This Friday, Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) will appear in the Civil Court of Basel, Switzerland, to answer a complaint filed by Sakto, a Canadian real-estate company.
In this first hearing, the court will consider: the applicable law (Swiss or Canadian), as well as BMF’s allegation that it is not urgent to order a stop to their defamatory campaign.
Last Friday, BMF appealed for donations to pay their legal bills associated with Sakto’s litigation against them. Noting that BMF spent reportedly over CHF 600,000 of their donors’ money on their failed lawsuit against this Canadian company in Canada this year, the merits of further supporting the legal expenses of this Swiss NGO are questionable. You can read more in this article by Handelszeitung, which raises important questions about BMF’s 8-year campaign as well as BMF's governance, transparency, and accountability.
In February 2018, BMF’s defamatory allegations against Sakto and its principals were dismissed outright in the Ontario Superior Court in Canada. While BMF continue to downplay the result as an obscure legal technicality, Sakto looks forward to demonstrating the facts to the Basel court, and finally bringing BMF’s defamatory campaign to a close.
BMF have used “conjecture and suspicion” in defaming Sakto, but the courts will hold them to a much higher standard: the facts matter.
In the online edition of Handelszeitung published 12 September, it is interesting to read how a Basel-based journalist, Seraina Gross, covers the complex and unusual issues raised by BMF’s 8-year campaign of defamation against Sakto and its founders. Quite rightly, she gave a share of voice to both parties involved. Indeed, this is the first time that a Swiss media has explored in depth the manner in which BMF have waged their campaign, and the implications this may have not only for the legal, but also the moral, conduct of an NGO.
It is easy for NGOs to sling mud at corporations. It is even easier for NGOs to attack individuals. It is easy for NGOs to attract and retain support in the court of public opinion. But an NGO’s leaders, directors, donors, and supporters should never confuse altruism with illegal behaviour and actions, such as those conducted by BMF.
The behaviour of BMF, during this particular 8-year campaign of defamation against Sakto and its founders, raises serious questions about the NGO’s governance, transparency, and accountability.
1. Who are BMF regulated by, as a Swiss Verein? To whom are they ultimately accountable… their donors?
2. Has BMF’s Board behaved correctly in their sanction of this 8-year campaign? Has it been properly informed by Lukas Straumann of the resources devoted to this campaign?
3. Lukas Straumann misinformed the public about the outcome of the proceedings before the Ontario Court of Justice. Did he at least inform the BMF Board or even its donors in an open and honest manner about the true results of the Canadian judge’s decision, i.e., that BMF had no reasonable grounds to believe Sakto or its founders had been involved in any unlawful acts?
4. Have BMF been transparent to their donors and supporters about the significant sums of money and resources they have devoted to a legal campaign in Canada that had no real chance of success and was squarely dismissed by the judge in February 2018? Indeed Justice Dunphy observed that “BMF have run a long and intense multi-front battle, which suggests very considerable financial resources have been devoted to their campaign.”
5. How can such an anti-money laundering and corruption campaign sit alongside the original mission of Bruno Manser? Indeed, do the BMF supporters know, and approve of, this change in direction by BMF?
6. It was only in 2016 that BMF’s mandate was extended to cover corruption and money-laundering. So how do BMF account for the resources spent from 2010-2016 on this campaign which was not in their mandate?
An NGO should not be beyond the law. It is time for BMF and Lukas Straumann to be held accountable for their words and actions. Their case has been dismissed in Canada. It is time for them to face justice in Switzerland. It is time for them to stop their illegal activities.
Sakto is asking the Basel Civil Court for an injunction, ordering BMF to remove their infringing content from the public domain – more than 1,100 infringing statements and over 250 articles and publications. They would also be ordered to stop repeating their false allegations.
Let’s be clear. This is not an attack on the NGO and its original mission. We simply wish for BMF and Lukas Straumann to remove their false and defamatory allegations from the public domain and to stop their misguided campaign against Sakto and its founders.
Bruno Manser Fonds have been running their campaign against Sakto since 2010. They have deployed a series of tactics to promote this lengthy and misguided campaign, all of them intended to cause reputational damage against Sakto and its founders.
Here we expose BMF and Lukas Straumann’s three main tactics.
Bruno Manser Fonds and Lukas Straumann wrote another blog post on 22 August 2018 in which they ask Sakto's law firm, VISCHER AG, a number of questions. Neither Sakto nor VISCHER AG will discuss the topics raised by Lukas Straumann in public. Sakto has applied to the Basel Civil Court to re-establish the facts and restore its reputation – the Court will decide.
It is clear that being on the defensive is making BMF and Lukas Straumann nervous. Rather than focus on defending their case in Court, they continue to repeat their untrue allegations on Sakto and its founders, attacking even Sakto's law firm.
It was curious to read Bruno Manser Fonds’ blog post, published on 20 August, in response to the news that Sakto has applied for injunctive relief in Switzerland.
BMF claim in their post that Justice Dunphy, of the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, Canada, did not examine the money-laundering allegations, and that he did not make a statement on them.
This claim is false.
Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) began their campaign against Sakto Corporation (Sakto) in 2010.
For all these years, BMF and their Executive Director Lukas Straumann have attempted to get authorities to investigate alleged money laundering and corruption. Sakto and its founders have endured the spurious claims, false allegations, and defamatory statements.