequently, the court found that the publications were beyond libellous and were reckless, baseless and irresponsible and that the Defendants were motivated by expressed malice for an improper purpose.
The Claimants were represented by attorneys, Anil Nandlall, Manoj Narayan, Rajendra Jaigobin and Anuradha Deodasingh.