by Dominica Patriot Contributor
Dr.Fontaine has been resolute in his desire to bring to an end what he considers to be the wanton sale of Dominica’s passports and the lack of transparency and accountability of the funds that are supposed to be reported to the treasury of Dominica.
He has been anxious to have his day in court and to defend what he continues to assert to be the truth, which has been further exposed by international reputable organizations and criminal court proceedings i.e., what appears to be evidence of actual sale of our ordinary and even diplomatic passports to criminal by the DLP administration for instance Deziani Alison-Madueke, a former Minister Of Petroleum Resources for Nigeria, Francesco Corallo, an Italian who allegedly was sought by Dominica to be Permanent Representative to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), who was arrested in St. Maarten.
Since the filing of this case in 2011, reports of a list of alleged sale of diplomatic passports to the following holders have emerged
• Susan Oldie and Christopher Thomson of the Cayman Islands, with US $400,000.00 from Ms Oldie allegedly having gone towards the financing of the DLP political campaign in 2004;
• Roman Lakschin in favour of whom Dominica filed at case against Switzerland at the International Court of Justice in 2006 to restore his diplomatic credentials in Switzerland;
* Serge de Thibault de Boesinghe;
• Bobby Wahi;
* Timothy Cornwall of the UK as special envoy to Qatar and Iran;
• Leroy Parris, the Barbadian at the head of the failed CLICO Insurance and who is fighting a court battle to have an EC$6 million accounting unfrozen;
• Bobby Jones;
* David Shiu;
* Frantisek Savov;
* Didier Vidal;
* Claude Skalawski;
* Graeme Christopher Thomson;
* Jonathan Brown;
* Alireza Zibahalat Monfared;
* Rebecca Chang, the daughter of Grace Tung;
* Eric Toner,
* Paolli Zampoli- Dominica’s Ambassador of the Oceans to the UN;
* Christos Vardkos, our Greek ship registration guru, and
* Yuri Kultz..our resident ambassador in Russia since April 2018 among others.
The claim form and statement of claim on behalf of the Prime Minister were filed on the 29th of December 2011 and an amended claim form on the 17th January 2012. The amended claim form left the original claim largely unaltered.
A defence, counterclaim and ancillary claim were filed on 19th March 2012,
i. denying the publication of words that are defamatory;
ii. alleging that in so far as the words were defamatory the contents had already existed in the public domain;
iii. the publication was made in good faith;
iv. was not actuated by malice and
v. was fair and justified commentary and was protected by qualified privilege.
The original defence did not claim the statements published to be true as originally maintained by Dr. Fontaine. The defence also challenged the claimant’s capacity to bring the claim. In his ancillary counterclaim filed against SC Astaphan, Dr Fontaine alleged that the publication of other defamatory words of and concerning him made on the 2nd December 2011.
A reply and defence to counterclaim was filed on the 3rd of April 2012, the claimant (PM) alleged that the allegations made by the defendants (Dr. Fontaine and Q95) were personal allegations of criminality without a bona fide belief in their truth.
The claimant’s pleadings denied that there is any public interest in the dissemination of allegations of criminality, when presented as true and without official inquiry. Therefore, such allegations were not protected by qualified privilege. The claimant denied the counterclaim, alleging that any statements made by the claimant (SC) was made in an address and as a natural consequence of the allegations made by Dr. Fontaine.
Later on 4th April 2012, an amended reply and defence to counterclaim was filed to effect grammatical and typographical changes to the original pleading. On 20th April 2012, a defence was filed in essence questioning the sustainability of the counterclaim filed by Dr. Fontaine. On the 16th of May 2012, the matter came on for case management conference. A further session was held on the 20th June 2012, at which time it appeared that Counsel G. Richards was granted time up until the 30th June 2012 to file and serve an application for leave to file an amended defence and counterclaim.
The matter was brought for consideration before Master Taylor- Alexander in 2013 in CLAIM No. DOMHCV2011/0388, BETWEEN
Roosevelt Skerrit -Claimant
AND Thomason Fontaine & WICE Ltd. Defendants. SC A.Astaphan and Mr. Alick Lawrence Q.C and Ms. V. Auguste represented the PM, while Counsel for the Claimant was Mr. Gildon Richards.
In assessing the case, the Master gave serious consideration to the common law criteria for the defense of qualified privilege as established in the landmark case of Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd 2 AC 12.
In his March 2014 decision, the Master Taylor Alexander ruled on an application filed by the defendants to amendment their defence filed on the 19th March 2012. He noted that the Case Management Conference having been fixed, the rules of court dictate that such an amendment can only be made with leave of the court. He noted that both the magnitude and contents of the amendments made and the detail with which the defence was pleaded eliminated conjecture and allowed for critical assessment of both the existing and the intended defence. He found that the matters reported were ones the truth of which could be easily verifiable. He also noted that the maker of the statements and publications expressed the view that he made no apologies for the statements he made or was about to make in the case. The Master considered this a defiance of an interest in seeking the truth about the publications he was making.
Having assessed the pleadings and the application to amend the defence and having had the benefit of the submissions of the parties both written and oral, the Master was of the considered view that the interest of the administration of justice is served by allowing the amendment of the defence, but with some restriction as to the pleadings that he felt did not meet the threshold criteria as set out in Reynolds. As such several paragraphs of the amended defence were struck out in so far as they were deemed to be outside the criteria of pleadings of fair comment on an occasion of qualified privileged.
The amendment to pleadings was allowed in terms of the draft amended defence and counterclaim with the exception of the paragraphs ordered deleted. The court ordered that the proceedings are to be scheduled at the court’s earliest. The Master also decided that the matter should be sent to trial and in a rather strange twist, ordered cost of $3,500 to SC Lawrence “in recognition of the seniority with which the proceedings were attended.”
Dr.Fontaine’s lawyer appealed the Master’s decision on the need for trial as well as the awarding of costs to Lawrence. An ancillary and related application was also brought for leave, for additional submissions filed after the date for which time had been granted, to be deemed properly filed. Both applications are opposed.
When the appeal was heard before The ECSC), the Appeals court Judges, overturned the decision of the Master. It quashed the cost amount of $3,500 and ordered the deleted paragraphs in the amended defense reinstated and ordered all parties are to bear their own cost in this matter. The case was reverted to be heard at the high court since 2014.
To date, the matter remains seized before the Courts with no movement towards justice and appears to be frustrated with a heavy dose of undue, unreasonable, inordinate and seemongly politically influenced DLP delay.
The Dominicapatriot will be providing an update on this matter in due course as the fight for justice continues.