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26.03.2009 General News

Defamation suit`The Enquirer` swerves court assessment…files a motion to set aside a default judgment

By Ivy Benson - Ghanaian Chronicle
Defamation suit`The Enquirer` swerves court assessment…files a motion to set aside a default judgment

The Focal Media Limited, publishers of The Enquirer, an Accra tri-weekly newspaper has hurriedly filed an application before the Fast Track Court (FTC) to set aside an interlocutory judgment in default of appearance in a defamation suit brought against it by the Country Manager of Kosmos Energy.

The swift response to the default judgment pronounced by the court, presided over by Justice (Mrs.) Novisi Aryene, enabled the private newspaper to swerve a scheduled assessment of damages for the plaintiff.

It was noted that even before the assessment of damages for the plaintiff, Mr. George Owusu, could be conducted on March 25, 2009, defendants have on March 24, 2009, filed a motion on notice to set aside the fault judgment made against them.

On February 16, 2009, the FTC gave an interlocutory default judgment against the Focal Media Limited and the editor-in-chief of the Enquirer Newspaper, for failing to enter appearance in the case of defamation brought against them by Mr. Owusu.

Mr. George Owusu, who led Kosmos Energy of the United States of America into Ghana to explore the country's hydrocarbon potentials, sued Focal Media Limited for publishing damaging stories about him in the November 26 to 27, 2008 edition of the newspaper.

In his affidavit to support his application, Mr. Archer noted that he had never received any formal process relating to the suit adding that the first time he had a process served on him was on March 19, 2009, when he received a certified true copy of the Entry of Interlocutory judgment against Focal Media Limited.

According to Mr. Archer, a search conducted at the registry of the court revealed that one Mr. Freddy had been served with the writ of Summons, noting that Freddy Nyarko works with The Enquirer as a reporter.

Additionally, the applicant pointed out that he received a telephone call from a gentleman who had indicated his desire to serve him with a court process after being rejected by Freddy, whom he met at his office.

Applicant noted that he made an appointment to meet the court bailiff the next day in order to accept the process but the latter never turned up, emphasizing that Freddy is prepared to testify that he never received any court processes relating to the issue at stake.

It was the conviction of the applicant that the publication of the Newspaper was derived from a report by the Narcotic Board coupled with interviews held with Hon. Kan Dapaah, the former Minister of the Interior, in which the name; George Owusu featured prominently.

Applicant further noted that if the court grants his application and allow the defendants to be properly served with the originating processes and a defense to be filed in return, the defendants will provide evidence in support of the content of the report.

According to Mr. Archer, the investigations leading to the report indicated that a certain George Owusu was a conduit used by the jailed former Member of Parliament, Eric Amoateng, and his accomplice in the trafficking of drugs between Ghana and the United States (US).

He further pointed out that the report indicated a reverse export of ceramics from the US into Ghana by a certain George Owusu, stressing that the link between Eric Amoateng and George Owusu was made by the Narcotic Control Board (NACOB) and not The Enquirer.

The Plaintiff is claiming general damages for libel and aggravated damages for repeating the defamatory words on Radio Gold, an Accra-based private radio station.

Other reliefs sought include a perpetual injunction to restrain the Defendants and their agents from writing and publishing the defamatory statement in addition to cost.

In a-46-point affidavit sworn to by the plaintiff, who is an environmental scientist and worked with reputable oil companies in the United States, Mr. Owusu noted that the screaming headline of “How Kufuor Saved the Barons Who Bankrolled Him… And Scattered NACOB Probe”, published by the Enquirer was defamatory of him and has, therefore, impugned on his reputation.

According to the plaintiff, defendants by their publications, have described him as a drug baron, who was saved from prosecution by the then President J.A. Kufuor.

Additionally, Mr. Owusu contended that the publication portrayed him as using the proceeds of the narcotic drug deal to finance the then President Kufuor and his campaign for president and as a result the then President stopped an investigation of NACOB on him.

Plaintiff further pointed that the publication portrayed him as an accomplice of Eric Amoateng, a drug dealer who has been convicted by a court in the United States of

America and is serving a jail term as a result of which Hon. Kan Dapaah, then Minister of Defense had been questioned by NACOB about his association with him (plaintiff).

Mr. Owusu also noted that the defendants went ahead and made another publication with the headline “NARCOTIC BOARD SNIFFS KAN DAPAAH” in the November 28 to 30, 2008, edition of the newspaper, in which he was depicted as having facilitated the shipment of 7 boxes of ceramics stashed with 136 pounds weight of heroin through Emirates Airline for and behalf of Eric Amoateng to the United States and another consignment on December 3, 2004 via a Ghana Airways flight to an address in the United States of America.

Additionally, plaintiff held that the publication pointed him out as having executed the drug trade by shipping ceramics from the United States to the Kan Dapaah Foundation, an activity that had been identified through backtracking investigations.

Stating his case, Mr. Owusu maintained that during his stay in America, he worked for Shell Oil in Houston, Texas as an Environmental Scientist in charge of procurement, which later partnered Texaco and Saudi Aramo, both oil companies.

According to him in and around the year 2004, Chevron, a US-based oil company bought Texaco as a result of which Shell oil, the company he was working for, could not continue doing business with the former.

Plaintiff held that prior to the acquisition of Texaco by Chevron, the three former business partnerships of which he worked for, ordered a large stock of promotional items, including mugs, t-shirts, pens embossed with its logo and could no longer be used by Chevron.

This, according to Mr. Owusu requested from the executives of the company to make available the promotional items to him for distribution to needy person in Ghana, when the executives of Shell oil decided to send the items to Mexico for charity.

Plaintiff further asserted that he was given a large stock of the items, which he stored for 4 to 5 months in the United States, while he mobilized funds for its shipment, adding that he came across Kan Dapaah in Houston, and informed him about the items and sought his assistance in shipping the items to Ghana.

Mr. Owusu noted that Mr. Dapaah agreed on condition that he will be given some of the items for distribution to teachers in his constituency through his foundation, which is aimed at providing scholarships for brilliant and needy children among others.

He observed that the items were shipped to Ghana to be given to his friend, Rev. Kwabena Darko of Darko Farms Limited with the instruction that the consignment should not be opened until he (plaintiff) arrived in Ghana to oversee the distribution.

Plaintiff noted that on his arrival into the country, the items were divided into 7 portions with one portion to Rev. Darko, another to Kan Dapaah's foundation, a portion to him and fourth portions to his Ghanaian friends in Houston, who donated funds towards the shipment.

Mr. Owusu held that sometime later, some law enforcement officers visited his office and questioned him about the promotional items, Mr. Kan Dapaah and the Kan Dapaah Foundation, which he provided the facts.

According to him, the publication linked him to a transaction that the jailed Eric Amoateng made using the name of George Owusu as an exporter on all the exports to his name, address and that of Nii Okai Adjei.

Plaintiff, held the despite the clearing of his name together with the Kan Dapaah foundation by NACOB report to the exportation of Narcotic drug, the defendants went ahead and published defamatory words complained of.

“Defendants maliciously ignored page 10 of the said Narcotic Control Board report and published in Wednesday, 26th – Thursday, 27 November, 2008 issue of The enquirer that the said report is nine pages, thereby evincing malice aforethought,” the plaintiff's affidavit indicated.

Plaintiff maintained that the publications were not true, adding that they were actuated by malice on the part of the defendants. Mr. Owusu also denied knowing Eric Amoateng, emphasizing that he does not have any dealings with, for or on his behalf.