Saturday, June 9, 2007

Jail Threat for Hong Kong Spammers May Not Stem Junk-Mail Flood

Jail Threat for Hong Kong Spammers May Not Stem Junk-Mail Flood

By Mark Lee

June 5 (Bloomberg) -- Vincent Wong says he almost lost a customer when he failed to spot a HK$5,000 ($640) order among the 300 junk e-mails he gets daily. He isn't confident Hong Kong's new anti-spam law will help prevent a repeat.

Under the law that took effect June 1, people in Hong Kong may be fined HK$1 million and jailed for five years for sending unsolicited messages if they obtained the e-mail addresses through ``unscrupulous'' means, such as address-generating software. Offshore spammers may be prosecuted if they use Hong Kong-based computers. The law also applies to phone calls.

``The new law may work for a while, but people will quickly find ways of getting around it,'' said Wong, a manager at Prowell Media Ltd., a media production company.

Spam accounts for more than 70 percent of all messages sent through company networks worldwide, clogging computer systems and inconveniencing users, said Suresh Ramasubramanian, anti-spam chief at Hong Kong-based Outblaze Ltd., which manages e-mail systems for customers including PCCW Ltd., Hong Kong's biggest phone company.

Only technology can block unsolicited e-mails effectively, says David Sorkin, an associate professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

``Legal efforts are not likely to have much success on their own,'' Sorkin said in an e-mail. ``Spam is an international phenomenon, and technology can adapt faster than the law.''

Brazil, China

Computers in Hong Kong are responsible for less than 1 percent of spam circulating on the Internet, according to Composite Blocking List, a Web site that tracks the locations of spam-senders. Most junk mail is sent from Brazil, at 12.2 percent, according to the site. About 11 percent comes from China and 6.2 percent from the U.S.

A U.S. federal grand jury last month indicted an American man on 35 spam-related charges. Prosecutors said he began registering through Chinese Internet service providers last year in a bid to escape detection, the Associated Press reported.

``We should not overestimate the effectiveness of the new law as most e-mail spam come from overseas,'' Marion Lai, Hong Kong Deputy Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology, told reporters May 28. ``The experience of other jurisdictions that have anti-spam laws shows that their effect is limited against overseas spam.''

Sift Through Junk

Sifting through about 500 junk e-mails has become part of the morning routine for Mahlon Campbell, a Hong Kong real-estate executive. His computer software automatically transfers all messages it recognizes as spam into a special folder. Sometimes real messages get misdirected.

``Some useful e-mails have ended up in the spam folder before,'' said Campbell, 34. ``You can never totally rely on software to separate them.''

Hong Kong's Unsolicited Electronic Messages Ordinance is a so-called opt-out system, similar to the U.S. Can-Spam Act of 2003, that requires senders to provide an e-mail address recipients can use to remove themselves from mailing lists.

It also bars companies and individuals from sending telephone and fax messages and calling numbers that recipients register in a government database, Lai said. The database will be set up by the end of the year in the second phase of implementation, she said.

The U.S. law ``hasn't been at all effective in tackling spam,'' Sorkin said.

Alternatives

The alternative opt-in system, which underpins legislation such as Australia's Spam Act of 2003, may be more effective because it requires spammers to seek approval from recipients before messages can be sent, Ramasubramanian said.

``Overseas experience is inconclusive as to which regime is more effective,'' Tony Li, principal assistant secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology, said in an e-mail. Choosing an ``opt-in'' system may ``create a substantial obstacle'' for local businesses.

Prowell Media's Wong said he expects the new law to result in only a small reduction in the amount of spam he receives. By cracking down on only locally sent spam, the government may succeed in pushing operators offshore, he said.

``The problem with e-mail spam is that it just doesn't cost very much to send them, so spammers have good incentives to carry on,'' Wong said. ``There is no simple solution to spam, and we will just have to watch our e-mails carefully to make sure we don't miss the genuine messages.''

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Lee in Hong Kong at wlee37@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: June 4, 2007 21:28 EDT

Europe becoming a haven for crooks

Europe becoming a haven for crooks
http://www.organiser.org/
By M.D. Nalapat

Internationally, thanks to the network of financial institutions that accept money without getting an assurance that it was made legally, scams such as the current smuggling of oil out of Iraq multiply. Those within the region say that at least $ 5 billion in slush funds is getting generated by such illegal sales of oil from that tortured country, and the actual sums may be much more. However, as yet, the international media has ignored this trade.

Terrorists need to be fought on both the military as well as the monetary fronts. So long as funds continue to flow into their hands, terrorists will continue to survive assaults on them, recruiting new zealots and rebuilding infrastructure. As much as the Home Ministry, it is Finance Ministry that needs to work overtime to ensure that terrorist strikes get reduced and finally eliminated. The US has been conspicously successful in this regard, combing through money transfers worldwide to check for suspicious activity. As a result, several terrorist financiers have been arrested, and their beneficiaries identified. Unfortunately, in India, the Income-tax Department looks the other way when friends of the state governments in the north-east and Kashmir acquire huge properties. India needs to follow the example of the US in tracking down terrorist funding, including through narcotics and other mafias, who often partner with extremists to create a network of interlocking entities designed to create both mayhem and money.

Where the present government has been totally remiss is in ignoring the link between administrative corruption and terror. The fact that several officials helped the perpetrators of the 1993 Mumbai blasts to land RDX and pay off mercenaries shows that there is a clear link between corruption and (lack of) security. It is the cheats and the crooks working for the government who help terrorists, because of cupidity or blackmail. There is therefore a need to zero in on slush funds with the same intensity as is now being paid to moneys directly linked to terrorist operations. However, one problem is that a lot of these funds get sent to overseas destinations, especially in Europe. While organisations, such as Transparency International, perform a service by computing estimates of the degree of graft prevalent in countries across the world, what they fail to do is to apportion blame also to governments of the countries where such funds get parked. What they need to do is to trace the money trail to its tip, and it may come as a surprise to know that a large percentage of slush funds lands up in Europe, specifically in havens such as Lichtenstein, the Isle of Man, Switzerland, Guernsey and the Virgin Islands. The other destination of choice is the Middle East, followed by Macau and Hong Kong, where many banking entities ask as few questions about the origin of deposits.

Internationally, thanks to the network of financial institutions that accept money without getting an assurance that it was made legally, scams such as the current smuggling of oil out of Iraq multiply. Those within the region say that at least $ 5 billion in slush funds is getting generated by such illegal sales of oil from that tortured country, and the actual sums may be much more. However, as yet, the international media has ignored this trade. However, what needs to be understood is that such smuggling has a direct effect on the security situation in Iraq, for instead of going to the Iraqi people, the proceeds from smuggled oil go to a few shadowy entities, in the process, damaging the security environment and the future of that conflict-wracked country. Although few of such funds may get used for terrorist activities, yet the maladministration and graft that is the source of such wealth are themselves contributing factors towards the prevalence of terrorism in Iraq. In india as well, it is not an accident that Kashmir and the north-east—which are among the most corrupt administrations in the country—are particularly violence-prone. In other states, graft is an important contributory factor towards the control of Naxalites over more than a hundred districts in the country. While Manmohan Singh rides on his hobby horse of the nuclear deal and giving concessions to Pakistan, the country he is in charge of deteriorates every month, because of the spreading corruption that has inflitrated into its very core. The separation now being made between money got through and for acts of terror and that made through graft needs to be broken down. And one way of fighting graft would be for Finance Minister Chidambaram to ask European governments for information on Indian nationals who are parking their money in banks there. At the same time, he can bring forward a scheme that makes it possible for such funds to return to the country after payment of tax. Indian nationals are estimated to hold about $300 billion in foreign banks, and even 20 per cent of that would make a huge dent in unemployment, if invested in industry.

India should take the lead in calling for a world-wide system that would make transparent to concerned governments the identities of nationals who park funds abroad. Whether it is the Swiss or the Lichtensteinians, or the Guernsey and Virgin Islanders, all are characterised by high personal standards of ethics. Hence an explanation for why they have thus far not looked into the origins of the funds flowing into their banking networks may be that they believe that those making such deposits have the same moral standards as they themselves have. Switzerland and other banking havens need to be informed about the use of their banking system by crooks from India, and the need to help the authorities access such accounts. Such a step would be in conformity with the value system that is claimed to be followed in such countries, if Transparency International is correct. An international system designed to prevent such inflows needs to be created.

The effect of graft can be seen in stark detail in India, where public projects take much longer time to get completed than almost anywhere else on the globe. Roads get surfaced with amalgams designed to wash off during monsoon rains, thus ensuring another lucrative tender. Defence equipment for the Indian military usually costs much more than for other countries, although inconsequential “design improvements” get added on to justify the markup. Types of aircraft that are out of date in Europe or North America get purchased in bulk. Suspiciously, the price of petroleum products imported by India is often higher than the rates charged from developed countries, even as domestic exploitation of oil and gas reserves lags far behind both need and capacity. Along with India, the countries of the Middle East have a high “graft permium” on equipment imported from abroad, and any supplier who refuses to hand out the commissions asked for would lose the contract. Most of the cash made by corrupt local officials in South Asia and the Gulf find their way to European financial centres, an aspect that thus far Transparency International has said little about. In the case of China, crooked officials mostly invest their illegal pickings in real estate and other investments in locations such as the US, Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong, while those in India or the Gulf usually keep them as cash in banks. Were each bank worldwide to ask for a declaration of the nationality of each person actually making a deposit, and share this information with the concerned government, there would be a check on such transactions. Rather than remain anonymous behind legal cutouts, crooks in Asia and Africa need to reveal their identities, or risk forfeiture of the funds parked.

The EU has always been—correctly—pointing to the need for clean government. A good way of ensuring this would be to ensure that no location in Europe remains a haven for money got through graft or worse. Funds that come from or go directly to terror networks are only a small proportion of the total money that can potentially be put at the service of “al Qaeda” and other such entities. If the menace is to be choked off at the root, corruption needs to be identifued as a crime that renders the doer legally unfit to hold on to the money secured, if parked in any location in Europe, a continent that needs to set high standards that can serve as an example for the rest of the world. Needless to say, similar standards need to be enforced elsewhere as well. Dubai is making a credible start in this direction by offering to bring its banking industry in line with US standards. India, China and other emerging economic powerhouses need to follow, but clearly the most pressing need to unearth funds that have their origins in graft is in Europe, which today has become a haven where crooks and cheats from across the world can park the proceeds of crime and corruption.

That this is a problem in European countries as well is shown by the Litvinenko case, which involved the radioactive poisoning of a Russian in London. This murder indicated the extent to which Russian mafias have infiltrated into the UK. Many Russian crime syndicates prefer London as their international financial base, and bring with them the musclemen, prostitutes and other collateral manpower of their trade. Thus far, the Blair government has done little to examine the profusion of Russian cash into the UK, an act of negligence that could in time bring as much trouble as permitting “Londonistan” did. Several Islamist organisations operated freely in the UK, many—such as the Kashmir groups—getting support from MPs and others in their activities. Some prominent Labour politicians went to the extent of lending their presence to jihadist groups active in operations in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, without once getting rebuked for such patronage of terror groups. Both London as well as Framkfurt need to do much more to identify and isolate funds that come from crime syndicates in China, South Asia and Russia, if they are to roll back the criminal infrastructure that is being created as a result of the money flows. Several hundreds of billions of dollars of slush funds are now clogging up banking systems across Europe, and as a result, these countries are now part of the problem of the linked issues of graft and terrorism. Europe needs to be true to its principles and do its utmost to ensure that slush funds can no longer find a safe haven within any country in the region. The International Monetary Fund has, like the United Nations, outlived its utility. What is needed is an international entity that can locate and sterilize cash flows that originate in illegal activity worldwide, and for this to happen, Europe needs to take the initiative to clean up its banking system of funds got through graft.

Foreign funds crowd nation’s doorstep - Vietnam

Foreign funds crowd nation’s doorstep

by Pham Hoang Nam

Nearly 70 foreign funds are expected to begin operating in Viet Nam soon, announced organisers of a recent finance seminar.

It is easy to understand the attraction in light of the fact that last year, two foreign funds in Viet Nam paid an incredible 140 per cent return to their investors and a 60 per cent return to their real estate investors.

According to some estimates, the country’s three largest foreign funds –Dragon Capital, VinaCapital and Indochina Capital–are worth a total of US$4 billion.

Additionally, VinaCapital has just toured international finance centres to mobilise more $250-300 million for their new infrastructure fund.

The unexpected growth of such funds has forced other organisations to define their position in Vietnamese market.

Mekong Capital has just mobilised $100 million for its third fund, the Azalea Fund, a significant increase ver their first and second funds worth $18.5 million and $50 million, respectively. The Azalea fund will focus on investments in equitised State-owned companies which are preparing to list on the stock exchange.

A $200 million Japanese fund is waiting for permission from the State Securities Committee, while Chinese and Hong Kong-based finance investment and consulting companies have also arrived in Viet Nam. They stand ready to buy shares of blue chip State-owned companies at upcoming auctions.

Finance experts predict that this year, there will be an additional $2 billion in foreign indirect investment inflows into Viet Nam. The capital would continue to focus on the stock market, where short-term profits are considered easy, while long-term investment might focus on the real estate market.

However, the appearance of some foreign funds pouring their investment into private enterprises for the long term, such as Mekong Capital and BankInvest, is considered a highly positive development with long-term benefits for both investors and the economy as a whole.

Experts have said that these funds have encouraged the long-term development of the private sector, which should act as a stabiliser and supporter of the Vietnamese economy in the future.

"The arrival of foreign investment funds and the level of their predicted demand is expected to bolster the stock market," said Trinh An Huy, President of the Stock Investors Association.

Viet Nam’s securities market was described as being ‘hot’ during late 2006 and early 2007. However, share prices experienced a correction in March, bringing the VN Index to below the 1,000-point mark by mid-April.

Businesses share beefs

The development of several key laws, including the Enterprises and Investment laws, reassured foreign investors that Viet Nam was indeed a safe place in which to invest, said Sin Foong Won, Viet Nam country director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), on the sidelines of the Viet Nam Business Forum last Wednesday.

However, foreign investors at the forum also expressed concerns about complex regulations and administrative procedures and complained about the slow speed at which Viet Nam has begun implementing its WTO’s commitments.

Tran Quoc Khanh, a senior official from Ministry of Trade, said that the nation was seriously implementing its commitments. Khanh asked foreign investors to submit complaints and suggestions to the ministry for consideration.

Meanwhile, a rosier picture was presented by a survey conducted by the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), in which over 75.5 per cent of Japanese manufacturers already operating in Viet Nam chose Viet Nam as the best place to invest in over the next 5-10 years.

Growth could spark inflation

The World Bank and the in-ternational aid donors’ Consultative Group for Viet Nam has released a report on the Vietnamese economy that predicts Viet Nam’s GDP would grow at 8-8.5 per cent this year.

The World Bank also warned that the country could face increasing inflation.

World Bank warnings came true in May, as the consumer price index rose 0.77 per cent, higher than the finance ministry’s Market Management Department’s 0.5 per cent expectation.

According to some experts, the unexpected inflation was based on higher petrol prices in early May. Though the rise in petrol price was only 0.57 per cent, prices on other goods rose due to speculation.

Another reason offered for the heat-up in inflation was that the import price of many industrial materials also increased. Based on the estimates from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Viet Nam has suffered more than $835 million in losses due to inflationary pressures worldwide. — VNS

A Hong Kong Aristocrat’s Link to Insider Trading

A Hong Kong Aristocrat’s Link to Insider Trading
Our Correspondent
09 May 2007
The information that Rupert Murdoch was bidding for Dow Jones was allegedly exploited by a Hong Kong couple. Insider trading is a way of life in Hong Kong but it doesn’t play so well in more rigorous markets.




The leaked information that led to charges of insider trading in options after Rupert Murdoch’s audacious bid for the Dow Jones Company, almost certainly came from Hong Kong.

Insider trading is a way of life in Hong Kong so it’s no surprise that the ham-handed attempt to cash in by a Hong Kong couple was quickly uncovered by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which does not take kindly to such activities. These things are rarely looked at in Hong Kong. Although for 30 years there has been an Insider Dealing Tribunal, established to investigate allegations of insider trading, it is a toothless body that has achieved almost nothing. Insider trading itself is still not illegal in Hong Kong

So Dow Jones may be deeply regretting the embarrassment caused today by the decision made back in the 1980s to elect David (now Sir David) Li to its board. According to the online edition of the Wall Street Journal, Li, chairman and chief executive of the Bank of East Asia Ltd, has been linked to the insider trading probe surrounding Murdoch’s $5 billion bid for Dow Jones. Peter Kann, then the editor of the Hong Kong-based Asian Wall Street Journal and later chief executive officer of Dow Jones, got to know Li when he was a member of the board of the South China Morning Post, in which Dow Jones had a minority interest until (ironically under these circumstances) Rupert Murdoch bought the SCMP.

Li denies he was the source of the leak that led to huge share and options trades through the Hong Kong office of Merrill Lynch prior to the public announcement of the Murdoch bid. Certainly Li himself is so rich that he would never need to contemplate such actions. They were done by a couple, Wong Kan-king and Wong Ka-on, the latter the daughter of Leung Kai-hung, a friend and business associate of Li’s. The father was implicated by the SEC in loaning the money for the purchases, linking him to the deals and the source of information.

However, Li is one of the great schmoozers of all time, a fact reflected in his ability to ride several horses at once. He is intensely pro-British, was born in the UK, sent his sons to the prestigious Winchester school, and runs a Friends of Cambridge University society. But he is also trusted enough as a “patriotic businessman” by China to be put on the Basic Law Drafting Committee which designed Hong Kong’s constitution and most recently was in charge of Donald Tsang’s campaign to be rubber stamped for another term as Chief Executive.

Li also comes from one of the most powerful families in Hong Kong. He has represented the banking community on the Legislative Council for many years. His brother is education minister and his cousin, the chief justice of the court of final appeal. He is on innumerable boards and committees.

Li combines personal charm with an ability to tell others what they want to hear. In this case he may have inadvertently revealed the Dow Jones offer. In any event, whoever directly or indirectly tipped off the couple could scarcely have guessed how crude would be the subsequent action. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of US securities markets would have known the necessity of covering tracks by buying through numerous brokers and using companies in impenetrable jurisdictions. Instead, this couple appears to have been caught red-handed within a few days of the bid going public. Li is going to have to face some difficult questions.

So too will Hong Kong. Although the territory claims financial sophistication, it is a paradise for inside traders from the big families that dominate much of the economy and have close links to a bureaucracy notorious for its kid-gloves approach to the local oligopolies which reward them with cushy post-administration jobs.

Li is perhaps unfortunate to be caught in this particular mess. As one of the most prominent members of Hong Kong’s old-money set, he is known more for his diplomatic skills than greed or ruthlessness. But he is perhaps finding out that being on the board of such a prominent US company carries more onerous responsibilities than board seats in clubby, incestuous Hong Kong where insider tipping of deals is the norm. And Dow Jones is finding that it needs to take more care in choosing the international decoration for its board.

Hong Kong’s Overflowing Pork Barrel

Hong Kong’s Overflowing Pork Barrel
Our Correspondent
04 June 2007
Two decades ago, the Hong Kong government figured out how to get the money for massive construction. Now it’s stuck with it.






Hong Kong is in grave danger of following the Japanese road to ruin: spending huge amounts of money on unwanted infrastructure and bridges to nowhere. Like the Japanese government in thrall to a construction industry that is a big supporter of the ruling party, Hong Kong is in the grip of massive developer interests used to dictating government policies.




Like Japan, the government insists that all this is good for the community because it creates jobs. Chief Executive Donald Tsang has had the nerve to use job creation to defend his multibillion dollar project to build a massive government headquarters on a prime harborside site.




Tsang can get away with this and other kinds of massive waste because of a funding mechanism created by the colonial government in the early 1980s. That was when Hong Kong had a young and fast growing population and economy – a very different situation than today when population growth is minimal and the average age has risen by more than a decade.




Back then the government was confronted with a huge rise in land sales and other capital income thanks to an asset boom. It wanted to disguise the size of its budget surplus while at the same time creating a cushion for continued financing of long-term capital projects should the economic situation deteriorate. So in 1982 it created the Capital Works Reserve Fund and decreed that land sales and some other capital revenues would go directly into this pot, which would be used to finance most capital spending. In the annual budget the government made estimates of income and expenditure, but actual spending out of the CWRF was often way below what was announced in the budget and its income much higher.




In due course this sleight of hand was to generate a useful cushion and, among other things, came in handy when the government built a new airport and associated roads, railways and bridges. It was also useful after 1997 when the government, though facing fiscal problems, was able to splurge a huge amount of public money on an essentially private project – Disneyland.




The problem now is that funneling land sales proceeds into the CWRF creates a huge pool of money to be spent on capital works regardless of need or economic rate of return. The new bridge to Stonecutters Island is perhaps the largest of these white elephants but will certainly not be the last. There is a huge corps of bureaucrats and engineers, not to mention the construction companies themselves, who have an interest in these projects continuing.




Only corrupt and vested interests could possibly believe that at a time when Hong Kong faces grave air pollution problems it wants to build yet more six-lane highways through urban areas, yet drags its feet on extending the mass transit railway and road pricing to reduce pollution and the need for more highways. Road pricing was originally proposed by the colonial government in the late 1980s, but it retreated in the face of business interests. The bus-using public of course would have benefited at the expense of high-income bureaucrats who get free parking at government offices.




So now instead of spending money on cleaning up the city, making users pay for polluting the air, improving hospital care for the elderly poor who built Hong Kong’s prosperity, etc. Donald Tsang rejoices in the role of king of vested interests.




The recovery in land prices has again swollen capital revenue and the government is more determined than ever to spend on pet construction projects. At a time when Tsang is pinching every penny of recurrent spending on health, education and welfare for an aging population (senior civil servants with their bloated and inflation-proof pensions excepted), the government intends to increase capital spending from a projected HK$24 bn in the current year to $42 billion three years later. Operating expenditure meanwhile is forecast to rise by only a cumulative 10 percent over the same period.




Even an economic downturn seems unlikely to stop this juggernaut. The government projects that even after this increased capital spending there will be a large surplus in the CWRF on top of an accumulated surplus probably now in excess of HK$50 billion!




For sure, Hong Kong people deserve more space, public amenities and facilities for the elderly. These involve large capital spending – as do railways. But instead of focusing on the quality of life for a service-oriented economy which hopes to attract the best and brightest from China and the world, the government is trapped in an earlier era in which pouring concrete meant progress – factories, roads, ports, new towns and ever higher development densities. It is trapped, also, in the interests of the idle rich for roads on which to run their fast cars.




Much of the blame rests on that little-understood mechanism, the CWRF, but also with government officials who like to believe that capital spending, however unproductive, is good and consumption is bad even if it raises living standards or encourage families to have children and end Hong Kong’s ignominious position at the bottom of the world fertility league.




It is not as though the CWRF funds have to be used for capital works. The financial secretary has the freedom to move them around as he wishes. He chooses not to do so because of developer interests and a profound ignorance by a cloistered, self-important bureaucracy of what has or is happening in more advanced cities, from San Francisco to Singapore to Stockholm, which are trying to preserve their character and create a better quality of life for residents. In Hong Kong, by contrast, we get concrete and more concrete.

Region’s ’tallest’ for Singapore

Region’s ’tallest’ for Singapore
Property Report staff


Emirates Tarian Capital (ETC), a member of Emirates Investments Group LLC, UAE, says it is literally elevating the standard of luxury and craftsmanship in Singapore living to a whole new level.

Real estate developer Hayden Properties (a joint venture between ETC and KOP Capital), which manages the project, has announced that it is creating the region’s tallest high-end residential building, which will feature an elevator that will enable owners to park their cars right at their units.

The residential property is the first of its kind in Singapore and the region and will represent the ultimate in luxury, with a bold new concept of high-rise living.

Located at 37 Scotts Road, the building will be 30 stories high, the tallest in the world to feature ’car porches.’ The property will comprise 54 condominium units and two penthouses, complete with en suite, elevated car porches. A typical unit will be approximately 3,000 square feet.

"It’s high time that Singapore attains a new level of affluence in world-class living, which will ensure that it is a competitor in the global luxury real estate market, said Mr Kunalan Sivapuniam, Managing Partner of ETC and Director of Hayden Properties, which will manage the project.

Mr. Sivapuniam added, "The tower on 37 Scotts Road will provide residents with the unique opportunity to live in a condominium, while enjoying the advantages of a landed property."

The most striking aspect of the building´s design is the distinctive elevated parking system, which will give owners the comfort of parking their vehicles by their residences, regardless of which level they will live on. The tower’s unmistakable glass lift, a visual marvel overlooking Scotts Road, will showcase the cars as they are conveyed throughout the building.

Seated inside their cars, residents will ride comfortably from ground level to their apartments in total safety and style.

Complementing the daring innovation that defines the development, units will feature a deluxe warm interior complete with exquisite fittings.

Hayden Properties has received a provisional planning permit from the URA, and expects to launch in the last quarter of this year with construction commencing at the end of the year. The project, which is yet to be named, should be completed by the end of 2009. It is expected that the price tag for each unit will set benchmark prices for ultimate luxury living.

IMF urges Asia to rely less on exports and attract more FDI

IMF urges Asia to rely less on exports and attract more FDI
AP



Singapore: Asia must reduce its heavy reliance on exports and attract more foreign direct investment (FDI) if it wants to sustain its robust turnaround after the 1997-98 financial crisis, an International Monetary Fund expert said on Monday.

"Asia continues to rely heavily on net exports as an engine of economic expansion," David Burton, director of the IMF's Asia-Pacific Department said.

"Over time, greater reliance on domestic demand will be needed to assure a more balanced and sustainable pattern of growth," he said in a speech to the Singapore Press Club that addressed challenges facing Asia 10 years after the financial crisis, which erupted on July 2, 1997, the day the Thai baht plunged.


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Burton said one way to address the problem would be to bolster foreign investment, which hasn't recovered strongly in the region - except for China - following a sharp drop 10 years ago.

"While pre-crisis levels of investment were certainly excessive, the limited recovery is puzzling," Burton said.

Background

The crisis started when foreign capital flows, which had sustained investment in property and other projects, rushed out of Thailand, leading to a rapid devaluation of the baht. The crisis spread through the region, with Indonesia and South Korea also falling into recessions.

Aldar Properties chairman introduces Abu Dhabi in Singapore

Aldar Properties chairman introduces Abu Dhabi in Singapore
Asian based ultra high net worth and institutional investors are keen to learn more about Abu Dhabi property. Around 400 of the world's most influential real estate investors, made up of private banking and institutional clients from Citi, attended the inaugural Citi Asia Pacific Property Conference held in Singapore.
United Arab Emirates: Wednesday, June 06 - 2007 at 15:23

Aldar chairman Ahmad Al Sayegh woos Singapore.

The two-day networking conference brought together high net worth investors, developers, promoters and various other players from the Asia Pacific, Middle East, Europe and the United States to discuss investment opportunities in the property sector.

These include the hospitality, office, residential, commercial, industrial segments as well as real estate investment trusts and real estate private equity.

The keynote speaker for the event was one of the Middle East's most distinguished real estate developers, Ahmad Al Sayegh, Chairman of Abu Dhabi-based Aldar Properties.

He showcased the dynamic real estate market of Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates, pointing out that the UAE's developments, valued at $230 billion, account for one-third of the entire Middle East's real estate projects.

Mr. Sayegh urged Asian investors to consider Abu Dhabi as a separate investment destination in the real estate asset class, pointing to signs of strong demand and tight supply in all four key segments: residential, office, commercial and hospitality.


Demographic powerhouse
The Aldar chairman noted the economic strength of Abu Dhabi which generates 60 per cent of the UAE's GDP and a 75 per cent increase in population in the past decade. These are factors, together with concerted government initiatives, that are expected to provide a sustained boost to Abu Dhabi's real estate sector.

'The discussions at the Citi Asia Pacific Property Conference were aimed at drawing attention to the depth and diversity of the real estate markets in the some of the world's fastest growing economies,' said Mr Akbar Shah, Chief Executive Officer of Citigroup Global Wealth Management Middle East.

'We have brought together some of the best researchers and most prominent players in the real estate sector in a unique forum, not only to provide ideas, but also to help our clients to build networks, joint ventures and other forms of business partnerships in the real estate sector.


Citi initiative
'In recent years, Citi Private Bank has been especially prolific in expanding our real estate capabilities. We have been studying this asset class closely in how it complements our clients' wealth portfolios before creating the capabilities and investment opportunities for our clients.'

The participants of the event included 150 ultra high net worth clients of Citi Private Bank - the largest gathering ever of high net worth clients for a regional conference on the real estate sector. It was almost certainly the first presentation of the new Abu Dhabi property market in Singapore but not likely to be the last.

Outlook for commercial property in Asia pacific

Outlook for commercial property in Asia pacific
4 June 2007

Simon Tyrrell, acquisitions manager Asia, at New Star Asset Management and part of the team managing the New Star International Property Fund provides comments on the Asian commercial property market:

“Asian commercial property markets continue to go from strength to strength. Rental growth and continued yield compression are prevalent across many of the region’s developed markets and the dark days of the Asian financial crisis seem a distant memory. Asian markets, such as Singapore, are currently outperforming their strong growth rates of the mid 1990’s, whether measured in terms of capital values or rental rates. The lack of quality office supply is also pushing up demand in many Asian markets as restrictions imposed on construction during the late 1990’s take effect.

“Improving returns from commercial property in Asia have been underpinned by a period of economic re-adjustment. Companies in the region have learnt from the lessons of the past and are profiting from the region’s growing economic and political importance. Strong fundamentals are underpinning Asian economic growth: populations are increasing in size, GDP per capita is rising and markets are benefiting from maturity and increased transparency.

“Financial services and support sectors have expanded particularly quickly as increasingly transparent tax systems and the removal of cross border restrictions to investment and banking attract foreign investors. While growth has been strong in a number of Asian countries and sectors, the region has not over-heated. Instead, the period of growth appears more accurately viewed as a natural re-adjustment with potentially greater rewards yet to come.

“At New Star, the current focus is on a range of properties in Singapore, Australia, and Japan and we have recently started evaluating opportunities in South Korea . These are attractive centres for investment due to the strong growth potential coupled with sustainable longer term outlooks. Singapore, like London, enjoys strong demand from financial services firms (good tenants) and net supply is falling far short of expected demand. Prime office rents rose 52% in 2006 and the fundamentals for the medium to long term look equally as attractive.

“In Tokyo and many of the regional cities of Japan rents are increasing rapidly due to the lack of quality buildings, land prices have started to increase for the first time in 16 years, and, as business confidence improves, a tighter labour market should start to lift wages.

“Elsewhere, Australia and Hong Kong are among the most transparent property markets in the world offering stable and similarly valuable growth prospects. Australia benefits from relatively long leases for the region of 10-15 years while robust consumer confidence and a strong labour market is maintaining attractive retail sales growth, providing good prospects for retail properties in Sydney and Melbourne.

“Markets that are currently being monitored but will not be progressed in the near term are those that are perceived to be more speculative, such as China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia. Despite deceptively attractive veneers these markets have various ‘under-the-surface’ issues related to taxation or ownership restrictions and caution is needed before we are prepared to enter these markets.”

New Star currently has assets under contract in Japan, Singapore and Australia.

Discovery Gardens, Dubai

Discovery Gardens, Dubai
Overseas property - Dubai property


Discovery Gardens, DubaiA new community of spacious, multi-sized apartments, Discovery Gardens is paradise for anyone who's ever wanted to live among a choice of lush foilage, desert blooms or beautifully manicured lawns.

Capturing the rich diversity of nature and inventive landscaping, this unique community features Zen, Mediterranean, Contemporary, Cactus, Mogul and Mesoamerican courtyard gardens.

Discovery Gardens puts residents at the centre of the new Dubai - from the world's largest themed mall - The Gardens Shopping Mall where a variety of dining options and fine retailers can be found alongside everyday necessities; Dubai Marina - offering a vibrant evening destination; and the beach - to Dubai's top business parks – Dubai Internet & Media City, and Jebel Ali Free Zone.

Our offering of Mogul Gardens feature a unique style and lush environment that will appeal to residents, and to investors looking for the highest possible investment return. The apartments in Mogul Gardens are exquisitely designed using marble and ceramic tiles from around the region, with maple finishing and attractive lighting to bring warmth and comfort.

Location
Discovery Gardens is located between Sheikh Zayed Road and Emirates Road, and is central to everything Dubai has to offer. Residents will enjoy close proximity to exceptional shopping and leisure activities in nearby Jumeirah, as well as being only minutes away from Jebel Ali Free Zone, an international business hub.

Developed by Nakheel, Dubai's foremost developer, they have invested over $10 billion in iconic projects such as The Palm, The World and International City. Nakheel projects are the embodiment of Dubai’s dreams for tomorrow. From high-rise suites overlooking the Arabian gulf, the creation of iconic investment opportunities, or communities of spacious homes near exceptional shopping, Nakheel delivers with quality, experience and a unique sense of place.

In addition to the beautiful landscaping this community offers, Discovery Gardens will feature a variety of amenities and activities, including community swimming pools, tennis courts, a football pitch, expansive parking and trails for cycling and jogging.

Key facts

Prices from AED 300,000
Completion March 2008
Unit types Studio and one bed apartments

Dubai property outlook

Dubai property outlook
Middle East property market - Dubai
The property market in Dubai is set to grow much faster over the next decade, compared to the past 10 years. Evolving regional stability along with planned new development initiatives will continue to attract regional and international investors to Dubai.

The decision to allow non-UAE citizens to purchase freehold property has provided a major boost to the property development sector, kick starting a diverse range of projects that have encouraged foreign investment. The UAE's political and economic stability, combined with a tax-free environment and the high rate of return on investment will continually aid the property market.

Driven by vision, the city is going to attract a lot of quality and knowledge workers to the Emirate which will drive future growth in the property market. Currently the supply seems to be less sufficient with the projected demand which is expected to cause high appreciation in the years to come. There will be continuous demand for real estate property at the mid to high segment of the market, and parallels phased growth schedules charted out by major real estate developers.

Dubai is a relatively small city and most of the land in Dubai is either a desert or is now allocated to various development projects. Successfully on the verge of completing numerous projects in the next 3 years, Dubai is going to become the ultimate tourism destination in the world.

Once these residential projects are completed, investors will realize the magnificent quality of the real estate products and a strong global infrastructure in place.

Dubai's planned marketing activity continues to attract businesses, investors and tourists which should continue to fuel the value of real estate properties. The network of current buyers will generate a snowball effect of new property buyers. Current investors already realizing the potential returns of their investment will lure their contacts and so on, and such growth will definitely put pressure on property prices in the market.

Government incentives, modern infrastructure, new flexible legislations and rapid increase in population, are turning the local real estate sector very attractive for investors. There is no specific federal land law in the UAE, however, each Emirate has established its own specific land ownership policies through local orders and decrees and as per its own economic and other relevant circumstances.

Dubai has been witnessing major developments in the property sector during the last two years, and is all set to enact its real estate law. Foreign and expatriate investors all over the world have been offered some unlimited facilities with government guarantees, compensations, health care and education for their children; for they represent an asset to the country they operate and live in.

Dubai's first easyHotel takes shape

Dubai's first easyHotel takes shape
Property news
Tuesday, 05 June 2007
Based on a model already launched in Europe, easyHotel.com is set to target short-stay customers, and is always built in an international city centre. The concept promises safe, clean and private rooms, and assumes customers will accept less space for a better price. Room payment will only be possible via credit card, and to encourage advance bookings, early bird discounts are standard, as are savings for off-peak periods.

Dubai Al Karama is the latest initiative of easyGroup Chairman and Founder Sir Stelios Hajr-Ionnaou. The six-storey budget hotel, which will be ready in 2008, is part of the easyGroup brand. Through sales of shares, licensing, and franchising arrangements, the group today operates in 17 industries, including travel, leisure, telecoms and personal finance.

Sir Stelios, who was knighted in 2006 for services to entrepreneurship, is to date best known for easyJet, a low-cost carrier he launched in Europe in 1995. Dubai’s first easyHotel.com property is one of six planned for the Emirate. Developer Istithmar Hotels, which has the master franchise for easyHotel.com in the Middle East, North Africa, lndia and Pakistan, is set to build 38 easyHotel.com properties over the next five years. Located in 17 countries, the value of the portfolio will exceed $400 million.

The model will offer guests a basic room to which extras can be added for a fee. Joe Sita, CEO of Istithmar Hotels, predicts that at today’s rates the rooms will cost between Dhs250 ($68) and Dhs300 ($82) a night. He is confident the model will work because of what he says is a lack of diversity in the marketplace. “Last year, Dubai enjoyed 85 per cent occupancy for rooms over $200 a night. You'd struggle to find a brand not already represented and this demonstrates that there is not enough diversity in product. This is why we have a great opportunity.”

More information: www.easyhotel.com

Property boom in Kiev, Ukraine

Property boom in Kiev, Ukraine
Property news
Tuesday, 05 June 2007
Writing in The Independent, London, Andrew Osborn reports that Ukraine, one of Europe's poorest countries, is enjoying an unlikely property boom. Some properties have rocketed in value by 600 per cent in the past three years, and prices in Kiev, the capital, reportedly rose by up to 25 per cent in the last two months of 2006 alone.

Kiev now bristles with cranes and building sites that work 24 hours a day, rushing to meet what appears to be an insatiable demand for new housing. Analysts say that if you bought a decent flat for the going rate in Kiev three years ago for just £15,000, it would now be worth £100,000, an increase of more than six-fold. Small city-centre flats in Kiev are now changing hands for £200,000 and more.

The huge price hikes have made Ukraine one of the most expensive places to buy property in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Many of the buyers are foreigners out to make fast money by renting or reselling. The most popular area to buy is Kiev, followed by Crimea (a Black Sea holiday destination) and the Carpathian Mountains.

Chinese reporter for banned overseas Web site arrested

Chinese reporter for banned overseas Web site arrested
The Associated PressPublished: June 5, 2007

BEIJING: A Chinese writer for an overseas news Web site has been arrested for allegedly running a criminal gang, a charge his employer said had been concocted to punish him for reporting on sensitive issues.

Sun Lin, who reported for Boxun News using the name Jie Mu, was arrested on May 30, along with more than 20 other alleged gang members, the official Nanjing Morning News newspaper said.

The report said Sun and others had extorted money from unlicensed cab drivers. Police recovered three guns and various other weapons from them, the newspaper said.

However, Boxun called the Nanjing Morning News report a fabrication and said Sun had been severely beaten in custody.

"China's political culture will continue to change and you will have to take responsibility for your crimes, either this day or the next," Boxun said in a report posted Monday, directing the comment to those behind Sun's arrest.

Today in Asia - Pacific

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Sun was being held at the Nanjing jail with his wife, He Fang, it said. The couple have a young daughter. The jail's phone number could not immediately be found Tuesday and calls to the Nanjing police rang unanswered.

China's Communist authorities control all licensed media and regularly crack down on media or reporters who exceed their unwritten bounds for openness and criticism.

Since joining the U.S.-based Boxun in September, Sun had reported on crime, property disputes and police brutality, potentially explosive issues that authorities carefully control reporting on.

Sun had reported from Beijing last month on issues including Olympic organizers' refusal to issue credentials for Boxun to cover the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Boxun said fellow reporter Guang Yuan, who had worked with Sun on those stories, had also been questioned by police.

Sun's work has frequently resulted in harassment from authorities, and on March 21 Nanjing officials visited his home and warned him to stop reporting for Boxun. The North Carolina-based Chinese-language Web site carries reports and essays on a wide range of issues rarely seen in the Chinese press, from corruption cases to calls for greater democracy.

Chinese authorities block the site from being seen in China.

Press freedom groups say China is the world's leading jailer of journalists, with at least 42 behind bars, most on charges of violating vague subversion or security laws.

"We are terribly concerned about the well-being of reporter Sun Lin and his wife He Fang," Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement.

"The documented harassment of Sun for his reporting makes us exceedingly skeptical of the criminal charges now lodged against him," the statement said.

Doubts on property firm's value Ben Butler

Doubts on property firm's valueBen Butler

But only if the company's valuations hold up.

Inflated property valuations was one of the key reasons given by the corporate watchdog when it stopped the company raising any more money on April 23.

ACR collapsed last Monday owing 7000 investors $330 million and its bankers about $220 million.

More than 350 investors turned out to yesterday's meeting at the Grand Hyatt.

Those attending were mostly older people. Several said they were pensioners.

More than 800 irate investors attended a meeting in Sydney, forcing organisers to arrange an overflow room.

Administrator Greg Hall of PricewaterhouseCoopers, speaking by link-up from Sydney, said projects under development would be finished.

"There will be a sizeable return to noteholders ultimately, but the size and the timing of that is not yet known," he said.

Under questioning from sceptical investors, Mr Hall admitted the company's book valuation of $624 million in assets was unlikely to hold.

"I think it's unlikely that valuations of that order will be achieved, but I can't give you any guidance on what valuations are likely," he said.

Investors will only see a return if there is anything left after paying the group's bankers.

Investor David Roberts, who sunk $50,000 into ACR, said he didn't find the administrators' presentation reassuring.

He estimated a return of 20 per cent to 30 per cent.

Mr Roberts said he felt sympathy for people who had put all their money into ACR.

"I've lost a lot for my family, but again I knew what I was doing," he said.

One woman attended on behalf of her son, a 25-year-old urban designer from Brunswick who left for an overseas holiday yesterday.

Her son had $20,000 invested in the company, but withdrew $10,000 in December.

"He said he had a bad feeling," she said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers was appointed administrator to the investment part of the group at 2pm yesterday. McGrathNicol, who were appointed by group directors Sam Pogson and Murray Lapham, remain in charge of development arm Estate Property Group.

The group is the third high-risk property investment scheme to collapse in the past two years.

Perth group Westpoint fell over owing investors up to $600 million.

Sydney company Fincorp went broke owing more than $295 million.

Exotic overseas property 'coming into limelight'

Exotic overseas property 'coming into limelight'
Britons are increasingly looking beyond traditional Overseas Property locations to other more exotic destinations, it has been revealed.

Countries including Egypt, Morocco and Brazil are now hitting the Overseas Property scene, with many people taking advantage of extremely low property prices, Investors Provident has said.

Hetal Shah, Director of Investors Provident, said: "Primarily, what we're finding is there still a lot of emerging markets.

"Egypt, Morocco and Brazilare definitely coming into the limelight and a lot of people are looking at these markets.

He said this was mainly due to cheaper prices than the rest of mainland Europe: "In Egypt you can pick up properties for £16,000 or £17,000it's ridiculously cheap.

"In places like Brazil, you can go for £40,000-£50,000 for a beach front apartment. Morocco is very, very similar, but £30,000 or £35,000 for a nice property," he added.

For investors happy to wait to see returns on their Property Investment, the Indian property market also offers a solid long-term option, Investors Provident claims.

FTBs face future house prices 10 times earnings, NHPAU warns

FTBs face future house prices 10 times earnings, NHPAU warns
Future first-time buyers (FTBs) may be faced with average House prices at ten times their annual income, the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit (NHPAU) has predicted.

According to the NHPAU's calculations, average House prices may soar to ten times average earnings by 2026, compared with seven times annual earnings this time last year.

Indeed a survey carried out by the NHPAU of 2,722 adults found that 35 per cent of people now believe they will never be able to own their own home, with 18 per cent claiming it will take them five years or more to buy their own place.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, NHPAU chairman Professor Stephen Nickell explained that property prices would keep rising: "The average person in the UK, and this specifically of course refers to England, is getting richer all the time and demanding more housing.

"On top of that the number of households is expected to grow at a faster rate over the next 20 years than it has been in the recent past - as many as 220,000 households a year."

Looking to the future he forecast a rise in the need for social housing: "There will be much more rental housing, and of course not only the price of houses to buy will go up, but of course rents will become very expensive and ultimately of course that will lead to a big increase in the numbers of people applying for social housing.

"In some senses this is why it matters to all of us, because it's going to be our taxes which are going to have to pay for the big increase in social housing."

50 percent of buy-to-let landlords unaware of TDS

50 percent of buy-to-let landlords unaware of TDS
Over half of buy-to-let landlords in the UK Property market are unaware of the new Tenant Deposit Scheme (TDS), a survey has found.

According to Alliance & Leicester (A&L), 53 per cent of landlords still claim to be unaware of TDS, while nearly a quarter (25 per cent) said they were aware of it but did not really understand the terms of the legislation in relation to their Property Investment.

Just 24 per cent of landlords said they actually knew about the scheme and completely understood it, A&L found.

Launched in April TDS was designed to protect tenants' money by forcing landlords to place deposits in a designated account - as well as providing increased support for tenants in the case of disputes between landlords.

Commenting on the findings Jeremy Claridge, head of specialist mortgages at A&L said: "The Tenant Deposit Scheme is designed to give both tenants and landlords peace of mind, and in the event of any dispute, all cases will be treated fairly.

"This should make both renting and letting a less stressful experience overall, and hopefully the landlord/tenant relationship should shake off the traditional image of warring partners."

Additionally, over half of all landlords admit they keep some or all of their tenant's deposit when they move out, the research found.

Damage to property, missed rental payments and cleaning costs were the top three grievances that landlords used to justify not paying back tenants' deposits.

87 percent of home movers against Hips

87 percent of home movers against Hips
Nearly nine out of ten Britons looking to move home say they are against the implementation of Home Information Packs (HIPS), new research has revealed.

According to ConveyanceLink, a massive 87 per cent of home movers are completely against the controversial scheme, originally due to have been implemented at the beginning of this month.

Indeed, the conveyancing case management provider pointed out a link with a previous study which found exactly the same proportion of estate agents (87 per cent) said they were also against the scheme.

Only nine per cent of 1,276 home movers polled said they supported the scheme, while four per cent said their opinions were divided.

Commenting on the figures, Malcolm York, director at ConveyanceLink, described Hips as "unworkable" and said the system was in "disarray".

"It's interesting to see the same massive percentage of consumers and industry professionals have no faith in the Hips scheme," he said.

"The government has neglected to listen to the industry and has subsequently put livelihoods at risk throughout the property sector, which is completely unacceptable.

"There is no question that changes and improvements to the process need to be made, but Hips look like a disaster still waiting to happen," he added.

In an eleventh-hour decision the government recently made a U-turn on the launch of Hips after a legal challenge from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Homes on the UK Property market with more than four bedrooms will be legally required to have a Hip, detailing the building's energy efficiency rating as well as title deeds, from August 1st.

Australian property market 'driven by price'

Australian property market 'driven by price'
Low House prices down under are helping to make Australia a popular location for Overseas Property investment, it has been claimed.

As more and more Britons choose to look beyond the traditional foreign holiday hotspots of France and Spain for a holiday home, so the southern hemisphere has experienced a surge in demand, Escapes2.com has revealed.

The stability of the country together with the fact that buyers do not have a language barrier to cross have made Australia an attractive prospect for British investors.

The comments follow a recent survey by HiFX Global Property Hotspot which revealed the number of enquiries about investing in Australia had doubled since last year.

Paul McMullan, web manager for Escapes2.com, said the Australian property market was "driven largely by price".

"You're looking at £100,000 for a three or four bedroom house in certain areas."

And those longing for some luxury in the Antipodean sun will not be disappointed: "You can get a three bed detached house with a pool for about £150,000 in Australia. In the UK you'd probably struggle to get a terraced house for that," Mr McMullan said.

Multi-million euro property scam hit

Multi-million euro property scam hit


Martin 'Marlo' Hyland: murdered gangland boss
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Go By Tom Brady Security Editor
Monday June 04 2007


GARDAI have smashed a multi-million euro plan by criminals and terrorists to buy property overseas with forged euro notes.


The scheme involved the gang formerly led by murdered crimelord Martin "Marlo" Hyland and senior Provisional IRA members.

Their aim was to set up a massive money making racket by flooding the Bulgarian property market with forged notes with the aid of local connections.

But the plan was discovered by detectives attached to Operation Oak, the special initiative drawn up by garda chiefs to tackle Hyland's gang.

They seized €500,000 in fake notes to be used in the multi-million euro scam after a raid on a house on the northside of Dublin and arrested a suspected close associate of Hyland.

The man had been regarded by Hyland as a trusted aide and had been minding the cash, laid out in €500 notes, a denomination not used in this country.

Subsequent inquiries established that the money was part of a "war chest" being built up by the gang and IRA personnel to launch their property portfolio in Bulgaria.

Senior garda officers are satisfied that the scam was not linked to a previous scheme by the Provisionals to launder some of the €38m from the Northern Bank robbery.

But detectives have determined that at least two of the IRA's leading activists in Dublin were heavily involved in the scam.

Activities

One of the IRA suspects is well known on the southside of the city and has already been under investigation by the Criminal Assets Bureau due to previous financial activities here.

The other lives on the northside and has been listed as one of the key players in a big tax rebate scam being controlled by IRA members in the construction industry.

Another former IRA man that turned to "ordinary" crime is also suspected to have been linked to the scam. He is currently in custody in Britain in connection with a separate crime.

The forged euro notes seized was one of a number of body blows delivered to the gang that had been built up by Hyland into one of the biggest and most successful in the country.

Oak, which was set up in October 2005, has also been responsible for the seizure of drugs worth €42m in the past 20 months as well as 16 firearms, including a sub machine gun, rifles, handguns and sawn-off shotguns, stolen vehicles and a large amount of cash.

But the series of successes last year resulted in bitter recriminations within the upper ranks of the gang.

Two of his closest associates were suspected of being responsible for murdering Hyland as he lay in bed in a house in Scribblestown Park in Finglas last December.

A power struggle erupted after his murder but it is understood the gang has been taken over by a veteran northside criminal.

- Tom Brady Security Editor

Property investors in the lurch

Property investors in the lurch
June 04, 2007 02:35pm
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A DIRECTOR of beleaguered property investment firm Australian Capital Reserve (ACR) has vowed to do all he can to return funds to mum and dad investors facing financial ruin.

Executive director Samuel Pogson today apologised to noteholders of ACR, some of whom stand to lose their retirement nest eggs.

"We'll be working with the administrators to get the best result for them," Mr Pogson said.

"We sincerely apologise for where it is now ... We've put all of our companies into administration, including our own personal companies.

"There won't be a stone left unturned by the administrator."

Estate Property Group, which includes ACR, went into voluntary administration on May 28 with more than $300 million owed to about 7000 small investors.

The larger institutional investors are believed to be owed about $200 million.

Separate meetings

Separate meetings are being held today for creditors of Estate Property and noteholders of ACR, so administrator McGrath Nicol can brief both secured creditors, like banks, and unsecured retail noteholders.

As secured creditors left the Estate Property Group meeting in Sydney early this afternoon, they said there had been no challenge to the appointment of the administrator.

"The critical thing the administrator is seeking is to get secured creditors to maintain uniformity and not take separate actions," one banker, who didn't want to be named, said.

The banker also said the administrator would make a court application to adjourn a second meeting of secured creditors that was supposed to take place within 21 days.

Builders and tradesmen owed money also were present at the meeting, which began at 12 noon today (AEST).

"We're a little bit higher in the food chain than the noteholders so we expect to get fed pretty fast," said Shane Traynor of Complete Fire Doors.

Unsecured investors distressed

As unsecured noteholders began streaming into the Wesley Conference Centre in central Sydney, many were visibly distressed.

One man, who would only give his first name, "Ayman", said he was owed $69,500 by ACR.

"Actually, it's life and death, because it was invested for my kids," he said.

"We need this money desperately, and they misled us.

"Some of it was for our children's education, and also my mother who is very sick overseas.

"We just hope we can get our money back, even without any return."

The meeting of ACR noteholders will be held at 3pm today (AEST).

Administrators Murray Smith, Scott Kershaw, Joseph Hayes and Colin Nicol of McGrathNicol have been appointed to oversee a group of 26 companies, which between them own 21 separate property developments in NSW and Victoria.

ACR raised over $300 million from investors in a series of unsecured loan notes.

It then lent those funds on a secured basis to other companies in the Estate Property Group to help finance various property developments.

A number of secured third party financiers also advanced funds to the group.

The trials facing Estate Property Group follows the failure of property groups Fincorp and Westpoint.

CELEBS CASH IN ON THEIR HOT PROPERTY

CELEBS CASH IN ON THEIR HOT PROPERTY
By Chong Zheng Ying
chongzy@sph.com.sg

June 04, 2007




THE local property market is sizzling hot right now.

En-bloc sales are the talk of town, luxury developments are snapped up almost instantly, and property prices are at an all-time high.

The Singapore Press Holdings' classified sections have seen a surge of more than 20 per cent in advertisements for apartments in the prime districts of 9, 10 and 11.


So it's no wonder that some savvy celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon to benefit from the property market.

While not all of them had profit on their minds, celebrities like Chen Hanwei, Bryan Wong, Quan Yifeng and David Gan made profits by moving out this year.

Not to mention singer Sun Ho, who stands to make about $1 million if the collective sale for her condo, Horizon Towers in Leonie Hill, passes through.

In particular, The Glacier, a condominium development in Joo Chiat which was dubbed Kampong Glam for its unusual number of celebrity residents, suffered mass exodus when the celebs moved out.

The condo used to boast of residents like Bryan, Yifeng, Lynn and Darren Seah.

Hanwei added to the estate's star quotient when he moved in last December.

Bryan was the first to leave. He moved out of his 130 sq m apartment in April.

According to Lianhe Zaobao, Bryan downgraded to a three-bedroom HDB flat in a bid to seek a 'simpler life'.

Other reports said he had gleaned some financial tips after hosting the Dollars and Sense gameshow, and had sold off his three-year-old apartment to cash in on the property boom.

Bryan is currently overseas and could not speak to The New Paper on Sunday.

His move was closely followed by Hanwei, who moved out of his penthouse unit after a mere four months.

He had bought his 214 sq m three-bedroom unit for close to $1m last year, but sold it off in April.

A quick check with the Urban Redevelopment Authority website showed that his unit probably sold for nearly $1.25m. Which means that Hanwei would have made a neat profit of at least $200,000 within four months.

Yet Hanwei claimed that his reasons for moving out were personal and not financial.

'My mom and two young nephews come to stay over very often. The apartment had a lot of glass fixtures in the balcony, rooms and toilet.

'I decided to get a new place that would be safer for my nephews, who are 8 and six-months-old.'

Hanwei also insisted that he didn't make much profit from the sale of his Joo Chiat apartment after taking away the cost of renovations ($30,000) and furniture.

Before buying the Joo Chiat condo, Hanwei used to live in rented apartments at Newton and Serangoon Gardens.

He said: 'I fell in love with it when I first saw it. It was the first home I owned and lived in.'

He is currently renting a one-bedroom apartment in Siglap for a little over $2,000 a month, and has no intentions of buying another home.

'I'll be renting until the property market cools down before I start looking at buying again,' he said.

So doesn't this make him quite a property guru in the making?

After all, Hanwei also sold off his 60sq m loft at the The Icon in Tanjong Pagar before its completion two years ago for a profit.

He had bought the apartment two years ago at around '$400,000 to $500,000' and claims he made only about '$20,000 to $30,000' when he sold it off at the end of 2005.

'The property market was soft at that time,' said Hanwei.

And according to a report that year, a 57 sq m unit at The Icon was going for about $390,000.

NO SPACE

Hanwei said he sold off his loft because he had just bought a piano, and there was 'no space in that small loft to put it'.

And it was sheer luck that both his properties sold for a profit.

'I just bought it because I liked it. I don't know how to make investments in the property industry.'

Despite Hanwei's denials about his investment acumen, it was through him that neighbour and colleague Yifeng sold off her own unit and found a new home.

Like Bryan, Yifeng was looking to downgrade.

Yifeng told Shin Min Daily News that Hanwei put her in touch with another actor, Jeffrey Wang Yuqing, whose friend later bought Yifeng's unit.

On the sale, Yifeng said: 'Well, there was money to be made. Now that the prices of private property are rising, of course you should sell now. Why wait?'

She also told Lianhe Zaobao that it was a prudent move as husband Peter Yu had just started out as a property agent.

Yifeng had bought her four-bedroom 123 sq m apartment for around $750,000 three years ago, and sold it off for about $800,000.

When asked about her profit, Yifeng reportedly replied: 'It's enough to pay for three years' rental, and I will still have a five-figure sum left over.'

Even then, she joked that she didn't make as much profit as Bryan and Hanwei because 'unlike them, I could not boast of my condo being a celebrity condo anymore, since they had already moved out'.

It is not clear when the estate's two other celebrity residents Lynn and Darren, moved out.

Yifeng is now in the midst of moving to a smaller rented apartment in the east.

Her new place is three quarters the size of her old apartment. The monthly rental is $2,500.

BURDEN

Asked if she felt sad about downgrading, Yifeng said: 'There is no stability in showbiz. The risks are big, so why pressure yourself with the burden of a home mortgage?'

All this moving and selling is tempting actor Vincent Ng, who lives nearby in Marine Parade.

The 32-year-old said that he is currently 'researching' the property market, as he hopes to sell his condo unit for a profit, and downgrade to a flat or rented property.

Actor Christopher Lee also apparently sold off his 900 sq ft apartment at Newton 18 some time after Chinese New Year this year.

He had bought the apartment for around $1m in 2003.

It was reported at that time that Fann Wong also bought a unit in the same condo as an investment.

At the time, Christopher had told Shin Min Daily News: 'This is a home I have purchased, and if I get married, it will be here...'

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case now.

According to Lianhe Wanbao, Christopher has not returned often to his Newton apartment after he was arrested for drink driving last October.

The 36-year-old actor is currently serving a four-week jail term for his offence.

It was not known why he sold the apartment. According to URA records, a unit of the same size in Newton sold for around $1.1m in February.

Which means Christopher probably didn't profit as much as the others.

Another star who didn't profit from selling is celebrity coiffeur David Gan.

He recently moved from his Paterson Edge apartment into a posh three-bedroom pad in The Boulevard Residence (BLVD) off Orchard Road, which has Fann as a resident.

He reportedly paid $5m for the apartment - nearly double what he received for his 120 sq m Paterson Edge sale.

The 44-year-old has been offered $6.5m for his new home but he will not be lured by this fat carrot.

He was quoted as saying: 'I feel a great sense of achievement when I'm here. It has taken me a lot of hard work to get this house and everything that's inside.'

- Additional reporting by Wendy Teo

Friday, June 8, 2007

Ken sees 2007 property sales of RM80mil

Ken sees 2007 property sales of RM80mil


Tan Boon Kang
KUALA LUMPUR: Property developer Ken Holdings Bhd plans to sell RM80mil worth of properties this year, riding on the positive market outlook and encouraging sales in the first half year, said managing director Tan Boon Kang.

He said sales would mainly come from its projects in Shah Alam and Bangsar. It expects some RM40mil to RM50mil from the soon-to-be-launched Ken Bangsar, a 14-storey upmarket serviced apartment taking shape on the site of the former Puncak Bandaraya building in Bangsar.

“Ken Bangsar will be a major income contributor when we start selling it soon,” he said after the company's AGM yesterday.

The hilltop project will have 80 high-end condominium units with a gross development value (GDV) of RM120mil. A sneak preview of the project is planned for next month.

Tan said sales would also be driven by the Rimba Jaya low-cost apartments in Shah Alam and Ken Damansara 3 in Petaling Jaya, which was due for completion this year.

Ken Holdings also has seen encouraging response to its double-storey link house project in Seri Kembangan, which was undertaken via the build-then-sell concept.

For the year just ended Dec 31, the group posted a pre-tax profit of RM9.9mil on revenue of RM75.7mil.

On new projects, Tan said the group planned to develop 13 very high-end bungalows on a 2.9-acre site nestled between resort hotels in Batu Ferringhi, Penang. The proposed development will have a GDV of RM60mil.

Ken Holdings is also developing a RM50mil building that would have office space and serviced apartments in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.

“We will use 15% of the office space for our corporate headquarters and rent out the rest,” Tan said.

According to Tan, Ken Holdings has 140 acres, mainly in the Klang Valley, which would keep it busy for the next five to seven years.

“We will continue to provide a wide range of properties from low-cost apartments to upmarket bungalows.

“We do not intend to focus on specific segments,” he said, adding that the group was committed to helping Selangor solve its squatter problem.

Quill Capita buys two properties for RM215mil

Quill Capita buys two properties for RM215mil

KUALA LUMPUR: Quill Capita Management Sdn Bhd (QCM), the manager of Quill Capita Trust (QCT) - a commercial real estate investment trust (REIT) listed on Bursa Malaysia - has acquired two properties for RM215mil.

They are Wisma Technip and Plaza Mont' Kiara which are both in Kuala Lumpur.

The exercise is targeted for completion by the fourth quarter this year.

QCM also proposed placement of new units in QCT to raise up to RM377.2mil to finance the proposed acquisition and other requirements, the company said in a press release yesterday.


Plaza Mont' Kiara
The proposed placement would increase the fund size from 238.7 million units to up to 490.1 million units.

“Within six months of listing, we are adding to our portfolio two yield accretive assets with high occupancy and high tenancies,'' QCM chief executive officer Chan Say Cheong said.

“This is in line with our stated growth strategy and we are on track to reaching our target of doubling QCT's asset size to RM560mil by year-end,'' he added.

Wisma Technip is a 100% occupied office building with a net lettable area of 233,021 sq ft.

The 73,408 sq ft of lettable commercial space at Plaza Mont' Kiara leased to food and beverage and retail tenants enjoys 90% occupancy.

Currently, the properties under QCT are four buildings in Cyberjaya.

Setia Avenue records 60% take-up rate

Setia Avenue records 60% take-up rate

By Sabry Tahir

SHAH ALAM: Bandar Setia Alam Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of SP Setia Bhd and the developer of Bandar Setia Alam, has seen brisk sales of shop/offices at Setia Avenue, the second commercial component that is taking shape at the township in Shah Alam.

Launched early this year, 60% of the project – comprising 274 shop/offices with a sales value of RM170mil – had been sold, Bandar Setia Alam general manager Norhayati Subali said.

“We started developing Setia Avenue last month and the entire development is due for completion by end-2008,” she told StarBiz.

Setia Avenue, on 12 acres, will have five blocks of five-storey buildings. Each unit, with a built-up of about 2,000 sq ft, is priced at RM1mil to RM2mil.


Norhayati Subali with a scale model of the second commercial component.
“It will be a new business address. There will be many boulevards and it will be a perfect place for al fresco dining,” Norhayati said.

While the ground level units boast wide shop frontage, the commercial centre is especially suitable for car showrooms, restaurants and jewellery shops.

The site, which faces the bustling Jalan Meru and a road linking to the North Klang Valley Expressway, will be connected by a bridge to an upcoming hypermarket nearby.

Other unique features of Setia Avenue include roofed walkways, piped-in music throughout the area and unconventional building fa├žades.

Bandar Setia Alam last year sold its first commercial development comprising some 200 shop/offices.

According to Norhayati, the development of the 280-acre Setia City in the heart of Setia Alam township would start in 2009.

The project, slated to house SP Setia's new headquarters, a medical centre, educational institutions, a hotel, offices and corporate towers, would take five to six years to complete, she said.

Launched in late-2003, Bandar Setia Alam is a 4,000-acre freehold development due for completion in seven to 10 years. The township is projected to have a population of over 100,000.

Eco Park still attracting buzz after 2yrs

Eco Park still attracting buzz after 2yrs

SHAH ALAM: SP Setia Bhd's residential development, Setia Eco Park, is still attracting a lot of interest, including foreigners although it has been two years now since the launch of the eco-living project in 2005.

SP Setia created some interest in Barcelona, Spain last week when it won in the Master Plan category of the FIABCI Prix d'Excellence Awards 2007 for its Setia Eco Park development, which is part of its 1,600ha freehold Setia Alam township near Shah Alam.

The Prix d'Excellence is an international award accorded by Paris-headquartered Federation of International Real Estate (FIABCI). It is the most prestigious of global real estate accolades.

Chief executive officer Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin said SP Setia was honoured that its groundbreaking Setia Eco Park development has won worldwide acclaim.

"When we first embarked on this project we aimed to redefine the Malaysian residential landscape by weaving the development theme around an eco-rich concept.

"It is indeed gratifying that our efforts have been recognised globally. The recognition will spur SP Setia to pursue even higher standards of excellence in the many new and exciting projects we have lined up for the future," Liew said.

Setia Eco Park, which is scheduled for completion by 2014 is a 791-acre low-density township with an estimated gross development value of RM3.5bil and comprises semidetached and bungalows. Upon completion, Setia Eco Park will have 2,945 units of residences with a ratio of 3.7 units per acre.

The township includes a 25-acre park with amphitheatre and entrance statement, 60 acres of forest park and 94 acres of land set aside for the waterways, lakes and creeks to encourage residents to re-connect with nature.

Liew said there were many factors that led to the project's success. The most attractive feature about Setia Eco Park is the ecologically friendly landscaping.

He said most of all was the exclusivity and uniqueness of the development – only bungalows and semi-detached residences built around an eco-landscape environment, yet within easy reach to Kuala Lumpur City Centre, which is only 20 minutes away.

To further promote eco sensitivity, the developer has worked with Pusat Tenaga to introduce solar energy into the development and has recently teamed up with a local heat transfer specialist to transfer heat generated from air-conditioners into water-heaters to minimise electricity usage.

It has also hired experts from the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, Penang Butterfly Farm and Malaysia Fisheries Dept to help the group to set up its own nursery on site to cultivate and plant the right flowering plants, foliage and shrubs to attract birds and insects, including butterflies and squirrel to the tropical sanctuary.

The ecologically balanced environment that will become a haven for plants, birds and butterflies has become a hit among those who appreciate nature.

To date, 725 units of bungalows and semidees have been sold. SP Setia is currently launching phase five, six and eight for sale.

Phase five comprised of 32 units of special edition eco villas series modern bungalows priced between RM1.2mil to RM2mil.

The urban villas series under phase eight features 56 units of semidetached priced from RM800,000 and 30 units of bungalows priced from RM1.2mil while. Phase six or the grandeur series offers 55 bungalow lots averaging 20,000 sq ft are priced from RM2mil onwards.

State of Beijing Property

State of Beijing Property

Beijing’s property prices jumped 40% in 2001 when the city won the bid to hold the 29th Olympic Games. In the past 6 years, the compound growth rate has exceeded 50%! In 2006, Beijing’s property prices saw double-digit growth for seven months in a row, making it the hottest real estate market among all major Chinese cities.

This has naturally raised concerns about a potential real estate bubble, just like what has happened in US. Is the Olympics driving up the prices? Will the bubble burst after the Games? Should someone wait a little longer to buy a property? These are the questions Beijingers and investors are increasingly asking these days.

Some property investment experts opine that although the Olympics are fueling Beijing’s property market, it is not the primary factor. Some said the real driving force is the strong demand not only generated by Beijing residents themselves but also by others planning to settle down in the capital. Others think that only 10% of the property price rise can be attributed to the coming Olympics. Afterall, it’s only natural for real estate prices to rise if the economy grows. Recall that China's GDP has maintained a minimum 10% growth over the past four years, and Beijing's growth was 12% last year!

Certain experts think that the end of the Games won’t mean the end of this booming economy, so it’s unlikely that the property market will crash after the Games. "In fact, the boost that the city has received in terms of infrastructure, transportation and facilities will begin to show only after the Games", quoted Capitaland (China) Investment's General Manager Mao Daqing.

Nevertheless, in every optimist there is a pessimist. The pessimists believe that property price rise will slow down after the Games, some experts even forecast a drop afterward.
According to Beijing Statistics Bureau, investment in the city’s real estate sector totalled 171.9 billion yuan by the end of last year, up 12.8% year-on-year. But the growth rate dropped 28.3% compared with early 2006, and that of the residential sector fell from 86% early last year to 15.9% by the end of December. The average sales of property last year also dropped to a record eight-year low, a recent report from the economic research institute of National Development and Reform Commission showed. The report further states that they are expecting a sluggish property market after 2008 or 2009.

Whatever the opinion is, history tends to remind people that most things that go up too quickly will not be sustainable over time. Just remember the current US property market slump and the Hong Kong property market crash in the late 90s.

A Quick Update on Malaysia Property

A Quick Update on Malaysia Property

Following the strings of Malaysian Government effort announced earlier in the year in stimulating Malaysia property market, ever wonder how effective have these initiatives been? Let's take a look at a recent survey conducted by the Real Estate and Housing Developers' Association Malaysia (Rehda) and you could see that the outcome seems highly encouraging. The survey was conducted between April 21st and May 8th 2007.

According to the survey, enquiries from foreigners had increased by 10% while those from locals 35%. Sales of property to foreigners and locals increased by 8% and 32% respectively.

In another event, A South Korean company has bought an entire condominium block for RM64mil (USD19m)! The property is located at Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur. The entire deal was sealed on May 8 2007. The condominium would be redesigned to suit the taste of the Koreans. It appears that they are on the lookout to purchase another block of condominium.

Kuala Lumpur, June 3: Already a popular tourist destination, Malaysia now plans to turn itself into an international property destination.

Kuala Lumpur, June 3: Already a popular tourist destination, Malaysia now plans to turn itself into an international property destination.


The East Asian country is expecting foreign investments of at least 5.8 billion US dollars (20 billion ringet) within 10 years in the real estate sector, reports said here today.


Malaysia has a scheme for foreigners to settle in this country under its "Malaysia my second home" project whereby the person is given a ten-year multiple-entry visa and can buy a house besides other benefits.


Several Indian nationals have also opted for this scheme.


The construction boom is largely evident across the Malaysian capital where over a year dozens of high-rise apartments and office complexes are coming up.


The high-impact project is expected to create more jobs and have a positive impact on the stock market, Minister in the Prime Minister's department Effendi Norwawi was quoted by media reports here as saying.


Real estate and business services sub-sector has surged 27.8 per cent from 4.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2006, he said adding that the services sector was expanding at 9.6 per cent up from 6.6 per cent in the corresponding period last year.


The sector contributed 54 per cent to gross domestic product, the 'New Straits Time' said.


The construction industry has been making good progress registering a four per cent growth.


Observing that the composite index's year-on-year growth was 31.2 per cent, the highest growth rate achieved in the past 13 years, Effendi said all indicators showed that this streak was not going to stop soon. (Agencies)
Singapore will extend its merger and acquisition rule to real estate investment trusts (Reits) to make the Republic’s regulations more in line with industry standards in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Parties intending to acquire 30 per cent or more of the total units of a Reit will be required to make a general offer for all outstanding units, the Securities Industry Council (SIC) said in a statement yesterday.

In addition, existing investors holding between 30 and 50 per cent of the units of a Reit who acquire more than 1 per cent of the Reit’s total units within a six-month period must make a general offer.

A proper framework, said SIC, that ensures the fair and equal treatment of all unitholders would enhance the reputation of the Reit market in Singapore and add to its growth.

Extending the takeover code to Reits would not only protect the interests of minority investors but also that of the incumbent controlling unitholders, it added.

“In the absence of a proper framework governing takeover and merger transactions of Reits, a party would be able to accumulate effective control of a Reit without incurring a general offer obligation,” said the SIC in its statement.

Under such circumstances, incumbent controlling unitholders might not be able to extract a control premium from such a party, it added.

SIC said the Monetary Authority of Singapore will amend the relevant securities laws to give effect to the new requirements.

Source: Weekend Today, 09 June 2007

Singapore will extend its merger and acquisition rule to real estate investment trusts (Reits)

Singapore will extend its merger and acquisition rule to real estate investment trusts (Reits) to make the Republic’s regulations more in line with industry standards in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Parties intending to acquire 30 per cent or more of the total units of a Reit will be required to make a general offer for all outstanding units, the Securities Industry Council (SIC) said in a statement yesterday.

In addition, existing investors holding between 30 and 50 per cent of the units of a Reit who acquire more than 1 per cent of the Reit’s total units within a six-month period must make a general offer.

A proper framework, said SIC, that ensures the fair and equal treatment of all unitholders would enhance the reputation of the Reit market in Singapore and add to its growth.

Extending the takeover code to Reits would not only protect the interests of minority investors but also that of the incumbent controlling unitholders, it added.

“In the absence of a proper framework governing takeover and merger transactions of Reits, a party would be able to accumulate effective control of a Reit without incurring a general offer obligation,” said the SIC in its statement.

Under such circumstances, incumbent controlling unitholders might not be able to extract a control premium from such a party, it added.

SIC said the Monetary Authority of Singapore will amend the relevant securities laws to give effect to the new requirements.

Source: Weekend Today, 09 June 2007

New record prices have been set for the Singapore office market.

New record prices have been set for the Singapore office market. Far East Organization is believed to have sold a floor at the 99-year leasehold Central project above Clarke Quay MRT Station for $2,850 per square foot (psf) of net lettable area to a Singapore fashion trading company.

And over in the prime Raffles Place office belt, Hong Leong Group has sold 1 Finlayson Green for just under $231 million, or around $2,650 psf based on the freehold office building’s existing net lettable area of about 86,500 square feet.

If the buyer, a unit of UK-based property fund group Develica, leases out the 19-storey building on the basis of one tenant per floor, the lettable area can be raised to about 93,500 sq ft, translating to a unit price of $2,470 psf.

Whichever per square foot price is used for 1 Finlayson Green, as well as the price achieved for the floor at Central, they have all surpassed the previous record of $2,200 psf for office space set in early 1996.

That was when Straits Steamship Land, now Keppel Land, sold seven floors of what is now known as Prudential Tower in the China Square area to Prudential Assurance Company Singapore.

Industry observers expect even higher benchmarks to be achieved soon.

News of these fresh benchmarks will also lead to further upward revisions in sellers’ asking prices for other office transactions under negotiations, market watchers reckon.

There could also be further upward revaluations of major Singapore office landlords like CapitaCommercial Trust, Keppel Land, City Developments, Singapore Land and Suntec Reit.

Market watchers are nevertheless unsurprised by the fresh record prices achieved, as they come at a time of strong rent escalation fuelled by a shortage of office space.

CB Richard Ellis data show that the average prime Grade A office rental value of $10.60 psf per month in the first quarter of the year is up 76.7 per cent from the same period last year and more than double the $4.48 psf at the bottom of the current cycle plumbed in the third quarter of 2003.

A DTZ Asia-Pacific office update issued yesterday showed that a 29.6 per cent increase in Grade A office occupancy costs in Singapore between the fourth quarter last year and the first quarter this year was the second highest rate of escalation in 19 markets surveyed. Only New Delhi posted a bigger gain - 36.33 per cent.

The latest annual occupancy cost of US$86.21 psf for Singapore was the fourth highest of the 19 markets. Only Hong Kong (US$167.56 psf), Tokyo (US$119.70 psf) and New Delhi (US$87.29 psf) surpassed Singapore.

The acquisition of 1 Finlayson Green will be the seed investment for Develica’s Asia-Pacific fund.

‘We view Singapore as a strong growth market and we are getting a lot of interest from (investors in) Europe, US and the Middle East,’ Develica Asia-Pacific chief executive officer Chris Brown said when contacted by BT yesterday.

Mr Brown, who was formerly Jones Lang LaSalle’s Asia-Pacific chairman, said that while 1 Finlayson Green’s current rental income would translate to a 3.5 per cent net yield based on Develica’s acquisition price, ‘the reality is we have leases expiring this year and next year and it won’t take too long to raise the yield to 5-plus per cent’.

Mr Brown said that four floors in the building had been deliberately left vacant by the vendors to offer the new investor the chance of yield appreciation.

One floor at 1 Finlayson Green was leased in February this year at a monthly rental of $10.50 psf, considerably higher than the average $6.50 psf contracted rent in the building. Market talk is that a unit at Republic Plaza nearby was recently leased at around $15 psf.

DTZ Debenham Tie Leung brokered the 1 Finlayson Green deal.

As for Central in the Clarke Quay area, the record $2,850 psf achieved for an office floor was for a high floor - believed to be above the 20th level of the development’s 25-storey office tower.

The floor has a strata area of around 13,300 sq ft. Far East is now understood to be left with about eight more floors of offices to sell at Central with sizes of around 9,000 sq ft to 13,000 sq ft, mostly on the top floors.

Far East began selling offices at Central last year at prices starting from $1,300 psf.

Besides offices, Central also includes a mall, which has opened, and another block with small office, home office (Soho) units. The office and Soho towers are slated for completion by early next year.

Source: The Business Times, 08 June 2007