The Federal Court today ruled that former Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli is not liable for defaming National Feedlot Corporation Sdn Bhd (NFCorp) executive chairman Mohamad Salleh Ismail and his company in statements relating to the alleged misuse of government funds.
A three-man panel led by Chief Judge of Malaya Azahar Mohamed also dismissed the appeals brought by Salleh and his company and ordered him to pay Rafizi costs of RM70,000.
Azahar said Rafizi’s statements were without malice and that he could resort to the defence of fair comment to defeat the defamation suit filed against him.
Azahar also said the High Court had found that Rafizi was not motivated by malice when making the allegedly defamatory statements, and that there was sufficient substratum of facts to warrant Rafizi making the statements.
He said it was also the finding of the High Court that Rafizi honestly believed his allegations were true and that he was performing a public duty in agitating for greater accountability for public funds.
“In my view, the respondent’s (Rafizi’s) conclusion that public fund had been misused as a leverage for the Public Bank loan was an opinion and inferences that a fair-minded person would have honestly made.
“Therefore, Rafizi cannot be liable for damages for defamation,” said Azahar.
Federal Court judges Zaleha Yusof and Zabariah Mohd Yusof concurred with Azahar’s decision.
Salleh and NFCorp filed a lawsuit against Rafizi in 2013 over statements made on March 7, 2012 in a media conference at the PKR office, alleging that Salleh and his company had used a RM71 million government loan as collateral to purchase eight office units in KL Eco City.
Salleh and NFCorp initially won the suit in the High Court in 2016 where the court ordered Rafizi to pay RM150,000 in damages to Salleh and RM50,000 to the company for defamation.
However, in 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Rafizi after setting aside the High Court’s order that he pay RM200,000 in damages to Salleh and his company.
In 2020, the Federal Court granted leave to Salleh and NFCorp to pursue their appeal in the Federal Court after Rafizi’s lawyers did not object to the leave application as several grounds of the appellate court’s decision relied on issues that were not raised in their case.
Lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah represented Salleh and NFCorp while Rafizi was represented by lawyers Razlan Hadri Zulkifli and Ranjit Singh.