Friday, April 30, 2010

Banker's 'fresh start' runs onto rocky road

It's been a long journey for tycoon whose firm is asked to pay rental arrears

Agus Anwar may have once owned banks in Indonesia, but now he is owing rent.

The Singapore investment holding firm controlled by the once prominent banker has proposed a plan at the eleventh hour to pay $1.2 million in arrears it owes Ngee Ann Development - just as the landlord was about to auction the firm's property to offset the unpaid rent.

Sources told BT that the public auction, which was supposed to be held on Wednesday, was called off after Investoasia (formerly known as Kapital Asia) proposed to make an initial payment of part of the arrears it owes by the end of the week.

No date has been set for another auction - if it is on the cards - to sell Investoasia's furniture and moveable property.

According to court documents, Investoasia owes Ngee Ann Development rent for two offices it occupied on the 24th and 25th storeys of Ngee Ann City's Tower A.

Investoasia owes Ngee Ann Development 13 months rent amounting to about $900,000 for the 24th floor office.

It also has to pay the landlord additional rent after it failed to hand over the office despite a notice to do so by Dec 11 last year.

Ngee Ann Development seized the office - and Investoasia's property in it - through a court order issued on April 1.

Investoasia also owes Ngee Ann Development another $190,000 for office space it rented on the 25th floor between September and November 2008.

The investment holding firm's failure to pay the arrears prompted Ngee Ann Development to file a suit against it in February through its lawyer Edward Tiong of Allen & Gledhill.

Early this month, an order issued by the High Court allowed Ngee Ann Development to auction property owned by Investoasia located at its former 24th floor office - unless it pays up.

Mr Agus and his lawyers have declined to comment.

The suit is one of many filed by creditors against Mr Agus and firms controlled by him and his family.

Last December, he applied for a stay of bankruptcy proceedings, saying he was looking to raise income from certain sources. His application was turned down - a decision he is appealing against.

Indonesian-born Mr Agus, now in his late 50s, moved here in 2000 to start afresh amid the fallout from the 1997 financial crisis, which hit Indonesia hard.

He became a Singapore citizen in 2004 - the year news reports quoted Indonesian officials as saying that he owed the Indonesian government 3.2 trillion rupiah.

The money, equivalent to $633 million at the time, was said to have been used to bail out two of his Indonesian-based banks which collapsed as a result of the 1997 crisis.

The banks, Bank Istimarat and Bank Pelita, are now defunct. According to the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA), Bank Istimarat and Bank Pelita misused the Indonesian government's emergency loan.

When BT visited Investoasia's former office on the 24th floor of Ngee Ann City Tower A last week, the premises were locked. A notice instructed that mail be delivered next door - which houses listed telecommunications firm Teledata. Some Investoasia employees were in the Teledata office but declined to speak.

According to data from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), Investoasia was set up in 2001 and is controlled by Mr Agus and Marcel Tjia Han Liong, chief executive and executive director of Interra Resources, a petroleum exploration and production company which is listed in Singapore and Australia.

The latest financial data provided by Investoasia to ACRA dates back to 2006, where it reported a $24 million loss - after tax from continuing operations - and $4.8 million in revenue.

Companies it has an interest in include Keppel Telecommunications and Transportation (Keppel T&T), in which it had a 6.5 per cent stake, according to Keppel T&T's 2009 annual report.

In January this year, High Court judge Lee Seiu Kin ordered Mr Agus to repay a $10.5 million loan he received in 2008 from investment company Orion Oil.

The loan was secured by a mortgage on shares in Keppel T&T, among various things, and was to have been repaid in three months with $500,000 in interest. However, Mr Agus argued in court that the loan was void since Orion Oil did not have a licence to lend money. This claim was rejected by Justice Lee.

Mr Agus is appealing against the decision.

Last November, Mr Agus's two sons were ordered by the High Court to pay $15 million their father owes to the local branch of Societe Generale Bank & Trust after they signed documents agreeing to be liable for his debts.

When Mr Agus defaulted on payments in October 2008, the bank terminated the credit services it offered him. It held off taking legal action on condition that his sons Patrick Adrian Anwar and Andrew Francis Anwar take out mortgages on two apartments in Devonshire Road, which he bought in their names.

The sons signed an agreement to pay the bank all the money their father owed.

When Mr Agus again failed to make payments, the bank turned to the sons - who also failed to pay. This led the bank to sue Mr Agus, his sons and two investment holding companies, each owned by one brother.

Last July, the sum due to the bank was about $17 million.

Some $2.3 million has been recovered from the sale of shares, payment of dividends and sale proceeds from the two mortgages.

Source: Business Times, 30 Apr 2010

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