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PM seeking to collect near quarter million dollars in damages


PM seeking to collect near quarter million dollars in damages

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KINGSTOWN, St Vincent – A pro-opposition radio station has begun efforts to raise an estimated EC$225 000 it owes Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves after he successfully sued for defamation.

Gonsalves had filed the defamation suit after comments were made by talk show host, Matthew Thomas, on the programme Stay Awake, broadcast on NICE Radio in January 2007.

This is the second lawsuit that the station has lost to Gonsalves and management has started the radiothon to prevent the station from being liquidated in order to meet the judgement.

When the programme, which was also hosted by Junior Bacchus, went off the air on January 30, 2012, it left NICE Radio and Thomas, a pharmacist, a bill for EC$166 625.

In the February 10, 2012, judgement, the High Court ordered Thomas and BDS Ltd., owners of NICE Radio, to pay Gonsalves EC$155 000 in aggravated damages, EC$11 625 cost, and interest of five per cent until the monies were paid.

According to the ruling, Thomas, on January 29, 2007, had made certain statements about Gonsalves having untoward intentions toward Bacchus. Thomas had also accused Gonsalves of using the Office of the Prime Minister to facilitate illegal activities.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the lower court and the parties are due back in court on June 26, 2017.

Attorney Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, who represented the respondents during the appeal, said she has revived a committee formed some years ago to raise a similar amount to save NICE Radio after the first defamation judgment in favour of Gonsalves.

She told radio listeners during the radiothon on NICE Radio Monday night that the respondents do not have to raise all the monies by then, but it would be good if that is the case.

She had earlier told the CMC that she is confident that the monies will be raised.

“We did it already and we will do it again. In fact, we will do it even better this time.”

Owner and manager of NICE Radio, Douglas De Freitas, in his commentary on Monday, said that the radio station is undergoing legal battles “because of the fight for true democracy in St Vincent and the Grenadines”.

De Freitas, a cousin of the prime minister, however, said that after several years of struggle, he is “worn” and “broken” and is prepared to sell the two-storey building housing the radio station and immigrating to the United States with his family.

De Freitas said that the current legal battle resulted from an article that Thomas read from a newspaper.

“And Matthew Thomas was sued and so was the radio station,” De Freitas said, adding that there was a default judgment after their attorney “abandoned us” during the High Court sitting.

He said when the matter was appealed, one of the three appellate judges disagreed with the case having been heard originally in the absence of the respondent.

“And so, a sum of money, EC$155 000 plus cost and the interest went on that,” De Freitas said, indicating that he had recently suggested to a lawyer for the prime minister that the radio station can pay EC$5 000 a month towards the damages.

“We can struggle to do that. Why can’t it be that way? But the whole issue is to close Nice Radio down. It is not about the money. The money is the instrument, through the court system, to make sure that we are shut down, that there is no dissenting voice in St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

Meanwhile, Bacchus-Baptiste said she believes talk show hosts on the radio station have to be careful about their statements, noting that De Freitas has never been sued over statements he has made.

She said she is also disagreeing with the position of the Court of Appeal noting “I took the position, which is what the law says, to my mind, that you cannot get summary judgment for defamation matters. And, to my mind, this amounted to a summary judgment.

“What is interesting is that one of the Court of Appeal judges agreed with that position. What is strange, though, is that this appeal was heard in the absence of all counsel. I just received the judgment and this has never happened before so that was new.”

But the attorney has acknowledged the prime minister’s right to sue who he chooses.

“But when you are a political figure, you will have to take the fallout or comments that are made regarding how genuine it is,” she added.

In November 2011, Thomas had threatened “guerrilla warfare” if Gonsalves had collected the money awarded to him in a suit he brought against E.G. Lynch, then host of the main New Democratic Party’s radio programme.

Gonsalves collected the payment in 2012 and said then he would donate it to charity. (CMC)