THE threat by Rosmah Mansor to sue those who produce “false, malicious publications or postings” is likely a blustering attempt to intimidate her critics and cow social media users without resulting in any real legal action, say lawyers.
Yesterday, Rosmah’s solicitor Messrs Noorhajran Mohd Noor issued a statement saying those who make malicious attacks against her would face legal action without further notices or references.
The statement further added that Rosmah’s lawyers are closely monitoring all postings on social media platforms and other publications in relation to the false and malicious attacks against her.
Lawyers say that the threat is unlikely to result in any real legal action, such as a defamation suit, due to the legal work entailed and the fact that the wife of the prime minister would likely be called to testify as well.
“It seems they’re doing it to scare people from commenting on her. It’s a practice to intimidate others,” said Eric Paulsen, executive director of Lawyers for Liberty.
“At the end of the day, you end up in court and are subject to the legal process, even if you are the plaintiff. Once the suit is filed, the court process will go on and everyone will have to put in their documents. Rosmah will have to come and testify,” he said.
Rosmah’s statement came a day after the US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a civil action to begin seizing assets worth US$540 million (RM2.3 billion), believed to have been purchased using money siphoned from state investor fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
DoJ’s latest suit, its third since last year, brings the total amount allegedly misappropriated from 1MDB to US$4.5 billion.
The latest DoJ suit also noted how Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho had purchased, using money from 1MDB, a 22-carat pink diamond necklace for the “wife of Malaysian Official No. 1” (MO1).
MO1 was previously identified as the prime minister by a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.
Paulsen said blogs and social media users should not be targeted as they are not the originators of information regarding 1MDB.
“The information came from the DoJ. The other source is the Wall Street Journal or at the very least, Sarawak Report. So rather than target blogs, newspapers or Facebook users, who are merely repeating what these originators have said, they should be suing these entities instead.
“So it seems they are targeting people who are the weakest instead of taking on people who are challenging them head on,” Paulsen said.
Litigation lawyer Siti Kasim said individuals or publications would only be liable if they made subjective claims that cannot be proven in court.
“If there are claims that she has spent money lavishly from 1MDB, it’s a different story. But even then, if she sues over the fact that she’s not the recipient of money linked to 1MDB, (her lawyers) will have come out with proof that she wasn’t.”
Siti, a vocal human rights activist, added there no longer appears to be any legal issues in naming Rosmah as the wife of MO1.
“A minister has publicly confirmed that MO1 is the prime minister and so by implication, she (Rosmah) is the wife of the prime minister. I’m not sure how’s she going to disprove that,” Siti said.
Last September Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Rahman Dahlan said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that MO1, as named by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), was Prime Minister Najib Razak.
“I’ve said it openly. Obviously, if you read the documents, it is the prime minister,” the BBC quoted him as saying in an article titled “Who is Malaysian Official 1? Case closed.”
“Her lawyer will have to come up with a very good argument…Unless they say Rahman Dahlan has lied or something,” Siti said.
Surendra Ananth, an advocate and solicitor, said as long as social media users or publications do not come up with unproven allegations of their own, Rosmah’s threat to take legal action is “shaky”.
“As long as they state what the DoJ claim states, I don’t see how they can be liable,” he said.
Surendra said any suit would be deemed “baseless” if publications use the “truth of justification” defence.
“As far as the papers have repeated what the DoJ papers disclose, by reference to Rosmah being MO1’s wife, the papers can rely on the defence of justification.
“A minister has publicly admitted that MO1 is Najib. This was not denied by Najib or anyone else. It is therefore beyond dispute that MO1’s wife is Rosmah,” he said.
Surendra also said there is the legal matter of qualified privilege, whereby the press has a duty to report on matters of public interest.
“I don’t see any element of irresponsible journalism when the press had merely stated what the DoJ papers have disclosed.
“All citizens, in particular, the press, are entitled under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution to discuss matters of public interest.
“The allegations in the DoJ relates to public funds and the conduct of governmental officials. Everyone has the constitutional right to discuss these matters. The media statement is nothing but a hollow threat to stifle free expression,” he said.