Petronas’ bid to recuse judicial commissioner in Sarawak suit fails

Sarawak state attorney-general Talat Mahmood Abdul Rashid, state legal counsel JC Fong and Sarawak Assistant Minister for Law, State-Federal Relations and Project Monitoring Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali outside the Kuching High Court today.

KUCHING: Petronas today failed in its attempt to disqualify Judicial Commissioner Christopher Chin from hearing the case over Sarawak’s suit for unpaid state sales tax.

Petronas had earlier applied for Chin to discharge himself from hearing the case.

The national oil company claimed that Chin would decide the case to favour the prime minister as his tenure as a judicial commissioner was temporary and was subject to confirmation by the prime minister, who is also the person with ultimate control over Petronas.

Chin, however, said that during his nine months on the bench, he had never been instructed, hinted or urged by his “bosses” — the chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak, the chief justice, or any judge or person for that matter — on how he should decide any dispute.

“Despite my lack of seniority and judicial experience, I have full and unfettered independence in deciding all cases as I judicially see fit,” he said.

Chin said many judicial commissioners who had delivered judgements against the federal government still received their confirmation in their posts.

He also assured the public that judicial independence is alive and well in Malaysia and any attempt to subvert it must be firmly resisted.

The plaintiff was awarded RM50,000 in costs.

Meanwhile, Petronas’ lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said the recusal application was made in the best interests of the administration of justice.

He said Petronas would appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.

The national oil company also applied for a stay of proceedings and the hearing will be heard on April 5.

Sarawak Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department (Law, State-Federal Relations and Project Monitoring) Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali was earlier reported as saying that the legal action was being taken to recover the state sales tax owed by the national oil and gas company to the state.

“As has been mentioned several times before this, Petronas has not paid the state sales tax for petroleum products under the State Sales Tax Ordinance 1998, which is due to the state.”

The 5% state sales tax was imposed on Jan 1, 2019.