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Malaysian home affairs minister to visit Europe amidst tensions over legal dispute with “Sulu heirs”  

In 2013, Malaysia suffered an armed incursion from the Philippines by a group claiming to be the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, part of the resource-rich Malaysian province of Sabah. Malaysia was able to make an end to it, but as a result, it no longer paid the heirs an annual stipend of $5,300, stemming from a historical obligation dating back to colonial times, when the British agreed to pay compensation to the sultan, who was then considered to reign over the territory.

Now, measures to safeguard national sovereignty, Malaysia has taken things further, classifying one of the self-styled descendants of the sultanate of Sulu as a terrorist, Bloomberg reports.

The Malaysian government thereby also announced that Malaysia’s home affairs minister will be visiting France, Spain, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The background is that all four countries are involved in an arbitration case regarding the legal dispute with the heirs, whereby a French court ordered Malaysia In February 2022, to pay $14.9 billion to the heirs of the last sultan of Sulu. Initially, the case was supposed to proceed in Spain, but the Madrid high court annulled a proceeding presided over by the arbitrator in the case, Gonzalo Stampa. In response, Stampa then moved the case to Paris. Meanwhile, in a sign of how tense everything has become, the Malaysian government has initiated criminal proceedings against Stampa.

The French ruling was followed by efforts to seize bank accounts in Luxembourg of two subsidiaries of Malaysian state oil company Petronas, to the shock and dismay of  Malaysian politicians. It didn’t come that far yet, as a French court suspended the enforcement of the award until the conclusion of the appeal.

The case has troubled already tense relations between Malaysia, also due to lingering question marks over whether the claimants really are the heirs of the Sulu sultan and due to questions over the financing of the legal campaign. The Financial Times cites “multiple people close to the case” alleging that Therium, a London-based investor, would be bankrolling the supposed heirs, who reportedly live in the Philippines and are not wealthy. Furthermore, historical records also indicate that the disputed territory never belonged to Sultan of Sulu in the first place, but to the sultan of Brunei instead.

Observers now look ahead at the outcome of the visit of the Malaysian home affairs minister.