Haiti’s Prime Minister sues US newspaper for defamation

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti, Monday, September 17, 2012 - Haiti-Observateur, a Haitian-American weekly newspaper, has been dragged into court by Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and South Florida businessman Patrice Baker over allegedly accusing the men over impropriety in their involvement of the sale of a telecommunications company acquired by the Haitian government.

In the lawsuit filed in the Miami federal court last week, the two accused the newspaper of reporting on the sale of Haitel in fashion described as “outrageous, scandalous and reminiscent of a tabloid publication.”

In an article written in French for Haiti-Observateur’s Sept. 12 edition, Joseph said Lamothe has not answered questions about the sale, though the prime minister has “cried ‘defamation’ accusing Leo Joseph and the weekly of spreading lies against him.”

Lamothe, a former telecommunications executive, took office in May, filling a nearly three-month vacancy after President Michel Martelly’s first prime minister resigned after just four months on the job.

Haiti-Observateur has been publishing since 1971 and serves Haiti’s large diaspora communities in New York, Florida, Montreal and the Caribbean. On its website, the paper says it has a weekly circulation of 75,000.

According to the lawsuit, most of the paper’s online readership comes from Florida, which is home to the largest Haitian-American population in the U.S.

“The newspaper spread false information about the prime minister and we are taking legal measures to request that they be retracted or appropriate remedy is given,” said Salim Succar, special adviser to Lamothe.

Haiti-Observateur published articles in August and early September that “began to spread false and defamatory statements” about Lamothe’s and Baker’s roles in Haitel’s sale, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said that the newspaper falsely and maliciously reported that Lamothe and Baker orchestrated Haitel’s sale, and that Lamothe fixed Haitel’s US$25 million sale price and stands to receive the “lion’s share” of the proceeds.

Haiti-Observateur repeated the false and defamatory statements after Lamothe and Baker requested a retraction, according to the lawsuit.

The Haiti-Observateur articles implicate Lamothe and Baker in illegal business practices, racketeering, corruption and conspiracy, which has damaged their reputations in their political and business communities, the lawsuit said. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)