GBTI sues KN for $600m over SOCU story

In its $600M lawsuit against Kaieteur News, the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry Limited (GBTI) has secured an injunction, prohibiting the newspaper from further publishing certain materials contained in its November 15, 2017 publication pertaining to the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).

The particular article referencing the bank, with which it has taken issue, was captioned, “Financial Institutions’ unwillingness to cooperate with SOCU tells a worrying story.”

The article was written against the backdrop of a US$500M probe currently underway against the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), by SOCU, which has requested from the bank, certain documents for its probe. 

The GRDB is a customer of the bank.

The article, in part, which the bank contends is injurious to its reputation, quotes attorney, Patrice Henry, as saying “Once you have that sort of reaction, where financial institutions have to be coerced to cooperate with SOCU, an entity that is mandated to fight money laundering, then it does not augur well for that institution. It opens the floodgates to speculation…So the fact that you are getting massive resistance, it tells a story.”

Henry is the special prosecutor for SOCU, in the case where the bank’s chairman and directors have all been charged and placed before the George-town Magistrates’ Court to answer contempt charges, stemming from their initial failure to comply with the order from SOCU for production of the documents.

Acting Chief Justice, Roxane George has since compelled the bank to comply with the order, which has seen thousands of documents being handed over to SOCU.

In the article which forms the basis of the bank’s lawsuit against Kaieteur News, Henry was asked to describe the “story” he alluded to, and was further quoted as saying, “The story that it tells is that persons at this stage, prefer to be on the side of money launderers than SOCU. And so the picture they are painting is if we have to choose, we’d rather face sanctions for the better interest of (our) client, as opposed to working with the legislation to ensure clean money (is in the system).”

In its statement of claim, the bank also highlighted from the news story, where the special prosecutor described this as being a challenge SOCU will continue to face; and where he opined that one has to carefully consider “the resistance.”

For its part, the GBTI has labelled the article, libelous and defamatory in nature.

The bank is arguing that the statement has “no basis in fact, is malicious, grossly inaccurate and intended to influence” the outcome of the criminal proceedings instituted against its chairman and directors.

The bank has not taken kindly to what it asserts are accusations levelled against it by the newspaper of criminal conduct, by “facilitating money launderers and actively assisting criminals in their activities.”

In her affidavit, Company Secretary and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the bank, Shaleeza Shaw, advanced that “neither the bank, nor any of its officers have ever been accused of money laundering, obstruction of justice, attempted money laundering and or any criminal conduct, intended to further the money laundering activities of its customers.”

Noting that reputation is critical to the successful conduct of its business, both locally and particularly internationally, Shaw said that mere suggestions of involvement in money laundering, can be fatal to its ability to conduct and engage in international business transactions.

She said the bank has suffered, and continues to suffer tremendous damage to its reputation which has now adversely affected its professional relationship with corresponding bankers internationally.

The bank (Claimant) said it fears the “libelous statement” may create fear and apprehension among its customers and lead to considerable adverse financial consequences; and as such, the newspaper must be restrained, before the libel is repeated.

It was against this backdrop that the bank sought the injunction restraining the newspaper, whether by themselves or agents, from printing, publishing or causing to be printed or published in any form whatsoever, the words contained in the article of November 15.

Last Thursday, Justice Sandil Kissoon granted the two-week injunction, which he ordered will expire when the case comes up for hearing next Thursday, unless extended.

The judge ordered further, that Kaieteur News (the Defendant/Respon-dent) may file and serve a notice of application with supporting affidavit to vary or discharge the injunction before, or by December 14 also.

Among the 39 grounds on which it has founded its suit against the newspaper, the GBTI said it believes the words used in the article, impute, and in their ordinary meaning, are to be understood that it is carrying on its trade in a criminal manner, and is conspiring with, and acting in concert with money launderer.

The bank argues that the criminal charge levelled against it for failing to comply with the production order, is sub judice, and the Kaieteur News is precluded from commenting thereon, since the matters are still before the court.

In addition to the $600 million dollars which the claimant is seeking in its suit, it also wants costs, interests and all other orders the court may deem just, to be granted.

The bank is being represented by attorney-at-law, Nigel Hughes.

On October 20, SOCU secured a production order from the acting chief justice, who has compelled the bank to hand over key documents needed for the GRDB probe.

GBTI noted it has already handed over more than 11 thousand documents, with the exception of 12 outstanding letters.

SOCU has, however, argued that this is not the case and that there are more still outstanding.

That matter will be called again on December 11, the chief justice will rule on whether the correct manner of certification was used for the documents handed over.

Meanwhile, the criminal matter against the bank’s chairman and directors, continues later this month before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan.

The defendants have all been placed on self-bail.




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