SINGAPORE (Oct 1): Outspoken investor Mano Sabnani on Sunday filed his defence to the defamation lawsuit launched against him by Stamford Land Corp and its directors.

Sabnani and his defence counsel – Abraham Vergis and Zhuo Jiaxiang of Providence Law Asia – maintain that his statements were justified and not defamatory.

Stamford Land and five of its directors on Sept 7 had filed a writ of summons in the High Court against Sabnani for making allegedly defamatory remarks.

In a Sept 9 filing, the group said Sabnani had published defamatory statements in a July 27 Facebook post and a July 31 letter to The Business Times. The group alleged that Sabnani had also uttered defamatory statements at two annual general meetings, in 2016 and 2018.

See: Stamford Land sues shareholder for defamatory AGM remarks

As a shareholder of a SGX-listed company, Sabnani is entitled to question the management at AGMs about the company’s low dividend pay-outs and high remuneration for senior office bearers, the defence says.

The defence also explains the inappropriate manner in which Sabnani was treated during the 2018 AGM.

According to the defence, Stamford Land’s executive chairman Ow Chio Kiat had interrupted Sabnani on several occasions while the shareholder was asking questions during the AGM.

Ow is reported to have called Sabnani a “disruption” to the meeting, and told him to stop “rambling on and on”. The defence says Ow had also accused the shareholders present of trying to create a riot.

In the midst of speaking, the microphone Sabnani was using was also abruptly switched off, the defence adds.

“Disheartened and aggrieved”, Sabnani had decided to leave the AGM before it was concluded. On his way out, he had asked around for some drinking water as none was provided for shareholders attending the AGM. According to the defence, an unknown person Sabnani met in the foyer told him that he could get some water from the washroom.

As the AGM of an SGX-listed company is often the only forum where minority shareholders can meet the board and ask probing questions or give critical feedback, the defence argues that it is in the public interest for discussions between shareholders and the company’s management to be robust as it encourages transparency and accountability.

Accordingly, it asserts that Sabnani’s statements were fair comment and protected by qualified privilege. 

See: Stamford Land striking the wrong chord with defamation suit against shareholder

As a former senior financial journalist and investment banker, Sabnani has been a keen observer of equity markets in Singapore for many years and a familiar face at AGMs of many SGX companies.

Sabnani was former editor-in-chief at BT from 1986 to 1993, and Today from 2003 to 2006. He was also a managing director at DBS from 1996 to 2001.