Penang religious body accused of delay tactics in wakaf land case

Shaik Eusof Shaik Latiff’s great-grandson Syed Idross Syed Hassan Al Mashoor (centre) with lawyers Akberdin Abdul Kader (second from right), Rafie Mohd Shafie (right). With them is lawyer Yuslinov Ahmad (left) and well-wisher Mohd Akbar Abdul Ghafoor.

GEORGE TOWN: Lawyers acting for the family of a Penang real estate tycoon in the 1800s today slammed the Penang Islamic Religious Council (MAINPP) for allegedly employing stalling tactics by getting a new legal team midway through the hearing of the suit involving wakaf land.

This was after MAINPP let go of their three lawyers led by Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar, who is also the Malaysia Muslim Lawyers’ Association chief, late last month.

The trading of barbs began today when MAINPP’s new lead counsel Shaikh Mohamed Tawfeek Badjenid told the court they would need three months to look into the facts of the case and evidence tendered in court in the suit brought by the family of Shaik Eusoff Shaik Latiff.

Tawfeek said he and his team were appointed on Jan 16, with a wakalah or authorisation letter from the MAINPP today. He also told the court that the previous lawyers have yet to surrender the case files to them.

“This request is to allow us to prepare our expert witnesses and as you know it is not a straightforward case,” Tawfeek said.

This angered lawyer for the plaintiff Rafie Mohd Shafie who said that such a long extension would only put the court process in contempt as the trial had been going on since 2017.

Penang Islamic Religious Council’s (MAINPP) new lead counsel Shaikh Mohamed Tawfeek Badjenid (second from right) outside the courtroom today.

“The action by MAINPP to let go of their earlier lawyers is mala fide (in bad faith) and unreasonable. How are we to guarantee that there would be no change of lawyers midway again?

“They ask for a three-month extension which is too long. If they were to have their way, we would have to wait another 100 years for justice. Are you asking us to wait for another 100 years?” he asked.

Another lawyer for the plaintiff Akberdin Abdul Kader said with two more expert witnesses to be called, an extension of time was not possible as it was difficult to get an appointment with them.

“MAINPP is clearly changing horses in midstream. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Tawfeek said there was no bad faith on the part of the council.

“This is not a tactic to delay the case. We are here not to win but to get the truth out, that is our purpose” he said. “The lawyers were not let go, they quit halfway.”

Judge Mohd Yunus Mohamad Zin then reminded MAINPP’s new lawyers that the case was of public interest.

“The MAINPP must also order the earlier lawyers to give all necessary documents to the new lawyers right away,” he said.

Yunus then told Tawfeek and his team that they would have a month before the next court dates on March 30 and 31 to look into the case. He also vacated the earlier trial dates and set new dates for the case.

The new dates are Apr 17 and 24; May 12 to 15; and June 23 to 25.

Besides Rafie and Akberdin, Yuslinov Ahmad, also appeared for the plaintiff. Assisting Tawfeek as defence counsel were Faizal Arif Tajul Ariffin, and Ahmed Muzambir Abd Razak.

The case involves a RM300 million wakaf land left by the late tycoon, where he willed that the land be used for Muslim endowment purposes for 21 years and returned to the family after that.

The MAINPP had claimed that the land had to be in endowment in perpetuity, while Shaik Eusoff’s lawyers said that the will was essentially unIslamic as no property could be partially given up for 21 years.

The family lawyers also say hence the land was wrongly acquired by the MAINPP, as it was willed to their family under civil law.

The suit was initiated by Abdul Shukor PA Mohd Sultan, Syed Idross Syed Hassan Al Mashoor and Sheik Mohd Jelani Sheik Emam – who are Shaikh Eusoff’s great-grandchildren.

They are seeking to reclaim two plots of land covering 6ha in Air Itam.