PM gets approval to sue opposition spokesman

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Prime Minister Gaston Browne has been given permission to sue the spokesman for the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), Damani Tabor for defamation.
This week, High Court Master Fidela Corbin-Lincoln gave the ruling, paving the way for legal action against Tabor whose words allegedly suggested that the prime minister was involved in criminal wrong doing and misfeasance through the alleged transfer of five million dollars to his wife’s charity Share Incorporated.
The prime minister has contended that no such transfer ever took place.
In the nine-page ruling, the Master of the Court wrote that while she, as a legal officer, does not find that the words complained of connote any illegality or corruption, she must bear in mind this is not what she was asked to consider.
She wrote, “The entire tenor or thrust of the words appears to me, to relate to questioning how funds transferred from the treasury to a foundation controlled by the claimant’s wife were spent rather than the legality of the transfer of funds to the foundation.”
However, she said that it is important to note that the court was not asked to determine what the words mean to the court, but rather what they could possibly convey to the ordinary person who would read into the words “an implication” more freely than a lawyer and may indulge in a certain amount of loose thinking.
She elaborated that, “It is possible that some reasonable members of society may infer that the stated transfer of the funds from the treasury to a charity controlled by the claimant’s wife was irregular.”
The Master also said it is possible that some reasonable people may infer that the prime minister, being the husband of the person in control of the foundation to which the funds were allegedly transferred, may have some knowledge of the issue of the disbursement of the funds by the foundation.
“Treating the pleaded meanings as the most injurious possible meaning and being most generous rather than parsimonious, I find that the words complained of are capable in their ordinary and natural meaning and/or by innuendo of meaning that the claimant is guilty of corruption, misfeasance in public office and/or was in breach of his fiduciary duties,” she added.
Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan represented the prime minister and he said, the next step is to proceed to trial.
This is “to determine whether on the natural and ordinary meaning, as well as by innuendo, whether the words mean [corruption] and whether Mr. Tabor would finally be able to put his money where his mouth is and produce the evidence that the money was in fact transferred to the foundation.”
The lawyer said it is public knowledge that the money was not paid to the charity.
The prime minister had announced in the 2016 Budget presentation, that a government-owned venture capital fund would be created at the Antigua and Barbuda Development Fund (ABDB), and that his wife, Maria Bird-Browne, through her charity, Share Incorporated, would partner with the government to play a role in financing the initiative.
She had pledged to inject $500,000 to be used to help female entrepreneurs.
Browne later confirmed that the government had injected EC $2.7 million (US $1 million) into the ABDB and that his wife had already made her contribution to the initiative through her Share Incorporated charity.

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