Malaysian estates eyed

Forfeiture proceedings on state-owned assets of Malaysia situated in the country are being readied to enforce a recent $14.9 billion award handed by a French arbitration court, a counsel representing one of the direct heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu revealed yesterday.

Lawyer Rexie Efren Bugaring, in an exclusive interview with Daily Tribune, said a legal team is now preparing its strategy to realize the compensation.

“As signatory to the New York Convention, the Philippine court has jurisdiction to enforce the arbitration award,” he said.

The international court in February ordered Malaysia to pay the sum to the descendants of the last Sultan of Sulu to settle a dispute over a colonial-era land deal.

Malaysia said the Court of Appeals in Paris had stayed the ruling as it considered the enforcement of the award may infringe on sovereignty.

Former defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro, who is an international law expert, said that with the sequestration of assets, an option available to the Sultanate is to renegotiate the lease contract on Sabah to prevent a protracted legal battle.

A high-ranking member of the Sulu Sultanate indicated that the royal family will entertain Philippine-government backed negotiations with Malaysia.

“We’re open to settlement but we will ask the administration of President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos to help us,” the Sultanate official indicated.

An expected complication would be that Malaysia needs to cede that the 1878 transaction among Sulu Sultan Jamal Al Alam, British government representative Baron de Overbeck and the British North Borneo Company’s Alfred Dent is a lease contract and not a cession deal.

London-based lawyers of the claimant stressed the February ruling remains legally enforceable outside France through the New York Convention, a United Nations treaty on international arbitration recognized in 170 countries.

The “stay” ruling that the Malaysian government obtained was enforceable only in France, London-based lawyer Paul Cohen, the lead co-counsel of the Sultanate, said.

“It temporarily delays local enforcement in one country, France itself,” Cohen of law firm 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square said.

“It does not apply to the other 169,” he pointed out.

With some exceptions, such as those considered within the diplomatic premise, any Malaysian government-owned asset globally is eligible for the purposes of enforcing the award, Elisabeth Mason, another lawyer for the heirs, indicated.

Energy assets first to go

The heirs, who are the successors-in-interest to the last Sultan of Sulu, entered a deal in 1878 with trading house British North Borneo Co. to lease the oil-rich Sabah.

Malaysia took over the arrangement after it gained independence from Britain and assumed the payment of 5,300 Malaysian ringgit to the Philippine nationals.

But the payments were stopped in 2013, with Malaysia arguing that no one else had a right over Sabah, which was part of its territory.

The plaintiffs, last week, moved to seize two Luxembourg-based units of Malaysian state oil firm Petronas as part of efforts to enforce the award.

Petronas, which has described the seizure as “baseless,” vowed to defend its legal position, adding that the units have divested their assets.

Lawyers for the heirs said the units were now under the control of bailiffs in Luxembourg, pending any appeal by Petronas against the seizure.

“We note Petronas’ description of certain transactions, and we note their statement that those transactions are complete,” Mason said.

“We will discover the full picture of all assets in due course.” Mason added.

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