Zaid, partners to sue Bar president for defamation unless apology tendered

(FMT) – Senior lawyer Zaid Ibrahim and two of his partners have demanded “a full and unequivocal retraction and apology” from Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah over a press statement which they claim was “a grave and serious libel” on their conduct in former prime minister Najib Razak’s SRC International criminal appeal.

Zaid, Liew Teck Huat and Rueben Mathiavanam say they will initiate legal action against Cheah if the retraction and apology are not forthcoming by Sept 2.

They allege that the press release on Aug 19, which formed the basis of news reports appearing in the Edge, Malay Mail and The Star on the same day, “falsely and maliciously” contained statements concerning their conduct in Najib’s appeal in the Federal Court.

Issued on Aug 26 via their law firm, Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners, the letter identifies several paragraphs in Cheah’s press statement which the lawyers claim showed a “reckless disregard as to whether the imputations complained of (were) true”.

Those paragraphs, the letter claims, suggest the lawyers had “deliberately acted unprofessionally” “with an improper agenda to abuse the process of the court”, that they resorted to “unscrupulous strategies”, and that their “conduct was designed to pervert the course of justice” and “bring the legal profession into disrepute”.

They also claim Cheah’s statements suggested the lawyers were “unprofessional, incompetent and ignorant of the professional rules of practice and etiquette”, had “no compunction in abusing the process of the court”, had acted “in flagrant contempt of court” and were “not fit to practise as advocates and solicitors”.

Calling the statements “false and scurrilous”, the letter adds that “by publishing and disseminating the press statement and causing the impugned statements to be published (by) online news portals, (Cheah) intended to and did ensure that it received the most extensive coverage possible … across the entire Malaysian public”.

“You further knew … that (Najib’s case) had attracted wide international media coverage and (that your) imputations (would be) disseminated to the international community as well,” the letter says.

Apart from an apology, the letter calls upon the bar president to undertake not to repeat such statements concerning the lawyers and for compensation of reasonable costs and expenses.

Najib had on July 25 appointed Zaid’s law firm to replace Shafee & Co as solicitors in his final SRC International criminal appeal before the Federal Court, with Hisyam Teh Poh Teik roped in to be lead counsel in place of Shafee Abdullah.

After the apex court turned down several requests for additional time to prepare for the appeal, Najib discharged the firm as solicitors as well as Zaid, Liew and Rueben as co-counsel on Aug 18.

A similar request to discharge Hisyam Teh as lead counsel was rejected by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat.

On Aug 23, the Federal Court unanimously affirmed Najib’s conviction on all seven charges of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering brought in respect of SRC International funds totalling RM42 million.

The court also affirmed his sentence of 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of RM210 million or in default another five years in jail.

Najib began serving his prison sentence immediately after the proceedings concluded.

The conviction and sentence were first handed down by the Kuala Lumpur High Court on July 28, 2020 and affirmed by the Court of Appeal on Dec 8 last year.