Former Finance Minister, Nazim Burke has given instructions to his team of lawyers to institute legal proceedings against Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell after he ignored demands made to apologise for alleged libelous statements against him.
Burke is taking action in his capacity as Political Leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), which is seeking to dethrone Mitchell’s ruling New National Party (NNP) in the upcoming general election.
The Prime Minister had accused Burke of not paying taxes due to the State and when serving as Minister of Finance in the 2008-13 period of lowering taxes on construction equipment and bringing them back up after the house was completed.
The Congress leader won a libel suit two months ago against NNP political activist, Ian Edwards who had made similar allegations on the house that he was building in the Westerhall Point area.
Attorney for the NDC leader, Rohan Phillip had given PM Mitchell until February 10 to respond to the letter sent to him seeking an apology.
With no apology forthcoming, Burke confirmed to THE NEW TODAY that legal papers have been prepared to be filed in the Supreme Court Registry this week to sue Dr. Mitchell for libel.
In recent months, the Grenada leader has been using a local law firm, operated by Guyanese Darshan Ramdhani and his wife to handle several matters for him.
As a public service, this newspaper reproduces in full the January 30 letter that was sent to PM Mitchell on behalf of Burke:
Dr. Keith Claudius Mitchell
30th January, 2017
We act for Mr. V. Nazim Burke of Tempe in St. George’s in Grenada.
Our client’s attention has been drawn to a simultaneous broadcast of GBN’s “Beyond the Headlines” programme, hosted by Lew Smith, on radio and television on the 9th January, 2017 (“the Programme”), on which you were the guest. On the Programme you stated, inter alia, the following in reference to our client: be for you to bear.
“I would love to understand how someone could be Minister of Finance in a country, you have tax liabilities in your family for 2014, 12 and 2011 and you didn’t pay and calling others to pay”.
“I can’t understand this and when the penalties are imposed on the gentleman, he writes me as Minister of Finance asking for relief and within a week or so he got a letter from me giving him over Thirty Thousand in relief and this is the same man, Brother Burke is calling a wicked man?
“I find it strange Lew, and the only reason, because I said to the Ministry to pay the people as long as they meet their tax liability and in fact thought he was paid until I found out later that he owed more than in fact he had to get, and owed the Government Five Thousand plus dollars”.
“How could a man be Minister of Finance and owing, not paying tax while he expects other people to pay their taxes? And if I were Mr. Burke, I would have been the last person to raise the issue of taxes knowing that I did not pay my fair share to the taxpayers”.
“The same Minister of Finance when he was building his house reduced the VAT on building materials at the time when he was building his house and as soon as his house was finished he brought the VAT up.
What sort of selfishness is this? From a man who wants to be leader of a country and who was the Minister of Finance?”
“Mr. Burke must realise he is not the Comptroller of Inland Revenue and he must meet his fundamental responsibilities to the taxpayers of the country”.
The natural and ordinary meaning of these words in regard to our client is that:
(a) He evades his tax liabilities.
(b) He did evade his tax liabilities whilst serving as the Minister of Finance.
(c) Having evaded his tax liabilities, he sought relief therefrom.
(d) He is dishonest in that he sought to collect monies owed to him by the Government when he knew that he owed the Government more than was owed to him.
(e) He acted fraudulently, dishonestly and corruptly in that he abused his position as Minister of Finance to reduce the rate of VAT on construction material to benefit himself.
(f) His character is such that he is unfit to be the leader of Grenada.
(g) His character is such that he is unfit to be the Minister of Finance for Grenada.
(h) He is a corrupt, dishonest, selfish person who has acted in a criminal manner.
These allegations are completely untrue and are seriously injurious to our client’s character and reputation.
We are instructed too, that the statements were made with the malicious intent to bring our client into disrepute and specifically, to do damage to him as Party Leader of the National Democratic Congress and as Caretaker of the Constituency of St. George North East for that political organisation.
The statements are plainly defamatory of Mr. V. Nazim Burke.
Mr. Burke instructs that the truth about the false allegations that you made of him is as follows:
(a) He never evaded or attempted to evade paying his taxes.
(b) He owed zero taxes for the 2011 tax period.
(c) He had a tax credit of $169.19 for the 2012 tax period.
(d) He did not owe taxes while he was Minister of Finance & Energy.
(e) At all material times, he paid his fair share of taxes.
(f) His tax liability for 2014 was $1,358.70, but by the time that sum became payable, the Government was owing him gratuity in excess of $75,000.00. In that circumstance, he wrote to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance asking that his gratuity be paid so that he could satisfy his tax obligations to the Government.
The gratuity was not paid as requested. In fact, as of today, none of the gratuity has been paid.
(g) He never wrote to you (or to anyone for that matter) requesting tax relief.
(h) You never wrote to him offering tax relief in the sum of $30,000.00 or in any other amount.
(a) He does not owe the Government more than the Government owes him.
In fact, the reverse is true.
(b) He commenced building a residence in 2009 and the construction was completed in 2011. That was the only construction he undertook while he served as Minister of Finance.
(c) After intervention from the Construction Association of Grenada, the rate of VAT on construction materials, namely: cement, lumber, steel and galvanise was reduced from 15% to 7.5% in 2012. We refer you to page 10 of the 2012 Budget Statement, delivered by our client as Minister of Finance.
(d) He served as Minister of Finance until February 2013.
(e) In the 2013 Budget Statement delivered by you as Minister of Finance, the rate of VAT on construction materials, namely: sand, cement, roofing materials, steel, lumber and construction blocks was further reduced to 5%. We refer you to page 16 of that Budget Statement.
(f) In the 2014 Budget Statement delivered by you as Minister of Finance, the rate of VAT on construction materials, namely: sand, cement, roofing materials, steel, lumber and construction blocks was increased from 5% to the original 15%. We refer you to page 27 of that 2014 Budget Statement.
We are, therefore, writing to demand that you:
(a) Write a further letter containing a suitable withdrawal and apology in terms to be approved by us on our client’s behalf;
(b) Make a full retraction and apology in a statement, approved by us, to be made by you live on GBN radio and television “Beyond the Headlines” programme.
(c) Undertake in writing that you will not repeat the publication of these or similar allegations concerning our client in any form whatsoever;
(d) Indemnify our client in respect of the costs to which he has been put in the matter; and
(e) Pay an appropriate sum in damages in order to compensate our client for the serious injury to his reputation, which he has suffered and the associated distress and embarrassment caused by the publication of these allegations.
We must ask you to let us have a reply by the 10th February, 2017. In the meantime, it must be clearly understood that our client reserves all his rights in the matter.
ROHAN A. PHILLIP