The chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Jerome George Korkoya, has filed a lawsuit against two independent newspapers, claiming US$835,000 for libel.
Korkoya’s decision to sue the papers is being interpreted in public circles as a diversion from the concerns raised over his alleged possession of an American passport, which disqualifies him from serving as NEC chairman conducting elections in the country.
The papers sued are The Analyst and New Democrat.
His lawsuit also includes one John H.T. Steward, who Korkoya alleges misled the papers to separately publish articles on June 6, 2016, which he claimed injured his reputation and good name.
Korkoya sought the Civil Law Court’s intervention to compel each of the defendants to pay US$200,000 as general damages and US$75,000 as punitive damages, totaling US$825,000.
The case is expected to begin on Monday, May 1, at the Civil Law Court in Monrovia.
Though Korkoya is reportedly in possession of an American passport, the newspapers’ publications, among other things, alleged that the “NEC Chairman is very corrupt.”
“During the 2014 special senatorial elections, the NEC was awash with rumors that one of the candidates had presented him a brand new Ford SUV, which he had accepted,” the papers reported in their publications.
Korkoya was also accused of fixing election results in several counties including Bong, and was reportedly seen in Gbarnga, the county’s capital, with Senator Jewel Howard Taylor on the day of the polls.
Another publication also claimed that “Korkoya has been providing subventions (bribes) to the leadership of some political parties to ensure their acquiescence and silence on crucial matters concerning the NEC.”
The papers further published that “the integrity of the NEC, especially under the corrupt and incompetent leadership of Jerome Korkoya, and the 2017 elections results could be compromised…”
Section 10.4 (b) of the New Elections Law, under election offenses, provides that “bribery is committed where a person receives money or any valuable consideration or promise for the purpose of influencing any vote or cancelling or destroying any ballot paper, ballot box, election writs, a signed register with the intent to defeat the election.”
It also states that “a person convicted of said crime may be imprisoned for up to five years and disqualified from holding any elective public office in the country or from voting in any public election for a period of seven years.”
In his lawsuit, Korkoya alleges that Steward’s statement was false, unprivileged, scandalous, and libelous, for which he is seeking US$825,000 as damages from the three defendants.
Korkoya also claimed that before June 6, 2016, Steward made the two papers publish another story with the caption: “Assessing Presidential Candidate Joseph N. Boakai’s Chances in 2017.”
In counterargument, Steward’s lawyer claimed that although Korkoya has argued that the statements damaged his reputation, he has not pointed to any negative development, such as whether or not people still respect him, or whether he has been denied certain opportunities.
“No political party has advocated his removal from office following the publication that forms the basis of this lawsuit, and he still occupies his position as chairman of the NEC,” Steward’s lawyer contended, adding, “It is a principle of law in this jurisdiction that where there is no injury, the law gives no remedy.”
The lawyer called on the court to dismiss the entire lawsuit on grounds that “the law on defamation does not protect a public figure or public official in the same way as it does for an ordinary person.”
“Because the life of a public official or figure is open to public scrutiny at all times, assuming that the statements were false, it is not sufficient grounds for Korkoya to file an action claiming damages for defamation unless he shows that the defendants acted with actual malice,” the lawyer argued.
He also argued that Korkoya as a public figure has the ability to counter any unfavorable statements made about his public conduct, saying “After the publication of the statements that he considers to be untrue, unlike an ordinary person, he should have done so immediately following the publications.”