National assets worth RM66b at risk

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Everything started after Najib stopped paying RM5,300 to Sulu in 2013.

For many years, Malaysia has been ignoring claims on Sabah, a Malaysian state in the northern part of the island of Borneo, by the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate – till the spectacular seizure of Petronas assets in Azerbaijan worth US$2 billion (RM8.9 billion) about a week ago. Petronas, the national oil company, has total assets of RM593.8 billion as at 31 March 2021.

Even then, neither Petronas nor Malaysian government knew about the confiscation – until the Financial Times reported it on July 12. Initially, Petronas played down the seizure, saying its assets in Azerbaijan have previously divested and the proceeds already repatriated. Then, it said it would defend its legal position after two of its subsidiaries were seized in Luxembourg.

If there was nothing to be seized because Petronas Azerbaijan and Petronas South Caucasus had already been sold, exactly what assets that the Sulu Sultanate managed to seize that is worth a staggering US$2 billion? As if just awoke from sleep, clueless and incompetent Attorney-General Idrus Harun said his chamber would be “looking into” the seizure.

But the Sultanate of Sulu was not merely targeting Petronas assets in Luxembourg. In February 2022, Spanish arbitrator Dr Gonzalo Stampa awarded US$14.92 billion (RM66.3 billion) in an arbitration court in Paris to the heirs of Sultan Sulu. Meaning the Malaysia government was caught off guard because it chose to sit on the case for five months without any legal preparation.

Worse, neither the unelected backdoor Ismail Sabri administration nor the Attorney General Chambers treated the ruling in February seriously. The incompetent and lazy government merely said it did not recognise the Sulu claims and arbitration proceedings which ordered Malaysia to pay US$14.92 billion to the so-called descendants of the last Sultan of Sulu.

Malaysia also claimed that the appointment of Dr Stampa had been revoked by the Madrid Court on June 29, 2021 and thus all his decisions were null and void. Did the then-Muhyiddin government realize that Stampa had moved the arbitration from Madrid to Paris to continue the arbitration proceedings? Did Petronas or Malaysia even send a representative to the arbitration proceedings?

If indeed Dr Stampa’s arbitration decisions were invalid and illegal as claimed, how could Luxembourg seize Petronas assets on behalf of the Sulu Sultan descendants? We know one thing for sure – either the previous UMNO-led Barisan Nasional government or the current Malay-centric government (comprising UMNO, PAS and Bersatu) or both governments have screwed up spectacularly.

How do you know it wasn’t the Pakatan Harapan government that had screwed up? Simple – because the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House) Speaker Azhar Harun (brother of AG Idrus Harun) has on Monday (July 18) rejected Pakatan’s motions to debate the seizure of Petronas assets. If it was Pakatan’s fault, the Sabri government would not be so terrified to debate something related to national interest and sovereignty.

Long story short, the Sulu Sultanate heirs filed a lawsuit in 2017 (during Najib era) to seek compensation for land in Sabah that their ancestors allegedly leased to a British trading company in 1878. The dispute originated from the 1878 Deed of Cession between Sultan Jamal Al Alam (then-Sultan of Sulu), and Baron de Overbeck (then-Maharaja of Sabah), and British North Borneo Company’s Alfred Dent.

Under the agreement, Sultan Jamal ceded sovereignty over large parts of Sabah to Dent and Overbeck, who in turn agreed that they and their future heirs will pay the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate 5,000 Mexican dollars annually. However, in 1936, the last formally recognized Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram II, died without heirs. The annual payments temporarily stopped.

The payments resumed after North Borneo High Court Chief Justice Charles F Macaskie named nine court-appointed heirs in 1939. Interestingly, Malaysia took over the payments after independence from Britain in 1963, paying a token sum of RM5,300 to the heirs annually. However, following the Lahad Datu armed incursion by Filipino militants in 2013, the government of Najib Razak stopped the payments.

PM Najib argued that no one else had a right over the oil-rich Sabah, which was part of Malaysia territory. The heirs of Sultan Sulu then launched a lawsuit in 2017 to claim compensation for land and resources in Sabah after Malaysia under Najib administration breached the agreement. It was this breach of contract that provided the silver bullet for the Sulu descendants to win the arbitration.

If it’s true that the heirs of Sulu Sultan had no right over Sabah, why did Malaysia agree to pay the annual payments from 1963 till 2013? When Najib abruptly terminated the annual payments, he did it based on emotions rather than on legal basis. Narcissist Najib was humiliated by the Lahad Datu invasion; hence his judgement was clouded with anger and arrogance – leading to the costly mishandling.

Flashback – in 2013, some 235 armed Filipino militants arrived by boats in Lahad Datu District, Sabah. Sent by Jamalul Kiram III, one of the claimants to the throne of the Sultanate of Sulu, the invasion to claim the eastern Sabah had caught the Najib government off guard. The Barisan Nasional government under Najib leadership was in total chaos and panic as they had never expected the intrusion.

Hilariously, despite Najib’s boastful talk about “langkah mayat dulu” (over dead bodies), he eventually made a U-turn on his initial refusal to negotiate with terrorists. On Valentine’s Day (February 14, 2013), Najib gave the green light and Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ismail Omar announced negotiations with the 235 invading militants were in progress to find the best solution without bloodshed.

Like his cousin Najib, the clueless (former) Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein too was running around like a headless chicken during the Lahad Datu crisis. Approximately two days after the Najib administration started negotiation with the invaders, Hishammuddin played down the invasion – claiming that the group merely comprised “malnourished” and elderly men in sarongs and slippers, mostly unarmed.

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Instead of entrusting the Malaysian Armed Forces to quickly get rid of the so-called 235 “malnourished” and ill-equipped militants, Hishammuddin took the opportunity to perform comical PR stunts. As people started asking about the whereabouts of Malaysia Navy’s Scorpene submarines, the home minister dragged his feet in order to maximize media publicity.

Embarrassingly, it would take a few days after the intruders were sighted on Malaysian shores before Malaysia security forces could establish the Sulu militants’ identity and intention. Heck, it was only after the militants had flown their flag to challenge the country’s sovereignty that Hishammuddin realized the drama was actually a real invasion. Even then, he was optimistic of overpowering the invaders.

Clowns like Armed Forces Chief Gen Zulkifeli Mohd Zin and Deputy Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar joined Hishammuddin in his “Rambo” publicity stunt. Even Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi too joined the party for some five-minute fame, appearing on the front page of national newspapers dressed in army fatigues as if he was Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At the end of the standoff, under Najib leadership, the country lost 16 lives – six civilians and 10 security force personnel. But the despicable prime minister, who was about to face the 13th General Election, had tried to divert attention from his disastrous mishandling by blaming opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim with wild accusations that Anwar was involved in the invasion to destabilize the country.

The seizure of Petronas assets in Azerbaijan is not really because of penny wise and pound foolish. Narcissist Najib, despite his incompetency, has always fantasized about being the powerful POTUS. From the rebranding of his wife Rosmah Mansor as FLOM (First Lady of Malaysia) to the empty rhetoric of non-negotiation with terrorist, Najib tried very hard to act like a US President.

Najib underestimated the Sulu invasion partly because he often proclaimed himself the “Bugis Warrior”. So, when the “malnourished” Sulu militants, who called themselves the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo”, gave Najib a bloody nose, the fake Bugis warrior retaliated childishly by scrapping the annual payments without considering the legal impact.

Even if the Sulu Sultanate’s claim over Sabah has been illegitimate, which is debatable based on the award of US$14.92 billion (RM66.3 billion) in an arbitration court in Paris five months ago, the RM5,300 (US$1,200) payments are simply too petty an amount to be used as a weapon to teach the Sulu a lesson. Astonishingly, Najib was the only premier stupid enough to do that.

Arguably, Najib’s arrogance and stupidity can also be linked to “Ketuanan Melayu”, the ideology of Malay supremacy espoused by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) which he led from 2009 to 2018. Not only he thought the Sulu militants could be easily defeated, he also once thought he could outsmart and outplay Kim Jong Un, only to be checkmated and humiliated.

Pretending as if he was the US Commander-in-Chief, Najib’s arrogance and negligence had once again endangered the safety of Malaysians in 2017 when he clumsily declared war on North Korea over the murder of Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of the dictator Kim Jong Un. Najib hastily recalled the Malaysian envoy from Pyongyang and expelled the North Korean ambassador Kang Chol.

As Najib and his arrogant ministers were enjoying themselves – insulting North Korea as a pariah nation that breeds criminals and rude people – moron Najib had forgotten that 11 Malaysians – three working at the Malaysian Embassy, two United Nations workers and six family members – were still in North Korea. Kim Jong Un gladly held all of them as “hostages”.

Najib had demonstrated – again and again – how his mishandling in foreign affairs had jeopardized national security and the life of Malaysians. Had his administration acted maturely and professionally, the heirs of Sultan Sulu would not have an excuse to launch the arbitration case in 2017, which in turn provides a valid legal reason for the Spanish arbitrator Dr Gonzalo Stampa to rule in favour of Sulu.

Because Najib refused to pay RM5,300 in his tantrum to spite the heirs of Sultan Sulu, Malaysian assets in 169 countries are now at risk of being seized despite a stay ordered by a French court. Even if Petronas and Malaysia assets could be protected, the cost of engaging legal counsels in 169 countries worldwide will certainly run into tens of millions of dollars – more than RM5,300.

In the real world, there are different jurisdictions and differing law systems that do not subscribe, let alone recognize, the “Ketuanan Melayu”. The world does not revolve around UMNO-Malay. Instead of falsely blaming the Opposition, serial liar Najib should ask himself why his government did not make its representation known during the arbitration process in 2017. Thanks to Najib, Malaysia might lose RM66 billion – even Sabah. – Finance Twitter