JLP claims libel in Patriots ad
THE Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has claimed libel in yesterday’s press ad by the pro-government group, the Patriots, that questioned the role Don Crawford, the boss of the collapsed Century National Bank (CNB), played in an Atlanta fund-raiser for the Opposition party and said that it will report the matter to the political ombudsman.
JLP leader, Edward Seaga, through his lawyer, Abe Dabdoub, has also requested an apology from the Observer for publishing the advertisement.
“This advertisement breaches the … political code of conduct,” JLP parliamentarian and attorney Delroy Chuck said on the Power 106 evening current affairs show, Nationwide. “… We are going to report it to the political ombudsman (Bishop Herro Blair) for his action.”
The breach, he said, related to a section of the code against politicians making slanderous and untrue statements about their opponents during the campaign for the coming general elections.
The Patriots, in its ad, suggested that the JLP was less than honest when it said that Crawford, whose bank collapsed in 1996, had no part in organising a function in Atlanta earlier this month, at which Seaga spoke, to raise campaign funds for the party. Seaga’s company was a big debtor to Century, a fact that has dogged the opposition leader, particularly a 1997 statement in which he suggested that his accountant had overlooked two loans of about $100 million during a debt consolidation.
Crawford and his companies continue to fight in the court over liability for hundreds and millions of dollars which the Government insists they owe to the entities which took over the Century Group.
In a statement yesterday, the JLP insisted that Crawford was not and had never been “a major fund-raiser” for Seaga.
“The publication of a statement to the contrary is malicious and cannot be classified as either fair comment or be excused on the basis of qualified privilege as it is clearly designed to bring Mr Seaga into public disrepute,” the JLP said.
At the time the Crawford fund-raising issue flared up into a public controversy nearly a fortnight ago, following at least three newspaper stories, including one in the Observer, JLP deputy leader, Ed Bartlett issued a statement saying that it was he who had organised the Atlanta visit.
Crawford, he stressed, was at no time involved in planning or organising the visit or the fund-raising activity.
Days earlier, speaking from Atlanta, Bartlett appeared to give a qualified denial of Crawford’s involvement in the planning and promotion of the activities.
“No, no, he is not involved, but he is not a mile away, if you know what I mean,” he had told the Observer.
In yesterday’s statement, the Opposition said it was an “untrue and malicious” statement for the Patriots ad to say that Seaga had stated that he had forgotten to pay back loans to Century.
“Mr Seaga has never personally owed money to Century National Bank,” the statement said.
In his Nationwide interview, Chuck was at pains to draw a distinction between indebtedness by companies owned by Seaga and any debt that the opposition leader may personally have.
Seaga’s indebtedness has, on and off, been fodder for the political mill since it became public knowledge that his firms owed Finsac — the government agency that was used to intervene in troubled banks and insurance companies — about $1 billion.
The debt, now in the hands of American Dennis Joslin, who acquired the right to work out the Finsac portfolio, related to Seaga’s troubled foray into the tourism sector with an Ocho Rios hotel called Enchanted Garden, using a vehicle called Town and Country Resort.
Earlier this year, Seaga said in an interview on the Hot 102 FM morning programme, the Breakfast Club, that he was working on a resolution with Joslin, predicated on the sale of the property.
Seaga also said that if his party won the general election and the case at the Privy Council, in which his companies are attempting to overturn a near $40-million liability for General Consumption Tax (GCT), was not yet resolved, he would not take up the job of prime minister.