Stadium firm orders officials to pay up $21m

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 May, 2004, 12:00am

Tired of waiting for a court-ordered sum, Wembley takes on the government again

Officials have been accused of stalling a $21 million payout to the former managers of the Hong Kong Stadium, after the government lost a long-running legal battle with the firm in March.

Lawyers for Wembley International (HK) have taken the rare step of trying to compel the government to make the payment, ordered by Mr Justice William Stone in the Court of First Instance. On March 19, Mr Justice Stone absolved the company of any wrongdoing over the high-profile problems with the stadium's pitch.

The judge ordered the government to pay Wembley $21,855,702 plus interest, including incentive fees, severance and other payments.

But the government did not pay Wembley. Solicitor Camille Jojo, from the firm Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, said the management group became frustrated by the delay.

'We want the payment now because that is what the judgment said, and it is the fruit of the judgment,' he said. 'We are surprised that the payment has not been made. It is not as if Wembley is strapped for cash, but it is the principle of the matter.'

On April 29, Wembley's law firm filed an application to Mr Justice Stone under the Crown Proceedings Ordinance seeking a certificate to force the government to pay up. Under the ordinance, once the certificate is issued, the Director of Accounting Services must pay the amount, with interest, to Wembley. The firm is still waiting for the document to be issued.

Another partner of the law firm, Benjamin Ridgeon, added the government had indicated it was considering an appeal against Mr Justice Stone's ruling but it did not serve as an excuse for stalling the payment.

'It gives no real reason for the delay in payment and it is difficult to see where they could appeal,' Mr Ridgeon said. He added the delay posed an extra strain on the public purse as the interest was about $4,000 a day.

A spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it was 'not appropriate' to make a payment to Wembley since a decision had not yet been taken on whether to launch an appeal.

'The case is still being examined and we will come to a decision as soon as possible,' the spokesman said. The deadline for the government to lodge an appeal is May 19.

Mr Justice Stone dismissed the government's case against Wembley International (HK) and its parent company, Wembley Plc, saying the manner in which the government conducted the case was 'little short of oppressive'.

The saga over the running of the stadium began when Wembley was awarded a 10-year contract to manage the $850 million facility in March 1994.

However, the deal was terminated in May 1998 after the now-defunct Urban Council accused Wembley of mismanaging the pitch.

The government then launched a legal battle against Wembley, suing for unspecified damages, while the company counterclaimed, seeking millions for wrongful termination.

Mr Justice Stone lashed out at the tactics the government employed to target the management group, and said Wembley had been made a scapegoat in the bitter row.

'The case as mounted by the government sought to level every possible allegation which could be identified against the former manager of the stadium,' he said.