Businessman accused of inappropriate behaviour sues for defamation, Latest Singapore News

A businessman who was forced to step down from the board of the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) following allegations of inappropriate behaviour is suing two of its former executives for defamation.

Mr Manokaran Chakrapani is accusing SICCI’s former CEO Kumaran Barathan and former human resources manager Priya Rathini Rajan of instigating the complaints made by female employees at a team meeting on May 6, 2019.

In the suit, Mr Chakrapani alleged that the meeting was “an exercise to plant ideas into the minds of these vulnerable attendees”, who were then “cajoled into expressions and thoughts of being abused”.

He contended that the minutes of this meeting, which were circulated to all board members more than two months later, was defamatory.

He wants the defendants to withdraw the alleged defamatory statements and publish written apologies in various newspapers. No quantum for damages was specified.

In his defence, Mr Barathan said he called for the meeting after a female employee complained that Mr Chakrapani had placed his hand “on her back/buttocks” during a photo-taking session at a golf tournament on May 3, 2019.

Ms Priya, who was told by Mr Barathan to take minutes at the meeting, contended that she was merely following instructions.

A hearing into the case started in the High Court Court on Friday (Feb 11).

Mr Chakrapani, who is married with three children, runs Mano Equestrian Services, which distributes products related to horses and other animals.

He has won many business awards, including Rising Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018, and was SICCI’s honorary treasurer for the term 2018 to 2020.

Mr Chakrapani said he only knew about the allegations of harassment during a board meeting in July 2019.

His lawyer, Mr Anand Kumar Toofani Beldar, said in his opening statement: “The revelation came as a shock not only to Mano but to the entire board, and Mano was subsequently asked to leave SICCI in shame.”

Mr Barathan’s lawyer, Mr R. S. Bajwa, said that at the May 6 meeting, employees spoke out about Mr Chakrapani’s behaviour but also stated that they did not wish to pursue the matter.

Mr Barathan conveyed this to SICCI chairman T. Chandroo and was told to close the matter.

However, word got out about the allegations.

In July, a board member, Mr Anil Murkoth Changaroth, asked Ms Priya for the minutes of the meeting. Ms Priya sought Mr Barathan’s permission and he gave her the go ahead.

Another board member, Dr Komathy Rajaratnam, spoke to some of the employees and raised the issue at the board meeting on July 25, 2019.

Mr Barathan was then instructed to circulate the minutes to all the board members.

Mr Chakrapani said he was “prematurely forced to vacate” his position on Aug 6, 2019.

On Jan 29, 2020, eight employees signed a declaration not to pursue the matter any further.

Mr Chakrapani sued Mr Barathan and Ms Priya on Aug 13, 2020.

Mr Bajwa argued that the May 6 meeting was covered under the defence of qualified privilege.

He said that Mr Barathan had a duty to hold the meeting to investigate allegations of improper behaviour.

Mr Bajwa also argued that the minutes amounted to fair comment, as there was a public interest in letting the public know about the behaviour of the officials of an organisation which represents the Indian business community in Singapore.

Ms Priya’s lawyer, Mr Michael S. Chia, said the minutes were not defamatory and reflected what was stated at the meeting.

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