HK court dismisses Lippo appeal in legal battle with Astro

Astro's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur (above). The group, which is controlled by Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan (right), will get to keep the stunning reversal scored in Hong Kong last year in the case against Lippo.
The group, which is controlled by Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan (right), will get to keep the stunning reversal scored in Hong Kong last year in the case against Lippo.PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG

Malaysian billionaire T. Ananda Krishnan, whose Astro group effectively lost a US$130 million (S$185 million) award in Singapore's highest court against Indonesia's Lippo group, will get to keep the stunning reversal he scored in Hong Kong last year.

On Monday, Hong Kong's Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by Lippo group's PT First Media TBK for a time extension to set aside a court order allowing Astro to garnish US$44 million in assets from AcrossAsia, a Hong Kong-listed affiliate which owed the money to First Media.

Hong Kong's Court of Appeal found a judge was not "plainly wrong" when he ruled last year that satellite TV operator Astro 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 Tan Sri Krishnan and Indonesian tycoon James Riady, who helps run Lippo.

First Media challenged enforcement of the award and the Singapore Court of Appeal had 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 US$130 million award.

Astro's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur (above). The group, which is controlled by Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan (right), will get to keep the stunning reversal scored in Hong Kong last year in the case against Lippo.
Astro's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur (above).

The Singapore appeal court noted that while eight Astro units had sued three Lippo units to enforce the arbitration award here, three of the Astro units seeking the bulk of the sum could not enforce the award as they were not parties to the arbitration agreement.

Meanwhile, Astro applied in Hong Kong to enforce the arbitration award and seize First Media's Hong Kong-based assets.

The court order was served to First Media in October 2010, which allowed 14 days for a challenge. Initially, First Media believed it did not have any assets there.

But in 2011, Astro successfully applied to garnish US$44 million in assets from AcrossAsia, a Hong Kong-listed affiliate indebted to First Media. Only then did First Media apply to have the order set aside, 14 months after the deadline.

Hong Kong High Court Judge Anderson Chow had last year rejected First Media's application, noting its predicament was " self-inflicted".

First Media appealed, represented by lawyers from Stephenson Harwood, Singapore lawyer Edmund Kronenburg and led by high-profile Queen's Counsel Toby Landau.

QC Landau forcefully argued, among other things, that the judge had given undue weight to the delay and failed to give sufficient weight to the fact that Astro had not suffered any substantial prejudice other than costs - which can be compensated.

Astro, led by renowned QC David Joseph and shored by a team of lawyers from Clifford Chance and Singapore counsel Chou Sean Yu and Lim Wei Lee from WongPartnership, countered that the arbitration context of the case demanded a more disciplined approach with "its emphasis on speedy finality and the short statutory time limits".

The Hong Kong appeal court agreed, ruling that to grant an extension "would undermine the principle of finality, against the background of which questions of fairness fall to be judged".

It ruled the length of delay must be measured against the 14-day yardstick and "therefore a delay measured even in days is significant and a delay measured in many weeks or in months is substantial".

It concurred with the judge's regard for the "public interest engaged in litigants before our courts, treating the court's procedures as rules to be complied with, rather than deliberately ignored for perceived personal advantage".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2016, with the headline 'HK court dismisses Lippo appeal in legal battle with Astro'. Print Edition | Subscribe