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Briefs (right)

Thai Court Agrees to Hear
Challenge to Sale of Company

By Wayne Arnold

The legal backlash over the sale of Thailand’s top telecommunications conglomerate to Singapore gathered steam Thursday when a top Thai court agreed to hear a lawsuit aiming to revoke the company’s essential licenses.

The Supreme Administrative Court of Thailand agreed to hear a case filed by a Thai law professor accusing the country’s regulators of failing to prevent the unlawful sale of national telecommunications services to a foreign investor. The suit demands that the licenses to operate those services be withdrawn.

A group of investors led by the Singapore government’s investment arm, Temasek Holdings, bought a controlling stake in the company, the Shin Corp., for $1.9 billion in January. The acquisition gave Temasek control over the country’s leading cellular operator, as well as a satellite company and a television broadcaster.

The sellers were the family of the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. The deal provoked a wave of protests that culminated in last month’s coup and the ouster of Thaksin.

While analysts said the lawsuit over the deal appeared weak, they said it was still noteworthy that the court had agreed to hear a case filed by a single individual. “This is perhaps the first of its kind,” said Panat Tasneeyanond, a former Thai senator who helped draft the constitution and was one of the first to propose the creation of the administrative courts.

Chinese Researcher Will Get
Day in Court, But Little in Defense

By Jim Yardley

A Chinese researcher for The New York Times may appear in court as early as next week to appeal his conviction on a fraud charge, but his legal team is worried that it will be unable to call witnesses, submit evidence or provide him with adequate representation.

Guan Anping, a lawyer handling the appeal, said two Beijing court officials visited the jailed researcher, Zhao Yan, last week and told him that his case would be heard soon after the National Day holiday celebration, which honors the founding of the People’s Republic of China and concludes this weekend. Guan said he and another lawyer representing Zhao had not yet been notified and were hurriedly trying to prepare.

Under Chinese law, the High Court of Beijing must inform defense lawyers at least three days in advance of the appeal hearing. Guan said he had asked the court several times in recent weeks about the status of the case. Last Friday, court officials told him they had agreed to hear the appeal but had not yet set a date.

Officials with the appeals court could not be reached for comment. Guan said if the court did schedule the appeal for next week, he was concerned that arranging for witnesses and preparing the case so soon after the national holiday would present a logistical challenge. He also said the court had not yet clarified whether Zhao’s legal team would be allowed to present a robust case by calling witnesses and presenting evidence to rebut the prosecution’s case.

Shuttle Has Close Encounter
With a Cosmic BB

By John Schwartz

The shuttle Atlantis came back from space last month with a tiny but significant hole in it, apparently from a collision with a piece of space debris, NASA officials said Thursday.

The micrometeoroid did not damage the delicate thermal panels and tiles that protect the shuttle on its return to earth; instead, it struck a radiator panel that extends from the payload bay doors. The doors hang open during missions to get rid of the excess heat produced by the shuttle’s systems.

By historical standards, it was a major hit, said James Hartsfield, a NASA spokesman, who called it “the second-most damaging particle that we’ve encountered in the program.”

He added, however, that the damage was relatively slight. “It posed no danger to the crew and no change to the mission,” he said.

The hole is about one-tenth of an inch in diameter at the entry point, with damage extending about an inch around and a half-inch deep within the radiator itself, where the particle shattered. On the other side of the radiator, it left an exit hole three-hundredths of an inch in diameter and a crack two-tenths of an inch long.

Ethics Panel Vows Hard Look At
House Page Scandal

By Carl Hulse

Leaders of the House ethics committee on Thursday promised an aggressive investigation into the circumstances surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley’s electronic messages to congressional pages and approved nearly four dozen subpoenas for an inquiry they said would take “weeks, not months.”

“The American people, and especially the parents of all current and former pages, are entitled to know how this situation was handled, and we are determined to answer their questions,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who is chairman of the panel.

He said that the committee, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, would question lawmakers, House officers and staff and “go wherever the evidence leads us.”

The committee, which had been paralyzed by partisan conflict until recently, no longer has jurisdiction over Foley, who resigned from Congress last Friday.

The panel can, however, investigate whether lawmakers failed to take adequate steps to protect pages and whether they and staff members properly pursued the initial report of Foley’s e-mail messages to a Louisiana page whose parents were alarmed by their content.

“First of all, we have to establish the facts,” said Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., who will conduct the inquiry with Hastings and two Democrats, Reps. Howard L. Berman of California and Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio. “And the facts will lead us to who — if there is someone — who perhaps did a cover-up.”