By Hafiz Yatim | The Edge Markets
Puncak Niaga Holdings Bhd’s RM14 billion suit against former Selangor menteri besar (MB) Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim for alleged abuse of power that led to the state’s acquisition of the water utility company will go on trial at the Shah Alam High Court.
This follows the Federal Court today refusing to grant leave for Khalid to pose four questions of law after he was reinstated as a defendant in the suit by the Court of Appeal on Feb 11.
Federal Court judge Datuk Vernon Ong Lam Kiat who heard the leave application said that he was mindful that this was an interlocutory application involving the Court of Appeal decision for full trial to be entered, overturning the High Court decision to strike out the suit.
“The question (whether the suit is time-barred) has not been decided by the High Court or the Court of Appeal. I accept the leave questions are of general importance.
“However, since neither the High Court or Court of Appeal made a ruling, I feel the threshold of section 96 (on granting leave) Court of Judicature Act 1964 had not been met. The leave questions posed are mixed with facts and law and need to be properly ventilated in the trial. I am dismissing the motion,” said Ong.
The Federal Court also ordered Khalid to pay RM30,000 costs to Puncak Niaga.
Khalid, who was represented by counsel Edmund Bon, had argued the suit was time-barred as the former Guthrie Bhd chief executive officer and former Selangor MB left the post on Sept 23, 2014 while the suit was filed on Oct 27, 2017.
Under the Public Authorities of Protection Act 1948 (PAPA), a claim for misfeasance needs to be filed within three years.
However, Puncak Niaga’s counsel Gopal Sreenevasan said despite Khalid leaving on Sept 23, 2014, the sale and purchase agreement was completed on Oct 10, 2015, while the suit was filed in 2017, showing it met all conditions.
Gopal appeared with Razlan Hadri Zulkifli while New Sin Yew and Michael Cheah appeared with Bon today.
At the Federal Court, leave has to be obtained before the merits of the full appeal is heard.
The questions of law posed by Khalid’s lawyers centered on section 2(a) of the PAPA regarding the time bar, which includes whether or not it should take effect after the former Selangor MB left his post.
A case management of the matter has been fixed by the Shah Alam High Court for this Friday (June 25).
Suit of misfeasance originally filed
Puncak Niaga had originally filed the suit against Khalid, senior Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali who succeeded Khalid as Selangor MB, and the Selangor government.
The company had alleged that Khalid was eager to implement the Water Services Industry Act, which the company claimed had caused pressure on the prices of its assets.
Puncak Niaga, in its suit, is claiming damages, interest on damages and costs of the difference between the value of PNSB Water Sdn Bhd (formerly known as Puncak Niaga (M) Sdn Bhd) and Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (SYABAS) of between RM2.08 billion and RM2.35 billion, and the actual purchase consideration of RM1.55 billion under the share purchase agreement dated Nov 11, 2014 between Puncak Niaga and Pengurusan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd.
The group is also claiming losses of business opportunities following the acquisition.
Puncak Niaga claimed that Khalid’s successor Azmin also actively sought the acquisition and signed the agreement on behalf of the Selangor government, which was why he was named. However, Khalid and Azmin successfully struck out the suit against them.
However, on Feb 11, a three-member Court of Appeal (COA) bench led by Justice Datuk Hanipah Farikullah partially allowed Puncak Niaga’s appeal to reinstate Khalid and the Selangor government as defendants in the suit.
The COA bench, however, did not reinstate Azmin as the other defendant in the suit.
Puncak Niaga is not appealing the COA decision in not reinstating Azmin to be a party in the suit.
The COA decision in February came after the Shah Alam High Court struck out Puncak Niaga’s suit against Khalid, Azmin and the Selangor government.