KUALA LUMPUR — Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has claimed he had received a letter from Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary appealing against the Inland Revenue Board’s (IRB) decision to discontinue Yayasan Albukhary’s tax exemption during Lim Guan Eng’s time as finance minister.

The former prime minister said this in his defence statement sighted by Malay Mail which was filed in court on April 25 over a defamation suit filed by Lim against the former last month over the alleged cancellation of the tax exemption status.

He said the refusal amounted to a cancellation of the tax exemption.

“As the minister of finance, the Inland Revenue Board would be under his purview.

“When the defendant was the then prime minister, he received a letter from Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar to the Prime Minister’s Office, appealing against the decision of the Inland Revenue Board in not honouring the tax exemption and the decision to impose a penalty,” it said, referring to Muhyiddin.

Muhyiddin justified the alleged claims against Lim by stating he had sighted a letter from the Finance Ministry to Syed Mokhtar “sometime in 2021” informing that the ministry under Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz had allowed the appeal.

“The defendant is therefore allowed to draw an inference and conclude that the tax exemption was cancelled, or else there would be no need for an appeal to be made or allowed by the Ministry of Finance in 2021,” he said.

Muhyiddin’s 30-page defence statement, filed by solicitors Chetan Jethwani & Co, relies on the defences of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege to counter Lim’s defamation suit.

In relation to the impugned words, Muhyiddin said he has a legitimate social and moral interest in conveying the said information to the public who has a common and corresponding interest to receive the same.

“Both the plaintiff and the defendant are seasoned politicians, who are accountable to the public.

“It is necessary for the welfare of the society that there should be a frank exchange of information and opinions on the manner in which public authorities carry out their public duties and the curtailing of the same would be a breach of the defendant’s freedom of expression under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution,” he said.

Muhyiddin also said the impugned words consist of statements of fact which were true in substance and an expression of opinion which were fair comment on a matter of public interest.

The defence statement also said Muhyiddin had no authority over any publication by the media of his alleged defamatory statements.

Muhyiddin also stated the number of viewers and comments is not definitive and cannot be used to measure the scale of publication involving the alleged defamatory statements.

In the ongoing lawsuit filed on March 27, Lim had alleged Muhyiddin made defamatory statements against him on March 9 and March 11 on the former prime minister’s Facebook account as well as his remarks on March 12 to the media.

In the court documents sighted by Malay Mail, Lim wants Muhyiddin to retract his statement, remove all those statements from his social media accounts, and make a public apology to him for those comments.

The former finance minister also wants the court to issue an injunction on Muhyiddin or his team barring them from making further comments on the matter.

Muhyiddin’s remarks had alleged that Lim had back then as the finance minister been involved in the previous Pakatan Harapan government’s purported cancellation of the tax exemption status for charitable organisation Yayasan Albukhary, which was said to carry out work helping Muslims.

Lim disputes Muhyiddin’s allegations as untrue.

Lim said the statements, in their natural and ordinary meaning, were meant to show that he had abused his position and power by authorising the imposition of taxes and penalties on a welfare foundation.

He said they were also meant to depict him as being racist, anti-Malay, anti-Islam and a vindictive person, and that he had acted in bad faith.  MM

Tax exemption legal tussle: Prove it, Muhyiddin tells Guan Eng

Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin wants Lim Guan Eng to prove in court that the Finance Ministry did not revoke Albukhary Foundation’s tax-exempt status.

In his defence statement against Lim’s civil suit, the Bersatu president expressed his doubt over the veracity of the ministry’s statement last month saying the ministry nor its officers had revoked the exemption.

“Save that Finance Ministry on March 23, made a press statement stating that neither the former finance minister nor its officer had revoked the tax exemption given to Al-Bukhary Foundation, the defendant does not make any admission to paragraph 28 of the statement of claim.

“The defendant denies the veracity of the statement made by the Finance Ministry on March 23 and put the plaintiff to strict proof,” said the defence statement filed by Muhyiddin’s lawyer yesterday.

Muhyiddin’s defence statement was in response to a defamation suit brought by Lim, who claimed that the Pagoh MP had defamed him with libellous accusations.

This comes after the former premier had alleged that Lim was responsible for the Albukhary Foundation – which is headed by tycoon Syed Mokhtar Albukhary – losing its tax-exempt status.

Former finance minister Lim Guan Eng

Last month, Finance Ministry in its statement denied that one of its officers had signed off on revoking the Albukhary Foundation’s tax-exempt status.

“The Finance Ministry, whether through the previous minister and or its officers, has never revoked the tax exemption given to the Albukhary Foundation,” it said.

Similarly, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim had said in Parliament that there were no records of the DAP chairperson having revoked the foundation’s tax exemption status.

On this, Muhyiddin in his defence statement claimed that the prime minister’s statements were “wholly irrelevant” and were only a deflection so that Lim would not be held accountable for Inland Revenue Board’s (IRB) decision on the issue.

“The reliance by the plaintiff on the statements made by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in Parliament is a deflection and a fait accompli to deflect from the plaintiff’s refusal to be held accountable for the actions of the IRB during his tenure as finance minister,” he said.

In justifying his statements against Lim, Muhyiddin told the court that he made the inference and conclusion based on a letter he received from Syed Mokhtar appealing against IRB’s decision to revoke the tax exemption.

According to Muhyiddin, Syed Mokhtar would not have had to make such an application had the IRB honoured the tax-exempt status, which had been granted to the foundation when the government was led by BN before the 14th general election.

‘How does Lim not know?’

“The IRB is under the purview of the finance minister. At the material time, the plaintiff was the minister and naturally, the IRB would be under his purview.

“Accordingly, the plaintiff ought to explain the change in circumstances pertaining to the change in position taken by the IRB before and after Pakatan Harapan came into power in 2018.

“The defendant further states he is aware that the finance minister has allowed the appeal by Al-Bukhary Foundation sometime in 2021.

“He is therefore allowed to draw an inference and conclude that the tax exemption was cancelled, or else, there would be no need for approval to be given by the Finance Ministry in 2021,” the statement said.