Swiss watchmaker, Swatch Group, recently took legal action against the Malaysian government, seeking compensation and return of 172 seized watches. These watches, associated with the LGBTQ+ rights movement, known as Pride, were confiscated by the Home Ministry officials.
In its legal suit, the Swatch Group requests that the High Court nullify the Home Ministry’s seizure notices for the watches, worth RM64,795, issued in May. It also seeks a court order for the return of the seized watches within five days following the order and demands compensation, including aggravated and exemplary damages.
The lawsuit, filed on June 24 via a judicial review application at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur, named the Home Ministry chief secretary, the Home Ministry’s enforcement division’s secretary, the home minister, and the government of Malaysia as the respondents. Judicial review is typically deployed to challenge the decisions or actions of the government or public entities, and it involves petitioning the courts to review those decisions.
Court documents obtained by the Malay Mail indicate that the Swatch Group claims the Home Ministry officers acted illegally, irrationally, with procedural impropriety, and allegedly for an improper purpose.
The Swiss watchmaker, operating in Malaysia since 1995 through its stores and authorized resellers, was targeted by Home Ministry officers between May 13 and May 15. The officers raided 16 Swatch Group stores across the country, seizing the watches featuring nine different designs. The ministry cited that the watches, promoting or having “elements” of LGBTQ+, were in breach of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984.
Of the confiscated watches, 143 units showcased six designs from the Pride collection launched on May 4, 2023, while the remaining 29 units from previous years’ Pride collections had been available in Malaysia since June 2, 2022.
With a majority of its sales in Malaysia being to Malaysians, the Swatch Group declared that it had not received any public complaints about any of the seized watches. The company argued that the seizures were illegal, as the watches do not fall under a publication that can be prohibited under the PPPA.
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In addition, the Swatch Group highlighted the inconsistencies during the Home Ministry officers’ raids on its stores. The inconsistency in the approach of officers was noted, with some seizing all Pride Collection watches, while others only removed the ones on display. Some even offered verbal warnings to remove the display or asked the staff to turn the loop of the watches around.
The watchmaker maintains that eight of the seized watch designs do not expressly indicate any association with Pride or a similar movement. It alleges that the seizures were disproportionate and violated natural justice as other companies’ Pride products have been freely available in Malaysia for many years. The company argues that it was not provided prior notice of any complaints or intended action against the watches, and was not given an opportunity to be heard before the seizures.
Swatch Group’s lawsuit asserts that the seized watches did not disrupt public order, morality, or any violations of the law. After the seizures, a letter was sent to the Home Ministry by the Swatch Group’s lawyers on June 9 demanding the return of the seized watches, but the company has yet to receive a response.
The company contends that the refusal to return the Swatch watches has violated its constitutional rights to livelihood and property under the Federal Constitution’s Articles 5, 8 and 13.
The lawsuit further suggests that the company has suffered significant loss and damage due to the seizure, which has negatively impacted its trading reputation and jeopardized its ability to conduct business freely. The company also highlighted the immediate negative impact on its business and trading figures following the seizures.
The High Court is scheduled to hear the Swatch Group’s application for leave for judicial review on July 20. In such judicial review applications, the High Court’s leave or permission is a prerequisite before the actual lawsuit can proceed.
This news is based on Malay Mail.