The Central Administrative Court on Monday overruled an arbitration tribunal’s order for the Ministry of Transport and the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) to pay multi-billion baht in compensation in the "Hopewell saga".
As a result, the ministry and the SRT will not have to pay the huge compensation to Hopewell Thailand.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga said, “Congratulations to all Thais. We have won the Hopewell case." Mr Pirapan previously headed a working panel dealing with problems associated with the abandoned rail project.
However, Hopewell can still appeal the court’s decision.
On March 4, last year, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in favour of the Transport Ministry and the SRT’s request for a retrial following a 2021 ruling against them by the Central Administrative Court in the “Hopewell saga”.
As a result, the compensation dispute started anew with the Central Administrative Court.
At the time, Mr Pirapan said that the ministry and the SRT argued that the statute of limitations had already expired and should have influenced the Supreme Administrative Court judges’ ruling.
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 for the termination of a contract in 1998 to build a 60-kilometre elevated highway and rail system covering Bangkok.
The compensation amount was based on an arbitration tribunal’s ruling in 2008. With interest, the amount has since grown to about 27 billion baht, according to sources.
The ministry and the SRT’s petition seeking a retrial of the 2019 ruling was based on a Constitutional Court ruling on March 17, 2021, which clarified a resolution passed by Supreme Administrative Court judges on Nov 27, 2002.
The petition asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether the Supreme Administrative Court judges’ resolution on the statute of limitations in the case ran counter to the 1999 Establishment and Proceedings of Administrative Cases Act and whether it breached the constitution.
The Supreme Administrative Court judges had ruled that the statute of limitations in the Hopewell case should be counted from the day the Administrative Court was founded — March 9, 2001.
It decided, therefore, that the company had sought the arbitration tribunal’s judgement within the legal time frame. However, the petitioners said the 1999 law clarified that the statute of limitations commenced on the first known day of the dispute.
But most Constitutional Court judges ruled that the resolution violated the constitution because the Supreme Administrative Court had failed to send it to parliament for inspection or publish it in the Royal Gazette as required by the law and the charter.
These failures rendered the resolution “unenforceable”, the judges declared.
At the time, Mr Pirapan 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.
It expired on Jan 30, 2003, and not start 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.
In Monday’s ruling, the Central Administrative Court said that even though the Constitutional Court ruling cannot render the Supreme Court’s resolution unenforceable, this does not prevent the ministry and the SRT from citing the charter court ruling as a reason to seek a retrial.
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.