Friday, August 3, 2012

Han puts up spirited show on witness stand

Business Times: Wed, Aug 01

CORPORATE bigwig Han Cheng Fong took to the witness stand yesterday and was his usual feisty self.

The former CEO of DBS Land and Fraser and Neave was being cross-examined by KhattarWong partner Chan Kia Pheng on the first day of High Court hearings on infighting within the Singapore consortium of a Sino-Singapore bilateral project known as the Hangzhou-Singapore Eco- Park (HSEP).

With arms crossed and at times swivelling his chair back and forth, Dr Han sparred with Mr Chan, who is defending Cleantech Partners (CTP) that faces a suit brought by Dr Han while countersuing him in another.

The dispute over facts began from the get-go.

Asked to confirm whether an agreement between CTP and a committee from the Hangzhou Qianjiang government was signed in the initial stages of the project, Dr Han said the "so-called agreement" is just a memorandum of understanding that is the first step in a project and does not convey any land rights.

Pressed on whether the agreement meant that anybody could take the project away from CTP - which CTP is alleging that Dr Han tried to do - Dr Han turned the question on what "can take away" means.

"The operative word is . . . permitted. Permitted by who? God? The Qianjiang government?" he said. This prompted a retort by Mr Chan not to "take God's name in vain" - to which Dr Han responded by mentioning his free- thinking beliefs.

Mr Chan said permission meant whether an individual company founder was free to exercise his own discretion and take the project away.

Dr Han replied that there is a "shade of answers in between".

"In human affairs, nothing is absolute except birth and death. I can't give you an answer on absolutes. My logic system does not allow me to function that way," he said.

Dr Han is suing CTP and three CTP directors - Patrick Teo, Richard Lim and Michael Heng - for removing him as chairman and director of CTP's Hangzhou subsidiary (CTP-HZ).

CTP and CTP-HZ, represented by KhattarWong, are countersuing Dr Han and two other CTP directors (Robin Low and Christine Liew) for allegedly trying to take over the HSEP project through another investment vehicle, International Eco-City Pte Ltd (IEC). IEC allegedly passed itself off as CTP's replacement to Japanese companies in a business delegation to Hangzhou in November 2010.

Both lawsuits are being heard by Justice Tan Lee Meng after Dr Han's earlier application for a summary judgment of his complaint was dismissed and his subsequent appeal was unsuccessful.

The HSEP was the first privately driven bilateral project and was supported by the Singapore-Zhejiang Economic and Trade Council. The plan was to turn a 23-hectare site in Hangzhou into a low-carbon industrial and commercial park. CTP-Hangzhou (CTP-HZ) owns 40 per cent of the joint-venture firm managing HSEP while its Chinese partner Vanwarm holds the balance. But cracks soon started to form within the consortium.

Yesterday, Khattar- Wong's Mr Chan took Dr Han through events from the beginning: when Dr Han was approached to join the consortium in late 2009; to a disputed agreement between CTP directors on March 1, 2010; a BT article on March 24 that gave Dr Han doubts about his partners; to Oct 12 the same year when Dr Han was sacked from CTP-HZ.

Dr Han is alleging that the March 1 agreement was breached, while Mr Chan said yesterday that it did not have conditions that would make it legally binding.

Asked by Mr Chan if the agreement meant that even if one were hypothetically negligent, he could not be removed, Dr Han said that was how he understood it.

Dr Han also denied that he represented himself as being able to rope in real estate developers and private-equity funds. CTP is justifying its removal of Dr Han in part because he allegedly did not do so.

Finally, questioning yesterday turned to why Dr Han resigned from CTP's board on April 7. Dr Han said this came about after a March 24, 2010 BT article which he claimed was written based on "outright lies" from his CTP partners about other deals they were approached about.

He said resigning from CTP was adequate to "take shelter" from the risks of being associated with people who should not have made claims to raise funds if they were not sure that the project was going ahead.

Mr Chan said BT used the word "potential" to describe the deals and show that CTP had not got the deals yet.

The hearing continues today and is expected to last till Aug 17.

Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
Sherry Tang | 9844 4400 | R020241C
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