Thursday, February 25, 2010

Horizon Towers lawsuits headed for trial

High Court dismisses striking out action by 2 former sales committee members

The latest legal tussle involving Horizon Towers looks set to go into full swing, with the High Court having dismissed the action by the two defendants to strike out the lawsuits filed against them.

This means the court will hear the claims brought by three sets of minority owners against the two former sales committee members – unless the defendants succeed in appealing against yesterday’s decision.

BT understands that the first defendant – former sales committee chairman, Arjun Samtani – will appeal the High Court decision, while the second defendant, Tan Kah Gee, is still deliberating if he should appeal.

The High Court yesterday also ordered both Mr Samtani and Mr Tan to jointly bear the costs of the striking-out application and the court hearing – amounting to a total of $6,000.

The minority owners are suing the two former sales committee members to reclaim close to $1 million in legal and administrative costs which they say they incurred during the lengthy fight to keep their homes.

The en bloc sale of Horizon Towers was a saga that dragged out for more than two years, and involved several High Court and Strata Titles Board hearings. The Court of Appeal eventually decided in April last year that the deal could not go through because the development’s sales committee had failed in its duty.

The Court of Appeal had ordered the bulk of costs to be borne by the development’s potential buyer, Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL), and its majority owners.

But three sets of minority owners, represented by Kannan Ramesh of Tan Kok Quan Partnership, are now seeking compensation for the sums not covered by the Court of Appeal judgment. The three sets of owners are seeking between $117,000 and $370,000 in costs – making for a total claim of more than $800,000.

The minorities say they were made to defend their homes against an en bloc process actuated by a lack of good faith on the part of the sales committee, and had to spend much for their effort.

They said Mr Samtani and Mr Tan were ‘key players in the process leading up to the commencement, facilitation, management and finalisation of the collective sale process’.

In his defence, Mr Samtani – represented by N Sreenivasan of Straits Law Practice — said 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 the committee was advised by its lawyers to proceed with the HPL offer.

Mr Tan, represented by Senior Counsel Tan Cheng Han and Ian Lim of TSMP Law Corporation, said he was ‘not a key player’ and cited various correspondence and minutes of sales committee meetings which he said showed that he did not play a major role in the various aspects of the collective sale.

Mr Tan also said that the sales committee did not seriously consider an alternative offer made at the time by a Vineyard Holdings, as it had ‘questioned the credibility of the expression of interest from Vineyard and their level of seriousness given that Vineyard was a Hong Kong company that was not well known and its lawyers were not from a Singaporean firm, but from a small Malaysian law firm’.

He claims he suggested waiting for a higher offer, but that the majority of the sales committee did not agree. He said the sales committee genuinely felt they would not get a better offer than the one by HPL, and that they had been advised by their lawyers to accept the offer.

Mr Tan had also sought to strike out the minorities’ suits against him and Mr Samtani, saying that the entire remedy sought by the minorities was already dealt with by the Court of Appeal last April, when it decided on how it would award costs to the various parties. But the High Court chose to dismiss this application yesterday.

The defendants have 14 days to submit their appeal.

Source: Business Times, 25 Feb 2010

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