TigerTalk  |  MARCH 2, 2015 7:52AM

Liew Kee Sin’s resignation that wasn’t

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TigerTalk Ink Splash side bannerSo it turns out property man Liew Kee Sin didn’t actually resign from his role as chairman of the Battersea redevelopment project. But he should. And the shareholders’ accommodation of his prolonged stay despite clear-cut conflicts paints a perplexing situation.

Last Thursday Sime Darby president and group chief executive Mohd Bakke Salleh dropped a bombshell: Liew Kee Sin, chairman of the Battersea Power Station redevelopment project, did not resign, contrary to news reports in January.

“As far as I’m concerned nothing official came to us,” said Mohd Bakke. “Liew will continue right up to September (when his contract ends).”

Recall that the New Straits Times reported on Jan 19 that Liew had tendered his resignation and was waiting for a response for Battersea’s board. So it’s strange to hear a denial now – why didn’t Battersea or its shareholders issue a statement clarifying matters earlier?

Battersea’s shareholders are SP Setia and Sime Darby with 40% stake each while retirement savings fund Employees Provident Fund (EPF) holds the remaining 20%.

About four days after the New Straits Times report, EPF responded to KiniBiz queries by saying the matter will be looked into as the shareholders had not decided on the resignation. Early last month on Feb 9, EPF stated the board had not met to discuss the matter.

While these seem to suggest that the news report was accurate, when asked about EPF’s statements Mohd Bakke suggested that perhaps EPF had not verified the report before commenting.

Peculiar, if that is true. How can one have billions of ringgit invested in a high-profile venture overseas and yet be so lethargically disinterested in verifying whether or not the chairman of that venture had tendered his resignation?

And true or otherwise, how can the shareholders not comment immediately? Mohd Bakke’s response only came when asked about the matter in a media briefing.

(EPF chief executive officer Shahril Ridza Ridzuan did not respond to a texted query on the matter last week. Liew Kee Sin and SP Setia did not respond to earlier KiniBiz attempts to verify the report.)

Liew Kee Sin

Liew Kee Sin

Those following the developments would remember that the New Straits  Times report came about a week after news of Liew’s personal deal with Irish developer Ballymore Group for a joint venture worth 2.2 billion pounds (RM11.8 billion) in gross development value (GDV) to develop three residential properties in London, the same city Battersea is in.

According to Reuters, the joint-venture vehicle will be called Eco World Ballymore Holding Co Ltd and will acquire three sites from Ballymore at a price of 428.7 million pounds for the projects. Liew’s personal vehicle for the deal, called Eco World Investment, will be a 75% owner of the company.

Now here’s a second bombshell. Mohd Bakke said Liew remains chairman until his term ends in September despite the shareholders being aware of his various conflicts, which not only includes the Ballymore tie-up but also his directorship in Bursa Malaysia-listed Eco World Development Group Bhd and his proposed special purpose acquisition company (Spac) Eco World International.

In any case it is a perplexing situation. Liew’s trail of conflicts had been long and public. His interests had clearly been compromised long ago. What’s stopping the shareholders from removing him in the interest of good governance?

And the concern is already there among the shareholders, as KiniBiz previously reported.

EPF’s Shahril recently said that the chairman position at Battersea will be rotated among shareholders, implying that the next chairman after Liew will come from Sime Darby as the other 40% shareholder. Liew had been chairman since 2012 when he was SP Setia chief.

But strangely no action follows the concern to this day. On the contrary, Liew is being retained in his capacity as chairman. What gives?

Is the retention to complete the three-year term for Liew, which ends in September? Hardly needed – SP Setia can simply name a new interim chairman to tide things over to Sime Darby’s turn. Certainly the developer has had much practice with its succession of acting CEOs ever since Liew left.

What perplexes the observer here is that all three shareholders have a duty to their own shareholders to act in their best interests.

Can they say this duty is fulfilled when a man of myriad conflicting interests chairs the board of a high-profile property venture in London, into which billions upon billions of ringgit in investment have gone?

Shareholders of Sime Darby and SP Setia are well within their rights to feel let down, as are EPF members.

We can only wonder why Liew’s position at Battersea is so secure that even such rampant trampling on good governance values over the years does not lead to an immediate dismissal.


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