Accra, Feb. 7, GNA - Ebenezer Ato Sam, alias Baby Ansabah, Deputy Editor of the "Daily Guide", on Tuesday mounted the witness box to defend an alleged libel story he wrote about the Former First Lady Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings.
Mrs Rawlings has sued Mr Ato Sam and Mrs Gina Blay and Western Publications, publishers of the "Daily Guide", for libel. The newspaper in its Wednesday, July 6, 2005 edition published a story titled, "Milking the Sacred Cow - Konadu owes 2.8 billion to the State."
Led in evidence by Mr Freddie Blay, First Deputy Speaker of Parliament at the Fast Track High Court, Mr Sam explained that the headline of the story meant "maximizing or taking full advantage of something that is not yours".
Mr Sam said 750 million cedis loan facility obtained by CDC under the Trade and Invest Programme (TIP) Fund through the USAID belonged to the State.
Asked how he came by the story, Mr Sam said he intercepted a letter from the Auditor-General requesting the payment of the 750 million cedis loan obtained by CDC.
"On intercepting the story, we realized that the story was credible and sacrosanct and would elicit public interest. As such we went ahead to publish the story," Mr Sam declared.
"We never stated in our reportage that Mrs Rawlings was a fraud, callous, a cheat and dishonest. All we said was that she had defaulted in payment."
He said Mrs. Rawlings had also not denied the body of the story adding, "the truth is that CDC still owes the State". Mr Sam said after the publication, the newspaper's attention was drawn to the fact that "we cannot hold Mrs Rawlings liable for the debt of CDC".
"My Lord we, therefore, rendered an apology on the front page and page three of the Daily Guide on the August 29 2005 and August 30 2005, respectively to Plaintiff.
"Our apology was that we erred in associating the Plaintiff to the debt owed by a limited liability Company."
Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, counsel for the defendants, who was late for court, then took over from Mr Blay.
Mr Sam maintained that he did not write the story out of malice stressing that the newspaper did not publish a non-existing story or a rumour.
Answering questions under cross-examination by Mr Tony Lithur, Mr Sam maintained the letter he intercepted had only the name of CDC. Mr Sam said he was not aware that CDC had run into difficulty after it had gone for the 750 million cedis loan.
He said that Mrs Rawlings was central and material to the publication in question, adding "We could not have done without her". Asked why he failed to get the Plaintiff's side of the story, Mr Sam said Mr Victor Smith, a Public Relations Officer to the Former President Jerry John Rawlings, had earlier asked him not confer with him on matters relating to the Rawlings family.
He objected to Counsel's claim that the 31st December Women's Movement (DWM) was a non-governmental organization.
Mr Sam maintained that Mrs Rawlings owned the movement adding that she used her influence to obtain funds from TIP fund.
According to Mr Sam, CDC never provided any collateral for the loan. "I never saw any letter or application from CDC." He said all the CDC did was to open a foreign account that would receive proceeds from the manufactured products.
Mr Sam denied that he and two other defendants sat down to defame Mrs Rawlings.
Mr Dame indicated to the Court that it had two more witnesses to testify but needed the Court to issue subpoenas to compel the Auditor-General and another to appear in court. Mr Dame, therefore, prayed for adjournment to enable him to get his witnesses.
The Court obliged but awarded cost of two million cedis to the Defendants saying the action of the Defence counsel sought to delay proceedings.