ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- Grenada’s notoriously litigious prime minister, Dr Keith Mitchell, is now himself on the receiving end of a defamation claim made by Senator Nazim Burke.
In a letter dated January 30, 2017, to Mitchell, lawyers acting for Burke asserted that Mitchell made public allegations against Burke that are completely untrue and are seriously injurious to their client’s character and reputation.
Furthermore, the lawyers assert, the statements were made by Mitchell with the malicious intent to bring Burke into disrepute and, specifically, to do damage to him as party leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and as caretaker of the constituency of St George North East for that political organisation.
The letter to Mitchell follows the latest in a series of attempts by Mitchell to muzzle local media extending over many years, when lawyers acting for the prime minister recently wrote to local radio talk show host Kem Jones requiring him to issue an apology and retraction, as well as pay unquantified damages and costs, in relation to allegedly defamatory remarks.
According to attorneys, Lex Fidelis, acting for Burke, during a local radio and television broadcast on January 9, 2017, Mitchell stated in reference to Burke:
“I would love to understand how someone could be minister of finance in a country, you have tax liabilities in your family for 2014, 12 and 2011 and you didn’t pay and calling others to pay.”
“I can’t understand this and when the penalties are imposed on the gentleman, he writes me as minister of finance asking for relief and within a week or so he got a letter from me giving him over thirty thousand in relief and this is the same man brother Burke is calling a wicked man? I find it strange, Lew, and the only reason, because I said to the ministry to pay the people as long as they meet their tax liability and in fact thought he was paid until I found out later that he owed more than in fact he had to get, and owed the government five thousand plus dollars.”
“How could a man be minister of finance and owing, not paying tax while he expects other people to pay their taxes? And if I were Mr Burke, I would have been the last person to raise the issue of taxes knowing that I did not pay my fair share to the taxpayers.”
“The same minister of finance when he was building his house reduced the VAT on building materials at the time when he was building his house and as soon as his house was finished he brought the VAT up. What sort of selfishness is this? From a man who wants to be leader of a country and who was the minister of finance?”
“Mr Burke must realise he is not the Comptroller of Inland Revenue and he must meet his fundamental responsibilities to the taxpayers of the country.”
The attorneys asserted that the natural and ordinary meaning of these words in regard to their client is that:
(a) He evades his tax liabilities.
(b) He did evade his tax liabilities whilst serving as the minister of finance.
(c) Having evaded his tax liabilities, he sought relief therefrom.
(d) He is dishonest in that he sought to collect monies owed to him by the government when he knew that he owed the government more than was owed to him.
(e) He acted fraudulently, dishonestly and corruptly in that he abused his position as minister of finance to reduce the rate of VAT on construction materials to benefit himself.
(f) His character is such that he is unfit to be the leader of Grenada.
(g) His character is such that he is unfit to be the minister of finance for Grenada.
(h) He is a corrupt, dishonest, selfish person who has acted in a criminal manner.
“The statements are plainly defamatory of Mr V. Nazim Burke,” the attorneys said.
Burke instructed his attorneys that the truth about the false allegations that Mitchell made of him are as follows:
(a) He never evaded or attempted to evade paying his taxes.
(b) He owed zero taxes for the 2011 tax period.
(c) He had a tax credit of $169.19 for the 2012 tax period.
(d) He did not owe taxes while he was minister of finance and energy.
(e) At all material times, he paid his fair share of taxes.
(f) His tax liability for 2014 was $1,358.70, but by the time that sum became payable, the government was owing him gratuity in excess of $75,000. In that circumstance, he wrote to the permanent secretary, ministry of finance asking that his gratuity be paid so that he could satisfy his tax obligations to the Government. The gratuity was not paid as requested. In fact, as of today, none of the gratuity has been paid.
(g) He never wrote to Mitchell (or to anyone for that matter) requesting tax relief.
(h) Mitchell never wrote to him offering tax relief in the sum of $30,000 or in any other amount.
(a) He does not owe the government more than the government owes him. In fact, the reverse is true.
(b) He commenced building a residence in 2009 and the construction was completed in
2011. That was the only construction he undertook while he served as minister of finance.
(c) After intervention from the Construction Association of Grenada, the rate of VAT on construction materials, namely: cement, lumber, steel and galvanize was reduced from 15% to 7.5% in 2012.
(d) He served as minister of finance until February 2013.
(e) In the 2013 Budget Statement delivered by Mitchell as minister of finance, the rate of VAT on construction materials, namely: sand, cement, roofing materials, steel, lumber and construction blocks was further reduced to 5%.
(f) In the 2014 Budget Statement delivered by Mitchell as minister of finance, the rate of VAT on construction materials, namely: sand, cement, roofing materials, steel, lumber and construction blocks was increased from 5% to the original 15%.
Burke’s lawyers have demanded that Mitchell:
(a) Write a further letter containing a suitable withdrawal and apology in terms to be approved by them on their client's behalf;
(b) Make a full retraction and apology in a statement, approved by them, to be made by Mitchell live on GBN radio and television “Beyond the Headlines” programme.
(c) Undertake in writing that he will not repeat the publication of these or similar allegations concerning their client in any form whatsoever;
(d) Indemnify their client in respect of the costs to which he has been put in the matter; and
(e) Pay an appropriate sum in damages in order to compensate our client for the serious injury to his reputation which he has suffered and the associated distress and embarrassment caused by the publication of these allegations.
Mitchell was called on to respond by February 10, 2017. No such response has been forthcoming.