Temasek’s investment in Thailand shaken

The Bangkok Post

The Singaporean government’s investment arm, Temasek Holdings, is expected to fight any attempts by TOT Plc to seek billions of baht in compensation from Thai telecoms companies in which it has holdings, say observers.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij wants the Singaporean owners of mobile phone operator AIS to acknowledge it knew about the contract amendments which benefited Shin Corp, AIS and others.

TOT announced on Tuesday it will seek 214.7 billion baht in compensation from local telecom operators – including AIS, which is owned by Temasek – for unpaid access charges and losses resulting from improper policy changes made by past governments.

The news, which shook the Thai share market, is likely to cast Temasek’s Thai investments under a cloud, said a Post Today writer.

Investments in the Thai share market by Temasek face a period of uncertainty, he said.

Temasek Holdings has invested in the telecommunications, energy and hospital sectors here.

Some believe its willingness to invest in Thailand was tied to the fortunes of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Once Thaksin was toppled from power, Temasek Holdings’ investments in Thailand started to look less attractive to the company.

Now, the findings of a committee appointed under Section 22 of the Joint Public/Private Venture Act 1992 could shake up Temasek’s investments still further.

The committee recommended that state-owned TOT sue Advanced Info Services (AIS), its mobile phone concessionaire, for over 70 billion baht in damages caused by amendments to its concession contract during the time Thaksin was in power.

Singapore telecoms giant Singtel and Temasek Holdings stand to be affected, as they are the major shareholders in Shin Corp and AIS.

If TOT sues AIS and wins, AIS may find it hard to survive, as it would have to pay a huge sum in damages.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij revealed that Singtel executives came to see him earlier last month to discuss the AIS issue.

Mr Korn said he would treat the Singaporean investors fairly, as Singtel helped develop the communications industry in Thailand.

However, Mr Korn is prodding Singtel to acknowledge that it knew about the contract amendments which benefited Shin Corp, AIS and others.

“At that time [Singtel] may have thought that contract amendments would not cause any legal problems.

“I will take care of this issue in a fair manner, but I ask that [Singtel] not deny knowing about the issue,” said Mr Korn.

When news leaked that the Section 22 committee (a committee set up by the ICT minister under section 22 of the Joint Private/State Venture Act of 1992 to come up with a resolution concerning AIS after the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions last year brought down a judgement in the Shinawatra family’s unusual wealth case) would find against AIS, the Thai stock market nose-dived, falling below the 1,000 points barrier.

Some insiders claimed the selling orders originated from Singapore, and were intended to express displeasure with the Thai government, which investors thought was trying to punish AIS.

Another rumour surfaced that several hedge funds based in Singapore and Hong Kong began to sell their holdings in companies owned by Temasek Holdings, including Singtel and AIS.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva met Singtel group chief executive Chua Sock Koong on Tuesday.

Some believe the Singtel CEO carried a letter from Temasek Holdings seeking Mr Abhisit’s opinion of foreign investors in the communications industry in Thailand.

ICT Minister Juti Krairiksh wanted to table the Section 22 committee’s conclusion with the cabinet on Tuesday for endorsement.

Mr Korn asked for more time, as he wants to seek a compromise solution.

The Finance Ministry said those who were involved in concession contract amendments which damaged TOT should be punished, which means the TOT board chairman and other high-ranking executives could be targeted.

The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions in February last year confiscated 46.3 billion baht that Thaksin and his former wife, Potjaman na Pombejra, acquired from selling their shares in Shin Corporation to Temasek Holdings.

The court ruled that Thaksin had abused his power and had become unusually richer while holding the post of prime minister. It also found he abused his authority to benefit Shin Corp.

Post Today did not believe that Singtel and Temasek Holdings should be punished as they were not directly involved in Thaksin’s power abuse.

The Finance Ministry insisted that TOT, as the concession owner, must be the party which initiates legal proceedings to recover the damages.

The statutory period for taking action is one year after the Supreme Court handed down its verdict.

If the ICT Ministry and TOT do not do anything to recover the losses, both could be sued for dereliction of duty.

The Finance Ministry told the Section 22 committee that other telecom concessionaires including DTAC and True Move should also be sued for damages by CAT Telecom.

Singtel and Temasek are likely to strongly resist any TOT threat to their investments – whatever they may think of Thailand since Thaksin was ousted from power.

I’m all Thai, says Abhisit

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has bad news for his opponents planning a backdoor complaint to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, citing Mr Abhisit’s British origins to back their case.

Lawyers acting for the red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) on Monday filed a case against Mr Abhisit with the ICC, seeking an inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity during the April-May crackdown on the red shirts last year.

An ICC representative earlier told the red shirt movement the ICC had no jurisdiction over alleged political crimes in Thailand, since Bangkok had yet to ratify the treaty it signed in 2000.

However, the lawyers insisted they could make a case against Mr Abhisit because he had British nationality.

Mr Abhisit, however, disappointed his critics, declaring he is all Thai, and does not hold dual nationality as some believed, reported Matichon.

Mr Abhisit has the right to take up British citizenship but says he has never exercised it.

Last week, Robert Amsterdam, personal lawyer to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said he would take Mr Abhisit to the court for the deaths of 92 red shirts during the government action against their protests.

He was confident he could get around the ICC’s treaty objection by citing Mr Mr Abhisit’s birth in England.

Mr Abhisit said while he studied in England, he had to pay university tuition fees like any other foreign student and apply for a visa to enter Britain like any other foreigner.

Academics chimed in, reminding Mr Amsterdam that being born in England and having the right to take up citizenship does not automatically make Mr Abhisit a British citizen.

Panthip Kanchanachitra, of the law faculty at Thammasat University, said Mr Abhisit would have to be registered as a British citizen and hold a British national identity document issued by the British government.

“Just by informing authorities about a child’s birth and obtaining a birth certificate does not qualify one as a British citizen as long as a person’s name is not entered in a citizen registration record,” she said.

“If he chooses not to exercise his right, he will not become a British citizen,” she said.

Dawei development will benefit Thailand

Thailand is likely to benefit from Burma’s declaration of Dawei as a special economic zone, observers say.

Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot has inspected progress of a 160km highway linking Kanchanaburi province with Dawei, in Burma’s southeast.

The Burmese government is promoting the development of a huge port and industrial estate development in Dawei (formerly Tavoy), for which Italian Thai Development Plc, Thailand’s largest construction company, will be a major contractor.

The first-phase contract that ITD has signed for the 10-year project is worth an estimated 246 billion baht.

The project will develop key infrastructure such as a deep-sea port, roads and railways linked to the Thai border in Kanchanaburi.

The Burmese government on Saturday last week designated Dawei a special economic zone, reports Matichon.

Burma has also authorised construction of a one-stop government service centre in Dawei to help investors who take part in the investment, worth 400 billion baht, and covering 250 sq km or about 200,000 rai.

Italian-Thai Development was granted a 75-year concession to undertake the project on Nov 2, 2010.

The project is likely to transform the Burmese economy and also promote Thailand’s western region as a new global trading route, said Mr Alongkorn.

Investors from the US, Europe, Japan, China and Singapore are dropping in on Dawei to explore potential investments in hotels, resorts, restaurants and industrial plants.

Mr Alongkorn said a temporary transport route to help take machinery and materials for building the highway would be in place in the next two months.

Thailand will also develop the Singkorn border pass in Prachuap Khiri Khan to link with Mudong and Marid in Burma, and develop Ranong port to help trade with Dawei.

Prayuth rules out coup

The army says troop movements in Bangkok are nothing out of the ordinary, as it attempts to head off rumours that some military heads are planning a coup.

Deputy army spokesman Sirichan Nga-thong said this week troop movements may have alarmed the public.

Troops routinely take part in military exercises this month and in March, reported Thai Rath.

Another troop movement will take place next week.

Some troops will be sent to Sudan on UN peacekeeping duty, leaving on Feb 9 and 11.

Reserve officers corps students will also take part in field training this month. The public should not panic, as the movements were routine and not related to any coup, he said.

Col Sirichan quoted army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who told unit commanders that he was trying his best to solve the country’s problems.

He asked them to study the situation in Egypt and how the country was trying to cope with its demonstrations.

This could help the army prevent such protests happening in Thailand.

Gen Prayuth also told his unit commanders that nobody would stage a coup. “No need to think about it. It’s pointless. Let’s use our brains to work on more constructive things,” he said.

Gen Prayuth also instructed the troops along the Thai-Cambodia border to stay vigilant and make sure Thailand’s territorial integrity is upheld.

He also expressed his concern for the safety of troops in the South.

He wanted commanders to properly equip and train soldiers to keep the peace according to the law, he said.

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