Sarawak timber firm loses 30-year case over timber concession

Federal Court rules that High Court was right in deciding that former chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud need not give evidence during trial.


PUTRAJAYA: A 30-year court battle and probably one of the longest civil cases to be decided has finally come to an end for a Sarawak timber company.

The Federal Court today dismissed an appeal by Keruntum Sdn Bhd against the Sarawak government for revoking its 25-year licence to extract timber.

The agreement to log over 188,926ha would have expired in October 2008.

During the trial in the High Court, the company claimed the decision to revoke the licence was politically motivated.

This was related to what is known in Sarawak political history as the “Ming Court Affair”, which occurred in March 1987.

What happened was that the late Sarawak chief minister Tun Abdul Rahman Yaakub led a group of state assemblymen of the Sarawak legislature and their allies to topple incumbent chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who was also the minister of resource planning.

That attempt failed as the chief minister dissolved the state legislative assembly and caused an election in which Taib and his party were returned to power to form the state government.

In that election, BN secured 28 seats and the opposition 20.

Justice Hasan Lah, who delivered the judgment of the five-man bench today, said the apex court found no reason to disturb the finding of facts by the High Court.

“There is a concurrent finding as the Court of Appeal has held that the trial judge had not erred in facts and law,” he said.

Others on the bench were Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria, Zainun Ali, Abu Samah Nordin and Aziah Ali.

Hasan said the High Court was also right in deciding that Taib, one of the defendants in the suit, need not give evidence as the plaintiff had not proved its case.

“There was no necessity to call the minister of resource planning (Taib) as witness when Keruntum could not prove its case,” he said.

Hasan said as such, the Federal Court need not answer a legal question posed whether Taib had committed the tort of misfeasance in public office (abuse of power).

Taib, who was chief minister between 1981 and February 2013, had refused to give evidence in court during the trial.

He was appointed the 7th governor of Sarawak on March 1.

The company, represented by Gopal Sri Ram, had submitted that Taib had maliciously directed the cancellation of Keruntum’s licence on grounds that Rahman had conspired with several other assemblymen to unseat Taib.

He said the company was associated with Rahman, who is also Taib’s uncle.

Keruntum had filed a judicial review in 1987, naming the Sarawak Forest Department, Taib and the state government as respondents.

The High Court allowed the review and quashed the revocation. This was upheld by the then Supreme Court in 1988.

However, the company’s licence was revoked for the second time in 1988. It had been in business since 1983.

Keruntum later filed a civil suit in 1990 and serious charges of malice were made against Taib.




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