LIBERIA: $2.5 Million Libel Suit Against Conservation International (CI) Goes To Trial

Conservation International Liberia Country Director

The 2.5 million “damage for wrong -Libel” suit against Conservation International (CI) has been sent to trial following legal proceedings into the substantiveness of the case filed by former employees before the Sixth Judicial Circuit, Civil Law Court at the Temple of Justice.

Lawyers representing the organization filed a motion requesting the Civil Law Court to dismiss the case on grounds that the reason for the libel suit had to legal basis for prosecution.

After hearing arguments from both lawyers of the complainants and the defendant -Conservation International, the Judge YAMIE QUIQUI GBEISAY SR. ruled that “inter-office” communication issued in the aftermath of the dismissal of four employees from the Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency Project (CBIT) jointly implemented with the Environmental Protection Agency should be adjudicated in court for jurors to make a determination as to whether or not it constitutes a basis for damages for which the affected employees are seeking the court’s intervention for libel.

The Court said in the ruling “this court says that facts called from the pleading is that the defendants were accused of wrongdoing and investigated by Conservation International which resulted to the inter-office communication. The standard for inter-office communication not to constitute a ground for damage is that such inter-office communication is made in good faith and in normal course of duty.”

Since this was not the case, the Court said to determine whether or not the communication in question was prejudiced, it should be given an opportunity to examine the facts and circumstances leading to the communication, the content of the communication, the addressee of the communication and the author of the communication. And this, according to the court can only be achieved at trial. Hence, the motion for disposition

was trashed and the case ruled to trial.

This latest development contradicts speculation that the case of damages for wrong-libel has been thrown out due to lack of legal basis. Again while the motion for disposition was being heard, the lawyers of Conservation International file another motion requesting the Court to conduct “Bench Trial” instead of Jury Trial that would allow only the Judge to decide the outcome of the case against allowing jurors to listen and review the facts and circumstances that formed the basis of the complainants’ suit. The Court threw out the request on the basis that the previous assigned Judge had ruled that the case should be decided by trial jury against the defendant’s Conservation International request. Legal pundits are wondering why the international organization would want to oppose Jurors Trial” that will give jurors the chance to hear the case since lawyers representing their legal interest had already asked for disposition on ground of lack of legal basis for litigation.

On August 3, 2020, the then Acting Country Director of Conservation International dismissed the employees on claims of acts of theft, embezzlement, diversion of funds, bribery and fraud.

Days after the issuance of the dismissal letters, on August 10, 2020, while the staffs were no longer in their employed, Conservation International Technical Director, George Ilebo, acting on the instructions of the Acting Country Director Peter G. Mulbah sent out an email circular to over 50 employees of Government Ministries and Agencies and each of them forwarded the circular to individuals within their network informing them that the staffs were dismissed from the CBIT project “following a two-month investigation into acts of theft, embezzlement, diversion of funds, bribery and fraud” at the project office. Conservation International also advertised the positions in the local dailies to replace the affected staff of the CBIT project.

For this, the dismissed employees have taken the matter to Civil Law Court for “Damages for Wrong-Libel” for damages done to their characters, person, and professional career.

The affected staff indicated in their petition before the court that the “said email was ill-intent, indeed, recklessly and maliciously maligned, defamed and exposed the plaintiffs to potential injury to their persons, and even death as well as to their professional life.”

The complainants are requesting the court to hold Conservation International liable for damages in the amount of Two Million and Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars (US$2.5M).

Since their dismissal, the affected staff are still jobless and their families feeding off begging apparently due to the negative effects of the communication that had gone far and wide.

The case has been assigned to be heard on July 18, 2022 at the Civil Law Court, Temple of Justice, Monrovia

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About Cholo Brooks 17424 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.

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