High Court dismisses Terengganu Sultanah’s defamation suit against Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown, two others

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 — The High Court today dismissed a defamation suit brought by Sultanah of Terengganu Sultanah Nur Zahirah against Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown and two others.

In delivering the court’s decision, Judicial Commissioner Dr John Lee Kien How @ Mohd Johan Lee said the alleged defamatory statement in the book titled, The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story 1MDB Exposé, authored by Rewcastle-Brown was not defamatory.

Part of the impugned statement read: “(Fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low) 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. This was the fund that would shortly be converted into the scandalous entity known as 1MDB.”

Sultanah Nur Zahirah filed the suit in November 2018, claiming that the said statement, among others, meant that she was involved in corruption and interfering in the administration of the Terengganu government.

Sultanah Nur Zahirah contended that the statement meant that she had helped fugitive businessman Jho Low or Low Taek Jho to become a Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) adviser.

“Despite the factual error there, to say that the plaintiff consented or agreed to the establishment of the sovereign wealth fund, will, to my mind, not in any way degrade the plaintiff’s reputation.

“To sum up, I see no defamatory imputation from the statements although there was obviously a matter of mistaken identity. Thus, the plaintiff’s case is hereby dismissed,” he said during an online proceeding earlier.

Likewise, Lee said a person would not be discredited in any way simply because he or she supported someone for a job, especially given that such support, including by way of letters of support, is very much part of Malaysian culture.

Moreover, Lee said it was Jho Low himself who claimed he had the support of the Sultanah for the position.

He also noted that since the cause of action, in this case, is based on the ordinary and natural meaning of the words and not legal innuendo, no extrinsic facts could be adopted to analyse the statements.

"The court could only decide from the perspective of a reasonable reader.

"Only natural inference from the literal meaning of the statements could be accepted. No ‘Inference upon inference’ could be accepted," he said.

Besides Rewcastle-Brown, Sultanah Nur Zahirah also sued publisher Chong Ton Sin and printer Vinlin Press Sdn Bhd.

The court also ordered RM80,000 in cost to the defendants.

In her suit, the Sultanah is claiming general damages of RM100 million from each defendant and is also seeking an order for the publisher to withdraw the book containing the defamatory statement and for the printer to stop printing the book.

During the course of trial, Rewcastle-Brown had admitted in court it was an honest mistake on her part when writing the alleged defamatory passage in 2018.

She had also apologised on her part which she believed to be true when she wrote it and that there was no malice in her writing of the passage in the said book, noting that the book which spanned some 500 pages 'was bound to contain one or two inaccuracies'.

On Rewcastle-Brown referring to the plaintiff as a “key player in Terengganu”, she had said this was meant for the Sultan’s sister, who had not taken umbrage with the second print of the book.