Sabah DCM declines to comment on multi-million ringgit land grab suit

KOTA KINABALU: Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew has declined to comment on a land grab suit where she and two others were ordered by the court to pay RM557 million in damages in 2014, saying the case is still under appeal.

The case was won by Borneo Samudera Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of state-owned Sawit Kinabalu, after the High Court ruled that Liew and the two others had unlawfully induced a group of smallholders to breach their joint venture agreement with Borneo Samudera.

Liew, who represented the group and who was in the opposition then, and her lawyers, had filed a notice of appeal following the decision that year, in their bid to reverse the judgement which was made in the Tawau High Court on Sept 30, 2014.

Speaking to reporters after an event here today, she said she was unable to comment on the case due to the appeal but pointed out that, in her capacity as a lawyer, she would prefer to settle the case amicably.

“Actually I don’t understand why people don’t want to settle things amicably. I think the best thing for anybody or any case is to settle amicably. Even courts, judges always advise litigants to settle matters amicably.

“I will just wait and see,” the Tawau MP said, adding it was both time consuming and expensive for clients if a case were to drag on.

A social activist and two pensioners recently lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), urging the agency to investigate the land judgement, fearing there could be political interference to withdraw the case.

One of those who lodged a report, social activist Datu Shuaib Mutalib, who is also a Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) vice president, said such intervention could undermine the interests of Borneo Samudera and the smallholders involved.

“The political intervention can lead to possible elements of corruption or abuse of power by the authorities,” he said.

Justice Chew Soo Ho awarded Borneo Samudera RM557 million in damages against three individuals, namely, Siti Rahfizah Mihaldin, Liew’s former clerk, Samsuri Baharudin, the attorney for a group of 819 smallholders (Bagahak Smallholders Scheme participants), and Liew as the appointed representative of the group.

The Malay Mail Online, in 2014, reported that Liew had contended a statement issued by Borneo Samudera on the judgement was “sensationalised and selective”, and did not represent the full decision.

“It amounts to damaging my credibility and integrity, both as a lawyer and an elected representative of the people,” she had reportedly said.

Liew’s lawyer in the case, Nelson Anggang, had clarified that there was no coercion involved and it was clearly presented to the smallholders what they were entering into.

He said it was also explained during the trial that Liew had studied the documents and consulted two other senior lawyers who, from a legal standpoint, felt Borneo Samudera had instead breached the joint venture agreement (JVA).

“It was then that the 819 smallholders instructed Liew that they wished to get out of the JVA and sell their lots away to salvage their losses,” he had said.