A Bersatu leader has posed several questions to Tommy Thomas over his handling of a demand by a group claiming to be the heirs of the Sulu sultanate, after the former attorney-general's lengthy explanation yesterday defending his 2019 letter as legally correct.
Seberang Jaya assemblyman Dr Afif Bahardin said Thomas had failed to address the main questions surrounding the letter, including why he made it available to arbitrator Gonzalo Stampa despite Malaysia's objection to the Spanish counsel's appointment to judge the case.
"Why place such a potent weapon in the hands of our enemies, which they gleefully used against us?" asked Afif, listing out eight questions for Thomas.
Thomas, who served as the top government lawyer during Pakatan Harapan's rule, came under fire from various quarters over a 2019 letter he wrote to the lawyers of eight Sulu individuals, in which he expressed regret that the Malaysian government had stopped an annual compensation to them in the wake of the Sulu incursion in 2013.
Thomas then offered to resume the payments as well as some RM48,000 in backdated payments plus interest, in exchange for the Sulu claimants putting a halt to the arbitration process.
The contents of the letter were cited repeatedly in the massive award handed out by Stampa to the Sulu group early this year, sparking accusations that Thomas' action would put billions of dollars in Malaysian assets at risk if the arbitration outcome is allowed to be implemented abroad.
'Long and turgid response'
Afif said Thomas had avoided the real issues in his "long and turgid response".
Among others, he asked why Thomas had ommitted the mention of "without prejudice" in the letter, thus allowing it to be admissible in the arbitration hearing to back the Sulus' demands.
He also questioned the decision not to participate in the proceedings in order for Malaysia to challenge Stampa's jurisdiction.
"Thomas digs up a precedent in which Pakistan did not contest an arbitration in 2011. This is a poor and unreasonable excuse for not fighting for Malaysia in the Stampa arbitration from day one," Afif added.
He also said that Thomas' regret over Malaysia's non-payment to the Sulus amounted to "conceding liability or wrongful conduct by Malaysia".
"Why didn’t Thomas state that the Sulu claimants’ arbitration in Spain is a grievous infringement of Malaysia’s sovereignty?
"Why did Thomas in his letter state facts which supported the conclusion that the Sulu sultanate had never divested itself of sovereignty over Sabah?" Afif asked.
He said Thomas should also have stated whether he had consulted the prime minister or the Cabinet before issuing the letter.
"The Stampa award is massive, and Malaysia now has to work hard to prevent its enforcement against its assets worldwide. Thomas cannot remain silent or issue anymore statements that avoid the real questions. These burning questions beg for answers," said Afif.
The eight Sulu individuals had cited a 1878 agreement between the now-defunct Sulu sultanate and the British colonial government, where the sultan surrendered sovereignty over some territories located in North Borneo, or what is now Sabah, in return for an annual compensation.
In February, Stampa, in his arbitration decision announced in a French court, awarded the Sulu claimants US$14.92 billion (RM60 billion) plus interest and costs.
Earlier this month, their lawyers sought to implement the award by serving an asset seizure notice on two subsidiaries of Malaysian oil firm Petronas in Luxembourg.
Putrajaya subsequently secured a stay order from a Paris court to stop the execution of the award, with the Sulus' lawyers threatening to set their eyes on Malaysia's other assets around the world.