Govt targets legality to dodge big Hopewell fine

Govt targets legality to dodge big Hopewell fine

The government is weighing up seeking a Civil Court ruling on whether the registration of Hopewell (Thailand) Co is legal, in its latest attempt to invalidate the company's right to a multi-billion-baht compensation payment awarded by the Supreme Court in 2019.

Piraphan Salirathavibhaga, head of the working group handling problems associated with the forsaken rail project, was reacting to Friday's decision by a plenary session of Supreme Administrative Court judges to accept for consideration a petition 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 of the original case.

The latest decision by the Supreme Administrative Court judges has been 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.

Citing the reasoning said to be behind Friday's decision by the Supreme Administrative Court judges, Mr Piraphan said the case was now more or less final as the statute of limitations expired 17 years ago on Jan 30, 2003.

The case, however, was then submitted to the arbitrator in November, 2004, he said.

The five-year statute of limitations was in reality counted from Jan 30, 1998 when Hopewell (Thailand) Co was made aware of the damage, Mr Piraphan said. It expired on Jan 30, 2003, not from March 9, 2001, the day the Administrative Court was founded, as argued by Hopewell and endorsed by the Supreme Administrative Court in its April 22, 2019 ruling on the case.

"That Supreme Administrative Court ruling is now over," he said. "In theory, the government will no longer have to pay the compensation. But in practice, I don't want to say anything ahead of the final court ruling in this new trial."

Seven years after the deal to build the Hopewell project was signed on Nov 9, 1990, the government announced it would scrap the contract after the company halted construction in 1997 amid the financial crash. The contract was officially terminated later on Jan 27 the following year by an incoming government.

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