Gatco settlers near end of the road after 6-year legal battle

Lawyer R Kenghadharan briefs the settlers on the Federal Court verdict denying them leave to appeal.

PUTRAJAYA: It appears to be the end of the road for 140 former Kampung Gatco settlers in Negeri Sembilan who fought a six-year legal battle to get their land.

This follows the Federal Court’s refusal today to hear the merit of their complaint.

A three-member bench chaired by Chief Justice Raus Sharif said the legal questions posed did not meet the requirement of Section 96 of the Courts of Judicature Act 1964.

This means the questions framed were not raised for the first time and not of public importance.

Raus, who sat with Balia Yusof Wahi and Aziah Ali, said the complaint that the High Court judge summarily dismissed their suit had no merit.

“A case can be dismissed after a full trial or without a trial. In this case, the judge was entitled to make a summary ruling without hearing the parties,” he said.

Raus said the settlers could not argue that they had proprietary right over the disputed land as the issue had been decided.

The court also ordered the settlers to pay RM10,000 each to two liquidators – K Jayapalasingam and Yong Yoon Shing – and Thamarai Holdings Sdn Bhd.

Lawyer R Kenghadharan told reporters later that he had instruction from the settlers to file a fresh suit.

Last year, a three-member Court of Appeal bench, chaired by Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, unanimously dismissed the settlers’ appeal.

In 2016, the High Court dismissed the suit filed by the settlers only on questions of law. There was no trial.

The settlers’ legal battle began in 2012 when they sued the two liquidators and Thamarai Holdings over the land.

In their suit, the settlers asked for damages and other relief deemed fit by the court over the sale of the 4,600-acre property in Bahau for RM16 million in 2004.

Government and private valuers estimated the property to be worth RM500 million now.

The issue also gained prominence when the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission made several arrests, including of two brothers with “Datuk” titles.

They are also chief executives of two companies in a family-run business group connected to the land deal.

A former bank officer and a liquidator, with detailed knowledge of the deal, were also arrested.

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

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