More rope to hang Lukas Straumann?



It appears that there will be more rope to hang Bruno Manser Fund’s Dr Lukas Straumann for the defamatory statements made in recent weeks against Sarawak governor Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Bruno Manser Fund and Sarawak Report have been challenging Taib to sue them, and claiming that a lack of a lawsuit so far “proves” their case. Which sort of makes sense, provided you don’t think very hard.

They seem to calculate that a Governor, particularly one as proud of his shiny new job as Taib, won’t sue. But more to the point, they would get huge publicity and financial support – notably amongst wealthy activists in Europe – if they could run around claiming that they themselves were under attack.

What they hardly ever point out is that he already HAS sued and won [against Malaysiakini], specifically on the main issue that they hang their hats on: Their claim that Taib set up his brother to control and demand kickbacks from log exports was disproved.

This is probably the biggest single allegation made by Sarawak Report, BMF and Global Witness that has already been tested in court and thrown out. Yet they continue to make it, almost always without telling their readers that it has been disproved.

The Malaysiakini apology is there, and it looks as if Malaysiakini has just woken up to how legally exposed they are by their aggressive stance in repeating the foreigners assertions. If you yourself retract an attack, assert it wasn’t true, and apologise, you are on very weak ground.

And it is emerging that time is on Taib’s side. If an Australian university chancellor writes that he has read, believed, and acted upon the activists’ output, to the detriment of Taib, it cranks up the pressure on the authors. When the authors publicise this, it seems like a hit, but makes the pressure greater still. And when the activists hide from the public information that balances or defeats their claims, they give the Taib camp the opportunity to point this out.

So what game is Taib’s lawyers playing? At a casual breakfast chat with lawyers in Kuala Lumpur, BlogTakes was made to understand why it might be that the London law firm has yet to institute the suit against the Swiss NGO activist. It looks like they are playing smart in the street fight.

“They will want to give Straumann more rope to hang himself,” said a prominent lawyer specialising in litigation cases who is following reports published in Internet news portals. “When one suggests ‘Mafia’, one is really taking ‘defamatory’ to the sky.”

But the strategy seems to be two-pronged. We are beginning to realise that Straumann and Rewcastle write, and maintain, allegations that they know are disproved. It is now clear that allegations energetically channeled by them from Taib’s son’s divorce court case were the work of a convicted, professional forger.  Even Rewcastle has written to try to distance herself from the forger, while the divorce legal team in question limps gamely on.

“The more energy that Straumann and Rewcastle and others put into the attack, the easier it is to show the malice involved,” says the legal eagle.

“Malice”, to these lawyers, is a technical term. It refers – in defamation law – to people putting out information that is not only false and damaging, but which the author KNOWS to be false and damaging. It has a dramatic impact on damages in court, but behind the scenes, it also destroys credibility.

Editors eventually shy away from quoting from sources who can be shown to be maliciously wrong. Criticising forestry policy is easy, and however controversial, there are always many points of view. By attacking the family, Rewcastle and the BMF have, in the short term, made a huge splash, but they can be discredited by their obsession with Taib.

The Swiss-based rainforest NGO group had said a London law firm had been commissioned by the controversial Taib to stop a BBC interview on Lukas Straumann’s book, “Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia”, which exposed the governor and former chief minister’s vast wealth allegedly derived from illegal logging.

The key issue is in the detail: Allegations hurled by Straumann included that the former chief minister’s family received a US$5 million (RM18 million) mansion for US$1 (RM3.61) from a tycoon’s family in 1991.

The NGO’s Straumann had questioned the transaction in his book and claimed the transaction was done between the two families at US$1.

Moreover, he subsequently claimed that Taib’s lawyers have “admitted a deal”.  What he didn’t explain was that the “admission” was made in a letter to him, while definitively dismantling his claim of corruption.