Battle over Bangkok’s doomed Hopewell mass-transit project back in court
The Supreme Administrative Court on Friday accepted the government’s request for a retrial of the Hopewell case – a two-decade-long legal battle related to Bangkok’s doomed multibillion-baht mass-transit project.
The decision came after the judges voted 40-10 to accept the petition filed by the Transport Ministry, State Railway of Thailand (SRT) and former justice minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga in his capacity as adviser to the prime minister and chief of the House of Representatives working group tasked with studying contractual issues involving the Hopewell project.
The Supreme Administrative Court on Friday decided to reverse an earlier ruling by a lower court rejecting the Transport Ministry and SRT’s retrial request, citing last year’s Constitutional Court verdict as “new evidence” that warrants a retrial.
In March last year, the Constitutional Court overturned the Supreme Administrative Court’s 2002 resolution on the statute of limitations for the Hopewell case.
The resolution stated that the statute of limitations should be counted from the time the Administrative Court began operating in 2001.
The Constitutional Court explained that this resolution — made by a general meeting of the Supreme Administrative Court’s judges — was invalid because it had not been sent to Parliament for inspection or published in the Royal Gazette as required by the Constitution.
That ruling revived Thai authorities’ hopes of escaping the Supreme Administrative Court’s order to pay 25.4 billion baht in compensation for the 1998 cancellation of the 80-billion-baht elevated highway and railway project. The Transport Ministry cited repeated delays in the project’s construction for cancelling the project.
Hopewell brought its case to the arbitration tribunal in November 2004 – more than a year after the legal deadline. In November 2008, the tribunal ordered both the SRT and Transport Ministry to pay 11.8 billion baht in compensation to Hopewell for “unfair contract termination”.
The two agencies then took their case to the Central Administrative Court, which in March 2014 annulled the arbitrators’ order.
Hopewell appealed the verdict, and the Supreme Administrative Court in April 2019 reversed the lower court’s ruling, ordering that the state agencies pay the compensation plus interest calculated at 7.5 per cent per annum, which came up to 25.4 billion baht.
The Supreme Administrative Court had ruled that Hopewell sought the arbitration tribunal’s judgement within the statute of limitations.