Appellate court allows Rafizi's appeal in NFCorp defamation case

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PUTRAJAYA (May 13): The Court of Appeal today set aside the High Court's decision which ordered PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli to pay RM200,000 in damages to National Feedlot Corporation Sdn Bhd (NFCorp) executive chairman Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Salleh Ismail and his company for defaming them.

A three-member bench led by the Court of Appeal Judge Datuk Dr Hamid Sultan Abu Backer ruled that the appeal raised by Rafizi has merits.

Justice Hamid Sultan ordered the damages of RM200,000 and cost of RM100,000 paid by Rafizi to Mohamad Salleh and NFCorp previously to be returned to Rafizi.

Besides, Rafizi was awarded total costs of RM110,000 when his appeal was allowed today.

On Oct 31, 2016, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ordered Rafizi Ramli to pay RM200,000 in damages to Mohamad Salleh and NFCorp after allowing their suit against Rafizi, the first defendant.

However, the court dismissed their suit against Malaysiakini, which was named as the second defendant, and ordered the plaintiffs to pay cost of RM50,000 to the news portal.

Rafizi then filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Lawyer Ranjit Singh, who acted on behalf of Rafizi, told reporters outside the court that the Court of Appeal agreed with their argument that an honest and fair-minded person could have come to the conclusion that Rafizi arrived at, which is that the government loan deposit from NFCorp was used as leverage in respect of a personal loan taken by Mohamad Salleh and his family.

"It doesn't matter if it's true or false, it's very important. This is not a question of true or false, it's a question of whether you can infer that if you're an honest and fair-minded person, that's the test," Ranjit stressed.

He said even the High Court accepted that Rafizi acted in the public interest, and not with any malice.

The Court of Appeal upheld and accepted Rafizi's fair comment defence, he added.

Ranjit said the court also accepted that Rafizi acted fairly, honestly and reasonably in coming to his conclusion.

In addition, he revealed that the cross-appeal filed by Mohamad Salleh and NFCorp which sought millions of ringgit in compensation from Rafizi was also dismissed by the court today.

Neither Mohamad Salleh nor Rafizi appeared in court.

In the suit filed on June 3, 2013, Mohamad Salleh and NFCorp claimed that on March 7, 2012, Rafizi had made a defamatory statement at a media conference at the PKR office on the purchase of KL Eco City properties, and it was published by Malaysiakini on the same day.

Mohamad Salleh said the suit was filed because of losses incurred due to the lies, misleading information, disclosure of confidential banking information and slander made by the defendants.

He sought general, exemplary and aggravated damages, as well as interests, costs and other relief deemed fit by the court.

He also sought an injunction to prevent the defendants from continuing to mislead and deceive the public on the issue.

Earlier, the bench refused to postpone the hearing of the appeal today in order to allow lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is representing Mohd Salleh and NFCorp, to be present.

Justice Hamid Sultan said the hearing of the appeal had been postponed at least five times when lawyer Sarah Abishegam sought an adjournment from the court this morning.

"How many times you want to adjourn? You come to the Court of Appeal, five times you seek an adjournment.

"We're not going to adjourn (the hearing), and we have already decided to proceed. Our time is very precious, we can't allow that (postponement)," said Justice Hamid Sultan.

Lawyer Sarah Abishegam then conducted the case on behalf of Mohd Salleh and NFCorp.