Mixed views on decision to sell yacht

Rahmat Khairulrijal and Teoh Pei Ying

KUALA LUMPUR: THE jury is still out on whether the government is on the right track, legally, in its plan to dispose of Equanimity, which is in its custody.

While Attorney-General Tommy Thomas stands firm that the yacht, said to have been bought using funds from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), could be liquidated, others, including those in the legal fraternity, said it might not be a legally sound idea.

They have no issues with the seizure of the yacht last week, but cautioned against the plan to put it up on the market, at least before the conclusion of the probe into 1MDB.

The government is planning to sell the superyacht linked to fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, to the highest bidder by the end of the year.

“We expect the process to be completed in three to four months, provided nobody contests the ownership of the yacht in court.

“The money that we get (from selling it) will be transferred into a fixed bank account, which will be granted to any party who can establish ownership of the yacht in a civil suit,” Thomas said during a special session at the 2018 International Malaysia Law Conference here yesterday.

Thomas told Low, who had accused Putrajaya of “hijacking the legal proceedings of other countries to acquire the Equanimity”, to appoint a counsel to set aside the warrant (of arrest) against the yacht, and that in doing so, he had better appoint himself a good shipping lawyer.

The yacht, said to be 54th largest in the world, is docked at the Boustead Cruise Centre in Port Klang.

Lawyer Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz, while saying that
the seizure was legal under Malaysian and international laws, added that the government must first prove that the yacht was indeed linked to 1MDB funds before they attempted to sell it.

“Prove first that the property is involved, through the 1MDB investigations. Besides, the government needs to obtain a court order to sell it,” he said.

Another lawyer, Nizam Bashir, however, said it was perfectly fine for Putrajaya to seize and sell the yacht.

“Its seizure was legal as the Attorney-General’s Chambers had obtained a warrant of arrest on Aug 6 from the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

“The warrant of arrest was issued in the exercise of the court’s admiralty jurisdiction and the warrant thereafter was appropriately served by a sheriff of the Admiralty Court, who served the relevant documents by affixing it on the mast of the superyacht. “As for the seizure under international laws, as I understand it, a similar process was observed in Indonesia with the Indonesian authorities boarding the Equanimity on July 9 and thereafter, executing the warrant of arrest by affixing the same on the yacht,” he told the New Straits Times.

Selling the yacht when the 1MDB probe was ongoing, Nizam said, was a non-issue as there would be a “remedy in place”, if someone made a legal claim on it.

“For example, when someone proves that he had purchased the yacht with his money and not monies from 1MDB, then he can claim ownership of the yacht.”

He said it was lawful for the government to sell the Equanimity, provided that it was done through a judicial sale.

It was reported on Aug 7 that 1MDB had claimed ownership of Equanimity.Pas yesterday demanded that the government reveal the status of the 1MDB investigations, especially the evidence which linked Equanimity to the firm’s funds. Pas deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said this was because the vessel was a crucial piece of evidence in the 1MDB investigations.

He said Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull had, in July, said investigations into 1MDB were only 50 per cent completed. He said the government had revealed that it would cost taxpayers RM2 million monthly to maintain the Equanimity and that the vessel must be sold as soon as possible. “How can the government sell the vessel when investigations into 1MDB are not even completed?” Tuan Ibrahim, who is Kubang Kerian member of parliament, said the government was now planning to retrieve Low’s private jet from Singapore. He questioned how much it would cost to maintain the plane once it was back in Malaysia and if it would also be sold before 1MDB investigations were completed. “I fear the prolonged investigation into 1MDB, along with the court processes, may result in the government having to spend a large amount on the maintenance of the yacht and plane. “The government has said it could not fulfil all the pre-election promises because it did not have enough funds. Yet, it is considering the maintenance of the plane and yacht,” he said. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd