6 January 2020
2019 was a busy year for the courts, thanks to several suits involving Datuk Seri Najib Razak, his family and political allies.
The 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) trials involving money laundering, criminal breach of trust, abuse of power, and graft amounting to billions of ringgit from the scandalised fund and its former subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd took centre stage (see sidebar). Meanwhile, questionable dealings with public authorities and government-linked companies also dominated headlines.
Amid all this, other legal sagas resumed in 2019 that are set to continue this year include decades-old land tussle between a family business and the government, and an accounting scandal that shook the investing community. Meanwhile, a budget carrier continues to spar with a national airport operator over fees levied on passengers.
These are the cases that we will be following this year.
AirAsia versus MAHB
AirAsia Group Bhd and Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) have locked horns over higher passenger service charges (PSCs) imposed on travellers as part of a move to equalise the fees across airports in Malaysia. The low-cost airline had refused to collect the higher charges from passengers, claiming that the standards of service and facilities at klia2 (Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2) — the budget carriers’ hub — were inferior to those of KLIA, which serves full-fledged airlines.
In May 2019, AirAsia filed a judicial review application against the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) and MAHB to get the commission to mediate a dispute between the airline and the airport operator over the higher PSC.
The High Court on June 25, 2019 dismissed the legal challenge, with Justice Datuk Nordin Hassan refusing to grant leave as it ruled Mavcom had not made a decision on the MAHB-AirAsia dispute, but had merely deferred it.
This means there was no decision that had adversely affected or aggrieved the airlines which the court could rule against.
The budget carrier had also tried to strike out a suit by MAHB and its subsidiary Malaysia Airports (Sepang) Sdn Bhd (MASSB) over unpaid increased PSCs since late 2018.
The airlines lost again on July 18, when High Court Justice Datuk Azimah Omar refused to strike out the suit and allowed MAHB and MASSB to enter into summary judgements against AirAsia, resulting in the company having to pay RM40.73 million. Besides this, there is a pending defamation suit between MAHB and AirAsia in the High Court, which has refused to remove Riad Asmat and Benyamin Ismail — chief executive officers (CEOs) of AirAsia and AirAsia X Bhd — as defendants.
This follows their statements in December 2018 and February 2019 implying it was MAHB and MASSB that had increased Malaysia’s PSC from RM50 to RM73, when the decision was in fact made by Mavcom.
Justice Datuk Mohd Firuz Jaffril said this was not a plain and obvious case for the two CEOs’ name to be removed.
In October, AirAsia filed an RM480 million negligence suit against MASSB for “loss and damages caused by negligence on the part of MASSB, in the management, operation, maintenance and provision of airport services and facilities at klia2”.
With ongoing appeals in the Court of Appeal pending and disputes going to trial in the High Court, it looks like AirAsia and MAHB’s legal battles will continue this year.