Former President Donald Ramotar has been awarded $20 million in damages after High Court Judge Navindra Singh found that he was defamed by articles published in the Kaieteur News. Ramotar, through his lawyer, C. V. Satram successfully argued that the articles published in June 2019 conveyed that he corruptly signed and benefited from the granting of Petroleum Prospecting Licences for the Kaieteur and Canje Blocks.
In a judgment delivered today, Justice Singh found that Kaieteur News failed to lead any evidence or establish that the signing of the agreements granting the Petroleum Prospecting Licenses was done clandestinely by Ramotar, or that the entities that received the license were connected to the former President. According to Justice Singh, there was also no evidence to support that Ramotar benefited financially from the sale of the licenses.
In a written judgment, Justice Singh noted that during his testimony, Ramotar explained the various reasons and thought processes that guided the signing of the agreement, such as the fact that there was a territorial dispute by Venezuela over the area and the fact that there was difficulty historically in generating interest in oil companies in the area. The judge said that the former Head of State further testified that the agreements were signed following applications by the companies being approved by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.
The judge held that the publications by Kaieteur News unmistakably conveyed the impression that the oil Blocks were sold and/ or disposed of and no longer the property of Guyana when in fact the agreements signed by Ramotar only granted Petroleum Prospecting Licenses to carry out prospecting operations. The judge noted that this is a fact that must have been known by Kaieteur News or easily discoverable by examining the contracts.
Justice Singh, therefore, concluded, “The Court finds that the publications clearly attacked [Ramotar’s] character, labelling him as a dishonest person that engages in fraudulent or criminal practices and further that he engaged in such conduct when he was the President of Guyana thereby stealing from the people [citizens] of Guyana.”
Justice Singh noted that the publications are defamatory to Ramotar’s character and would tend to lower his standing in society in the estimation of right-thinking members of society. The judge pointed out that the libel attacked the former President’s personal integrity and professional reputation and since he was a very public figure who served in the highest public office of the land, this made the libel even more grave.
The court awarded interest on the award for damages at the rate of six per cent per annum from June 2019 to March 12, 2021, the date the judgment was delivered, and at four per cent per annum thereafter until the sum is fully paid. The former President was also awarded $2.4 million in court costs.
Kaieteur News’ publisher Glenn Lall and the newspaper’s former Editor Adam Harris were the named respondents in the lawsuit. They were represented by Attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes.