Malaysia’s Mahathir files libel suit against PM Anwar, seeks $33.8M

Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia’s Mahathir files libel suit against PM Anwar, seeks $33.8M Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks to reporters after announcing that his party’s new ally, Gerakan Tanah Air, will be using the party logo for the 15th General Election in Putrajaya, Oct.11, 2022.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad is suing Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim for $33.8 million, claiming his long-time rival defamed him when accusing him of amassing wealth while in power.

Mahathir, 97, filed the 150 million ringgit lawsuit in Shah Alam High Court on Wednesday, although his office made the legal action public on Friday. It is the latest salvo in a decades-long on-off feud between the two leaders.

The lawsuit, which has been reviewed by BenarNews, accuses Anwar of intentionally tarnishing Mahathir’ reputation as a two-time former prime minister and well-regarded statesman.

“The allegations made against Mahathir not only damaged his image and reputation but also caused embarrassment to him and their family,” it states. “The claims have put his political, business and financial opportunities at risk by jeopardizing the support and trust he has garnered in those realms.

“Mahathir argues that as the prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim had the resources and authority to verify facts before making any statements. Thus, Mahathir is seeking significant exemplary damages as a deterrent to other leaders and ministers who make statements without proper verification and solely for political gain.”

The lawsuit relates to Anwar’s speech to supporters at the Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s Special National Congress on March 18. Analysts said it is unlikely to affect the prime minister’s grip on power.

Mahathir is seeking 50 million ringgit ($11.3 million) in general damages and 100 million ringgit ($22.5 million) in exemplary damages.

He also requested the court order Anwar to issue a written apology and retract the allegations, while paying 5% annual interest on the damages awarded.

Anwar attorney Alliff Benjamin Suhaimi confirmed his office had received copies of the lawsuit on Wednesday evening.

“Our client has 14 days to enter a response to the suit and an additional 14 days to file a defense, so there has been no response from us at this time,” Alliff told BenarNews.

In a thinly veiled attack in March, Anwar criticized an unnamed individual who had been in power for more than two decades and amassed wealth for himself and family while the country’s Malay community had lost everything.

“There are some people, who after being in power for 22 years, plus 22 months, are now complaining that Malays have lost everything,” he said in the speech.

“They say they have lost wealth, lost shares, lost everything. You were foolishly amassing the wealth for your family and children. Now that you have lost power, you want to speak on behalf of the people! Don’t fool the people!”

Mahathir is Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, holding office for 22 years in his first tenure and then for 22 months following the 2018 election before he was forced to resign when his Pakatan Harapan alliance collapsed.

Mahathir lawyer Rafique Rashid said the lawsuit was necessary.

“This action is taken after considering that baseless and defamatory accusations like this should not be made by a person holding the position of the prime minister of Malaysia, who should be serving the country instead of being involved in politics.

“The lawsuit filed seeks to retract the statement and aims to stop any similar allegations, as well as to seek exemplary and general damages totaling 150 million ringgit, taking into account the malicious accusations made by a prime minister.”

Technical proceedings linked to the lawsuit are scheduled to begin May 31 at the High Court in Shah Alam.

Hard feelings

Conflict between Mahathir and Anwar has been a hallmark of Malaysia’s political landscape for decades. In 1998, Mahathir sacked Anwar as his deputy prime minister. Later, Anwar was jailed on sodomy and corruption charges.

They reconciled in 2016 to form the Pakatan Harapan coalition and defeat the administration of scandal-ridden Prime Minister Najib Razak’s in the May 2018 election.

The truce collapsed when Mahathir did not fulfill his promise to transfer power to Anwar, who received a royal pardon following the vote, two years after their election victory.

Since the most recent general election in November 2022, Mahathir has sought to revive his political career despite losing his seat in Langkawi. He has promoted Malay rights and governance and frequently criticized Anwar’s new multiethnic coalition government.

Political analysts said they do not expect the dispute to harm Anwar as it is likely to be seen as more bickering between the two.

“I don’t think it will affect Anwar’s image that much,” Syaza Shukri, associate professor of political science at International Islamic University Malaysia, told BenarNews.

“Anwar may be viewed as a hero by his supporters for confronting the issue in court, but the case is unlikely to be well understood by the general public, as libel cases generally do not receive much attention since they are not criminal cases.”

Syaza said the case was complicated by the fact that Anwar indirectly made accusations against Mahathir and both sides are now defending their positions.

“But I think the legal action confirms to the public that the rivalry and enmity between them have always been there, despite the ‘detente’ in 2016,” she said.

Another analyst, Azmi Hassan, said that whether the case will affect Anwar’s image depends on the outcome of the trial.

“During Anwar’s speech, he never specifically mentioned the name of Mahathir Mohamad, so I believe that it will be an intriguing defamation case between these two leaders who have always been arch-rivals. This legal action certainly adds to their long-standing feud,” Azmi, a senior fellow at the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research, told BenarNews.


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