Sunday 25 October, 2020

Kamla's lawyers say A&V defamation claim "doomed to fail"

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has responded to a pre-action protocol letter sent to her by the lawyers representing the company and owner of A&V Oil and Gas Limited, Hanif Nazim Baksh.

A&V initiated legal action against Persad-Bissessar over claims she made at a UNC meeting in Couva on September 10, when she read from a Petrotrin Internal Audit Report which accused the company of defrauding the state of $100 million dollars.

Baksh is being represented by attorneys Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Ronnie Bissessar and Varin Gopaul-Gosine.

In the letter dated September 15, attorneys representing Baksh advised that the Opposition leader should give the company a written apology and retraction and have it published. She was also urged to remove the video recording of her speech and speaking notes from the United National Congress’ Facebook page and offer to pay compensation and pay the company’s legal costs or a defamation suit would commence.

However, in a written response, Persad-Bissessar’s attorney Douglas C Bailey said the matter was “devoid of merit and doomed to fail.”

He said that as the leader of the opposition, Persad-Bissessar is, and was, entitled to comment on issues of national importance.

“As a Member of the Parliament, and the Leader of the Opposition, our client has a public and constitutional duty to critically examine the actions of the government of the day, which includes the manner of governance, performance and transparency of the affairs and dealings of state-owned enterprises, including PETROTRIN, and any third-party contractors, inclusive of your clients.”

Bailey added that Petrotrin plays an important role in T&T’s economy and would, therefore, be the concern of citizens and his client, who acts on behalf of citizens.

Meanwhile, Persad-Bissessar’s attorney noted that “truth” cannot be used as a defense in the defamation case as the Opposition Leader quoted from an official document which she believed to be true. He added that it was public knowledge that Baksh shared a close relationship with the PNM and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and that his daughter, Allyson Baksh, is a PNM Government senator.  

Bailey said the issue of Petrotrin’s poor financial performance and the appointment of a new board were in the public domain days before Persad-Bissessar’s announcement and that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley raised the issues himself.

He said his client is advised that she is allowed to freely comment on all aspects of governance as it is constitutionally protected by law.

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