PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia Court of Appeal has ruled that lawyers who previously acted for a group of Orang Asli villagers in Johor have to give back funds that were misappropriated from a RM38.5 million (S$12.78 million) compensation given to the villagers nearly two decades ago for the acquisition of their land to build the Linggiu Dam.
In its Jan 17 ruling, the court also ruled that the villagers' former lawyer Dinesh Kanavaji Kanawagi and his firm Khana & Co were liable for misusing the money that was held in trust for the villagers, reported news site Malay Mail.
Noting that the funds were "misused, mismanaged or misappropriated", Court of Appeal judge Yeoh Wee Siam said the exact sum to be paid to the villagers will have to be identified and audited later.
According to the Malay Mail, the High Court, had on June 5, 2000, ordered the Johor state government to pay RM38,554,111.92 to the Orang Asli villagers in three villages in the district of Kota Tinggi, Johor.
The money was compensation after the villagers' land was acquired for the construction of the Linggiu Dam.
The report further stated that of the total amount, RM22 million was held under a trust while the balance was held by Khana & Co. The law firm was required to pay the amount to the villagers after deducting legal fees and other related costs.
However, the villagers were unaware of the court decision until 2004, and they launched a legal suit against their former lawyer and his firm to get back their money.
Lawyer Gurdial Singh Nijar, who represented the villagers, said Khana & Co had paid out RM16.5 million as legal fees to itself, two other lawyers and a foreign consultant.
"So the court rejected these payments and said they are liable to account for those payments, because there is no real acceptable evidence of that, and that the High Court was right in saying there's no acceptable evidence," he was quoted as saying by Malay Mail.