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Former Penang Chief Minister and current Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng (2nd-left) arrives at the Penang High Court. -NSTP/SHAHNAZ FAZLIE SHAHRIZAL
Former Penang Chief Minister and current Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng (2nd-left) arrives at the Penang High Court. -NSTP/SHAHNAZ FAZLIE SHAHRIZAL

GEORGE TOWN: Former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng told the High Court here today that he had no choice but to sue former state Gerakan acting Youth chief Jason Loo for defamation.

This was after the latter challenged him to do so over the Peel Avenue land sale.

Testifying in three separate defamation suits brought against Loo for maliciously making false and defamatory statements as well as suits against The China Press Bhd and Guang Ming Ribao press for publishing the statement, Lim said Loo's assertions implied that the sale of the land was decided by him alone, opened to corruption and that the former was "above the law".

"That is not acceptable. This is because the sale of the land, through the Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI), was a collective decision involving all the state executive councilors, which has to go through the state executive council, and not me alone, as the chief executive of the state.

"He (Loo) also went on to imply that if I do not sue him, it meant that what he had said was right and what I had said was wrong.

“As such, I had no choice but to file the defamation suit," he said during re-examination by his counsel N. Mureli.

Lim also told the court that his administration then was merely waiting for the "right timing" to reveal the land sale and subsequent investments to the people and was not hiding anything from them, before it was turned into an issue by the non-governmental organisation and the opposition.

He said it must be understood that this involved a major investment by a foreign investor, which was subjected to a non-disclosure agreement.

"Basically, we had nothing to hide, and had planned to disclose the deal when everything had been sealed.

"This was a strategic foreign investment, and as with many other foreign investments, we wanted to attract them, hence there was a basis for proper direct negotiations and not open tender.

"This is a practice which had been practiced extensively not only by my government, but even the previous Gerakan-led administration," he added, noting that more than 95 per cent of government procurement projects during his time was conducted through open tender.

Lim was also asked to clarify that he had barred certain newspapers during his time in office, after he was not given the right to reply.

He explained that it was a decision made by the former Pakatan Rakyat coalition at the time, but was never implemented by him.

"Even reporters from Barisan Nasional-controlled media was allowed to cover me. Even China Press and Guang Ming," he added.

Lim also went on to state that he stopped talking to the press, especially directly, after he was accused of interfering in Sin Chew Daily's operation when he sought the newspaper to correct a headline of his article.

"After that, if I felt that I had been wronged to the extreme, I would file a suit, otherwise, I would just swallow and take it whatever (news about me).

Lim further told the court of the "almost unspoken attacks" against him by the Chinese newspapers in 2013 when he objected to how three Chinese newspaper organisations received money from the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

"In light of that, the whole climate of the Chinese papers changed. Also, it was on that basis alone, the reports against me were slanted and no longer independent as in the past," he said.

Earlier, during cross-examination by counsel, Yiew Voon Lee, representing the newspapers, Lim said Loo had attacked him in his personal capacity, not merely in his official capacity as the then chief minister.

"My name was often repeated and it becomes personal when they are lies and allegations of corruption," he said.

Hearing before Judge Datuk Rosilah Yop continues on June 17.

The Peel Avenue issue came to light in September 2017 when Citizens Awareness Chant Group (CHANT) adviser Yan Lee revealed that Island Hospital had submitted a planning permission for a piece of land located at the corner of Peel Avenue and Pierce Road, which houses two double-storey heritage bungalows.

Lee had said then that CHANT's experts had confirmed that the two buildings were Category II buildings, which warrant that every effort be made to preserve them.

Island Hospital intends to build the Island Medical City, a proposed RM2 billion medical facility development, on the 6.4-acre land at Peel Avenue.

It comprises an initial 600-bed hospital to be increased to 1,000 bed capacity in the future while the hotel would also be built at a later stage.

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