Felda fails to overturn ruling in RM200 million defamation suit

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(September 4): The Federal Court has upheld a Court of Appeal majority ruling which found a former deputy minister not liable for defamation against the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda).

A five-man bench chaired by Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria said Felda's suit against Datuk Dr Tan Kee Kwong failed because it did not bring as witness a reporter to testify during the trial.

"Newspaper reports are hearsay and, therefore, the plaintiff was required to call the reporter who made the report," he said.

On March 7, 2013, Felda and its investment company, Felda Global Ventures Holdings Sdn Bhd, obtained leave from the Federal Court to appeal against the dismissal of their RM200 million defamation suit against Dr Tan.

The legal question posed by Felda is whether a plaintiff could bring direct or indirect evidence for the purpose of establishing a prima facie case in a defamation suit.

On January 25, 2011, Felda and Felda Global Ventures Holding filed the suit over alleged defamatory words published against them in a front-page article of Suara Keadilan headlined “Kontroversi”.

The article continued on page three under the heading “Bina bangunan RM662 juta hanya libatkan tiga individu” (Only three people involved in construction of RM662 million building).

Felda had claimed that Dr Tan implied it was corrupt and committed legal offences in an issue of Suara Keadilan published on June 22, 2010.

On March 28, 2012, the Court of Appeal in a 2-1 majority decision rejected Felda’s appeal and upheld the decision of a Kuala Lumpur High Court to dismiss Felda’s suit against Dr Tan.

Dr Tan is a former deputy land and cooperatives minister and now Wangsa Maju MP.

The Court of Appeal found that Felda as a government agency could sue an individual and also found the report to be defamatory, but was not satisfied whether Dr Tan had indeed uttered the words to the PKR mouthpiece Suara Keadilan.

In 2011, trial judge Datuk Zabariah Mohd Yusof ruled that while the article was defamatory, Felda had failed to prove that Dr Tan made the remarks.

Felda had during the trial failed to call the reporter who had written the article concerned. Firoz Hussein Ahmad Jamaluddin, who appeared for the appellants, said the trial against PKR, the publisher of Suara Keadilan, had been fixed on September 30.