The Federal Court has dismissed an appeal by National Feedlot Corporation Sdn Bhd (NFCorp) and its executive chairman Mohamad Salleh Ismail over their defamation suit against Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and PKR.
A three-member bench comprising Federal Court judges Mohd Zawawi Salleh, Hasnah Mohammed Hashim and Harmindar Singh Dhaliwal upheld the decisions of the High Court and Court of Appeal in dismissing the defamation suit of NFCorp and Salleh.
Justice Harmindar, who delivered the court’s decision, said Nurul Izzah and Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, who was sued in his capacity as PKR secretary-general, had made out the defence of justification and could not be liable for damages for defamation.
He also said that the High Court had held that Nurul Izzah’s statement read in its entirety was not defamatory.
The court ordered NFCorp and Salleh to pay RM50,000 in costs.
NFCorp and Salleh filed the suit on Dec 4, 2013 against Nurul Izzah, who was then Lembah Pantai MP, and Saifuddin in relation to their statements over allegations concerning the purchase of eight units of property at KL Eco City.
They claimed that Nurul Izzah had made a slanderous statement on Malaysiakini TV on March 7, 2012.
The High Court on March 4, 2016, dismissed the lawsuit by NFCorp and Salleh. They also lost their appeal in the Court of Appeal which was dismissed on July 10, 2017.
In the unanimous decision, Harmindar said the Court of Appeal had agreed with the findings of the High Court that there was substantial truth in the statement at the press conference which was on the conflict of interest surrounding Salleh’s wife, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, when she was the MP for Lembah Pantai.
Harmindar said the focus of Nurul Izzah’s press statement was on the perceived injustice done to squatters who had to make way with scant compensation.
He said the focus was also on whether there was any conflict of interest by Salleh’s wife when eight condominium units were purchased by her family including Salleh.
Harmindar said it was the court’s view that the real question for determination was related to the impression created in the mind of the ordinary and reasonable viewer after viewing the whole press statement.
“In our assessment, such a person will not pay any attention to the alleged defamatory matter complained about, which was in effect one sentence in a very long press statement and instead be focused only on the major part of the press statement concerning the wife of the first plaintiff (Salleh),” he said.
The judge said that one sentence was meant to be an introduction to the main sting in that it was a revelation by former Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli on the misuse of funds.
He said no action had since been filed by Shahrizat in respect of those allegations although a suit was filed against Rafizi for the statements which he had made.
On the defence of justification, Harmindar said Salleh had failed to disclose his sources of income to finance the purchase of the condominium units apart from making a bare assertion as noted by the High Court judge.
He said it would not be far-fetched to deduce from the entirety of the evidence at the trial that there had been misuse of public funds for personal gain.
Lawyers Razlan Hadri Zulkifli and Joshua Kevin represented Nurul Izzah while lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah appeared for Salleh and NFCorp.