KUALA LUMPUR — Attorney-General Tommy Thomas defended the decision to appoint a lawyer from his former firm to head the legal team representing the government in the suit to claim the Equanimity superyacht linked to the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) corruption scandal.
He said the consideration for the appointment of Sitpah Selvaratnam was made solely based on her expertise and vast experience in maritime laws.
Sitpah was the chairperson of the Shipping and Admiralty Law Committee of the Bar Council for many years, and the founding president of the International Malaysian Society of Maritime Law.
“Sitpah Selvaratnam is the acknowledged leader of the Admiralty Bar with regard to litigation matters, having been involved in numerous arrests of ships and vessels in our courts, and also opposing arrests in more than 25 years of specialised practice,” Thomas said in a statement yesterday.
“She is therefore the obvious choice to advise (the AG’s) Chambers and myself on the matter. There is no question of conflict of interest because we are all on the same side.
“It is neither right nor sensible for Malaysia to be deprived of the services of Ms Selvaratnam merely because I was in the firm where she has been a consultant for the past eight years.”
Critics of the government raised questions about Sitpah’s appointment, claiming there could be a conflict of interest because she shared close working ties with Thomas when they were in in private practice.
Sitpah is with Tommy Thomas Advocates & Solicitors, the law firm founded by Thomas.
She leads a team of four counsel, including two other experienced private shipping lawyers, Jeremy Joseph and Ong Chee Kwan, from Joseph & Partners, and Senior Federal Counsel Alice Loke.
Thomas said the appointments of the lawyers were necessary because of the absence of a special shipping unit at the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
He said the complex nature of the case meant Malaysia needed the best lawyers for the job.
“It must be kept in mind that these legal proceedings are brought for the benefit of Malaysia. Accordingly, we are entitled to Malaysia’s best shipping lawyers,” he said.
“The decision to appoint Ms Selvaratnam was mine and mine alone because I have trust and confidence in her ability and integrity.”
In return for their services, Joseph & Partners will be paid according to commercial rates while Sitpah has offered her services for free, he said.
The Equanimity, a crucial piece of evidence in the investigation into the misappropriation of billions of ringgit from 1MDB, docked at Port Klang on Tuesday.
Lawyers representing Low Taek Jho, said to be the owner of the yacht, filed a notice in a US court on Wednesday contesting the handover of the vessel to Malaysia.
Their petition described the seizure of the yacht as “unlawful and extrajudicial”, and questioned the legality of the warrant issued by the Indonesian police to turn over the vessel to Malaysia.
The US$250 million (RM1.02 billion) yacht docked at the Boustead Cruise Centre Terminal in Port Klang at 12.40pm under heavy escort by marine police.