Hopewell (Thailand) and Thai government trade threats in long-running legal case
Transport Minister Saksayam says he’s unfazed by litigation
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob has downplayed a threat by Hopewell (Thailand) Co to bring a criminal lawsuit against the government for failing to pay several billion baht in compensation over a cancelled transport project about two decades ago.
Saying the matter should be left to the court to decide, Mr Saksayam dismissed the company’s legal threat as business as usual, adding it is not unusual for private companies to attempt to sue the government.
“The court has granted a stay of execution delaying the compensation payment. Meanwhile, the Transport Ministry is also pursuing a new lawsuit against Hopewell [over the legality of the company’s registration]. So, let the court proceedings take their course,” Mr Saksayam said.
The government is weighing up seeking a Civil Court ruling on whether Hopewell’s registration in the country is legal. This would mark its latest attempt to invalidate the company’s right to the multi-billion-baht compensation payment awarded by the Supreme Court in 2019.
On March 4, a plenary session of Supreme Administrative Court judges decided to accept for consideration a petition seeking a retrial of the original case jointly filed by the Transport Ministry and the State Railway of Thailand (SRT).
The petition was lodged in opposition to the Central Administrative Court’s earlier decision to dismiss the parties’ formal request for a retrial.
The decision by the more senior judges was interpreted by some as a turning point in the government’s long fight to avoid picking up a potential 30 billion baht tab for terminating the elevated road and train system project.
In the original April 22, 2019 ruling, the Supreme Administrative Court ordered the ministry and SRT to pay 11.8 billion baht plus an accrued interest rate of 7.5% to the company following the termination of the contract in January 1998.
Supat Tirachusak, a member of Hopewell’s legal team, said at a press conference on Tuesday the company is considering filing suits against the government with the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases and the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.
It also plans to petition the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to launch an ethical probe against those involved, Mr Supat said.
However, he did not specify who would be targeted in the lawsuit nor if it would be lodged, merely saying the board would meet to discuss the matter.
Mr Supat cited a ruling by an arbitration panel on Sept 30, 2008 instructing the SRT and Transport Ministry to pay the 11.8 billion-baht compensation to Hopewell. With interest, that has since grown to 27 billion baht, he added.
“The Transport Ministry and the SRT have not complied with the ruling. Moreover, they are trying to use legal mechanisms to delay compliance,” Mr Supat said.
However, the Central Administrative Court overrode that ruling in March 2014. The court said the arbitration committee had no authority to accept the case, which Hopewell appealed.
Suksomruay Wantaneeyakul, secretary to the transport minister, said government agencies and a House committee on legal affairs, justice and human rights had studied the project and found several irregularities.
“If the ministry and SRT comply with the panel’s ruling without exercising their legal rights, they could be seen as failing to protect the country’s interests.”