[dropcap]J[/dropcap]aswant Rai, the chairman of Rai Group and West Kenya Sugar Company, has taken on the Nation Media Group in what is potentially a million-dollar suit that could shake the media industry in Kenya.
Mr Rai, the man spotlighted by sections of the media as one of the big players in the contaminated sugar importation scandal, has demand an apology and retraction of an article published by Sunday Nation implicating him in the scandal and portraying him as a wheeler-dealer who has politicians, judiciary and government officials in his pocket.
The industrialist has written a demand to Nation Media Group management and editorial high command and threatened to sue for defamation if the media house does not swiftly meet his conditions, just a day after the newspaper apologised over a photograph used to illustrate the article.
Through Oraro and Company Advocate, Mr Rai, who was recently grilled by MPs as part of the probe into the sugar saga, wants Nation to pull down the offensive articles from its websites and other platforms and carry a prominent apology and correction.
The demand letter says between 22nd June and 1st July, the Nation had published three feature articles both on print and online “as part of mischievous and well-orchestrated but ill-disguised campaign” to portray Mr Rai as the mastermind behind the importation and intrigues relating to contraband sugar.
The article came few days after the West Kenya Sugar chairman appeared before a joint parliamentary committee investigating the contraband sugar saga. West Kenya produces the Kabras brand of sugar.
Mr Rai, who imported 189,000 metric tonnes, said he is one of the few importers of bulk brown sugar who processed the commodity as directed by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). He named Sony Sugar as one of the importers who sold raw sugar that was brought into the country using three ships.
Some of the sugar seized so far in the market has been found to be contaminated with hazardous chemicals, including copper and mercury.
In its cover story titled ‘Sweet Secrets’, Sunday Nation analysed Mr Rai as the man at the centre of the sugar importation saga, describing him as “not your ordinary tenderprenuer” with “roots weaved around powerful political families, granting him his wishes.”
Another sting in the story was a picture mix-up, which earlier on looked like a scoop for the newspaper, where Deputy President and National Assembly majority leader Aden Duale are captured with someone thought to be Rai at a social event. It turned out the man in the photo is actually Jaswinder Bedi, the chairman of the Export Promotion Council and CEO of Bedi Investments.
The lawyers say this photo was used to “promote the narrative of state capture” postulated in the article.
The lawyers say the article indicted Mr Rai as being responsible for the collapse of state-owned sugar factories when the circumstances surrounding the factories poor-performance are well known. Mr Rai wonders why he was picked out of 190 other importers of sugar named in list released in Parliament.
The lawyers have given NMG seven days to act – apologise, retract and correct the inaccuracies in the article – or face legal action, which could be very costly. According to people familiar with the lawyers plans, the defamation and damages claims could run up to Ksh1 billion, which will easily be one of the highest in Kenya’s media history.
THE FIVE DEMANDS FROM RAI LAWYERS:
- Remove from circulation or distribution in their entirety the defamatory articles and on any internet platform including all forms of social media and in any other related places whether online or not, so as to prevent further/sustained harm to our client.
- Issue a full and unequivocal public retraction of the said headlines and articles confirming that the allegations referred to therein are false and defamatory, and issue an unconditional apology to our client in the terms to be approved by our Client. The retraction and apology must be published on all platforms of the defamatory articles and headline as well as the same prominence.
- Your undertaking not to repeat the allegations complained of.
- Admit liability for the damage caused to our client by the defamatory article and whereupon we shall engage you on the issue of compensation for the damage to our client’s reputation and for any loss it has and/or may have suffered.
- Publish in an equally prominent manner our client’s correction of the multiple factual inaccuracies contained in the said headlines and articles in exercise of his Right to Reply under section 7A of the Defamation Act.