The Edge Media Group, a publication house with a presence in Malaysia and Singapore, has questioned why its editors were charged with criminal defamation over articles exposing stock market manipulation.
Yesterday, one of its editors, Azam Aris, was charged in the Petaling Jaya Magistrate’s Court for criminal defamation of Kua Khai Shyuan, DGB Asia Bhd, Trive Property Group Bhd, Metronic Global Bhd, and MNC Wireless Bhd over articles The Edge published on how penny stocks were manipulated by hidden hands on Bursa Malaysia.
Meanwhile, M Shanmugam, the second editor who was supposed to be charged together with Azam was out of the country and will be charged when he returns.
“When we were informed yesterday (Sept 12) by ASP Mohd Adnan Alias of the Brickfields District Police that the Deputy Public Prosecutor’s (DPP) Office of Kuala Lumpur had directed that charges be filed against two of our editors, Azam Aris and M Shanmugam, we were shocked that they were intervening in what, if anything at all, is essentially a civil dispute,” said Ho Kay Tat, CEO of The Edge Media Group, in a statement.
He said that since their final piece in April 2021 and following warnings from market authorities, the erratic trading of penny stocks that occurred in 2020 and the beginning of 2021 had subsided. He continued by saying that several people had lost money as a result of the decline in stock prices. He claimed that if the manipulation had persisted in a significant way, the losses would have been substantially higher.
A penny stock typically refers to the stock of a small company that trades for less than US$5 per share.
“Manipulation can wreak havoc on the orderly function of the stock market, damage the reputation of Bursa Malaysia and cause many innocent people to lose money. Regulators like Bursa Malaysia and the Securities Commission frequently advise investors to be cautious,” he said.
He asserted that The Edge has a duty to draw attention to significant issues for the investing public, including warning them about stock price manipulation, as a medium that extensively covers the stock market and business sector.
“We are, therefore, baffled as to why the police and the DPP’s Office of Kuala Lumpur are pressing criminal defamation charges against us for informing investors about stock market manipulation.”
“Where is the defamation? If the complainant, who is a private businessman, feels that we have defamed him, the police and public prosecutor should ask him to file a civil suit against us instead of using public resources.”
In July 2021, the editors were informed by Brickfields District Police that a police report had been lodged against them by Kua, a businessman who is a minor shareholder and director of a few of the companies whose shares were trading in a volatile pattern over several months in 2020. The report was made over articles The Edge published titled Hidden Hands Behind Penny Stocks Surge Under Scrutiny and Hidden Hands Behind Penny Stock Surge.
In the following month, The Edge was then told it was being investigated for criminal defamation under Section 500 of the Criminal Penal Code.
“In their statements to the police, our editors said that extensive research had been done to put together the articles, involving mainly data and information obtained from Bursa Malaysia and company annual reports.”
“At further meetings with the police on August 16, August 18, December 14 and December 16 in 2021, our editors were repeatedly told that we HAVE TO PROVIDE THE NAMES of the journalists who were involved in the two articles.”
However, The Edge stood its ground and said they could not provide the names for safety reasons, citing an incident in 2018, when a senior officer in the market surveillance department of Bursa Malaysia was the victim of an acid attack, believed to be linked to an investigation into a market manipulation case.
Given how repressive the government can be when it comes to freedom of speech and information, it is common in Malaysia for editors to shield the identities of their journalists from police investigations over critical pieces.