Gatco land deal: Appeals court rules in favour of developer

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PETALING JAYA: In a twist to the ongoing MACC probe on the Kampung Gatco land controversy, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the land in question was rightfully sold by the liquidators to Thamarai Holdings Sdn Bhd.

With this unanimous decision yesterday, the High Court’s stay order barring the developers from gaining access to the land and conducting land clearing, has been effectively removed.

“The three-person bench comprising Justices Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, Zabariah Mohd Yusof and Suraya Othman unanimously dismissed the appeal by Gatco settlers with costs.

“The appellants were ordered to pay RM10,000 to each of the respondents,” said B Thangaraj, the lawyer for the liquidators.

The issue blew up recently when the MACC made several arrests including that of two “Datuk” brothers, who are chief executives of two companies in a family-run business group, connected to the land deal.

Also arrested were a 54-year-old former bank officer and a 68-year-old liquidator. All of them have been released on bail after being in remand for between five and eight days.

However, it is not clear if the Appeal Court’s decision is expected to have a bearing on the ongoing MACC probe as the legality of the land has now been settled.

R Kenghadharan, who is representing the settlers, told a Tamil daily that the fight is not over, and they would appeal the decision at the Federal Court.

Land scheme for villagers

The settlers’ legal battle began in 2013 when they sued the two liquidators and Thamarai Holdings, which is owned by the Lotus Group, over the land.

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

The land was reportedly converted by the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW), which owns 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.

Gatco was wound up in 1996 after a third party submitted a winding-up petition in 1996.

Despite the company being wound up, the appointed liquidators sold the land to Thamarai in 2006.

The 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.