Gold Leaf Tobacco bid to sue activist Yusuf Abramjee for R50m struck off the roll

2019-03-08 18:11
Yusuf Abramjee (Twitter)

Yusuf Abramjee (Twitter)

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Gold Leaf Tobacco Corporation's (GLTC) bid to sue anti-crime activist and #TakeBackTheTax spokesperson Yusuf Abramjee for R50m in damages was struck off the roll with costs in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Friday.

"Today, Judge Letty Molopa ruled that the matter was not urgent and that this was 'self-created urgency' on the part of GLTC.

"Furthermore, the judge ruled that if GLTC wanted to argue urgency, they should have done so in November last year when Abramjee first started discussing the illegal nature of GLTC's cigarettes," Abramjee explained in a statement on Friday.

Abramjee was represented by advocate Dario Milo from Webber Wentzel, who is of the view that this ruling signifies that justice has been served.

"We see this as a significant victory for Yusuf, because had Gold Leaf been successful, Yusuf wouldn't have been able to speak on this issue," he said.

The cigarette company claimed that Abramjee was defaming it by repeating claims made in a previous survey, alleging that the company is suspected of dodging taxes. 

'All excise taxes are paid'

According to court papers, Abramjee became #TakeBackTheTax spokesperson in September 2018. #TakeBackTheTax is an initiative of the Tobacco Institute of South Africa (Tisa).

Central to the claim is a Tisa survey – conducted by Ipsos in July 2018. The survey found that Gold Leaf's "RG" cigarette brand had become the country's largest selling brand of its kind. The inference was that Gold Leaf was avoiding taxes, because the RG brand sold for under R10 a pack – well below the R17.85 threshold set by the revenue service.

In response to questions from Fin24 at the time, Gold Leaf denied that it was avoiding taxes, and said that its brands were registered with the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

"All excise taxes are paid on our products," Gold Leaf reportedly said, adding that it was in regular contact with SARS staff.

All the while, Abramjee has been repeating the claims made in the Ipsos survey, as well as other research about the illicit tobacco trade, according to Gold Leaf. It says this has caused the company immense reputational harm.

Gold Leaf has laid the blame for its reputational damage at Abramjee's door. Gold Leaf issued a letter of demand on February 14, and when Abramjee refused its demands that he retract his claims and stop making them, the company launched its application a few days later.

R50m 'exorbitant and outrageous'

In court papers, Abramjee says Gold Leaf is pursuing him instead of the organisations who have made the claims that he reports on, which he says is evidence that the company is trying to silence him. Abramjee also says Gold Leaf has other remedies available to it, for example, putting its own version out into the media, which it has done.

He said that a debate on the merits of Gold Leaf's claims had been going on in the media for many months, so the urgency of the application was moot. Abramjee also says there is an "acute"  public interest reason for why issues around the illicit tobacco trade must be debated in public, and not silenced.

Abramjee also argues that the R50m claim is "exorbitant and outrageous", especially in light of the fact that South African courts are not known to give damages orders beyond R250 000 in cases like this.

In his affidavit to the court, Abramjee says there will be a confirmatory affidavit by a representative of British American Tobacco South Africa, which will give more detail on the alleged problems with the prices of Gold Leaf brands.

Abramjee maintained that his comments were nothing but the truth and were in the public interest.

"I have always stood for truth and justice and GLTC has a lot to answer for when it comes to the illegal cigarette trade.

"I will keep speaking out and asking the tough questions and expose the rot within the illicit trade," he concluded.

Read more on:    sars  |  gold leaf tobacco  |  yusuf abramjee
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