Wednesday, February 4, 2009

HORIZON TOWERS: 2-year battle to kill deal will end on Friday

ONE of the most protracted en-bloc sale disputes in years entered its final act yesterday when dissenters of the Horizon Towers deal opened their last-ditch court bid to kill the deal.

The four owners want the Court of Appeal to throw out a decision handed down last July that backed the $500 million sale of the property to Hotel Properties (HPL) and its partners, Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority.

Objectors have been fighting for two years to have the deal overturned - a battle that has ridden right through the market slump, its boom and now back into the downcycle.

Their key objection is the loss of their homes, particularly at what they see as a giveaway price and by a process they feel was badly handled.

Owner Rudy Darmawan, who is representing himself in court, told the judges: ‘I am here because I want to protect my home.’

Retiree Vincent Wong, 65, said: ‘We are not here to profit…We are really fighting for our homes.’

The saga began in January 2007 when the majority owners accepted a price of just under $850 per sq ft (psf) of gross floor area for the 99-year leasehold estate in Leonie Hill. The 199 apartment owners would each have pocketed about $2.3 million while the 11 penthouse owners would have received at least $4 million each.

But when the property market began climbing after the deal was signed, many owners believed their $500 million reserve price was too low.

A series of court challenges culminated last July when the High Court dismissed a contention by sale objectors that the deal had been done in bad faith.

Yesterday, the objectors again argued that point during a hearing involving Senior Counsel. They said a higher offer of $510 million from Hong Kong firm Vineyard Holdings was not taken seriously.

About 50 people, including residents and HPL executive director Christopher Lim, were in the gallery.

The court will hand down its judgment on Friday.

HPL has just obtained provisional permission to turn the Horizon Towers site into 253 flats and eight detached houses.

So far, its sale price has held up. Credo Real Estate executive director Tan Hong Boon believes the $500 million price tag remains reasonable - at least as far as the buyer is concerned.

‘They can break even at $1,300 to $1,400 psf and are still able to make a profit when the market recovers,’ he said.

Source: Straits Times - 4 Feb 2009

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