KUALA LUMPUR, March 7 — Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak today told the Sessions Court here that the 55-day visit to New Zealand by the former deputy Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Dr Edmund Santhara Kumar during the COVID-19 pandemic was morally wrong.

The former premier said Santhara Kumar who was the Segamat Member of Parliament at that point in time should have sacrificed his holiday and come back for the ‘rakyat’ as the whole nation was hit by the virus.

Najib, who is the defendant’s third witness, said this when queried by lawyer Dinesh Muthal, representing Batu MP, P. Prabakaran during the hearing of a defamation suit filed by Santhara Kumar against Prabakaran (defendant).

“I don’t think it was morally right for anyone (politician) to take a holiday for 55 days, especially during the pandemic time… many people are waving white flags because they needed food and help. If I were in this situation, I would have cut short my holiday and I would find the next flight to come back,” said Najib.

The plaintiff (Santhara Kumar) filed the suit on June 23 2021 against Prabakaran for allegedly uttering defamatory words in connection with his visit to New Zealand in 2020.

Based on his statement of claim, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant had held a press conference outside the New Zealand High Commission on March 17, 2021, between 9.30 am and 2 pm by issuing untrue and false information on the plaintiff’s responsibilities as a deputy minister.

The plaintiff claimed that the defendant or his representative had submitted a memorandum to the New Zealand High Commission criticising the approval and permission given to the plaintiff to visit New Zealand and the defendant also contacted officials at the embassy to find out personal information and the plaintiff’s permission to enter the country.

Recalling his Hawaii trip in 2014, Najib said he had to cut short his vacation due to massive floods in the country despite his family pleading for him to continue (holidaying).

“But I said no, I needed to be with the rakyat. I didn’t want to take any rest and I came back to be on the ground, with the people (then). During difficult times, one has to be with the rakyat. They need your presence and leadership…and I have always held that as part of my principles as a politician.

“During my tenure, I never took more than two weeks for holiday because I didn’t feel it was right to take such a long leave.

“As a member of the government leader, I should also set a good example because if I take 55 days’ holiday then others will also be asking for the same treatment which is not right if you were elected by the people you have to serve them. It was a luxury to go for more than two weeks,” said Najib.

Meanwhile, when questioned by Santhara Kumar’s counsel N. Krishnan Nair, Najib insisted that Santhara Kumar was part of the government and he should inform his whereabouts to the rakyat before he left the country.

Krishnan Nair: Datuk Seri, do you agree with me that when the deputy minister (Santhara Kumar) was not around, the ‘rakyat’ can look for assistance from the minister or other relevant departments?

Najib: I think you missed the point. He (Santhara Kumar) was part of the government, thus, he can’t say the minister was there, so he can take a 55-day leave.

Najib stressed that, if Santhara Kumar was wrong to go on a 55-day leave, it was also wrong for the then-prime minister to approve him to go overseas.

The plaintiff is seeking exemplary, aggravated and compensatory damages and for a statement of apology and retraction to be published in three local newspapers in Malay, English and Tamil and uploaded on the defendant’s Facebook and YouTube accounts.

On Sept 8, 2021, through a statement of defence, Prabakaran claimed that the statements he issued did not have any malicious intent to tarnish the image or reputation of the plaintiff.

The hearing before Sessions Court Judge Zulqarnain Hassan continues tomorrow.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here