KOTA KINABALU, Feb 1 — Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob claimed today that he was never contacted by the Sabah Wildlife Department to give his statement on a controversial Umno dinner last year where turtle eggs were served.
The minister said he had not been given any letter or phone call to come forward, and that reports claiming that he was avoiding the authorities and hampering investigations was defamatory.
“They never contacted me for the statement. The report in the newspaper, to me, it’s defamation. I was not contacted by letter or by telephone. How can they publish that I am avoiding it?” he told reporters before attending a dinner here today.
Ismail Sabri said that he agreed with Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun that no one was above the law.
He pointed out that he previously cooperated with the police when reports were made against him for his controversial remarks on boycotting profiteering Chinese businessmen.
“During that case, I went to Bukit Aman to give my statement. Nobody is above the law, I am not above the law. If I need to give a statement, I will. To say that I have been avoiding it, and giving excuses, is wrong,” he said.
The minister said his lawyers were drafting up papers to sue the newspaper that published the report last week.
Last week, local Sabah paper Daily Express reported that Ismail Sabri and Kuala Penyu assemblyman Limus Jury may face arrest if they do not cooperate with the Sabah Wildlife Department’s investigations. Limus had admitted to being at the dinner but said he was not seated at the main table where the eggs were being served.
The report said it had “learnt that the two have been giving excuses such as that they are busy with other commitments.”
In November last year, several photos were posted on the Walai Penyu Resort Libaran Facebook page showing Ismail Sabri and Umno Beluran division chief Datuk James Ratib, among others, seated at a restaurant with turtle eggs and lobsters placed on the “Lazy Susan” in front of them.
The photo was believed to have been taken during the Umno Beluran division meeting dinner in August at Restoran Indah Keranamu, in Sandakan. However, Ismail Sabri denied consuming the eggs due to his high cholesterol level.
It is illegal to consume or to be in possession of turtle eggs in Sabah.
The Sabah Wildlife Department has promised to probe the case and bring the culprits to justice, but investigations have been hampered due to lack of evidence.
Turtles and its products are a totally protected species under Sabah’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment and Section 41 of the enactment states it is an offence to possess these animals or its products.
Offenders can be fined RM50,000 or jailed five years, or both, upon conviction.