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JPJ breached duties by failing to ‘red flag’ cloned Vellfire, court rules

Dr Hema Thiyagu and her husband, Dr Vengadesh Naidu, with lawyer K Simon Murali at the High Court in George Town after the oral verdict was delivered.

GEORGE TOWN: A High Court judge has rejected the road transport department’s (JPJ) assertion that it did not have any statutory obligation to prevent the transfer of vehicles suspected to have been stolen or cloned.

In the grounds of judgment released on Tuesday, Justice Anand Ponnudurai said JPJ ought to have red-flagged a vehicle in its database as soon as the department was alerted to the tampering of its engine and chassis numbers in 2019.

The grounds were issued in connection with a lawsuit brought by plaintiff, Dr Hema Thiyagu, against the director of JPJ Penang, the JPJ director-general and the federal government.

Hema had purchased a used Toyota Vellfire MPV in 2020 only to discover 10 months later – a month after it was seized by JPJ without explanation – that the vehicle was a clone.

Anand delivered an oral verdict in the plaintiff’s favour two weeks ago, awarding the plaintiff RM139,000 in damages and costs of RM10,000.

Setting out in writing the grounds of his decision, Anand said that under Section 8 of the Road Transport Act 1987, all state JPJ directors were required to maintain a register of all motor vehicles in their jurisdiction.

The JPJ director-general may also order an update of the register, he added.

As such, Anand said, either the state director or the director-general ought to have promptly updated the register upon receiving information about the possibility of the vehicle being cloned.

Instead, he found that the department allowed the vehicle to be transferred on multiple occasions between various parties.

“It is obvious that within a span of nine months between September 2019 and June 2020, the Penang JPJ director and the JPJ director-general processed, approved, and validated the change in ownership of the cloned vehicle five times and authorised the change of its registration number.

“It is pertinent to note that there was nothing entered on the register to red flag the said vehicle, which allowed multiple transactions before it ended up being registered with the plaintiff,” he stated.

Anand rejected the explanation of JPJ officers who testified at the trial that there was no mechanism, procedure or instruction to blacklist the said vehicle.

“I find the explanation unacceptable,” he said.

Referring to the testimony of an officer explaining why the Vellfire was seized from Hema, Anand said: “He had testified that the vehicle once seized was released to the police because there was a record of blacklisting within the JPJ system following a police report.

“Bearing in mind that the police report was dated Jan 5, 2019, and there was a blacklist within the JPJ system, I don’t see why the (change of ownership) transactions were allowed to be carried out on the vehicle after (it was reported stolen).”

Anand said that based on the evidence presented, both the Penang JPJ director and the JPJ director-general were found to have breached their statutory duties.

During the trial, it transpired that the vehicle had been stolen in Negeri Sembilan and had the same identification numbers as another Vellfire registered in Johor.

The plaintiff was represented by lawyer K Simon Murali, while senior federal counsel Muhammad Sinti represented JPJ and the federal government.