Lawyer accused of robbing Orang Asli of RM13.4 million compensation money

Published: 12 October 2014


Ragumaren briefing Saling (at right) and his friends on the  court proceedings.
Mr. Ragumaren briefing Saling (at right) and his friends on the court proceedings.


The cross-examination of Kanawagi a/l Seperumaniam continued for two days last week on 7 & 8 October 2014 in the Johor Baru High Court. R. Ragumaren, who represented the Jakun-Orang Asli in this case, conducted the cross-examination, now in its 8th day.

To recap, the High Court awarded the Jakuns of the Linggiu Valley area in Kota Tinggi, Johor a gross compensation of RM38.5 million for the loss of use of their customary lands.  These were the Jakun’s subsistence forests – 53,000 acres in total – which the Johor government ‘gave’ to Singapore to construct the Linggiu Dam for the supply of water to the island state. This case is now known as the Adong Kuwau case.

Mr. Kanawagi was the solicitor for the Orang Asli in this case. Of the total compensation amount, a sum of RM22 million was placed in a trust fund for the Jakuns. Two of the three batins (headmen) and Mr. Kanawagi were the trustees. The two batins have since died, leaving Mr. Kanawagi the sole trustee (and trust solicitor).

The cross-examination last week focused on how the remaining RM16.5 million was disbursed. Mr. Kanawagi’s defence has been that the amount was paid to his legal firm as he was entitled to it. He maintains that he had an agreement with the 3 batins where he was actually entitled to 50 per cent (or RM 19.25 million) of the court award in the event the Jakuns won the case.

It was also revealed in court that the RM16.5 million was paid out mainly as fees to himself and to people who were involved in the case. Apart from the RM 4,054,000.00 he claimed for his own fees, Mr. Kanawagi also said he paid fees to two other lawyers he engaged at the Court of Appeal and Federal Court stages: RM500,000.00 for Dato’ R. R. Sethu and RM6,650,000.00 for Mr. R. Rajasingam.

There was also a payment of RM2,200,000.00 made to one Hamzah bin Mohamed Tahir, through his wife, who had brought the case to Mr. Kanawagi’s notice and action.

The 3 batins were said to have been given RM2,650,000.00 for disbursement among the villagers/plaintiffs. But there is dispute as to how this was distributed.

In court Mr. Kanawagi acknowledged that there were no invoices or receipts for all the disbursements. This prompted the Orang Asli’s solicitor, Mr. R Ragumaren, to charge that, “You have robbed the Orang Asli of their money and have conspired to take the entire RM16.5 million for yourself.”

To this, Mr. Kanawagi replied that he “acted according to the court order.”

This is the court order that set up the trust fund. He could not however show where in the court order was there an instruction to pay En. Hamzah (who was basically a court tout) the RM2.2 million. Or why the Director-General of the then Department of Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA) not made a trustee as ordered by the court.

The cross-examination continues next week on 14 & 15 October (Tuesday-Wednesday) in the Johor Baru High Court.

CN-COAC | 12 October 2014