Firm sues The Edge for RM100m, wants sources revealed

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 25 — A firm bidding to manage Malaysia’s fuel subsidy rationalisation programme today demanded that The Edge Financial Daily reveal its sources in an allegedly defamatory article, in a RM100 million suit which may have wide ranging repercussions for journalism in the country.

Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is representing Fuelsubs House Sdn Bhd, said a letter of demand will be sent to The Edge tomorrow to compel the publication to reveal the sources which leaked details of a Cabinet meeting discussion as well as for damages resulting from the article.

According to Muhammad Shafee the country’s media law does not protect journalists’ sources and the court can compel journalists to reveal sources especially when official secrets are revealed.

“Quite shockingly, they have reported as if they know what was going on with the Cabinet and the decision of the Cabinet, the discussion in the Cabinet, they seem to have revealed that.

“We do not know whether this is true or not because as you know Cabinet meeting is secret, it is covered by Official Secrets Act (OSA).

“So if they really got this information, we would like to know which minister actually revealed this to them, if he was a minister, how they got this information is what we would like to find out, apart from us suing them for defamation because the publication is almost calculated to injure Fuelsubs House and Datasonic consortium,” he told reporters at his office in Bukit Tunku.

On August 19, The Edge published an article, “Award of fuel subsidy job on hold”, where it quoted unnamed sources revealing that a Cabinet meeting the week before did not reach a consensus on the award of the contract to Fuelsubs, deemed the front runner for the job.

The story was reported by Jose Barrock and Terence Fernandez who shared a byline.

The firm is also suing news portal, The Malaysian Insider (TMI) and a blog which carried similar stories, for RM100 million each.

Muhammad Shafee said the firm will file a suit against TMI sometime this week after it refused to apologise over its July 15 article, “Umno-linked firm frontrunner bidding to manage fuel subsidies”.

The lawyer said a letter of demand will also be sent to the blog, ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ tomorrow, which carried a similar story.

Both The Edge and the blog will have 14 days to respond to the letter of demand. Fuelsubs is demanding that an apology be published in “appropriate newspapers” as well as payment of damages resulting from the article.

The article is angled in such a way that the public would be seriously concerned if the project were to go to Fuelsubs House when in fact there is no such concern, he said.

“I think the only concern perhaps maybe one or two individuals who are interested in this project.

“So, this has been sort of tailored to meet some other people’s interest, it is not a serious reporting and that’s what my client is very upset about,” he said.

His client is suing for defamation and also injurious falsehood that affects business reputation.

He also added that if Fuelsubs wins, it will donate the entire sum, minus the costs, to orphanages and old folks homes, which have yet to be identified.

The fuel subsidy rationalisation scheme involves the implementation of a selective fuel subsidy programme targeting lower income groups.

The Edge reported that a listed company, Datasonic Group Bhd, had in June entered into an agreement to acquire as much as a 30 per cent stake in Fuelsubs for RM10 million, should it win the fuel subsidy management contract.

About 70 per cent of Fuelsubs, which was registered in November 2013, is controlled by Habibul Rahman Kadir Shah, and almost 25 per cent by Datuk Razali Merican Naina Merican while some 5 per cent of the company is controlled by Zaid Kedershah, the financial daily reported. 

Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is representing Fuelsubs House Sdn Bhd,  speaks to reporters on August 25, 2014. — Picture by Melissa Chi
Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is representing Fuelsubs House Sdn Bhd, speaks to reporters on August 25, 2014. — Picture by Melissa Chi