Australian firm ponders legal action as Alphabet Media walks away from debt claims

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 9.51.47 AMThe boss of a Sydney consultancy is considering legal action against Singapore publishing company Alphabet Media after the firm told debt collectors it has no money to pay him and “no time” for dealing with his claims.

Peter Hind is one of several debtors seeking payment from Alphabet Media which closed its Australian office earlier this year amid a series of claims of unpaid debts from Australian suppliers and conference speakers.

It has emerged that publisher of FutureGov is facing three law suits over outstanding payment alleged to be worth more than S$1 million (A$953,000).

Debt collectors moved in on the premises of Alphabet Media in Singapore’s central business district of Tanjong Pagar to recoup $15,000 owed to Hind, who penned reports for FutureGov.

But on making contact with the company’s founder, James Smith, the debt collector was told that Alphabet had no funds to reimburse Hind.

A note from the debt collector, shared with Mumbrella, reads: “I managed to speak to Mr James [Smith], the director. However he was very rude when he spoke to me, told me that his company has no income now and has no time for this. He refused to talk further and walked off within a short while without trying to resolve this amicably or provide any payment plan to settle the debt.”

Hind claims he was told by Alphabet Media that the first of five instalments for his work would be paid in February this year, but he has yet to receive any payment. He also said he is considering legal action, but he will have to join a queue of claims mounting against the company.

The circumstances surrounding the demise of the Sydney office also remain unclear with Alphabet Media founder and managing director James Smith claiming staff resigned en masse following frustrations over how events were being run. But that was countered by reports that the Australian team was let go at the same time the company axed its events arm in Singapore.

Other debtors include Ellen Quek and Mohit Sagar, who were both publically blamed for the failure of Alphabet’s events arm and dismissed by Smith late last year. Both are taking claims of outstanding salary and commission to court.

Sagar, who was Smith’s number two, MD for conferences and owner of 15 per cent of the company’s shares, is suing for S$649,000.97 in outstanding paymen while Quek, who was GM of conferences and the company’s main revenue earner, is suing for S$374.868.64 in unpaid salary and commission.

Robert Half International Pte, a Singapore-based recruitment services firm, is also taking Alphabet Media to court, according to a document from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority of Singapore obtained by Mumbrella.

Alphabet Media ACRA business profile

Since leaving Alphabet at the start of the year, Sagar and Quek have set up a rival public sector events brand to FutureGov called OpenGov. The company’s first hire was Vinita Penna, who was part of Alphabet Media’s events team that was axed soon after Quek and Sagar’s departure.

Penna took legal proceedings against Alphabet over $3,500 in unpaid salary after she left, but she was quietly reimbursed on the night before the labour tribunal hearing was due.

Penna’s claim came six months after the labour tribunal found in favour of former sales executive Fiona Cher, who was owed over S$2,700 (US$2,160) in outstanding salary by Alphabet.

Other parties claiming they are owed money by the company founded by Smith in 2003 include government officials in Australia and the Philippines, who say they have not been reimbursed for travel expenses.

Post on FutureGov's Facebook page

Former associates of Alphabet Media have started to take to social media to attack the company. Werasak Kurutach, the vice president of Thailand’s Mahanakorn University of Technology, posted on FutureGov’s Facebook page last month that he is owed money dating back two years.

The news emerges in the same week as Alphabet Media held a major event in Singapore, the FutureGov Awards at the Raffles Hotel, with sponsors shown on the company’s website including Visa, AdNovum, eG Innovations, Sitecore and Pacific Tech.

Smith has not responded to Mumbrella’s request for comment.

Robin Hicks

  • Disclaimer: The author of this story was an employee of Alphabet Media from February 2009 – December 2010.

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