PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal has ordered a father-and-son legal team to return missing funds from a RM38.5mil compensation awarded to orang asli villagers 18 years ago for the acquisition of their land in Johor.
Justice Yeoh Wee Siam, who read the judgment, said lawyers S. Kanawagi, his son Dinesh and their firm Messrs Khana & Co, must be held liable for the misuse of funds that were held in trust for the orang asli.
In the unanimous decision on Thursday (Jan 17), Justice Yeoh said there was a breach of fiduciary duty and misuse, mismanagement and misappropriation of a trust fund.
Two other judges in the three-man bench, were Justice Idrus Harun, who chaired the bench, and Justice Hasnah Mohamed Hashim.
The court also said those who were sued by the orang asli community had to pay back all the money that was misused, mismanaged or misappropriated.
However, the amount payable would be determined via audited accounts.
Lawyer Gurdial Singh Nijar, who represented the orang asli, said damages would be determined after the court-approved auditor completed the task.
In 2016, the High Court ordered Kanawagi, who is now barred from legal practice, to return the money to the orang asli after deducting RM500,000 for legal fees.
The court found Kanawagi, Dinesh and their firm liable for the misuse, mismanagement and misappropriation of money meant as compensation from the Johor government.
The Johor Bahru High Court had in 2000 awarded RM26.5mil to the orang asli from the Jakun tribe living around the Linggui water catchment area for loss of livelihood, hunting and foraging.
RM22mil of the amount was to go to the Linggui Valley trust fund.
However, the amount ballooned up to RM38.5mil due to the interest accrued over the years.
In 2009, the orang asli led by Saling bin Lau Bee Chiang filed a suit to compel Kanawagi to account for the money under his care and control.
The Court of Appeal had also affirmed the findings of the High Court 2016 which ordered that eight defendants pay RM10mil in damages and 57 units of apartments purchased from the trust fund be returned.