Robinsons owes $32m to over 440 creditors

Provisional liquidator says potential claims by employees amount to about $4.4m

Robinsons' store at Raffles City Shopping Centre. Robinsons owes $7.2 million to the landlord of its The Heeren outlet and about $4.2 million each to the owner of its Raffles City outlet and landlord of Jem mall where it closed an outlet in August.
Liquidator KordaMentha will take control of Robinsons' assets and assess the options to realise value to maximise returns to creditors. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

More than 440 creditors are owed at least $31.7 million by department store Robinsons, which is closing down its last two stores here at The Heeren and Raffles City Shopping Centre.

In a notice issued to creditors dated last Friday by provisional liquidator KordaMentha, hardly any individuals were named as creditors but it said potential employee claims amounted to about $4.4 million.

The largest amount owed, about $7.2 million, is to Swee Cheng Holdings, the landlord of Robinsons' The Heeren outlet, according to the notice that KordaMentha released publicly yesterday.

When contacted, Swee Cheng Holdings said it was still in discussions with the liquidator and could not provide more details.

The next largest amounts of about $4.2 million each are owed to two more businesses, Lendlease Retail Investment 3 and an entity linked to RCS Trust.

Lendlease is the landlord of Jem mall, where Robinsons closed an outlet in August. RCS Trust owns Raffles City where Robinsons has another store.

Mattress companies such as Simmons, Sealy, Serta and Tempur are also among the 442 creditors listed in the notice.

Simmons told The Straits Times that the amount it is owed by Robinsons exceeds the $35,000 recorded in the notice but declined to disclose the total sum.

Mattress companies are owed money by Robinsons for mattresses consumers had paid the department store for but which they are yet to receive. Six mattress companies have said they will honour the purchases by customers.

Robinsons said on Oct 30 that it had decided to liquidate its The Heeren and Raffles City stores due to factors like changing consumer tastes and cost pressures such as rent. The Covid-19 pandemic played a part as well, it said.

KordaMentha will take control of Robinsons' assets and assess the options to realise value to maximise returns to creditors.

An online creditors' meeting will be called next Thursday to appoint a committee of inspection to represent the interests of the creditors. During the meeting, creditors will also receive a statement on Robinsons' affairs.

Lawyers have said that when companies wind down, they are bound by the law to pay creditors such as banks they owe money to or to former employees, with customers last in line.

Veteran lawyer Amolat Singh said companies are separate legal entities from their owners and shareholders.

"Even when a company goes into liquidation, debts owed by the company will not be borne by its owner or shareholders," he said.

Still, the owners or shareholders can choose to pay off the debts even though they do not have any legal obligation, but this rarely happens, he said.

Dubai-based Al-Futtaim Group is Robinsons' parent company. The group owns other franchises like Marks & Spencer and Zara.

Robinsons' creditors have until 4pm on Nov 25 to submit documents on the amount owed to them to the liquidator if they want to be eligible to vote at the creditors' meeting.

Meanwhile, at least 11 former Robinsons employees have approached the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management for help after Robinsons announced its liquidation.

"They are uncertain about payment of retrenchment benefit, salary in lieu of notice and encashment of unconsumed annual leave," an MOM spokesman said.

MOM said all Robinsons employees have received their October salaries which the retailer said earlier that it would pay in full.

A maximum sum of $13,000 can be disbursed to each employee by the liquidator as provided for in the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act.

"Claims in excess of $13,000 will be separately assessed by the liquidator together with filings from other creditors," MOM said.

Nine former Robinsons workers told ST that they received their termination letters at The Heeren on Oct 30 after they attended a town hall held virtually earlier in the day.

The letters, dated Oct 29, informed them that Robinsons could no longer employ them and that "the company has implemented an employee assistance programme" conducted by human resource company PersolKelly Consulting.

Many of the former employees are worried about whether they can be compensated and if they can find another job with the current downturn due to Covid-19.

One former employee, who wanted to be known only as Ms Yun, said that she is considering doing part-time jobs at $10 per hour to support her two young children aged two and six.

Another former employee, Apple (not her real name), said she has been able to sleep for only about three hours every night due to stress after being let go.

"My phone rang non-stop for days after Robinsons' announcement, with many suppliers wanting to know what will happen to them," she added.

"I only had time to think about my own situation three to four days later."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2020, with the headline 'Robinsons owes $32m to over 440 creditors'. Print Edition | Subscribe