New court to hear $1b dispute case

New court to hear $1b dispute case
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

A US$800 million (S$1 billion) spat involving Australian, Indonesian and Singapore business interests is set to be the first case heard before the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC).

BCBC Singapore, a wholly owned subsidiary of Australian company Binderless Coal Briquetting Company, is seeking damages from Indonesian company PT Bayan Resources TBK.

The claim and counterclaim between the parties arise mainly from alleged breaches of a joint venture pact for the application of a patented technology to produce and sell upgraded coal from East Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo.

The spat also relates to the business and operations of the joint venture company PT Kaltim Supacoal, incorporated in Indonesia, whose shares are held by both parties.

The joint venture deed is governed by Singapore law and the heads of damages include a claim of about US$750 million and a counterclaim of about US$59 million.

The newly minted SICC was set up to hear cross-border disputes and, along with the successful arbitration sector, is a part of Singapore's plan to be Asia's dispute resolution hub and grow its legal services industry.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has assigned a panel of three judges - Justice Quentin Loh, Justice Vivian Ramsey and Justice Anselmo Reyes - to hear the case.

Justice Ramsey, from Britain, and Justice Reyes from Hong Kong are both International Judges on the SICC Bench. Judge Loh is from the Singapore High Court.

A court case management conference with the parties is due to be held tomorrow.

It is understood that the cross-border commercial nature of the dispute made the case appropriate to be heard by the SICC in lieu of the Singapore High Court.

A team of Rajah & Tann lawyers led by Senior Counsel Francis Xavier is representing BCBC Singapore while Senior Counsel Davinder Singh is helming a Drew & Napier team in defending PT Bayan and making a counterclaim.

The case between the two parties has also spilled into Australian courts where a landmark tussle is ongoing over whether Bayan's shares in Perth-based company Kangaroo Resources should be frozen pending the outcome of the Singapore hearing.

A West Australian appeals court ruled last September that it would issue a freeze before substantive proceedings commence in the court.

The case has vexed several tiers of legal minds in the Australian system, given that proceedings had yet to be concluded in an overseas jurisdiction - Singapore - before the freeze order was sought.

But PT Bayan appealed in March for special leave in Sydney before Australia's Chief Justice Robert French and Justice Kenneth Hayne gave the go-ahead to appeal against the freeze order to Australia's highest court, which could be this month.

At issue in this appeal is whether Australian courts have the power to make the unusual order.

Senior Counsel B.W. Walker, for Bayan, said at the hearing that the case was an "ideal vehicle to test" if any Australian court had the "substantive jurisdiction" to grant the freeze order being sought by BCBC Singapore.

This article was first published on May 10, 2015.
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