A Thai mining company is asking a Washington federal court judge for help in enforcing a $56 million arbitration award for a breach of contract against the government of Laos.
The petition for assistance (PDF) filed yesterday in U.S. District for the District of Columbia is the latest stop in the dispute's global tour. An arbitration board based in Kuala Lumpur issued the award in 2009, a French tribunal confirmed it the following year and the Thai company has also filed enforcement actions in London and New York.
French law allows a prevailing party to take immediate action to freeze a respondent’s assets. The problem, according to the petition, is that French courts lack legal mechanisms for discovery of assets, leading the company to ask for help from the Washington court.
The company, Thai-Lao Lignite Co. Ltd. (TLL), had contracted with the Laotian government in 1994 to mine coal reserves in the Hongsa region of Laos, and also to develop a power plant on the same site to generate electricity for sale to Thailand.
In June 2007, according to filings in support of the petition (PDF), TLL accused Laos of breaching the contract and triggered arbitration. A Kuala Lumpur-based tribunal of three attorneys from U.S.-based firms began proceedings in 2008 and awarded TLL more than $56 million plus interest and $1 million in attorney fees.
The company is being represented by James Berger of New York’s Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. He could not immediately be reached Thursday morning. Laos does not have counsel listed.
A court in Paris confirmed the award in 2010, but Laos has yet to pay, according to the petition. Under French law, once an enforcement order is issued, the prevailing party can begin filing to freeze the respondent’s assets.
In tracking down the Laotian government’s assets, the company wants a French company, Electricite de France International (EDFI), to turn over evidence of any French assets owned by or debts owed to Laos. TLL is especially interested in the country’s stake in a massive hydroelectric dam located in Laos and owned and operated by EDFI.
Efforts to serve the French company in its native country have been unsuccessful, according to the petition. Since the French company has an office in Washington, TLL is asking the court here for help.
“Granting the discovery sought hereby would promote the strong public policy–enshrined in both U.S. and French law, as well as in the New York Convention–favoring the enforcement of foreign arbitration awards and the expeditious resolution of disputes,” TLL wrote in its petition.