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25.05.2004 General News

Daily Guide in ¢1bn suit

By Larry-Alans Dogbey

Former Minister for Employment and Social Welfare Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni has filed a writ at an Accra High Court against Westerns Publications Limited, publishers of the Daily Guide newspaper and Messrs Baffour Awuah and Associates a chartered accounting firm. They are to be jointly charged for defamation arising from publishing what Alhaji Mohammed says are libelous words against him.

For that, the National Democratic Congress Member of Parliament for Kumbungu is demanding an amount of One billion cedis as damages from Baffour Awuah and Associates, publishers of the Daily Guide, the paper's editor Gina Ama Blay and reporter Baby Ansabah. The former Minister for Employment and Social Welfare who has recently assumed front page prominence as a potential running mate for the NDC will plead with the court to examine the extent of injury that has been done his position thus lowering his status in public.

He is also praying the court to issue an injunction that will restrain the defendants, their servants and their agents from publishing or causing to be published similar words which might be defamatory of him.

The former minister held a press conference last Wednesday to debunk allegations made by the newspaper and attributed to the auditors to the effect that he had been involved in a gargantuan financial scandal while he was serving as the minister. He signaled readiness to seek legal redress at the appropriate time.

Even though reporter Baby Ansabah had admitted at the Wednesday press conference that the publication had not cross-checked because it had no reason to doubt the work of the auditors, he declined calls at the meeting for forgiveness insisting that the Daily Guide stood by its publication.

Below is his “STATEMENT OF CLAIM”

1. The Plaintiff is a prominent lawyer and legal practitioner a politician, a former Cabinet Minister of State and the incumbent Member of Parliament for Kumbungu, a ranking member and minority spokesman for the Parliamentary Committees of Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs and of the Judiciary.

2. The 1st Defendants are the publishers of the Daily Guide, a daily newspaper with extensive circulation throughout Ghana and on the Internet.

3. The 2nd and 3rd Defendants are the editor and a reporter respectively of the Daily Guide. The 3rd Defendant is also an employee of the Daily Guide newspaper and was at all material times acting as servant and/or agent of the paper in the course of his employment.

4. The 4th Defendants constitute a privately-owned business entity that carries on business as chartered accountants and auditors within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court.

5. On 4th May, 2004 the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Defendants published or caused to be published on the front page of the No. 1133 issue of the Daily Guide a news report captioned “Money Laundering at NVTI – SECRET ACCOUNTS EXPOSED – Ex-NDC Ministers Named - ¢20 Billion Diverted”.

6. The said news report which was attributed to the 1st Defendant made among other things, the following assertions, namely:

(a) That at the request of the Plaintiff the Ministry of Finance fraudulently transferred ¢8 billion cedis into a secret account at Bank of Ghana for use of the NVTI when the total budget estimate for NVTI was only ¢3.1 billion.

(b) That the two letters of March and August, 2000 by which the Plaintiff requested the release of funds for the same purpose were rather unusual and questionable.

(c) That the Plaintiff by his conduct contravened Financial Administration Regulations (L.I. 1134) and thereby contributed to the perpetration of fraud.

7. Subsequently, on 6th May the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Defendants again published or caused to be published also on the front page of the No. 1135 issue of the Daily Guide another news item in banner headlines “KWAME ADDO NAMED In Big Chop Chop at NVTI”.

8. The news report also attributed to the 3rd Defendant made the following assertions among others, namely:

(a) That the Plaintiff acting in concert with others used the NVTI as a conduit for siphoning over ¢19.6 billion of government funds to known and unknown persons through huge and fraudulent payments to companies and enterprises and individuals in a conspiratorial web of fraud tantamount to money-laundering.

(b) That the Plaintiff played roles in the perpetration of fraud.

9. Again, on 18th May, 2004 the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Defendants published or caused to be published on the pages of the No. 1143 issue of the Daily Guide another news report titled “Gargantuan Fraud At NVTI”

10. The news report again attributed to the 3rd Defendant made the following assertions, namely: -

(a) That the Plaintiff facilitated the fraudulent transfer and disbursement of a total amount of ¢13 billion.

(b) That the Plaintiff by his conduct contravened Financial Administration Regulations (LI. 1234).

(c) That the Plaintiff did not provide the names and location of the seven beneficiary vocational centres.

(d) That there is no documentary evidence of any request made by NVTI for the release of the additional funds.

(e) That an alleged attached letter which is unreferenced does not exist at the Ministry of Employment and Manpower Development.

11. The Plaintiff says that these words and assertions contained in Paragraphs 5 – 10 (both inclusive) herein which refer to him and are understood to refer to him are utterly false and sound to his utter disreputation and tend to lower him in the estimation of the right thinking members of the Ghanaian society generally.

12. The Plaintiff says that the letters mentioned in the correspondence to the Ministry of Finance for the release of funds were written by the Plaintiff in the normal course of events in the lawful execution of his duties as the Minister responsible for the sector under which NVTI operates.

13. The Plaintiff says that at the hearing he shall ask leave of the Court to refer to a letter Ref. No. DIR/08/99 Vol.III (50) dated 28th August, 2000 being NVTI letter written and signed by Dr Micheal Y Boateng addressed to and received by the Plaintiff as Minister, Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare. The Plaintiff shall also rely on the contents, attachments and the full effects of this said letter.

14. The words complained of in their natural and ordinary meaning meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff together with others harboured a criminal agenda to perpetrate fraud against the State and that in pursuit of such criminal agenda succeeded in diverting State funds in billions of cedis into unauthorized hands and thereby been guilty of the criminal offences of Abetment of Crime, Conspiracy, Stealing, Fraud and causing financial loss to the State contrary to Sections 20(1), 23(1), 124, 131 and 179A of the Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29) (as amended) and further that the Plaintiff is thereby not a fit and proper person to hold the positions he now holds or to be a free citizen.

15. The Plaintiff further says and at the trial will so contend that these words falsely and maliciously published of and concerning him are calculated to disparage him in the way of his work and calling as a lawyer, politician and a Member of Parliament.

16. All three publications were made effective and prominent by also featuring the photograph of the Plaintiff on the front page and the words were subsequently republished or broadcast on the airwaves by leading radio stations like Radio Gold, Joy FM, Peace FM etc. These media organizations have extensive coverage throughout Ghana and on the Internet.

17. The Plaintiff says that the said words were also published to some other persons whom he cannot at present specify but will rely upon the publication thereof to every person to whom he may discover the same to have been published.

18. The said republication and broadcast was the natural and probable result of the original publication by the Defendants, further or alternatively, it was intended and/or authorized by the Defendants. In the premises the Defendants are liable for the republication and broadcast of the said words by the said radio stations.

19. The 1st Defendant stated in the news report complained of herein that his source of the story was an audit report made and published by the 4th Defendants following a purported audit inspection carried out by them on NVTI.

20. The Plaintiff says and will so maintain at the trial that the 4th Defendants, a private entity were not duly and properly mandated to carry out the audit inspection on the National Vocational Training Institute which is a public organization subsisting entirely on the Consolidated Fund.

21. The Plaintiff avers that the 4th Defendants had no duty releasing their report to the 3rd Defendant for publication but they nevertheless did so, or alternatively, they failed, neglected or refused to take adequate steps or at all to prevent a leakage of their report to the 1st Defendant.

22. The Plaintiff says that the 4th Defendants had a duty in accordance with the practice, usages and customs of their trade as auditors to avail the Plaintiff the opportunity to clarify or explain whatever doubts they may have harboured about any fact or issue against the Plaintiff on their preliminary findings before presenting their report or going public with the findings but they failed, refused or neglected to carry out that duty.

23. The 4th Defendant willfully and recklessly published the words and statements against the Plaintiff, which by enquiry, they would have found to be false, but had neglected to do so, not caring whether they were true or false.

24. The Plaintiff further says that the 3rd Defendant was by the professional ethics of his calling as a journalist bound to cross-check his information with the Plaintiff before proceeding to publish same to the public but 3rd Defendant failed, refused or neglected to do same.

25. The Plaintiff will contend that if the 3rd and 4th Defendants had observed their duties diligently as stated hereinabove they would have discovered that the two letters they relied on for their report and publication, read in their context especially in relation to the letter referred to herein in Paragraph 13, did not provide a credible basis for inferring fraud or criminal conspiracy.

26. The Plaintiff further contends that the 3rd and 4th Defendants in publishing the story on the Plaintiff were actuated by malice and that they deliberately set out to defame the Plaintiff.

27. By reason of the foregoing the Plaintiff has been greatly injured in his character and reputation and has been brought into public scandal, odium and contempt and in the process have greatly lowered and ridiculed him in the estimation in which he is held by the right thinking members of society generally.

28. The Plaintiff has also suffered injured feeling and psychological trauma at the apprehension that such libelous statements could be so recklessly made against him.

29. The Plaintiff says that the publication has the potential to jeopardize his standing in the society as a professional lawyer, his career as a politician and a Member of Parliament.

30. The Defendants have threatened and intend to further publish the same or similar words of and concerning the Plaintiff unless otherwise restrained by this Honourable Court by injunction.

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