KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 1 — Former attorney general (AG) Tan Sri Tommy Thomas today said that he would have still written to the Sulu “heirs” who are claiming a right to Sabah, and offered to pay them arrears of RM48,000 even if he had known the latest facts.
After a meeting with the Concorde Club — an informal group of senior editors from news organisations — Thomas told the press that the facts leading to his offer have not changed.
“In my opinion, Malaysia has always had a legal obligation since 1963 of paying, so we should have paid,” he said.
Malaysia was paying the “heirs” of the now defunct Sulu Sultanate an annual stipend of RM5,300 based on an agreement made in 1878 during the British era when the Sultanate “leased” the land to North Borneo.
Malaysia stopped the payments in 2013. To note, that same year, an armed militia claiming to be the royal forces of the Sultanate infiltrated Lahad Datu, Sabah.
Thomas then wrote a letter to the claimants in 2019, expressing the willingness of the Malaysian government to pay the outstanding arrears of RM48,000 in cession payments since 2013.
However, this offer of payment was rejected, and Thomas’ letter was used by the lawyers for the Sulu heirs as proof of Malaysia’s recognition of the claimants.
This letter came to light publicly after Spanish Arbitrator Gonzalo Stampa on February 28, 2022, ordered Malaysia to pay US$14.9 billion to the eight Sulu claimants in supposed arrears — leading to the seizure of Petronas assets in Luxembourg.
Petronas later called these actions baseless and said it will defend its legal position on this matter.
“I think Petronas would know how to look after their own assets. They have been trading all around the world for decades,” said Thomas today, when asked to comment on the issue.
Thomas also said that Malaysia must make efforts to stop the Sulu claimants from “shopping” for legal support from country to country. He suggested that Malaysia should go for sanctions directly against the claimants’ lawyer, Paul Cohen, in his country of practice — England — to restrain him from acting on the purported arbitrations in any part of the world.
“As you know, they (the Sulu claimants’ and their lawyer) started in Spain, then they went to France, and then they went to Luxembourg,
“And of course, they may carry on going to favourable countries that they are shopping around,” he said.
Thomas added that Cohen’s actions had brought the Bar of England into disrepute.
Thomas had commented similarly last week, saying that Malaysia should lodge a complaint against Cohen with the disciplinary body for barristers in England, namely, the Bar Standards Board in England.
Additionally, he said Malaysia must seek “in personam” injunction orders against Stampa and Cohen in both the courts of Spain and France.
“Hopefully, the courts of Spain are pretty angry with him (Stampa) because he has disobeyed their orders by moving to France and releasing his awards after they revoked his appointment,” he said.