Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Horizon Towers saga roars back to life with new lawsuit

Suit filed against some members of original sales panel

A fresh lawsuit has just been filed over the failed en bloc sale of Horizon Towers – and a new chapter in the long-running saga is about to begin.

It’s a suit that’s set to be a closely watched one in Singapore, seen as a litmus test for the possible legal action that can be brought to bear against those involved in this, as well as all other, en bloc sales.

A group of Horizon Towers’ minority owners – those who had originally opposed the sale of the Leonie Hill development – are now suing some members of the original sales committee for their handling of the en bloc sale.

According to documents filed with the High Court, these minority owners are looking to reclaim close to $1 million in legal and administrative costs which they say they’ve incurred during the lengthy fight to keep their homes.

The sale of Horizon Towers – first tabled for $500 million to Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL) in January 2007 – has been one of the most dramatic and long-drawn- out en bloc battles in Singapore’s history. The whole affair spanned more than two years and went back and forth between the Strata Titles Board (STB) and the High Court twice before finally being decided in the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal ruled in April last year that the deal could not go through because the development’s sales committee had failed to fulfil its duty on several counts.

And now, three sets of minority owners – represented by Kannan Ramesh of Tan Kok Quan Partnership – have cited that landmark judgment, as a basis on which to seek reimbursement for the hundreds of thousands they have each spent in this battle.

They have served writs on former sales committee chairman Arjun Samtani and member Tan Kah Gee, alleging that they were ‘key players in the process leading up to the commencement, facilitation, management and finalisation of the collective sale process’.

The minorities, in their claim, allege that Mr Samtani and Mr Tan had ‘pushed for a quick sale of the property for their personal benefit’, because both had bought additional units in Horizon Towers, at the start of the collective sale process, and were keen to profit from that.

Their statement of claim frequently cites the Court of Appeal judgment which had accepted, as facts of the case, that:

# Mr Samtani and Mr Tan had bought additional units in the development;

# The sales committee had received an alternative higher offer of $510 million from Vineyard Holdings, one day before HPL verbally indicated it was willing to purchase the development for $500 million; and

# The sales committee agreed to go ahead and sell Horizon Towers to HPL, in spite of a suggestion from one committee member that it seek the approval of the other consenting owners because property prices had shot up, because it was concerned that the deal would fall through if the other owners were consulted.

Justice Rajah, in his judgment, had also ruled that HPL and the estate’s majority owners should share the legal costs for the second High Court hearing, as well as the Court of Appeal hearing – and that the majority owners should bear the costs for the second STB. He also allowed two minority objectors who did not participate in the final appeal to be given 80 per cent of the costs incurred in the second STB and High Court hearings.

The minority owners are now seeking compensation for the sums not covered by Justice Rajah’s judgment. The three sets of owners are seeking between $117,000 to $370,000 in costs – making for a total claim of more than $800,000.

In his defence, filed with the High Court, Mr Samtani states repeatedly that he was not alone in driving the sale process. He said ‘each and every member of the SC (sales committee) played an equally important role’ and that he ‘did not have any special powers’ that could influence the committee’s decisions.

Mr Samtani also claimed that the committee ‘followed up on all expressions of offer’ for Horizon Towers and that it received no offer better than HPL’s at the relevant time. He said that, on the advice of the committee’s lawyers, Drew & Napier, the committee proceeded with the HPL offer.

As for the additional unit he purchased, Mr Samtani said that it ‘was not for investment, instead it was for use by his son’. He claimed he had disclosed the purchase of an additional unit to Drew, and was not advised by Drew that he had to announce it to the other consenting owners.

Mr Tan, who is represented by TSMP Law Corporation, has requested an extension of time to file his defence. Mr Samtani is represented by N Sreenivasan from Straits Law Practice.

Source: Business Times, 26 Jan 2010

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