-assessment of damages hearing fixed for Oct.10

Senior Counsel Rajendra Nath Poonai has been awarded judgment in default of defence against the National Media and Publishing Company Ltd., publisher of the Kaieteur News, and Adam Harris, Editor-in-Chief of the daily newspapers for the publication over an erroneous article, which he says resulted in the defamation of his character.

Back in May, Senior Counsel Poonai filed a $45M lawsuit against the newspapers which on May 23, 2019, published that he was convicted for fraud in Canada. The publication of the article came a few days after Poonai received his instrument of appointment as Senior Counsel. In his lawsuit, Poonai listed the National Media and Publishing Company Ltd; Glenn Lall, publisher of the Kaieteur News and Harris as the numbers one, two and three Defendants respectively.

High Court Judge Fidela Corbin-Lincoln was assigned to Poonai’s case. According to court documents seen by this publication, on July 23, 2019, Poonai filed a Notice of Application for an order entering judgment in default of defence against the first and third named Defendants over their failure to file a defense.

That order was granted on August 16, 2019 by the court which was satisfied that the requirements of Civil Procedure Rule 12:02 were satisfied in relation to the first and third named Defendants but not the second named Defendant, Glenn Lall. The court further ordered Poonai to file witness statements in the form of affidavits upon which he intends to rely for assessment of damages and submissions by September 20, 2019. The assessment of damages hearing is fixed for October 10, 2019 at 01:30hrs at the High Court in Demerara.

Furthermore, the court ordered, “The 1st (National Media and Publishing Company Ltd.) and 3rd (Adam Harris) (named) Defendants are restrained whether by themselves or their servants and/or agents from posting, printing, publishing, sharing, reproducing or otherwise recreating and disseminating the headline and article ‘Attorney convicted of fraud in Canada appointed Senior Counsel’ and any offending words, sentences, phrases and statements or similar words defamatory of the Claimant (Poonai) contained therein as printed and published on pages 1 and 16 of the Kaieteur News edition dated 23rd May, 2019.”

The court ordered too, “The 1st and 3rd named Defendants whether by themselves, their servants and/or agents shall forthwith permanently remove the front/first page  of the Kaieteur News paper edition dated May 23rd, 2019 available at https://kaiteurnewsonline.com/ and at https://epaperkaieteurnewsonline.com/ or, alternately, in the event that the front/first page cannot be removed the 1st and 3rd named Defendants whether by themselves, their servants and/or agents shall forthwith permanently remove the entire Kaieteur News edition dated 23rd May, 2019 available at https://kaiteurnewsonline.com/and at https://epaperkaieteurnewsonline.com/.

Apart from seeking $45M, Poonai, in his lawsuit, also sought damages to the tune of $30M for the libelous publication and an additional $15M for exemplary and aggravated damages. He also prayed that he be granted interest on the sums at a rate of 6% per annum from the date of filing his claim to the date of judgment and thereafter at a rate of 4% per annum from the date of judgment until fully paid, once he succeeds in his challenge.

Poonai, in his lawsuit, contended that the newspaper article was done without justification and had caused significant harm and injury to his good name, his reputation and lowers his standard in the legal, Guyanese, Caribbean and international community. In his action, the Senior Counsel explained that around 2am on May 23, 2019, he was bombarded with text messages, phone calls, emails and others from relatives, work associates and friends concerning the article that Kaieteur News had published.

He said that apart from being tasked with dispelling the contents of the article, his law offices were also forced to answer numerous calls and messages as a result of the inaccurate article. In fact, Senior Counsel Poonai disclosed that the person who was actually disbarred for fraud in Canada was one Vishnu Rajendra (Joey) Poonai.

According to the Senior Counsel, he has no close, professional or any associations with Vishnu Rajendra (Joey) Poonai. The Senior Counsel further pointed out that he and that individual are two separate and distinct persons who could not have been confused as being the same as Kaieteur News said in its apology to him.

In a May 24th, 2019, apology to Senior Counsel Poonai, Kaieteur News said, “It is not often that one finds two men with the same name and both of them being lawyers and are almost the same age. However, that was just the case yesterday. Mr. Rajendra Nath Poonai, an attorney-at-law of distinguished service was conferred with the award of Senior Counsel on Wednesday. He joined Mr. Robert Ramcharran, Mrs. Carole James-Boston, Mrs. Shalimar Ali-Hack, and Mr. Stephen Fraser.

“A background check on the name Rajendra Poonai uncovered that a Rajendra Poonai was convicted in Brampton, Ontario for his role in a multi-million mortgage fraud. That information was then affixed to Senior Counsel Poonai.

The records would show, however, that the Senior Counsel never practiced law in Canada, so he could not have been convicted in that North American country.”

Among other things, the apology issued by the newspapers continued, “The offending article was removed from the electronic edition as soon as the error was revealed. No malice was intended. Mr. Poonai was contacted and an apology was duly offered.

“Kaieteur News unreservedly apologizes to Mr. Poonai. It also regrets the embarrassment caused to Mr. Poonai as soon as he was conferred with the highest award in the legal profession.”

The article published by the Kaieteur News was strongly condemned by the Bar Association of Guyana and the Ministry of the Presidency. The lawyers representing Senior Counsel Poonai are Rafiq Khan SC, Sohan Poonai and Naresh Poonai.


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