(Updated)

Appeal court stops Kenari Maluri from intervening in Jalan Duta land dispute; company says will escalate matter to Federal Court

Appeal court stops Kenari Maluri from intervening in Jalan Duta land dispute; company says will escalate matter to Federal Court
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PUTRAJAYA (May 5): After the Court of Appeal today ruled Kenari Maluri Sdn Bhd, a company claiming to represent the majority of Semantan Estate (1952) Sdn Bhd shareholders, is not allowed to intervene in Semantan Estates’ land dispute with the government, the company has indicated that it will bring the matter up to the Federal Court.

Kenari Maluri’s lawyer Datuk Edward Ng Boon Siong told theedgemarkets.com that it would file an application for leave to appeal to the apex court.

“We have instructions to seek leave from the Federal Court to appeal against the Court of Appeal decision.

“Failure to intervene [in] the judicial review proceeding does not affect the mandate granted by the majority shareholders of Semantan Estate to Kenara Maluri Sdn Bhd in relation to any out-of-court settlement negotiation with the Government of Malaysia,” he told theedgemarkets.com.

Earlier, a three-member appellate court bench led by Datuk Seri Kamaludin Md Said unanimously allowed Semantan Estate's appeal to remove Kenari Maluri from intervening in the long-standing dispute over 106.7ha of prime land in the diplomatic enclave which is now known as Jalan Duta, in Kuala Lumpur.

On July 8, 2019, the KL High Court had allowed Kenari Maluri's application to intervene and classified the company as the eighth respondent which led to this appeal by Semantan Estate.

However, the appellate court overturned the High Court’s decision, ruling that Kenari Maluri is a stranger to the existing judgement and not a proper party to be heard or allowed to intervene.

“So we agree with the appellant (Semantan Estate) that Kenari Maluri has no direct interest and no legal relationship in this dispute. Hence, it has no right to interfere in the appellant's negotiation of settlement and seek to intervene even if they say it represents the shareholders.

“We say Kenari Maluri has no right of authority to enforce the judgement and is not appointed to negotiate. We allow the appeal by Semantan Estate and the order of the High Court is set aside,” Justice Kamaludin said.

The other two judges in the unanimous decision were Datuk Has Zanah Mehat and Datuk Ahmad Nasfy Yasin.

Semantan Estate was represented by Ira Biswas while Ng and his father Jason Ng Kau appeared for Kenari Maluri.

Senior federal counsel S Narkunavathy appeared for all seven respondents from the government.

The bench also ordered Kenari Maluri to pay RM10,000 in costs to Semantan Estate.

Long-standing land dispute

Semantan Estate had named the director-general of the Land and Mines Department, the registrar ownership of Federal Territory, Kuala Lumpur, the Federal Land Commissioner, the minister in charge of the Federal Territory, the Energy, Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, the Malaysian government and the Federal Land and Mines Department director-general as respondents.

The land dispute with the government dates back to 1960.

The Edge Malaysia weekly's July 1-7, 2013 edition reported that in 1960, the government paid RM1.3 million to acquire the disputed land under the then Land Acquisition Enactment for the purpose of developing a diplomatic enclave.

It was reported that the tussle between Semantan Estate and the government dragged on for more than 50 years for a number of reasons, including issues between the two families that started Semantan Estate and mistakes and delays caused by the Collector of Land Revenue.

It was reported that Semantan Estate first went to court in 1960 to seek legal remedy for the then RM1.3 million compensation that the Collector of Land Revenue had paid for the land.

According to The Edge weekly, Semantan Estates in 1989 sued the government for "trespassing" on the grounds that it had taken possession of the land unlawfully.

Although the government initially succeeded in getting the High Court to strike out the suit, Semantan Estates went all the way to the then Supreme Court, which ruled in its favour and allowed the suit to proceed.

But it was close to 20 years before the trespassing case was finally heard and decided by the High Court and on March 31, 2010, the High Court declared that the government had not taken the land lawfully and "hence has remained in unlawful possession of the said land".

The High Court also ordered the government to pay "mesne profits" as damages to Semantan Estates and that the Registrar of the High Court assess the amount, according to the report.

It was reported that "mesne profits" referred to any profit accrued during a dispute over land ownership.

The attorney-general, who represented the government, appealed the High Court's decision but lost in the Court of Appeal in May 2012, and finally, the highest court in the land — the Federal Court — upheld the High Court's decision in November 2012.

Subsequent news reports indicated that on Nov 22, 2018, the Federal Court, led by Court of Appeal President Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, dismissed the Malaysian government's application to review the November 2012 decision.

Semantan Estates filed the judicial review application after the 2018 apex court decision because it wanted the ownership of the disputed 106.7ha land along Jalan Duta in Kuala Lumpur to be officially transferred to the company.

Lam Jian Wyn