Timber company’s appeal dismissed

PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal yesterday dismissed an appeal by Keruntum Sdn Bhd against the Kuching High Court’s decision on April 13, 2010 which ruled that the revocation of its timber licence no. T/0279 in August 1988 was done lawfully.

Named as respondents were the Director of Forests, Minister for Resource Planning and the Government of Sarawak.

Court of Appeal judges namely Datuk Ramly Ali, Datuk Wira Mohtaruddin Baki and Datuk David Wong Dak Wah ruled that the High Court had correctly and fairly evaluated all the evidence and upheld its conclusions that the revocation of the licence was valid and that the director of forests and the minister did not abuse their statutory powers in cancelling Keruntum’s licence.

The Appeals Court also ordered Keruntum to pay RM30,000 legal costs to the respondents.

In July 1990, Keruntum filed an action in the Kuching High Court, claiming that the respondents had acted unlawfully and abused their powers in revoking its timber licence which at that time covered the largest forest area of over 188,000 hectares in Ulu Baram. Keruntum claimed over RM100 million in damages against the government for wrongful termination of its licence. The trial of the case, the longest in local legal history, took place over several years.

Four different High Court judges heard the case. Important personalities like former Head of State Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub, former assemblyman Salleh Jaffaruddin and one Norlia Abdul Rahman gave evidence on behalf of Keruntum to prove its allegations that the cancellation of the licence was “politically motivated” and carried out in bad faith.

They alleged that the licence was intended to benefit charitable organisations and Orang Ulus of Baram in accordance with a general plan formulated by Abdul Rahman while he was the chief minister.

High Court Judge Datuk Clement Allan Skinner dismissed all these allegations and held that Keruntum had breached Section 2(2) of the Forests Ordinance by transferring and allotting its controlling shares without the consent of the Director of Forests.

The High Court also ruled that the cancellation of the licence was not to serve a political purpose and there was no abuse of power by the authorities when they decided to cancel the licence.

Counsel Colin Lau appeared for Keruntum while the respondents were represented by State Legal Counsel Datuk JC Fong and his assistant Leonie Pinda.

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