KOTA KINABALU - Daily Express, a leading Sabah English daily in broadsheet, has denied in a page one story on Tuesday, tucked at the bottom right, that it failed to contact Federal Minister Ismail Sabri before running a story recently on turtle eggs. “Following the report — on the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) — Daily Express contacted the Minister’s office for his response but was refused.”
The daily was giving its response on Ismail Sabri telling the local media on Monday that his “lawyers were preparing to file a suit against the paper (Daily Express)”.
The daily said that it was told that the SWD conducted a thorough investigation (into a turtle eggs incident) but was unable to conclude the probe two months later without the relevant testimonies.
“The Department source told Daily Express that it was willing to go to Kuala Lumpur to record his statement, if necessary, as it understands the Minister may be too busy.”
The daily recalled that the controversy started last year when pictures went viral on social media of “a Federal Minister, government officials and political leaders being served turtle eggs at a political function in Beluran”.
“Several NGOs condemned the act and, in a joint statement, demanded that the SWD take action against those involved.”
The SWD Director William Baya, it added, had said that “he instructed two officers to investigate the incident and vowed to get to the bottom of the case as soon as possible”.
The local media reported on Tuesday that Ismail Sabri told the press in Kota Kinabalu on Monday night that “they never contacted me for the statement. The report in the newspaper, to me, its defamation. I was not contacted by letter or telephone. So, how can they publish that I am avoiding it?”
Ismail Sabri was responding to local media, on the sidelines of a working visit to Sabah, on whether he had given any statement to the authorities concerned on the continuing investigations into the turtle eggs incident.
The Federal Minister said that he agreed with Sabah Tourism, Culture and Tourism Minister Masidi Manjun that all are equal before the law, no one being above it. He added that he was willing to assist the ongoing investigations into the turtle eggs incident.
Masidi said that there’s no reason for those called by the SWD to assist in the case of turtle eggs consumed during a political function in Sandakan last August, to delay extending their co-operation. “Ministers are not above the law.”
“Everyone is equal before the law.”
The harvesting of turtle eggs is illegal in Sabah under the Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997.
It appears that of the three Sabah Assemblymen asked by the SWD so far to tell their side of their story, only Umno Beluran Chief James Ratib has given his statement to the Department. He has denied that turtle eggs were served during an official Umno dinner on August 29 in Sandakan. He added that he did not know what type of eggs was served during the dinner. He did not say whether he consumed the eggs.
By John Joseph
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