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Reit woman set to launch appeal

Cannix Yau

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Lo Siu-lan, the little old lady who caused the last-minute collapse of the world's biggest real estate investment trust (Reit), said she intends to launch her final appeal.

A final decision, however, depends on the opinion of her lawyer.

Meanwhile, acting financial secretary Frederick Ma said on Wednesday the Housing Authority, the Link Reit's underwriters and its legal advisers would re-evaluate the Link, the authority's HK$23 billion project to privatise 180 shopping centres and car park spaces.

The privatisation, involving about 950,000 square metres of retail facilities and 79,000 parking spaces, was valued at about HK$30.9 billion by independent property valuer CB Richard Ellis.

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However, that total had been widely attacked by politicians as an underestimate, with accusations the authority was selling off public assets cheaply.

Lo, the 67-year-old dole recipient and public housing tenant, was speaking for the first time on Wednesday since the Link initial public offering was shelved on Sunday night.

"I very much intend to file an appeal. But I need to consider the advice of my lawyer. I myself cannot make the decision. I will tell you all when I have an answer," she said.

Lo, who has been actively involved in an action group over public rental policy, had been in hiding and refrained from commenting on the collapse of the Link caused by her lawsuit.

The aborted listing came after the Court of Final Appeal on Friday upheld her right to an appeal period of 28 days. She has to take her case to that court before January 14.

The scrapping of the Link listing, which angered over 500,000 investors and brokers, may take a new twist with two small investors in the failed listing last Friday threatening to sue lawmakers Albert Cheng and Albert Chan for loss of investment interests.

A group of brokers are also planning to stage a rally against the pair on January 1, accusing them of masterminding the last-minute legal challenge against the Link listing, resulting in its embarrassing collapse.

It is estimated about 10,000 small investors will take part in the protest. However, Cheng remains unfazed, saying the investors should respect the rule of law in Hong Kong.

"The aborted listing has caused financial damage to them, especially the commission of the brokers. For this, I express my sympathy. But they have to bear in mind one thing: What is more important? The interests of the investors or the rule of law?" he asked.

Frederick Ma said the Housing Authority, the Link's underwriters and its legal advisers would work to remove any legal obstacles to ensure there would be no chaos when the next Link listing was launched.

Ma said the government will be happy to help with the listing.

"The Housing Authority is a statutory institution and has its own taskforce responsible for the listing," he said.

"If necessary, myself and my colleagues will be happy to help out to see how to best arrange the listing procedures. But the public should understand it is more than a listing arrangement as there are also some legal matters involved."

On the growing public squabble over the aborted listing, Ma said it is understandable that some brokers and investors will behave emotionally.

"I was also deeply disappointed because if the listing had been successful, it would have distributed the wealth to the public. Even brokers lost a good business opportunity," he said.

cannix.yau@globalchina.com

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