A liquidator trying to recover at least $140m from an Indonesian shipping group controlled by the late President Suharto’s youngest son was in “active discussions” over the weekend on a resolution to the three-year dispute over a subsidiary that an English court has ruled was “cleaned out” of its assets.
Cosimo Borrelli was undertaking the discussions after Theo Lekatompessy, chief executive of Jakarta-listed Humpuss Intermoda Transportasi, on Thursday for the first time met some of the international shipowners that have brought multiple legal actions to recover their debts from the company.
The talks were aimed at avoiding a still more prolonged legal battle in one of the most eye-catching disputes to follow the collapse of the shipping market in recent years.
At stake are the significant sums that courts and arbitrators have ruled Humpuss Sea Transport, HIT’s Singapore-based subsidiary, should have paid to creditors, including a company owned by Greece’s Polemis family and Korea’s Hanjin Shipping.
However, there remains a strong possibility the settlement efforts will fail and that Borrelli, HST’s liquidator, and Marianne Brookes, the London-based solicitor for Empire Chemical Tanker Holdings, the Polemis’s vehicle, will be forced to continue worldwide legal action against HIT.
Lekatompessy, who was appointed only in February, insisted HIT was open to a solution. But the company had insufficient funds to reimburse the creditors fully and it was time to look to the future.
“It’s a matter of how much can I pay,” Lekatompessy said. “We’re businesspeople. I personally don’t do business for yesterday – I do it for tomorrow.”
The dispute is one of scores worldwide between shipowners and companies that chartered vessels during the 2002-08 shipping boom to profit from ships’ fast-rising earning power. A worldwide glut since of most ship types – including the chemical tankers that HST chartered – has driven earnings down and left many operators struggling to meet their obligations.
Humpuss’s affairs have drawn particular attention because Hutomo Mandala Putra, known as Tommy Suharto, controls 60 per cent of PT Humpuss, owner of 68 per cent of HIT. Putra, who remains a high-profile figure in Indonesia, was convicted in 2002 of arranging the murder of a judge who had overseen his conviction for corruption. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail – later reduced to ten. He was released in 2006.