Debt-plagued Lai Sun Development (LSD) plans to raise $3 billion from hotel and property sales in an attempt to cut debts to $7 billion within a year. It said two rights issues announced this week to raise about $1.5 billion had lifted the immediate loan-repayment pressure. Lam Kin-ming, director of LSD and parent Lai Sun Garment (International), said the group would have faced 'big problems' without the cash calls. 'The rights issues were agreed by the lenders and they have stopped calling us now,' he said after the annual general meetings of four group companies yesterday. Earmarked for disposal are stakes in the Four Seasons Hotel in New York and the Regent Beverly Wiltshire Hotel in Los Angeles, held through hotel arm Lai Sun Hotels International. Mr Lam said a legal notice by a prospective buyer would not affect the group's plan to sell the Four Seasons. The buyer wanted to argue for exclusivity in the talks. The group had received several offers for the Four Seasons, one of more than US$400 million. Development project sales were expected to generate about HK$1.5 billion. Mr Lam, eldest son of Lai Sun group chairman Lim Por-yen, said the rights issues would solve its immediate funding problems. However, they drew criticism from some minority shareholders. One, a holder of 10,000 LSD shares who identified himself only as Mr Ho, lamented the absence of Mr Lim, who he said would have taken care of minority shareholders. Mr Lim has been indicted in Taiwan for alleged corruption. He was released on bail after being arrested in December last year but bail terms do not allow him to leave the island. Mr Lam said it was not a matter of fairness but of survival. The rights issues would be good for the company and minority shareholders. Another shareholder said she was unhappy with the management because the company had announced two rights issues within six months. LSD and Lai Sun Garment shares fell heavily this week after announcement of the rights issues, to be made at deep discounts to the companies' share prices. The Lai Sun group has been hit hard by the property market downturn this year after expanding aggressively during last year's bull market. At its peak, Lai Sun Development's gearing was more than 60 per cent after the US$6.9 billion purchase last year of Furama Hotel Enterprises, whose main asset is the Furama Hotel in Central. LSD has been selling assets since the start of this year but its gearing still is at 50 per cent and it has debts of HK$10 billion. Of that, $1.8 billion has to be repaid next year. The company's target is to lower its gearing to below 40 per cent in a year. Scheduled property sales next year include its joint-venture residential project at the first phase of the Kowloon Station on the airport railway and a residential project in Yuen Long. The group would continue to dispose of its investment properties - Crocodile House One and Two, LSD director Julius Lau Shu-yan said. LSD this week proposed a one-for-one rights issue at 50 cents a share to raise between $884 million and $998 million before expenses. Lai Sun Garment announced a $575 million four-for-one rights issue at 50 cents per share, together with a $39 million new share placement at $1.25 per share to Far East Consortium International and Yoshiya International. Following the deals, Nan Fung Development's Chen Din-hwa will become LSD's second-largest single shareholder with a 24.12 per cent stake. LSD said Mr Chen had not shown any intention to join the board of directors but it did not rule out the possibility.