KUALA LUMPUR: The Madrid Court of Appeal has upheld the contempt of court conviction and sentence of arbitrator Gonzalo Stampa in the Sulu claimants case against Malaysia.

In a statement today, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said revealed that Malaysia was notified on May 17 of the appellate court’s decision to dismiss Stampa’s appeal and uphold his six-month prison sentence, and a one-year ban from practising as an arbitrator.

“In its judgment, the Madrid Court of Appeal confirms that Stampa knowingly and wilfully disobeyed the clear rulings and orders of the Madrid High Court of Justice resulting from the nullification of his appointment as arbitrator.

“The Madrid Court of Appeal has now dismissed Stampa’s appeal and has confirmed that Stampa had an obligation to comply with the rulings and orders of the Madrid High Court, regardless of his opinion of them or any developments in the purported arbitration that he illegally continued to chair, even after the annulment with retroactive effects of his appointment and of the partial award on jurisdiction that he had issued,” she elaborated.

In December 2021, after the unprecedented change of arbitration seat from Spain to France, Malaysia - which has complete and unwavering confidence in the Spanish judicial system - filed a complaint against Stampa with Spain’s public prosecutor on the grounds that he had acted in contempt of court by repeatedly disobeying the orders of the Madrid High Court and continued forum shopping in other jurisdictions.

Forum shopping is the practice of pursuing a claim subject to concurrent jurisdiction in the court that will treat the claim most favourably.

In view of the reported facts, the Madrid public prosecutor filed its own complaint against Stampa for serious contempt of court, and the criminal offence of unqualified professional practice.

The Criminal Court in charge of the matter had issued a ruling on Dec 22 Dec last year, declaring that Stampa’s actions constituted a criminal offence. He then appealed to the Madrid Court of Appeal against the judgment.

Azlina said Malaysia welcomed the landmark ruling as a momentous victory for the rule of law that would help preserve the sanctity of international arbitration as an alternative form of dispute resolution.

She expressed Malaysia’s confidence that this victory would be a further deterrent to the ominous actions carried out by the perpetrators of the Sulu fraud, adding that it confirms once again that the fraud was aided by the criminal behaviour of a rogue arbitrator.

Azalina also expressed appreciation to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for his steadfast commitment and determination in protecting the sovereignty of Malaysia at all costs, and his undivided support to the Malaysian team fighting these frivolous claims.

She then thanked the Foreign Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Legal Affairs Division, the Sulu War Room Special Secretariat, her cabinet colleagues, and Malaysians in general for their continuous support in this fight.

“The MADANI government of Malaysia will continue to ensure that the sovereignty, security, and interests of Malaysia are protected at all times,” she emphasised.

Previously, eight citizens of the Philippines, who claimed to be heirs of the defunct Sulu sultanate, filed for arbitration proceedings in Spain seeking billions of US dollars from Malaysia over Sabah. In March 2019, a court in Madrid appointed Stampa as the arbitrator for their claims.

Malaysia had secured a decisive victory in the long-running dispute, as a result of favourable rulings by a Luxembourg court, the Hague Court of Appeal in the Netherlands, the Paris Court of Appeal in France as well as the Spanish courts.