KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — A court order from the Paris Court of Appeal to stay or temporarily block a group of purported Sulu “heirs” from claiming US$14.9 billion (RM67 billion) from Malaysia still remains intact, as the Sulu claimants had failed in their challenge against this court order, a special secretariat said today.

In a statement today by Malaysia's special secretariat dealing with the Sulu claimants' matter, it gave updates on Malaysia's success so far in getting the Paris courts to block the purported Sulu heirs from enforcing a US$14.9 billion arbitration award.

Previously, Spanish arbitrator Gonzalo Stampa had carried out arbitration in France, and had on February 28, 2022, decided that Malaysia should pay US$14.92 billion to the group of eight Sulu claimants who were claiming compensation over Sabah. This arbitration decision by Stampa is also known as the final award.

But Malaysia has argued that the entire arbitration including the US$14.9 billion by Stampa is invalid and illegal, and has been going to the courts in various countries to challenge the arbitration and to prevent it from being enforced.

The secretariat explained that Malaysia had filed a request in Paris on April 15, 2022, for a stay of the enforcement of Stampa's purported US$14.9 billion final award, and had later succeeded in getting the stay order.

“Subsequently, on 12th July 2022, the pre-trial judge of the Paris Court of Appeal ordered the unconditional stay of enforcement in France of the purported Final Award pending the decision of the Paris Court of Appeal on the set-aside proceedings, on the ground that it will likely affect Malaysia’s territorial sovereignty,” the secretariat said.

The Sulu claimants on July 27, 2022 then filed a challenge against the stay order, and the Paris Court of Appeal had a hearing on this challenge on January 16 this year.

Following the January hearing, the secretariat said the Paris Court of Appeal had dismissed the Sulu claimants' bid to enforce the US$14.9 billion award, by rejecting the Sulu claimants' bid to challenge the stay order.

“The Paris Court of Appeal on 14th March 2023 subsequently delivered its decision, noting that the challenge filed by the Sulu claimants is inadmissible.

“Hence, the stay obtained by Malaysia on 12th July 2022 for the enforcement of the purported Final Award remains,” the secretariat said.

The secretariat indicated the Paris Court of Appeal's July 2022 stay order is a recognition that Malaysia's sovereignty was affected by the Sulu claimants' purported arbitration.

“Malaysia wishes to note that the stay order granted on 12th July 2022 is an exceptional decision and it serves to reinforce Malaysia’s position that the purported commercial arbitration instituted by the Sulu claimants is without legitimate basis and does affect Malaysia’s territorial sovereignty,” it said.

The secretariat said Malaysia will also continue to defend itself robustly in all legal forums against “all forms of lawfare instituted by her adversaries”.

In its statement today, the secretariat described itself as the special secretariat to tackle the claims towards Malaysia by the Philippines' citizens who claim to be the heirs of the late Sulu Sultan, Sultan Jamalul Kiram II.

In their bid to enforce the US$14.9 billion arbitration award, the purported Sulu heirs had attempted to seize Malaysia's oil firm Petronas's assets in Luxembourg, assets in the Netherlands, and have reportedly also eyed the Malaysian embassy's buildings in Paris, France.

On March 2, Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Ministry and Attorney-General's Chambers stressed that the eight Sulu claimants' identities are doubtful and have yet to be verified.

The eight individuals purporting to be the heirs of the now-defunct Sulu Sultanate were last year reported as comprising three retirees, three unemployed persons aged 51 to 70, one 54-year-old school administrator and a 70-year-old businessman.

On March 14, the secretariat said the Malaysian government is investigating whether these eight Sulu claimants have any affiliation or family ties with the Royal Sulu Forces (RSF) — which the Malaysian government has declared as a terrorist group last April following its armed intrusion of Lahad Datu, Sabah in 2013.

The secretariat pointed out that the people of Sabah had exercised their right to self-determination when deciding to form Malaysia decades ago, and that this had terminated any claims made by the Sulu claimants.