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DCM’s Defamation lawsuit against a former smallholder of Bagahak Scheme, Lahad Datu, in the High Court on Monday

Datuk Christina Liew

KOTA KINABALU: Deputy Chief Minister cum Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Datuk Christina Liew gave evidence in Court to rebut allegations made against her in a defamation lawsuit filed against a former smallholder of the Bagahak Scheme in Lahad Datu, in the High Court here, Monday.

Judicial Commissioner Justice Leonard Shim presided over the trial.

Taking the witness stand, the Plaintiff said the oil-palm smallholders’ land lots were surrendered to a joint venture company between the smallholders and Borneo Samudera Sdn Bhd (BSSB) in July 1998. (BSSB is a subsidiary of state-owned Sawit Kinabalu Sdn Bhd).

Liew, who is also MP for Tawau and Api-Api Assemblywoman, explained that the High Court in Tawau did not order RM557 million damages against her in its decision delivered in 2014 on the case commenced by BSSB against her.

“The High Court merely ordered BSSB’s claim for damages to be assessed by the Deputy Registrar, High Court of Tawau.

“The front-page headline on the High Court judgment with the heading ‘Liew to pay record RM557 million’ in the Daily Express (dated October 26, 2014), was wrong and misleading,” she said.

The Plaintiff told the Court that the video also contains the front-page headline ‘Liew to pay record RM557 million’ published in the Daily Express and the same article in Bahasa Malaysia titled ‘Liew, dua lagi disaman RM557 juta’.

Liew in the defamation suit contended that one Leksun Bin Injil (former smallholder) had relied on the misleading heading to defame her by publishing or causing to be published or contributed to the publication of defamatory statements against her in a video recording of himself that became viral in social media via WhatsApp and Facebook.

She said this video recording took place in May 2018, two to four days before polling day on May 9, during the 14th General Election (GE14).

In the video, the Defendant (Leksun) claimed that Liew was a cheat, a dishonest and deceitful person who was unsuitable to be a candidate for the Api-Api State Constituency (N15) and Tawau Parliamentary Constituency (P190) in GE14; she had deceived and or defrauded the smallholders, including the Defendant, of their lots in the Bagahak Scheme by inducing the smallholders to sell their lots; and the Defendant would lodge a complaint against the Plaintiff to the Disciplinary Board of the Sabah Law Society (SLS) so that the Plaintiff’s practising licence be revoked.

Datuk Alex Decena assisted by Jordan Kong is the counsel for Liew. Chong Kian Ming is the counsel for the Defendant.

In the Plaintiff’s Witness Statement, she said : “I am suing the Defendant for damages for libel or alternatively damages for slander in respect of a video circulated widely via WhatsApp. The words uttered by the Defendant in the video are malicious and false which are defamatory to me.

“It was an attempt by the Defendant to injure my reputation in my former profession as a former practising Advocate, and to mislead members of the public not to vote for me as a candidate in the Api-Api Constituency and the Tawau Parliamentary Constituency in the 14th GE.

“The Defendant deliberately withheld or out of sheer ignorance failed to explain the status and nature of the pending cases under litigation and arbitration, which involved the smallholders of the Bagahak Scheme, including the Defendant himself as one of the parties.

“Therefore, in the circumstances and as the cases under litigation are still before the Courts for determination, the Defendant has committed contempt of court by causing transmission or causing to be transmitted or contributing to the transmission of the widely-circulated, false and misleading video in the social media.

“Despite knowing that the words contained in the video were false and or reckless or indifferent to the truth, the Defendant deliberately published or caused to be published or contributed to the publication of the defamatory statements against me in the video which became viral in the social media via WhatsApp.”

It was also pointed out that the Defendant’s statement (in the video recording) that he was a smallholder was wrong and misleading.

“The Defendant is no longer a smallholder of the Bagahak Scheme because under the terms of the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) dated July 9, 1998, entered into between Borneo Samudera Sdn Bhd (BSSB) and the smallholders of the Bagahak Scheme, he (Defendant) and the other smallholders had surrendered all their rights and interests in their respective lots in exchange for shares in a Joint Venture company called Cemasjaya Berhad,” the Plaintiff explained.

On how she came to be acting as Advocate for the smallholders, Liew said the 900 smallholders had instructed her former legal firm to commence legal action against BSSB in two cases registered in Court under Suit T41 and Suit T42 of 2007.

In Suit T41, the Defendant (Leksun) and smallholders of the Bagahak Scheme sued BSSB for return of their lots, which they had surrendered to BSSB in 1998. They (smallholders) had asked the Court to declare the JVA (July 9, 1998) unenforceable and ineffective for non-fulfilment of the conditions precedent provided under the JVA.

The Plaintiff asserted that because of the publication of the video, her character, reputation, credibility and integrity as a person, a former practising Advocate at the material time, a State Assembly person and a Member of Parliament, have been injured and/or damaged amongst and in the eyes of the public at large, especially her friends, acquaintances, the business community and others.

“Furthermore, I had suffered severe embarrassment and deep distress as a result of the video being widely circulated on social media platforms,” she said.

According to the Plaintiff, a Sabah Kita article with a screenshot of the video recording attached, was also shared on Sabah Kita’s Facebook. “This is very damaging to my reputation,” she lamented.

Liew also asked the Court for an injunction to restrain the Defendant whether by himself, his servants or agents or otherwise, from publishing or causing to be published or contributing to the publication of the video.

The pen drive which contains the Court-certified transcript of the video recording of the Defendant’s defamatory statements made against the Plaintiff was produced in court as evidence that the Defendant had committed libel and slander against her.

The trial continues tomorrow (Tuesday).