by Christian Mensch
First exchange of blows concerning Bruno Manser Fund before the Basel Civil Court
[English translation of the original German language article - Zeit Der Abrechnung]
Sakto Corporation is a small real estate company in Ottawa, Canada. But Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) is certain: Sakto is engaged in money laundering. The firm is funded by money allegedly earned through deforestation of the Malaysian rainforest. After all, Sakto belongs to the daughter of the Malaysian ex-governor Mahmud Taib and her husband.
The Basel-based nongovernmental organization has waged a campaign against Sakto for nine years as part of its effort to combat rainforest deforestation. In the past year, however, its attempt to obtain concrete financial data on Sakto by judicial means in Canada failed. Since then, a counter-campaign against BMF has been under way.
In August, Sakto filed an extensive action with the Civil Court in Basel for defamation. It is linked to a request for preliminary injunctive relief, requiring BMF to delete statements in the public domain and face a fine of 1,000 francs a day in the event of further “infringing acts.” On Friday, an initial hearing took place before the judge Salome Wolf, which was to address two preliminary questions: Is there urgency to justify the injunctive relief? And do the Basel judicial authorities even have jurisdiction in the case?
It will likely be several weeks before the judge informs the parties of her ruling in writing. But the presentation and tone as well as the lines of argument were clearly discernible during the public hearing. Sakto sent six lawyers, including attorneys from Basel’s Vischer law firm, but also Canadian attorneys who had prepared the action from Ottawa. BMF mustered the Zurich media attorney Christoph Born as well as a number of sympathizers, who crowded into the intimate courtroom and created a home-game atmosphere.
Vischer attorney Thomas Weibel, who is representing the Malaysian family, quoted the Bible in his oral arguments: “There is a time for everything.” The time has now come, he said, for Sakto to defend itself against the persistent and unsubstantiated charges. In particular, he argued at length that Basel has been the “epicentre” of the campaign, and thus the local court has jurisdiction. BMF, he said, has been making “self-serving allegations” and has taken the court for a fool by pretending that its publications are in no way intended for a Swiss audience.
Attorney Christoph Born, representing BMF, accused the other side of “abusive legal behaviour”. The action was filed in Basel, he said, only because Sakto hopes to circumvent the limitation period. It is nothing short of “ridiculous” to take the Canadian judgment as a pretext for filing a suit now, after Sakto has for nine years refrained from any attempt to contradict BMF’s allegations by issuing a warning. Accordingly, he said, Sakto has failed to show why the matter is urgent.
Judge Wolf, who heard nothing more in the arguments than what she had already read in the extensive opinions filed by both parties, gave no sign of what conclusions she has drawn from them. It seems likely, however, that the court will declare that it has jurisdiction and will examine the principal accusations, but will not deem the matter urgent or grant preliminary injunctive relief. Also, the Civil Court might not be the Basel court that is to concern itself with the dispute between BMF and Sakto – because Sakto’s action has been followed by a counter-complaint by BMF.
Two weeks ago, the BMF filed a criminal complaint with the Basel Public Prosecutor’s Office against the Geneva PR agency coordinating Sakto’s campaign in Switzerland on charges of defamation. They are said to have insinuated that BMF’s executive director is a “liar.” With its criminal complaint, BMF – like Sakto with its civil action – reserves the right to claim damages.
Both parties are giving it their all. When the missing Bruno Manser wanted to mobilize the public, he sat down in Bern’s Bundesplatz and started knitting.
[English translation of the original German language article - Zeit Der Abrechnung