Tea market leader and one of the oldest companies in the sector Kenya Tea Packers Ltd (Ketepa) risks paying millions of shillings in damages to a former rival over an alleged defamatory advertisement that was published in local dailies 21 years ago.
The case that has dragged in Mombasa courts since 1998 has picked up momentum again after Raufco Limited renewed its call for compensation of up to Sh73 million for loss of business after initially proposing Sh100 million.
Through lawyer Onyango Wameyo, Raufco says it suffered losses when Ketepa placed an advert depicting it as fake packers who get cheap loose tea that could have been stolen from hijacked vehicles on highways.
“These fake tea packers do not collect government tax, VAT (Value Added Tax) hence the reason their tea appears to be cheap by say 15 or 17 percent than Ketepa tea. If these persons were paying government tax, their tea for sure would be even more expensive than Ketepa tea. Consumers are asked to beware of fake tea packers,” the alleged advert reads in part.
In a case before High Court Judge Patrick Otieno, the company said it lost business after it was perceived as being involved in dishonest business and viewed to be dealing in counterfeit, inferior quality tea.
“As a consequence, the company was forced to sell properties to service the bank loans. Our operations were virtually brought to a halt and more than 50 employees lost their jobs, Rukia Omar, who was the company’s general manager, said.
Ketepa has admitted publishing the words but denied that they were false or that they were published maliciously.
“The defendant denies that it published the alleged defamatory words twice or that the same were written or published maliciously as alleged by the complainant and put it to strict proof. The said publication was made as a matter of public interest for ordinary members of the public to distinguish that Furaha and Fahari tea are not related,” Ketepa said in court documents.
Justice Otieno has directed the parties to file their submissions before the matter is set for highlighting in October.
“The complainant’s use of Furaha with colours similar to ours was calculated to deceive and mislead the trade and general public into the belief that the plaintiff’s tea is similar to ours,” Ketepa said.