Spanish court decision proof no basis to claims by so-called Sulu heirs, says Hajiji

KOTA KINABALU: The decision by the Spanish Constitutional Court to throw out an appeal by the self-proclaimed heirs of the defunct Sulu sultanate to reinstate controversial Gonzalo Stampa as an arbitrator is proof that the claims had no basis, says Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor (pic).

The Chief Minister added that the decision was very much welcomed.

“We are very happy because the claims filed had been thrown out by the authorities in Spain and France,” he said when asked by reporters at an event here, Friday (Feb 3).

“This shows that the claims have no basis and this is good news for the people of Sabah,” he said.

Asked if the state government would follow up on this matter further, Hajiji said he would leave the matter to the authorities such as the Home Ministry, among others, to handle.

On June 29, 2021, the High Court of Justice of Madrid (HCJM) made a decision that annulled the judicial appointment of Stampa to act as an arbitrator.

Stampa was initially appointed arbitrator in 2019 by the HCJM without Malaysia being involved in the case.

As a result of this decision, the HJCM retroactively invalidated Stampa’s appointment and nullified all his actions as a purported arbitrator, including the alleged “preliminary award” he had rendered in Madrid.

It was reported that Malaysia was instructed by a French arbitration court to pay the descendants of the Sulu Sultanate a sum of US$14.92bil (RM62.6bil) as a result of its failure to pay the annual ‘cession monies’ to the claimants starting 2013, among other things.

The decision was based on the alleged violation of payments of RM5,300 cession money under the 1878 agreement signed by Sultan Jamal Al Alam, Baron de Overbeck and the British North Borneo Company’s Alfred Dent.

Malaysia stopped paying the sultan of Sulu’s heirs their annual RM5,300 cession money since 2013 following the Lahad Datu armed incursion.

According to Spanish news website La Información, the court ruled that the 1878 treaty was a commercial "international private lease agreement".

The report said that Malaysia had breached the agreement when it stopped paying the cession money in 2013, and it had three months to pay up failing which, interest would be charged.

It added the sultan's initial claim was US$32.bil, which comprised unpaid cession money as well as how much they believed they were owed for oil and gas found in the region.

The heirs had originally had their claims heard in Madrid until a Madrid High Court annulled Stampa's appointment on grounds that Malaysia had not been represented in the case.

The question of whether or not Malaysia was actually liable for the amount is however complicated.

Firstly, according to the La Información report, the decision was not yet final and it was possible for Malaysia to request a cancellation within the next 30 days.

Also in 2020, Kota Kinabalu High Court judge Datuk Martin Indang ruled that Malaysia was the proper venue to resolve disputes arising from the 1878 Deed of Cession and not the Spanish courts, which do not have authority or jurisdiction over Malaysia.

The same ruling would arguably apply in this situation as well.

Furthermore, in 2020 then foreign minister Datuk Seri Hishammudin Hussein said Malaysia did not recognise or entertain any claim by any party over Sabah.

He said the state had been recognised as being part of Malaysia by the United Nations as well as the international community.

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