Harry Triguboff sues AFR after CBRE disparaged Meriton apartment stock as "lower quality product"

Harry Triguboff sues AFR after CBRE disparaged Meriton apartment stock as "lower quality product"
Harry Triguboff sues AFR after CBRE disparaged Meriton apartment stock as "lower quality product"

The Australian Financial Review Rich Lister Harry Triguboff has sued Fairfax Media complaining the newspaper had gravely injured his character and reputation, and he had suffered hurt and embarrassment, and will continue to suffer loss and damage.

The matter complained of was an article headlined “Developers offer stamp duty discounts as off-the plan apartment sales slow” published last August.

The article quoted managing director of CBRE Residential Projects, David Milton saying "developers who rely heavily on foreign buyers or sell poorer quality stock tend to revert to these tactics.

Meriton have been selling stock overseas and haven’t focused on the local market and for property developers like Meriton, in order to sell lower quality products, they have to offer discounts,” Milton said.

The article added while Sydney apartment sales had slowed overall compared to the frenzied years of 2003 and 2014 – given higher foreign buyer surcharges and cut in bank lending to investors – David Milton said apartments were still selling at healthy levels, particularly those in good locations and are well developed.

The article included an artist’s impression of a Meriton project in Pagewood and Meriton's Altitude apartments in Parramatta.

Triguboff submitted that the defamatory condition attributed to him is his conduct in running a business that produces low quality products.

He submitted that the "quote in the article from CBRE was the primary part of the article where the allegation of discounting by reason of low quality is made and is clearly capable of being carried."

He submitted that an "allegation that a person who in the business of making something produces something that is low quality is clearly capable of being defamatory."

But Triguboff's claim failed as the article didn't mention him by name but only made critical comments about his company, Meriton.

Companies with more than 10 employees cannot sue for defamation.

Triguboff's legal team, Ms S Chrysanthou with Mr N Olson assisted by lawyer Mark O'Brien argued that given his name was so synonymous with the Meriton brand, he could reasonably be personally identified as the target of claims about the company.

He cited Matthew Lennartz; Andrew Hope; Tim Franzen; Nichola Malouf; and Walter Gordon as readers who who both read the matter complained of and identified the applicant, Harry Triguboff.

It was submitted by Mr Triguboff that evidence would most likely not be required to establish, for example, that Mr James Packer was identified by a publication which referred to Crown Casino, because of the notoriety of his connection with that business.

Fairfax Media lawyers argued that the pleaded imputations lack the necessary “defamatory sting”, because it was not defamatory of a company or its management to say that a company (and thus effectively, on this alternative argument, Mr Triguboff) produces something of “low quality”.

Fairfax argued that the term used in the article was merely descriptive, and not a statement reflecting adversely on Mr Triguboff’s conduct of his business.

Fairfax was represented by Banki Haddock Fiora, with barristers, Mr A T S Dawson SC with Ms S Jeliba.

Federal Court Justice Robert Bromwich noted the article suggested that developers such as Meriton sometimes address a slow-down in sales of poorer quality apartments by offering stamp duty discounts.
 
But he ruled that a reference to a company can't be seen as automatically a reference to those who run or own it, "however notorious the fact of that ownership". 
 
The article had quoted Meriton director of sales James Sialepis saying it was not unusual for developers such as Meriton to offer incentives occasionally and was not an indication that there was a glut of apartments or a potential major correction in prices.
Tags: 
Harry Triguboff CBRE

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