The chairman of the YMRM Group won a major libel suit against the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) on Saturday, with the High Court ordering the defendant(s) to pay $950,000 in damages.

Ramesh Jiwatram Bhawani, owner of the YMRM textile malls, and Abdul Hamid Abas, a Brunei government officer at the time, sued the ICC for damages in relation to the publication of two letters sent to the Indian high commissioner back in 2010, in which the ICC claimed the plaintiffs engaged in criminal behaviour.

The letter was signed by the ICC’s president Mohamed Zackiriah Nazeer Ahmad — who is also a prominent figure in the business community — and 23 members of the ICC, who are also named as defendants in the case.

While the defendants claimed there was an “absence of malice”, the court said the intent to harm the plaintiffs was clear, causing them “loss of reputation, anxiety and stress”.

THE LETTERS

Court documents describe the sequence of events starting April 5, 2010, when a letter was sent to the Indian High Commissioner, claiming that Bhawani had been involved in “various malicious activities” which warranted investigation by Indian authorities.

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The letter was signed off by the chamber’s president, and 23 other members of the ICC “confirming their support”.

The Indian high commissioner then sent a letter to Brunei’s foreign ministry on June 13, 2010, repeating the allegations made by the ICC. He said Bhawani had been “blacklisted” and was under investigation for “incriminatory and questionable activities”.  The envoy’s letter was copied to a large number of Bruneian officials.

The ICC sent another letter to the high commissioner dated November 29, 2010, again repeating the allegations, accusing the plaintiff of money laundering, extortion and being a “Mafia-style gangster”.

Following a protest from Bhawani, the high commissioner eventually withdrew his complaint to the foreign ministry in a letter dated June 13, 2011.

The claim of defamation by the second plaintiff, Abdul Hamid, is based on the first letter sent in April 2010, in which the ICC accused him of abusing his position as a senior government official.

THE VERDICT

In a judgment handed down at the High Court, Judicial Commissioner James Findlay said the defendants could not justify the defamatory letters:

“The defendants want me to find there was no malice involved in making the defamatory statements. Frankly, it is difficult to think of a case in which malice is more obvious than this one.”

“The defendants must have anticipated that this [sequence of events] would happen and so they are responsible for the further publication.”

The High Court has ordered the Indian Chamber of Commerce to pay damages of $650,000 to Bhawani and $300,000 to Abdul Hamid.