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10 APRIL 2024

Monday, October 31, 2022

Court dismisses Terengganu Sultanah’s defamation suit against Rewcastle Brown, 2 others


Terengganu’s Sultanah Nur Zahirah sued Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle Brown and two others for defamation.

KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court has dismissed a defamation suit brought by Terengganu’s Sultanah Nur Zahirah against Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle Brown and two others.

Judicial commissioner Lee Kien How @ Johan Abdullah said a statement in a book, “The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose” was not defamatory.

“To my mind the plaintiff’s reputation was not degraded,” he said in an oral decision delivered online this evening.

The impugned statement read: “(Fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low) was also friendly with a key player in Terengganu, the wife of the sultan, whose acquiescence was needed to set up the fund and he later cited her support as having been crucial to his obtaining the advisory position.”

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The judge also ordered RM80,000 in costs to be paid to Rewcastle Brown, publisher Chong Ton Sin, and printer Vinlin Press Sdn Bhd.

In her defence, Rewcastle Brown claimed that she had made an “honest mistake” when identifying the “key player” in the impugned statement as the “wife of the Sultan”. She claimed that she ought to have referred to the Sultan’s sister instead.

Delivering his ruling, Johan noted that Rewcastle Brown had apologised for the mistaken identity.

He said the defendants’ case was also that the statements did not have any defamatory imputation.

They had also raised several other defences, including justification, qualified privilege, the “Reynolds” defence, “bane and antidote”, and the “Lucas Box” defence.

“However, it is my finding that most of the defences are not applicable in our present case,” he added.

Johan said bearing in mind that the cause of action is based on the ordinary and natural meaning of the words and not legal innuendo, no extrinsic facts were admissible to analyse the statements in the book.

“The court could only decide from the perspective of a reasonable reader. Only the natural inference from a literal meaning of the statements could be accepted,” he said.

“No ‘inference upon inference’ could be accepted,” he added.

Despite the factual error, he said the statement by Rewcastle Brown that the plaintiff consented or agreed to the establishment of the sovereign wealth fund did not degrade her reputation in any way.

Likewise, he said a person would not be discredited in any way simply because he or she supported someone for a job, especially given that such support, including by way of letters of support, is very much part of Malaysian culture.

Moreover, Johan said it was Low himself who claimed he had the support of the Sultanah for the position.

“To sum up, I see no defamatory imputation from the statements although there was obviously a matter of mistaken identity. Thus, the plaintiff’s case is hereby dismissed,” he said.

The Sultanah commenced a RM100 million defamation suit in 2018, claiming Rewcastle Brown had made a disparaging statement about her in the book.

The book, which tells the story behind Sarawak Report’s investigations into the 1MDB scandal, was written by Rewcastle Brown.

The Sultanah claimed the statement suggested she was involved in corrupt practices and had interfered in Terengganu’s administration, besides using her status to influence the establishment of the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), as 1MDB was formerly known.

The Sultanah also alleged that the statement could also be construed to mean that she had helped Low secure his position as adviser to TIA.

Apart from the Sultanah, two other witnesses testified for the plaintiff, while Rewcastle Brown and a language expert testified for the defendants.

Lawyers Haaziq Pillay Abdullah and Vishnu Kumar represented the Sultanah while Americk Sidhu and Mervyn Lai appeared for the defendants. - FMT

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