Judge floors Boxing SA

11 June 2014 - 02:01 By David Isaacson
Branco Milenkovic during the Bantamweight match at Carousel Casino in Temba, South Africa
Branco Milenkovic during the Bantamweight match at Carousel Casino in Temba, South Africa
Image: Lefty Shivambu

Top boxing promoter Branco Milenkovic has been awarded record damages after suing Boxing SA and its suspended CEO for defamation.

Johannesburg High Court judge Margaret Victor yesterday ordered BSA and Moffat Qithi to pay Milenkovic R500000 - R250000 apiece - for two comments made by Qithi, which she found to be defamatory and "inspired by malice".

Milenkovic's attorney, David Swartz of Phillip Silver and Associates, said it was the biggest defamation award in South African legal history. It surpasses the R200000 initially awarded to Robert McBride, which was later cut to R50000 on appeal.

The judge also ordered BSA - which is heavily dependent on government funding - to pay all costs, which are estimated to be more than R2-million.

Milenkovic was represented in the trial by two advocates, one of whom was high-profile Senior Counsel Laurance Hodes.

Qithi, suspended as BSA CEO last year for failing to disclose he had a criminal record before applying for the R100000-a-month job, was quoted in two newspaper articles in mid-2012 on female fighter Noni Tenge being stripped of her IBF world title for inactivity.

In the one story he claimed Milenkovic was to blame for her being stripped, and in the other he claimed Milenkovic had breached his contract with the boxer.

But the judge found the promoter had done all he could to try to organise a fight before she was stripped, and that it was BSA that had "intervened" at SABC.

The national broadcaster would normally pay TV rights, which are a critical source of funding for promoters to stage tournaments.

Milenkovic even approached Qithi detailing the problems he was experiencing, but the CEO's reply in an e-mail - "thanks, Branco" - demonstrated an uninterested attitude on his part.

"In my view this response showed a very nonchalant attitude to something that is very important," said the judge.

"His comments were inspired by malice," she said. "The plaintiff [Milenkovic] was a good witness. He was consistent in what he told the court."

But the judge was less impressed by Qithi's testimony: "It was very difficult to find consistency in his version of events."

BSA acting CEO Loyiso Mtya declined to comment after the judgment. "I won't say anything."

Milenkovic has another suit against BSA pending, challenging them over ownership of TV rights.

Promoters have historically owned broadcast rights, but cash-strapped BSA tried usurping these two years ago. SABC, awaiting the outcome of the trial, has shown no boxing since then.