LTA seeks $500m from failed contractor

The Tan Kah Kee station construction site on June 24, 2013. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has filed some $500 million in claims against bankrupt contractor Alpine Bau for not completing two MRT projects, in what is believed to be the bigges
The Tan Kah Kee station construction site on June 24, 2013. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has filed some $500 million in claims against bankrupt contractor Alpine Bau for not completing two MRT projects, in what is believed to be the biggest claim of its kind in Singapore. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

It files claims against Austrian builder for not completing two MRT projects

THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) has filed some $500 million in claims against bankrupt contractor Alpine Bau for not completing two MRT projects, in what is believed to be the biggest claim of its kind in Singapore.

But it is unlikely to recoup anywhere near the full amount.

The Austrian builder was working on the King Albert Park, Sixth Avenue and Tan Kah Kee stations of Downtown Line 2 when it filed for insolvency in June 2013.

Despite having appointed two other builders - Australia's McConnell Dowell and Korea's SK E&C - to take over Alpine's contracts, and having them work round the clock, the LTA indicated that completion of the line will be delayed by at least three months.

It said: "Alpine Bau GmbH (Singapore branch) is in the process of being wound up and we have filed our proof of debt with the liquidator - Stone Forest Corporate Advisory Pte Ltd.

"We have also filed a proof of debt with the administrator of Alpine Bau GmbH in its home jurisdiction of Austria."

It would not say how much it was trying to recoup, but The Straits Times understands that claims filed with Stone Forest stand at just over $200 million.

Another claim, filed with Austrian lawyer Ulla Reisch, a special administrator for the liquidation of the parent company, comes up to around $298 million.

Mr Abuthahir Abdul Gafoor, executive director of Stone Forest, said it has received claims totalling about $300 million in Singapore.

Mr Gafoor said his company has recovered about $6 million, mainly from the sale of assets such as vehicles, and from deposits previously paid by Alpine.

He added: "The liquidators have also paid out preferential claims amounting to about $2.3 million to Alpine's employees."

Mrs Reisch said she has received two claims amounting to €200.4 million (S$298 million) from the LTA. "Both claims are denied in full", but her office is in talks with the LTA's lawyers on the possibility of revising its claims downwards.

Mr Gafoor said that in terms of payouts, preferential creditors such as company employees, the Central Provident Fund and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore will have priority.

The LTA is not a preferential creditor.

Observers said the LTA is likely to be saddled with a bigger bill for the two Alpine contracts. It awarded them to the Austrian group in 2009 for $670.7 million.

Soon after the builder filed for insolvency, the LTA re-awarded the uncompleted projects to the two new contractors for $476 million.

Although Alpine is not the first insolvency Stone Forest has had to deal with, it is the largest.

Mr Gafoor said: "We have been involved in the restructuring or the winding up of a number of companies, but not involving debts of more than $50 million.

"We are also seeing a trend of construction-related companies facing severe cashflow problems even though they may have good projects in hand."

Meanwhile, construction work at the affected stretch is going flat out. Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said the line will open in the first quarter of next year.

The transport authority would not comment further on its claims against Alpine Bau.

christan@sph.com.sg