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'Absolutely untrue' - AGC counters Apandi on why M'sia lost Batu Puteh

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The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has refuted former attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali’s claim that Malaysia had failed to raise a key issue in the Pulau Batu Puteh territorial dispute.

The AGC was responding to an interview with Apandi that was published by Utusan Malaysia on July 1.

Among others, the former AG claimed that Malaysia had lost in the 2008 International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdict on the rocky outcrop’s sovereignty because it failed to dispute the authority of a 1953 letter penned by the then-acting state secretary of Johor, M Seth Saaid.

In 1953, Saaid had responded to a query on Pulau Batu Puteh’s sovereignty from the colonial secretary of Singapore, writing that “the Johore government does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca”, which is another name for the island.

“The ICJ thought the letter was from the state secretary of Johor himself. We dispute whether he has authority or not because he was merely the acting state secretary, but the matter was not raised and so we lost,” Apandi was quoted as saying by Utusan.

However, the AGC said records showed that Apandi’s statement was untrue, and that the Malaysian delegation had “submitted at length” on the issue before the ICJ.

“Furthermore, although the ICJ did not rule in favour of Malaysia on this issue, the ICJ in its judgment nevertheless concluded, amongst others, that it did not consider the 1953 letter as having a constitutive character in the sense that it had a conclusive legal effect on Johor ie Pulau Batu Puteh but rather it is a response to an enquiry seeking information.

“Hence, it is absolutely not true to claim that Malaysia was unsuccessful because Malaysia did not raise the issue of the authority of the then-acting state secretary of Johor,” the AGC said in a statement today.

It noted that those arguments made by Malaysia’s legal team are available from the ICJ’s records.

Lapsed review

Apandi also detailed to Utusan “new evidence” he intended to present to the ICJ in the previous government’s bid to seek a review of the ICJ’s 2008 decision.

The review was supposed to be heard in The Hague beginning on June 11 this year, but the review was dropped after the new Pakatan Harapan-led government was sworn in.

Apandi expressed regret that the ten-year time limit to file for a revision has now lapsed, meaning that Pulau Batu Puteh would forever belong to Singapore.

He also lamented that he was not consulted in the government’s decision to drop the case, and said he intends to write a book about the dispute over Pulau Batu Puteh.

With regards to the decision to abandon the review, the AGC countered that an international consultant and two local lawyers appointed by Apandi to the case had been summoned to brief Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in May.

The AGC said the consultant, Brendan Plant, had maintained and reiterated collective written opinions dated January 2017. The two local lawyers present had not contradicted him.

It said representatives from the AGC and Wisma Putra were also present in the briefing, but did not say what was in the written opinion.

“Having considered the views and other national interest matters, including costs, the prime minister decided that it would be best to discontinue the proceedings. The decision was subsequently reported to the new cabinet at its first meeting on May 23, 2018, which endorsed it.

“The decision, including its grounds was also conveyed to the Sultan of Johor, His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar,” it said.

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