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Thread: It's final: Horizon Towers sale is off

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    Default It's final: Horizon Towers sale is off

    http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/sub/...26602,00.html?

    April 2, 2009, 4.16 pm (Singapore time)

    Horizon Towers sale won't go ahead

    By UMA SHANKARI


    After a protracted battle that lasted more than two years, the minority owners of Horizon Towers have finally gotten their wish - the $500 million collective sale of the property to Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) and its partners has been called off.

    Singapore's Court of Appeal on Thursday dismissed the en bloc sale after four owners appealed to it to throw out a High Court decision handed down last July that backed the property's sale of the property to HPL and partners Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority.

    The Court of Appeal's decision is the final decision on the matter, which means that the acquisition of the property will not proceed.

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking...ry_357713.html

    April 2, 2009

    HORIZON TOWERS COLLECTIVE SALE SAGA

    No go for en bloc sale

    By Joyce Teo, Property Correspondent


    THE minority owners of Horizon Towers have won the fight to block the $500 million collective sale of their Leonie Hill estate.

    Singapore's highest court handed out its judgement on Thursday morning, allowing their appeal.

    This puts an end to arguably the most protracted en-bloc sale dispute in years. The saga began in January 2007 when the majority owners accepted a price of just under $850 per sq ft (psf) of gross floor area for the 99-year leasehold estate in Leonie Hill. The 199 apartment owners would each have pocketed about $2.3 million while the 11 penthouse owners would have received at least $4 million each.

    The buyers are Hotel Properties (HPL) and its partners, Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority.

    The Court of Appeal ruled that the sale committee of Horizon Towers had breached its duties as a fiduciary agent of all the owners, be it the majority and minority owners.

    For instance, the sale committee failed to follow up on a higher offer and to improve on the chances of obtaining a better price by leveraging on the higher offer when it negotiated with the buyer.

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    http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stori...419630/1/.html

    En bloc sale of Horizon Towers falls through

    By Valarie Tan, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 02 April 2009 1450 hrs


    SINGAPORE: The en bloc sale of Horizon Towers has fallen through.

    The Court of Appeal reversed a High Court decision to allow the sale, which was approved by the Strata Titles Board.

    The landmark decision puts an end to a saga that started in January 2007.

    Residents who were against the sale had argued that the S$500 million sale to Horizon Partners Private Limited was done in bad faith, as evidenced by Vineyard Holdings' higher offer of S$510 million.

    They lost their case in the High Court in July 2008, when Justice Choo Han Teck said that as long as the Strata Titles Board finds that a purchase price is fair, it has fulfilled its duty and is entitled to approve an en bloc sale.

    But the Court of Appeal said Justice Choo had taken a “restricted view” in the matter.

    The Court of Appeal also said the sales committee had breached its duties by failing to improve the chances of obtaining a better price for the property.

    A spokesperson for the majority owners said they will honour the court's decision.

    - CNA/yt

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    http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/sub/...26632,00.html?

    Published April 3, 2009

    Court quashes en bloc sale of Horizon Towers

    Landmark ruling also redefines roles of sales committees, Strata Titles Board

    By UMA SHANKARI


    (SINGAPORE) The minority owners of Horizon Towers have finally won the fight to block the $500 million collective sale of the development, ending a battle that lasted more than two years.

    The Court of Appeal yesterday dismissed the en bloc sale after several owners appealed to it to throw out last July's High Court decision, which backed the sale of the property to Singapore-listed Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL) and its partners Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority.

    Yesterday's judgment is final - and means that the sale of Horizon Towers will not go through.

    In the judgement, Justice V K Rajah also redefined the duties of a sales committee and the Strata Titles Board (STB) when dealing with collective sales. But some market watchers say that sales committees may find the new scope of duties difficult to carry out.

    The judgment marks the first time that the Supreme Court has decided in favour of minority owners in a disputed en bloc sale, said the minority owners' lawyer Philip Fong, a partner with Harry Elias Partnership.

    The Horizon Towers saga began in January 2007 when the majority owners accepted a price of just under $850 per square foot (psf) of gross floor area for the 99-year leasehold property in Leonie Hill.

    But when the property market continued to boom after the deal was signed, many owners believed that the $500 million reserve price was too low. Residents who were against the sale argued that it was done in bad faith and said that a higher $510 million offer from Hong Kong firm Vineyard Holdings was not taken seriously.

    STB and the High Court dismissed the minority owners' objections. The High Court decided that as long as STB finds that a purchase price is fair, it has fulfilled its duty and is entitled to approve an en bloc sale.

    But yesterday, overturning the High Court and STB rulings, the Court of Appeal ruled that there were problems with the sale of Horizon Towers from the start. Justice Rajah said that the sales committee did not fulfil its duty because it did not secure the best price obtainable for the property.

    In his judgment, he also spelled out the court's view of a sales committee's duties. Among other things, a sales committee is expected to follow up all expressions of interest and offers, and carry out sufficient investigations and due diligence to determine their genuineness. A sales committee is also tasked with creating competition between interested purchasers and 'waiting for the most propitious timing for the sale in order to obtain the best price'.

    Likewise, Justice Rajah said that STB must play a pro-active role when it comes to disputed cases, rather than simply listening to the evidence and arguments of both sides and then ruling on their differences.

    'Despite the reference to its 'mediation-arbitration' function, STB has a significant inquisitorial role to play,' he said. 'It is not confined to what is presented to it by the contending parties, but must seek out the facts whenever there is evidence that the SC (sales committee) has not disclosed everything about the transaction to STB.'

    Market players welcomed the greater clarity on the duties of sales committees and STB, but said that the new guidelines could dampen the collective sale market. 'The imposition of the more defined duties and standard of conduct for a sales committee may deter owners from volunteering to serve on the committee,' said Karamjit Singh, managing director of Credo Real Estate.

    Justice Rajah also pointed out that a primary objective of the collective sale scheme was to promote the rejuvenation of older estates and the optimal use of prime land to build more quality housing in land-scarce Singapore. But now, 'the lure of 'windfall profits' has been a siren song for many (especially absent landlords and speculators), to the detriment of those who do not want to lose their homes at any price', he said.

    The Court of Appeal's ruling means that HPL and its partners will not be able to go ahead with their plan to build a 253-unit condo and eight detached houses on the site.

    At $850 psf of gross floor area, the developers would have had to sell new units at about $1,500 psf to make a small profit - which might be possible for them to attain even in today's depressed property market.

    The would-be buyers are not better off for having had the sale fall through, said one industry veteran. And likewise, the owners will get to keep their homes but will not get a much better price now than what HPL and its partners offered in 2007.

    'At this stage, it does not appear that there is a clear winner or a major loser,' said the industry veteran.

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/Prime%2B...ry_357942.html

    April 3, 2009 Friday

    It's final: Horizon Towers sale is off

    Surprise ruling vindicates stand of minority owners

    By Joyce Teo, Property Correspondent


    THE Court of Appeal halted the contentious Horizon Towers collective sale once and for all yesterday with a hard-hitting ruling that singled out the estate's sales committee for scathing criticism.

    The dramatic judgment caught many by surprise and vindicated the four sets of minority owners who opposed the sale from day one - about 3-1/2 years ago, when the idea was first mooted - and spent nearly $1.5 million in legal costs.

    One of those owners, Mr Hendra Gunawan, told The Straits Times yesterday: 'I am very happy that at last we can protect our homes.'

    'We can't do anything about it if 80 per cent agree to sell but they have to do it properly so that everyone's home will be sold at a proper price.'

    Industry experts are also hailing the decision as a landmark judgment that will set clear parameters for en bloc deals.

    Yesterday's ruling was clear in its condemnation of the way the en bloc process was conducted and was particularly critical of the estate's sales committee.

    Among a litany of criticism, it pointed to the committee's failure to follow up on a higher offer for the estate, its undue haste in agreeing to a sale price in a rising market and its sloppy procedures in appointing a marketing agent and keeping owners up to speed on the transaction.

    But perhaps the most serious censure was directed at its failure to take heed of a possible conflict of interest that arose when two owners bought additional units in the estate just before they were appointed to the sales committee.

    'The sale committee's duty is to achieve the best price under the circumstances, and not just a fair price,' said Mr Karamjit Singh, managing director of Credo Real Estate, which has handled many collective sales but not that of Horizon Towers.

    The Strata Titles Board, which backed the sale, was also criticised for the way it took too much at face value - whether opinions on price or legal points - when it should have been more questioning. It was also rapped for not being more vigilant on the possible conflict of interest issue regarding sales committee members.

    One immediate effect of the ruling is that one of Singapore's most drawn-out en bloc deals is finally over.

    The sale of the Leonie Hill estate was first mooted in October 2005. The owners agreed to a reserve price of $500 million the following year, just before the dramatic run-up in the property market.

    A deal was signed in January 2007 when the majority owners accepted a price of just below $850 per sq ft of gross floor area from Hotel Properties and its two partners.

    The 199 owners of the 99-year leasehold estate would each have pocketed about $2.3 million while the 11 penthouse owners would each have received around $4 million to more than $6 million.

    A series of court challenges followed. Even some majority owners turned against the deal when they saw how the soaring market had made their sale price look like a giveaway.

    The property market has since slumped and the en bloc market has dried up.

    'On paper today, the owners would have lost out, but probably by just 10 per cent,' said a property expert who declined to be named.

    Only a handful of the minority owners who objected to the sale fought on until the end, spending millions along the way.

    Mr Ng Eng Ghee, Mr Gunawan and his wife Sulistiowati Kusumo and Madam Ong Sioe Hong were represented by Harry Elias while Mr Rudy Darmawan represented himself, his wife and aunt at the hearing.

    Madam Ong said her group incurred expenses of more than $1.5 million. Another group of objectors - who fought against the sale earlier - has spent around $1 million. Property industry experts said yesterday's landmark ruling has struck a decisive blow for transparency.

    'This is the first time the court of appeal has held in favour of the minority owners,' said Mr Phillip Fong, a partner of Harry Elias Partnership, which represented four minority owners.

    'There's now substantial clarity on the extent of the duties of the sale committee.'

    Credo's Mr Singh said: 'The judgment is undoubtedly significant. It clarifies what constitutes, for example, good faith and conflicts of interest.'

    [email protected]


    THE OBJECTORS

    FOUR sets of minority owners lasted the full distance to see yesterday's final victory in overturning the Horizon Towers sale.

    Those left standing after the marathon battle were Madam Ong Sioe Hong, Mr Hendra Gunawan and his wife, Mr Ng Eng Ghee, and Mr Rudy Darmawan, his wife and aunt.

    Mr Darmawan, an Indonesian living here, represented himself, his wife and his aunt at the Court of Appeal. He is believed to be an executive at a multinational corporation.

    Mr Gunawan, another Indonesian living here, runs his family's manufacturing business in Indonesia. The 53-year-old and his wife Sulistiowati Kusumo, and two sons have lived in Horizon Towers for eight years.

    Madam Ong is the managing director of the department store operator Metro and the sister of Mr Jopie Ong, boss of Metro Holdings. Their father is Metro founder Ong Tjoe Kim.

    Madam Ong, her husband and their two sons have lived in Horizon Towers for more than 20 years.

    Retiree Mr Ng, was a property developer and is listed as the director of companies such as Hi-Rise Builders and Bideford Realty.

    The long-running and costly legal battle saw many minority owners fall by the wayside.

    Two out of nine sets of minority owners - a couple representing themselves and a foreign firm - had dropped out of the fight by the time the case went to the High Court in March last year.

    By the time the case got to the Court of Appeal stage, more owners had dropped out.


    VERY HAPPY

    'We are very, very, very happy that we get to keep our home. All the minority homeowners are very passionate in working together towards keeping our home. We are also fortunate to have very professional and passionate legal counsels.'

    Madam Ong Sioe Hong, one of the four appellants to the Court of Appeal

    VINDICATED

    'I had to pinch myself a few times. These three years have been quite an emotional rollercoaster. The minority owners are happy that we have been vindicated in the fight for our homes. For us, the price was never an issue.'

    Ms J. Tan, a homeowner who objected to the sale

    OVER AT LAST

    'As consenting parties, obviously we wanted the sale. What is disappointing is that it took that long (to reach a conclusion). So much time and money has been spent on this. At least the last two months' anxiety is over. Whichever way it goes you have to accept it and move on.'

    Mr Bharat Mandloi, 49, a commodities business director, homeowner and resident

    PEACEFUL PLACE

    'Together in Horizon Towers we always had a peaceful environment (throughout the proceedings), and it's still a wonderful place to live. I feel that justice has been done to what the minority objectors raised.'

    Ms Mamata, 40, a real estate agent and Horizon Towers homeowner

    FINE WITH VERDICT

    'I am fine with the verdict. I have a great apartment and I will continue to live in it.'

    Mr Anil Ahuja, 46, who lives in a penthouse

    ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOANNA SEOW AND LINETTE LAI

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/Prime%2B...ry_357943.html

    April 3, 2009 Friday

    The Appeal Court judgment


    The Court of Appeal yesterday reversed the sale of Horizon Towers, ending a 2 1/2-year battle over the estate's collective sale. Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and V. K. Rajah found that the condo's sales committee had breached its duties to unit owners and that the Strata Titles Board (STB) and High Court judge Choo Han Teck had erred in allowing the sale. The original sales committee comprised chairman Arjun Samtani, secretary Wee Hian Siew, and members Tan Kah Gee, Henry Lim, Bharat Mandloi, Claude Reghenzani, Dr Chan Siew Chee, Shahrukh Marfatia and George Eapen. These are the main points of the judgment.

    WHERE THE SALES COMMITTEE ERRED

    # By not acting with due diligence and transparency in appointing the marketing agent, First Tree Properties, which has two shareholders, neither of whom is a licensed valuer. The appointment was done in haste and 'reflected a lack of conscientiousness';

    # By failing to follow up on a higher offer for Horizon Towers made by Vineyard Holdings, a Hong Kong company;

    # By not using the Vineyard offer as leverage in negotiations with Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL), the eventual buyer of the estate;

    # By not getting advice from an independent property expert prior to the sale;

    # By proceeding with the sale to HPL in 'undue haste' in a soaring property market;

    # By ignoring conflicts of interest. Two of the sales committee members - Mr Samtani and Mr Tan - had bought additional units in Horizon Towers with the help of 'substantial' bank loans right before they were appointed to the committee. They did not disclose these purchases. First Tree was also eager to seal a deal before its mandate as marketing agent expired;

    # By not consulting, or even updating, the majority owners on the sale, despite knowing that the property boom had pushed up the market value of the individual units and significantly eroded their estimated premiums from the collective sale.

    WHERE THE STB ERRED

    # By refusing to subpoena Mr Arjun Samtani to testify;

    # By allowing the sales committee to assert 'legal privilege', that is, to not divulge the advice it had received from its lawyers;

    # By not considering whether there was a possible conflict of interest in the sales committee members' purchase of additional units;

    # By not asking whether the price was the best one 'reasonably obtainable';

    # By concluding that the original sales committee had 'acted in good faith' in selling the property to HPL just because the committee had received and relied on legal advice.

    WHERE JUSTICE CHOO HAN TECK OF THE HIGH COURT ERRED

    # By taking a 'restricted view' of the duties of a Strata Titles Board in approving a collective sale;

    # By deciding that the only issue to rule on was that of price, and that the STB had determined the price was fair.

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_359633.html

    April 5, 2009 Sunday

    Horizon Towers owners ready to move on

    Some are considering more legal action but most are just glad that the case is finally over

    By Jessica Cheam


    Majority owners at Horizon Towers are considering their next step following last Thursday's surprise decision by the Court of Appeal to throw out the collective sale.

    The owners will meet their lawyers on April 16 to discuss their options, including the possibility of suing the original sale committee for breaching its duties.

    The committee bore the brunt of severe criticism in the Court of Appeal ruling.

    It cited the committee's hasty agreement to sell Horizon Towers, its failure to follow up on a higher offer, and its negligence in not disclosing a possible conflict of interest.

    This centred on two owners who bought additional units just before they were appointed to the estate's sale committee.

    The ruling brings to an end the long saga of the collective sale of the Leonie Hill estate.

    The sale was mooted in October 2005 and the owners agreed to a reserve price of $500 million the following year.

    A deal was signed in January 2007 when the majority owners accepted a price of just below $850 per sq ft of gross floor area from Hotel Properties and its two partners.

    The 199 owners of the 99-year leasehold estate would each have pocketed about $2.3 million, while the 11 penthouse owners would each have received $4 million to more than $6 million.

    A series of court challenges followed. Some majority owners turned against the deal when they saw how the soaring market had made their sale price look like a giveaway.

    The property market has since slumped.

    A handful of the minority owners who objected to the sale fought their case all the way to the Court of Appeal.

    Meanwhile, some residents had gone on to buy second properties on the assumption the deal would likely go through, and are now feeling short-changed.

    But lawyers said that owners will find it hard to make a case in court as it was the individual's decision to buy before the sale was signed and sealed.

    An owner who spoke on condition of anonymity said she had bought a second property because she thought she had to move out.

    The housewife said she will live at Horizon Towers and will rent out the other flat.

    She added that legal action against the sale committee was 'one of the options' some residents had talked about.

    But they also felt the chances of success were slim because of certain clauses in the collective sale agreement which may indemnify the committee.

    Then there is the question of cost.

    Each majority owner has had to cough up $15,000 for legal fees so far, said the owner.

    This puts the total cost for the 173 who signed the sale agreement at about $2.6 million.

    As the minority owners won the case, it is likely that the majority owners will have to foot their legal bill too - reported to be about $1.5million for owners who fought all the way to the Court of Appeal.

    Reclaiming some of these legal fees will be discussed at the April 16 meeting.

    One sale committee member, Ms Mamata Kapildev Dave, said the committee will honour the court's decision and is now waiting for its ruling on how to award costs.

    Another owner, Mr Bharat Mandloi, 50, spoke of the mood in the estate: 'The general feeling is people are tired of this. I don't think people are in the mood to point fingers. Everyone's thinking, 'Thank God it's finally over.''

    [email protected]

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    April 5, 2009 Sunday

    No ill feelings over failed sale

    By Shuli Sudderuddin


    Despite not knowing for almost four years whether the Horizon Towers collective sale would go through, resident Mohammed Mehdi is not bitter about the delay or the legal fees he has had to pay.

    Even though the fees are 'substantial', Mr Mehdi, 54, a businessman in shipping, does not mind the outcome or the wait.

    'We own some properties, so we could move any time if we needed to. Fortunately, the protracted pro-cess did not really inconvenience us,' he said.

    'The court's decision also makes sense in view of the fact that the market went up in the middle of the sale.'

    He felt that the sale committee had worked hard, and he could not find any fault with its members. He added that he would have been happy either way.

    'If the sale had gone through, we would have gotten the money. But without the sale, I get to stay in my home. Where else will you find apartments of this size in such a convenient location?'

    His family, including his brother and cousins, have been living in Horizon Towers for more than 10 years.

    Originally from Pakistan, he came to Singapore in the 1980s and is now a permanent resident. His family chose the condominium because it is located centrally.

    For the past two years, he has been living with his wife and three daughters in a rented fifth-floor apartment at Horizon Towers. He has a son who lives in Britain.

    His family owns another apartment on the 14th floor that is being rented out to a banker. They bought it 10 years ago.

    When the chance to sell the 14th-floor apartment collectively came, the family unanimously agreed to sign the agreement. They would have received about $2.3 million.

    'We thought at the time it was a worthwhile deal, and consensus is what counts the most. We did not want to be in the minority,' said Mr Mehdi, who never tried to oppose the sale.

    Asked about the possibility of the majority residents suing the sale committee for not putting in enough effort to sell Horizon Towers well, he replied: 'Why would we do such a thing? We already have to pay lawyers' fees, and this would just mean more money. Whatever happened has happened for the best.'

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    April 5, 2009 Sunday

    Just glad the saga is over


    For four years, Mr Bharat Mandloi and his family put their renovation plans for their Horizon Towers apartment on hold because they were awaiting the results of the collective sale.

    Mr Bharat, 50, the director of a commodity trading business, is glad that the whole 'roller-coaster ride' is finally over. He had bought the flat 15 years ago and rented it out while he was living abroad.

    When the idea of the collective sale was raised in 2005, he was elected as a member of the sale committee. However, he dropped out of it about seven months later when he felt that it was in too much of a hurry to sell the estate and did not try for a better price in the soaring market.

    Mr Bharat is a permanent resident here. His family relocated to Singapore from India in the 1990s but moved around the world before coming back here.

    Relations between the residents remained very cordial during the three years or so when the collective sale was in limbo, he said. He remained in the group that wanted to sell the estate. He said that he and other owners were shocked at the Court of Appeal judgment.

    However, Mr Bharat, who is now on the condominium's management committee, added that the mood is more of relief than disappointment. 'I've got lots of calls from other residents asking me: 'Is this it? Or do we still have to do some more to push for the sale?' I think we're all relieved it's over at last.'

    Meanwhile, the management committee has a long list of things to decide on. 'Many things like building repairs and upgrades were pending while we were waiting for the judgment, so now we have to decide what we're going to do.'

    The family did not buy another house as they felt the market was moving too fast. 'Now that we know it's not going to be sold, we're discussing whether we want to move or not. After all, it's a 30-year-old property.'

    Shuli Sudderuddin

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    April 5, 2009

    WHO WON, WHO LOST

    The majority sellers: Stuck with their units

    By Fiona Chan


    When a group of Horizon Towers owners came together more than three years ago to discuss selling their estate en bloc, they had no way of knowing that they would end up among the biggest losers in the whole deal.

    Owners Arjun Samtani, Wee Hian Siew, Henry Lim and Tan Kah Gee mooted a collective sale in October 2005 and kicked off the process. All four were eventually appointed to the sale committee, with Mr Samtani as chairman and Mr Wee as secretary.

    By July 2006, they had launched the sale, formed a sale committee, appointed a marketing agent and obtained the necessary 80 per cent consensus from their neighbours for the sale.

    But what the other owners did not know was that Mr Samtani and Mr Tan had bought extra units of Horizon Towers just a few months previously, relying on bank loans to do so, according to the Court of Appeal.

    If the collective sale had gone through, each of the 199 owners of the 99-year leasehold condominium would have received about $2.3 million and the 11 penthouse owners, at least $4 million.

    Now that the sale has failed, the owners who had wanted to sell their units are stuck with them in a plummeting property market. Some had even gone ahead and bought a second home on the assumption that the sale would succeed.

    Mr Samtani and Mr Tan, with their extra financing burdens, are probably among the worst off.

    The other owners are also said to be considering the option of suing them and the other members of the original sale committee for breach of duty.

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    April 5, 2009

    WHO WON, WHO LOST

    The majority-turned- minority: Mixed feelings


    In January 2007, a buyer was finally found for Horizon Towers in what seemed like a pretty good deal.

    Unit owners were told, when they signed the collective sale agreement, that the reserve price of $500million would give them 80 per cent more for their apartments than if they were to sell them individually. At the time, the price would also make Horizon Towers the biggest collective sale in Singapore's history.

    In any case, it looked as though the estate's owners did not have many options. The first four bids for the estate had all come in below the reserve price and the bidders refused to pay any more.

    So when a consortium led by tycoon Ong Beng Seng's Hotel Properties agreed to pay $500 million, the sale committee rushed to seal the deal.

    But even as the ink was drying on the collective sale agreement, the reserve price was losing its lustre as the property market emerged from its long slumber and roared back to life. With the values of individual units suddenly soaring, the collective sale premiums that had been promised to the owners started to disappear.

    The committee was aware of this but decided not to go back and consult the owners as that would delay the sale, the Court of Appeal found. It also did not actively pursue another higher offer of

    $510 million that had been made by a Hong Kong firm, Vineyard Holdings.

    The Horizon deal started to look more and more unattractive to the sellers, especially when they realised that property prices were rising so quickly that a replacement home would cost much more than their collective sale gains.

    Now that the sale has been scrapped for good, it is likely that these majority owners-turned-minority supporters have mixed feelings. While they get to keep their homes, they have missed out on the whole property boom.

    Fiona Chan

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    April 5, 2009 Sunday

    The buyers: A good deal that turned sour


    While the sellers are probably bearing the brunt of the failed sale, the buyers - HPL, Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority - are far from happy either.

    The consortium thought it had bagged a good deal when it inked the deal to buy the estate for $500 million, or $800 per sq ft, at the start of the huge property upswing. Within six months of the sale, Horizon Towers' value had doubled on paper.

    But the profits the buyers envisioned never materialised.

    Instead, HPL and its partners found themselves dragged through legal brawl after legal brawl as owners who objected to the sale vigorously contested it.

    HPL, a property and hospitality group, is run by Singaporean tycoon Ong Beng Seng. It was expected to develop a super-luxury block of apartments on the Horizon Towers plot. Indeed, soon after the purchase, HPL's stock price shot up as the luxury property market boomed.

    But the sale kept running into snags. A mediation session was organised by the Strata Titles Board (STB) but failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion, leading to the formation of a formal STB tribunal. STB rejected the sale on a technicality, prompting the HPL consortium to sue the majority sellers for lost profits.

    The majority sellers scrambled to fix the deal, taking the case up to the High Court. High Court judge Choo Han Teck threw out the STB decision to abort the sale in October 2007, leading the STB to finally approve it. The buyers' luck continued when the minority owners appealed to the High Court against the STB approval and lost.

    But then the minority owners' last-ditch attempt to block the sale - culminating in the Court of Appeal judgment last Thursday - finally put the last nail in the coffin of the Horizon Towers deal.

    Now the buyers are an estimated few million dollars out of pocket in legal fees - with no land to show for it.

    Then again, in today's property slump, that may not be such a bad thing after all.

    'Prices are back to about the 2007 level, which was when HPL closed the deal,' said Mr Nicholas Mak, director of research and consultancy at Knight Frank. 'Now that developers want to offload their assets and trim their debt, losing this site may be a blessing in disguise.'

    Fiona Chan

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    Troubled Towers: A timeline

    October 2005: Some Horizon Towers owners moot idea of collective sale and kick off process.

    March 2006: Two of them, Mr Arjun Samtani and Mr Tan Kah Gee, buy more units.

    April 2006: Sale process formally launched. Within three months, the sale committee - which includes Mr Samtani and Mr Tan - obtains consent level for a sale.

    May 2007: Some majority owners circulate a letter asking neighbours to band together to back out of deal.

    August 2007: Strata Titles Board (STB) throws out collective sale. HPL sues majority owners.

    January 2007: Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) and partners agree to buy estate for $500 million, or about $800 per sq ft (psf) of potential gross floor area.

    April 2007: Neighbouring Grangeford Apartments sets a record asking price of $2,016 psf.

    September 2007: Sale committee quits, leaving deal in limbo. HPL chief Ong Beng Seng meets owners to discuss sale, after which owners vote to extend sale deadline. About a week later, owners go to High Court to reverse STB's dismissal of the sale. HPL adjourns its suit against the owners.

    October 2007: High Court judge Choo Han Teck overturns STB's ruling to abort deal. The majority owners go back to STB in second attempt to get approval for sale.

    December 2007: STB approves sale this time around.

    January 2008: Nine sets of minority owners appeal to High Court to overturn STB's decision. When hearing starts two months later, two sets of minority owners drop out.

    July 2008: Justice Choo dismisses minority owners' appeal.

    February 2009: Four of the remaining sets of minority owners make a last-ditch attempt to save their homes by taking the fight up to the Court of Appeal.

    April 2, 2009: The Court of Appeal, comprising Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and V.K. Rajah, finally rejects sale for good, noting various errors by the sale committee, STB and High Court.

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_359631.html

    April 5, 2009 Sunday

    Minority owners: Sweet victory but 'no winner'


    The epic legal tussle over the $500 million collective sale of Horizon Towers finally ended last Thursday with the Court of Appeal's decision to dismiss the deal.

    This final judgment marks the first time Singapore's highest court has decided in favour of minority owners in a collective sale dispute.

    While the four sets of minority owners who took their battle all the way to the end are jubilant about their victory, not all the other parties are as satisfied.

    In the time that it took to wrap up the Horizon Towers saga, the property market has gone through its biggest boom and a record bust.

    Owners of the condominium in Leonie Hill are now sitting on units that are losing more of their value every day in this recession.

    They have also spent millions of dollars on the court case, which dragged on for 21/2 years.

    When everything is said and done, who are the real losers and winners of Singapore's longest collective sale battle?

    Never has a group of minority owners successfully managed to block the collective sale of an estate, until now.

    As the landmark decision by the Court of Appeal sinks in, celebration is in the air for those owners of Horizon Towers who never wanted to sell their units to begin with. 'For us, the price was never an issue,' said Ms

    J. Tan, who had objected to the collective sale from Day One.

    It has not been an easy battle.

    When one of the minority owners, Mr Hendra Gunawan, tried to find a lawyer to help him and his neighbours block the sale in 2007, three firms turned them down before Harry Elias Partnership agreed to represent them. Although 33 owners out of the 210 in total objected to the sale, only nine filed an official objection with the Strata Titles Board (STB).

    Besides Mr Gunawan and his wife, the minority owners who fought on to the end were Mr Rudy Darmawan, Madam Ong Sioe Hong and Mr Ng Eng Ghee.

    Mr Gunawan, an Indonesian who has lived in Horizon Towers with his wife and two sons for eight years, runs his family's business back in Indonesia. Mr Darmawan, another Indonesian, is believed to be an executive at a multinational corporation.

    Madam Ong is the managing director of department store Metro and the sister of Metro Holdings boss Jopie Ong. She, her husband and their two sons have lived in Horizon Towers for more than 20 years.

    Mr Ng is a retired property developer and is listed as a director in firms such as Hi-Rise Builders and Bideford Realty.

    The first victory for the minority owners came in August 2007, when the STB unexpectedly rejected the sale of Horizon Towers on the technical ground that the sale application did not contain all the required documents.

    High Court judge Choo Han Teck disagreed with the decision, saying the technical errors were not serious enough to halt the sale. In December 2007, the STB gave the green light for the collective sale.

    This only spurred the minority owners to renew their fight and take it to the Court of Appeal.

    Last Thursday, after more than two years of legal wrangling and over $1 million in legal fees from their own pockets, the minority owners finally got the decision they had been waiting for - and made history in the process.

    But Mr Gunawan said that there is 'no winner' in the whole process, which 'dragged on too long'. 'We are just protecting our homes,' he said. 'It's so tiring. The money we spent, we don't know whether we can get it back.'

    The court has yet to award costs, but it is likely that the majority owners will have to pay a portion of the minority owners' legal fees.

    Fiona Chan

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    http://www.straitstimes.com/News/Hom...ry_359639.html

    April 5, 2009 Sunday

    The lawyers: 2 1/2-year bonanza of billable hours


    It was not just the property industry which closely followed the Horizon Towers saga: Legal eagles could not take their eyes off the drama either.

    After all, some of the biggest names in Singapore's legal fraternity were assembling in the same courtroom to slug it out over the sale of the estate.

    No fewer than six Senior Counsel and virtually all the major law firms here joined in at various points in the protracted legal wrangle, which added up to a cool 21/2 years' worth of billable hours. Some estimate that the lawyers' bills would come up to at least $4 million.

    # The majority sellers as a whole were represented by a team from Tan, Rajah and Cheah led by Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah.

    # A different group of 13 majority sellers was represented by Senior Counsel Andre Yeap from Rajah and Tann.

    # Some of the unhappy majority owners who regretted signing the sale agreement hired Wong Partnership to advise them.

    # Former Senior Counsel and current Law Minister K. Shanmugam also made an appearance, heading the Allen & Gledhill team representing the estate's buyer, the HPL consortium. In fact, Mr Shanmugam's last submission in court was for Horizon Towers - which also means he lost his last court case.

    # The four minority owners who fought all the way had Harry Elias Partnership, which fielded Senior Counsel K. S. Rajah, partner Philip Fong, and its own founder, Senior Counsel Harry Elias.

    # Another minority owner, Ms Jasmine Tan, was initially represented by Mr Tan Kok Quan but later decided to go it alone.

    # Yet another minority owner engaged Phang & Co, which brought in Senior Counsel Michael Hwang.

    # Law firm J. S. Yeh & Co also made a surprise appearance on behalf of a majority owner.

    So just how much have all these lawyers reaped from the battle?

    The law firms would not disclose their fees, but it is understood that the 173 majority owners have already paid up to $15,000 each, or about $2.6 million in all.

    Ms Tan has said her group of three minority owners coughed up about $1.5 million in fees. Legal experts say the fees for the buyers probably amounted to a few million dollars.

    Then there are the conveyancing fees charged by Drew & Napier, which handled the collective sale.

    The court has yet to decide who will pay the costs of the appeal, but one thing is for sure: In this epic court battle, the biggest winners are the lawyers.

    Fiona Chan

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    You need deep pockets for justice to prevail in Spore ~

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