KUALA LUMPUR – Bintulu MP Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing has withdrawn his defamation claim against former Pandan MP Tan Sri Ong Tee Keat on the eve of the High Court’s decision over the case.
High Court judge Justice Lau Bee Lan struck out the lawsuit on Thursday, with no liberty to file afresh. She also ordered the plaintiff to pay RM40,000 in costs.
When met by the media later, Ong said although the withdrawal of the suit was made in the eleventh hour, it was a pleasant surprise to him.
“It is a New Year gift for me. This is the second time I was vindicated (in court) after a long legal hassle, for eight years,” he said with a smile.
Speaking to reporters after the proceedings in chambers, Ong’s counsel Chan Tse Yuen said Tiong’s counsel Prem Ramachandran had informed the trial judge that they were withdrawing the claim.
He said this was because reporter Joseph Sipalan had said in his evidence that he had never interviewed Ong before publishing the article in an English daily, which Prem also confirmed with the media later.
Chan said three witnesses had testified for Tiong while Ong gave his evidence alone in the trial.
In elaborating, Chan said Tiong’s lawyer had not make any submissions after the hearing of the case.
He said Ong’s team submitted on Oct 20 last year, adding that the decision of the case was supposed to be delivered by the trial judge on Jan 27 (Friday).
Tiong originally filed his suit on Oct 12, 2009, against The New Straits Times Press Bhd, its then group editor Datuk Syed Nadzri Syed Harun, its then reporter Sipalan, and Ong.
He withdrew his claim against NSTP and its journalists later.
The article, written by Sipalan with the heading “Chua and Tiong in cahoots?” was published in the New Sunday Times on Sept 6, 2009.
Tiong and Sipalan had testified in the trial of the defamation suit.
In his sworn evidence on Jan 30, 2013, Tiong testified that in the article, Ong had accused him of conspiring with former MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek to bring him down.
Sipalan, 35 testified that he was the writer of the article and there were between seven and eight people who were his sources for the article.
However, Sipalan refused to reveal the identities of his sources.
Tiong had failed in his attempts at the High Court and appellate courts to compel Sipalan to disclose the sources for the article.
Justice Lau, in her decision in 2013, said Sipalan had given an undertaking to preserve confidentiality in relation to the sources of information.
She also said a journalist owed a duty to other journalists not to imperil their future prospects of obtaining information.
Court of Appeal judge Justice Azahar Mohamed (now a Federal Court judge), who chaired a three-man panel on Aug 29, 2014, held that Tiong’s appeal was incompetent and unappealable as he had appealed against a “procedural ruling”.
Under the law, any appeal must be based on a final judgment of a court and not on procedural rulings made within the trial.
Justice Azahar had ordered the trial of the defamation suit to proceed before the same High Court judge. A Federal Court had on March 7, last year had agreed with the appellate court’s ruling.