Thailand’s Hopewell project’s long-running legal saga gets new twist
Government joy as top court paves way for retrial
The Supreme Administrative Court on Friday ruled in favour of the Ministry of Transport and State Railway of Thailand (SRT) request for a retrial following a 2021 ruling against them by the Central Administrative Court in the “Hopewell saga”.
The latest ruling bolsters the transport and ong-running authorities’ attempts to avoid a huge compensation payout to Hopewell (Thailand).
Piraphan Salirathavibhaga, an adviser to the prime minister, on Friday hailed the ruling, saying it was the government’s first success in a decade-long legal battle.
“For me, it’s good news. We’ve never succeeded in the battle before. It’s our first [success],” said Mr Piraphan, who heads a working committee on the case.
In the original 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.
Mr Piraphan said the ministry and the SRT’s argument was that the statute of limitations had already expired and should have influenced the Supreme Administrative Court judges’ ruling.
An appeal to the Constitutional Court led to the March 2021 ruling and consequently the latest retrial bid by the ministry and the SRT, which was first rejected by the Central Administrative Court last August but that decision has been overturned by the Supreme Administrative Court, he said.
Mr Piraphan said the decision could spare the ministry and SRT a 30-billion-baht compensation bill.
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob said the company was thought to have unlawfully registered with the Department of Business Development thus voiding the contract.
Lawyer Nittithorn Lamlue said the compensation dispute will start anew with the Administrative Court, and the ruling may present an opportunity for other similar cases and agreed there is a likelihood that the government will not have to pay compensation.
The ministry and the SRT’s petition were based on a Constitutional Court ruling on March 17 last year, which clarified a resolution passed by Supreme Administrative Court judges on Nov 27, 2002, which stated the statute of limitations should be counted from the day the Administrative Court was founded — March 9, 2001, thus legitimising the claim.
The ministry and the SRT challenged the resolution with the Constitutional Court agreeing the Supreme Administrative Court ruling was a breach of the constitution as it had not been sent to parliament for inspection or published in the Royal Gazette as required by the law and the charter.
However, the Central Administrative Court argued that the Constitutional Court ruling did not bind other courts, and also failed to present any new evidence, which is one of the prerequisites for lodging such an appeal. The ministry and the SRT appealed the ruling with the Supreme Administrative Court.
The contract to build the Hopewell project was signed on Nov 9, 1990, when the late Montri Pongpanit was transport minister during the Chatichai Choonhavan government.
Seven years later, the cabinet of former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh announced it would scrap the contract after the company halted construction in 1997 amid the financial crash.
The contract was officially terminated on Jan 27 the following year by the Chuan Leekpai government, for which Suthep Thaugsuban was transport minister.