Tan Sri Vincent Tan Wants RM22 million from Sydney Journalist

The Berjaya Group chairman, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, insists any who he thinks defames him must be sued for for more money than he or she had earned in a life time.  His particular target is journalists.  He has yet to collect, although his legal victories, one of which is challenged in the Federal Court next month, is more to threaten than to assuage his reputation.  How can it be assuaged if, after insisting only a high enough sum could, he cannot collect?  It is more to threaten journalists not to go beyond praising him.  Which is why he sues newspapers and journalists who challenge his own view of himself.

So, when a Sydney freelance journalist, Ganesh Sahathevan, a former Malaysian, took to clearing his name and his reputation after Tan Sri Vincent Tan's newspaper, the Sun, sacked him for a story that eventually turned out to be correct but would have put Tan Sri Vicent and others including a son of the Prime Minister, in a fix with the regulatory authorities, battle was enjoined.  His action for unfair dismissal is before the Industrial Court in Malaysia,  with a continuing hearing later this month.  When he moved to Sydney, and looked closely into Tan Sri Vincent's business enterprises, and found a can of worms, he wrote about it.

Tan Sri Vincent sued for defamation, got an injunction against Ganesh under Australia's Fair Trading Laws, got the New South Wales government incensed, to make him realise that in Australia things like what he proposed to do are done differently.  Injunctions are not automatically granted in Australia against journalists sued for libel.  Ganesh countersued.  Tan Sri Vincent, deciding discretion the better part of valour, discontinued his action.  The courts allowed it on condition that this matter be never the subject of fresh action in Australia or Malaysia. Since then, the Australian Stock Exchange in Sydney suspended Tan Sri Vincent's listed company there, Carlovers, and he is about to dispose of his shares in it.

On Thursday, 10 May 01, Ganesh was served a bundle of documents, originally served on his parents in Klang by throwing it over the fence last February 2000 in an misguided attempt at substituted service.  It included, this time, an order for service outside jurisdiction dated 22 March 00.  Tan Sri Vincent Tan, his Berjaya Group and Berjaya Toto are suing him for defemation in the Malaysian courts claiming general damages of RM10 million, RM5 million and RM7 million respectively.  Messrs V.K. Lingam and Co represent all three plaintiffs.  All three claim Ganesh defamed them by stating in a complaint to the Malayusian Securities Commission, copied to the plainttifs, as well as some friends in the media, that BToto and BGroup funds "were/have been used" to finance the mobile phone operator, Digi.com, and Sun Media Group Sdn Bhd.

Tan Sri Vincent personally also claims that Ganesh had defamed him by implying in a query to the Norwegian Labor Party, that he had interefered with the independence of the judiciary to such an extent that no one challenging him in a Malaysian court could expect to win. The pictures at www.malaysia.net/special, and the story I wrote to go with the pictures, are part of Vincent's statement of claim. (These refer to photos of the former Chief Justice, Tun Eusoff Chin, and Dato' V.K. Lingam, on holidays with their families in New Zealand;  and of Tan Sri Vincent, Dato' Lingam, the former Attorney-General and now federal court  judge, Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah and their wives in Rome.)

The plaintiffs further claim Ganesh's actions were actuated by malice, rooted in Tan Sri Vincent's refusal to settle the matter before the Industrial Court Ganesh brought against the Sun Media.  As proof, Tan Sri Vincent includes in his affidavit a letter from Ganesh's Malaysian lawyers, Messrs Skrine & Co, dated October 1999, offering terms of settlement, and (in Ganesh's words) "various religious articles I sent him (which I admit I sent him wishing him well for I heard that he was unwell -- a matter of praying for one's enemy)".  Tan Sri Vincent claims the religous articles sent him together with (Ganesh again) "my note wishing him well were all proof that I threatened him with "Divine Displeasure" if he refused my terms of settlement". Tan Sri Vincent had lodged apolice report on the matter; so had the Berjaya Group chief of security claiming Ganesh had defamed them.  Ganesh has entered a conditional appearance.

Tan Sri Vincent's commitment to justice is commendable, especially when it is at high cost to himself.  His enviable insistence that he wants justice to be done should have all Malayians rise up in support of this noble venture.  He needs it.  Especially when the gloss of Dato' Lingam's description of him as "an international business man of unquestioned repute" wears off.  He is not seen in public these days.  When his Colmer Tropicale, a garish fake-French styled, holiday resort tourists allegedly prefer, in Bukit Tinggi, outside Kuala Lumpur, was visited by the mayor of the French Alsatian town of Colmer last week, neither he nor the Prime Minister was on hand to greet him.  It was so highly thought of last year that the French National Day was celebrated there and the Prime Minister was on hand to declare it open.  So, why is it now downgraded?  Colmer Tropicale, incidentally, is the only resort in Malaysia which charges RM10 toll per person, not per vehicle, for entering the complex.  That entitles visitors to a soft drink.  One should be thankful for such small mercies.

M.G.G. Pillai
pillai@mgg.pc.my