KOTA KINABALU: Controversial Spanish arbitrator Gonzalo Stampa, who ordered Malaysia to pay US$14.92bil to the self-claimed heirs of the defunct Sulu Sultanate, is facing criminal charges for going against a Madrid court decision to annul the case.
According to the exclusive Global Arbitration Review (GAR) portal, authorities in Madrid probed Stampa in February this year over his decision to continue hearing the Sulu arbitration even after his appointment was rescinded by the Spanish courts.
The GAR reported that Stampa could now face a criminal trial to defend the charges and may face up to three years in prison if found guilty.
None of the Spanish authorities have made public the action against Stampa, according to the report.
GAR said that a Spanish newspaper “Expansion” had carried a letter of 60 arbitration practitioners condemning Spanish authorities on bringing criminal charges against Stampa over his role as the arbitrator that issued the award against Malaysia.
The GAR report claimed that Stampa had been charged with “unqualified professional practice” at a separate request of the Spanish prosecutor, who maintains that following the annulment of his (Stampa) appointment as arbitrator, he had no right to act in that capacity.
Commenting on the GAR report, a local lawyer here explained that the criminal charges against Stampa in Spain were similar to contempt of court charges in Malaysia.
"The Spanish authorities seem to have decided to charge Stampa with breach of the Spanish Court order. Their version of contempt of court.
"It's a win of sorts. But Stampa is still presumed innocent until proven guilty by the Spain courts. However, a guilty finding will assist Malaysia in its claim that the US$14bil award is unlawful and/or contrary to public policy/sovereign immunity," said the lawyer who declined to be named.
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.
In February this year, the Spanish Constitutional Court had thrown out an appeal by the self-proclaimed heirs of the defunct Sulu Sultanate to reinstate Stampa as an arbitrator.
Stampa was initially appointed arbitrator for the case 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.
As a result of the annulment of Stampa’s judicial appointment in Spain, he lacked the authority to act as an arbitrator and should have immediately put an end to the purported arbitration proceedings.
Stampa then moved his seat of Arbitration to Paris in February 2022 where he made the award against Malaysia.
Malaysia is continuing to legally fight Stampa's arbitration ruling in Paris and attempts of his lawyers to seek Malaysian properties in some of the European countries.