NEW YORK, USA -- The Guyana Times newspaper is in double legal jeopardy for its January 31, 2013, publication of a false and slanderous article alleging that Rickford Burke, radio talk show host and president of the New York-based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID), was arrested in New York and charged with identity theft on January 15, 2013.
The article carried the headline “Rickford Burke charged for identity theft.” The writer apparently made up facts of a purported crime and alleged Burke faced up to seven years in prison if convicted.
However, Burke was in fact the victim of identity fraud. Court records show that on January 15, he received a traffic violations summons from New York Police. CGID communications director Jevon Suralie in a statement disclosed that the summons was due to violations accumulated by other persons who have been driving under Burke’s name unbeknownst to him. He said Burke has battled identity theft since 1999 when his wallet and identification documents were stolen.
Burke’s attorney in Guyana, Nigel Hughes, slapped the newspaper with a $20 million libel lawsuit. Burke has now filed another multi-million (US) dollars lawsuit on the paper’s New York edition, Guyana Times International, through Brooklyn attorney Donnell Suares.
The Times is owned by Dr Bobby Ramroop, a close friend of Guyana’s former president, Bharrat Jagdeo. Ramroop acquired several state-owned companies during Jagdeo’s presidency. He also owns a radio and television station. Both ran the false story and have also been sued.
Burke is a harsh critic of Jagdeo and the PPP government.
The state-owned Guyana Chronicle and NCN Television, Multi Technology Vision Inc., Little Rock Television, Guyana Times and presidential staffer Kwame McCoy were each sued in Guyana for $20 million for broadcasting or publishing the story. The Chronicle and NCN Television have retracted the story and apologized.
Burke has said that the apologies were “wanting, disingenuous and lacked prominence to the offensive publication.” Hughes has written the companies rejecting their retractions and has asked for “substantial damages.”
Surares, in a letter to editors of the Guyana Times International, noted that the publication has acted with exceptional maliciousness and a premeditation and intent at character assassination. He said that although the Times received documentary evidence that Burke’s encounter with New York City Police on January 15, was in connection with an alleged traffic infraction, they refused to recant the libelous article. He observed that the Times’ reckless action was intended to cause grave injury to Burke’s reputation. The newspaper was given 48 hours to publish a front page retraction.
Suralie said the false story was sent to Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar by a PPP supporter in New York, who was recently arrested by the FBI for fraud. He added that Burke had condemned the individual for making derogatory and racist comments about Afro-Guyanese. He said the Institute plans to write the judge and prosecutors in the case.
Suralie said a state media official informed CGID that they were forced by Ramotar’s information liaison Kwame McCoy to carry the story.
“We have apprised State Departments and CARICOM leaders that Guyana’s Office of the President is misusing resources of the state to target and smear Burke because of his political and human rights activism against the ethnocratic PPP government,” Suralie concluded.