Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Long haul yet for lawsuit involving Han Cheng Fong

Business Times: Tue, Aug 21

[SINGAPORE] The lawsuit involving prominent private property developer Han Cheng Fong looks set to drag on for a while. It was adjourned last Friday with only two witnesses having been cross-examined and six more to take their turn on the stand.

The adjournment to a date to be fixed, comes after a 12-day hearing where Dr Han was cross-examined on his role in the break-up of a consortium working on the Hangzhou- Singapore Eco-Park (HSEP), a Singapore-China property development project.

Robin Low, a former Natsteel Electronics CEO, then took the stand over the past week.

Like Dr Han, he said that he did not use International Eco-City (IEC), a company they were involved in, to take over the HSEP project.

Mr Low also said that he was still helping the Chinese authorities attract investors to the Hangzhou Qianjiang Economic Development Area (of which HSEP is a part) because he wanted to maintain a good relationship with them.

"I need a referee in the future for my other projects. I don't have a crystal ball - don't know what future benefits I (will) get," he said.

The case began on July 31 and involves a suit and countersuit among seasoned corporate players.

Dr Han, formerly CEO of Singapore blue chips Fraser & Neave and DBS Land, first sued Cleantech Partners (CTP) and three CTP directors - Patrick Teo, Richard Lim and Michael Heng - for breach of an agreement when they removed him as chairman and director of CTP's Hangzhou subsidiary (CTP-HZ) in October 2010.

He claimed damages for "conspiracy" by Mr Teo and Mr Lim, alleging that they tried to cut off his interest in the project and its potential profits.

CTP-HZ was meant to roll out HSEP, an eco- friendly China property development project. It would have received a 130 million yuan (S$25.7 million) profit guarantee if the project had come to fruition.

After the project fell apart in early 2011, Dr Han, his former F&N colleague Christine Liew, and Mr Low were sued by CTP and CTP-HZ for allegedly trying to take over HSEP through another company called IEC. Dr Han, Ms Liew and Mr Low were also accused of "conspiracy".

IEC allegedly passed itself off as CTP's replacement to Japanese investors, who expressed interest in a bigger zone beyond the land allocated for HSEP.

CTP is arguing that this could have resulted in larger profits than the 130 million yuan profit guarantee.

IEC was founded by Mr Low and Ms Liew in September 2010 under a different name. Dr Han joined in December that year.

CTP's and CTP-HZ's role in the HSEP project was terminated a few months later.

The first seven days of the lawsuit saw Dr Han lock horns with KhattarWong partner Chan Kia Pheng, and Sean Lim, partner of Hin Tat Augustine & Partners.

Dr Han clashed with Mr Chan over the larger part of the hearing, whenever he was pressed for dates and details, or accused of various misdeeds.

On several occasions, Justice Tan Lee Meng had to ask both parties not to talk at the same time so that the court transcribers could record their notes well.

Dr Han was accused by CTP of "aggressive and combative" behaviour that was "incompatible with the collegial and amicable traits" of the others.

But when asked about whether he was egotistical, he said that he was "absolutely not".

"Confrontational, combative, aggressive - yes, I am . . . but only when the occasion calls for it and directed at people who are duplicitous and blatant liars," he said.

He also said that while he had been a CEO of several companies, he does not consider himself a "corporate bigwig".

"I look at anyone in this world from the same platform. In my younger days, I was leftist, communistic . . .I've never looked down on anybody. I'll only look down on people who lie and cheat," said Dr Han, who holds a PhD in nuclear physics and used to be permanent secretary at the then-ministry of labour.

Dr Han was removed from his role as chairman and director of CTP-HZ in October 2010. CTP and CTP-HZ say that their removal of him was justified as he did not fulfil various management tasks, including bringing in real estate developers and raising funds for the project.

Dr Han said that he was never given verbal or written notice that he failed to meet these tasks that he is now being accused of, and maintained that he did the work he was expected to do in terms of assisting the Chinese side by making sure various documents and permits were in place.

Mr Low, who was a founder of CTP, then took the stand. He was cross-examined on his role in the formation of IEC to allegedly take over HSEP.

Mr Low said that he took a long time to think about switching over to Dr Han's side.

He said that he wanted to make peace between Mr Teo & Mr Lim and Dr Han, but his advice was falling on deaf ears.

The turning point came after he was upset by an attempt by Mr Lim to "backstab" him by allegedly badmouthing him to Mr Teo, and when it became clear that the two were taking active steps to oust Dr Han.

He was still included in e-mails sent between Mr Teo and Mr Lim discussing how to remove Dr Han. Unknown to the other two, he passed on the e-mails to Dr Han.

Lawyers said that the case was likely to continue in September or October.

Ms Liew, Mr Teo, Mr Lim, Mr Heng and two other witnesses will be testifying then.

Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
Sherry Tang | 9844 4400 | R020241C
Senior Sales Director
Email: marshe_inc@yahoo.com.sg
DTZ Debenham Tie Leung (SEA) Pte Ltd (L3006301G)

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