Friday, October 18

Umno suing former MPs ‘unprecedented, but novel’, say lawyers

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KUCHING: A report that Umno had reportedly sued three of its MPs who had defected to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) has raised the question of whether a political party can sue former members for breach of trust because they had jumped ship.

A lawyer, George Lo, told The Borneo Post when contacted yesterday that the move by Umno was ‘unprecedented’.

“This is a new area of law. Very novel. Interesting,” said Lo, who is also Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) secretary-general.

He said contract law could be invoked if the party and its MP had signed an agreement against jumping ship, adding it was also possible for Umno to sue the three MPs even on the basis of oral contract, although the process of proving the latter would not be easy.

“If it is oral contract, it will be much harder to prove. The burden of proof is on the party who assert that there is an oral contract and it is not easy,” he said.

Recently, one of PSB’s founders and leaders, former deputy president Datuk Dr Jerip Susil, who is Assistant Minister of Transportation and Mambong assemblyman, quit the party but has yet to announce his next political move.

At the same time, a PSB  member, Sri Aman MP Datuk Masir Kujat, joined the party after quitting Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS).

Meanwhile, another lawyer, Timothy Finlayson Joel, who is a former judge, said it is possible for a party to sue members who had jumped ship.

“If going by their words in their campaign, then they have to honour their promises. If their agenda was to oppose the other side’s objectives but later they go against their words, then in that sense there is basis for claim that they have breached their trust on the people or the party’s objective,” he said.

He also said the move by Umno was ‘novel’ which would require some ‘out-of-the-box logic’ when the matter is brought to court.

News portal The Malaysian Insight has reported that Umno had filed the civil suits against the three MPs – Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed (Jeli), Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin (Larut) and Datuk Seri Ikmal Hisham Abdul Aziz (Tanah Merah) – for alleged breach of trust.

Quoting an unnamed source, the report also stated the three MPs are being sued for ‘unjust enrichment’ and ‘legitimate expectations’.

Mustapa and Hamzah were former federal cabinet ministers before the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition was defeated by Pakatan Harapan in the last general election.

On Oct 26 last year, Mustapa announced that he was joining Bersatu after having announced his departure from Umno the previous month, while Hamzah and Ikmal Hisham resigned from Umno in December last year, without stating any reasons for doing so.

The latter two were accepted into Bersatu in February this year, together with Masjid Tanah MP Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin who left Umno in July 2018.