Orang Asli villagers win case against law firm

PUTRAJAYA • Malaysia's Court of Appeal has ruled that lawyers who had acted for a group of aboriginal Orang Asli villagers in Johor have to give back funds that were misappropriated from a RM38.5 million (S$13 million) compensation sum 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.

Malay Mail online news said 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 online report said 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 related costs.

But the villagers were unaware of the court decision until 2004, and they launched a suit against their former lawyer and his firm to get back their money.

Their lawyer said Khana & Co had paid out RM16.5 million as legal fees to itself, two other lawyers and a consultant.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2019, with the headline 'Orang Asli villagers win case against law firm'. Print Edition | Subscribe