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WongPartnership applies to discharge itself from representing Hyflux

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A bombshell has dropped just as it seemed that Hyflux was inching closer to the finish line in sealing the deal with rescue investor Utico.

A BOMBSHELL has dropped just as it seemed that Hyflux was inching closer to the finish line in sealing the deal with rescue investor Utico.

At the High Court hearing on Wednesday, Justice Aedit Abdullah said that the troubled water treatment firm's lawyers from WongPartnership, led by Manoj Sandrasegara, had applied to discharge themselves due to difficulties relating to "loss of confidence and good cause" in working with the client.

Justice Abdullah made reference to issues relating to assurances given to the court about adviser fees at the November 2019 hearing, and said that "there seems to be some conflict between (both sides) about the instructions and the factual basis for the assurance".

He thus adjourned the hearing to Feb 20 to give the company and WongPartnership time to resolve the conflict, failing which, Hyflux may have to consider alternative representation. The adjournment was accompanied by a short, four-week extension of the debt moratorium until Feb 28.

There will also be a pre-trial conference to be held in a week's time.

Justice Abdullah called WongPartnership's application a "significant development which needs to be resolved one way or another".

Pointing out that there remain concerns by the unsecured working group regarding other financial advisers' payments, and questions over whether the scheme will be supported, he said he hoped that these matters can be resolved by the next hearing.

When leaving the courtroom, both Mr Sandrasegara and Eddee Ng, senior partner at Tan Kok Quan Partnership which represents the unsecured working group comprising seven unsecured banks, declined to comment.

On Tuesday night, white knight Utico had proposed to increase the pot for adviser fees from S$40 million to S$50 million if it receives support from all advisers for the Hyflux scheme and restructuring agreement at Wednesday's court hearing. On the other hand, Utico said the pot will shrink to S$30 million if the advisers fail to support the scheme at the hearing.

All that was before the sudden and, in Justice Abdullah's words, "unfortunate" turn of events at the hearing on Wednesday morning.