KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 — The High Court has today dismissed former attorney-general (AG) Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali’s defamation suit against veteran DAP lawmaker Lim Kit Siang over an article on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal published in 2019.
High Court Judge Datuk Azimah Omar found the Iskandar Puteri MP not liable for defamation in the article titled, “Dangerous fallacy to think Malaysia is on the road to integrity”, in which Lim implied Mohamed Apandi was "involved in a crime".
“This court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant with cost,” Azimah said in her decision.
The court also ordered Mohamed Apandi to pay RM80,000 in cost to Lim.
In delivering her lengthy decision, Azimah said Lim was justified in raising the issue of the 1MDB scandal, especially following the conviction of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in the RM42 million SRC International Sdn Bhd’s corruption case back in 2020.
She further noted that Najib’s conviction was also upheld by the Court of Appeal last year.
Among others, Azimah said Lim has successfully proved his defence of fair comment and qualified privilege.
“It is well known that calls to investigate and charge those involved in the 1MDB scandal have echoed through the proper channels for many years.
“A task force involving the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission), police and AGC (Attorney General’s Chambers) was set up to investigate and make appropriate recommendations on how best to curtail the 1MDB scandal.
“It is apparent this complaint to proper channels had for years fallen on deaf ears until the plaintiff was removed from his position when Barisan Nasional (government) fell in the 14th general election.
This court must also highlight that not one person was prosecuted for the 1MDB scandal under the plaintiff’s tenure,” she said.
The learned judge also pointed out that Lim was justified in questioning Mohamed Apandi’s dismissive attitude to act on 1MDB and subsequently exonerated Najib of any criminal wrongdoings.
Mohamed Apandi was appointed AG on July 27, 2015 replacing Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail whose tenure was terminated due to health reasons. His service was terminated on June 4, 2018 following the change in federal government.
Mohamed Apandi held a press conference on January 26, 2016 in which he announced he was satisfied that no criminal offence has been committed by Najib based on the facts and evidence as can be found in the Investigation Paper (IP) at the material time.
Azimah said the court could not ignore the “glaring peculiarities” of the plaintiff’s conduct as AG to seek mutual legal assistance (MLA) from foreign countries during the 1MDB probe.
Citing the plaintiff’s testimony during cross-examination, Azimah said the plaintiff had admitted it was “imperative” to seek MLA from foreign countries on the 1MDB probe yet instead blatantly refused to do so when offered by both the United State’s Department of Justice and the Swiss government at the material time.
Furthermore, Azimah pointed out it was also the plaintiff himself who marked the case as ‘No Future Action’ or ‘Kemas Untuk Simpan’ in Bahasa Malaysia against the recommendations of task-force investigators at the material time.
“Indeed, the plaintiff’s action and inaction seemed to have assisted 1MDB and those (purportedly) involved.
“The defendant (Lim) had concrete evidence to justify his statement, and the evidence gave reasonable grounds to investigate the plaintiff for cover-ups in 1MDB.
“The AG must be proactive, fearless and act rigorously ensuring no measure of corruption and crime should ever be left unchecked,” she said, adding that it was perplexing for the plaintiff to insist on concluding the ongoing investigations when there were questions still left unanswered.
For today’s hearing, Mohamed Apandi was represented by lawyer M. Visvanathan while Lim was accompanied by lawyer Ramkarpal Singh who were both present through video-conferencing.
Kit Siang reprimanded for absence
Before the decision was delivered, Azimah had earlier reprimanded Lim’s lawyers for failing to ensure their client turned up for today’s civil suit hearing.
Voicing her disapproval over Lim’s absence, Azimah insisted that due respect should be given to the court.
“Where is the defendant? Did he know today was for decision? Has he filed to this court he was to be absent for whatever reasons?” Azimah asked.
To that end, Lim’s lawyer Sangeet Kaur Deo said her client was indeed aware of the matter and his legal team was present on his behalf.
However, Azimah still insisted that Lim should have been in court for the decision, while refusing to deliver her grounds of judgment until Lim showed up.
Sangeet then requested the court to allow her client to be present for the hearing through video-conferencing as an alternative, while apologising profusely to the court for the shortcomings.
“Due respect has to be given to the court. The court has notified him (Lim) of the date of decision. You cannot take this kind of situation lightly. That's not it.
“No, no, I'm not going to deliver my decision. I'm ready with my decision; in fact, I am ready with my 100 pages of grounds of judgment. I insist he be here.
“He is a parliamentary man. He should have known the law. As a defendant, he should have some respect for this court. I want him to be here personally. I'm not happy about it,” Azimah said.
On July 5, 2019, Mohamed Apandi sued Lim, claiming that on May 6, 2019, Lim had written and caused to be published an article titled “Dangerous fallacy to think Malaysia’s on the road to integrity” in Malaysiakini.
He claimed that the alleged libellous words in the article implied that he was involved in crime and had abetted in the 1MDB financial scandal, was a person with no morals and integrity, was unethical and had abused his power when he was the AG.
Mohamed Apandi, who was the AG from July 27, 2015 to June 4, 2018, contended that the libellous words were untrue and written with the intention of tarnishing his image and credibility as a former Malaysian AG for cheap publicity.
He is seeking aggravated and exemplary damages, as well as RM10 million in general damages, an injunction to prevent Lim and/or his agents from publishing the alleged defamatory words again and other relief deemed fit by the court.