May 27, 2008

Key player in Jade saga set to sell luxury home

$13.8m price tag in Anthony Soh's ad suggests he wants a quick sale

By Lee Su Shyan, Assistant Money Editor


THE businessman caught out when his takeover of Jade Technologies descended into farce and recrimination has put his multimillion-dollar home on the market.

Dr Anthony Soh placed an advertisement for the plush house in The Straits Times classifieds section over the weekend with an asking price of $13.88 million.

The home near the Singapore Island Country Club in leafy Windsor Park Road sits on 21,000 sq ft of sloping land and boasts a pool, badminton court and parking for up to 10 cars. The area is surrounded by the greenery of MacRitchie Reservoir.

The pricing probably indicates that Dr Soh is looking to seal a deal soon as similar-sized bungalow plots are being advertised for as much as $15 million.

But Dr Soh told The Straits Times that he is not selling because he is in financial difficulties. 'I am selling because I want to clear all my outstanding housing loans with OCBC, and to downgrade to get out of the public eye,' he said.

OCBC Bank was also caught up in the buyout drama. It was Dr Soh's adviser, but resigned and has since found itself criticised by investors for its role in the mess.

The bank also made a report to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) about the buyout events.

Dr Soh, who bought the house in December 2006, said he was raising funds to also cover his expected hefty legal fees in relation to the Jade fiasco.

The doctor-turned-venture capitalist became Jade's largest shareholder in June last year. His arrival boosted the shares, with investors hopeful that he would transform the firm and its loss-making precision engineering business.

The counter got a further boost when he launched a buyout offer for the firm in February.

But the positive sentiment turned sour when he abruptly withdrew his $117 million bid in April.

He told the Singapore Exchange that he had pledged millions of his Jade shares to Australian broker Opes Prime as collateral to get a loan.

But Opes collapsed, partly a victim of a falling Australian share market that exposed many of its clients to severe margin calls. Its creditors, Merrill Lynch and ANZ Bank, seized the shares held by the brokerage, including those pledged by Dr Soh.

The seizure meant he had insufficient funds to complete the buyout.

Many investors have been burnt. They were confident that the deal would succeed as Dr Soh had said he owned nearly 46 per cent of Jade. All he needed was 50 per cent plus one share for the deal to go through.

But as more details emerged, some have questioned if Dr Soh's loss was just a hard-luck story. Doubts were also raised as to whether he really owned as much as 46 per cent of Jade when he made his offer.

Dr Soh's move to sell his bungalow may be related to OCBC's actions.

As the financial adviser in the deal, OCBC stated that he had enough financial resources to complete the buyout.

After the deal fell through, investors questioned how OCBC could make such a statement when his shares had been pledged elsewhere.

OCBC's report to the CAD claimed that 'in the course of our advisory assignment, a series of events had occurred which caused us to question the integrity of the representations which we have received'.

So where will Dr Soh and his family live?

He said: 'I have two other properties but have not decided which one to move in to. The objective is to pay OCBC all my loans as all my three properties are mortgaged to it.

'I am going to fight for my integrity and what I have lost. I will never be a quitter.'

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