To sue or not to sue – is that the question? – Gurdial Singh Nijar

Source: The Malaysian Insider

(Deputy President, HAKAM)

The Wall Street Journal’s report on July 2 alleging that almost US$700 million (RM2.67 billion) of 1MDB funds had been transferred into the prime minister’s personal bank accounts just before the 13th general election. – WSJ screenshot, July 8, 2015.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has been accused of publishing material maliciously and for an extraneous purpose. It is implied that the facts are not true and that the purpose is to destroy a reputation.

These are classic legal ingredients for mounting a law suit for defamation.

Normally the aggrieved person would get his lawyer to send a letter demanding an apology and asking for an unspecified amount of damages. A suit for damages can be instituted even if an apology is tendered. All this is elementary law.

What is curious is a law firm’s letter enquiring whether the WSJ was accusing its client of misappropriation; and asking for the Journal to clarify the original source of the funds which ended up in its client’s personal bank account.

This is doubly intriguing because the letter concludes that “the general gist of the articles create a clear impression that our client has misappropriated …”

If the impression is clear, why ask WSJ to clarify its intention?

Further, a defamation action can be based on an ‘innuendo’ – an indirect insinuation of facts which are false or otherwise legally unsupportable. If a law firm can conclude that the articles give a clear impression of impropriety, a legal suit can and should usually follow without more – as the sun must surely rise every morning in tropical lands.

Again there is hardly a need to predicate advice to the client on confirmation from the journal of its intention.

Now WSJ has responded that it “stands behind our fair and accurate coverage of this evolving story.”

Is this a checkmate?

The law firm needs the information without which it seems to imply that it cannot advise its client on his “appropriate legal recourse”; and it is getting no such confirmation beyond the “stand-by” response.

The ball is back in the law firm’s court. Its next move will be watched with keen interest by legal analysts and others alike. – July 8, 2015.

Gurdial Singh Nijar - file pic
Gurdial Singh Nijar – file pic


Gurdial is professor at the Law Faculty, University of Malaya, and HAKAM Deputy President.





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