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Jun 30, 1998

Matus testifies in libel trial

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Closing arguments in Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel’s libel suit against former San Ignacio Town Mayor Marconi Matus and People’s United Party Chairman Jorge Espat ended late this evening in the Supreme Court. The trial, which opened on Monday, heard testimony from eight witnesses, including the Prime Minister and two of his bodyguards. Today, defense attorney Godfrey Smith opened his side of the case by putting his client, Marconi Matus on the stand. Matus stuck by his claim that Minister Salvador Fernandez and the P.M. attempted to bribe him to cross the floor, after the 1997 Town Board Elections. Early in the session, however, it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a particularly easy day in court for the defense, when the judge refused to allow a transcript of the alleged tape conversation between Matus and Minister Fernandez to be entered into evidence. Under cross examination, Matus’ story was virtually torn to pieces by attorney for the plaintiff Michael Young who, at various times, left Matus struggling to recall the sequence and details of certain events surrounding his claim. In making his submission, Young described Matus’ allegations as a “devious attempt” to assassinate the character of the Prime Minister and said he’s seeking compensatory and aggravated damages. Attorney Godfrey Smith in his summation told the court that of all the witnesses that the plaintiff called, only three of them testified on the facts of the case and even those testimonies did not conclusively negate Matus’ story. After the session ended, Smith spoke with reporters and tried to make the best of a bad situation.

Godfrey Smith, Attorney for Matus

“It’s a matter of weighing the two evidences. As I pointed out to my submissions basically only three witnesses on behalf of the Prime Minister really touched on the facts, namely himself and the two security officers. On the other hand we had Mr. Matus. We attempted to subpoena Minister Salvador Fernandez but as you observed that request was denied by the judge.

I wouldn’t say that he baffled. Certainly he did not recall precisely a couple of the dates but there are many dates involved and it was not something that occurred very recently. So I wouldn’t say he baffled but obviously later on he did clarify. At the end of the day it can be said that he stuck to the case, saying that he did meet with him, and at the end of the day he got his facts correct and he got his dates correct, even though he made a mistake earlier in relation to a particular date.”

Justice George Meerabux is expected to make a ruling in the case on Wednesday.

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