Shin Corp threatens suit against critics

The Bangkok Post

Shin Corp has warned that it may take legal action against local academics and analysts if they continue to spread stories about the telecom group’s impending financial collapse following the Supreme Court’s ruling against group founder and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Company executives said analysts’ warnings that Shin could collapse if the government pursues compensation claims against the telecom holding company and its operating units were unethical and immoral, and that judgement should be reserved only after a formal court ruling.

Shin, now controlled by Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and with major shareholdings in the mobile leader Advanced Info Service and the satellite operator Thaicom, also said it would not reserve cash against possible compensation claims from the government, and repeated that it had not violated any of its contracts with the state.

Shin’s share price has fallen 12% since the Supreme Court ruling against Thaksin on Feb 26. Those of its subsidiaries as well as other telecom firms have also fallen amid fears that the government may seek damages and compensation from operators based on the court ruling.

A number of securities analysts have issued reports putting possible losses for AIS in the tens of billions of baht if the government demands compensation for allegedly illegal changes to its concession contract.

The Finance Ministry estimated that amendments to concession contracts between state-owned TOT and CAT Telecom and private operators such as AIS, DTAC, True and TT&T have cost the state more than 134 billion baht.

Somprasong Boonyachinda, chairman and acting president of Shin, said no one had filed any legal claim against AIS or Thaicom so far.

Analysts judging the firm before a finding of fault have damaged Shin’s image and confused the public, he said.

Critics are questioning an excise tax on telecom services, the 2001 contract amendment cutting revenue sharing payments for prepaid services, a roaming agreement, the iPSTAR broadband satellite launch (or Thaicom 4), the Export-Import Bank loan to Burma and the shareholding portions of Shin.

Mr Somprasong said AIS continued paying the same amount of revenue to TOT after the excise tax took effect.

The reduction in prepaid revenue sharing to a flat 20% from 25-30% increased TOT’s income because the revenue cut committed AIS to reducing calling rates, which boosted the number of prepaid customers, he said.

The jump in the customer base required AIS to expand network coverage, which was already transferred to the state enterprise under a build-transfer-operate agreement, he added.

Mr Somprasong said the Exim Bank’s 4-billion-baht loan to Burma had nothing to do with Thaicom, and Burma spent only 320 million baht to finance the use of its satellite services.

A change in terms of the concession to allow Thaicom to launch the iPSTAR broadband satellite (also known as Thaicom 4) as its main satellite, instead of a backup for Thaicom 3, was legally approved, he said.

The foreign shareholding limit was reduced from 51% to 40% [in 2004-05, prior to a public offering by Thaicom], and was approved by the attorney general, he said.

He added TOT had received more than 100 billion baht from AIS. He urged the state telecom enterprise to view the company as a money generator and help it to increase efficiency.

Temasek of Singapore has spent between 140 billion and 150 billion baht in Shin Corp. The company has received around 20 billion baht in dividends in the past three years.

SHIN shares closed yesterday on the SET at 26 baht, up 50 satang, in trade worth 11.3 million baht.

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