The government does not recognise the arbitration proceedings by the French Arbitration Court in Paris, which ordered Malaysia to pay approximately RM62.6 billion to the descendants of the last Sultan of Sulu, the Dewan Rakyat was told today.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (Parliament and Law) said this was because the appointment of the arbitrator, Dr Gonzalo Stampa, had been revoked and was no longer legally valid.
“On October 13, 2021, the court ruled as such,” he said during Ministers’ Question Time, following a question by Ahmad Hassan (Papar-Warisan).
Wan Junaidi said the government had taken appropriate action to challenge the decision by filing a case at Sabah High Court, but the claimant did not attend.
He said this court ruled on January 14, 2020, that the 1878 Agreement did not contain any arbitration provision.
“Malaysia has never waived its sovereign immunity and the arbitrator has no jurisdiction to resolve the matters raised.
“The Sabah High Court decision was brought to the Madrid Court to be verified and enforced to stop the arbitration proceedings in Spain.
“Following which, the arbitrator’s partial award on May 25, 2020, has been set aside,” he said.
However, Wan Junaidi said the claimant had, prior to October 13 taken the case to France to circumvent the decision of the Madrid Court.
He said on September 29, 2021, the French Court, unaware of the decision by its Madrid counterpart, issued an exequatur order recognising Stampa’s decision.
“In protest of the arbitrator’s action on non-compliance with the Madrid Court’s decision, irregularities of process, injustice and contempt for the rule of law, the Malaysian government filed a criminal complaint against Stampa to the Spanish attorney-general on December 14, 2021,” he said.
Wan Junaidi added that Malaysia had also filed an appeal to revoke the exequatur order and an application to stay its implementation, which was granted on December 16, 2021.
He said the series of events that led to the claims – the agreement signed between Sultan Mohamet Jamal Al Alam (Sultan of Sulu), and Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent on January 22, 1878, aimed at safeguarding their interests in Sabah.
However, he said after the Lahad Datu invasion in 2013 2013, the Malaysian government stopped handing over compassionate money to the sultan’s descendants, which prompted them to take the matter to the Superior Court of Justice in Madrid in 2018.
“The Madrid Court then appointed Stampa as an arbitrator on May 22, 2019.
“On July 30, 2019, we received a notice of arbitration through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with an estimated claim exceeding US$32 billion,” he said.
Meanwhile, a London-based lawyer today refuted the Attorney-General Chambers’ (AGC) statement casting doubt on the identities of the heirs of sultan of Sulu, calling it “misleading”.
Elisabeth Mason, the UK lawyer representing the Sulu descendants, referred to a 2019 letter from then attorney-general Tommy Thomas to fellow lawyer Paul Cohen, in which it was evident that the AGC and the Foreign Ministry had formally recognised the claimants and their rights “for years”.
“Last week’s statement from the current attorney-general that their ‘identities are doubtful’ is deeply misleading to his audiences,” Mason was quoted saying on FMT today.
“The Malaysian government knows the claimants well, knows that they peacefully engage with Malaysia, and that they are totally distinct from the pretenders who have violently confronted Malaysian sovereignty.”
Mason said that Thomas had acknowledged that the claimants were the rightful heirs to the sultanate and that they were the same people to whom Malaysia had been making payments for years.
FMT has also sighted a document from the Malaysian embassy in Manila dated June 28, 2012, requesting the heirs, whose names were listed individually, to collect their cheques for “cession money”.