I wrote a book on Equanimity so Malaysians won’t forget, says lawyer Sitpah

Raevathi Supramaniam

Lawyer Sitpah Selvaratnam, who led the charge against the seizure and eventual sale of the super yacht Equanimity, says she underestimated how much work was involved in the case. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Hasnoor Hussain, April 9, 2021.

LAWYER Sitpah Selvaratnam, who led the charge against the seizure and eventual sale of the super yacht Equanimity, is publishing a book detailing her experience as a historical record so that Malaysians will never forget.

Titled Arrest of The Superyacht Equanimity: How Malaysia Reclaimed What Was Hers, it took Sitpah almost a year to write the 180-page book, which detailed the complexity of the case.

The 56-year-old Sitpah, a maritime and commercial lawyer with more than 30 years of experience, decided to write the book because she felt that the circumstances behind the arrest and sale of the yacht had to be recorded.

The Equanimity is a superyacht fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, purchased for US$250 million (RM1.03 billion), allegedly using funds from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

It was one of several other luxury items such as paintings and properties that were confiscated by the United States Department of Justice.

In February 2018, Indonesian authorities handed over the super yacht to their Malaysian counterparts. Sitpah was present when the Equanimity docked at the Boustead cruise centre on August 7, to serve a warrant to arrest the ship.

“It had to be recorded in some fashion. The scale of the fraud involved was actually a betrayal of the people of Malaysia. I actually had my family on my case saying look you’ve got to write it.

“That was one big reason to do it and also the rarity of it. The other reason is because I didn’t want Malaysians to forget there was a point in time in history when integrity mattered.

“We were very unified in our priority to set Malaysia back on the road to wellbeing. If it didn’t mean anything now, it didn’t matter. I wanted it there for posterity,” Sitpah told The Malaysian Insight.

In the book, she also talks about the seven maritime lessons she learnt while working the case and has woven three themes throughout the book.

“There were three themes that were threading through the entire book. One is obviously the maritime angle because it was very unusual to launch a case based on fraud and a breach of fiduciary duty and tracing that money that was stolen through 32 layers and then to land into a yacht.

“We used to have a certain way of doing it for hundreds of years, keeping the appraised value secret, going via public tender exercise, among others.

“When we did that here, because of the exclusivity of the super yacht, it just wouldn’t work, so it made us question how we should actually be doing it.”

The other theme of the book is that of unity, which she says was very close to her heart. She had done the case pro bono and had felt a tremendous amount of joy, satisfaction and fulfilment of doing it for the country. Through the book, she wants people to have the feeling that she experienced.

“We were a unified team that managed to succeed because we were doing it for the benefit of our country.

“That one common goal meant we threw our energy into uplifting Malaysia. And when you have a multicultural interfaith team, the creativity to come up with all these ideas was phenomenal.

“We were so inspired to come up with these ideas because there was a sense of joy. We had found a spring or fountain of joy from just working for our country,” she said.

The third theme revolves around women leadership. Sitpah said she believes “fervently that there are no limits to what a woman can achieve except what we actually believe in ourselves”.

In the book, Sitpah also included documents that were filed in court, which she said is a valuable resource for law practitioners.

“I also produced the core papers that we filed in court. So it’s rare, it’s not found anywhere, so we have it in this book. It’s the actual papers that were filed, it’s a tremendous source of resource for maritime lawyers and practitioners anywhere in the world.”

Speaking about her experience in executing the sale of the yacht, she said it “was a tremendous feat”.

“To be able to sell her in such a paranoid market in nine months and realise US$126 million, it’s not been done ever. It’s hardly ever done for a super yacht to be sold in such a short time. It usually takes 18 to 24 months.

“The difficulty it posed, we had to think out of the box to craft the claim and the delicacy of the whole operation. She was like a super princess, seven stars.

“Requiring so much special treatment from specialists from abroad to deal with it. The notoriety of her, which meant she was blacklisted and we couldn’t get cooperation. It stretched us all, the entire team,” she said.

Eventually in April 2019, Genting Malaysia Bhd bought the yacht for US$126 million. That same month, the company changed the name of the super yacht to Tranquility.

Genting had initially put the yacht out for charter, and it was at one point rented out by Keeping Up With the Kardashian’s star Kylie Jenner, who celebrated her 22nd birthday on the yacht.

Since then, however, the yacht, which was last spotted in Dubai, is once again in the market with an asking price of US$200 million.

“There were a lot of different interests and a lot of several offers, but this was the best. Genting was the highest offer. (I was) absolutely relieved when the sale went through. I could sleep,” she joked.

Although Sitpah was ecstatic to work on the case of the Equanimity, she said she underestimated how much work was involved. Having said that, she also agreed this was the best case she has ever dealt with.

“At that time I didn’t realise how enormous the task was. We had already heard about the equanimity, the DOJ had already commenced proceedings.

“So when I was finally approached by the then attorney-general Tommy Thomas to see if we could get her, I was jubilant.

“It stretched me in very many ways, especially professionally and personally. It was unusual, unprecedented, there was no one to turn to for guidance.

“But, there is another aspect of it that made it one of the best moments, those eight months of my professional life because it had a purpose, we were doing it for the country.

“(It is) by far the best case I’ve ever dealt with,” she said.

Sitpah was among a rare group of people that included former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad who had the privilege to go on board the Equanimity. Recounting that experience, she said when she first saw the yacht, she was “awestruck”.

“We were all awestruck, even as she sailed into the Boustead cruise centre in Port Klang, it was just silence watching that momentous occasion.

“Then to actually board her and see the luxurious setting she had – exquisite marbles and timber and finishings, the beach club and all that.

“To read about it is one thing, but to see it it’s quite indescribable.”

The book, which is being self-published, will be on sale on April 15. Pre-orders are now available. – April 9, 2021.

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