Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Phang vs Wee: Go-ahead for defamation suit

Both embattled MCA Youth chief Wee Ka Siong and his firebrand critic Robert Phang will have their day in court come April 5, following months of verbal exchange between them over the PKFZ debacle.

In a decision on Wednesday, the Kuala Lumpur High Court that date to hear a defamation suit by Wee against Phang for linking him (Wee) to the financial scandal that has cost taxpayers RM4.2bil.

Judicial Commissioner Prasad Sandosham Abraham also adjourned an inter parte injunction application by Wee to the same day and ordered both parties to exchange their affidavits before the hearing.

The injunction seeks to restrain Phang as well as Star Publications - which has been named the second defendent - from further commenting or publishing defamatory statements linking Wee to the PKFZ scandal.

"I am happy that the judge has allowed a full trial. It'll give all parties a chance to explain themselves. I welcome the decision, which allow everyone to speak under oath," Phang told reporters outside the courthouse.

Subsequent application rejected

"And I shall take this liberty to repeat my call that as an MP, it is his (Wee's) statutory obligation to come forward and assist the MACC in investigating the PKFZ matter.

"Since day one, I have done nothing but invite Wee to come forward to assist the police in their investigations.

robert-wee"It's in the affidavit and in my defence statement, so I have nothing to fear," added Phang, who is special advisor to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

An exparte injunction that was granted to Wee on Jan 22 had expired on Feb 11. A subsequent application by Wee for an interim injuction was rejected by the High Court.

The decision to set a trial date without reviewing the application for an interim injunction means Phang is not barred from further commenting on the issue until the High Court makes its decision on April 5.

Abraham had moved the hearing for the application to the trial date in response to a request by Wee's counsel that the plaintif needed more time to go through affidavits, which were served to them last week and defence statements, which was served o Tuesday.

“As the applications involve common facts, they will be heard together,” said Phang’s counsel Gobind Deo Singh.

Star Publications is represented by Chai Siew Wan and Yee Mei Ken.

On Feb 9, Wee filed a defamation suit naming Phang and the English daily as defendants over statements published between Dec 25, 2009 and Jan 12 this year.

Statement of defence

In his statement of claim, Wee, who is deputy education minister, claimed that the statements were understood to mean that he was involved in or committed the offence of corruption and/or abuse of power.

Besides the injunction, he also sought general damages, aggravated damages, exemplary damages and interest at eight per cent per anum.

In his statement of defence, Phang, 71, who is chairman of the Social Care Foundation, said his statements were fair comment and were made "on an occasion of qualified privilege".

Also claiming qualified privilege, The Star, in its defence. said that as a responsible news publisher, it had the social and moral duty to report and publish the news and statements concerning Wee's involvement in PKFZ as they were of "public interest and importance because he was a politician and a public figure".

Wee's former consultancy company, Hijau Sekitar Sdn Bhd had conducted a conceptual study for Wijaya Baru Sdn Bhd, which is owned by Tiong King Sing, the CEO of PKFZ turnkey developer Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd.

Last December, Wee, who is the MCA Youth chief, said Hijau Sekitar provided consultancy work on Port Klang but denied any link to the controversial PKFZ project.

On Monday, MACC deputy chief commissioner Mohd Shukri Abdull said the commission had recorded a statement from Wee and did not rule out that he might be called again. - Malaysian Mirror

No comments: