Gatco settlers get stay order against company developing land

gatco-settler-release-malaysia-1KUALA LUMPUR: Gatco settlers in Negeri Sembilan have succeeded in stopping Thamarai Holdings from further developing their land, pending the settlers’ appeal over their lawsuit against the company next month.

The High Court today allowed the settlers’ bid to get an interim stay on the October 2016 court decision that ruled against them on two questions of law.

The two questions of law focused on constructive trust between the company and villagers, as well as the villagers’ legal standing to file the suit against the company.

Lawyer R Kengadharan, representing 140 settlers in their lawsuit in claiming the disputed land, said this to villagers after getting the decision from Justice Hue Siew Kheng in chambers.

They cheered from the court’s public gallery after their lawyer conveyed the decision to them.

Kengadharan later told reporters that with the temporary stay order, that is valid for 60 days, Thamarai Holdings cannot enter their village and cut down trees for development purposes.

“If the company continues to enter their land, the villagers will not hesitate to initiate contempt proceedings against them,” he said.

Kengadharan added that the settlers’ appeal will be heard on Sept 15 at the Court of Appeal.

The settlers’ legal battle began in 2013 when they sued two liquidators – K Jayapalasingam and Yong Yoon Shing – and Thamarai over the land.

The land was leased in 1977 by the Negeri Sembilan State Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) to Gatco.

The land was reportedly converted by the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW), which owned Gatco, into a land scheme for members.

The villagers paid RM7,600 each as deposit before working on the land.

According to the facts of the case, the scheme failed and Gatco was forced to take loans from two finance companies.

A third party served a winding-up petition on Gatco in 1996. It was wound up the same year.

The appointed liquidators sold the land in 2006 and Thamarai bought the land.

A lawsuit by the settlers was struck out by the High Court. The Court of Appeal, in reversing the decision in 2014, ordered the lawsuit to be reinstated.

Last October, the High Court ruled in favour of the settlers on eight questions of law during the retrial while another two questions of law were in favour of the liquidators and the company.

On July 18, 28 settlers were arrested by police for attempting to stop Thamarai from cutting down rubber trees in their village.

They had also set up a blockade preventing the company from entering their village.

The 28 settlers were freed by the High Court on July 20 after they sought a review of the magistrate’s order to remand them for three days, from July 19.

On July 24, another 30 settlers were arrested by police for forming a human blockade to prevent lorries from transporting logs from the village.

They were released the same day.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has said it will set up a special committee to investigate complaints about the settlers’ claims in the land dispute.

“It happened 40 years ago and we will need some time to study the documents and police report.

“If there is a basis (for investigation), MACC will take follow-up action to protect the rights of the Gatco settlers,” said MACC chief commissioner Dzulkifli Ahmad after visiting the village yesterday.

The settlers had last Wednesday lodged a report with MACC on claims of the possibility of corruption in a sale and purchase agreement between Thamarai and the two liquidators.