Subramaniam Swamy Backs Sonia Libel Defendants

Date: 28 Jun 2008




Subramaniam Swamy Backs Sonia Libel Defendants  

India-West Staff Reporter

Former Indian Law Minister Subramanian Swamy lived up to his reputation as a colorful political maverick as he made an impassioned case June 23 to several hundred attendees at the Hindu Temple auditorium in Flushing, N.Y., to fight back in a $100 million libel lawsuit brought against defendants who ran an advertisement in the New York Times newspaper that was critical of Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi. The advertisement coincided with Gandhi's trip to the U.S. in October last year.

"This case (defendant Narain) Kataria will easily win," Swamy declared, according to a transcript of the speech provided by organizers. "What is the locus standi? There is this actual malice? Prove it. 

"I have been telling Kataria: 'Do not get it dismissed, let her come and testify.' It may not happen because judges do not want to waste time. . . . If he has filed a 100 million dollar lawsuit, then we should countersue for $10 million." 

Swamy made a two-fold argument about why the lawsuit was doomed to fail, firstly because U.S. law set an extremely high bar for libel cases against public figures, and secondly, he said most of the allegedly libelous information against Sonia Gandhi was both in the public domain and true.

Organizers said the event, a fundraiser for defendants of the lawsuit, was attended by around 250 people and hosted by a number of Indian American medical doctors and businessmen.

Kataria, one of the defendants, said he was impressed by Swamy's speech. "Oh, my God, it was thrilling, it was mesmerizing, it was very informative, he gave so much information and he was so knowledgeable that people felt that they don't know anything," he told India-West. 

Kataria said he estimated that all told, about $25,000 was raised in donations and pledges.

"A lot of people came and you know, they gave me money," he said. "Students came and they gave me 20 dollars, 30 dollars. There were senior citizens, they gave me money from their social security (checks). Some people told me they would give me, every month . . . from social security till my case goes on. I was really touched."

The event was addressed by, among others, Narinder Kukar, former national president and chair, board of trustees, Association of Indians in America, one of the key organizers of the event, and New York-based attorney Karamvir Dahiya.

Swamy said that the lawsuit had much broader implications. "It is not a case of Kataria fighting and you are standing by him because you know him, this is a case of all of us, it is case of your freedom of speech, it is the case in the future you can live in this country far away from India, without fear of long arm of Indian government coming and standing in the way (of your freedom of speech)."

Swamy said the lawsuit targeted people like Kataria because he had been active in promoting Hindu unity.

"Hindu unity scares lot of people," he said. "It scares Christian missionaries who want to convert a hundred million converts in the next 10 years. . . It is anathema to terrorists who are targeting Hindu institutions everyday," he said. "And that is why it is appropriately called Hindu Defense Fund I think, to which you have to make your contributions."

Swamy provided forceful arguments in his scathing critique of Sonia Gandhi, accusing her of being the heir to $2 billion in Swiss bank accounts, making false claims about her degree and birthplace, and accusing her of having connections with the Soviet-era intelligence agency KGB and smuggling antiques. 

He also accused her son Rahul of lying about his education and raised questions about his citizenship as well as about having a live-in foreign girlfriend.

Swamy said that in 1991, under U.S. pressure, the Swiss government was forced to disclose information about foreign leaders with Swiss bank accounts, and a Swiss magazine, Schweitzer Illustrierte, published names and figures that showed Rajiv Gandhi had $2 billion. "All that money has gone to her," he alleged. 

Swamy pooh-poohed her affidavit that she had studied English at the University of Cambridge. "I got a letter from the university, there is no such student, never," he said. "I went to court. And finally the (Indian) Supreme Court chief justice, told me, 'Be generous, Dr. Swamy, be large-hearted, this is an old matter, leave it.' Of course, subsequently, Sonia Gandhi dropped (this) from her affidavits."

Swamy also said Rahul Gandhi had claimed to have an M. Phil. degree, also from Cambridge, but there was no record of his submitting a dissertation, a necessary condition for getting an M.Phil. degree. 

In any case, the U.S. set such a high bar for libel cases for public figures, the case was doomed to fail, he explained. Swamy quoted the landmark New York Times v Sullivan case in 1964 where the U.S. Supreme Court said that publishing an advertisement against public officials is only defamatory if that public official first proves that the advertisement is false, and then goes on to prove that the publisher knew it was false and yet published it with reckless disregard for truth. 
:by indiawest