Singapore readies for a showdown over Informatics


Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 10

Singapore investors are bracing this week for a showdown between two Asian tycoons who are battling for control of scandal-hit, money-losing Singapore business training company Informatics Holdings.

The showdown is to come Friday, when the troubled company's shareholders are to decide at a special general meeting on rival visions from Singapore's Oei Hong Leong and Malaysian gaming and property magnate Vincent Tan.

Informatics -- which must repay creditor banks S$16.2 million (US$9.46 million) by July 15 -- faces a cash crunch after months of turmoil that has dominated this country's financial headlines.

Informatics, established in 1983, offers computer and business courses, and franchises its name worldwide. It has about 660 centers in more than 50 countries, its Web site says.

In April, the company said it had overstated earnings for nine months of last year, and then saw senior executives resign.

Singapore's white-collar crime unit, the Commercial Affairs Department, is investigating the earnings misstatement.

Oei, who already owns 8.3 percent of Informatics, has a cult following among small-scale investors in Singapore, and enjoys a reputation as a savvy asset trader able to sniff out bargain opportunities.

On Friday, shareholders must decide whether the company should issue new shares and sell them to Oei for S$0.25 (US$0.15) each. If they did, he'd own a further 16.7 percent of the company's enlarged share base.

But Tan -- who last year earned a spot in the limelight after opening Malaysia's largest shopping mall -- wants to block the sale to Oei, saying it's too cheap. Informatics shares closed Friday at S$0.47, 88 percent higher than the price that could be offered to Oei.

To try to stymie Oei, Tan's Berjaya Group last week went on a buying spree, boosting its stake in Informatics to 28.2 percent, up 23 percentage points.

Tan's Berjaya companies "intend to vote against the resolution" at the special general meeting, a company statement said.