South African Court Rules NJ Ayuk Defamed Journalist & OCCRP
The South African High Court ruled Tuesday that NJ Ayuk, one of Equatorial Guinea’s most influential lawyers, did indeed issue defamatory remarks towards OCCRP and journalist Delfin Mocache Massoko with the intent to cause harm.
The decision stemmed from an appeal heard last month, in which Ayuk argued he did not have to apologize for threats and untrue allegations made against OCCRP and Massoko.
The dispute arose from a joint investigation last year that named Ayuk as a key player in the network of Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president and the country’s oil minister, who allegedly siphoned millions from a public construction project for his own benefit.
Ayuk declared on social media that the investigative journalists were corrupt and accused them of various unethical practices. “He’s scared because we're going to get him,” Ayuk tweeted of Massoko, arguing that the investigation amounted to “lucrative lies.” He then stated his intent to interrogate Massoko as well as other “money-hungry charlatans” before ending with “we’ll put him in jail.”
He was ordered by a South African judge back in March to apologize and retract his statements, a decision which he appealed.
In Tuesday’s ruling, South African High Court Judge D. C. Fisher determined that Ayuk’s statements were, “without any doubt, defamatory” and that the lower court was correct in its original ruling.
Ayuk’s lawyers had argued that his remarks were not made with animus iniuriandi, that is, the intent to harm. But Judge Fisher noted that Ayuk’s defense couldn’t “readily produce evidence in court” to support this and claimed it was “not at liberty to disclose such information.”
“Clearly, the intention to harm was abundantly present,” Judge Fisher concluded. “No reasonable person would believe that the publication of such matter was not wrongful and unlawful.”
A second issue was whether Ayuk must retract his statements and apologize. The High Court said it could not rule on that question without a legal proceeding to determine if damages resulted from the defamatory statements, which had not been held.
The law firm Ayuk founded, Centurion Law Group, used the legal technicality to tout the decision as a victory for them and continued its attacks.
“For the first time Delphin Mocache Massoko and the OCCRP are held accountable for their reckless allegations,” the law firm said.
But the South African court’s ruling was not the victory Ayuk had claimed. His statements were found by the judge to be defamatory and made with the intent to cause harm to its recipients. It is unknown whether the ruling will be appealed.