Sarawak Report has viewed evidence suggesting the previous Sarawak State Attorney General (Abdul Razak Tready, who retired in December 2016) may have been subpoenaed to give evidence against the state government to settle a case brought against its Land & Survey Department by official liquidators, who are handling the winding up of a logging and plantation company, Tanjung Tiara.
The company was ruled to be owing a plaintiff RM285 million by the Federal Court in 2009. However, the Land & Survey Department subsequently attempted to revoke its licence to the original lease granted in 1994, through a Notice to Remedy an alleged Breach or Default, thus rendering the property worthless.
Sarawak’s deputy chief minister, Awang Tengah and the former state attorney general J C Fong have both been implicated in the dispute, in which liquidators have accused the two powerful state officials of conspiring to abuse their authority to thwart the ruling of the Federal court by arranging for the Land & Survey Department to subsequently issue the Notice under S.33 of the Sarawak Land Code.
This notice has prevented the liquidators selling the land unless the so called breach is rectified. The two powerful state officials are alleged to be acting on behalf of their purported business ally, who had lost the court judgements thereby triggering the liquidation of Tanjung Tiara to meet payments owed.
At the start of this month both Awang Tengah and J C Fong threatened defamation action against Sarawak Report for releasing information about the claims made in the case, which they said was ‘sub judice’. Sarawak Report refutes that claim.
It now emerges that the latest liquidators to handle the drawn out case, Messrs Ferrier Hodgson Monteiro & Heng, have taken members of the Land & Survey Department to court on the basis they incorrectly followed the advice of J C Fong and instructions of Awang Tengah’s Resource Management and Planning Department in revoking the licence on false grounds, and who were acting on their own rather than through proper channels.
It is understood that Datuk Tready made clear that the matter was only belatedly referred up to him after the event and his advice had been that proper procedure demanded that the decision in this matter ought to have been taken by the minister of a separate government department entirely, which was the Minister for Land Development, James Masing.
Masing has reportedly disclaimed any knowledge of the Notice issued by Land and Survey Department and confirmed he was not included in the decision making. Sarawak Report has also learnt that Masing himself wrote to the Government Chief Secretary to carry out a thorough investigation into this matter in 2013.
Following the above, Sarawak Report has seen evidence that Tready himself advised the Land & Survey Department to withdraw its Notice to Remedy, indicating the government could not provide solid evidence there had been a breach or that instructions had been channelled appropriately.
The Land & Survey Department Director at the time, Sajeli bin Kipli, told Tready that the man behind the matter was J C Fong, even though J C Fong had been replaced by Tready as State Attorney General since 2008 and by then was merely an advisor. Fong’s private firm appeared to have an interest in that the owner of Tanjung Tiara was a client and a business colleague of his alleged collaborator Awang Tengah.
Urged To Settle
Given the glaring irregularities and apparent conflicts in the case Datuk Tready has advised several parties and the state government, according to our information, that in his opinion the Land & Survey Department ought to settle the matter by returning the lease to Tanjung Tiara so that the liquidators can proceed to carry out the orders of the Federal Court.
It is believed the former State AG Abdul Razak Tready has made clear he is concerned about being forced to give evidence as a witness in a case that would not reflect well on the state government and which the Land & Survey Department might lose.
Finally, Sarawak Report is aware of a comment by Datuk Tready to the effect that he is concerned that the abuses in this case may not be an isolated incident, but that there might be further similar abuses where proper instructions were not gained through the correct legal channels, as in this case.
Despite these concerns J C Fong is believed to be insisting the Sarawak State Government should defend the case.
Can of Worms
Owning to the decade long wrangle, the unpaid damages awarded by the Federal Court of RM285 million is now calculated to have risen to over RM600 million in terms of interests and further costs.
The case, if it reaches court, is likely to lift the lid on several issues of serious concern over the handling of logging and plantation licences under Taib Mahmud, which Sarawak Report and native rights lawyers have long referred to.