BBC refused to take Wetangula’s suit papers, court told

Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula (right) with his lawyer, James Orengo at the High Court in Nairobi on January 7, 2016. PHOTO | ROBERT NGUGI
Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula (right) with his lawyer, James Orengo at the High Court in Nairobi on January 7, 2016. PHOTO | ROBERT NGUGI 

The BBC declined to receive suit papers in the defamation case filed by Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula against the media house, a court heard on Thursday.

Siaya Senator James Orengo, representing Mr Wetang’ula, told the court his team had attempted to take the documents to the BBC’s offices in Nairobi and London through courier services.

The BBC has been sued for linking the senator to corruption deals with a tobacco company, in the case filed on December 23, 2015.

According to Mr Caleb Osir, who had been sent to deliver the documents, he visited the BBC’s Nairobi office in Longonot House but the receptionist asked him to return the following day saying the person who was supposed to receive them had already left.

However, the next day when he returned, he was told that “the boss declined to receive them and that her hands were tied”.

Mr Orengo disclosed that the receptionist told Mr Osir the Nairobi office could not accept hand-delivered documents, prompting lawyers to send them via G4S and DHL to the BBC’s headquarters in the UK.

Even though the Nairobi office had declined to receive the documents, the court was also told that it acknowledged receiving a demand letter written to them prior to the filing of the case.

“The Nairobi office declined to sign the hand-delivered case documents and returned the ones sent via courier services in a torn parcel; in our view, the service was properly effected,” Mr Orengo said.

But while acknowledging that the BBC declined to accept the case documents, High Court Judge Roselyne Aburili faulted the two for presenting the case documents to the sued party contrary to the requirements of the law.

“I note that Mr Wetang’ula did dispatch the case documents via DHL and G4S, but the law does not permit the process of service out of the court’s jurisdiction through courier services,” Justice Aburili said.

The law demands that suit papers be delivered directly to the affected parties or through notices in the Press as a last resort.

The judge directed that Mr Wetang’ula and his lawyer take the case documents again to the BBC in accordance with Kenyan law. She also said that Mr Wetang’ula is free to request an order that specifies which office the case documents should be sent to.

Following the turn of events, the judge extended orders stopping the BBC from publishing a news story that named Mr Wetang’ula in a bribery scandal involving the British American Tobacco Company (BAT).

Mr Wetang’ula had moved to court faulting the BBC for portraying him as having solicited an airline ticket to London from BAT for his wife, and having bribed public officials, MPs and people working for a rival tobacco company in July 2012 while he was minister for Trade.

The case will be mentioned on January 26 for further directions.