GEORGE TOWN: The High Court delivered a landmark ruling today, finding the road transport department (JPJ) negligent for not maintaining accurate vehicle registration records.
The case was brought by a doctor who unwittingly bought a cloned 2013 Toyota Vellfire three years ago.
In May last year, she sued the Penang JPJ director, the JPJ director-general and the federal government, after JPJ seized her car 10 months after she bought it, saying the chassis and engine numbers had been subject to tampering.
The court awarded Dr Hema Thiyagu RM139,000 in damages – the purchase price of the car – after finding JPJ had breached its statutory duties.
In her suit, Hema, 33, claimed that JPJ failed to explain how it had not detected the tampering when she registered the vehicle.
Her lawyer,K Simon Murali, submitted that JPJ was negligent in allowing the car’s chassis and engine numbers to be registered to a different car.
He said that based on JPJ’s chronology presented to the court, the stolen car was registered in Ipoh with the chassis and engine numbers from another car registered in Johor previously.
Murali further submitted that based on the testimonies by witnesses from JPJ, there was no evidence that the original Vellfire’s owner was present during the ownership transfer in Ipoh, despite a legal requirement.
From then on, he said, the stolen car was illegally registered and changed hands several times before it was unknowingly purchased by his client.
In its defence, JPJ said Hema’s car was cloned and had been reported stolen in Labu, Negeri Sembilan, in 2019, while the chassis and engine numbers were from the other car in Johor.
The Johor-registered vehicle had been owned by an insurer following an accident in 2018 and was auctioned the following year.
A subsequent buyer, when trying to change the ownership to his name, found the vehicle was “already registered”, JPJ said in its defence statement.
JPJ said it was not obliged to inspect the vehicles before registering them, because such duties lay with Puspakom. It said its registration process was based on required documents only and, therefore, it was not legally obliged to tell Hema why her car was seized.
In his judgment, Justice Anand Ponnudurai said the JPJ director-general has a responsibility to maintain an accurate vehicle register, especially of cars flagged as cloned.
He said JPJ should have promptly seized the vehicle upon discovering it was cloned.
Anand said that in Hema’s case, she was unaware that she had bought a cloned vehicle and because there were multiple previous owners, it had not raised any suspicion.
“JPJ had evidence as early as Dec 6, 2019, eight months before Hema bought the vehicle, suggesting that the Vellfire may be cloned, but did nothing,” he said.
He said that, as a result, the Penang JPJ director and the JPJ director-general had breached their statutory duties.
He awarded Hema RM139,000 in damages and RM10,000 in costs, which are to be paid by the federal government, which was named as the third defendant.
Senior federal counsel Muhammad Sinti represented JPJ and the federal government.