Anwar ‘Bankleaks’ defamation trial begins today

anwarGEORGE TOWN: The trial of a defamation suit by former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim against lawyer Ranjit Singh Dhillon, the New Straits Times (NST) and two reporters began at the Penang High Court today.

In the Aug 24, 2016 suit, Anwar had sued Ranjit, who is former Penang bar criminal law committee chairman, NST and its specialist writer Adrian Lai, as well as the publication’s former reporter Looi Sue-Chern.

The suit was filed by Anwar over a news article titled “Declare your assets, if you have nothing to hide”, published on Aug 6, 2013, in the print edition of the NST.

Anwar is seeking damages deemed fit by the court and also an apology by all defendants to be published in the NST.

Ranjit, in his defence statement, said his statement was not defamatory and was “fair comment on matters of public interest”.

It its joint statement of claim, NST, Lai and Looi said the report was based on statements made by Ranjit and politician Zamil Ibrahim. NST says it had a moral obligation to publish stories which were of public interest.

Anwar is represented by S Raveentharan, while Ranjit is represented by Baljit Singh.

NST, Lai and Looi are represented by M Reza Hassan, Ellia Zuraini Mat Zin and Umi Farhanah Mohd Nasir from Raja Riza & Associates.

The case will be heard before Justice Rosilah Yop.

In the 2013 NST article concerned, Ranjit had asked Anwar and the late Karpal Singh to declare their assets if they wanted to fight off claims they had allegedly bribed judges and prosecutors to fix cases.

The article had also quoted politician Zamil Ibrahim, supporting Ranjit’s call.

The NST story was a follow-up to a police report lodged by Anwar and Karpal on Aug 4, 2013, where they denied bribing the judiciary to a tune of RM50 million since 2008.

At the time, the allegations were in a “surat layang” (poison-pen letter) which was revealed by Umno’s Dr Mazlan Ismail, who was the BN candidate for the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat in the 2013 general election.

Mazlan claimed that “6,000 surat layang” were sent to his home in Bukit Mertajam in early Aug 2013 from an unknown sender, alleging Anwar and Karpal were involved in judicial fixing.

The eight-paged letter, titled “Bankleaks Anwar/Karpal – 20/06/2013 – For the voters of Permatang Pauh”, contained bank account numbers owned by Anwar, among other damaging information.

The writer only identified himself as a “former employee” of Karpal’s law firm.

Anwar and Karpal had denied claims made in the letter.

They then lodged a police report in Petaling Jaya, after the story appeared on the front page of Utusan Malaysia and TV3’s Buletin Utama on Aug 2 and Aug 3, 2013 respectively.

Anwar and Karpal then sued Mazlan, TV3 and Utusan Malaysia. The High Court had ordered the parties to settle out of court, but it was reported to have failed and such negotiations “fell through”.