Van West-Charles wins $10M defamation judgement against Kaieteur News

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

Former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) Richard Van West-Charles has been awarded $10 million in damages after High Court Judge Navindra Singh recently found that he was defamed in several articles published by Kaieteur News.

On August 5, 2019, West-Charles, through his lawyer Rexford Jackson, filed a Statement of Claim, claiming damages for defamation against Kaieteur News and the newspaper’s publisher Glenn Lall. The publications in question are articles carried by the newspaper on January 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, and 22, 2019. They were followed by articles published on February 2 and March 27, 2019.

The articles were in relation to Atlantic Fuels Incorporated (AFI) which West-Charles owns. In court documents, West-Charles argued that the publications meant and were understood to mean that he is involved in criminal conduct, including under-invoicing of fuel purchases to evade taxes, smuggling of fuel, corruptly obtained a fuel licence, and unfit to hold public office.

He submitted that the publications were false and caused significant harm and injury to his reputation and lowered his standing in Guyana and the international community and brought him into public odium. On January 8, 2019, his lawyer had written to the newspaper informing that the article was libellous. Notwithstanding, the newspapers published more articles.

Kaieteur News, through its lawyer Shaunella Glen, pleaded the defences of justification and fair comment. During the trial, Lall testified the necessary investigations as responsible journalism dictates, were carried out before the stories were published.

In his ruling, Justice Singh noted that the particular justification linking West-Charles to fuel smuggling as pleaded by the newspapers in its defence is “nonsensical and does not even pretend to justify the article”. He said the articles intended to convey that the businessman was involved in criminal activities to defraud Guyana of revenue through under-invoicing and tax evasion.

Kaieteur News Publisher Glenn Lall
The High Court Judge was keen to point out that Kaieteur News failed to provide any evidence that West-Charles or his company submitted a falsified invoice to the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).

“The court finds that the publications clearly attacked [West-Charles’] character, labelling him as a dishonest person that engages in fraudulent or criminal practices and in highlighting that he was a senior Government official implied that he was not fit to be a public officer,” Justice Singh held.

He, therefore, ruled that the publications are defamatory and would tend to lower the standing of West-Charles in society in the estimation of right-thinking members of society and bring his business into disrepute.

According to Justice Singh, the nature of the libel was bound to cause him distress, hurt, and humiliation. He added that the publications were disseminated via the internet which has the widest distribution while noting that it is a well-established fact that materials published on the internet are available for public consumption for eternity.

Justice Singh noted that the newspapers did not even apologise or express any regret over the publications and persisted with the publications despite being informed by West-Charles’ lawyer that the content of the articles was false.

“This demonstrates a reckless disregard for the harm that false reporting can cause and a stout refusal by [Kaieteur News] to engage in ethical and fair reporting and rather seem prepared to publish scandalous articles to boost the sale of the newspapers,” the Judge underscored.

In the circumstances, the High Court further awarded interest on the $10 million judgement at the rate of six per cent per annum from August 5, 2019, to November 5, 2021- the date the ruling was rendered and four per cent per annum thereafter until the sum is fully paid.

Costs were awarded against the newspaper in the sum of $1,650,000.