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Sarawak Report Editor and associates ordered to pay RM300,000 damages to Sultanah Nur Zahirah

The Court of Appeal orders Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown and two others to pay RM300,000 in defamation damages to Sultanah Nur Zahirah over “The Sarawak Report” statement.

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PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA — The Court of Appeal has ruled that Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown, along with two others, must pay RM300,000 in damages to Sultanah of Terengganu, Sultanah Nur Zahirah, for defamation.

A three-judge panel from the Court of Appeal, including Justices Datuk Hadhariah Syed Ismail, Mohamed Zaini Mazlan, and Datuk Azhahari Kamal Ramli, granted Sultanah Nur Zahirah’s appeal. This reversed the High Court’s decision from 31 October 2022.

In the online-delivered court decision, Justice Azhahari declared the statement in the book “The Sarawak Report-The Inside 1MDB Exposé” defamatory towards the Sultanah.

The court held that Gerakbudaya Enterprise publisher Chong Ton Sin and the printer (Vinlin Press) were jointly responsible for this defamation, mandating all three respondents to collectively settle the RM300,000 (around US$64,000) in damages.

Additionally, Rewcastle-Brown, Chong, and Vinlin Press were directed to pay RM120,000 in costs to the Sultanah.

Justice Azhahari expressed the court’s perspective that, during the book’s publication, the statement aimed to subject the Sultanah to hatred or contempt.

He stated that while assessing damages, he considered various factors.

He noted that Rewcastle-Brown admitted an honest mistake in her 2018 statement, clarifying that Sultanah didn’t introduce Jho Low to the Sultan; it was the Sultan’s sister. Moreover, no apology was made before the High Court suit was filed.

Justice Azhahari also said that the appellant, Sultanah of Terengganu, being the Sultan’s consort, is widely recognized, and the statement clearly impacted her image.

On 21 November 2018, Sultanah Nur Zahirah initiated legal proceedings, alleging defamation by Rewcastle-Brown, Gerakbudaya Enterprise, and Vinlin Press in their book titled “The Sarawak Report – The Inside Story of 1MDB Exposé.”

She asserted that the statement implied her engagement in corruption and meddling in the Terengganu government’s administration.

Furthermore, it suggested her exploitation of status to sway the formation of the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), a sovereign wealth fund with an initial fund of RM11 billion (US$3.25 billion in 2008) aimed at ensuring the economic development of Terengganu state, later identified as 1MDB.

Sultanah Nur Zahirah also declined the accusation, indicating her involvement in facilitating Jho Low’s appointment as a TIA adviser.

She initially pursued RM100 million in general damages from each respondent, alongside a court order mandating the publisher’s withdrawal of the book containing the purportedly defamatory statement and instructing the printer to cease the book’s production.

On 27 September 2018, Sarawak Report published a statement on its website, saying it apologised if any misinterpretations in a passage of its book on the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal upset the Sultanah.

However, according to Sultanah’s lawyer, Datuk Mohd Haaziq Pillay Abdullah, when Sultanah saw the statement posted on the Sarawak Report, she did not consider it to be an apology.

“My instructions are to proceed further. This is not the terms of the apology,” he told The Star Online on 28 September that year.

“The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose,” unveiled on 8 September 2018, delves into the investigations of the 1MDB scandal.

U.S. and Malaysian investigators have said some US$4.5 billion was stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) – co-founded by Najib during his first year as prime minister in 2009 – and that more than US$1 billion went to accounts linked to Najib.

Najib then became the first Malaysian premier to be imprisoned after Malaysia’s Federal Court upheld a guilty verdict and 12-year prison sentence handed down to him by a lower court.

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