Business News of Tuesday, 20 January 2015
The Commercial Court of Abidjan ruled on Thursday the 15th of January that Dr Daniel Matjila a director of Ecobank Transnational Corporation (ETI) and Chief Executive Officer of Public Investment Corporation of South Africa (PIC)), along with PIC and ETI are jointly liable for defamation against Mr Thierry Tanoh, a former Group CEO of ETI. The court ordered that the three parties jointly and severally pay Mr Tanoh US$15 million.
ETI is taking immediate steps to exercise its right to appeal against the decisions by the Commercial Court of Abidjan and to apply for a stay of execution of its decisions.
In February 2014, when Mr Tanoh was Ecobank Group CEO, a number of ETI directors convened a special board meeting to discuss certain developments.
These included a directive of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Nigeria for ETI to reverse certain decisions that Mr Tanoh had taken in contravention of the Commission’s earlier directives and the call by the whole of Ecobank Group’s executive management for Mr Tanoh to step down.
Dr Matjila wrote a letter to board members on the 1st of March 2014, stating various reasons why Mr Tanoh should be removed as Group CEO. Several media establishments including the Financial Times and Bloomberg reported on the call for Mr Tanoh to step down, including some of the reasons given in the letter.
Mr Tanoh sued Dr Matjila, PIC and ETI jointly for defamation in the Commercial Court of Abidjan. In doing so, he used an Ivorian civil procedure rule that allows action to be taken in the courts of Côte d’Ivoire in certain circumstances when the defendants are not resident in that country.
ETI had raised objection to the jurisdiction of the Commercial Court of Abidjan, first as this was a civil and not a commercial case. This court, as its name implies, hears commercial cases. ETI also argued that the case should be heard in Togo, the domicile of ETI, or in the courts of England as provided for in Mr Tanoh’s employment contract.
The Commercial Court of Abidjan proceeded with the case on a technicality, notwithstanding the fact that ETI had raised the objection to the jurisdiction at the right time.
ETI’s position is that the Commercial Court of Abidjan does not have the jurisdictional right to rule on this matter, and its decision is totally unfounded. ETI believes that this sets a very dangerous precedent of law in several respects, as well as for the business environment in Côte d’Ivoire. The only reason that Mr Tanoh gave for initiating the action in Côte d’Ivoire is that he is an Ivorian national.
Quite separate from the Abidjan case, Mr Tanoh has also sued ETI in Togo for unlawful termination of his contract, and is seeking US$18 million in compensation.
ETI has lodged a criminal complaint against Mr Tanoh for taking away all official files that he handled as Group CEO of Ecobank and for deleting all electronic files from the official computers that he used as Group CEO.