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KUALA LUMPUR, March 26 — Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has filed a defamation lawsuit against media outlet Malaysiakini to seek RM220 million in compensation over the publishing of news reports on his corruption trial and its readers’ comments about him.
In the defamation lawsuit filed at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur on March 24, Zahid, who is the former deputy prime minister and also currently the Bagan Datuk MP, named three defendants, namely Malaysiakini’s company Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd, its editor-in-chief Steven Gan and a reporter.
In court papers for Zahid’s defamation suit, which were sighted by Malay Mail, his lawyers singled out 22 articles published by Malaysiakini for allegedly containing defamatory elements relating to Zahid’s trial.
The 22 articles listed in the court papers included seven news reports by national news agency Bernama all in Bahasa Malaysia, news reports by Malaysiakini all in Bahasa Malaysia, and also an article containing Malaysiakini’s readers’ comments which were in English.
Among other things, Zahid claimed the articles to be false and were allegedly published with malice, further claiming that the articles and readers’ comments had harmed his reputation as an MP responsible for ensuring the people’s welfare.
Zahid also claimed that the allegedly defamatory articles and comments had caused him to be criticised and brought about a loss of confidence in society towards him, also claiming that the publishing of such articles had lowered his dignity as the Umno president, Barisan Nasional chairman and Bagan Datuk MP and allegedly caused his credibility to be questioned by the public.
In his defamation lawsuit filed through his lawyers Shahrul Hamidi & Haziq, Zahid said he was seeking general damages or compensation of RM10 million each for all 22 articles or a total of RM220 million, as well as aggravated damages, and exemplary damages.
Also as part of the defamation lawsuit, Zahid sought for a court order for the articles to be removed immediately, as well as injunctions to prevent the publishing of the articles and comments and to prevent the publishing of further defamatory articles and comments on his trial.
He also sought for court orders for Malaysiakini, its editor-in-chief and its reporter to publish a written unconditional apology using terms to be determined by Zahid in newspapers of his choice.
In the court papers, Zahid’s lawyers said 21 letters of demands had been sent on August 17, 2020 to Malaysiakini over the articles to demand compensation totalling RM210 million, as well as unconditional retraction of the articles and a written apology in newspapers, among other things.
Zahid’s lawyers said Malaysiakini’s lawyers had in a letter dated August 28, 2020 responded by denying that any law had been breached over the articles, with Zahid’s lawyers indicating in the defamation lawsuit that court action was needed to stop the publication of the articles.
Today, in reporting on the filing of Zahid’s defamation lawsuit, Malaysiakini said however that its lawyers had in the August 2020 response sought further clarification on which parts of the articles were allegedly defamatory.
“Your notices of demand do not make it clear the particular words and or comments in the appendices which are alleged to be defamatory of your client, but make a general statement that all those news reports bear the same meanings, and are alleged to be defamatory to your client,” Malaysiakini quoted its lawyer K. Shanmuga as writing.
Malaysiakini today also said that Zahid’s lawyers had not responded to the request for clarification, but had in the defamation lawsuit filed last week singled out the parts in the articles and the readers’ comments that they believed were defamatory against Zahid.
Zahid, who is also a former home minister, is facing 47 charges in the trial mentioned in his defamation lawsuit.
The 47 charges are 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds where he is a trustee, 27 counts of money laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges.
Zahid’s trial had started on November 18, 2019, with 99 prosecution witnesses having testified over 53 days of trial. Hundreds of documents were presented by the prosecution during trial.
The prosecution on March 19, 2021 rested its case, with the High Court then fixing May 28 for both the prosecution and the defence to file in their written submissions, and June 11 for both sides to file in replies to the written submissions.
The High Court also fixed five days for oral submissions on June 28, 29, 30 and July 1 and 2 for lawyers from both sides to present their final arguments, before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah decides on whether the prosecution had made out its prima facie case and whether Zahid would be called to enter his defence.
A decision at the end of the prosecution case would be on whether there is a sufficient case for Zahid to be called to enter his defence or whether he would be freed of the charges.