KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president Datuk Seri Panglima Yong Teck Lee told the High Court here yesterday that he was only asking the relevant authorities to re-open the air crash tragedy file and re-investigate as the formal investigation report and the real cause of the air crash has never made known to the public.
Yong, 53, said that in his press statements, he had never even once made any reference to the plaintiff Tan Sri Harris Salleh as he alleged.
“It is a well-known fact by the public and the people of Sabah that the formal investigation report and the real cause of the air crash are never released to the public and the people of Sabah despite concerns and questions by the people on what was the real cause of the incident,” he said, adding that he was not the only one who raised the issue for re-investigation into the incident.
The former chief minister testified that the newspaper reports which Harris alleged were defamatory to him was basically a call by him (Yong) for the air crash tragedy known as the “Double or Triple Six Tragedy” to be re investigated.
“The reason is, so that all doubts about the true causes of the crash are removed,” he said.
Yong was testifying before Justice Dato’ Abdul Rahman Sebli in the on-going hearing of a RM50 million suit brought by Harris against him and the party for allegedly insinuating that he (Harris) was involved in causing the plane crash which killed former Chief Minister Tun Fuad Stephens and all 10 others on board a Nomad aircraft on June 6, 1976.
Harris, 81, who filed the suit on June 6, last year, is claiming for general damages, aggravated and exemplary damages of not less than RM50 million to be assessed separately against Yong and SAPP as the first and second defendants respectively.
He is also seeking an injunction to restrain the defendants whether by themselves or their servants or employee or agents from printing and publishing further the statements and similar libel in any form or means.
Harris is represented by counsel Yunof Maringking and Trevor Maringking while Yong and the party are represented by counsel Datuk Simon Shim and Flora Dius.
In that newspaper reports, Yong said he was also commenting on the revelation by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah that the Usno-led government under the late Tun Datu Mustapha Datu Harun in 1975 was unwilling to sign the petroleum agreement had revived a relevant issue in Malaysia federalism, the intrusion of the Federal Government on uncooperative state governments.
“I was again commenting that normally it is proper to re-open an investigation into an old accident if new information surfaces.
“I also said that maybe nothing new would come out of the re-investigation or maybe something big and explosive will surface from the depths of history,” he said.
He said the government had decided in a few other cases in which public inquiries were conducted because the public demanded for them.
“For example in the case of V.K Lingam Video Clip and the death of Teoh Beng Hock because they involved the interest of the public,” he pointed out.
Yong said, the government even formed an independent commission to investigate incidents which involved abuse of powers by the police force.
He said he and the plaintiff have political differences but he has never made any disrespectful statements to the plaintiff.
Thus, he said he was merely making fair comments in response to Tengku Razaleigh’s statement during his talk at KDCA on April 2, 2010, which was published in the Daily Express with regards to the ill-fated aircraft that crashed.
“It was Tengku Razaleigh who made the statement that he and two others were already on board the ill-fated aircraft but the same left the said aircraft due to the last minute invitation by the plaintiff to board another plane to Pulau Banggi, Kudat. I did not make that statement.
“In response to that statement, I commented that for so long nobody really knew about the cause of the air-crash, I said that proper investigation should be made so the people would know what really caused the crash,” he said
. Yong pointed out that there were a few theories of the incident.
“Some said it was caused by sabotage, some said it was because of pilot error, some said because of overloading and some said it was because the Nomad plane was defective.
“However, the official investigation report of the cause of the crash has never been released,” he said, adding that these theories were discussed in some books like the books of “The Sabahan – The Life and Death of Tun Fuad Stephen” and “The Harris Salleh of Sabah”.
“I also think that my party and I were merely exercising out rights of freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution to call for a re-investigation into a very significant event in response to the revelation of the personal account of Tengku Razaleigh before the air crash. He was there before the plane flew,” he said.
Yong told the court that if a public inquiry or re-investigation is conducted, there will be a witness who can testify on the conditions of the plane and of the passengers at that time and that the plaintiff can also be called to testify on his own account of the event.
Earlier in the proceedings, Yong told the court that he had an appointment at Tengku Razaleigh’s office on Nov 14, and Dec 8, in Kuala Lumpur.
He said in the first meeting on Nov 14, they talked about his (Tengku Razaleigh’s) speech and informed the latter that arising from his speech and the news reports, he was now being sued by the plaintiff in respect of what he (Yong) said in responding to the speech.
Asked by Simon on whether Tengku Razaleigh did say anything about his speech, Yong said, “Yes.” Yong added that Tengku Razaleigh’s memory of his speech and the June 6, 1976 air crash itself was very clear.
“Since we were both seated in his office, he was gesturing like putting on the seat belt and he described how the plaintiff had gotten into the plane and invited him to visit a cattle farm in Kudat and he said that he was very sad to lose friends who died in the subsequent air crash,” Yong said.
In the second meeting, Yong said, he informed Tengku Razaleigh that the defamation trial had started and that they wanted him to be as a defence witness.
“He was reluctant saying that he is very busy,” he said, adding that during the meeting, Tengku Razaleigh reconfirmed what he had said at the forum on April 2, 2010.
Yong said that Tengku Razaleigh was also aware of the two books, namely “The Sabahan – The Life and Death of Tun Fuad Stephen” and “Harris Salleh of Sabah” but said the authors of the books never interviewed him.
Yong told the court that he showed Tengku Razaleigh the transcript of the latter’s speech and also wanted to personally pass him the subpoena.
Yong said Tengku Razaleigh took the transcript and had a look at it but refused to take the subpoena.
He said as they left his office, he passed a copy of the subpoena together with a covering letter from the legal firm with his (Tengku Razaleigh) officer who was also the officer who arranged the appointment.
Yong also told the court that he had to cancel his arrangements to fly to Kuala Lumpur for a rescheduled interview with Tengku Razaleigh which was supposed to be held on Dec 14, 15, and 16 as he was outstation.
Meanwhile during cross-examination by Trevor, Yong told the court that it was a sufficient account of what happened on June 6, 1976, much more than a passing remark in Tengku Razaleigh’s oil royalty speech in KDCA.
He said the remarks itself generated public interest.
To another question from Trevor, Yong said, the various possibilities or causes on how the airplane crashed should be re-investigated.
He also said that everybody knew the facts of Tengku Razaleigh and two others not in the ill-fated plane but the facts of Tengku Razaleigh and two others leaving the plane at that moment before departure were not known.
“As I said since three passengers have left the plane, the issue of overloading should be re-opened for investigation, irrespective of the cargo,” he said.
Yong disagreed with Trevor’s suggestion that he had sensationalized Tengku Razaleigh’s statement by calling for a re-investigation based on the purported new information so that he and the party would be seen by the public as fighting to expose an alleged cover-up over the air crash.
He further disagreed with Trevor’s suggestion that the purpose of him making the press statement published on April 5, 2010, was to give a false impression to the public that the plaintiff had prior knowledge that something bad was going to happen to the Nomad aircraft, hence the plaintiff had asked Tengku Razaleigh to board another plane.
Earlier before the trial started, Simon informed the court that the subpoena had been served on Tengku Razaleigh on Dec 8, this year but the latter indicated that he was not keen to come to testify.
He said that the defendants would decide at the end of Yong’s testimony whether to enforce the subpoena by applying for a warrant of arrest against the subpoena witness.