KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 9 — Malaysia has succeeded in preventing its diplomatic buildings in Paris, France from seizure attempts by the long-defunct Sulu sultanate’s purported heirs, following Paris court victories by Malaysia, minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said today.
Previously, the Sulu claimants had started efforts to begin the attempt to seize Malaysia’s diplomatic buildings in Paris, in order to enforce a US$14.9 billion (RM69.9 billion) arbitration award against Malaysia.
But as a result of Malaysia’s previous June 6 victory in a Paris court, which effectively prevents the arbitration award from being enforced, the Sulu claimants have to drop the efforts to start the process to attempt to seize the Malaysia-owned Paris buildings.
Previously, the Paris Court of First Instance had granted an ex parte (involving one side or one party only) authorisation order, which enabled a statutory mortgage to be registered in November 2022 on Malaysia’s diplomatic buildings — including its embassy — in Paris.
In March 2023, individuals representing themselves as bailiffs tried but failed to enter the embassy building and two staff residences’ buildings in Paris, with these individuals wanting to carry out a survey to obtain a description of the buildings.
While the Sulu claimants’ bid to begin the process to seize the diplomatic buildings was done through the registration of the statutory mortgage, Azalina explained that Malaysia had challenged such measures based on the immunity of its diplomatic premises as recognised under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.
According to Azalina, the Paris enforcement judge this Monday (November 6) quashed its earlier ex parte order which authorised the registration of the statutory mortgage on the three Malaysia-owned diplomatic buildings in Paris.
“The judge considered that it did not have the power to authorise such a measure and ordered the Claimants to pay €15,000 (RM75,261) to Malaysia as costs. The Claimants have confirmed that they will now remove the statutory mortgage,” Azalina, who is minister in charge of law and institutional reform, said in a statement tonight, referring to the Sulu claimants as the claimants.
Azalina added that the same judge recorded the Sulu claimants as having dropped the court bid they had started for the attempt to take Malaysia’s three diplomatic buildings in Paris.
“On November 9, 2023, as a further result of the June 6, 2023 decision, the Paris enforcement judge recorded the Claimants’ withdrawal from the proceedings they had initiated to seize the aforementioned diplomatic buildings,” she said.
What happened before this
Previously, eight citizens of the Philippines who claimed to be the Sulu sultanate’s heirs filed for arbitration in Spain against Malaysia over Sabah, with a court in Spain initially in March 2019 appointing Gonzalo Stampa to be the arbitrator.
Stampa in May 2020 then made his “partial award” in the arbitration case by deciding that he has the jurisdiction to be the arbitrator in the Sulu claimants’ case and that Spain would be the arbitration venue, but a court in Spain in June 2021 cancelled his appointment as arbitrator for the case.
When Spain cancelled his appointment as the Sulu case’s arbitrator, Stampa decided to continue to be the arbitrator and changed the arbitration venue to France instead, before proceeding on February 28, 2022 to give the “final award” in the arbitration process by ordering Malaysia to pay US$14.9 billion to the Sulu claimants.
In short, Stampa’s “partial award” was where he decided he could be the case’s arbitrator, while his “final award” is where he ordered Malaysia to pay US$14.9 billion as compensation to the Sulu claimants.
On June 6 this year, Malaysia won its appeal at the Paris Court of Appeal, which refused to recognise the “partial award” in France. In that appeal, the Paris court ordered the Sulu claimants to pay €100,000 in cost to Malaysia.
Azalina said that June 6 victory led to the withdrawal of the Sulu claimants’ statutory mortgage on the three diplomatic buildings in Paris.
She said Malaysia is taking the necessary steps to ensure the Sulu claimants or their litigation funder Therium pay the adverse costs orders of €15,000 (ordered on Monday) and the €100,000 (ordered on June 6) as soon as possible.
“Malaysia has been successful in protecting its interests throughout the world, including in France (where the so-called final award purports to have been rendered),” she said.
As of today, the partial award cannot be enforced in France, since the Paris Court of Appeal had on June 6 refused to recognise or enforce it.
Also, as of today, the final award involving the US$14.9 billion sum also cannot be enforced in France, as the Paris Court of Appeal has stayed or suspended the enforcement of the final award while waiting for the outcome of annulment proceedings.
Malaysia is in the process of seeking in the Paris Court of Appeal for the final arbitration award to be annulled or cancelled.
“In light of these developments, the Government of Malaysia is confident that the ultimate annulment of the purported final award by the Paris Court of Appeal is only a matter of time, and is making every effort to secure that result as quickly as possible.
“The Government of Malaysia shall ensure that the sovereignty, security and interest of Malaysia are protected at all times,” Azalina concluded in her statement today.