KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 — The Cabinet never gave approval for then-attorney general Tan Sri Tommy Thomas to write in 2019 to the lawyers of the purported “heirs” of the defunct Sulu sultanate about annual payments over Sabah, according to Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.
The minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) said Malaysia has distanced itself from the 2019 letter and obtained a court order to stop him from commenting further on the Sulu claimants’ arbitration claim against Malaysia.
“For Yang Berhormat’s information, the letter dated September 19, 2019 issued by Tan Sri Tommy Thomas (the attorney general at that time) to the Sulu group never received agreement from the Cabinet.
“The action of the former attorney general in issuing the letter containing his own decision without the Cabinet’s approval goes against the principle of collective decision which is practised as enshrined in the Federal Constitution,” she said in a written parliamentary reply today.
Azalina listed details in Thomas’s 2019 letter such as the regret he expressed over the Malaysia’s discontinuation of annual payments to the self-professed “heirs”, the mention of a RM48,230 sum covering arrears with a 10-per cent interest, and an offer to pay this sum immediately to the Sulu claimants in exchange for them stopping any arbitration action.
Azalina said the Malaysian government will not represent Thomas in the civil lawsuit where nine Sabah politicians have sued the former AG for alleged misfeasance in public office and were seeking a court order for him to retract his prejudicial remarks over an arbitration in which Malaysia was ordered to pay US$14.92 billion to the Sulu claimants.
“For now, the Malaysian government has taken the stand to distance itself or ‘to disassociate itself’ from the issuance of that letter dated September 19, 2019 by choosing not to represent the former attorney general in an action at the High Court in Kota Kinabalu, Suit No. BKI-22NCVC-64/8-2022 (HC5) which was filed by nine plaintiffs from Sabah against him,” Azalina said.
Instead, Azalina said the Malaysian government will also be seeking to intervene or be part of the nine individuals’ lawsuit, and seek to prevent Thomas from giving any comments about the arbitration.
“In this matter, the Attorney General’s Chambers has filed an application to intervene on the Malaysian government’s behalf, besides also applying to obtain an order for stay of proceedings, and an order to stop the former attorney-general from giving any statements or comments relating to the Sulu sultanate’s heirs’ arbitration proceedings against the Malaysian government,” she said.
She said the High Court in Kota Kinabalu had on January 3 approved the Malaysian government’s application to intervene and to obtain those two court orders, including the order to stop Thomas from making comments on the arbitration.
She was responding to Senator Datuk Seri S. Vell Paari’s question today in the Dewan Negara, where he had asked the prime minister to state if the Cabinet had in 2019 agreed to Thomas’s statement of regret over the government’s action in stopping the yearly payments to the Sulu group.
Malaysia has disputed the US$14.92 billion arbitration award as well as the entire arbitration process to be illegal and invalid, and has continued to pursue legal avenues to challenge the arbitration.
Last year, Thomas said his 2019 letter to the Sulu claimants’ lawyer had offered to pay the arrears for the yearly RM5,300 sum for the years from 2013 to 2019 amounting to a total of RM37,100 along with a 10 per cent simple interest of RM11,130. The whole sum offered was RM48,230. He also assured Malaysia would pay the RM5,300 sum in future years.
Thomas last year said there would “no longer be any dispute” with Malaysia if the Sulu claimants had accepted the offered payment, which their lawyer rejected.
Between 2017 and 2018, the eight Sulu claimants initiated international arbitration proceedings seeking up to US$32.2 billion from Malaysia over Sabah, which resulted in Spanish arbitrator Gonzalo Stampa deciding to order Malaysia to pay US$14.9 billion as compensation.
But Thomas said the US$14.9 billion award by the “rogue” arbitrator is invalid and cannot be enforced, and that the Sulu claimants are only entitled to the fixed annual sum of RM5,300 and that they cannot demand more as Sabah no longer belonged to the Sulu sultanate after 1878.