Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Sir: Victoria Brittain's response (Letters, 4 October) to Stephen Glover's article failed to address key issues such as whether she aided and abetted Mr Kojo Tsikata in his libel case against another British newspaper.

As Ms Brittain points out, Mr Tsikata's alleged complicity in the murder of the three senior Ghanaian judges and the retired army officer has been the subject of a prolonged libel action. This is, however, not the issue; what is driving the current debate is the recent revelation that Ms Brittain acted as an intermediary for the transfer of funds to settle Mr Tsikata's legal bill in his libel case against the Independent, and to maintain his son at an English public school. To my knowledge, Ms Brittain has not denied this allegation. Indeed, she does not refute David Shayler's claim that the `large sums of money' in her bank account were `lawyers fees for Mr Tsikata'. Ms Brittain has, however, refused to address the apparent conflict of interests and issues of journalistic impartiality that lie at the heart of this matter.

It is important to remind your readers why this case is significant. As Ms Brittain confirms in her letter, Mr Tsikata was a key member of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) which in December 1981 overthrew the constitutionally elected government of Ghana in a military coup d'etat. The military regime suspended the constitution, instituted rule by decree and made anti-corruption the centrepiece of its programme. Indeed, many exgovernment officials and ordinary citizens up and down the country were arrested on corruption charges; some were executed and others were either detained in prisons or flogged in public. It is against the anticorruption rhetoric and actions of the PNDC regime that one views the new revelations about Mr Tsikata and Ms Brittain. It is also no secret that Ms Brittain was supportive of the PNDC regime.

There is a whiff of suspicion surrounding the secret transfer of large amounts of money from 'unknown' sources to Ms Brittain's account. Surely it is legitimate to ask how Mr Tsikata paid for his libel case against the Independent. We know from his salary and the public declaration of his assets that he could not have afforded the cost of the libel case from his own resources. Perhaps Ms Brittain is unable to respond to these questions, but I would like to know if she sought answers to them before placing her bank account at Mr Tsikata's disposal.

One cannot rule out the possibility that Mr Tsikata received financial assistance from a benefactor or friend. However, if that were the case, why were the funds not paid directly to Mr Tsikata's lawyers, instead of being transferred through Ms Brittain's bank account?

The nub of the issue, however, is Ms Brittain's insistence that she has no knowledge of the source of the funds paid into her bank account. Does she want us to believe that she did not bother to ascertain the source of what she accepts were `large sums of money' held in her bank account on behalf of Mr Tsikata? If she did not, then she should have. It is inconceivable, in my view, that this information is not available to Ms Brittain through her bank. Unless Ms Brittain is prepared to offer a full explanation for her actions she cannot escape the charge of having betrayed the standards of journalism in this country.

The manner in which Mr Tsikata's legal fees appear to have been settled raises grave suspicions in the minds of many ordinary Ghanaians. If Ms Brittain has nothing to hide, then she has a duty to reveal the source of the funds. Most Ghanaians are less worried about Libya, but more anxious to be reassured that Mr Tsikata's legal fees and his son's school fees were not paid out of the country's public purse. Ms Brittain has a responsibility to respond to this anxiety.

Ms Brittain's attempt to discredit the Ghanaian opposition as an unreliable source of information, with an axe to grind, does not sit comfortably with her own newspaper's dependence on Mohamed Al Fayed's evidence in the `cash for questions' scandal. …

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