KUALA LUMPUR, March 25 — Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s ex-political secretary Matthias Chang was arrested and cited for contempt today after he walked out of his defamation suit against American Express.
He was fined RM20,000 and given a week to pay up or face a one-month jail sentence.
The 60-year-old lawyer, who claimed the giant charge card company had caused him to suffer public shame in an incident eight years ago, caused a stir in the Kuala Lumpur High Court here this morning when he suddenly walked out of the witness box while being cross-examined.
According to a lawyer who witnessed the commotion, Chang suddenly stood up and refused to answer further questions from the defence .
The lawyer who asked not to be named said Chang started abusing trial judge, Justice Noor Azian Shaari, and accused her of bias and said he would lodge a complaint against her with the Chief Justice Tun Zaki Azmi.
“He then said, ‘I’m going to walk out of court’,” said the lawyer.
Noor Azian immediately ordered Chang remanded for “contempt in the face of court”, based on Article 52 of the Rules of the High Court 1980.
The contempt proceedings were heard separately by the same judge in the afternoon.
Noor Azian told Chang that she would not cite him for contempt if he apologised for his earlier outburst but he refused.
“I have nothing to say,” Chang told Noor Azian, in what was seen as another snub to the judge, when she asked if he had anything to say in his defence.
She then fined Chang RM20,000 for the offence and told to pay the amount within one week or be jailed for one month in default.
The judge also warned Chang she would strike out his claims for defamation if he failed to turn up tomorrow morning for the rest of the proceedings. She released him after that.
Chang had first sued American Express for defamation in 2002, claiming he was humiliated after his charge card could not be read during an official trip to Antarctica with Dr Mahathir.
He served as the ex-PM’s political secretary between June 2001 and October 2003, when Dr Mahathir retired.
Chang’s lawyer for the defamation suit was Manjit Singh, but he later switched counsel to Zainur Zakaria.
Lawyer Prakash Menon represented American Express.