Spain convicts mediator who awarded sultan’s heirs billions in Malaysia land feud

A Spanish arbitrator who awarded US$15 billion to the descendants of a former sultan in a land dispute with Malaysia dating back to the 19th century has been convicted of contempt of court, it was announced on Monday, a significant victory in Malaysia’s efforts to annul the case.
Gonzalo Stampa was accused by the Spanish state prosecutor and Malaysia of failing to comply with a Madrid court ruling to drop the case by instead moving it to a court in Paris.

Stampa was sentenced to six months in jail and barred from operating for one year, according to the ruling.

Spain charges mediator who awarded Sulu heirs US$15 billion in Malaysia land row

In February 2022, Stampa awarded US$14.9 billion to the Sultan of Sulu’s heirs, who have since sought to enforce the award against Malaysian state-owned assets around the world.

Malaysia has obtained a stay on the case in France, but the ruling remains enforceable globally under a UN arbitration treaty.
“Congratulations to all Malaysians! The efforts by this [government] in addressing and putting a stop to the Sulu Fraud have not been in vain,” Law Minister Azalina Othman Said wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Historical territory of the Sultanate of Sulu. Graphic: SCMP
The dispute stems from an 1878 deal between European colonists and the Sultan of Sulu for use of his territory, which spanned parts of the southern Philippines and present-day Malaysia on the island of Borneo.

Malaysia paid a token sum annually to the sultan’s heirs to honour the agreement but stopped in 2013, prompting the heirs to seek arbitration, which has been funded by Therium, a London-based firm that provides financing for litigation and arbitration cases.

Sulu sultan’s heirs target Malaysian government properties in Paris

Stampa’s fees after delivering the award came to about US$2.3 million, court documents showed.

The heirs, who suffered a setback in June 2023 after a Paris court upheld the Malaysian government’s challenge against a partial award, are also trying to strengthen their case in Madrid.

They filed a criminal case against the Spanish justice system in December 2023, claiming that a court clerk in Madrid improperly sent an email ordering Stampa to step down from the case.

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