KUALA LUMPUR: Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has filed a suit against Sabah Publishing House Sdn Bhd, which operates the Daily Express, and its editor, for three reports that appeared last year on the turtle eggs controversy.
The three articles in question are titled “Minister and Sabah YB have yet to comply: Dept”, “Beluran turtle eggs dinner: Findings left to the AG” and “Explain turtle egg confusion first, Lim (Kit Siang) tells Minister”.
The three articles appeared between Jan 24 and Sept 9 last year. The minister filed the suit on March 30, this year, but reporters only managed to get the related documents today.
It is understood that the case management for this has been fixed for July 11, before the High Court, for a possible amendment to the defence filing.
Ismail, who is also Bera MP, claimed the reports have an ordinary meaning or inferred that he was evading responsibility, had no respect for the rule of law, and that despite being a federal minister, he was abusing the law and had complete disregard for the investigation process.
It also meant that he had committed an offence under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1967 for consuming turtle eggs and that he was a liar and person unfit to be a federal minister.
The minister complained that the Sabah-based media continued to publish the articles without seeking his comments or views.
Ismail, who is also an Umno supreme council member, alleged that the media did not bother to seek confirmation from relevant government departments as to whether he refused to be questioned or cooperate with the investigators.
He maintained that he had not received any notice from the deputy public prosecutor’s office to record his statement or to help out in the investigations and that the articles were published sensationally on the front page and caused embarrassment to him.
The minister claimed that the reports were false, baseless and maliciously published. He also claimed that he instructed his lawyers to seek an apology from Sabah Publishing House on March 1, but it had failed to do so.
Sabah Publishing House only replied through its lawyers on April 19 that it was not prepared to comply with the minister’s demands and was prepared to publish a reasonable statement by Ismail.
The minister’s lawyers further sought an apology and RM300,000 in damages, to be paid to a charity of Ismail’s choice, besides RM30,000 in costs, but Sabah Publishing House said the amount was too excessive and stood by its offer.
Ismail is seeking RM10 million in compensatory damages, along with aggravated, exemplary damages and an injunction barring the Sabah Publishing House from repeating the defamatory words.
Sabah Publishing House, in its defence filed in May, claimed that what were printed were not wrong and denied that it acted mala fide and wants Ismail to provide ample proof of his allegation.
It further denied that it published the articles without seeking Ismail’s comments and that the reports were without verification from the government departments.
The company further denied that the articles were libellous and hence they did not injure the minister or affect his personal and political reputation and standing in society.
The defendant, pleading the defence of qualified privilege, further denied that the articles resulted in Ismail having to face public odium and hatred, and that it has full trust in what was reported.
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