Singapore's ARA launches takeover bid for Australia's Cromwell Property

BENGALURU (REUTERS) - Australia's Cromwell Property Group said on Tuesday (June 23) it had received a takeover bid from its largest shareholder, ARA Asset Management, for 29 per cent of its stapled securities.

Under the offer, made via ARA Real Estate Investors 28, the Singapore-based fund manager has offered to buy 29 out of every 100 Cromwell stapled securities not already owned by ARA at A$0.90 per security. The acquisition will take ARA's stake to 52.6 per cent.

The offer price represents a premium of 3.4 per cent to Cromwell's last close of A$0.87 on Monday.

ARA said it intends to make changes in Cromwell's board on obtaining sufficient holding in it.

The takeover attempt is the latest round of hostilities in a protracted fight between Cromwell's management and ARA for control of the company, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) said in its report on Tuesday.

ARA has accused the board of "antagonistic behaviour" towards its concerns about the direction of the company and the debt pile it has accumulated since it spent A$1 billion (S$960,000) to acquire a raft of Polish retail assets in August last year.

"ARA has been left with no choice but to pursue this course to try and restore value for the benefit of ARA and all security holders in Cromwell," ARA chief executive John Lim told the Australian Securities Exchange in a statement.

"ARA intends to drive a vital process of board change and renewal to improve governance and urgently address deteriorating operational performance," he said. "A refreshed board with a clear proprietorial focus will bring necessary experience and provide appropriate oversight of Cromwell management."

Cromwell's management meanwhile responded quickly to the bid, describing the offer "unsolicited" and "opportunistic", and advising shareholders to "take no action".

Cromwell had earlier accused ARA of having an association with another significant shareholder in the property trust, the Tang family, led by Singapore billionaire investor Gordon Tang. Mr Tang owns a controlling stake in Singapore-listed property developer SingHaiyi together with his wife Celine Tang, who runs it.

The Tangs announced late last week that their interests had increased their stake in Cromwell between December and April to 16.67 per cent from 13.7 per cent previously.

Cromwell took the Tangs to the Australian Takeovers Panel last year to seek a declaration that ARA and the Tangs had an undeclared association, but the panel rejected the application after a preliminary review, the SMH reported.

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