Newspaper attacked for Malaysian trade claims

DELICATE diplomatic negotiations to repair relations with Malaysia were heavily underpinned yesterday with an outspoken ministerial attack on a newspaper.

Signs that the rift between the two countries was reaching healing point came as Abu Kamaradin, the Malaysian High Commissioner in London, hinted in a BBC Radio 4 interview that intensive diplomatic exchanges were in progress. Mr Kamaradin said he hoped the dispute could be amicably resolved.

Richard Needham, the trade minister, delivered the tough talking as he accused the Sunday Times of 'fanciful exaggerations' that needlessly risked tens of thousands of jobs all over Britain.

It was the first time the Government has publicly denounced in such forceful terms the actions of the paper and its editor, Andrew Neil, in alleging corruption in Anglo-Maylasian trade.

In a separate disclosure, a legal opinion for the World Development Movement, a UK Third World pressure group, says there is an 'overwhelming probability' that Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, acted unlawfully in granting aid to the Pergau dam project.

Geoffrey Bindman, a leading constitutional and human rights solicitor, has advised that Mr Hurd is likely to have acted outside his powers in the 1980 Overseas Development and Co-operation Act because benefiting the Malaysian economy or the welfare of its people was not the predominant purpose of the Pergau aid.

Tom Clarke, Labour's spokesman on development and co-operation, yesterday wrote to John Major asking whether legal advice was sought before he joined in giving the expenditure the go-ahead, against the advice of the Overseas Development Administration that the project was a 'bad buy'.

A Sunday Times article led Mahathir Mohamad, the Malaysian Prime Minister, to ban British companies entering trade deals with the Malaysian government.

Mr Kamaradin said: 'What we wanted very much was to have fair reporting by the British press and we are looking at the positive signs in the sense that we are seeing some positive reporting rather than the innuendo and speculation of the past few weeks.' Both countries wanted things to be normal again.

Mr Needham appeared to supply part of the quid pro quo for the softening of the Malaysian line as he told the programme: 'The Malaysians are entitled to fair and factual reporting instead of the bombast we get from Mr Neil in the Sunday Times.

'. . . to drag up a story from nine years ago which says that some middleman offered a British company money in return for an order the British company might get and which would then be paid to the Malaysian Prime Minister, and it turned out that the order was never got and the amount was derisory and the whole thing clearly never ever happened . . .'

'Then to criticise your potential customers like that, and to go on from that, like Mr Neil has done, and liken the Malaysian government to Hitler and make extravagant claims over what happened over the Pergau dam tends to humiliate the Malaysians and makes it extraordinarily difficult for our companies to do business.'

Samy Vellu, the Malaysian energy minister, meanwhile appeared to give some support to allegations that the Pergau dam was uneconomic and a waste of British taxpayers' money. He said it would have been cheaper if Malaysia had not given the contract to Balfour Beatty in exchange for a loan that ultimately soared to pounds 305m at less than 1 per cent interest.

Meanwhile, the former Tory minister, Lord Prior, who is visiting Malaysia in his capacity as chairman of GEC, is expected to report back to Downing Street.

Letters, page 15

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice