PUTRAJAYA: Former Pandan member of Parliament Mohd Rafizi Ramli is not liable for defaming National Feedlot Corporation Sdn Bhd ( NFCorp) executive chairman Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Salleh Ismail and his company over his statements relating to alleged misuse of government funds, the Federal Court ruled on Thursday (April 21).
Following which, a three-man panel led by Chief Judge of Malaya Azahar Mohamed dismissed the appeals brought by Mohamad Salleh and his company and ordered him to pay cost of RM70,000 to Mohd Rafizi.
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In the court's decision, Justice Azahar, said the statement made by Mohd Rafizi was without malice and that Mohd Rafizi could resort to defence of fair comment to defeat the defamation suit filed against him.
Justice Azahar said the High Court had made a finding that Mohd Rafizi was not motivated by malice when making the alleged defamatory statements.
Justice Azahar also said that there was sufficient substratum of facts to warrant Mohd Rafizi to make the statements.
He said it was also the finding of the High Court that Mohd Rafizi had an honest belief that his allegations were true and that he was performing a public duty in agitating for greater accountability for public funds.
"In my view, the respondent's (Mohd Rafizi) conclusion that public fund had been misused as a leverage for the Public Bank's loan was an opinion and inferences that a fair-minded person would have honestly made.
"Therefore, Mohd Rafizi could not be liable for damages for defamation," said Justice Azahar.
Federal Court judges Zaleha Yusof and Zabariah Mohd Yusof concurred with Justice Azahar's decision.
Mohamad Salleh and NFCorp filed a lawsuit against Mohd Rafizi in 2013 over his (Mohd Rafizi) statements made on March 7, 2012 at a media conference at the PKR office, alleging that Mohamad Salleh and his company had used a RM71mil government loan as collateral to purchase eight office units in KL Eco City.
Mohamad Salleh and NFCorp initially won the suit in the High Court in 2016 where the court ordered Mohd Rafizi to pay RM150,000 in damages to Mohamad Salleh and RM50,000 to the company for defamation.
However, in 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Mohd Rafizi after setting aside the High Court's order that he pay RM200,000 in damages to Mohamad Salleh and his company.
In 2020, the Federal Court granted leave to Mohamad Salleh and NFCorp to pursue their appeal in the Federal Court after Mohd Rafizi's lawyers did not object to the leave application as several grounds of the appellate court's decision relied on issues that were not raised in their case.
Lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah represented Mohamad Salleh and NFCorp, while Mohd Rafizi was represented by lawyers Razlan Hadri Zulkifli and Ranjit Singh. - Bernama