MALAYSIAN billionaire T. Ananda Krishnan's Astro group, which effectively lost a US$130 million (S$178 million) award in Singapore's highest court against Indonesia's powerful Lippo group, has scored a stunning reversal in Hong Kong.
A judge there ruled last month that the satellite TV operator can seize assets from Lippo's First Media and two of its other arms, as it tries to claim the sum.
The award was the outcome of a 2010 arbitration panel decision here, after a failed joint pay-TV venture between Mr Ananda Krishnan and Indonesian tycoon James Riady, who helps run Lippo.
First Media challenged enforcement of the award and the apex appeal court here ruled substantially in its favour in 2013.
It found that the sued Lippo units - First Media and Ayunda Prima Mitra - were required to pay only about US$700,000 to five units of Astro which had sued them, effectively overturning the original arbitration award.
The Singapore appeal court noted that while eight Astro units had sued three Lippo units to enforce the arbitration award in Singapore, three of the Astro units seeking the bulk of the sum could not enforce the award against First Media as they were not parties to the arbitration agreement.
Meanwhile, Astro applied in Hong Kong to enforce the award and seize any Hong Kong-based assets linked to First Media.
The Hong Kong court order was served on First Media in October 2010, which allowed a two- week deadline for a challenge to be mounted.
Initially, First Media believed it did not have any assets in Hong Kong.
But in 2011, Astro successfully applied to garnish US$44 million in assets from AcrossAsia, a Hong Kong-listed affiliate which owed the money to First Media.
Only then did First Media apply to have the order set aside, some 14 months after the deadline had passed.
High Court judge Anderson Chow, in judgment grounds released yesterday, was not convinced by its reasons for doing so.
Astro's Queen's Counsel David Joseph had argued the two-week time limit was "designed to underline and support the important principle of speedy finality which underpins the whole of the (law)".
Judge Chow found that the challenge came after a "very substantial" delay, saying: "First Media took a calculated risk regarding the presence, or absence, of assets in Hong Kong.
As events turn out, the risk has now materialised.
I do not see why the court should then come to the aid of First Media and assist it to get out of its self-inflicted predicament."
Judge Chow added that although First Media had successfully resisted enforcement before the Singapore Court of Appeal, the Singapore court was acting in its capacity as "the enforcement court, not as supervisory court".
"The awards have not been set aside.
They are still valid and create legally binding obligations on First Media to satisfy them."
First Media is appealing.
This article was first published on Mar 5, 2015.
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