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By Dorcas Ting
KUCHING, Feb 19: Judicial Commissioner (JC) Christopher Chin fixed March 9 for case management to hear the defamation suit filed by the state government and the state financial authority to sue Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP) chief Chong Chieng Jen for making defamatory statements insinuating RM11 billion of the state’s budget mysteriously disappearing into a blackhole.
On Feb 12, the Federal Court dismissed Chieng Jen’s application to review the Federal Court’s decision in 2018 which allows the government to sue for defamation.
Chin also fixed April 7 to 9 for tentative trial dates.
Chong’s legal counsels Chong Siew Chiang and Michael Kong appeared at the High Court chamber here today to hear the date fixed by Chin while Mohd Azdrul Azlan and Voon Yan Sin appeared for the state government and state financial Authority.
In 2019, the Federal Court had upheld a majority decision of the Court of Appeal that words “the State budget for the past years…. a sum of RM10 billion mysteriously disappear into this blackhole… and the State does not have money because state money going somewhere else” uttered by Chieng Jen published by certain media houses, were capable of a defamatory meaning and thus, that the government of Sarawak and the state financial authority could sue Chieng Jen for defamation.
The Federal Court ordered that the High Court should determine if he had any defence and assess the amount of damages to be paid to the state gvernment and state financial authority.
Chieng Jen applied for a review of that judgement by the Federal Court on the grounds that the judgement violated Article 10 of the Federal Constitution which guaranteed freedom of speech if the government could sue its citizens for defamation.
The state government argued that the application for review was a guise to appeal against the earlier judgement of the Federal Court on the grounds that its earlier decision was wrong and that the Federal Court had no power to hear appeals against its own decision.
The Federal Court unanimously agreed there was no merit in the application and that the Federal Court could not review its own decision.
The application was dismissed with cost of RM100,000 to be paid by Chieng Jen who is also Deputy Domestic Trade and Consumer Affair Minister to the Sarawak government and state financial authority.
On April 3, 2013, the state government and state financial authority sued Chieng Jen in the Kuching High Court for defamation pertaining to the publication of the said objectionable words in the media on January 3, 2013.
The state government pleaded that the words in their ordinary meaning meant that the state government and its financial authority, throught the budgetary process, had caused billions of ringgit to be siphoned off for the benefit of cronies of members of the Government and their families.
The High Court, Court of Appeal and the Federal Court found the objectionable words capable of a defamatory meaning. The Appellate Courts also ruled that under Section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act, 1956, the Government of Sarawak and its financial authority can sue Chieng Jen for defamation.
Chieng Jen is represented by Ranjit Singh and Chan Kok Keong from the Malayan Bar, assisted by Chong Siew Chiang and Michael Kong. The State Legal Counsel JC Fong assisted by Mohd Azdrul Azlan, Voon Yan Sin and Evy Liana Batang appeared for the state government and state financial authority. — DayakDaily