KUALA LUMPUR (July 26): The bipartisan Special Select Committee on International Affairs of Parliament will initiate proceedings on Aug 11 over the Sulu Sultanate’s claims against US$15 billion (about RM66.84 billion) worth of Malaysia's national assets.
Its chairman Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub on Tuesday (July 26) announced that the committee would summon Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah, Minister in Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law) Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, and Attorney General (AG) Tan Sri Idrus Harun to attend the proceedings over the matter.
Salahuddin explained that the conduct of the proceedings was decided after several motions brought by Members of Parliaments (MPs) in accordance with Standing Order 18(1) were rejected for debate in the Dewan Rakyat.
"The committee has discussed [the matter], and is of the view that the claims made by the self-proclaimed heirs of the Sulu group are serious and, if not dealt with properly, have the potential to affect the interests of the country," he told reporters at a press conference in the Parliament building.
Salahuddin noted that the proceedings are in line with the role of a parliamentary select committee to provide a check and balance to the government's handling of matters.
“If needed, we will call [more] witnesses, who we think will assist with the proceedings.
“The proceedings have a deep meaning, and it is historic, as we lift the dignity of Parliament and the institution of parliamentary democracy,” he added.
On July 20, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Azhar Azizan Harun rejected requests to debate the Sulu Sultanate claims in the Dewan Rakyat, saying the debate could jeopardise Malaysia's interest in litigation proceedings of the case, as it may reveal the government's strategies, thus giving the other party the upper hand.
This followed the suspension of opposition MP Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis (Warisan-Kota Belud) on July 18 from attending the lower house's sitting for two days, after she ignored the Speaker’s instruction, and insisted that her motion on the claims by the sultanate's heirs be debated.
The motion, which was rejected for the third time in the Dewan Rakyat, became a hot topic of discussion, and caused a war of words between several opposition MPs from Sabah, the Speaker and his deputy Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon.
Putrajaya on July 15 announced that it is forming a special task force to study, monitor and formulate the appropriate legal action to address issues arising from the claims of the heirs of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram II against the government of Malaysia.
Wan Junaidi said he will be heading the task force, with its members to include Saifuddin, Idris and experts in international arbitration.
Last March, a French arbitration court ruled that Malaysia must pay at least US$14.92 billion claimed by the Sulu Sultanate over the lease of land in Sabah.
This followed international arbitration proceedings initiated by eight descendants of the Sultan of Sulu, Sultan Mohamed Jamal Al Alam, against the government of Malaysia in Madrid, based on an 1878 agreement between the Sultan and Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent, which granted perpetual sovereign rights over land that now forms parts of Sabah, in exchange for a token payment of RM5,300 per year.
However, the Malaysian government did not recognise the claims and proceedings by the arbitration court, as the decision made by the arbitrator, Dr Gonzalo Stampa, was null and void after his appointment was revoked in 2021.
On July 12, the Paris Court of Appeal allowed the Malaysian government’s application to stay the enforcement of the final award issued by the arbitration court on the basis that it would affect the immunity of Malaysia’s sovereignty.
On the same day, two Luxembourg-registered subsidiaries of Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) were seized by the heirs of the sultanate, namely Petronas Azerbaijan (Shah Deniz) and Petronas South Caucasus, as part of legal efforts by the group to seek compensation from the Sabah land.
Petronas afterwards confirmed that two of its subsidiaries were served with seizing orders in Luxembourg, but clarified that these units had already divested their entire stakes in the natural gas project in Azerbaijan, and that the proceeds from the disposal had been repatriated.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on July 19 gave his assurance that the government will protect the country’s assets using every channel available.
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