Penang chief denies meeting S'pore political leaders

PENANG Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng on Monday denied meeting any Singapore political leaders during an investment mission in 2011, as he testified in his defamation suit against two Malaysian newspapers, Malay right- wing group Perkasa and four others that alleged he revealed state secrets to Singapore.

The secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) - an opposition party - took to court The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd (NST), Utusan Melayu (Malaysia), Perkasa, the editors of the two newspapers and two Perkasa leaders after the group issued a statement in October 2011 which the two newspapers - NST and Utusan Malaysia - picked up in their news reports.

The statement alleged that Mr Lim and two Malaysian businessmen, Datuk Azman Yahya and Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan, had dinner with a senior People's Action Party (PAP) leader in Singapore. In the statement, Perkasa questioned whether the three men had "leaked national secrets" to the PAP leader during the meeting, which reportedly took place in August 2011.

Mr Lim is suing for RM15 million (S$5.7 million), and is also demanding a public apology from the seven defendants. He said the allegation that he was a traitor was intended to damage his reputation to get voters to turn against him.

Penang's ties with Singapore have frequently become political fodder to whip up sentiments in the heated contest for votes in this hot state, with Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians such as former premier Mahathir Mohamad linking DAP's stance on issues with that of the PAP.

Penang is Malaysia's second wealthiest state after Selangor. Penang is often called the country's Silicon Valley, as it is host to many semiconductor and electronic parts manufacturers, including Intel and Seagate. It is also one of Malaysia's most popular tourist destinations.

The DAP wrested Penang from BN and formed the state government in the 2008 general election, and won it again in the election last May.

When he was cross-examined by the defence counsel on Monday, Mr Lim told the court that he did not own any national secrets, and that he would not leak them to foreign powers even if he had any.

"I am loyal to my country," Mr Lim told the High Court. "I have no national secrets as I am not a federal leader."

Mr Lim explained to the court that he was on an investment mission in Singapore on Aug 11 and 12, 2011, in his capacity as Penang Chief Minister to woo investors and firm up a deal with Singapore Aerospace Manufacturing to set up an airplane parts production facility in Penang.

The trip included a dinner organised by Invest Penang, a state investment promotion agency, that was attended by some of Singapore's high-ranking investment officers, including Temasek Holdings chief executive Ho Ching, the wife of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in her corporate capacity.

Mr Lim is among several opposition politicians who have taken mainstream newspapers to court in recent years for defamation.

On Monday, the High Court ordered NST to pay RM350,000 in damages to Parti Islam SeMalaysia vice-president Husam Musa over news reports containing allegations that he had abused his power when he was a Kelantan state executive councillor.

In Mr Lim's case, NST has since apologised to Mr Azman and Mr Kalimullah, the two businessmen allegedly involved in the meeting with Mr Lim.

The newspaper also acknowledged that it carried the report without verifying whether Perkasa's allegation was true.

Utusan, for its part, ran an apology by Perkasa's information chief Ruslan Kassim to Mr Azman.

Mr Lim, however, said he has yet to receive apologies from the two newspapers or Perkasa.

"If there is no malice, why did the newspapers apologise only to both of them but not to me?" he told the court on Monday.

The hearing continued on Tuesday.

yyennie@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.