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  • Farah Salim

Sulu dispute: Spanish Court confirms Stampa’s annulment as arbitrator - Azalina

2 February 2023

By Farah Salim

KUALA LUMPUR: The annulment of Dr Gonzalo Stampa’s appointment as arbitrator in the so-called Sulu dispute has been upheld by the Spanish Constitutional Court, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

She said the court rejected the extraordinary constitutional appeal filed by a group of individuals styling themselves as the ‘heirs’ of the Sultan of Sulu (claimants) against the annulment of Stampa’s appointment as arbitrator in the case.

She said the government has received official confirmation that the constitutional appeal filed by the claimants has been rejected and that, as a result, the annulment of Stampa’s appointment (which was already final and binding) has also been confirmed by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

“The Spanish Constitutional Court has rejected the constitutional appeal filed by the claimants because they had withdrawn their claim to appoint an arbitrator following the annulment decision by the High Court of Justice of Madrid (HCJM) on June 29, 2021.

“As a result, they had voluntarily abandoned the proceedings which served as the basis for their constitutional appeal. This decision confirms the legal position that Malaysia has asserted since the dispute began, effectively ending the claimants’ judicial strategy in Spain,” Azalina said in a statement today.

As a result of the annulment of his judicial appointment in Spain, Azalina said Stampa lacked the authority to act as an arbitrator and should have immediately put an end to the purported arbitration proceedings.

“Instead, and in open defiance of the June 29, 2021 decision of the HCJM (the same court that had initially appointed him as an arbitrator), Dr Stampa nevertheless chose to deliver an illegal and purported “final award” granting the claimants US$14.92 billion in compensation for the territory of Sabah,” she said adding that Malaysia has subsequently availed itself of all available legal remedies to invalidate Stampa’s two purported awards.

Azalina also said that the French courts have stayed the enforcement of the purported final award rendered by Stampa in France, pending the judicial outcome of Malaysia’s action to set it aside on the basis that enforcement may likely threaten Malaysia’s sovereignty over the territory of Sabah.

Furthermore, she said the Luxembourg courts have recently set aside the attachment obtained by the claimants on the basis of Stampa’s two purported awards.

“The Spanish courts have now further confirmed the annulment of Dr Stampa’s unlawful appointment as an arbitrator, finding that he never had any legal authority to act in that capacity nor to issue any awards and that therefore they are null and void.

“This recent decision of the Spanish Constitutional Court vindicates the Government’s policy to vigorously defend Malaysia in every court and forum, exercising all its powers, rights and resources to ensure that Malaysia’s interests, sovereign immunity and sovereignty are protected at all times,” she added.

On Nov 5, 2021, the claimants filed a constitutional appeal seeking that the June 29, 2021 decision which annulled the unlawful judicial appointment of Stampa to act as an arbitrator be overturned. This constitutional appeal did not stay the effects of the annulment decision.

The HCJM was the Spanish court that had initially appointed Stampa in 2019 (without hearing Malaysia following invalid service) and as a result of this decision, the HJCM retroactively invalidated Stampa’s appointment and nullified all his actions as a purported arbitrator, including the alleged “preliminary award” he had rendered in Madrid, the statement read.

Azalina said the decision of the HCJM was final, binding and directly enforceable and could only be subject to an extraordinary constitutional appeal before the Spanish Constitutional Court if exceptional circumstances were met.

“In fact, the claimants complied with the annulment decision of the HCJM and took steps to appoint a different arbitrator. Consequently, they recognised that Stampa was not an arbitrator,” she said.

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