BOB Chief Strikes Back: “BOB to Sue PUNCH and Ivan Johnson Over Defamation and Lies”
After two months of near-silence following an onslaught of damaging reports, BOB’s chief today struck back, calling the stories that appeared in a tabloid newspaper “a combination of outright lies and numerous falsehoods and inaccuracies” and saying the bank was taking legal action against the publication, its owner, Ivan Johnson, and others.
“This bank, which has enjoyed tremendous success for 24 of our 25 years, has been the target of calculated and malicious attacks by a local tabloid, The Punch. Today, we want to state for the record that these attacks are, for the most part, based on highly distorted and sensationalized information, and, in some cases, out and out lies,,” said Paul McWeeney, Managing Director of the bank that has been named the country’s best bank and awarded for excellence eight times by respected international analysts and publications.
“We remained relatively quiet throughout the barrage of attacks, wanting to take the high road and maintain the dignity that the financial services industry deems appropriate, but following the outlandish and totally false story that appeared on Page One of today’s Punch (February 20, 2014), we have no choice but to proceed with the legal action we have been contemplating for some time. Our customers, shareholders and staff deserve to know the truth and they deserve to have their investment protected from further damage by irresponsible journalists with their own agenda.”
The story McWeeney referred to alleged that the award-winning bank was in a bid to pull off an $8 million loan fraud and went so far as to compare it to the Enron scandal.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Mr. McWeeney. “The loan to which the tabloid referred was in default – that much is accurate. However, that is the only part of the story which is accurate. The bank recovered the asset by taking possession of the property and we did so with the full knowledge and consent of the customer and the formal permission of The Central Bank. Throughout the transaction we were advised by McKinney Bancroft and Hughes who confirmed its complete legality.”
The tabloid alleged that Central Bank tried to block the repossession, an allegation the bank termed “an out and out lie.”
“To allege fraud against the bank, as the Punch has done, is an extreme case of actionable defamation for which action will be taken against them”, said Mr. McWeeney.
The tabloid’s barrage today included another headline alleging the bank paid a law firm in which the Managing Director’s brother is a senior partner $1 million in fees annually. The bank said this is “absolutely untrue.”
“Bank of The Bahamas Limited (BOB) has achieved tremendous success over our young life,” said McWeeney. “Since our inception in 1989, BOB’s assets have grown from $93 million to almost $900 million. The bank earned cumulative net income of almost $100 million and consistently paid dividends totaling over $50 million since first going public in 1994 up until 2012.” Some 4,000 shareholders have consistently benefitted with share price soaring from an initial $2 or $2.50 to a peak of $9.60 prior to the recession and settling now at $6.90. Since the tabloid attacks began late last year, the bank has maintained that its greatest concern was what appeared to be a breach of confidentiality.
“The breach in confidentiality of customer data and its publication is a criminal offence and an attack on the bank and the financial services industry of The Bahamas,” said McWeeney. “Every Bahamian should be concerned about this because it has the potential to jeopardize the very cornerstone of the industry. The bank has taken the action to call in the appropriate authorities to determine how the breach occurred, who is responsible and allow the law to take its course.”
Both the Data Commissioner and the Royal Bahamas Police Force are actively investigating.
The law suit against the Punch, Ivan Johnson and others will cite more than a dozen specific and separate incidents of the Punch’s defamatory publication of false and or misrepresented information, ranging from personal information about Mr. McWeeney’s remuneration as Managing Director to what the tabloid called ‘politically motivated’ loans. Leading specialist UK libel counsel and local litigation counsel have been engaged to represent the Bank.
Graham Thompson issues statement:
Statement from Graham Thompson
The story in the Punch of February 20th, 2014 that Graham Thompson receives one million dollars a year in legal fees from the Bank of The Bahamas is completely untrue. Our firm makes nowhere near that from the Bank and never has. The claim is preposterous.
It is equally untrue to insinuate, as the Punch has on more than one occasion, that our firm’s relationship with the Bank is due to the relationship between the bank’s managing director, Paul McWeeney and one of our partners, Sean McWeeney QC.
In fact, Graham Thompson’s relationship with the Bank of The Bahamas began in 1983 – well before Sean McWeeney even joined Graham Thompson and years before Paul McWeeney joined the Bank. Any suggestion, therefore, that the Bank of The Bahamas came to Graham Thompson because of the relationship between Paul McWeeney and Sean McWeeney is completely false.
Moreover, we are aware that our firm is just one of a number of law firms that the Bank uses. This is easily verifiable from a search of public records.
The firm calls upon the Punch to publish a retraction and apology to our firm.