Lahad Datu: Legal twists at hearing of Sulu gunmen

KOTA KINABALU - Legal twists over procedures filled a hearing for 29 men and a woman charged with offences in connection with the Sulu gunmen intrusion in Lahad Datu last February.

The hearing at the High Court here on Monday was supposed to be for a mention of the case. The pleas of all the accused had been recorded before Justice Ravinthran Paramaguru on June 27.

However, a host of issues came up with lawyer Rowena Rashid, the assigned counsel for accused Pabblo Allie telling Ravinthran that her client was objecting to the charge and to being jointly tried with the other accused.

Pabblo was among the 22 charged with waging war against the Agong and being a member of a terrorist group. At this juncture, Ravinthran asked Rowena if she was prepared to make her submissions on the objections. She responded saying she needed time and wished to make a written submission to the court.

Assigned counsel Ronny Cham later stood up and told Ravinthran that he had received a letter addressed to the court from his client, Ismail Yasin, who wished to be represented by senior lawyer Datuk N Sivananthan who had been engaged by the Philippines Embassy to act for the 22 accused.

The Kuala Lumpur-based Sivananthan was present at the hearing along with his local counterpart James Tsai.

Almost immediately another four assigned counsels - Ram Singh, Zakaria Ahmad, Abdul Gani Zelika and Teresa Sirri stood up and said they too received similar letters from their clients.

Attorney-General Tan Sri Gani Patail objected to all these and urged the court to ignore the letters for the time being. "This court is superior to the embassy," remarked.

Gani said he would raise the matter with Philippines Embassy officials.

Ravinthran told the five lawyers that as far as the court was concerned, they remained the assigned counsels until such time they were discharged by the court.

The judge later fixed the trial of the 30 from Sept 17 to 27.