Minister of Works and Infrastructure and ex-FIFA Vice President Jack Warner sent a pre-action protocol letter to me—the Wired868.com editor and publisher—on Friday 24 February 2012 through his attorney Om Lalla.
The legal document, which claimed defamation and libel, was published on the website of State-owned television station, CTV, and re-published on Facebook and several forums before it was even in my possession.
However, there was some confusion among readers as Lalla’s initial letter quoted the Trinidad Express Newspaper as the publisher of the offending article. A subsequent document was dispatched in care of the TnT Mirror Newspaper.
And, even when Lalla finally got the message to the right person via email, there was no mention of Wired868.
There are two immediate points about Warner’s claim that the article—entitled “Warner named in Haitian aid scandal” and published on 12 February 2012—caused him “serious distress and embarrassment” which seem to be undermined here.
In defamation suits, the intention tends to be to block the reproduction of a harmful statement. But, in this case, Warner himself ensured that the supposedly distressing allegations would be rebroadcast by having the letter sent to CTV.
This decision by Warner was especially ironic as the United National Congress (UNC) chairman initially threatened to sue Twitter users for re-tweeting less than ten words from the article yet went on to quote entire paragraphs to the press.
Secondly, Warner’s letter quoted three sources of information for the article, which suggested that $4.4 million (US$690,000) from $4.76 million (US$750,000) in emergency aid for Haiti remained unaccounted for.
Warner, through his lawyer, named the UK Sunday Times, FIFA and Federation of Haitian Football (FHF) President Dr Yves Jean-Bart as the originators of a story that was described as “false, malicious and misleading and calculated to damage our client’s reputation.”
Wired868, after discussions with its attorney, believes that if Warner was as distressed as he claimed he might not have encouraged the offending segments to be re-published. If he was indeed serious about salvaging his reputation, Warner might have also demanded an apology from the UK Sunday Times, FIFA and the FHF who clearly initiated the story.
And, if Lalla treated his client’s suit with the gravity suggested by the impending suit, one might expect that he would try to determine exactly who published the article before penning a letter and sending it to several bemused news rooms.
Lalla insisted that Warner be given a “full and unequivocal public retraction… and an apology” which must be published “in both the print and electronic media.”
This is a particularly daunting request as Wired868, as stated on its site, is a solely online product. Arguably, Lalla’s approach work on this legal matter does not do him much credit.
Are Warner and Lalla suggesting that Wired868, a six-week old internet site, is more influential than FIFA and the UK Sunday Times? That is a claim we would love to take to potential advertisers but are not sure we could support it just yet.
Or is it that Warner considers himself immune from international criticism and repulsion and seeks only to use financial muscle to bully local media houses into looking the other way?
Warner has long cultivated a siege mentality with repeated public suggestions that every foreign journalist, media house and organisation that questioned his integrity—and especially the British ones—were racist, condescending and/or attempting re-colonisation.
There is another irony here as his legal document starts with the words: “We act with Mr William McCormick QC for an on behalf of Mr Jack Warner…”
Although the pre-action letter was not sent by McCormick, Warner appears to believe that the very mention of a high-ranking British barrister would send shivers down local spines.
The former FIFA vice president, with his fondness for England football star David Beckham and Queen’s Counsels and loathing for Andrew Jennings, the BBC and the Sunday Times, gives the suggestion of being bi-polar where Britain is concerned.
Questions remain regarding the source of Warner’s financial muscle too.
A TnT Mirror article written by Azad Ali on 6 November 2011 and titled “PR firm hired to do legal work” alleged that Lalla—directly and indirectly—received multi-million dollar briefs from National Infrastructure and Development Company (NIDCO) and the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT). At the time, Warner was the line minister for both State boards.
This story is not known to have been disputed and Wired868 hopes to provide more information on this in due course.
Is there a conflict of interest if Warner’s personal lawyer was indeed also being paid handsomely by State boards under his purview at the time? Is this scenario significantly different to that of a government employee using State material for his private benefit?
Finally and perhaps most poignantly, Warner, in two weeks, has failed to produce a shred of evidence to disprove allegations that he misappropriated funds meant for the devastated Haitians.
Lalla’s letter states that: “We are instructed that our client made all due payments to Haiti from money paid by FIFA and South Korea and has accounted for it.”
Wired868 notes Warner’s belated denial but counters that this statement does not constitute evidence of payment. Nor do the two emails published by CTV, which showed the FHF requesting funds from Warner but, crucially, never indicated that money actually exchanged hands.
Had Warner produced evidence to support his claims when contacted by Wired868, he would have invalidated the allegations before they were even published. Even now, surely the Chaguanas West MP can go much further towards repairing his reputation by proving that the $4.76 million (US$750,000) donated by FIFA and South Korea reached Haiti rather than by a threatened lawsuit.
Wired868 stands by its initial report, which the online site considers as fair comment supported by statements from credible sources with intimate knowledge regarding the issue of Haiti’s aid money.
And Wired868 would like to assure its readers that it will not be cowed into silence but will continue striving to produce content of the highest possible standard without fear or favour.
Editor’s Note: Works Minister Jack Warner is reported to have filed libel suit against this reporter on 22 May 2012. Subsequent to the initial Wired868 story, Warner submitted what he claimed to be proof of his payments to the Haitian Federation although FIFA subsequently claimed to be dissatisfied with his evidence and refused to clear him.