KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 1 — The National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp) and its chairman Datuk Seri Mohamad Salleh Ismail today failed in their final bid in their defamation lawsuit against PKR MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and PKR.
The Federal Court today unanimously ruled that Nurul Izzah and PKR as represented by its secretary-general Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail did not defame NFCorp or Salleh, as Nurul Izzah’s 2012 remarks were mostly focused on Salleh’s politician wife and former Lembah Pantai MP Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil instead, a report by news portal Malaysiakini said.
NFCorp previously received a RM250 million soft loan from the federal government to run the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) project to increase Malaysia’s beef production, and had in February 2008 shifted around RM71 million of unused funds from the RM250 million loan to NFCorp’s fixed deposit account at Public Bank.
In a March 7, 2012, Nurul Izzah who was then the Lembah Pantai MP had in a press conference spoke about the high-end project KL Eco City, and had among other things touched on then PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli’s allegation that government funds for the NFC project were used as leverage to secure loans to buy condominium units in KL Eco City.
Nurul Izzah’s statements in her March 2012 press conference were published on the same day by Malaysiakini’s online television service, with NFCorp and Salleh later filing the defamation lawsuit.
The High Court in Kuala Lumpur on March 4, 2016 dismissed the defamation suit by Salleh and NFCorp against Nurul Izzah and Saifuddin as PKR’s representative, after having looked at the statement as a whole which the court found was not defamatory of Salleh and NFCorp. The High Court had found that Nurul Izzah would have also succeeded in relying on the defence of justification.
On July 10, 2017, the Court of Appeal agreed with and affirmed the High Court’s decision.
NFCorp and Salleh later obtained leave in March 2018 from the Federal Court to have their appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision heard, with the Federal Court hearing the appeal on December 3, 2020 through an online hearing before delivering its decision today.
According to Malaysiakini, the three-member panel at the Federal Court was chaired by Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Mohd Zawawi Salleh, with the other judges being Datuk Seri Hasnah Mohammed Hashim and Datuk Harmindar Singh Dhaliwal.
In the unanimous decision to dismiss the defamation lawsuit by NFCorp and Salleh, Harmindar, who read out the judgment today, had reportedly said that both the High Court and Court of Appeal were correct to conclude that Nurul Izzah’s remarks as a whole were not defamatory towards NFCorp and Salleh.
According to Malaysiakini, Harmindar said an ordinary, reasonable reader would not have paid attention to the mere single sentence — which was alleged to have defamed NFCorp and Salleh — in Nurul Izzah’s entire lengthy statement in 2012, as such a reader would only be focused on the major part of the statement which was about Shahrizat. At that time, Shahrizat was the women, family and community development minister of Malaysia.
The judge reportedly said the single sentence complained of in NFCorp’s defamation suit was meant to only be a “precursor or introduction” by Nurul Izzah to the “main sting” of her press statement, where the one line touched on Rafizi’s revelation on alleged funds misuse which Nurul Izzah had said raised new questions on alleged possible conflict of interest by Shahrizat in the condominiums’ purchase.
Malaysiakini said the Federal Court judge also noted that Shahrizat had not filed lawsuits over such allegations except for a lawsuit against Rafizi for the statements he had made.
“For these reasons, we would agree with the findings of the Court of Appeal and dismiss the appeal,” Harmindar was quoted saying.
Apart from finding that Nurul Izzah and PKR had not defamed NFCorp and Salleh, the judge was reported saying that both Nurul Izzah and her party had managed to prove their defence of justification in the defamation lawsuit.
While NFCorp and Salleh had argued it was misleading to state that the RM71.4 million of public funds held in NFCorp’s fixed deposit account in Public Bank had been used as leverage to secure loan facilities from the same bank to buy eight property units at KL Eco City at the present market value of RM12 million, Malaysiakini reported the judge as saying that this argument had failed.
“With respect, the overwhelming inference from what transpired at the trial is that this cannot be true. It is certainly not a coincidence that the loan facilities came from the same bank where the RM71.4 million deposit was placed.
“It is common knowledge that banks will not simply offer loans unless they are satisfied that the customer seeking the loans is in a position to repay them,” the judge was quoted saying, with the judge also refuting the idea that banks would only require property titles to be provided to secure bank loans.
Malaysiakini also quoted the judge as noting the significance of Salleh having failed to disclose the source of his income to fund the purchase of the eight units of condominiums when challenged to do so, apart from making bare assertions.
Harmindar also reportedly said Salleh should have called in Public Bank to back his claims on the bank loan offer in light of the “possible damaging inferences” that may arise from the RM71.4 million deposit NFCorp had in the bank, adding: “It was therefore plain on the evidence that the appellants had used the RM71.4 million deposit as leverage for obtaining the loans from Public Bank.”
The judge was also quoted saying that it was “of little consequence” that the loan offer by Public Bank for the purchase of the eight properties had expired, noting that it would “not be farfetched” to deduce from all the evidence available in the court case that there has been “misuse of public funds for personal gain”.
Malaysiakini said NFCorp and Salleh were ordered by the Federal Court to pay RM50,000 in costs to Nurul Izzah and PKR.
Nurul Izzah, who is now Permatang Pauh MP, and Saifuddin Nasution were represented in a legal team led by lawyer Razlan Hadri Zulkifli, while the legal team for NFCorp and Salleh was led by lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.