Co-founder of Ku De Ta club goes to court in new twist

The former Ku De Ta club - now called Ce La Vi - located on the 57th floor of Marina Bay Sands.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The former Ku De Ta club, which opened in 2010 at Marina Bay Sands to much fanfare, is at the centre of yet another legal dispute.

Mr Chris Au, a Singapore-based Hong Kong businessman who co-founded the club, since renamed Ce La Vi, has sued his former business partners for conspiring to steal his rightful share of the club.

On Jan 30, 2014, French luxury group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton reportedly paid $100 million for a 51 per cent stake in the swish club on the 57th floor of Marina Bay Sands' SkyPark. The purchase was made through LVMH's investment arm L Capital.

In court papers filed in the High Court last week, Mr Au said he should have received more than $33.7 million from the deal but was denied because of "a conspiracy... designed to deprive (him) of his shareholding and rights in Ku De Ta, a company that he founded and made successful".

He named a staggering 10 defendants in his writ of summons, including four former business partners and L Capital.

The Singapore permanent resident said in court papers that he held 35.5 per cent of Kudeta BVI - which owned the Ku De Ta Singapore nightclub - and that there was an agreement to buy out his interest for $33.7 million using funds from L Capital's acquisition.

But on Jan 29, 2014, a day before the acquisition, Mr Au said his former business partners got the Hong Kong court to freeze his assets without his knowledge.

The court order was served on him only a week later, said Mr Au, adding that he would not have proceeded with the acquisition had he known of the court order.

He said L Capital was aware of the court order to freeze his assets, but "intentionally and wilfully chose not (to) warn or inform" him.

As a result of the actions by his former business partners and L Capital, he said he "has not received a single cent that he is entitled to".

The rift between Mr Au and the club's new owners continued even after the club sale, the court papers showed. For example, he charged that he was wrongfully removed as a board director in July last year after he warned the board of mismanagement of the club. Examples included appointing a chief executive without relevant experience and failure to comply with "basic corporate governance requirements such as holding quarterly board meetings".

He also accused his four business partners of unlawfully conspiring to break into his laptop and hacking into his e-mail account to steal personal and business information.

The lawsuit is the latest twist in a high-profile saga that started in 2014.

Barely after Ku De Ta was taken over by LVMH, shareholders began waging a legal battle in Hong Kong over the distribution of proceeds.

Shareholders Komal Patel - also known as Karl Patel - and Harilaos Apostolides claim in Hong Kong court papers that they each hold 24.17 per cent of Kudeta BVI. They also claim that Mr Au owns the same amount, a figure that Mr Au is challenging.

The Hong Kong trial is set for later this year. But even before the trial, Mr Au already had two run-ins with Justice Kevin Zervos.

In November last year, Mr Au asked that the judge recuse himself because of professional links with Mr Apostolides' brother, but the judge declined.

In August 2014, the same judge said Mr Au had given false evidence in Singapore about his interest in Ku De Ta and it merited referral to the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) in Singapore.

But when contacted last week, an AGC spokesman said: "There appears to be no record of a referral from the Hong Kong High Court."

TIMELINE OF THE SAGA

SEPTEMBER 2010

Ku De Ta Singapore opens at the SkyPark on the 57th storey of Marina Bay Sands. The club, which is a play on the phrase "coup d'etat", was named after a popular Bali beach club. Its $50 cover charge, including one drink, was the priciest in town.

DECEMBER 2010

The owners of the Bali Ku De Ta beach club sued the Singapore club for trademark violation, arguing that one of the partners did not have the right to license the name to the Singapore club.

NOVEMBER 2013

The High Court ruled that the Singapore club can keep its Ku De Ta name. The Bali club owners appealed.

JANUARY 2014

French luxury group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton reportedly paid $100 million for a 51 per cent stake in the Singapore club.

JANUARY 2014 TO NOVEMBER 2015

Multiple lawsuits in Hong Kong among the shareholders over the splitting of sales proceeds.

DECEMBER 2014

The Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision and ruled that the Singapore licensor does not own the trademark. 2014 The club reportedly generated $43 million in revenues. MAY 2015 The Court of Appeal ruled that the local club cannot use the Ku De Ta name.

JUNE 2015

The club was renamed Ce La Vi.

MAY 2016

Mr Chris Au, co-founder of the club, sues his former business partners and the club's majority owner L Capital in Singapore.

Who's who in the lawsuit

PLAINTIFF

  • Mr Chris Au, Hong Kong businessman who is a permanent resident in Singapore and co-founder of Ku De Ta

DEFENDANTS

  • Mr Komal Patel, British national, one of the original shareholders of Ku De Ta
  • Mr Jason Mark Cohen, Hong Kong resident, one of the original shareholders of Ku De Ta
  • Mr Harilaos Apostolides, Australian national, a shareholder of Ku De Ta
  • Mr Cheong Yew Kuan, Malaysia citizen, investor in Ku De Ta
  • Rocky Cape International, a British Virgin Islands Registration company
  • Essence Investments, a Marshall Islands Registration company
  • L Capital KDT
  • L Capital Asia
  • Mr Shantanu Mukerji, managing director of L Capital Asia
  • Mr Ravinder Singh Thakran, managing partner and chairman of L Capital Asia

tohyc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 23, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

Purchase this article for republication.

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