Terengganu Plays Dirty Over Law Suit?

Terengganu Plays Dirty Over Law Suit?

Today’s press in Malaysia was full of a report that a magistrate’s court in Terengganu has just issued a warrant for the arrest of the editor of Sarawak Report, apparently for not turning up to hear charges laid against her in their town. This was the first SR learnt of the matter and we await with interest news of what extradition requests Malaysia might have in mind.

Yet there is a great deal that is wrong with this order by a local court in the very state where a royal family member (the Sultanah) just happens to be in the later stages of a civil suit which she has brought over the same complaint.

For a start, although the Malaysian authorities are well aware of our contact details, prosecutors made no effort to notify Sarawak Report of the court hearing or the charges before issuing an arrest warrant on the basis the editor was supposed to appear in court!

This violation of basic rights and proper procedure in itself does not encourage confidence with respect to either the civil or the criminal case raised by the royal family of Terengganu against the author of this site. However there is plenty more to raise concern.

The criminal charges (like the civil litigation) are based on a police report against the book “The Sarawak Report” brought by the Terengganu palace in September 2018. The complaint was fully examined by police at the time, who interviewed SR’s editor as the author and then later filed it under NFA (No Further Action).

That decision to drop the case was presumably arrived at because the complaint did not merit criminal charges in the view of the police and prosecution service.

Then in July, after two years had passed during which the separate civil complaint had failed to settle in the Sultanah’s favour, SR received WhatsApp messages from Bukit Aman indicating that officers had been recently ‘ordered’ to press charges after all. The order to revive the case was made in March 2021 according to our information.

Sarawak Report in return advised the police that the author is not in Malaysia and has no plans to come to Malaysia. We also pointed out that ‘criminal defamation’ is not a recognised crime with which a person can be charged in jurisdictions such as the UK. Following which Sarawak Report heard nothing further on the matter and no warning of the court hearing – until after the event.

This raises questions as to why a case which was dropped by the police back in 2018 has been ordered to be re-opened and by whom? The obvious concern is that this abusive action represents an apparent attempt at intimidation, possibly in order to influence the parallel civil suit lodged by the Sultanah which received what might be seen as an awkward setback just last month.

This was when the plaintiff lost a key appeal over her attempt to avoid testifying in her own case by having Sarawak Report found guilty without a trial having taken place. The reason would appear to be that like most prominent figures representing positions of dignity the Sultanah would rather not explain herself or face questions in court. It is why royalty rarely pursue legal actions in the first place, to avoid the danger of being demeaned.

A high court judge originally complied with this suggestion that the case could be found in her favour without a trial at all. However, the Appeal Court has now rightly rejected this unprecedented attempt to by-pass a defamation trial and ruled the Sultanah must indeed appear to plead her case like everybody else (the trial is now set for December and the Sultanah is hoping to win damages of RM300 million which she has pledged towards ‘good causes’).

This having been settled the defendant (the editor of this blog) now finds herself, thanks to this Terengganu local court ruling, threatened with jail and criminal charges over the very same matter due to be adjudicated in the civil court.

For two years this blog has patiently kept silent over the various attempts to pervert this case, in order to give due respect to the legal process and the litigant herself, only to be confronted by this attempt to threaten handcuffs, extradition and incarceration based on a failure to turn up to a hearing we were not warned about.

False Allegations

It is therefore time to set some further matters straight. When this editor first responded to questioning over the police report made by the palace in 2018 we noted a disturbing ‘error’ over the text complained of by the litigant.

A crucial ‘mistake’ involved changing two of the words printed in the offending sentence of the book compared to the version provided to the police. The inaccuracy just happened to strengthen the core allegation being made by the Sultanah’s legal team that the passage somehow alleged she oversteps her position in Terengganu and is the person who really runs the state. The correct version of the sentence complained of is this:

“Jho was also friendly with a key player in Terengganu, the wife of the sultan, whose acquiescence was needed to set up the fund and he later cited her support as having been crucial to his obtaining the advisory position [at the Terengganu Investment Authority].

Before detailing the inaccuracy presented in the police report Sarawak Report is forced to quote some of the allegations made by the plaintiff’s lawyers to explain its significance. These allegations have been repeatedly published by the Malaysian media to the detriment of the Sultanah in our view.

Whilst the book and that sentence never implied anything she did was ever unseemly, her own lawyers have bombarded the public with suggestions of the opposite. For example they are quoted complaining:

“that the statement could be taken to mean that she was involved in corrupt practices and interfered in the state’s administration, besides using her status to influence the establishment of the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), which later became 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) [and that] Sultanah Nur Zahirah also alleged that the statement had construed her as having helped Jho Low or Low Taek Jho to become the adviser of TIA.” [Sun Daily]

Also:

a statement from Sultanah Nur Zahirah’s lawyer said … “The suit involved allegations of her Royal Highness Sultanah Nur Zahirah’s conspiracy with Low Taek Jho (Jho Low) and her involvement in government administration in the 1MDB affair,” said the statement. [Malay Mail]

or, as issued by the Bernama news agency just today:

Sultanah Nur Zahirah, who filed the suit on Nov 21, 2018, claimed that the disparaging statement by Rewcastle-Brown could be taken to mean that she was involved in corrupt practices and interfered in Terengganu’s administration besides using her status to influence the establishment of Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) which later became 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
She claimed that the statement also construed her as having helped fugitive businessman Jho Low or Low Taek Jho to become the adviser for TIA.– BERNAMA

All the above defamatory meaning has been issued by the Sultanah’s own lawyers where, to repeat, all that Sarawak Report said in the book was:

“Jho was also friendly with a key player in Terengganu, the wife of the sultan, whose acquiescence was needed to set up the fund and he later cited her support as having been crucial to his obtaining the advisory position [at the TIA]”

It was in fact the sister of the Sultan whom Jho Low had credited with making the useful introduction that led to him netting the TIA role, something we have been happy to correct (we have already apologised for that mistake). But neither do we accept there was any aspersion cast against the sister who is now cited in the later print runs.

The passage was based on Jho Low’s own claims made in an interview with The Star newspaper published in 2010 – it was all long before he became notorious over 1MDB as the book explains:

Q: What about 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and what was your role in the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA)?
A: I was involved in the setting up of TIA from January 2009 to mid-May 2009. The Yang di- Pertuan Agong Sultan Mizan (Zainal Abidin) was kind enough to ask me to assist, given my relationship with the Middle East and insight I had on how they had set up their sovereign wealth funds……
Q: How did you get to know the Yang di-Pertuan Agong?
A: His Majesty’s sister Tunku Datuk Rahimah introduced us. She is the chairman of Loh & Loh Corporation Bhd, whom I met as a fellow shareholder of Abu Dhabi-Kuwait-Malaysia Investment Corporation (ADKMIC).

No one has ever disputed the above claim by Jho Low about how he got to know the Sultan nor that Tunku Datuk Rahimah had links with one of Jho’s companies in her role as chairman of Loh & Loh.

Neither does this information related by Sarawak Report imply wrong doing, conspiracy or corruption on the part of the royal family. It merely provided an explanation as to how Jho Low came to be introduced to the Sultan, who was the person whose acquiescence was needed to set up the TIA fund (as anyone in Malaysia knows) and who later appointed him as his advisor.

Therefore, whilst Sarawak Report is adamant we did not defame the Terengannu royal family, this unfortunately cannot be said of the legal team who have worked hard to imply things that were never said in the book and which have been subsequently repeatedly reported all over the Malaysian media. It is a classic demonstration as to why defamation suits are considered to often backfire on the person who brings them.

Which brings us to the alteration of the wording in the police report. The incorrect version of the passage that was presented to the police assists the disputed allegation that the book alleged the Sultanah “interfered in Terengganu’s administration” or, as is claimed in the writ, that the passage implied “she is the one who is running the administration and affairs of the state of Terengganu

Below are the words (in red) that were misleadingly altered in the report to the police:

Jho who was also friendly to the key player in Terengganu, the wife of the Sultan, whose acquiescence was needed to set up the fund and he later cited her support as having been crucial to his obtaining the advisory position.

The actual text runs “Jho who was also friendly WITH A key player in Terengganu”.

It does not refer to the Sultanah as the key player. That, as everyone knows, is her husband whose acquiescence was needed to set up the fund, not her.

Given Sarawak Report has clarified this matter several times, issued corrections and altered subsequent print runs to make clear it was the sultan’s sister and not his wife whom Jho Low claimed performed the introduction, this insistence on pursuing the claim is somewhat bewildering.

The Sultanah has several times indicated a willingness to put this matter behind her. Indeed an agreed wording between the parties was arrived at several months ago as her application to avoid a trial was pending before the original judge.

As a meeting on October 16th 2019 her lawyers produced a wording they agreed would be mutually acceptable with SR’s lawyers. The words agreed were these:

“THE PARTIES HAVE REACHED AN AMICABLE SETTLEMENT AND THE SULTANAH ACCEPTS THAT SARAWAK REPORT MADE AN ERROR BY INCLUDING HER NAME IN THE BOOK WHICH IS NOW REMOVED FOR WHICH THE DEFENDANTS APOLOGISE FOR THE ERROR”.

In return for issuing such a statement the Sultanah’s lawyers indicated at this time they believed their client would be willing to withdraw her claim along with any claim for costs. Yet it seems the subsequent positive judgement from the High Court to allow avoidance of the trial, although short lived, changed minds.

In consequence, although the Sultanah’s name is no longer in the book, it continues to be splashed all over the newspapers in connection with an unflattering interpretation of the original text thanks to the ongoing litigation. None of this does kindness to her royal sister in law, who was not impugned either in the book but appears so thanks to the continuing twisted claims of the plaintiff’s lawyers.

So what is going on? Why are such strange and abnormal steps being employed and why has the full criminal apparatus of Malaysia now been brought to bear in the midst of this on/off civil litigation against Sarawak Report?

Back in 2017 a similar case was brought against this blog by the leader of PAS, to the indirect benefit of the then prime minister and UMNO leader Najib Razak, with whom PAS was at the time secretly colluding.

So is this latest case also caught up in a separate agenda to attempt yet again to harass and bully the person who exposed 1MDB and other matters of high level corruption in Malaysia?

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