Wheel or imagined? Contractor's readiness for Hong Kong Ferris wheel questioned

Rival bidder for contract to put up harbourside Ferris wheel says the winner 'has no wheel'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 4:58am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 2:17pm

The capability of the company chosen by the government to build Hong Kong’s answer to the London Eye has been cast into doubt by a rival who lost out in the race to take on the big-wheel project.

In May last year the Lands Department awarded a three-year contract to Swiss AEX, allowing it to operate an observation wheel in front of Central Pier berths nine and 10 for a monthly rent of HK$850,000.

The site has been vacant for a year, but preparatory work now appears to have begun with the arrival of several large containers.

However, an executive with Freij Entertainment, which was among five companies to bid for the contract, questioned whether Swiss AEX could finish the job before its contract ran out.

“The company has no wheel” for Hong Kong, chief executive Freij El Zein said.

He said the only wheel that Swiss AEX currently operates is in Bangkok. And even if the company was building a new wheel, it would take years to get the necessary permits. It took El Zein two years to secure permits to build the wheel he planned to bring to Hong Kong, he said.

“If the government gave us approval, [our] wheel could be in Hong Kong in two weeks,” he said.

According to the government’s tender document, the company with the highest combined “score” based on rent offer and technical performance would be awarded the wheel project. The rent score carried a weighting of 60 per cent.

El Zein was puzzled when his company lost out. His firm offered to pay a monthly rent of HK$962,000. That’s HK$112,000 more than Swiss AEX.

He also claimed Freij is the more experienced company; it was set up in 1987 and owns 27 Ferris wheels.

A Swiss AEX spokeswoman who gave the surname Hansol told the Post in an e-mail that a new wheel had already been constructed for Hong Kong.

“The wheel has been shipped from its construction factory and [the] first parts have arrived already in Hong Kong,” she said.

The Lands Department said Swiss AEX had been paying its rent and that its submissions to government departments for relevant licences were being processed.

“Should the tenant fail to comply with the terms and conditions of the tenancy agreement, the Lands Department would take appropriate enforcement actions,” a spokesman added.

Swiss AEX’s website is under construction. Company records show Leon Snep, a Dutch national, is the company’s director of Swiss AEX.

According to the website rouedeparis.com, which proclaims “presented by Leon Snep”, Snep bought a transportable wheel, La Grande Roue de Paris, in 2005.

The Post found a website for Swiss AEX was under construction, but another one with the URL rouedeparis.com v states that it is “presented by Leon Snep”, and claims Snep bought a transportable Ferris wheel, La Grande Roue de Paris, in 2005.

“If you are interested in booking La Grande Roue de Paris for your city, please do not hesitate to contact us,” the website states.

El Zein said Snep does not own the wheel, because Freij Entertainment bought it “around 2008”. The Swiss AEX spokeswoman said that companies affiliated with Snep operated the wheel between 2005 and 2009.

The wheel was then sold because it had reached the end of its lifetime, she said. “Neither Swiss AEX, nor any person related to Swiss AEX, owns or is claiming ownership of Roue De Paris.”

Switzerland-based Ronald Bussink, the original designer and supplier of Roue de Paris, said the wheel had been with Snep-affiliated Magic Fair Attractions in the Netherlands before it went bankrupt in 2007.

“Then the wheel was sold … to Freij Entertainment who still currently own and operate the RDP [wheel] in Rimini, Italy. A Swiss AEX company is absolutely unknown to us as a wheel owner or buyer,” he wrote in an email.

Other sources with knowledge of the European amusement industry have said that before 2005 Snep was a low-ranking worker. In 2005 he reportedly became involved in multimillion-euro amusement rides in his native Netherlands, but may have left the continent in 2008 after business went downhill.