Local courts eyed to identify heirs

A member of the Sulu Sultanate will seek the local court’s intervention in determining the legitimate heirs who will be entitled to the epic $14.9 billion award of the French arbitral court, according to the counsel of the descendants of Sultan Jamal Al Alam.

Jamal signed the 1878 lease deed with Baron de Overbeck, the then maharaja of Sabah, and British North Borneo Company’s Alfred Dent.

Lawyer Rexie Efren Bugaring told Daily Tribune that the local court’s determination will address the statement of London-based lawyer Paul Cohen that certain lawyers and spokesmen issued comments in media pertaining to speaking on behalf of the eight claimants.

“These persons are not affiliated with the ongoing proceedings and do not represent my client,” barrister Cohen, the lead counsel for the eight claimants said in a statement.

Bugaring, however, said the heirs do not necessarily have to be those who are considered as claimants in the arbitration but should include all direct bloodlines of the Sultan of Sulu including those not specifically mentioned in the legal action.

Former Malaysian attorney general Tommy Thomas also questioned the identity of the eight legally — appointed heirs in the arbitral dispute against the government of Malaysia.

East Malaysia online national newspaper Daily Express reported last March that Thomas questioned the identity of the heirs who filed the complaint initially before the Madrid court.

Cohen said questions raised against the identities of the eight claimants are deeply misleading.

Another counsel of the Sultanate, Elisabeth Mason, said Thomas’ correspondence showed that the Malaysian government had known and had formally recognized the claimants and their rights “for years”, and had been directly and individually involved with them for just as long.

Malaysia knows real heirs

“The Malaysian government knows the claimants well, knows that they peacefully engaged with Malaysia and that they are totally distinct from the pretenders who have violently confronted Malaysian sovereignty,” she noted.

The arbitrator, Gonzalo Stampa, ruled on 28 February that Malaysia violated the 1878 agreement between the old Sulu kingdom in the Philippines and a representative of the British North Borneo Company that used to administer what is now Sabah.

“We further stress that the identities of the heirs are doubtful and have yet to be verified,” Thomas said.

However, in the 2019 letter which Mason cited, Thomas acknowledged that the claimants were the rightful heirs and that they were the same people who Malaysia had been remitting payments to for years.

Under the agreement, Jamal agreed to lease large parts of Sabah to Dent and Overbeck, who agreed that they, and their future heirs, were to pay the heirs of the sultan 5,000 Mexican dollars annually.

In 1936, the last formally recognized Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram II, died without heirs, and payments temporarily ceased until North Borneo High Court chief justice Charles F. Macaskie named nine court-appointed heirs in 1939.

Although Malaysia took over these payments when it became the successor of the agreement following Sabah’s independence and the formation of Malaysia in 1963, these payments — equivalent to 5,300 Malaysian ringgit — ceased in 2013 after the Lahad Datu incursion.

In the 2019 letter, Thomas attached a true copy of the Macaskie judgment of 1939 and said Malaysia did not dispute the identity of the individuals and their right to be paid.

He added that payments ceased in 2013, adding that Malaysia is “now ready and willing” to pay Cohen’s clients all arrears from 2013 to 2019.

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