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Conservation International faces US$2.5 Million libel suit

The trial of a US$ 2.5 million “damage for wrong -libel” suit against Conservation International (CI) has been sent for trial.

The case was filed by former employees of the global environmental organization before the Sixth Judicial Circuit, Civil Law Court at the Temple of Justice.

Lawyers representing the organization have filed a motion requesting the Court to dismiss the case on grounds that the reason for libel had no legal basis for prosecution.

But after entertaining arguments from both sides, 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.

In its ruling, Court said “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.”

The court said to determine whether 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 for trial.

This latest development follows speculation that the case of damages for wrong libel has been thrown out due to lack of legal basis.

Meanwhile, lawyers representing Conservation International filed another motion while disposition was being heard, requesting a “Bench Trial” instead of a Jury Trial that would allow only the Judge to decide the outcome of the case.

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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.

It could be recalled that 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 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.

It is against this background that 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.

Conservation International Acting Country Direct Peter Mulbah declined to make any comment on the case when contacted on Sunday by this paper indicating that the story is before the court and he cannot comment on what is already at the court’s disposal.

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