By Hidir Reduan Abdul Rashid | Malaysiakini

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman has contended that a defamation suit against him by a former adviser of ex-premier Najib Abdul Razak was done to intimidate him and to derive political advantage.

The former youth and sports minister made this claim in his counterclaim against Habibul Rahman Kadir.

Last year in a media statement, Habibul announced he would file a civil suit against the MUDA founder over an allegation of a conspiracy to weaken Bersatu, which is now part of the present ruling coalition.

Prior to setting up MUDA, Syed Saddiq was among the founders of BERSATU, which is headed by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Habibul’s lawyers from law firm Jahaberdeen & Co filed the writ of summons at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Nov 16 last year.

The plaintiff is suing the defendant over the latter’s remarks made at a press conference at the Seri Pacific Hotel in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 2, 2017.

During the press briefing then, Syed Saddiq claimed there was a conspiracy, backed by unnamed party leaders, to weaken BERSATU by “threatening or bribing” its leaders.

According to a copy of the counterclaim and statement of defence filed on Dec 27 last year sighted by Malaysiakini recently, the Muar MP alleged that the defamation suit was baseless and an abuse of the court process.

The defendant contended this is because he never made defamatory statements against the plaintiff during the 2017 media briefing.

Syed Saddiq’s press conference at the Seri Pacific Hotel in KL on Oct 2, 2017

Syed Saddiq claimed he never made statements referring to Habibul or could be understood by the public to be referring to the plaintiff.

The lawmaker also contended that Habibul never suffered any damage to his reputation due to the alleged defamatory statement because the lawsuit was not filed immediately after the 2017 press conference.

‘Plaintiff filed action in malice’

Pointing out that the civil action was only filed late last year, Syed Saddiq claimed Habibul’s legal action was mala fide (done in bad faith) and driven by a hidden motive that has nothing to do with the 2017 media briefing.

“The plaintiff filed this action in malice, as among ways to reap political advantage, and as an attempt to intimidate and/or threaten and/or harass the defendant.

“This action has no basis and is an abuse of the process of the court,” the lawmaker contended.

“This action (lawsuit) has given negative effect against the defendant as well as his good name and reputation among the public.

“As a result of this action, the defendant had incurred loss and damage of his good name and reputation, time and costs,” Syed Saddiq added.

Through the counterclaim, the defendant seeks for the plaintiff to pay general, special, and exemplary damages.

In his statement of defence against the lawsuit, Syed Saddiq also cited the defence of justification, qualified privilege, and fair comment.

Under the law of civil action, justification is a defence that the statements or allegations are true, and if proven successfully in court, this would act as an absolute defence against the legal action.

Qualified privilege is a defence that applies in a situation where the words were issued by a person who has an interest or a legal, social, or moral duty to do so.

The defence of fair comment is one where the impugned statement was made as a fair comment (rather than as a statement of fact) over an issue of public interest.

Syed Saddiq is represented by counsel from law firm AmerBON, Advocates.

‘Statements can be understood to refer to me

Meanwhile, in a filed reply to the statement of defence and counterclaim, Habibul countered that Syed Saddiq’s statements during the press conference could be understood by the public to be referring to him (Habibul).

Through the filing made on Jan 2 this year, the plaintiff contended that despite the defendant’s denial of any media reports of the press conference making any mention against the former, Habibul alleged his relatives and friends kept asking him about the allegation even up to late last year.

Habibul also denied Syed Saddiq’s allegation that the civil action was for political advantage or intimidation purposes.

The plaintiff put the defendant on strict proof in regards to the said claims, alleging that the claims are baseless and an abuse of court process.

“Furthermore, the plaintiff pleads that the defendant’s counterclaim can jeopardise, obstruct, or delay the fair hearing of the action (defamation suit),” Habibul contended.

The plaintiff also claimed that Syed Saddiq is not entitled to the cited defence of justification, qualified privilege, and fair comment.

According to the online cause list, the matter is fixed for case management before Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Azimah Omar on March 29.