Gatco settlers accuse police of favouring company

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PUTRAJAYA: Gatco settlers have accused the police of abusing their powers in favour of Thamarai Holdings Sdn Bhd, a company with which they have been locked in a land dispute since the 1980s.

They lodged a complaint over the Negeri Sembilan and Jempol district police at the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) headquarters here today, urging it to investigate the matter.

Speaking to reporters, PSM central committee member S Arutchelvan said the settlers felt the need to get the EAIC involved following inaction by Bukit Aman.

“The settlers have filed 700 reports all together since 2010 and also filed a complaint with Bukit Aman on July 27, but no action has been taken,” he said.

He compared this with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) which he said had met the settlers and promised that a task force would be set up three days after they had lodged a report on Aug 24.

“We don’t believe Bukit Aman is taking this seriously and so we want the EAIC to get involved.”

Arutchelvan, who was speaking on behalf of the settlers, was accompanied by five of them, as well as Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy.

Sevan said the settlers were also urging the EAIC to set up a meeting between them and the EAIC chairman and commissioners.

“We are not setting a deadline for that meeting, but we hope the EAIC will sit down with the settlers soon to hear what the settlers have gone through,” he told reporters.

Gatco settlers had also accused Jempol police officers of allowing Thamarai Holdings to carry out development work on the disputed land only hours after the Negeri Sembilan High Court issued a stay order on Monday.

The stay order was to be observed pending the settlers’ appeal over their lawsuit against the company next month.

The settlers contacted FMT, claiming that police had warned they would arrest anyone who attempted to stop the company from carrying out work on the land, even after the court ruling.

They also said complaints from the settlers to the police about a company lorry loaded with weapons had gone completely ignored.

“It is extremely worrying when a lorry with weapons is allowed to go into the disputed land without the police even checking whether the complaints are true,” Arutchelvan said.

He said when Jempol police officers were questioned regarding their actions, they said they were acting on orders from the contingent headquarters.

Jempol district police chief DSP Azham Shah Azlan denied the settlers’ allegations, saying police carried out their duties in accordance with the law.

“We are government staff and we carry out our duties based on what is required by law. We will not break laws in the course of our duties,” he told FMT.

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

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

The land was 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 and building houses.

However, 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, and 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 subsequently 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 company.

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

They 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.

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.

On Sunday, he had led officers to visit Kampung Gatco, now renamed Kampung Serampang Indah, where they met with the settlers.

Yesterday, MACC officers visited the offices of the Negeri Sembilan State Secretariat and Negeri Sembilan Development Corporation, an accounting firm along Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, the NUPW office and Thamarai Holdings Sdn Bhd office in Petaling Jaya as part of their probe.

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.

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