MAHB suit against AirAsia over defamatory statements to be heard on Sept 6

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KUALA LUMPUR (Aug 16): Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) and Malaysia Airports (Sepang) Sdn Bhd's (MASSB) defamation suit against AirAsia Bhd and AirAsia X Bhd (AAX) relating to several AirAsia Newsroom articles will be heard in the High Court next month.

During case management today, High Court Justice Datuk Mohd Firuz Jaffril set Sept 6 as the next hearing date.

Besides AirAsia and AAX, the plaintiffs also named the chief executive officers of the two companies, Riad Asmat and Benyamin Ismail, as defendants.

The plaintiffs were represented by Messrs Skrine, while the defendants were represented by Messrs Bodipalar Ponnudurai De Silva.

Based on court papers, the plaintiffs pointed out three articles published by AirAsia and AAX from December last year to February this year, which implied that it was MAHB and MASSB that had increased the passenger service charge (PSC) from RM50 to RM73.

However, the plaintiffs said it was Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) that had increased the PSC, as the statutory body responsible for air transport economic regulation.

MAHB also said the statements implied that the plaintiffs are "greedy and of questionable ethics" as they purportedly sought to increase the PSC to enrich "a select few without regard for the welfare of air travellers and the wider economy".

A statement by AirAsia published on Dec 14, 2018, said "MASSB had increased the airport tax to RM73 from RM50", which it said was "to consciously curtail air travel, which benefits both the people and the wider economy, in order to enrich a select few".

On Dec 19, another article was published by AAX titled "MAHB's record profits come at a cost to the Malaysian economy and tourism industry".

In the statement, Benyamin was quoted as saying AAX was sued "after we refused to collect the extra RM23 that MAHB had imposed for the sole benefit of its shareholders".

In the same article, Riad was quoted as saying that "the overall tourism sector, one of Malaysia's biggest revenue earners, and the interest of millions of Malaysians who have been able to fly because of the low fares pioneered by AirAsia, are being threatened by MAHB's price hikes".

He further said that the additional RM23 to be collected will "amount to more than RM100 million a year that will go straight to MAHB's bottom line rather than to the government".

In February this year, MAHB said AirAsia had overstepped its boundaries by publishing false, inaccurate and misleading statements in the media, aimed at damaging MAHB's reputation.

"Malaysia Airports maintains its long-standing position that the relevant dispute and related matters have all been presented before the courts for determination and parties should let the matters be decided by the courts.

"Hence, there is no necessity for AirAsia to make disparaging remarks about Malaysia Airports," the airport operator previously said.

Meanwhile, Riad and Benyamin said AirAsia was only responding to MAHB's suits relating to the PSC and that the airline had offered to mediate as per the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) Act to resolve its issues with the airport operator.

The airlines said they stood by whatever they had said while maintaining that the legal action by MAHB is unwarranted.

On Feb 4, Riad issued a statement on MAHB's clarification on the PSC charges, calling MAHB "duplicitous and disingenuous in its arguments".

Both parties have each maintained that they are willing to take the necessary actions to defend their cases.

See also:
AirAsia perplexed over MAHB's call for it to retract earlier statements
Malaysia Airports demands AirAsia to cease making false, inaccurate statements