Malaysia says it will consider banning and suing the 'FT': Gold coin story seen as retaliation for government ban on UK firms

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KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia is considering banning the Financial Times and suing the paper for implicating a cabinet minister in the disappearance of a dollars 10,000 gold coin belonging to Standard Chartered.

The Bernama news agency quoted the Law Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, as saying 'we should seriously consider taking legal action against the newspaper and its editor'. He was reacting to a report that implicated the country's Youth and Sports Minister, Ghani Othman, in the alleged disappearance of the coin.

Mr Ghani received the coin from Standard Chartered's Hong Kong-based Mocatta division as a trade sample in 1991 when he was deputy finance minister. But on Thursday he said he had returned it to a representative of the bank shortly after viewing it.

Malaysian officials said the Financial Times had deliberately angled the story in such a way as to make it appear that Mr Ghani had pocketed the coin, although it never identified the minister.

Syed Hamid said the government was considering taking up a criminal defamation suit against the paper and its editor and preventing the newspaper's circulation in Malaysia 'because the story was also published here'.

'They should not be given the liberty to spread this sort of thing to tarnish the good name and image of Malaysian leaders,' Syed Hamid said in Johore state.

Malaysian officials contend that the Financial Times ran the story in retaliation against Kuala Lumpur for the banning of British firms from bidding for government contracts since 25 February.

The ban followed reports by British media of corruption in the administration of the Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, and in Anglo-Malaysian trade.

'It is no longer a coincidence . . . the damage is done. Even though if there is a clarification to be made, it may not have the same effect as when the allegation was made,' Syed Hamid said.

The Law Minister said the Malaysian cabinet would discuss the matter at its weekly meeting on Wednesday and assess the damage done by the paper.

'People may view the Malaysian leadership in a bad light,' he said.

On Thursday a Malaysian businessman, who led the Mocatta delegation to meet Mr Ghani in 1991, admitted that he had taken the coin back from the then deputy finance minister but had since misplaced it.

'It is true that Ghani handed me the gold coin in question three years ago,' Steven Goh Swee Ngee said, adding that he had misplaced the one-kilogram (2.2

coin two years ago