Exclusive: Head of oil trader Hin Leong didn't disclose $800 million losses - court filing

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The founder and director of Singapore oil-trading company Hin Leong Trading Pte Ltd (HLT) directed the firm not to disclose hundreds of millions of dollars in losses over several years, he said in a court filing reviewed by Reuters.

The affidavit signed by Lim Oon Kuin, a Singaporean in his 70s widely known as O.K. Lim, is part of a Friday filing to the Singapore High Court by HLT and subsidiary Ocean Tankers (Pte) Ltd, seeking a six-month moratorium on debts of $3.85 billion to 23 banks.

The filing cites a collapse in the oil price and the coronavirus pandemic, which has hammered oil demand and pushed up costs for HLT, one of Asia’s largest oil traders.

Despite reporting net profit of $78.2 million for the business year ended in October, “HLT has not been making profits in the last few years,” Lim said in the filing, which has not been made public.

The company “suffered about US$800 million in futures losses over the years but these were not reflected in the financial statements”, he said. “In this regard, I had given instructions to the finance department to prepare the accounts without showing the losses and told them that I would be responsible if anything went wrong.”

Reuters was the first to disclose the existence of Lim’s affidavit spelling out the losses and his acknowledgement of personal responsibility for not reporting them. Bloomberg cited the $800 million in losses in a report late on Sunday.

Lim, reached by phone, declined comment to Reuters.

Patrick Ang, managing partner at Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP, which is advising Hin Leong, also declined to comment when contacted by e-mail.

Lim’s son Evan Lim Chee Meng, a director at HLT and Ocean Tankers who also submitted a signed affidavit with the debt-moratorium request, did not respond to an email requesting comment.

There was no response from HLT and Ocean Tankers to Reuters queries sent over the weekend.

Societe Generale said it was a lender to Hin Leong but declined further comment. The remaining 22 banks named in the filing declined to comment or did not respond to emailed requests in the past several days.

The affidavit, which said Lim was resigning immediately as director of the family-held company he founded half a century ago from a single delivery truck, did not specify over how many years the losses were incurred or why he was blaming HLT’s difficulties on problems that arose largely in the past few months.

Under Singapore law, Friday’s filing automatically protects HLT from legal action by creditors for 30 days while the court decides whether to grant the six-month debt-repayment extension.

Lim said in the filing that HLT had held a video conference on Tuesday with creditors and advisers “to inform bank lenders of HLT’s financial position”, which it said included liabilities of $4.05 billion against assets of $714 million as of April 9.

A two-thirds drop in oil prices in the first three months of this year, a tightening of bank credit lines and margin calls at HLT caused a “severe depletion” of the company’s cash reserves, Lim said in the filing.

HLT recorded payments to meet the margin calls as accounts receivable, the company sold “a substantial part of inventory” being financed by banks to raise cash and it did not sufficiently hedge its exposure to a fall in oil prices, Lim said.

PetroChina International (Singapore) Pte Ltd, the trading arm of state-owned Chinese energy giant PetroChina Co Ltd, has terminated petroleum sales contracts with HLT and demanded an immediate payment of $23.87 million, Lim said. PetroChina did not immediately respond to requests for comment by email and phone.

HLT may file more affidavits with further information, including a list of its 20 largest unsecured and unrelated creditors, Lim said.

HLT could also potentially owe Ocean Tankers up to $2.67 billion for cargoes that the shipping company is unable to deliver, Lim said.

Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan, Seng Li Peng, Chen Aizhu and Roslan Khasawneh; Additional reporting by Anshuman Daga; Editing by William Maclean, William Mallard and David Goodman