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APRIL 21, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 15 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK


Illustration by Emilio Rivera III

Business Buzz
Singtel Throws Time A Line
By ASSIF SHAMEEN

Just when people were starting to count it out, SingTel found another bell to ring. Having been humiliated by Richard Li's Pacific Century CyberWorks in the battle for Cable & Wireless HKT, Singapore's dominant telco went out of its way April 7 to snatch a stake in Malaysia's troubled Time dotCom. SingTel is buying 14.5% of debt-ridden parent Time Engineering, 20% of wholly owned subsidiary Time dotCom and 20% of new Internet service provider Time Online. Time Engineering itself is part of the politically well-connected Renong Group, run by an associate of Malaysian Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin.

Under court protection from creditors until April 28, Time Engineering owes banks more than $1.3 billion and needs money fast. In January it evaded a court-mandated auction of its telecommunications assets, then followed up by dot-comming itself. Shares in Time Engineering skyrocketed - up nearly 1,200% from the lows of 20 months ago.

Apparently, there is something in the deal for almost everyone. SingTel will rescue some of its pride and, with its share of Time dotCom, gain access to 3,600 kilometers of optical fiber through the length and breadth of its "hinterland," peninsular Malaysia. Time Engineering will get the cash to pay creditors and avoid what would have been almost certain liquidation.

In Singapore, the deal is being seen as political. Government-linked SingTel is helping out a high-profile Malaysian company even though the Malaysian press is turning the heat on Singapore - over, among other things, renegotiating its water-supply contract. Last month Malaysia and Singapore ended the fracas over $4-billion worth of frozen Malaysian shares formerly traded on Singapore's CLOB market. A sign of rapprochement and closer ties? Let's see how the Time deal works out. One unresolved issue: whether or not Time dotCom will have sole ownership of the 3,600 km of cable.

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

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