Shafee: Claims that MACC cannot act against Guan Eng premature

When contacted, Ramkarpal said he would need to thoroughly study Shafee’s statement before he could comment on the matter

KUANTAN: A veteran lawyer described as ‘premature’ claims by certain quarters that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) cannot initiate legal action against Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

In a statement today, Tan Sri Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah responded to comments that MACC, being a public body, cannot bring a defamation suit against individuals as it would allegedly be contrary to accountability and transparency of public service.

“This comment by some opposition lawyers is premature as there is no indication thus far, whether it is the MACC or individuals in MACC who may be launching the defamation suit.

“In Malaysia, it is still not settled if a public body is unable to sue in defamation when defamatory statements made against it cannot be justified or fairly commented upon or made with qualified privilege.

“In Singapore, it is always the norm for the Prime Minister (suing in his name) or other public personalities to sue in defamation against anyone who without justification defames them.

“Our Federal Court has not dealt with this issue yet and therefore the law on this is still at large,” he said.

On Sept 6, it was reported that MACC had decided to take action against Lim for allegedly making slanderous remarks on the arrest of Penang state executive council member Phee Boon Poh.

Lim had previously described Phee’s arrest over the illegal factory issue in Sungai Lembu, Bukit Mertajam, Penang, as “illegal”. Phee is Penang’s Environment Committee chairman.

The anti-graft watchdog said that its management had decided to refer the matter to Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali on the next course of action.

MACC had given Lim 48 hours to apologise but he failed to do so.

It was also reported that Ramkarpal Singh, lawyer and Bukit Gelugor DAP member of parliament, had said that MACC’s ultimatum for Lim to apologise was ill-advised.

He said there could be no doubt that the statement was made in regard to the prevailing circumstances, and as such, was justified. He also said MACC should cease and desist from issuing baseless threats to the chief minister.

Shafee today noted that a Penang High Court, which on Aug 14 allowed Phee’s bid to rescind a 5-day remand order issued against him by a magistrate’s court, never stated that the remand order was ‘void ab initio’ (invalid from the very beginning) nor that the effect of invalidity has retrospective effect.

“In this context, it would be defamatory to accuse the MACC of illegally detaining Phee as it is factually incorrect. When YB Lim Guan Eng accused MACC of having detained Phee illegally, he was stating it as a matter of fact.

“He was not giving his opinion or comment based on facts that a comment or opinion can be anchored upon. In my respectful opinion, such remarks by him was certainly not within the rubric of ‘fair comment’ or ‘qualified privilege’, and therefore more likely defamatory in both the civil and criminal sense,” he said.

Shafee also observed that less fuss was kicked up whenever it was a government-linked person who is subjected to remand such as the remand of former Felda Global Ventures Bhd (FGV) chairman Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad.

“It would seem that if any government-related person is taken through that process, no one criticises the enforcement agencies for being harsh, not from any opposition members nor the Bar Council.

“But if a member of the opposition is put through the same process of investigations, ‘controversies’ are bound to be whipped up by interested parties by spinning stories that these opposition members are allegedly being victimised,” he said.

Shafee pointed out the lack of fuss over the remand of then Johor state executive council member Datuk Abd Latif Bandi, who was arrested on March 9 and then remanded the next day to facilitate a probe into alleged real estate corruption.

“His (Latif) case too was widely reported. The media reported Latif Bandi’s case widely not because of

any ‘controversy’ or the fuss created but because the media, especially the pro-opposition ones, were celebrating the fact that a government exco member was in trouble.

“Unfortunately, this is the state of affairs of the majority of our media,” he said.

Latif Bandi was previously in charge of Johor’s housing and local government portfolio.

When contacted, Ramkarpal said he would need to thoroughly study Shafee’s statement before he could comment on the matter.

Source: NST Online

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