By IULIA FILIP | Courthouse News
ATLANTA (CN) – A businessman claims in court that a magazine defamed him by accusing him of involvement in “‘human trafficking’ of Ethiopian women serving as household maids in Saudi Arabia who are held in ‘slave-like conditions’ and subjected to beatings and other abuses.”
Jemal Ahmed sued Elias Kifle and Ethiopian Review, in Federal Court. They are the only defendants.
“Plaintiff Ahmed brings this action seeking damages for defamatory statements by defendants Elias Kifle and the Ethiopian Review asserting that, through his business relationship with Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi, plaintiff Ahmed is ‘in charge of,’ participates in, and/or is involved in ‘human trafficking’ of Ethiopian women serving as household maids in Saudi Arabia who are held in ‘slave-like conditions’ and subjected to beatings and other abuses,” the complaint states. “Defendants’ defamatory statements are demonstrably false.”
Ethiopian-born Ahmed says he owns and manages several companies in Africa, Europe and North America. One of his businesses, which grows coffee beans and exports them to the United States and elsewhere, is co-owned by Saudi Arabian-Ethiopian billionaire Sheikh Al Amoudi, according to the complaint.
Ahmed claims that in March, Kifle published a defamatory article on his magazine’s website, linking him to Al Amoudi’s alleged “export” of 45,000 Ethiopian women a month to Saudi Arabia.
Kifle, a U.S. resident born in Ethiopia, publishes the Ethiopian Review, an online “news and opinion journal,” from his home in Atlanta, according to the complaint.
Ahmed claims the Ethiopian Review picked up a March 15 article from the Saudi Gazette, “45K maids to arrive every month from Ethiopia,” which relied on “an unidentified source in the Ethiopian Embassy in Saudi Arabia.”
Ahmed says the Saudi Gazette article did not mention him, Al Amoudi, or their businesses, and did not connect them to the “export” of Ethiopian women to Saudi Arabia.
Ahmed claims Kifle added false statements to the article, linking him and Al Amoudi to human trafficking and enslavement of Ethiopian women.
The complaint states: “On March 16, 2012, defendants Kifle and the Ethiopian Review re-printed the ‘Saudi Gazette’ article on the Ethiopian Review’s website and added the following text: ‘This news is so shocking it is hard to believe. If it is true, it must be stopped at any cost. This is a wholesale enslavement of Ethiopian women, particularly those from the Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups.’”
Two weeks later, Ahmed says, Kifle wrote and published another article on the Ethiopian Review’s website, titled “Al Amoudi’s Human Trafficker in Ethiopia Identified,” which claimed, among other things: “‘Ethiopian Review Intelligence Unit has now confirmed Al Amoudi’s involvement in this massive human trafficking and also we have been able to identified [sic] the person whom he has put in charge of the operation. His name is Jemal Ahmed.’”
The complaint continues: “The Ethiopian Review article goes on to state: ‘Jemal and other partners of Al Amoudi … are pillaging and plundering Ethiopia, and selling our women as slaves to Arab countries …’
“On information and belief, defendants Kifle and Ethiopian Review did not have any sources with verified, first-hand or direct knowledge of the allegations in the Ethiopian Review article prior to publishing it, nor did they have multiple sources for those allegations.” (Ellipses in complaint).
Ahmed says the article does not identify any sources or documents to substantiate the allegations.
He says he is not associated with or involved in any way with trafficking and enslavement of Ethiopian women, “through his business relationship with Sheikh Al Amoudi or otherwise.”
Ahmed claims Kifle did not contact him before publishing the article, to verify the allegations or allow him to comment, and refused to remove the article.
Ahmed claims that in April he sent a letter to Kifle and the Ethiopian Review, asking for a retraction, but they ignored the request and ridiculed him on the website.
“On the same day they received the April 4 letter, defendants Kifle and Ethiopian Review reprinted portions of it on the Ethiopian Review website, included a link by which the full letter could be viewed, and wrote the following response: ‘Where are you going to sue me this time? In Timbuktu? Bring it on please. Sincerely, Elias Kifle.’”
Ahmed adds: “The defamatory Ethiopian Review article has incited others to make further defamatory and threatening statements in the comments posted on the Ethiopian Review article. Some of these comments threaten violence against plaintiff Ahmed.”
Ahmed claims the article harmed his reputation, which is crucial to his business, and caused him loss of income, embarrassment and mental anguish.
He seeks compensatory and punitive damages for defamation.
He is represented by Mark Grantham with DLA Piper.