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Monday, November 20, 2023

Govt seeks to strike out Halim Saad’s suit


(From left) Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Nor Mohamed Yakcop and the government have denied allegations by Halim Saad that his shares in the Renong-UEM group were forcibly acquired.

PETALING JAYA: Dr Mahathir Mohamad and two other defendants named in a lawsuit filed by tycoon Halim Saad are seeking to strike it out on grounds that the former corporate poster boy’s action is scandalous, frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of the court process.

The suit, filed in July, concerns a government takeover of Halim’s holdings in the Renong-UEM group in 2001.

In the alternative, the defendants, which also include the government and former second finance minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop, want the High Court to nullify the suit under its inherent jurisdiction.

In the application filed last week, the defendants also asked that all other proceedings in the suit be suspended until the striking-out application is determined.

Nor Mohamed, who filed an affidavit in support of the application, said Renong had a debt totalling RM26 billion during the peak of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, which constituted 7% of the entire banking system at the time.

As a result, he said, Mahathir agreed to his suggestion that Renong and UEM be restructured.

“The proposal can be implemented by taking UEM private and making a general offer to its shareholders through Syarikat Danasaham Sdn Bhd (Danasaham),” he said in the affidavit sighted by FMT.

He said sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad had, through its subsidiary, Danasaham, agreed to take over UEM’s share, and Halim’s support was necessary to make the general offer a success.

Nor Mohamed said Halim willingly supported the proposal, and the exercise was completed on Oct 8, 2001.

“I stress that the acquisition of the plaintiff’s shares was not done forcibly. There was a series of discussions before compensation was paid,” he said.

He said Halim left it to Mahathir to determine the compensation payable and, most importantly, he wanted to be free from any debt.

Nor Mohamed said Halim was paid RM165 million to compensate him for losing control of Renong. A sum of RM45 million was paid on May 22, 2003, with the balance remitted the following day.

He said Halim had filed an earlier suit 10 years ago, claiming he was unhappy with the RM165 million payment, but the action was struck out.

In a defence statement filed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers last month, the defendants contended that Halim could not pursue the present suit because of the Limitation Act 1953 and the Public Authorities Protection Act 1948 (PAPA).

The Limitation Act provides that an aggrieved party must file his suit within six years from the date the cause of action accrues. Meanwhile, under PAPA, any suit against the government must be filed within three years of the date of the cause of action.

The defence statement also claimed that the High Court had in the earlier suit declared that a 2003 agreement existed which involved payment by the government of the agreed compensation of RM165 million for the acquisition of the shares.

In the present suit, Halim claims Mahathir and Nor Mohamed “forced” him to relinquish his stake in the Renong-UEM group and rights vested in him without adequate compensation .

Mahathir was the prime minister from July 1981 to October 2003, and later from May 2018 to February 2020.

Halim alleged in his statement of claim that Mahathir and Nor Mohamed were “the prime movers in respect of the said compulsory acquisition and deprivation”.

According to the filing, the stake comprised 372 million shares and represented 16% of Renong Bhd’s entire share capital.

He claims the shares, which Khazanah acquired through Danasaham in 2001, belonged to him personally and not to Umno, a fact, he said, was acknowledged by current Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in Parliament on Nov 24, 1997.

Anwar was Mahathir’s deputy and also the finance minister and Umno deputy president at the time.

Halim claimed that at the time, UEM held a 32.6% stake in Renong, while Renong held a 37.92% share in UEM.

He is asking for the court to order the government to pay him an unspecified sum as compensation or general damages to be assessed by the court, as well as exemplary and aggravated damages, interest, costs and other relief deemed fit by the court. - FMT

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