by BERNAMA / pic by BLOOMBERG
Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas) has lost its appeal at the Court of Appeal here today to recuse a judicial commissioner (JC) from hearing a lawsuit brought by the Sarawak state government against the corporation over unpaid state sales tax (SST) amounting to RM1.3 billion.
A three-man panel led by Justice Datuk Dr Badariah Sahamid held that there was no basis to recuse Judicial Commissioner Christopher Chin from hearing the suit.
“In our view, a recusal application of this nature where it indirectly relates to an entity which involves the Prime Minister, if allowed, can lead to wide ramifications and cause the disqualifications of Judicial Commissioners in a myriad of cases when the Prime Minister is involved, either by his office or by his position in the Cabinet or statutory bodies or government-linked companies.
“Where does it all end? There are no easy answers to these tough questions and every case has to be considered on its own merits,” she said.
Notwithstanding the provisions in the Federal Constitution, Justice Dr Badariah said the prime minister was required under the law to uphold the independence of the judiciary.
“We are further fortified by section 27 of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) Act which does not allow for the prime minister to ask for additional names other than those names that have been recommended by the JAC. This is the legislative scheme in the context of the confirmation of JCs and their subsequent elevation as High Court judges,” she said.
Justice Badariah, however, set aside the RM50,000 costs that the High Court had awarded to the Comptroller of State Sales Tax (SST) and the Sarawak state government.
The panel which also comprised Justices Datuk Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera and M. Nantha Balan had unanimously dismissed Petronas’s appeal.
On Jan 14 this year, Petronas applied to recuse Chin from hearing the suit claiming that the JC would decide the case to favour the Prime Minister as his tenure as a JC was probationary and was subject to confirmation as High Court judge by the prime minister, who is also the person with ultimate control over Petronas.
Chin dismissed Petronas’s application to disqualify him from hearing the suit on Jan 23 this year.
The Sarawak government and the Comptroller of the State Sales Tax (SST) had filed the suit against Petronas to recover more than RM1.3 billion in SST owed by national oil and gas company to the state.
The hearing of the suit at the High Court has been fixed on March 13.
Lawyer Datuk Malik Imtiaz Sarwar represented Petronas while the state government’s legal adviser Datuk Seri J C Fong appeared for the state government and the Comptroller of the SST.