APNU+AFC MP wins defamation lawsuit against State newspaper

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Jermaine Figueira

Acting Chief Justice Roxane George, SC, has found that A Partnership for National Unity-Alliance for Change (APNU-AFC) Parliamentarian Jermaine Figueira was defamed by an article published by the state-owned Guyana Chronicle, his lawyer said in a statement on Wednesday.

In the lawsuit filed against the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Tajeram Mohabir, Figueira argued that, on January 24, 2021, the newspaper published libellous statements about him, made by Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton in an article headed “Fraud and Criminality”.

Figueira’s lawyer Roysdale Forde said the newspaper reported that his client had received $5.8M in funds from the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) Programme to be used by himself and/or by a cooperative society of which he was a member to conduct pig-rearing activities. But according to Forde, the newspaper reported that his client did not build the pens or rear pigs, and had therefore misappropriated the funds.

In delivering her ruling, Forde said, the Chief Justice found that the article had a “damning headline”, and expressed the view that the newspaper acted recklessly in publishing the article in light of denial by his client. Forde added that the Chief Justice found that the words “fraud and criminality” used in the article do not conjure a favourable image, and were understood to mean that Figueira is a fraudster.

According to the Senior Counsel, Justice George rejected arguments by the Guyana Chronicle lawyer Siand Dhurjon that the newspaper had a duty to publish statements made by a Member of Parliament (MP) about an elected official.

Considering the above, Forde said, Justice George held that the article was not published in “good faith”, and that the reliance by the newspaper on the defence of fair comment was misconceived. A hearing to assess damages will be held soon.

The young politician had always denied the Minister’s utterances, stating that they were intended to damage his reputation and score cheap political points. In a statement debunking Minister Hamilton’s statement, Figueira had said: “I will take this opportunity to publicly state and make it absolutely clear that I, Jermaine Figueira, a Member of Parliament for the Region Ten, has never received any refund of money from Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) Programme in 2019 or any other year in that regard.”

Shortly after the article was carried by the Guyana Chronicle, Guyana Times was informed that it was the politician’s twin brother, Jemaine Figueira, who had collected the monies.