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Singapore freezes US$3.5 billion of Hin Leong’s Lim family assets

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Founder of collapsed oil trading firm Hin Leong Trading Pte Ltd, Lim Oon Kuin, better known as O.K. Lim, arrives at the State Courts in Singapore April 30, 2021.  REUTERS/Edgar Su
Singapore’s High Court approved a request to freeze as much as US$3.5 billion of assets belonging to the founding family of collapsed oil trader Hin Leong Trading. (PHOTO: REUTERS/Edgar Su)

By Alfred Cang and Chanyaporn Chanjaroen

(Bloomberg) —Singapore’s High Court approved a request to freeze as much as US$3.5 billion of assets worldwide belonging to the founding family of collapsed oil trader Hin Leong Trading (Pte.) Ltd. in a move that may be one of the biggest such injunctions in the city-state’s history.

Lim Oon Kuin and his family will be asked by lawyers representing liquidator Goh Thien Phong to disclose their assets to the court in the next few days, according to an email seen by Bloomberg News that was sent to creditors on Friday to inform them of the judgment. The Lims may file an appeal against the asset-freeze order, Goh told creditors.

The asset freeze order is a step toward debt recovery for bank creditors including HSBC Holdings Plc and DBS Group Holdings Ltd., which together are owed about US$3.5 billion by Hin Leong. The Lims have sold assets worth millions of dollars in recent months, including a 41% stake in a Singapore commercial storage facility to state-backed operator Jurong Port Pte in March. The Lims have also divested dozens of ships owned by the family’s Xihe Group, according to VesselsValue, which tracks such sales.

Goh of GTP Advisory PAC and lawyers for the Lim family at Davinder Singh Chambers LLC didn’t reply to emails seeking comments.

Asset Freeze

Hin Leong, once the city-state’s largest independent oil trader, had applied through its then-judicial managers to freeze assets, shares and funds held by its founder, known as OK Lim, and his two children. The request was motivated by a risk of asset dissipation as more than 20 banks fought to recover billions of dollars in loans to the fabled trader.

The asset-freeze order also specifies the Lim family’s weekly living expenses, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The decision took effect from May 21, and applies to Lim and his two children Evan Lim and Lim Huey Ching, who were both directors of Hin Leong.

The court approved the winding up of the company in March after a sale process by the court-appointed managers failed to attract bids. Lim, 79, has been charged with forgery and related offenses. He had denied allegations made by HSBC that he used forged documents to obtain financing.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP’s Chan Kheng Tek is the other liquidator of Hin Leong. Singapore-based law firm Drew & Napier LLC, led by Cavinder Bull, is acting for the liquidators.

OK Lim’s business empire spanning from oil trading to bunkering to storage businesses collapsed last year after wrong-way bets on oil prices unfurled hidden losses and alleged fraud. The fallout reverberated across global markets, prompting financial institutions to reassess their exposure and shaking out large tracts of the often-opaque US$4 trillion oil-trading industry.

The family’s assets include properties in Singapore and Australia, cash and investments, insurance policies, shares and club memberships, according to a court filing. OK Lim and his children are allowed to remove any of their assets from Singapore, or dispose or reach deals with their possessions so long as the total unencumbered value of their holdings still in Singapore remains no less than US$3.5 billion, according to the filing.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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