Ending a sorry chapter in Cayman publishing

Everybody knew and nobody told.

By “everybody,” we include every leading Caymanian politician, every reporter, every editor, the pensions board, the health insurance board and the work permit board. They all knew and all kept quiet.

We refer, of course, to the despicable behavior of Desmond Seales, now deceased, then publisher of the Cayman Net News, now also deceased.

Four years after his passing, Mr. Seales and his company Cayman Net Ltd. are back in the news, this time in a Summary Court decision last week that resulted in an unknown number of Mr. Seales’s former employees being bilked out of their pensions.

Mr. Seales routinely did not pay his pension contributions, his health insurance contributions or, far too often, even the salaries of his desperate and near destitute employees. And the Cayman Islands government looked the other way. He continued to apply for — and regularly receive — new work permits for unwitting foreign workers.

We’re not questioning the legal judgment of Magistrate Grace Donalds or prosecuting Crown Counsel Kenneth Ferguson, who accepted the argument that since Cayman Net Ltd. was recently struck off the Companies Registry, “this entity, in legal terms, does not exist.”

No company, ergo, no charges. Case dismissed. Too bad for the employees, who according to the charges, were owed money from several time periods between August 2007 and February 2010.

We do, however, question how it is possible for a company, in the midst of pension-related court proceedings that began in June 2010, to be approved for dissolution without the judge’s involvement. Regardless of legality, it makes a mockery of government’s pretenses of enforcing laws on pensions and health insurance.

Meanwhile, even though the company “in legal terms, does not exist,” the Net News website remains online (with the domain name good until December 2014), and its Trade and Business License, as of February, remained valid through October.

With the government sidelined from a game it created, it now appears that the ex-employees will have to seek redress on their own in civil court. That, of course, means that people who claim they are owed money must now retain attorneys at their own expense. If there ever were a civil case where Legal Aid should be provided, this is it.

The media, including the Caymanian Compass, have a special cross to bear in the Desmond Seales saga. While Mr. Seales committed the worst of journalistic sins — he regularly threatened potential advertisers that if they didn’t sign up, he would punish them by publishing negative stories about them in his newspaper — the media were voluntarily voiceless.

Collectively they turned their backs on Mr. Seales’s victims, not only failing to fulfill their raison d’être of “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted,” but also failing to protect people who were colleagues and, in many cases, future coworkers.

The media’s motivations for silence — be it to avoid impugning a rival (if rogue) publisher or drawing tortious ripostes — are of no consequence. When the media condoned Mr. Seales’s behavior at Net News from 1999 to 2010, it committed passive breaches of professional ethics every bit as serious as Mr. Seales’s active ones.

Just as the people of Cayman should no longer tolerate employers withholding payments to employees, neither should they tolerate the media’s willful withholding of truths, especially ones as vicious as Mr. Seales’s wrongdoings. 

1 COMMENT

  1. You are stating that everyone knew about the Netnews situation,including the media. Well, if you are really on top of your profession as investigative journalists, then, provide the names of all people that were hidden behind their respective boards mentioned in your comment. By doing so, you would certainly prove that you are very dedicated to your field and the people in question would be able to explain why this situation fell through the cracks. Those workers who lost so much deserves more than a few comments.

  2. I am not entirely convinced that this criticism of the media is fair.

    The Compass in particular published some very unflattering stories about Net News. Possibly the most memorable story was about the bust up at CAL in 2007 and the numerous libel writs that followed. In fact I honestly doubt that a robust media campaign to expose what was going at Net News would have done anything but boost Desmond’s reputation.

    The real fault lies with the many civil servants and politicians who were quite simply scared of Desmond. His belief that knowledge is power and claims about keeping dirt on everyone that counted, which (as Charles Clifford found out) he would use if pushed ensured that he was effectively untouchable. I personally handled a couple of very embarrassing investigations that never appeared in print because the material was more use to him as leverage than headlines. No one would have dared to refuse him a work permit or try to revoke his Trade and Business Licence because of the potential repercussions.

    Remember that in addition to the pension and health insurance issues in 2008 Net News was reported for numerous breaches of the immigration rules, including employing several staff without valid work permits. Nothing happened about that.

    And that fear of reprisals seems to have reached some very high levels. In October 2008, Net News published a series of three editorial opinions relating to the on-going Tempura investigation and specifically to matters that at the time were before the Grand Court. In what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to prejudice at least one person’s right to a fair trial the newspaper wrote numerous editorials from Miami, named and attacked Crown witnesses while commenting on matters that were still to be heard by a Judge and Jury. Again nothing was done to stop it.

    The banks might also be found at fault here. Despite the fact that Net News was rapidly failing they did nothing. At one point while I was there the finances were being juggled through an elaborate shell game involving three separate bank accounts, all overdrawn.

    Whatever the failings of the media they pale to insignificance in comparison to the failings of others who could have intervened and stopped the rot at Net News.

    Pierre, as for naming those responsible – libel is still a criminal offence in the Cayman Islands and there is a huge difference between knowing something and proving it. I could name at least six senior figures in CIG who were manipulated by Desmond but there is absolutely no way I would be able to back that up to the satisfaction of a Court.

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