US court dismisses defamation lawsuit against Sahara reporters

The ruling was another win for the news website over lawsuits challenging its stories

A United States court on Monday dismissed a defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit brought against Sowore Omoyele, the founder of news website, Sahara reporters.

The case was filed by Nigerian lawyer, Emeka Ugwuonye, who was involved in controversial deals with the Nigerian Embassy in the U.S.

Mr. Ugwuonye filed the charges in protest of a string of reports by Sahara reporters exposing a transaction the lawyer had with the embassy in which he reportedly withheld $1.5 million in tax refunds meant for the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC.

In a ruling given Monday, Judge Peter Messitte dismissed Mr. Ugwuonye’s claims as lacking in merit. Mr. Ugwuonye has up to thirty days to appeal the ruling.

The ruling came months after a similar charge brought against the publication was withdrawn in May. The case, brought before a New York state court, was filed by US-based Nigerian pastor against the website over a 2010 report alleging fraud involving the Nigerian Ambassador to the United Nations, Joy Ogwu.

In the new case dismissed on Monday, Sahara reporters detailed how tax refunds made by the US authorities to the Nigerian embassy through Mr. Ugwuonye, were withheld by the lawyer on claims he was owed by separate functionaries of the Nigerian government.

Former Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa, has since denied such debt existed.

In a 15-page memorandum accompanying his ruling, Judge Messitte said the lawyer had failed to disprove the report and that the publication was done with “actual malice.”

The judge said summary judgment was “warranted when a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the elements essential to the party’s claim and on which the party will bear the burden of proof at trial.”

Mr. Sowore, whose reports have over years unsettled several Nigerian officials, was represented by notable free speech attorneys, Laurie Babinski and Bruce Brown at the law firm of Baker Hostetler in Washington DC.

The two lawyers are part of the pro-bono network of the UK-based Media Legal Defence Initiative. Mr. Ugwuonye represented himself.

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