PETALING JAYA: There is no conflict of interest in the decision to hire Sitpah Selvaratnam to handle the Equanimity case in court, says Tommy Thomas.
The Attorney General said the decision to appoint Sitpah was his alone, because he had trust and confidence in her ability and integrity.
“Her services are rendered to us without any charge to the taxpayer. It must be kept in mind that these legal proceedings are brought for the benefit of Malaysia.
“Accordingly, we are entitled to Malaysia’s best shipping lawyers. There is no question of conflict of interest because we are all on the same side,” he said in a statement Thursday (Aug 9).
Thomas was responding to allegations that there was a conflict of interest in hiring Sitpah, as she had been a consultant in his former firm over the past eight years.
He argued that Sitpah is the acknowledged leader of the Admiralty Bar when it comes to litigation matters, having been “involved in numerous arrests of ships and vessels, and also opposing arrests in more than 25 years of specialised practice”.
He said the most effective basis of invoking the Court’s jurisdiction is Admiralty law or the law of shipping.
He added that Sitpah has been the chairperson of the Shipping and Admiralty Law Committee of the Bar Council for many years and is the founding president of the International Malaysian Society of Maritime Law.
“She is therefore the obvious choice to advise Chambers and myself on the matter.
“As the transactions were intricate and layered corporate deals carried out by Jho Low and advisors to hide the true source of funds used to purchase the yacht, drafting the legal papers required skill and expertise in shipping law and corporate law,” he said.
“Jho Low” is the popular nickname of fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, who has been implicated in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
The US$250mil (RM1bil) superyacht Equanimity docked at the Boustead Cruise Centre in Pulau Indah, Port Klang on Tuesday (Aug 7), where it was served with a warrant of arrest.
The vessel was seized in Bali in February at the request of US authorities as part of a multibillion-dollar corruption investigation launched by the US Department of Justice related to 1MDB.
However, a Jakarta court in April ruled in favour of the owners after they applied for a court motion to declare the seizure illegal.
In July, Indonesian police seized the superyacht again following a formal request for legal assistance from the United States.
In his statement Thursday, Thomas added that serving the warrant of arrest with the sheriff on the superyacht required experience and expertise by lawyers who have actually conducted admiralty arrests.
The claimants in the court proceedings are 1MDB, two of its subsidiaries and the Government.
Besides Sitpah, lawyers Jeremy Joseph and Ong Chee Kwan were also appointed to represent the claimants. They will be paid normal commercial rates, the Attorney General said.
He added that both Sitpah and Joseph had been approached by foreign parties to act for them in this matter, but they had declined.
“The real test of Ms Selvaratnam’s (Sitpah) experience and expertise would come into play, if and when, Jho Low or any other party applies to set aside the warrant of arrest.
“The arguments would then be vigorously put forward by all sides when the court hears the matter on its merits, and it is critical that Malaysia has the best barristers.
“Litigation is dynamic; unpredictable events occur in court, and Malaysia’s case must be in safe hands,” said Thomas.