Anwar wins defamation suit against NSTP

Written by Chua Sue-Ann, The Edge 

The Kuala Lumpur High Court today awarded RM100,000 in compensatory damages to opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, after ruling in the latter’s favour in a defamation suit against New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd (NSTP) and its former group editor-in-chief Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad.

In his ruling, Judicial Commissioner Harmindar Singh Dhaliwall said the RM100 million sought by Anwar was a “gross exaggeration” and ordered NSTP to pay the RM100,000 with costs and 8% per annum interest until full settlement.

Harmindar also said the article in question was “not a piece of responsible journalism” and was not reported in a fair, neutral and disinterested manner.

Anwar filed the suit on July 4, 2003 against NSTP and Abdullah over an article published in the New Straits Times on March 2, 2002, bearing the title “Anwar’s link to US lobbyist”.

The article claimed Anwar had stashed RM3 billion in foreign accounts and had links with an alleged Washington DC lobbyist as well as financial ties with an organisation known as the Asia Pacific Policy Centre (APPC) headed by Douglas H Paal.

It also touched on allegations made in a statutory declaration by Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid, who is former assistant governor of Bank Negara Malaysia.

The opposition leader, who took to the stand as the first witness, contended that the article had defamed him and portrayed him as disloyal to Malaysia, corrupt and an American agent.

During submissions on Nov 12, Anwar’s lead counsel Karpal Singh had submitted that Anwar’s evidence was supported by the testimony by the former Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) director of investigations Datuk Abdul Razak Idris.

Abdul Razak told the court that the ACA had investigated allegations made by Abdul Murad and subsequently cleared Anwar of allegations that the latter had RM3 billion in foreign accounts and links to Western interests.

Karpal also argued that NSTP’s defence of qualified privilege cannot sustain as the group did not practice “responsible journalism”.

NSTP’s lead counsel Nad Segaram argued the article was not libelous and that New Straits Times had qualified privilege to publish the article and dismissed arguments that the newspaper had acted in mala fide (bad faith).

The New Straits Times article by its then writer Datin Rose Ismail was a follow-up piece on an article in the March 2002 issue of political weekly magazine New Republic “The Bush Administration’s dubious envoy to Taiwan”, Nad submitted.

Nad also maintained that the article was not defamatory to Anwar if it were read as whole and in its ordinary meaning.