JWS foils Timor-Leste’s bid to dismiss US$328m case

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Johnson Winter & Slattery (JWS) has foiled a bid by Timor-Leste to dismiss a case that seeks hundreds of millions in damages.

JWS is acting for Lighthouse Corporation in a lawsuit against the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste and the Electricity Department of Timor-Leste. Partner Tony Johnson and senior associate Nicholas Briggs are acting for Lighthouse.

The company commenced proceedings against the defendants in the Supreme Court of Victoria for alleged breaches and illegal cancellation of fuel supply contracts entered into in October and November 2010. It is seeking damages of about US$328m, plus interest and costs.

Timor-Leste sought the dismissal or permanent stay of the proceedings, arguing that the Supreme Court of Victoria has no jurisdiction because the claim concerns acts of state. Justice Peter Almond, in dismissing the application, found that the dispute is over a commercial transaction not covered by the act of state doctrine.

Timor-Leste also said that the court is a “clearly inappropriate” forum for the resolution of the dispute. In rejecting the assertion, the justice said that dispute had “significant connecting factors to Victoria,” including the contract stating that it was to be governed by the laws of Victoria. He said that this fact “is a major impediment to the defendants’ argument that the current forum is ‘clearly inappropriate.’”

The proceedings will continue in the Supreme Court of Victoria, subject to any appeal, JWS said. DLA Piper is acting for Timor-Leste.

Tony Johnson