KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 16): The Edge Media Group chairman Tan Sri Tong Kooi Ong told the High Court on Wednesday (Nov 16) that he was warned by Paul Stadlen, the then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s media adviser, that the Prime Minister’s Office was “all-powerful” and that The Edge should be careful about its coverage of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
Testifying in the 1MDB-Tanore trial, Tong said Stadlen had introduced himself to him as Najib’s communications adviser.
Replying to lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, Tong said Stadlen “tried to be friendly, he was trying to convince me that The Edge shouldn’t be writing articles we were writing because it was making many people at the PMO upset”.
On July 27, 2015, the Home Affairs Ministry (KDN) suspended the publishing permits of The Edge Malaysia weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months.
A letter from KDN stated that the two publications' reporting of 1MDB was "prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest".
Sri Ram: When all this happened to The Edge and employees of The Edge, who did you [think] was responsible for these events?
Tong: Logically it has something to do with The Edge's coverage of 1MDB because that is what Paul Stadlen warned me about.
Sri Ram: What was the warning?
Tong: [That] PMO is all-powerful and we should be careful.
Sri Ram then asked if there were any consequences from the publication of the articles.
Tong said that around that time The Edge's publisher Datuk Ho Kay Tat, then Malaysian Insider editor-in-chief Jahabar Sadiq and other reporters were investigated and were held in a police lock-up for a night. The Malaysian Insider was a news website owned by The Edge.
Tong: They were detained overnight in jail. I was banned from leaving the country and I was also investigated by LHDN (Inland Revenue Board) for money laundering and tax evasion, and The Edge was suspended but that was lifted by the court.
Sri Ram: That was quashed by the courts?
Tong: Yes, it was quashed by the courts.
Tong was referring to a court decision which quashed KDN’s suspension of The Edge's publications. The High Court ruled that the suspension was illegal and irrational. This decision was subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court.
Tong, who said he had known Najib personally since the 1990s, added that he harboured no grudges against the former PM.
Sri Ram asked, "Do you have any personal grudge against Najib?"
Tong replied, "Not then, not now. I have never had a grudge."
Najib is charged with four counts of abuse of power and 21 counts of money laundering of RM2.28 billion of 1MDB funds.
Tong is subject to cross-examination. However, the court was informed on Wednesday that Najib's lead lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah was on medical leave for three days. Tong’s cross-examination will therefore continue at a later date.
The trial before judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah will continue on Thursday with other witnesses.