19 July 2018
A | A

Malaysia hires Singapore law firm to recover seized 1MDB assets here

Straits Times
19 Jul 2018
Grace Leong

Singapore law firm Tan Rajah & Cheah has been appointed to recover assets seized by the Singapore authorities following investigations into the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

Mr Imran Khwaja, a partner in the firm, yesterday confirmed it is "looking into the recovery of certain assets in Singapore belonging to the government of Malaysia and/or 1MDB". The 1MDB investigations were reopened by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad after the defeat of former premier Najib Razak in the May 9 elections. Mr Imran said he was unable to discuss the matter when asked by The Straits Times what and how much assets the Malaysian government is seeking to recover, and what legal action has been taken to date.

According to Bernama, Malaysia appointed the law firm to file an application for orders in the Singapore High Court against 53 companies and individuals, including fugitive Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, to recover monies belonging to 1MDB.

About $240 million in assets had been seized by the Singapore authorities following investigations in July 2016. About half are said to belong to Mr Low and his family, including two luxury apartments at TwentyOne Angullia Park in Orchard Boulevard, which were bought in 2013 for $54 million. The authorities did not identify the owner of the remaining $120 million in assets.

The Bernama report also said Malaysia's Attorney-General Tommy Thomas met his Singapore counterpart Lucien Wong recently to facilitate the return of the 1MDB assets. When asked, an Attorney-General's Chambers spokesman said: "Assets seized by the Singapore authorities will be dealt with in accordance with the law. The Singapore law firm appointed by the Malaysian government has contacted us in relation to the seized assets traceable to 1MDB. We are unable to comment further as investigations are ongoing."

If the defendants are Singapore residents and have assets and monies here, it makes sense to engage Singapore lawyers to start legal proceedings here, said a partner of Gibson Dunn law firm, Mr Robson Lee. "The possible claims could be legal actions for monies had and received by the defendants and/or applications to the Singapore court to declare the defendants liable on constructive trust in favour of 1MDB in respect of payments which constitute unjust enrichment," he said.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Ryobi Kiso Holdings slapped with more letters of demand

Business Times
11 Jul 2018
Marissa Lee

Ground engineering solutions firm Ryobi Kiso Holdings has been hit by more letters of demand from its creditors.

On Tuesday, the firm said that it had received a letter of demand from HSBC for the sum of S$789,344.15. Its subsidiary, Ryobi Kiso (S), has also received a letter of demand from Standard Chartered Bank for the sum of S$937,450.82. In addition, certain bond holders have sent the company a letter of demand alleging that an event of default has occurred, and are seeking a S$1.75 million repayment.

Last week, the group said it had received letters of demand for S$23.1 million from other financial institutions. The claims came from American Express International, Bank of China, CIMB Bank, Hong Leong Finance, KBC Bank, and Maybank. Ryobi Kiso warned then that these letters of demand might trigger cross default provisions in other banking facilities and project contracts of the group.

Separately, Ryobi Kiso (S) has also received letters of demand from various creditors and its related companies for an aggregate sum of S$6.21 million. Legal proceedings have been commenced against RKS by certain creditors for an aggregate sum of S$235,711.14.

Another subsidiary, Ryobi Development, has also received a letter of demand from its related company for the sum of S$1 million.

Ryobi Kiso appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers as its independent financial adviser to work out a restructuring proposal on June 27, and halted its share trading that same day. Trading has remained suspended.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

AVA sting nets seller of illegal wildlife

Straits Times
01 Jul 2018
Audrey Tan

A ball python being kept illegally was rescued by Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) inspectors on Friday from an HDB flat in south-eastern Singapore.

Acting on a tip-off, the inspectors waited an hour for the owner of the flat to return, and then walked out 45 minutes later with the tank containing the snake, which is a native of Africa.

The species is often poached for the pet trade. It has been handed over to Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), said AVA.

The python is among other illegally traded wildlife seized recently by AVA officers.

In May, AVA also seized a tortoise and a skink from a seller, who had listed the reptiles for sale online. Like with the ball python, AVA said it was alerted to the online advertisement by a member of the public.

"Posing as an interested buyer, we met the alleged seller, who offered an African spurred tortoise and a blue-tongued skink for sale," said an AVA spokesman.

The seller, whom AVA did not name, was uncooperative and attempted unsuccessfully to escape multiple times after the officers revealed themselves, she added.

The keeping and trading of wildlife and their parts and products is illegal in Singapore. Those found guilty can be fined up to $1,000 and must forfeit the item.

If the wildlife species is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - as was the case for the African spurred tortoise - the penalties are higher.

Offenders can be fined up to $500,000, jailed two years, or both. Specimens will also be forfeited.

Between 2013 and last year, AVA handled about 150 cases of illegal wildlife, most of which involved live animals intended as pets. But these figures merely scrape the surface of the black market in Singapore for trade in animals and their parts.

WRS, which also received the animals from the sting in May, has received over 1,900 confiscated animals over the last 10 years, said Dr Sonja Luz, its director for conservation, research and veterinary services. WRS operates the wildlife parks in Singapore, including the zoo, and many of the confiscated animals that survive or are not euthanised because of their condition are retained in the parks. Repatriation is usually not an option.

Singapore has long been flagged by international environmental groups as a major transshipment hub for ill-begotten wildlife, which eventually make their way to other countries in the region, where there is greater demand for them.

A spokesman for the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore said: "Singapore's strong transport connectivity means that it is often implicated in this illegal trade, with organisations or syndicates moving products from source to final destination through its shores."

As the illegal wildlife trade is globally connected, any measures on Singapore's part to address its role as a transit hub would have significant impact on reducing it, she said.

Dr Anna Wong, director of AVA's import and export regulation department, said it has a multi-pronged approach to tackling the problem. This includes monitoring animal retailers and online platforms, as well as keeping an eye out on Singapore's checkpoints.

She added that AVA has a risk assessment framework in place that uses risk profiles and information such as country of origin and next port of call to flag shipments for screening and further inspection.

Travellers passing through the checkpoints are also screened. But tackling the trade requires action on all fronts, she said. The public can help by not buying illegal wildlife or their parts and products.


Cases of illegal wildlife - most of which involved live animals intended as pets - handled by AVA between 2013 and last year

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Singapore allows dynamic site blocking in landmark court ruling

Straits Times
19 Jul 2018
Irene Tham

Any Web address linking to blocked piracy sites can now be blocked as well

Copyright holders have scored a landmark victory in Singapore with an unprecedented court order allowing any Web address linked to blocked piracy websites to be blocked too.

Last Thursday, the High Court issued the order for "dynamic site blocking" in favour of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

This means Internet service providers (ISPs) Singtel, StarHub, M1, MyRepublic and ViewQwest - which were ordered in May to block 53 piracy websites including The Pirate Bay and Solarmovie.sc - have to also block other Web addresses that point users to the 53 infringing sites when the MPAA asks ISPs for it.

This landmark ruling targets a common method employed by piracy website owners which lets users sidestep blocked content by using alternative Web addresses.

For instance, if xmovies8.com is blocked, new alternatives such as xmovies8.es or xmovies8.nu would pop up to provide access to the same content, rendering the original site blocking ineffective.

In the past, content owners had to make separate applications to the High Court in order to block each alternative Web address. This is no longer necessary, putting Singapore ahead of jurisdictions in Australia and Hong Kong, among others.

"In Singapore, these 53 sites are responsible for a major portion of copyright infringement of films and television shows," an MPAA spokesman told The Straits Times.

The MPAA's six member studios are Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures Industries, Disney Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox Film, Universal City Studios Production and Warner Bros Entertainment.

The 53 piracy sites, accessed via hundreds of different Web addresses, carry the latest box office hits such as American superhero films Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2, and a host of other movies and TV shows.

Mr Benjamin Ang, president of the Singapore chapter of the non-profit Internet Society, said the masses will find it difficult to access illegal content. Even so, site blocking is not foolproof.

"This can become a game of whack-a-mole, where some consumers and suppliers try different kinds of technical loopholes to overcome the order and get to the blocked content," he added.

For instance, users can still sidestep blocking by using legitimate virtual private network technologies, available online and commonly used in corporations to secure their Internet access.

A spokesman for the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore said: "We are glad to see rights holders utilising the legal framework that we have put in place to protect their copyright works."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Regulatory enforcement is key to rebuilding trust in market

Business Times
11 Jul 2018
Mak Yuen Teen

SGX, other regulators must ensure proper investigations and enforcement

Several years ago, a few Malaysian directors were in town for a conference. As I was driving them to dinner, one of the directors said he had been reprimanded by Bursa Malaysia for breaches of listing rules. Rather coincidentally, that director's phone rang. The call was from his company secretary telling him that the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) required him to go to its office for a meeting about the company for which he had been reprimanded. He complained about being called up by the CCM since he had already been reprimanded by the stock exchange.

I said that just because a director has been sanctioned by the stock exchange does not mean that he will not face further sanctions from statutory regulators. I explained that the stock exchange only sanctions directors for breaches of listing rules, while other statutory regulators may take action for breaches of company law, securities law and other legislation.

I am not sure if what I said affected his appetite.

Corporate governance rules are like an onion, with company law at its core and other laws, regulations, rules and codes being the additional layers. Very importantly, key corporate rules such as those relating to duties of directors and shareholder rights are in company law. While the company regulator in a particular jurisdiction may have limited investigation and enforcement powers, it is nevertheless often the regulator responsible in the first instance for administering company law.

Similarly, when it comes to market misconduct such as insider trading, while the SGX plays the primary role in monitoring and detecting possible breaches, other regulators must play their role to ensure proper investigations and enforcement.

Effective regulatory enforcement requires each regulator to play its role. While SGX is the frontline regulator for listed companies here, we cannot pile all regulatory responsibilities on it or take the view that regulatory actions begin and end with it. Although we can consider broadening the types of breaches that SGX could enforce (such as including directors' duties in listing rules as is done in Hong Kong), and review whether the structure and resources are appropriate for SGX to effectively discharge its regulatory role, other regulators must also play their part.

The importance of effective enforcement to the development of capital markets is supported by academic research and recognised by multilateral organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The first of the six OECD Principles of Corporate Governance states: "The corporate governance framework should promote transparent and fair markets, and the efficient allocation of resources. It should be consistent with the rule of law and support effective supervision and enforcement."

It further adds: "Public authorities should have effective enforcement and sanctioning powers to deter dishonest behaviour and provide for sound corporate governance practices. In addition, enforcement can also be pursued through private action, and the effective balance between public and private enforcement will vary depending upon the specific features of each jurisdiction."


In Michelle Quah's excellent commentary "Sakae case: Who's blowing the whistle on corporate Singapore?" (BT, July 4), she asked where the corporate and market regulators have been, after the Court of Appeal ruled in Sakae Holdings' favour in its long-running battle against former director Andy Ong. The legal battle reportedly cost the company S$11 million in legal fees - an amount that few companies and shareholders could afford or would be willing to spend. Given the unavailability of contingency-based class actions here, ordinary shareholders stand little chance in enforcing their rights. Cost aside, private actions and regulatory actions have different objectives, and are complements rather than substitutes within the corporate governance eco-system. Given the limitations in private enforcement here, public enforcement becomes particularly important.

The OECD also emphasises that the division of responsibilities among different authorities should be clearly articulated and that effective enforcement also requires that the allocation of responsibilities for supervision, implementation and enforcement among different authorities is clearly defined. Greater clarity and transparency about responsibilities, resources and activities for different regulatory bodies would enhance their accountability and help increase trust in the regulatory regime.

For example, SGX and other regulatory agencies can each disclose, on an annual basis, the resources available to them, summary statistics on cases under investigation and enforcement actions taken (and the categories of organisations and individuals and types of breaches), and the number of cases referred to other regulatory agencies for possible follow-up. This way, the regulatory regime becomes less of a "black box".

In Hong Kong and Malaysia, both the securities regulator and stock exchange disclose detailed enforcement statistics, including information about the types of breaches for which enforcement action is taken, and in some cases, even statistics on investigations that are being initiated or in progress.

Such transparency builds confidence among investors in the integrity of the market and also sends an important signal to directors, officers and other market players about the lack of tolerance for various types of misconduct. Summary statistics about ongoing investigations are particularly important given the length of time often taken for enforcement actions.

It is also noteworthy that independent directors are often not spared such enforcement actions. For instance, just for this year until July 6, the Hong Kong Exchange has taken action against independent directors (together with other directors) in six companies.

The OECD principles also warn about potentially conflicting objectives faced by regulators, for example, where the same institution is charged with attracting business and sanctioning violations. Such conflicts are best avoided, or should minimally be managed through clear governance provisions.

Potential conflicts in discharging regulatory responsibilities are now generally well recognised when stock exchanges undertake frontline regulatory roles - even if the solutions often still leave something to be desired. However, it is not only stock exchanges that face potential conflicting objectives in discharging their regulatory responsibilities - statutory regulators do too.

When shareholders and other stakeholders "blow the whistle" on potential misconduct to regulators and provide substantial evidence to support their allegations, regulators must take these complaints seriously. Regulators should investigate when incontrovertible evidence has been provided by whistleblowers, who lack resources and investigatory powers themselves.

We often hear regulators talking about different stakeholders playing their role in improving market integrity. If stakeholders' efforts in highlighting possible misconduct do not get the necessary support from regulators, they will stop doing it and the market will be the worse for it.

I am concerned about the loss of trust in our market and urge that more be done to improve regulatory enforcement to rebuild that trust.

The writer is an associate professor of accounting in the NUS Business School, where he specialises in corporate governance.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Extreme wildlife protection laws could hurt conservation: Forum

Straits Times
01 Jul 2018

There is a poll on the Reach Singapore website regarding the implementation of additional wildlife legislation.

It is critical that the public take a deep interest in the poll, keeping the future generations in mind.

Some of the suggestions that are made by the Wild Animals Legislation Review Committee seem rather extreme and would be disastrous if passed, as hobbies like fishing could be affected.

While poaching has always been a concern to conservationists, a species must have significant commercial importance in order for it to become severely threatened by poaching.

Elephants and tigers, hunted for their ivory and skin respectively, are great examples. But how many such species exist in Singapore?

The single biggest threat to species survival in Singapore is habitat destruction.

Designated protected areas should stay that way if possible, without being compromised by urban development (for example, expressways) or by reclamation.

If habitat destruction cannot be stopped, what is the point of keeping animals out of the general population's reach?

The Wild Animals and Birds Act is effectively keeping nature out of the reach of the general public.

If stricter laws are passed, it will be devastating to the development of the younger generation. Simple pastimes like spider catching and caterpillar catching to understand biology at a young age will be discouraged. Child development will be affected by preservationist ideals which are not realistic in the world of climate change and habitat loss.

Extreme wildlife legislation would, in fact, hamper any individual attempt to understand and help wildlife.

Wildlife preservation societies alone are insufficient in the fight against the loss of biodiversity.

This can be seen in the slow progress of amphibian conservation worldwide, with some biologists already claiming that it could be too late. In fact, efforts of private amphibian collectors are being recognised as a major boost in preventing species extinction.

Wildlife legislation has to empower people to help wildlife directly, as how Australians are empowered to help rescue native wildlife while removing invasive ones.

Sir David Attenborough, a world-renowned naturalist, suggested that Britain is losing generations of young naturalists owing to overwhelming wildlife protection laws.

He has claimed that he would never have become a naturalist if such laws had been in place during his time, as collecting bird eggs would have been deemed illegal. His interest in nature would never have developed under such laws.

This could very well be the case for Singapore should additional extreme wildlife protection laws be passed. By creating a disconnect between the public and wildlife, it sows the seeds of conservation failure and has the potential to punish young children with an interest in nature.

Laws should be passed based on the intent, as long as no direct harm comes to wildlife.

Ong Junkai

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Care and control orders in divorce cases carefully decided: Forum

Straits Times
19 Jul 2018

We agree with Mr Oh Ee Hoe (Care and control orders in divorce cases need attention; July 14) on the importance of both parents being involved in a child's upbringing. The court has long recognised this.

The law urges both parents to continue to be actively involved in the child's life even after a divorce.

Hence, the majority of custody orders made by the Family Justice Courts are joint ones, where important decisions for the child are made by both parents and the child continues to have their guidance throughout his childhood.

An unfortunate consequence of divorce is that a child has to spend different periods of time separately with each parent.

As there are significant differences between families, such as parental work schedules, location of residences and the needs of the child, there is no single arrangement that is suitable for all cases.

"Care and control" relates to which parent the child lives with primarily while "access" enables the other parent to spend time with the child.

There is a broad range of access orders that may be made, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Where a parent has extensive and liberal access, the care arrangements are practically similar to a shared care and control arrangement.

When a child has to spend different periods of time separately with each parent, the amount of time the child has for his own activities will be affected, and this is particularly significant for older children.

Thus, to ensure the child's best interests, the care and control order the court makes will always take into account the needs of the child's stage of life.

When a shared-care arrangement is considered, the court takes into account whether it is in the child's best interest to have his week divided between living in two homes. A key consideration is whether the parents are able to carry out a two-home arrangement with close cooperation, as frequent parental conflict is detrimental to the well-being of the child.

From our experience, most of the parents are able to appreciate the various factors necessary for the child's well-being and agree on arrangements for their children.

Last year, 93 per cent of concluded cases with children issues reached full agreement on these issues during mediation.

Chia Wee Kiat


Family Justice Courts

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

ADV: SUSS Law - The Human Face of Law

Singapore Law Watch
11 Jul 2018
SUSS School of Law

Sakae founder wins legal battle against ex-director

Straits Times
30 Jun 2018
Grace Leong

Court of Appeal rules substantially in favour of founder in acrimonious six-year tussle

An acrimonious six-year-long legal battle between Sakae Sushi chain founder Douglas Foo and a former Sakae Holdings director has finally ended, with the Court of Appeal ruling substantially in Mr Foo's favour.

It was a hard-won victory for Mr Foo, who told The Straits Times that the spat had "hugely impacted" how the company had performed in recent years and drained almost $11 million in legal fees from its coffers.

A High Court ruling in Mr Foo's favour in April last year found that Mr Andy Ong, along with his associates Ong Han Boon and Ho Yew Kong, had breached their fiduciary duties.

The court found they had acted improperly in several transactions in which a substantial amount of money was diverted from Griffin Real Estate Investment Holdings, of which Sakae is a minority shareholder, to entities that were either directly or indirectly related to Mr Andy Ong.

They were ordered to pay about $35 million to Griffin Real Estate Investment Holdings, which the High Court ordered to be wound up. Mr Andy Ong was also ordered to pay $2.64 million to Sakae.

The trio appealed. But the Court of Appeal upheld most of the High Court's decision, including its dismissal of Mr Andy Ong and Mr Ong Han Boon's attempts to get Mr Foo to indemnify about $37 million in penalties.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, in a judgment delivered yesterday, found that the facts of the case "present a picture of systemic abuse by Andy Ong, the key figure behind all the impugned transactions, and Ong Han Boon in relation to the management of the company's affairs.

"They misappropriated large sums from the company without Sakae's knowledge. As is evident from the numerous sham documents that were fabricated, Andy Ong and Ong Han Boon also engaged in fraudulent schemes to mislead Sakae and Foo and conceal the true nature of the transactions from them.

"Andy Ong knew that Foo trusted him and deliberately took advantage of that trust, using the company as a vehicle through which he cheated Sakae," the CJ noted.

The clearest instance of this was when Mr Andy Ong took $8 million from Griffin Real Estate Investment Holdings, diverted the money to ERC Holdings for its purchase of more than eight million of Griffin's shares, and then convinced Sakae to subscribe for an additional 2.64 million shares in Griffin, CJ Menon said in the 119-page judgment.

The Court of Appeal allowed Mr Ho's appeal, finding that the evidence did not show he had acted in breach of his fiduciary duties to Griffin Real Estate Investment Holdings. However, he had breached his duty of "care, skill and diligence" as a non-executive director by acting unthinkingly in accordance with Mr Andy Ong's directions, said the court.

Mr Foo told The Straits Times yesterday: "My wish is that Andy will do the right thing by paying what the court has ordered so the shareholders can get on with their lives."

Sakae was represented by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and Mr Jaikanth Shankar of Drew & Napier.

Mr Foo said there was money to be paid out to shareholders and investors in Bugis Cube, a commercial property at 470 North Bridge Road, and one of Griffin Real Estate's investments.

"Griffin Real Estate holds about $100 million from the sale of all commercial units from the first through fifth storeys of Bugis Cube. That money is secured by me as signatory. With this judgment, the liquidator will determine how to distribute the funds to all shareholders in Griffin Real Estate, including Sakae and about 80 minority shareholders in Bugis Cube," he said.

Gibson Dunn partner Robson Lee said: "These Bugis Cube investors had put in money through various companies controlled by Andy Ong. They should seek legal advice on whether the Court of Appeal's judgment paves the way for similar actions against the same persons and entities."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Shared care and control may not be in kids' best interests: Forum

Straits Times
19 Jul 2018

That shared care and control comprised 4 per cent of all divorce care and control orders in 2016 is not an astounding statistic (Care and control orders in divorce cases need attention, by Mr Oh Ee Hoe; July 14).

Rather, it is an encouraging one.

Having shared care and control pertains to the daily work of looking after a child, and this means that the estranged couple has to work very closely together and have a consistent parenting approach for it to be effective and optimal for the child.

What happens when the father and mother have very different temperaments and parenting styles?

What happens when the shared care and control works out in such a way that the child has to shuttle between two sets of parents on alternate weeks? What happens when one or both parents remarry?

The child has to switch between two very different household environments in quick succession and follow two differing sets of house rules, not to mention two dissimilar teaching approaches to his studies and homework.

How is this in the best interest of the child?

How is the child going to adopt a consistent set of values and habits if he is exposed to conflicting demands and antithetical parenting tones?

We do not need scientific studies to tell us that a child needs both his father and mother - that is common knowledge.

Divorce is often the last resort to a marriage that has utterly failed.

Whether the couple eventually opt for shared care and control or one parent gets full care and control while the other gets access to the child, it is up to the court and the estranged couple to decide what is the best for all parties.

This is not a decision to be anchored on statistics and especially not on scientific evidence taken out of its context.

Catherine Ang (Ms)

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Mustafa founder fails to strike out step-family's lawsuit

Straits Times
10 Jul 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Mr Mustaq Ahmad, founder of the iconic Mustafa Centre, has failed in his High Court bid to strike out his step-family's high-stakes lawsuit against him and five others.

High Court Assistant Registrar Scott Tan ruled that there was a novel and "knotty" issue to be settled, and it was not " plain and obvious" - a criterion for striking out a lawsuit. This means the case will proceed to a full trial, unless the assistant registrar's decision is reversed on appeal.

Mr Mustaq and five others are being sued for alleged oppressive conduct under the Companies Act by his step-siblings and their mother. The other defendants are his wife, two children and his brother-in-law, all directors in Mohamed Mustafa and Samsuddin Co Pte Ltd (MMSCPL), which is also named as a defendant.

In judgment grounds last week, Assistant Registrar Tan pointed to a 2012 Court of Appeal decision which cautioned that "knotty points of law requiring serious argument... should not be decided by a court exercising summary jurisdiction."

Mr Mustaq, 67, is the son of Mr Mustafa Majid Khan and Madam Momina. After his mother died, his father married Madam Asia Abid Khan and had five children.

After the patriarch died intestate on July 17, 2001, his six children and Madam Asia became beneficiaries of the Mustafa estate in varying portions under a Syariah Court Inheritance Certificate. Mr Mustaq is the sole administrator and trustee of the estate.

At issue is the Mustafa estate's 14.89 per cent stake in MMSCPL, which Mr Mustaq's half-siblings and their mother claim was the result of two company share allotments in 1995 and 2001 which diluted their interests as beneficiaries of the Mustafa estate.

They are seeking to void the share allotments and obtain a court-ordered independent expert to assess losses allegedly suffered by MMSCPL as a result of the defendants' conduct, among other things.

Denying their claims of oppressive conduct, Mr Mustaq, defended by Rajah & Tann lawyers, argued that the suit should be struck off because the plaintiffs lacked the standing as they are beneficiaries - not personal representatives - of the Mustafa estate.

While conceding that beneficiaries can sue in special circumstances, the defendants' lawyer Jonathan Yuen said the exception would not apply to the case. He added that the complaint of alleged misappropriation is a corporate wrong, not oppression, and argued that the plaintiff's claim of "wrongful share allotment" is plainly unsustainable.

The plaintiffs, through Drew & Napier lawyer Sngeeta Rai, countered that their legal standing is within the scope of the exception cited, and the issues formed the subject of an action in oppression.

Assistant Registrar Tan declined to strike out the lawsuit in whole or in part, and instead ordered amendments to the plaintiffs' statement of claim, as well as their reply and defence to the counter-claim.

He noted the plaintiffs' claim that the defendants had used their positions in MMSCPL to divert the company's assets for personal benefit is a "singularly censurable" form of oppressive conduct.

But he made clear it might well be the case that at the end of the trial, the court will find that the allegations do not make for a case in oppression, and the case could be litigated in some other way.

"The question before me, at this interlocutory stage, is whether it is so 'plain and obvious' that the complaint is one which cannot be mounted by way of an action in oppression, and for the reasons which I have outlined, I answer this question in the negative," wrote Assistant Registrar Tan.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Ayaz Ahmed and others v Mustaq Ahmad (alias Mushtaq Ahmad s/o Mustafa) and others [2018] SGHCR 10

Woman barred from raising funds for charity

Straits Times
30 Jun 2018
Theresa Tan

She allegedly cheated mums of monies raised through crowdfunding site for their sick kids

The charities watchdog has barred a woman from raising funds for charity after she allegedly cheated distressed mothers of monies raised through a crowdfunding site for their children suffering from various illnesses.

Ashlee Chua Jermaine, 32, is "not a fit and proper person" to conduct fund-raising appeals, the Commissioner of Charities said in a statement yesterday.

While the Commissioner has previously barred individuals from fund-raising, this is the first case involving donations raised through crowdfunding, its spokesman told The Straits Times.

Chua, who was also known as "Ian Ian" and "Ashley Lee", is linked to a Facebook group known as "Ian Free Milk Blessing". The group appeared to have raised funds on Give.asia, purportedly to give free formula milk to children from poor families.

The donations collected were allegedly transferred to her but when probed by the Commissioner earlier this year, Chua failed to provide the required information or any accountability on how the funds raised were used.

A spokesman for the Commissioner said it is an offence to not provide information relating to the fund-raiser when asked.

Chua, an undischarged bankrupt, is already facing a criminal case.

She was charged in court on June 23 with cheating, for allegedly inducing housewife Duong Thi Hai Nhi, a Vietnamese who lives in Singapore, into believing that she would pay the medical bills for Madam Hai Nhi's daughter. As a result, the 23-year-old Vietnamese transferred $2,163 to Chua's bank account.

Madam Hai Nhi's baby daughter was born with Apert syndrome - a genetic disorder where the skull does not grow normally and the fingers are fused together - and she needed about $55,000 for surgery. Madam Hai Nhi started a fund-raising campaign in May last year and Chua got in touch with her, said the Vietnamese woman earlier this year.

By July last year, Madam Hai Nhi had raised about $54,000 in donations on Give.asia and she allegedly transferred monies to Chua's account to pay the hospital bills.

Chua is also alleged to have cheated at least two other people who had raised funds on the same crowdfunding site, the Commissioner said. ST understands this involves the Facebook group, but the Commissioner's spokesman would not give more details as police investigations are ongoing.

Chua has been in remand since her court appearance. If convicted, she can be jailed for up to 10 years or fined.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Fighting financial crime with data analytics

Straits Times
19 Jul 2018

MAS has used method to flag suspicious fund flow networks, focus on higher-risk activities

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is using data analytics and information sharing within the financial industry to combat financial crime.

Speaking at a financial crime seminar held by the Association of Banks in Singapore, Ms Ho Hern Shin, MAS' assistant managing director, banking and insurance group, said the regulator has applied data analytics to suspicious transaction reports, which number over 25,000 annually.

These reports are flagged by financial institutions due to suspicions over illicit fund flows. "Applying data analytics to this data set has enabled us to identify suspicious fund flow networks, and focus our supervisory attention on networks of higher-risk accounts, entities or activities," she added.

MAS will also glean better machine readability of the reports' data when a revised form and reporting platform is introduced next month. Ms Ho said a report is forthcoming from an industry working group on data analytics applications.

The regulator has observed that criminals continue to misuse front companies to trade with prohibited entities or countries. This is known as proliferation financing.

Some banks - which were not identified by Ms Ho - have now been nudged into taking additional measures to identify and mitigate their proliferation financing risks.

These include corroborating shipping information provided by customers with sources from third-party service providers, such as Lloyd's List and the International Maritime Bureau.

"Some banks have also taken proactive steps to conduct a comprehensive review of their customer databases, to identify customers who have previously transacted with individuals or entities of proliferation concern, for closer scrutiny and review," she said.

Ms Ho added that a private-public partnership on money laundering and terrorism financing, launched in April last year, "has been helpful" but could be improved through the sharing of more detailed context, so financial institutions can mount more targeted checks.

While there has been greater use of digital technology to suss out financial crime, there is a risk of financial exclusion. In this regard, Ms Ho stressed that banks have a role in providing access to basic financial services, including to former offenders.

This comes as the regulator has occasionally received feedback from former offenders who have been denied a bank account. "Even though Singapore is a highly banked country, there are pockets of society that still appear to be excluded," she said.

"In today's increasingly digital economy, an individual's access to a bank account linked to card facilities is a bare necessity."

MAS will explore ideas with banks on creating basic bank accounts for individuals. The accounts should allow the customer to perform daily functions, while also holding restrictions to block the risks of the accounts being misused.

She called on the banks to be discerning in opening and maintaining customer relationships, even as the lenders adopt more fine-grained and sophisticated techniques to identify and mitigate money laundering and terrorism financing risks.

Ms Ho said the move to strengthen anti-money laundering standards is not intended "to burden banks with disproportionate monitoring of bank accounts".

"It is important to strike a balance between addressing money laundering and terrorism financing risks and meeting basic banking needs. Banks should not avoid entire classes of customers altogether."


It is important to strike a balance between addressing money laundering and terrorism financing risks and meeting basic banking needs. Banks should not avoid entire classes of customers altogether.

MS HO HERN SHIN, MAS' assistant managing director, banking and insurance group, on the risk of financial exclusion.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

S'pore Taekwondo Federation fined $30,000 for data leak

Straits Times
10 Jul 2018
Irene Tham

Privacy watchdog reminds all organisations to treat data of those under 21 with extra care

The Singapore Taekwondo Federation has been fined $30,000 by Singapore's privacy watchdog for inadvertently disclosing the personal data of 782 students online.

This is the second leak involving the personal data of minors here by a private organisation in the last two years, prompting the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) to remind all organisations that the data of those under 21 years old must be treated with extra care.

"(The) potential impact and harm cannot be ignored, especially when it involves the NRIC numbers of 782 students who were also minors, and whose personal data would thus be considered to be more sensitive in nature," said Singapore's privacy commissioner Tan Kiat How in issuing the fine.

Experts said that such exposure would allow marketers to profile and engage children, who may not have the know-how or judgment required to handle the engagements.

Children can also be easily tracked online these days as they have access to mobile devices and wearables, amplifying the risks of their exposure.

Therefore, the PDPC requires organisations to place "additional safeguards" to protect the personal data of minors. The obligations kicked in with the full enforcement of Singapore's Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) in July 2014.

The Singapore Taekwondo Federation failed to provide such safeguards.

A list containing the names, NRIC numbers and schools of the participants of the 2017 Inter-School Taekwondo Championships was not password-protected, and the organisation also did not appoint a data protection officer.

When a staff member mistakenly used the "minimise" function on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet instead of the "hide" feature, the data became visible to others when copied and pasted to another document.

The federation has since been directed to appoint a data protection officer by this month.

The federation did not respond by press time.

In September 2016, the PDPC issued a warning to ABR Holdings when its Swensen's Kids Club website revealed children's names and dates of birth after entering their membership numbers.

Two other known breaches of minors' personal data here were committed by public organisations, which are exempted from the PDPA. Leaked NRIC numbers of hundreds of Xinmin Secondary School students were discovered in September last year, and Henry Park Primary School exposed the personal data of more than 1,900 of its pupils in March 2015.


(The) potential impact and harm cannot be ignored, especially when it involves the NRIC numbers of 782 students who were also minors, and whose personal data would thus be considered to be more sensitive in nature.

MR TAN KIAT HOW, Singapore's privacy commissioner, on imposing the fine on the Singapore Taekwondo Federation.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

SGX reprimands Oriental Group, past and present directors

Business Times
30 Jun 2018
Anita Gabriel

This is for misconduct relating to 3 fundraising activities and unauthorised transactions

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) has admonished Catalist-listed Oriental Group, as well as eight connected individuals - a current director, six past directors including its former chairman and chief executive officer, and a former group financial controller - for misconduct in relation to three fundraising activities and unauthorised transactions.

The reprimand follows several breaches of listing rules by the company and the individuals, including misleading and inaccurate announcements on the fundraising exercises, unauthorised corporate guarantees extended in favour of interested persons and/or unauthorised interested person transactions, said SGX in a statement on Friday.

As a result too, Singapore-listed companies will need to get SGX RegCo's nod before any of these individuals are appointed as a director or to the management team.

Those who have earned the rebuke of the regulator include the troubled firm's former non-executive chairman Wu Dingrong, former executive director and former CEO Lee Wan Sing, former executive director Sun Lu, former non-executive director Richard Ong Wee Chuan, former independent directors Tan Song Kwang and Koh Choon Kong.

Oriental's present independent director Chua Hung Meng and former group financial controller Lee Ong have also been admonished for breaching Catalist rules.

By way of background, the regulator said the company appointed a special auditor and an independent reviewer to review these "irregularities" that took place in Singapore and China. Details of the review were disclosed in an announcement back in early December last year.

The listing rule breaches relate to several transactions undertaken by the steel trader and manufacturer that were announced between 2012 and 2015, including two share placement exercises, an issue of convertible loan notes, unauthorised corporate guarantees and interest person transaction as well as backdating of invoices for the purchase of IT equipment.

For one, in a share placement exercise announced in 2012 that was placed out to 32 subscribers to raise some S$21.5 million, the company, as authorised by Mr Lee Ong, had announced that the exercise was completed in April 2013 when in fact the full sum was only received by the company three years later, said the SGX in the statement.

In another S$5 million share placement deal to eight subscribers announced in July 2015, the company said it was completed in August of the same year even though, as discovered by the special audit, there was still an outstanding sum from one subscriber that was concealed under a "ruse" involving a transfer of shares. It was revealed by the audit that Mr Lee Ong had assisted Mr Lee Wan Sing with the share transfers.

In light of the 2013 internal audit findings, the regulator said the company's board and audit committee had failed to take the necessary steps to ensure adequacy of the group's internal controls.

SGX RegCo has also referred the breaches to the appropriate authorities.

Oriental Group, whose woes are aplenty, is currently under judicial management and the counter has been suspended since March 2016.

Two weeks ago, it sought to extend the deadline for the second time from SGX to submit a proposal for trading resumption. It received the regulator's nod and now has until July 26 (from the previous June 15 deadline) to do so.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

ADV: Research positions at the NUS Centre for Maritime Law

Singapore Law Watch
19 Jul 2018

Default limit at Small Claims Tribunals raised to $20,000

Straits Times
10 Jul 2018
Melody Zaccheus

Duration for making claim also extended from one year to two

The size of claims that people can take to the Small Claims Tribunals has been doubled from the current default limit of $10,000 to $20,000, and can be raised further to $30,000 if the parties involved agree.

The duration for making a claim will be extended as well, from one to two years.

People can also take their hire-purchase claims to the tribunals.

These key measures are set out in the Small Claims Tribunals (Amendment) Bill, which was passed in Parliament yesterday. They are the first changes to the law since 2005.

In presenting the Bill for debate, Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said the increase in claim limit is in line with countries such as Britain, Australia and Canada, and "will allow more parties to resolve their claims before the tribunals at less cost".

Mr Tong also said the two-year period will give people more time to negotiate and settle their disputes amicably while ensuring they have enough time to file their claim.

In reviewing the need for improvements and amendments to the law with stakeholders over the years, his ministry sought to strike a balance between improving access to justice while ensuring the tribunals "stay true to the purpose of providing effective and swift redress for small claims", he added.

The tribunals, set up in 1985, hear cases on contracts for the sale of goods or the provision of services, claims in tort for damage caused to property as well as certain tenancy disputes.

The legislation will make it easier for court users to determine if their claim is within the scope of the Act and clarifies how the value of a claim should be calculated.

It also empowers the tribunals in several ways. For instance, a registrar or tribunal can order parties to attend mandatory mediation at any stage of the proceedings.

Tribunals will get an expanded scope to order costs against parties; order a tenant to deliver vacant possession of rented premises for not paying rent; and dismiss a claim if the person making the claim is absent without reasonable excuse.

Tribunals will also be required to identify the central issues of a case and guide parties to cite relevant evidence during the adjudication stage with the intention of helping them focus on key issues to save time and costs.

When the new law takes effect, "outsiders" such as mediators, industry experts and law students from the University Court Friends scheme, who may be helping the parties on a pro bono basis, can help and observe the usually private proceedings.

The final change is to allow the District Court to remit a matter to the tribunal for reconsideration or order a re-hearing by a different tribunal under certain limited circumstances.

MPs welcomed the new measures, saying they are timely. The higher claim limit acknowledges the rising cost of living and inflation, they noted. Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC), however, wanted an even higher default limit of $50,000 in the absence of mutual consent, to take into account the cost of high-value purchases such as home renovations, interior design packages and high-end sound systems.

MPs also urged the Law Ministry to consider a wider range of consumer claims to reflect the digital economy and new buying behaviours. For instance, Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), president of the Consumers Association of Singapore, said the law should take into account claims against errant online retailers and service providers like bike-sharing company oBike.

Mr Tong replied that his ministry will monitor closely the new developments to see if they are suitable for inclusion in the tribunals' coverage at a later stage.

The Law Ministry would study the suggestion from Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) that the ministry carves out a separate enforcement process for low-value claims, he added.

The tribunals handled an average of more than 10,000 cases annually from 2015 to last year.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Bill to give Iras more powers to probe serious tax crimes

Straits Times
29 Jun 2018
Ng Jun Sen

They include entering premises forcibly, arresting without warrant and body searches

Tax enforcement officers are to be given more powers to investigate serious tax crimes, under proposed changes to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act.

These include powers to enter premises forcibly, arrest without warrant and conduct body searches of suspects.

The Finance Ministry said yesterday that they are needed to counteract the growing menace posed by syndicates and recalcitrant taxpayers, who are also employing more sophisticated strategies for tax fraud.

It cited cases of sellers committing tax fraud by absconding with the GST monies they had collected or fabricating GST refund claims.

And they would try to destroy the evidence or contact other suspects to corroborate their statements, said the ministry.

"Such obstructionist acts impede investigations and affect the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore's (Iras) effectiveness in bringing the perpetrators to justice," a ministry spokesman told The Straits Times.

He also said that the proposals are in line with the powers gran-ted to the tax authorities in Britain and the United States.

"Tax evasion is a serious criminal offence which is comparable to cheating offences, and warrants extensive investigations and firm interventions," he added. Obtaining a tax refund improperly is also seen as a serious crime.

Similar investigative powers were also mooted last week in the draft Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, which is undergoing public consultation.

The new powers are among several changes set out in a draft Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill for people to give their feedback.

The Bill is prompted by an uptrend in sophisticated GST fraud schemes detected by Iras.

In 2017, Chen Juncun, a director of two companies, was jailed for eight weeks and fined about $80,000 for evading up to $26,000 in GST. He had overstated the input tax and made fictitious declarations of GST refund claims by fabricating transactions between his two companies.

Other proposed changes include letting Iras share with law enforcement agencies information it deems critical for their investigation or prosecution of serious crimes which may not be tax-related, such as drug dealing or corruption.

Currently, Iras is able to do this under limited circumstances, like when it is ordered by the courts.

The Bill also calls for a custodial sentence for offenders who do not have a reasonable excuse or are negligent in the unauthorised collection of GST.

KPMG's partner and head of indirect tax Lam Kok Shang said that, if passed by Parliament, the enhanced measures will help resolve the question of speed faced by investigators, as perpetrators can destroy evidence and flee the country before the authorities can nab them.

Providence Law Asia's Mr Eugene Lim said that if the fraudsters are not stopped, the tax base will shrink and the Government may have to raise taxes.

Mr Lim, who specialises in international tax and trade law, said: "Taxpayers and honest businesses will likely suffer a bigger tax burden while the evaders get to enjoy government services without paying their dues."

The proposed amendments also spell out how the Government intends to tax foreign firms that provide digital services here, a move announced in this year's Budget.

They are set to take effect from 2020, to ensure overseas suppliers and electronic marketplace operators that supply a significant amount of digital services to Singaporeans register with Iras and collect GST.

Tax experts said the Government may have greater success in enforcing the rules on big foreign players like Netflix than on the smaller ones as major corporations will not risk enforcement action or damage to the reputation of their global operations.

Mr Lam suggested watching how these rules pan out in other countries, citing Australia, which will impose GST on all overseas purchases of low-value goods from July 1.

People can give feedback on the draft Bill until July 18. The GST (Amendment) Bill is slated to be introduced in Parliament in October.


Tax evasion is a serious criminal offence which is comparable to cheating offences, and warrants extensive investigations and firm interventions.


Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Justice George Wei to resign from Supreme Court

Straits Times
18 Jul 2018
Nathanael Phang

A judge well-known for his contributions to intellectual property (IP) law will resign from the Supreme Court Bench on Aug 1.

Justice George Wei, 63, joined the Supreme Court as a judicial commissioner five years ago, and was appointed a judge in 2015.

Before that, he was a professor of law at the National University of Singapore from 1992 to 2005, and the Singapore Management University from 2005 to 2013.

The Supreme Court said yesterday: "As the lead judge for intellectual property, Justice Wei has contributed immensely to the jurisprudence of IP law in Singapore. He chaired the IP Dispute Resolution Framework Committee which made recommendations to the Government on how to enhance access to the IP dispute resolution system, especially for less resourced parties."

It added that he is known for a number of landmark decisions covering all the key areas of IP law on copyright, patents and trademarks.

The Supreme Court said Justice Wei has also contributed significantly to other areas outside of IP law, including several important decisions on labour law.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said: "He has been a valued colleague who has worked tirelessly. His judgments have always been learned, and within a relatively short span of time, he has had a considerable impact in the development of our law, especially in the field of IP law."

Aside from Justice Wei, the Supreme Court has 20 judges, six judicial commissioners, four senior judges and 15 international judges.

President Halimah Yacob has accepted Justice Wei's resignation.

Justice Wei said: "It has been the greatest honour of my life to serve as a judge of the Supreme Court of Singapore. The chance to play a small part in upholding the rule of law is a privilege for which I am and will always be very grateful."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

S'pore beefs up laws to deal with unruly air passengers

Straits Times
10 Jul 2018
Karamjit Kaur

The Singapore police and other legal bodies here will soon have the powers to prosecute troublemakers on all flights to Singapore, after the Tokyo Convention (Amendment) Bill was passed yesterday.

Under current international civil aviation laws, Singapore can take action only if the culprit arrives on Singapore Airlines or other Singapore carriers.

As a result, troublemakers on foreign carriers escape unpunished.

Speaking in Parliament, Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Transport, said: "Given the importance of civil aviation to Singapore, it is crucial that we uphold Singapore's reputation as a safe and secure aviation hub for all passengers travelling through Changi Airport."

He said: "Also, as a responsible member of the international civil aviation community, Singapore must do its part to address unruly passenger incidents."

On average, there were about 10 incidents a year, in the last five years, of unruly behaviour on flights to Singapore, Dr Lam said in response to queries from MPs.

Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked if frontline staff on the ground were adequately trained to identify unruly passengers.

Prof Fatimah noted that this is important as bad behaviour happens not just in the air. "In fact, in many cases and case studies, it was noted that the negative behaviour commenced even at check-in, at the airport and waiting lounges."

Dr Lam assured the House that airline and other ground staff are well equipped to detect and deal with such cases.

Singapore's initiative to beef up the laws against unruly air travellers is part of a global push to deal with a growing problem.

Led by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the aim is to replace the Tokyo Convention with the Montreal Protocol 2014.

This will give all member states more teeth to deal with offences such as travellers refusing to comply with safety instructions and physically or verbally abusing cabin crew.

Between 2007 and 2016, more than 58,000 unruly passenger incidents were reported to the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

In 2016, 9,837 incidents were reported, a drop from the 10,854 in 2015. This equates to a rate of one incident report per 1,434 flights in 2016, compared with one incident report per 1,205 flights in 2015.

Iata's assistant director (external affairs) Tim Colehan said that while the number of incidents per 1,000 flights has been reduced, there are still concerns.

As air travel grows, the problem of unruly passengers may worsen, he said.

A comprehensive approach is needed to tackle the problem, Mr Colehan added.

"Airport, airport restaurants and bars and duty-free providers have a particularly important role to play to ensure the responsible sales, marketing and promotion of alcohol to avoid incidents that involve intoxication that have to be dealt with in the air," he said.

Iata's Asia-Pacific spokesman Albert Tjoeng said: "We welcome the steps taken by Singapore to strengthen legislation for deterring unruly passenger behaviour on board flights."


Number of unruly passenger incidents reported to the International Air Transport Association (Iata) between 2007 and 2016.


Number of incidents a year, on average, in the last five years, of unruly behaviour on flights to Singapore.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

SMRT Trains COO jailed in second conviction for drink driving

Straits Times
29 Jun 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

51-year-old imprisoned 2 weeks, fined $4,000 and banned from driving all vehicles for three years

After a drinking session with his colleagues, Alvin Kek Yoke Boon, the chief operations officer (COO) of SMRT Trains, got into his car and drove, by mistake, to the Woodlands Checkpoint, even though he had no plans to leave Singapore.

He was caught after an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer noticed that he reeked of alcohol.

Kek, 51, was jailed for two weeks and fined $4,000 on Monday after he was convicted of drink driving for the second time.

He was also disqualified from driving all classes of vehicles for three years.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, SMRT's corporate communications vice-president Margaret Teo said that Kek has been suspended from work - without giving any more details.

The court heard that Kek met some colleagues at the Temasek Club in Rifle Range Road, near Bukit Timah Road, around 11pm on April 20 for drinks. He stayed there for about three hours and drank four mugs of beer.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Teo Lu Jia said: "He stated that he was having drinks with his colleagues as his father had passed away recently, on April 14, and he also needed to de-stress."


He (Kek) stated that he was having drinks with his colleagues as his father had passed away recently, on April 14, and he also needed to de-stress.


Kek left the club at around 2.30am on April 21, got into his car and drove to the Woodlands Checkpoint, about 15km away.

He stopped his vehicle there at around 3am before telling an ICA officer he had made a mistake and had no intention of leaving Singapore.

The officer noticed that Kek smelt of alcohol, and asked him to get out of his car.

The police were notified and a test revealed he had 65 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath - almost double the prescribed limit of 35 microgrammes.

Kek joined SMRT in 2013 and was one of four former senior military men whom chief executive Desmond Kuek drafted into the company that year.

In November last year, Kek fronted the media briefing on the Joo Koon train collision, where 38 people were injured after a stalled SMRT train was hit from behind by another train.

Before he joined SMRT, Kek spent 14 years with the Singapore Armed Forces, where he was a colonel and a chief engineer officer.

During his time in the military, he was also part of the National Day Parade's organising committee six times, and headed the 2011 committee as chairman.

His first conviction for drink driving was on March 11, 2004, and he was then fined $2,800.

He was also banned from driving for two years.

First-time offenders convicted of drink driving can be jailed for up to six months or fined between $1,000 and $5,000.

Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to a year and fined between $3,000 and $10,000.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Contempt cases against duo heard

Straits Times
18 Jul 2018
Ng Jun Sen

Whether a Facebook post has scandalised the courts depends on how an average person interpreted the post, and not what the author intended to say, a senior state counsel argued yesterday at an open hearing in the proceedings against civil activist Jolovan Wham and opposition politician John Tan.

Mr Wham is alleged to have made a contemptuous post in April stating that Singapore's courts are not as independent as Malaysia's on cases with political implications. The remarks accompanied a link to an online article: "Malaysiakini mounts constitutional challenge against Anti-Fake News Act."

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) then initiated contempt of court action against him.

Later, Singapore Democratic Party politician John Tan Liang Joo stated on Facebook that the AGC's actions confirmed the truth of Mr Wham's comment. Mr Tan's case was also heard in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Mr Wham and Mr Tan have not taken down their Facebook posts.

The cases against the duo are the first to be brought under new contempt laws that took effect last October under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016.

There was "no conceivable reason" for Mr Wham to single out the independence of Singapore's judiciary, said AGC's Senior State Counsel Francis Ng, who added that the remarks implied to an average person that if the constitutional challenge in Malaysia were to happen in Singapore, it would fail due to a lack of judicial independence here.

Mr Wham had hence "impugned the impartiality and integrity of Singapore's judicial system", he said.

Mr Wham's main defence yesterday - argued by his lawyers Eugene Thuraisingam and Choo Zheng Xi - was that he never intended to imply that the Singapore courts were not independent. He was merely comparing the two judicial systems, which constitutes fair critique, they added.

Mr Thuraisingam said Mr Wham had seen the World Economic Forum's rankings on judicial independence and thus believed that it was legitimate to compare the two countries' legal systems.

In addition, Mr Choo argued that Mr Wham is a layperson whose profile is of "a different tenor and complexion" than those previously found in contempt of court, such as journalist Alan Shadrake and sociopolitical blogger Alex Au.

On this point, Justice Woo Bih Li asked if people would take Mr Wham more seriously since he regards himself as an activist. Mr Choo said in response that the post garnered only 29 "likes", or reactions, from other users as of April.

Mr Wham, a social worker at Community Action Network and former executive director of Home, a local non-government organisation, has over 7,000 followers on the social networking site.

The defence lawyers also argued that the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act violates the constitutional right to freedom of speech as it effectively criminalises speech that only has a small likelihood of undermining confidence in the administration of justice, they said in their submissions.

In response, Mr Ng said Parliament is empowered to enact laws restricting freedom of speech to protect against contempt of court. It is up to Parliament, not the courts, to decide on where to strike the appropriate balance, he said.

Mr Ng also pointed out that the World Economic Forum report that Mr Thuraisingam referred to ranks Singapore's judiciary 22 places above Malaysia's.

In his representations on behalf of Mr Tan, Mr Thuraisingam said his statement was not directed at the courts but at AGC.

Both cases have been adjourned to a later date for judgment.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Singapore stands by its HSR and water pact obligations, says Vivian

Straits Times
10 Jul 2018
Yasmine Yahya

Respecting sanctity of international deals a tenet basic to Republic's foreign policy

Singapore yesterday reiterated that upholding international law and respecting the sanctity of international agreements is a tenet basic to its foreign policy.

That is why, in keeping its end of the bargain, Singapore has already spent more than $250 million on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, and is likely to expend another $40 million or so by year-end, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.

It is also why Singapore will honour the terms of its Water Agreement with Malaysia and expects its neighbour to do the same, added Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament.

Responding to a question from Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) on bilateral ties with Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is still meeting its obligations on the HSR while waiting for Malaysia to clarify its position.

He added that the sanctity of international agreements is critical for a small state like Singapore.

If countries were to unilaterally revise or abandon terms of agreements, this would be "manifestly a recipe for disaster'', he said.

This principle lies at the crux of the HSR issue, he added.

Singapore signed the HSR Bilateral Agreement (BA) in 2016 in good faith, after both sides had negotiated and agreed to all the provisions, including those dealing with the eventuality that the HSR is terminated, Dr Balakrishnan said.

In recent weeks, he said, some Malaysian leaders have talked of terminating the project.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore had sent a third-person note to the Malaysian government seeking clarification of Malaysia's position on the HSR, but it has not replied.

Saying that the Government has a duty to safeguard public funds by recovering the costs, he added: "Should Malaysia cause the HSR project to be terminated, we will deal with the question of compensation from Malaysia for costs incurred in accordance with the BA and international law."

The same principle underlies the 1962 Water Agreement between Singapore and Malaysia, he said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said he wants to renegotiate the terms of the deal as he feels the price of raw water sold to Singapore, as stipulated in the agreement, is "ridiculous".

Recounting past statements made by then Foreign Ministers S. Jayakumar in 2003 and K. Shanmugam in 2014 on water, Dr Balakrishnan said: "As was stated then, the core issue is "not how much we pay, but how any price revision is decided upon".

Malaysia lost its right to review the price of water under the agreement when it did not do so in 1987, he said, adding that neither Singapore nor Malaysia can unilaterally change the terms of the deal.

Singapore will fully honour the terms of the deal and expects Malaysia to do the same, he said.

While asserting the Republic's position on these issues, Dr Balakrishnan also made it clear that Singapore is committed to working with Malaysia's new government.

"A stable and prosperous Malaysia is good for Singapore and for our region," he said. "We have generally enjoyed a positive and constructive relationship with successive Malaysian governments and leaders, and we believe there is still much for us to achieve together."

In this and other foreign policy matters, Singapore stands by its fundamental principles, he added.

Aside from respecting international agreements, Singapore believes disputes should be resolved in accordance with international law, and that it should maintain a reputation as a credible, trusted and consistent partner, he said.

Singapore and Malaysia, he said, "must work with each other on the basis that both sides will fully respect the sanctity of international agreements, and that any disputes are resolved peacefully in accordance with international law".

"Provided this condition is met, we are confident bilateral relations will prosper, to the mutual benefit of both countries."


Reports from Parliament


Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Director used fake invoices to get $25m in funds

Straits Times
29 Jun 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

By using fake invoices, the sole director of a company which provides renovation and interior design services duped a crowd-funding firm into disbursing more than $25 million in cash.

The crowdfunding firm, Capital Springboard Singapore, allows small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to borrow cash from investors against unpaid invoices issued to customers by the SMEs.

Although Choy Peiyi, 35, returned about $20 million of the money, the company still suffered more than $6.8 million in losses.

The director of Vanguard Project Management was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in jail after plea-ding guilty on June 8 to 23 counts of cheating. Another 212 cheating charges and two counts of mo-ney laundering were considered during sentencing.

She committed the offences between late 2014 and early last year.

In a genuine arrangement, Choy could sell monies owed to Vanguard Project - as indicated in invoices - to a factoring agency like Capital Springboard Singapore, which would, in turn, hand her the cash.

And in certain circumstances, when Vanguard Project is paid by its clients, it could return the amount given by the factoring agency.

Choy abused the system and decided to cheat Capital Springboard Singapore.

To create fictitious invoices and purchase orders, Choy made ink stamps bearing the names of companies including Fish & Co and cleaning company Evershine Services.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Leong Weng Tat said that between November 2016 and March last year, Choy created 23 fictitious invoices issued by Vanguard Project for purported renovation works which were not carried out.

These invoices bore the names of the companies whose ink stamps she had duplicated.

Choy then submitted these bogus invoices to Capital Springboard Singapore, which handed her the money.

Court documents did not mention how her offences came to light.

But after her arrest, she admitted to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) that she used about $1.4 million of her ill-gotten gains to pay off items including her company's bad debts.

DPP Leong said: "The accused had also admitted to the CAD that she had spent the money on herself, to gamble at Marina Bay Sands, for overseas trips, to purchase a second-hand BMW and also to pay the down payment for a condominium unit."

Choy, who is now out on bail of $300,000, was ordered to surrender herself at the State Courts on July 12 to begin serving her sentence.

Mr Roger Crook, chief executive of Capital Springboard, said that "this was a strategically executed act of crime for selfish gains and one that could have happened to any of the other invoice financing platforms here. We are pleased that justice has been served and the accused has been taken to task".

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Dual-class shares a useful addition to SGX's listing strategy

Straits Times
18 Jul 2018
Lee Su Shyan

Hong Kong may have snared a mega IPO with Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi under its dual-class structure, but Singapore's focus is broader and aiming for a range of companies

Singapore's financial sector was watching closely from the sidelines last week when the Hong Kong stock exchange pulled off a US$54 billion (S$73.6 billion) listing coup.

It came in the form of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, which splashed its way onto the exchange in what was one of the year's most highly-anticipated initial public offerings (IPOs) since Alibaba in New York in 2014.

The listing added to the impressive US$7 billion tally in IPO proceeds from tech listings Hong Kong has racked up so far this year.

Xiaomi founder and chief executive Lei Jun was quoted by Reuters as saying at the listing ceremony: "We are an Internet firm. From day one, we've set up a dual-class share structure. Without the innovation of Hong Kong's capital markets, we wouldn't get a chance to go public in Hong Kong."

In Singapore, while the traditional one-share one-vote system has been firmly established, the Committee on the Future Economy had said early last year that the dual-class structure could play a role in the development of capital markets which would aid in the transformation of the Republic's economy.

Fast forward to June 26 and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) announced that the dual-class structure was open to companies seeking a mainboard listing here. So far, no firm has launched an IPO under this option although sources say there are several potential candidates - local and overseas - waiting in the wings.

The dual-class share structure allows two classes of stocks, each with different voting rights although both are entitled to the same equity and same cash flows. A Class A share may have 10 votes, for example, while a Class B stock may have one, yet both receive the same dividends. While this structure is new, the concept of another class of shares is not entirely unknown in Singapore. Previously, shares of "strategically important" companies were split into local and foreign tranches and traded separately.

The dual-class option, however, has been in place for many years in the US where it is accepted that such a share structure is appropriate as it allows founders to remain in control and run the business.

For example, the News Corp shares that are publicly traded do not carry any voting rights while the class of shares held by Rupert Murdoch and his family carry the voting power.

The dual-share structure has been in the limelight in recent years as companies such as Google and Facebook have listed using it. Under Facebook's model, founder Mark Zuckerberg holds a fraction of the social-media giant's publicly traded shares but has majority control of its voting rights.

Detractors say this structure raises risks that such companies undertake deals that may not be in the best interests of the shareholders but are approved due to the higher voting rights of key stockholders.


Financial centres have put in safeguards to ensure that ordinary shareholders are not disadvantaged. For example, there are sunset clauses in Singapore which say that multiple-vote shares must be converted to one-vote shares under certain circumstances. Both Singapore and Hong Kong have said that only new listings will be eligible under the dual-share structure.

Mr Chia Kim Huat, Rajah & Tann's regional head of corporate and transactional group, noted that Hong Kong requires a dual-class firm after listing to set up a corporate governance committee and appoint a compliance officer. This is to enhance protection for the ordinary shareholders.

He added that Singapore does not appear to have such mandatory requirements although in practice some Singapore-listed firms also have corporate governance committees as well as compliance officers to assist them.

The dual-class companies, as with all listed firms, will be subject to the SGX Listing Rules and the Code of Corporate Governance. It is possible that the SGX could require a listing aspirant to set up such committees.

One point of difference is that Hong Kong has put in place separate market capitalisation criteria for dual-class listings as it makes no secret of its determination to attract the Xiaomis of this world. It states that a company can employ the dual-class structure if it has a minimum size of HK$40 billion (S$7 billion) at listing.

There are fewer than 30 firms on the SGX with a market value of that size, so it does indicate that Hong Kong is indeed going for the giants. Hong Kong also allows a much smaller listing size of HK$10 billion but a second condition is that the company must have an annual revenue of at least HK$1 billion.

There are no such specific market capitalisation prescriptions in Singapore for dual-class listings. They will be assessed on the existing criteria, which means that smaller companies could avail themselves of such a structure if they can satisfy the exchange's requirements. And Singapore's reputation for its high standards of corporate governance will mean it will likely continue to attract quality listings, be they large or small. In that vein, Singapore's approach indicates that it is not confining itself to huge listings.


Associate Professor Lawrence Loh, director of the centre for governance, institutions and organisations at NUS Business School, noted that Singapore's focus is broader and "is looking for the range of innovative start-ups and established companies to seed and strengthen the future economy".

Rajah & Tann's Mr Chia reckons that the IPO net could extend to start-ups and companies from Indonesia that may have traditionally eyed the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange route. "With many of the investors hailing from Asia, it may make sense for these companies to list closer to home in Singapore instead," he added.

While some commentators point out that Hong Kong is being more prescriptive than Singapore in its regime, there is also support for the strategy employed here.

Fewer rules allow the SGX to adopt a more holistic approach of assessing candidates. They also give it more leeway on which companies may be accepted.

But Withers KhattarWong lawyer Leong Chuo Ming noted: "SGX places more emphasis on having the final discretion in approving dual-class share structures. While it gives SGX more control, it may create a perception amongst issuers of lack of accountability or transparency in its decision making."

More clarity should emerge, however, once several firms have successfully listed. SGX has said it plans to make public the guidance on the suitability factors as contemplated in precedent cases. It also told The Straits Times: "The feedback from the market is that by adopting a dual-class shares model that is not over-prescriptive, SGX has shown itself to be more open, flexible and aligned with the Singapore vision of embracing the New Economy."

Ultimately, while the dual-class structure gives another weapon in Singapore's arsenal to attract listings, the listing structure is only one of several factors a company looks at when it wants to list.

Prof Loh said: "Having a dual-class share system does not automatically bring in the mega-IPOs. It is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for this to happen. There is a whole spectrum of factors that goes beyond the stock exchange and its specific policies. This has to do with the overall attractiveness of the place in terms of the overall capital market liquidity as well as access to the big hinterland markets."

But there is no doubt that one of the key obstacles faced by a high-growth company in its quest to list in Singapore has been removed. And while the shares of Xiaomi had a rocky debut, they are now trading above water, indicating that investors are receptive to investing in such structures.

Still, it is also competition, timing, market conditions, among many other factors, that will determine if Singapore will in the near future see the next Alibaba list on the SGX and hopefully repeat the success the exchange enjoyed with the real estate investment trusts.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Hyflux gets more time to report financials

Straits Times
09 Jul 2018

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) has granted Hyflux extensions for reporting its financials, the water treatment firm that is going through a reorganisation said yesterday in an SGX filing.

It will get a six-month extension for announcing the unaudited financial statements for the second quarter ended June 30, which was originally supposed to be announced by Aug 14. It will also have three more months to announce its third-quarter financials.

Hyflux said SGX granted the extensions last Friday subject to the company announcing the extensions granted, why they were sought and the conditions the extensions are subject to, as well as submitting a written confirmation that the extensions do not contravene any laws and regulations governing the company and the articles of association of the company.

Hyflux said the company has faced a standstill on the payment of all pre-May 22, 2018 debts since its application on that date for a six-month moratorium for itself and its units, and is facing stringent controls on the group's cash, such as paying only critical expenses relevant to the reorganisation.

It said that since it is negotiating terms of its reorganisation under the court-supervised process and the six-month moratorium, releasing its financial statements at this point before in-principle agreement of any terms of agreement that could arise, or before there is clarity on any financing proposals to be put forth, could result in inaccurate and incomplete reflection of financial information.

The length of these extensions is linked to the moratorium, it added, and the discussions about the reorganisation will take at least as long as the moratorium is granted.

"It will only be meaningful for the company to start to prepare the relevant financial statements when it has certainty regarding the terms of the reorganisation and any financing proposals," it said.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

When a driverless car knocks down someone, who is to blame?

Business Times
29 Jun 2018
Ben Allgrove

Give AI systems legal personality and principles of vicarious liability can be immediately applied

I love my dog. He's gorgeous; playful; funny. He undoubtedly has a personality. He has agency; he can do things. He is dependent; he needs things.

But my dog is not a legal person. He can't own things. He can't enter a contract. You can't sue him if he bites you. He can be punished, yes, but he can't be charged with a crime.

I don't love my bank. It's far from playful; and it's never funny. It has no personality in the ordinary sense of the word, but it is a legal person. It has agency; it can do things. It can own things. It can contract. It can be sued. It can (in most countries) commit a crime.

Which gets you thinking ... what is it that defines a legal person?

"Legal personality" is part of the answer to one of the most difficult questions policy makers, business and civil society are grappling with - and getting wrong: how should we regulate AI?

AI is nothing new. It has been around for decades. But, taken at its broadest, something has changed in the world of AI in the last couple of years.

There is a perfect storm: globalisation, pace of change, computing power, the cloud, access to data, talent and funding - all mean AI is breaking out of the back office and the labs and is interacting with and impacting individuals.

It is hitting our roads and driving our cars. It is vetting CVs and deciding whether prisoners get parole. It is flying drones in warzones, trading on our stock exchanges, and diagnosing patients.

AI is increasingly, inexorably, attaining agency - the ability to act independently from a principal. And when something attains agency, it creates a tension.

A tension between moral responsibility - who should take responsibility for the consequences of something - and risk allocation - who should bear the risk for the consequences of something. When a driverless car knocks down someone - who is to blame?

Let's take just one example. Forming a contract. A contract is formed when there is a meeting of the minds between the parties to it. The parties agree to a set of mutual promises and the law - by way of the law of contract - holds them to those promises.

But can there be a meeting of the minds if a party to a contract does not know what promises have been made? Or even that any promises have been made? Yes. The law is quite comfortable with this. We are (generally) bound by the actions of our agents. Their promises are - in the eyes of the law - equivalent to ours.

A rich and deep jurisprudence has grown up around the law of agency to facilitate this outcome. A jurisprudence based on the premise that both principal and agent are legal persons.

But what if a promise is made by an AI system? And what if I do not know that that promise has been made by the system? What if I could not have even predicted that it would make such a promise? Am I bound to that promise? Is there a meeting of the minds sufficient to form a contract?

And that - in a nutshell - is the challenge of agency as a matter of fact without agency as a matter of law. Absent something the law recognises as a legal person, the law of agency (as presently conceived at least) cannot operate.

Now there are multiple ways you could tackle this challenge. You could take the approach many legal systems take with animals. If my dog bites someone, I am responsible for its actions, though it is the dog that is put down.

This is the route that most policy makers are currently going down. A product liability approach. If you put an AI system in the wild, someone in the chain of distribution will hold the can for what it does. The debate at the moment is really just about where in the chain of distribution that should be: the developer, the corporate customer, the end user?

But we could take a different approach. One that the law has taken in the past when this tension has arisen. We could decide that some applications of AI should be granted legal personality.

How does this insight help us? Think about a corporation. There are at least 16 theories that seek to explain why the law recognises corporations as legal persons. The one that I subscribe to is called the realist theory. The realist theory posits that corporations are neither fictions nor symbols, but rather objectively real entities, which (to quote Harold Laski) we "are compelled to personalise".


  • Corporations exist in fact. They existed before the law recognised them as legal persons, appearing as actors in the Common Law as far back as the 15th century and well before incorporation statutes started to appear.
  • Society treated corporations as distinct from their members. Even today, we treat partnerships as distinct from their members.
  • Numerous economic and political considerations - not least the need to unlock capital in the mercantile world - generated the conditions necessary to enable through the law the very utilitarian function of the corporation.

We did not grant legal personality to corporations because it was morally right to do so. We did it because it reflected reality and served a utilitarian purpose. We have done the same in the past for ships, temples, churches, partnerships, trade unions and others.

And viewed through that utilitarian, realist lens, one can see why we will and should grant legal personality to some AI systems.

First, to do so would allow us to more easily attribute responsibility. This proposition is not about attributing rights to AI systems. The Citizens United decision in the US stands out as the high water mark of courts conferring rights on corporations, but that decision is misguided - it is wrong - because it misunderstands legal personality. It says because a corporation is a legal person, it enjoys the same rights as other legal persons. That misunderstands the difference between legal personhood - the fact of being seen as having rights and obligations - and legal status - the mix of rights and obligations that a legal person has. There is no reason why we could not choose to limit the legal personhood of AI to obligations. We can leave the morality of sentient AI for another day.

Second, and most importantly from a utilitarian perspective, it would facilitate agency without the need to write new laws. The law understands now how to deal with agency. It has been developed over centuries to do so.

Consider an AI assistant booking a restaurant. I asked the assistant to do that, so far so good, but what if in the exchange the restaurant says that if I do not show I will be charged 500 dollars? Can the assistant accept that contractual obligation on my behalf; even if I know nothing about it? If I do not turn up and my card is charged, can I challenge it?

As the law stands, the answer is actually not clear. But if my AI assistant was a legal person the law of agency would do the trick. The assistant is acting as my agent and to accept a cancellation charge would clearly be within the bounds of its ostensible authority. I would be bound.

The same goes of vicarious liability. Corporations are held responsible for the actions of their employees by the law on vicarious liability. This is premised on those employees being independent agents recognised by the law as legal persons.

Grant AI systems legal personality and vicarious liability principles can be immediately and directly applied to AI without the need for any new laws to be written. The General is responsible for the war crimes of his drone, just as he would be if they were committed by his troops.

What's more, it is a solution that avoids the need for policy makers to predict the future. One of the biggest problems with the AI regulation debate at the moment is that we are talking about regulating the technology, not the application of that technology.

Recognising autonomous systems with the capacity for agency as legal persons means that we would be more easily able to focus on the application of the technology. For example, the law already prohibits me from discriminating against someone on the basis of their race, sex, sexual orientation, etc. We don't need a law to specify that AI systems should not discriminate. Prior to being autonomous, the current law works perfectly fine to catch me and the tools that I use. Once technology reaches a state where the systems are working autonomously and where they may make decisions that I cannot predict (or even know about), legal personality would catch me by way of agency or vicarious liability.

And in doing so, we would allow the law time to evolve.

  • The writer is a partner at Baker McKenzie. He leads the law firm's Global R&D efforts, which includes its machine learning strategy, its service re-design programme and its wider ecosystem engagement. Ben has a particular expertise in the legal regulation and ethics of AI.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Sias to hold shareholder dialogue ahead of Shanghai Turbo EGM

Business Times
18 Jul 2018
Annabeth Leow

Singapore's investor watchdog is holding a dialogue for shareholders of precision engineering group Shanghai Turbo Enterprises, citing "serious concerns about the events unfolding" at the company, ahead of a vote on July 24 on whether to replace its entire board of directors.

Shanghai Turbo announced in June that it would go ahead with an extraordinary general meeting (EGM), in line with a shareholder requisition letter received in January over which it had previously sought legal advice.

But the Securities Investors Association (Singapore), or Sias, said on Tuesday that it "is not convinced that the action proposed could be in the interest of the minority shareholders and the company" and has invited concerned shareholders to meet on Wednesday morning (July 18) at the MND Building Annex B.

Shanghai Turbo has been locked in a legal tussle with former executive director Liu Ming since he was voted off the board in April 2017.

The company previously tried to have Mr Liu blocked from dealing with his 29.99 per cent stake in the company and from requisitioning meetings "for the purpose of delaying, discontinuing, disrupting or otherwise preventing the timely conclusion of the lawsuit or the appeal against him".

Developments have included a months-long standoff at a factory in China, which climaxed in a purported baton attack on a Singaporean director and several others.

Video footage of the attack was played for shareholders at Shanghai Turbo's annual general meeting in March and released publicly.

The Singaporean independent director, former government fishery officer Raymond Lim Sian Heong, is one of the four board members whose overthrow is being sought.

The rest of the Shanghai Turbo board - lead independent director Jack Chia Seng Hee, independent director Alexander Cheung Hok Fung and non-executive, non-independent director Daniel Liu Danjun - are also on the chopping block.

The EGM was requisitioned by Lin Chuan Jun and Zhang Ping, who together hold an interest of about 10.6 per cent in the company.

Mr Lin has been proposed as a new director of the company, alongside Koh Wee Kiang and Zhang Wen Jun.

The meeting is set to take place on July 24 at 9.30am, at Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Jail for headbutting ambulance driver

Straits Times
09 Jul 2018
K.C. Vijayan

A motorist who headbutted an ambulance driver in a spat at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and used his forehead to push an accompanying nursing officer's forehead was given four months' jail - in a case where the judge described his behaviour as despicable.

Sim Kwang Wee, 53, admitted to causing hurt, pain and injury in using his forehead to hit Mr Thomas Charles, 64, on the forehead.

The incident happened at 4.30pm on Dec 14, 2016, at the emergency ambulance drop-off point fronting the hospital's emergency department.

Sim had also used his forehead to push the accompanying officer, Mr Charles Gabriel, 29. He did this because he was unhappy that Mr Gabriel had used his handphone camera to film him. This second charge was taken into consideration for sentencing.

Sim had assaulted the two men when they were trying to unload an 82-year-old suspected stroke patient from the ambulance, noted District Judge Ng Peng Hong in decision grounds released late last month.

During the court case, it emerged that the rear door of the ambulance could not be opened because Sim's vehicle was in the way.

The private-hire driver had earlier helped ferry an injured domestic worker for treatment at TTSH.

When Sim was asked to give way, he refused and the spat followed.

Mr Charles eventually drove to another drop-off point some 20m away. He later received outpatient treatment at the hospital.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kong Kuek Foo called for a deterrent jail term, given that the ambulance service workers were performing a critical public function and any violence against them cannot be condoned.

Sim's lawyer John Koh pleaded for leniency and urged the court to impose a fine, arguing that Sim lost his temper and composure.

District Judge Ng rued Sim's "outrageous and despicable behaviour", noting the assault occurred in a public hospital in broad daylight and in public view. "It would cause alarm and disquiet to the public," added the judge.

He sentenced Sim to four months' jail to "send a clear signal of disapproval and reprobation over (Sim's) conduct, as well as to deter like-minded offenders".

Sim is appealing against the decision.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

National effort to fight financial crime

Straits Times
29 Jun 2018
Ng Jun Sen

While buying a resale flat earlier this year, Mr J. Thiran was asked a string of questions by his real estate agent.

What was his job? How does he earn his money? Is he involved in politics? What about his family members?

Though puzzled, Mr Thiran laughed it off as small talk. "I didn't think much of it, I thought he was just being inquisitive," said the 55-year-old who is currently between jobs.

Increasingly, property buyers will experience what Mr Thiran encountered, because of a push by industry regulator Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) to get property agents to inform the authorities of suspected money laundering activities.

Last December, the council came up with a checklist of questions real estate agents are duty-bound to go through with a buyer. The queries give further impetus to the national effort to tackle money laundering and terrorism financing. This move is spurred by Singapore joining the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global watchdog against international financial crime, in 1992.

The council's effort also complements a little-known, 11-year-old rule that requires lawyers to ask all property buyers similar questions and inform the authorities should they suspect illegal activities.

But not every real estate agent or lawyer complies. Earlier this month, Tan Yen Hsi, 37, a former senior marketing director at CBRE Realty Associates, was fined $10,000 for flouting the rule, in a 2015 sale of a Sentosa Cove property to a client linked to a high-profile Ponzi scheme in China. The lawyer who handled the sale, Kang Bee Leng, 56, a former managing director of Sterling Law Corporation, was also fined $10,000 in April for the same offence.

Tan lost his licence while Kang is no longer practising law.

Doing background checks on their clients is vital, said a CEA spokesman, because property purchases are a potential avenue for financial crime as they involve large sums of money that can be transferred across national boundaries.

Among the questions the CEA wants agents to ask some clients is whether they are "politically exposed persons" or related to one.

The CEA defines such persons as locals or foreigners "entrusted with prominent public functions". They include heads of state, government ministers, senior civil servants, senior officials of political parties and members of Parliament.

Gibson Dunn law firm partner Robson Lee noted that FATF's reports have cited studies that show politically-exposed persons have a high risk of committing money laundering, corruption and bribery.

ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim, whose firm has flagged several suspicious transaction since last December, said foreigners and permanent residents are typically subject to more checks. Mr Thiran, for example, is a permanent resident from Malaysia.

Non-citizens form around 20 per cent of total property deals here.

Some buyers, like a 50-year-old Singaporean educator, said more care should be placed on how professionals quizzed their clients, to avoid misunderstanding.

But lawyers, realtors and other property experts said such misunderstandings are not common. "Nowadays, most clients are familiar with the need for professionals to do their customer due diligence and they will cooperate," said the anti-money laundering committee chairman of the Singapore Law Society, Mr Surenthiraraj Saunthararajah.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Prosecutors appeal against Metro scion's reduced drug charges

Straits Times
17 Jul 2018
Selina Lum

17 months' supply of cannabis too much for own consumption, DPP argues in High Court

Metro family scion Ong Jenn had enough cannabis at home to last him between one and seven months, yet he ordered more drugs from his supplier, enough to feed his habit for up to another 10 months.

A prosecutor highlighted this to the High Court yesterday, arguing that it was absurd for Ong to be "stockpiling" so much drugs - enough for 17 months - purely for his own consumption.

Ong, 43, originally faced two charges of abetment to traffic in controlled drugs, namely 92.68g of cannabis and 385.1g of cannabis mixture.

His supplier, Mohamad Ismail Abdul Majid, had called him in October 2014, asking if he wanted to buy cannabis. Ong agreed to buy 500g for $5,000. Ismail was arrested before the drugs were delivered.

After a six-day trial, a district judge accepted Ong's explanation that the drugs were solely for his own consumption and reduced the charges to that of attempted possession in May last year.

Ong is currently serving a two-year jail term after pleading guilty to the reduced charges.

The prosecution has appealed, arguing that Ong should be convicted of the original charges of abetment of trafficking, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years' jail and five strokes of the cane on each count.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Kow Keng Siong argued that text messages between Ong and two female friends show that he agreed to sell or share the cannabis with them.

The DPP said the sheer quantity of the drugs gives rise to the inference that Ong had ordered the drugs from Mohamad Ismail for the purpose of trafficking.

He said Ong had given conflicting accounts of his consumption rate, but the trial judge "unquestioningly accepted" his unsubstantiated claim during cross-examination that he used 140g every two weeks.

The DPP argued that the judge was wrong in concluding that Ong was a "man of means" who was not particular about spending $5,000 on drugs. Ong, a business development manager with Metro Holdings, earned $7,000 a month.

Even if Ong was a "man of means", there is no reason why people from well-to-do families cannot traffic in drugs, said the DPP.

Ong's lawyer, Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, argued that his client was a "heavy user" - having formed a cannabis habit when he was studying in the United States - but not a trafficker.

Mr Tan said Mohamad Ismail had repeatedly called Ong to buy the drugs; despite having enough at home, Ong reluctantly agreed to buy more drugs because of the pestering.

The defence also submitted dividend vouchers to show that Ong had income apart from his salary. Details were not revealed in open court.

Ong, with his head shaved and looking visibly thinner, appeared relaxed during the appeal. He will be tried later this year on another set of drug charges.

Justice Hoo Sheau Peng will make a decision on the appeal at a later date.

Even if Ong was a "man of means", there is no reason why people from well-to-do families cannot traffic in drugs, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Kow Keng Siong.

Ong's lawyer, Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, argued that his client was a "heavy user" - having formed a cannabis habit when he was studying in the United States - but not a trafficker....

Ong reluctantly agreed to buy more drugs because of the pestering (of his supplier).

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Hyflux has till Oct 15 to find Tuaspring buyer

Straits Times
07 Jul 2018
Marissa Lee

Lender Maybank will refrain from starting enforcement proceedings against plant if criteria met

Maybank, Hyflux's largest secured lender, has agreed to give the water project developer until Oct 15 to find a buyer and ink a binding purchase agreement for the Tuaspring integrated water and power plant.

Hyflux also has to get approvals from Maybank, national water agency PUB and the Singapore High Court for the divestment by Dec 11. It must then obtain shareholders' approval for the sale by Feb 4 next year.

As long as Hyflux meets these deadlines, Maybank will refrain from commencing enforcement proceedings against Tuaspring or its assets, Hyflux said in a filing to the Singapore Exchange yesterday.

Maybank will also become more actively involved in the Tuaspring plant divestment process, and appoint valuers for the plant, Hyflux said.

The Tuaspring plant has a book value of $1.3 billion. Its holding company owes Maybank $518.4 million under a project financing loan.

Any sum left over from the asset sale can be used to settle Hyflux's other debt, including redeeming the $900 million preference shares and perpetual securities sold to retail investors in previous years, Hyflux founder Olivia Lum has said.

Tuaspring is also appointing a monitoring accountant and special accountant to monitor its cash flow and review the divestment process, respectively, with their reports to be shared with Maybank.

A Singapore court was scheduled yesterday to hear Tuaspring's application for a debt moratorium, but this was cancelled and the application withdrawn in the light of the forbearance on Maybank's part, Hyflux said.

Hyflux, in an attempt to fix a cash crunch, has been trying to divest the Tuaspring plant since February last year.

In a court affidavit written on June 14, Ms Lum said Hyflux is in discussions with four parties on a possible sale of the plant.

However, her insistence on getting no less than book value for the loss-making asset has meant that no offers have been accepted so far.

Since it filed for court protection from creditors in May, Hyflux has yet to meet its shareholders, bond holders and perp holders. Townhall meetings have been scheduled for July 19 and 20.

Unlike typical shareholder meetings, proxies will not be allowed, Hyflux said.

A 67-year old retiree, who is holding on to $25,000 in face value of perps, told The Straits Times: "I'm not optimistic about the outcome of the restructuring. If Olivia Lum is so confident that the Tuaspring plant can be sold at or above its $1.3 billion book value, why should Maybank appoint a valuer to conduct a valuation exercise of Tuaspring? I smell 'haircuts' in the air."


Book value of Tuaspring plant.


Amount owed by Tuaspring's holding company to Maybank under a project financing loan.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

New judicial commissioner appointed to Supreme Court

Straits Times
28 Jun 2018
Jan Lee

Top lawyer Dedar Singh Gill has been appointed as a judicial commissioner of the Supreme Court by President Halimah Yacob.

Mr Gill, 59, will begin his role on Aug 1 for a period of two years, the Prime Minister's Office said yesterday.

He will be sworn into his post at the Istana on Aug 3.

A graduate of National University of Singapore's class of 1983, Mr Gill was previously managing director of law firm Drew and Napier LLC's intellectual property department, having spent most of his career there since graduation.

A lawyer with over 30 years of experience, he is one of Singapore's top intellectual property (IP) litigators, representing corporate clients who are household names.

He was once president of the Asian Patent Attorneys Association (Singapore Group) and was also appointed deputy president of the Copyright Tribunal.

Mr Davinder Singh, executive chairman of Drew & Napier, said: "While Dedar's departure will be a great and irreplaceable loss to the firm, his appointment to the Supreme Court will forever remain a matter of immense pride for Drew & Napier. I am confident that he will serve the country with distinction by enriching our jurisprudence with his sharp mind and wisdom."

Mr Cavinder Bull, chief executive officer of Drew & Napier, said: "We thank him for his 35 years of dedication to the firm, and wish him every success in the next stage of his journey."

With Mr Gill's appointment, the Supreme Court will now have a total of 21 judges - including four judges of appeal and the chief justice - six judicial commissioners, four senior judges and 15 international judges.

The judicial commissioners include Mr Tan Puay Boon, Ms Mavis Chionh and Mr Ang Cheng Hock, who were appointed in February.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

SGX takes carrot and stick approach to set good corporate behaviour

Business Times
17 Jul 2018
Angela Tan

Good behaviour to be rewarded; chain of accountability in place to deal with malfeasance

Carrot and stick - that's how the Singapore Exchange (SGX) will shape and deal with the corporate behaviour of listed companies here.

Outlining this to directors at a closed-door seminar organised by SGX and Sias (Securities Investors Association Singapore), Tan Boon Gin, chief executive officer of SGX Regulation (SGX RegCo), said SGX will not take a one-size-fits-all approach in regulating the close to 750 companies listed on the exchange.

"We simply can't because companies can be very different in the way they comply with our listing rules, or even with the law," Mr Tan said.

SGX's "tiering" approach will see well-behaving companies put on the "fast track" list, allowing for instance faster processing of market actions, while errant companies will face the full force of regulatory scrutiny.

"How we 'tier' companies determines what we do when it comes to our role as the front-line regulator," he said.

In dealing with what it categorised as tier-3 companies - the most notorious, where criminal behaviour has taken place, or where some form of fraud or other is taking place - SGX will look into whether or not any wrongdoing extends all the way back to the initial public offer (IPO).

If the issue managers have fallen short of SGX's standards in the listing process, action can be taken against them. This include barring the issue manager from the securities market.

The market regulator's role is also to investigate whether the criminal wrongdoing should have been detected earlier.

"If the auditors are not doing their job, we need to refer them to their regulators, to the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) and Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) so that the individual or the firm respectively can be held accountable. If they, the regulators, make findings against an auditor, we may even bar the auditor from our securities market," Mr Tan said.

While there is a chain of accountability in place to deal with malfeasance, the legal power to investigate crime lies with law enforcement agencies. Once a criminal behaviour is identified, law enforcement agencies, including the police, will step in.

"These are the agencies which have the necessary legal powers to investigate crime, to raid premises, seize documents and equipment, arrest the parties involved, and at the end of the day, seek the appropriate punishment such as imprisonment and other heavy penalties for the guilty parties.

"In short, these agencies have legal powers above and beyond SGX as a market regulator. They will therefore lead any investigation to be taken against the wrong-doers," he said. "So where fraud, bribery and other forms of financial crimes are suspected, or have occurred, it's the law enforcement agencies that have the primary role in investigation and accountability."

In dealing with tier-2 companies - those which may not have committed any fraud but are more cavalier when it comes to complying with SGX's Listing Rules - SGX will take the lead.

"If it is something that falls squarely within our listing rules, it is fair to expect SGX, as the owner of the Listing Rules, to take the lead in investigation and accountability," Mr Tan said.

"Recalcitrant companies and directors should expect no reprieve until they get their act together. We also have new disciplinary committees and powers to hold such companies and directors accountable."

As for the tier-1 companies, the law-abiding or rule-compliant group, SGX offers regulatory "carrots" like its latest fast-track initiative, which offers faster time-to-market processing corporate actions, among others.

Market players generally were positive on SGX's tiered approach.

Associate Professor Lawrence Loh, director of the Centre of Governance, Institutions and Organisations of the NUS Business School, said the fast-track list is "a strong first step to recognising the good performers in corporate governance".

"It will be good if we also work on getting stakeholders, particularly investors, to attach a premium on companies on this fast-track list," he suggested.

Stefanie Yuen Thio, joint managing partner at TSMP Law Corporation, felt that getting onto the fast track list should not be the end-game.

"Listed companies should strive for excellence in governance, and let the fast track regulatory carrot be the reward. That way, we improve the overall corporate governance of SGX-listed companies and lift the entire market," Ms Thio said.

On SGX's regulatory system, she stressed that "regulatory carrots must co-exist in an ecosystem where there is ease and speed of enforcement against recalcitrants".

"Currently the SGX's arsenal against the listed 'bad boys' are blunt instruments. The Companies Act makes it difficult and prohibitively expensive for minority shareholders to take up arms against mismanaging directors. Furthermore, severe enforcement action - which can only be taken by the government bodies - is long drawn.

"We need to re-look at the entire system and make sure that these 'bad boys' are being held to account quickly and effectively, by both the regulators as well as shareholders," Ms Thio said.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

33 months' jail for Singaporean woman in US Navy graft case

Straits Times
07 Jul 2018
Jan Lee

She was paid more than $130,000 in bribes to help S'pore-based firm win navy contracts

A 57-year-old Singaporean woman involved in the largest bribery and fraud conspiracy in the history of the United States Navy was sentenced yesterday to 33 months' jail.

Sharon Rachael Gursharan Kaur, who was based here and hired as a lead contract specialist for the US Navy, received more than $130,000 in bribes for giving Singapore-based defence contractor Leonard Glenn Francis, or "Fat Leonard", information about the US Navy that was not available to the public.

The case - known as the Fat Leonard scandal - involved some US$35 million (S$48 million) and resulted in the arrest and conviction of several senior US Navy officers.

Kaur, who broke down after the sentence was handed down, had pleaded guilty to three corruption charges and one count of dealing with the benefits of her criminal activities on June 30 last year.

Five other charges for similar offences were considered during sentencing.

Kaur, who has made full restitution, is planning to appeal.

She started out as a procurement assistant in 1989 before becoming a lead contract specialist at the navy's Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Centre in Singapore.

Her job involved managing ship maintenance and upkeep contracts worth millions of dollars, as well as evaluating contractors.

She met Francis some time before she was promoted to lead contract specialist and their interactions increased after her promotion in 2005. From 2006 to 2013, Kaur gave Francis non-public information that was sensitive and strategic, despite knowing that she was not supposed to do so.

This enabled Francis to prepare more competitive bids and ensure that his company - Glenn Defence Marine Asia (GDMA), which was incorporated in Singapore - could secure lucrative contracts with the navy.

Francis pleaded guilty to his offences in the US on Jan 15, 2015, and remains in custody there. He faces a maximum jail term of 25 years and has since agreed to forfeit US$35 million in personal assets.

The court heard that the information Kaur leaked was linked to 16 US Navy contracts. GDMA submitted bids for 14 of them and was awarded 11 contracts worth some US$48 million in total.

In exchange for her information, Francis gave her the bribes.

On one occasion, Francis gave Kaur $50,000 in cash to pay the option fee for a condominium unit worth more than $1 million. She and her husband later sold the unit for a profit of over $260,000.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Jiang Ke-Yue and Kelvin Chong argued that in the light of the profit she gained from the condominium unit and how the option fee was corruptly obtained, Kaur should not get full mitigating value for her restitution. They said the $130,000 restituted did not account for the property gains.

They asked for a jail sentence of at least 43 months for Kaur.

Kaur's lawyer Suresh Damodara pleaded that his client not be sent to jail.

He said she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and underwent a total hysterectomy in late 2016. He added that under normal conditions, she has a 10 to 15 per cent chance of a relapse.

Kaur was sentenced to 33 months' jail.

For corruption, she could have faced up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $100,000.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Businessman's life term changed to death after appeal

Straits Times
28 Jun 2018
Selina Lum

A 58-year-old businessman who was originally given life imprisonment for the "bloody and brutal" murder of his wife's former lover was sentenced to hang yesterday after the apex court overturned the earlier decision and allowed an appeal by prosecutors for the death penalty.

A three-judge Court of Appeal said the actions of Chia Kee Chen "exhibited such viciousness and such a blatant disregard for the life of the deceased, and are so grievous an affront to humanity and so abhorrent that the death penalty is the appropriate, indeed the only adequate sentence".

The court noted that the death penalty, being the "final and ter-minal sentence", should be imposed only after "the most anxious consideration".

Chia abducted the victim, material analyst Dexmon Chua Yizhi, 37, near his Choa Chu Kang flat, forced him into the back of a van and severely assaulted him between Dec 28 and Dec 29, 2013.

The Singaporean had an accomplice, Indonesian Febri Irwansyah Djatmiko, 35, who fled the country.

A second accomplice, Chua Leong Aik, 67, who drove the van, is serving a five-year term.

The victim's body was later dumped in a military live firing area in Lim Chu Kang.

Explaining its reasons for imposing the death sentence, the court said Chia was the mastermind as he wanted to exact revenge on the victim for carrying on an affair with his wife, who is 52 this year.

Although the defence argued that Febri was the one who inflicted the blows, the court pointed out that he was doing so under Chia's directions.

"One who hires an assassin to kill another or who otherwise controls a killer cannot be less culpable than the one who does the killing," said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who delivered the judgment.

The court added that Chia did not tell Febri to stop attacking the victim, but joined in the assault.

The court also said Chia showed a high degree of planning and premeditation. He was familiar with the victim's movements, recruited accomplices, procured a van and knew where to dump the body.

The attack on the victim was "undeniably vicious and brutal", said the court. Almost every facial bone, from the victim's eye socket to the lower jaw, was fractured. Blood was found on the ceiling, rear door and side of the van.

The court also noted that after dumping the body and washing the van, Chia calmly left for Malaysia with his wife and daughters for a holiday, using the opportunity to take Febri out of Singapore.

Referring to Chua's police statements, the court said the picture that emerged was that Chia wanted the victim to suffer as much as possible. "The only regret that Chia ever expressed was that the deceased had died before he could cause the deceased even more suffering."

Two similar cases


In 2004, freelance Taoist priest Tony Koh Zhan Quan, 36, and coffee shop assistant Lim Poh Lye, 44, were charged with the murder of a scrap car dealer, who was stabbed seven times.

The body of Mr Bock Tuan Thong, 56, was found stuffed in the boot of a Mercedes-Benz in a multi-storey carpark in Boon Keng Road.

In 2005, after a 12-day trial, a High Court judge cleared the duo of murder and found them guilty of the lesser offence of robbery with hurt.

Lim was sentenced to the maximum jail term of 20 years with 24 cane strokes, and Koh, 15 years with 20 strokes.

The prosecution appealed, arguing that the trial judge had erred in interpreting the law.

A three-judge Court of Appeal agreed and convicted the duo of murder, which carried the mandatory death penalty at the time.


In 2010, Jabing Kho was convicted of murder and sentenced to the mandatory death penalty by the High Court for bashing to death a Chinese national while robbing him.

His appeal was dismissed in 2011, but he was given a lifeline as hangings were put on hold when the Government began a review of the mandatory death penalty that year.

In 2013, changes to the law kicked in, giving judges discretion to impose life imprisonment in certain murder cases.

Kho applied to be re-sentenced, and was given life imprisonment. The prosecution appealed against the decision.

In 2015, a five-judge Court of Appeal ruled, three to two, that Kho would hang.

The landmark decision provided guidelines on when the death penalty was warranted and when it was not mandatory.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Dapai rapped by SGX RegCo over non-existent stores

Business Times
17 Jul 2018
Annabeth Leow

Suspended backpack maker Dapai International Holdings Co has been hauled over the coals by the market regulator for breaching listing rules.

Singapore Exchange Regulation (SGX RegCo) publicly reprimanded the company on Monday, along with a director and two former executives, over false statements and other breaches.

Singapore-listed companies are also advised to consult SGX RegCo before appointing Dapai executive chairman Chen Xizhong, former chief executive Chen Yong and former chief financial officer Lawrence Lam Pong Sui as directors or management.

SGX RegCo's decision came on the heels of separate independent reviews by BDO and Kordamentha, which looked into transactions supposedly involving new retail branches. Dapai announced in 2009 that it planned to open 500 outlets across China, later saying that some 410 million yuan (S$83.6 million) went to paying distributors and contractors for the store openings.

But SGX RegCo said on Monday that "the Exchange is drawn to the irresistible conclusion that the majority of outlets had never been opened".

It also concluded that the money had been used for "other undisclosed purposes", instead of paying alleged distributors or contractors.

Dapai thus fell afoul of the bourse's rule against making non-factual, false and misleading statements, said SGX RegCo.

The regulator also flagged false and misleading confirmations in company annual reports about the adequacy of Dapai's internal controls.

It pointed to how Dapai did not follow up on findings from a 2011 internal audit, or keep accounting records for the 15 years required by Chinese law, as signs that the company had failed to put in place a robust and effective internal controls system.

On top of that, SGX RegCo noted that Mr Chen Xizhong, Mr Chen Yong and Mr Lam did not respond to the show-cause letters issued over their listing rule breaches.

Both Mr Chens failed to ensure that company announcements were true and accurate, said SGX RegCo, while none of the three men made sure that the company had robust, effective internal controls. It determined that the men had failed to demonstrate the character and integrity expected of listed issuers' key management.

SGX RegCo added that it "has referred the case to the relevant authorities", which The Business Times understands to be the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Dapai faces delisting, and trading has been suspended by the bourse since August 2017.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

OG founder's grandson taken to court by alleged lover's husband

Straits Times
07 Jul 2018
Jan Lee

43-year-old accused of harassing civil servant with text messages aimed at causing distress

The grandson of one of Singapore's richest families is in court for harassing his alleged lover's husband.

Kelvin Liu Chin Chan, 43, who was married then, faces one charge under the Protection from Harassment Act brought by civil servant Desmond Tay.

Liu's grandfather is the late billionaire Tay Tee Peng, the foun-der of OG department store. The family has made the Forbes list for its wealth.

Mr Desmond Tay, who is currently attached to the Singapore Consulate-General in Shanghai, took the stand yesterday to accuse Liu of harassing him with text messages and photographs intended to belittle and cause distress to him.

In his testimony, Mr Tay, 39, said he learnt of the alleged affair only when Liu's wife contacted him on May 31, 2016.

She alleged that her husband and Mr Tay's wife, a Madam Lim, were having improper relations.

He was also told that his wife and Liu were planning a trip to Hong Kong together in June that year.

Mr Tay revealed that after being told about the alleged affair, he hired a private investigator and found out his wife and Liu travelled to Hong Kong from June 7 to 10 that year.

Later that month, Madam Lim denied she was cheating on Mr Tay.

To clarify the issue, she told Mr Tay to create a WhatsApp chat group with all four parties included. He did so and named it "Confessions of Marco Polo".

But in the chat group, Liu allegedly sent belittling and humiliating messages, calling Mr Tay an "idiot" and "wayang king", and asserted that Mr Tay was lying about the nature of Madam Lim's relationship with Liu.

Mr Tay testified that he also felt that Liu was being condescending to him by calling him "Des" because the two men were unacquainted with each other.

He added that he felt mocked over his lack of wealth and knowledge when Liu questioned him about the legal requirements for adultery and told him to seek advice from lawyers working for prominent firms.

Mr Tay said Liu sent him two photos - a topless picture of Mr Tay, which was taken by Madam Lim in private, and a photo of a topless torso with the face obscured, believed by Mr Tay to be Liu himself.

Mr Tay said: "I think he wanted to let me know that he had something private of me and make me feel vulnerable.

"It felt like he was trying to say he is superior to me in physique, which is why my wife is with him and not me," he added.

It was heard in court that Mr Tay's wife filed for divorce in August 2016. But he filed a defence and counterclaim on the basis of adultery.

Liu, who is representing himself, yesterday cross-examined Mr Tay, claiming the younger man had made several threats to him through third parties. He produced WhatsApp conversations in court where Mr Tay called him "a real joke" and said he was prepared to tell everyone about the case.

Madam Lim and her mother Madam Tan will be taking the stand as witnesses for Liu.

The case has been adjourned for a pre-trial conference.

For harassment, Liu can be jailed for up to a year and liable to a $10,000 fine.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

More jail time to rehabilitate man who killed wife

Straits Times
28 Jun 2018
Selina Lum

A retired aircraft technician who killed his wife of 36 years during a psychotic episode will spend more time in prison after the Court of Appeal raised his sentence from two years to six.

The three-judge court stressed yesterday that the longer jail time was not to punish Kong Peng Yee, 70, but to rehabilitate him and prevent him from harming others.

"We believe that an imprisonment term of six years will give the respondent sufficient time to become accustomed to the new reality of having to take medication in a disciplined manner," said Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang, who delivered the judgment.

Hopefully, this will be of "great benefit" to Kong when he is freed and returns to live in an uncontrolled environment, said the court.

The court rejected the prosecution's argument for a nine-year jail term, premised on the principles of deterrence and retribution.

"We think a sentence of six years will also assuage, to a reasonable degree, any concerns that the public might have about a potentially dangerous man living in its midst, especially someone who killed his wife of more than three decades in a most brutal and violent manner only slightly more than two years ago," it said.

Kong's sentence was the shortest ever meted out for intentional culpable homicide in Singapore.

Kong started having delusions that his family was trying to harm him in 2016. On the afternoon of March 13, 2016, he woke up from a nap, took a knife from the kitchen of the family's home in Sengkang, and stabbed Madam Wong Chik Yeok, 63, until she was dead.

He then told his sister to call the police and wrote on a piece of paper how his assets should be distributed.

An autopsy noted 189 injuries, including knife wounds and bruises, on Madam Wong.

Kong told police he believed he should kill his wife first because his family might want to kill him.

Remanded in custody since his arrest, he was released from prison on the day he was sentenced, in October last year. He has since remained at the Institute of Mental Health as a voluntary patient.

Taking into account the usual one-third remission of a sentence for good behaviour, Kong will have to serve another two years and five months in prison.

In arriving at its decision, the court looked at various sentencing options and settled on a longer prison term, saying it was in the public interest.

"In prison, he will have free and easy access to psychiatric services, live in a structured environment, and be subject to the supervision of trained staff who can ensure that he consumes his medication and assist him along the path of recovery," said the court.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Why should Singapore SMEs care about EU's General Data Protection Regulation?

Business Times
17 Jul 2018
Duncan Brown

Organisations all over the world have been scrambling to prepare for the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force on May 25. Many multinational corporations, with sufficient resources to create a robust data security framework, would have started preparing their organisations months in advance to ensure they are GDPR compliant.

Indeed, the GDPR is affecting millions of companies worldwide, requiring any business that captures, stores or processes the personal data of EU residents to comply with the GDPR. This also includes small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore.

It doesn't concern me, does it?

Believing that they are too small to be affected, SMEs may think that the GDPR can do them no harm. However, with more Singapore SMEs providing their services to customers internationally, the impact of the GDPR will be more widely felt than expected.

Globalisation has provided more opportunities for local SMEs to expand their horizons and sell their products and services to foreign markets or to provide services to companies that do. In fact, according to a survey from DP Information Group, the combined profits of the top 1,000 SMEs in Singapore plunged by 17.1 per cent to S$2.9b in 2017, as local SMEs channel their business towards foreign markets.

This could potentially imply that there is a greater chance that local SMEs are coming into contact with EU residents, either directly or indirectly, sometimes without being explicitly aware of it. As such, SMEs may need to pay greater attention to the GDPR and how it may impact their business.

An unbearable cost for SMEs . . . not to comply

In the grand scheme of things, data security is usually a relatively low priority for SME business owners, who may have other more pressing matters to attend to, such as financial concerns and other day-to-day operational issues.

For instance, the 2017 SME Development (SMED) Survey found that 35 per cent of SMEs have finance-related issues - a 13 per cent jump in the last 12 months and the highest percentage since the survey began tracking this issue in 2011.

However, GDPR can hit Singapore SMEs' bottom line. Hard. Local regulation, the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), may impose a maximum fine of S$1 million on any organisation which is found to have breached its regulations. This pales in comparison to the penalties laid out by the GDPR.

Any organisation that is found to have breached regulations under the GDPR can be fined up to 20 million euros or 4 per cent of an organisation's global turnover. If we convert that to Singapore dollars, that could easily be more than S$30 million - 30 times larger than a PDPA fine!

While these numbers may seem daunting to hear, complying with the GDPR may not necessarily be that expensive, especially if SMEs are already PDPA compliant.

Organisations need to ensure that they protect any personal data within their control and destroy data that no longer serves the purpose for which it was required.

SMEs that comply with the PDPA are well on their way to being GDPR compliant as well. With awareness of their obligations under the PDPA at 92 per cent, Singapore organisations are in a strong position to protect their data and comply with the GDPR.

The importance of adopting a holistic data security policy

To comply with the PDPA and GDPR, SMEs are encouraged to adopt a holistic approach to data security, paying attention to both digital and physical data.

With the Singapore government providing over S$80 million in grants to help SMEs digitise, it is apparent that many SMEs are still on the road to becoming fully digital. As such, there is still ample confidential data stored on hard copy.

Physical data that is left unprotected can make it easier for a physical data breach to happen, accidental or deliberate, if the data isn't securely destroyed. It is still possible for personal data to be stolen from physical documents which are not destroyed securely. For instance, this year a youth stole a physical list of NRIC numbers from a community event and used the personal information he obtained to illegally apply for mobile phone plans.

What SMEs can do to safeguard their data

Even if SMEs feel that data security is important, they may lack the resources or the know-how to enforce GDPR compliance. However, SMEs can take small steps to ensure that their organisation protects all data in their care, be it digital or physical. Engaging the services of a trusted document destruction provider can help SMEs securely destroy all unwanted confidential data. If in doubt, SMEs can consider shredding all documents to fully prevent any personal data from falling into the wrong hands.

Furthermore, SMEs should familiarise themselves with the PDPA and review their current data protection practices. Appointing a Data Protection Officer (DPO) is mandatory under the PDPA. Despite this, a recent 2017 PDPC Industry Survey found that only 51 per cent of organisations have appointed a DPO so far.

DPOs can greatly assist in promoting a culture of data security, ensuring that SMEs stay on track with the PDPA and GDPR compliance requirements. In addition, being aware of changes in the data security landscape and staying open to new practices can help SMEs protect all data in their care and uphold their reputations as businesses that can be trusted.

  • The writer is general manager, Shred-it Singapore.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

SembMarine to pay higher price of US$39m for Sevan Marine ASA's IP rights after talks with shareholders

Business Times
07 Jul 2018
Nisha Ramchandani

Sembcorp Marine (SembMarine) will pay US$39 million for the acquisition of the intellectual property rights of Oslo-listed Sevan Marine ASA - instead of US$28 million - after negotiations with several of Sevan Marine's shareholders.

On June 8, it had previously announced that its wholly-owned subsidiary, Sembcorp Marine Integrated Yard, was entering into a sale and purchase agreement with Sevan Marine to acquire its interests and title to all its intellectual property; a 95 per cent stake in HiLoad LNG AS, which is a Sevan Marine subsidiary holding certain intellectual property rights; the takeover of all operating and associated costs in maintaining Sevan Marine's three office locations; and the transfer of 26 Sevan Marine employees.

SembMarine will fund the revised amount through a combination of internal funds and bank financing, it said in an update on Friday.

As part of the revised deal, Sevan Marine will not be able to terminate the transaction in favour of any alternative offer.

Sevan Marine specialises in the design, engineering and project execution of floating units for offshore applications. Its main product is a cylindrical platform used for floating production and drilling.

In the June announcement, SembMarine highlighted that through the acquisition, it will be well-placed with a suite of intellectual properties and knowledge to execute leading-edge design and engineering solutions for the global offshore and marine sectors. It had also highlighted that this acquisition would bring an end to a long-standing dispute between the two companies, adding that the litigation between the group and Sevan Marine in the US Courts over the infringement of SembMarine's intellectual property rights will be terminated, subject to completion.

Sevan Marine had scheduled its extraordinary general meeting on July 6 to obtain the necessary approvals for the proposed transaction.

Shares in SembMarine closed at S$1.91 on Friday, down six Singapore cents or 3 per cent.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Goodluck Garden to go to High Court over collective sale

Straits Times
28 Jun 2018

7 minority owners object to sale, say information withheld which could have led to higher price

The collective sale of Goodluck Garden in Toh Tuck Road, agreed on in March for $610 million, has hit a road block after seven minority owners objected, saying that information was withheld which could have allowed them to sell the property for a higher price.

Owners of the 210-unit freehold residential development will go to court after the Strata Titles Board (STB) issued a stop order yesterday, with two failed rounds of mediation this month.

This means the board is unable to approve the en bloc application and the collective sale committee (CSC) will have 14 days to apply to the High Court to seek approval for the sale. The Straits Times understands this is what it will do, and a hearing of the court application could occur in early September.

Goodluck Garden was sold to Qingjian Group above the reserve price of $550 million, the fifth largest collective sale this year and the property's first collective sale attempt. The $610 million price also represented a 12.5 per cent premium over what ST understands was a $542 million valuation at the close of tender as well.

When the tender closed on March 7, owners making up 81.93 per cent of the total strata area and 81.35 per cent of the total share value had consented to the sale.

Perennial Real Estate Holdings announced a 40-60 joint venture in April with Qingjian to redevelop the site.

Objectors to the sale made their grievances known in a blog post yesterday afternoon. They claimed the CSC and marketing agent Knight Frank had told residents there would be a development charge (DC) for the site, but it turned out near the end of the tender period that there would be no such charge.

"If the owners had known that there was no DC, it is likely that the owners would have wanted a higher reserve price," the post said.

It also argued that the CSC should have stopped the tender process to seek a fresh mandate on the reserve price, held a re-tender, or extended the tender period.

Knight Frank said it was unable to comment.

Present at the STB hearing yesterday was the collective sale chairman of Goodluck Garden, who declined to be named, and said the matter was up to the High Court to decide. None of the other owners, including the objectors, turned up at the hearing.

After a buyer is found in a collective sale process, an application is made to the STB, which will decide if the sale can go through. However, dissenting owners can still raise their objections.

The STB also mediates matters in dispute for a maximum 60-day period. If the dispute cannot be resolved and objections are not withdrawn, the stop order is issued and the matter is turned over to the High Court.

Rajah & Tann represents the CSC, while TSMP Law Corporation represents the objectors.

According to the sale and purchase agreement with Qingjian, the CSC must apply to the High Court to overturn the stop order and obtain a sale order within five months from the date of the stop order.

The Straits Times understands that in the event the timeline is breached, Qingjian has the option to extend it, or abort the sale. In the event that there is no sale order, Qingjian will take back its deposit.

This not the first en bloc sale dispute to involve the Qingjian Group. Qingjian Realty bought the former 358-unit Shunfu Ville in its first collective sale purchase for $638 million in May 2016, but five unit owners objected to the sale.

The High Court gave the sale the green light in January last year, and an appeal by objectors was dismissed in May that year. Owners have vacated the property and the launch of the new development JadeScape is expected this year.

Qingjian did not reply to requests for comment.

Other past high-profile collective sale disputes include those involving Horizon Towers, Thomson View and Gilstead Court.

Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director of ZACD Group, said: "On a big picture level, this won't dampen developers' appetite." But it does mean a "wake-up call" for developers, property agents and CSCs that the path to getting proceeds after a buyer is found is not straightforward, he said.

Mr Ku Swee Yong, chief executive of International Property Advisor, said developers may become "more cautious in their due diligence of the en bloc sites offered to them for consideration".

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Putting the brakes on vexatious legal actions

Straits Times
16 Jul 2018
Selina Lum

After being fired from her job in 1998, a former civil servant waged a 16-year legal battle against the Government over her dismissal.

Each time a court dismissed her case, Ms Lai Swee Lin filed another one to challenge the decision and to revive her claims.

In 2016, the Court of Appeal put a stop to her persistent legal actions after the Attorney-General applied for an order to restrain her from continuing with such attempts.

The application was made under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (SCJA), which empowers the court to bar people who "habitually and persistently" launch vexatious legal proceedings from starting or continuing legal proceedings without the High Court's permission.

Earlier this month, the Law Ministry proposed amendments to the Act that it said would allow the court to take a more "nuanced" approach in dealing with vexatious litigants.

"Today, the High Court is only able to ban all further legal proceedings brought by a vexatious litigant. This is an extreme remedy and may not always be appropriate," the ministry said, in putting the proposals to public consultation.

The amendments, which draw from Britain and Canada, empower the High Court and the Court of Appeal to restrain a vexatious litigant to varying degrees, depending on the facts of his case.

The proposed changes will also allow the court to stay proceedings if it is satisfied they are being conducted in a vexatious manner and to bar further documents from being filed if it finds that doing so would be vexatious or for an improper purpose.

Lawyer R. S. Wijaya said these are slight variations to existing rules - a "fine-tuning" to give judges more flexibility in exercising their discretion.

Others who have been declared "vexatious litigants" under the SCJA include:

• Property agent Tee Kok Boon, who filed persistent applications in attempts to quash his conviction for perjury.

• A family of three - Ms Tham Yim Siong and her parents Tham Wah Pun and Ho Mee Foon - who filed a string of applications after their bid to bankrupt nine Cabinet ministers was thrown out.

In his 39 years of practice, Mr Wijaya has had personal experience with litigants who become preoccupied with their court battles. The thinking that "I must win it at any cost" is what drives them, he said.

"You have to communicate to them that there can only be one winner and one loser and only the judge decides it. We can try to persuade the judge to take your side, but we are always officers of the court, our duty is to the court.

"If you have exhausted your avenues, there must be rigorous rules to manage this so that the court's time won't be wasted."

In the judgment in Ms Lai's case, Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash said the rules do not only protect the court from being "inundated with endless and unmeritorious litigation" to the detriment of others.

It also protects the opposing party from being "unwillingly dragged along" by a litigant who "obsessively takes step after step in the courts to achieve his aim".

Finally, it protects the vexatious litigant from himself. "If such an order is not made, the vexatious litigant, having lost sight of rationality or reality and being armed with an aggravated sense of injustice about his case, is very likely to persist indefinitely in instituting legal proceedings."

When The Straits Times contacted Ms Lai, 62, last week, she maintained she was not dismissed because of her poor work performance and poor working relationship with her colleagues. But she added: "What's past is past. Let bygones be bygones."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Mall tenant told to pay $2.7m to landlord

Straits Times
06 Jul 2018
Selina Lum

The owner of a restaurant and bar in Kallang Wave Mall that closed down, after failing to pay rent for eight months, has been ordered to pay $2.7 million to the landlord.

The Court of Appeal yesterday upheld an earlier High Court decision that landlord SMRT Alpha was entitled to recover from Strait Colonies more than $562,000 in outstanding rent and late payment interest, and $2.16 million in damages for breach of contract.

Strait Colonies operated Straits Express Restaurant & Bar at the mall between December 2014 and September 2015. It also ran a club, China One, in Clarke Quay.

In March 2014, Strait Colonies agreed to operate a business at the mall, which is part of the Singapore Sports Hub. The five-year lease agreement stated the premises could be used as a "pub cum F&B" outlet with live music.

In May, SMRT Alpha applied to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to change the use of the premises from "restaurant" to "restaurant cum pub". But URA said the premises can be used only as a "restaurant with ancillary bar" for three years.

Strait Colonies then asked for a cut in rent as it could not operate under its original business model, but was unsuccessful.

The lease was signed in August 2014, after which Strait Colonies carried out fitting works at the premises while it sought to convince URA to approve "ancillary live entertainment". The restaurant and bar became fully operational in December that year.

On Feb 12, 2015, SMRT Alpha raised the rent as the floor area was slightly larger than previously stated. Strait Colonies objected but to no avail.

The tenant then began to fall behind in paying rent. SMRT Alpha gave it until Sept 30 to submit a settlement plan. That day, Strait Colonies vacated the premises.

SMRT Alpha sued Strait Colonies, which argued it was entitled to rescind the contract because the landlord had misrepresented the use of the premises.

The High Court accepted that the landlord had made misrepresentations. But the tenant had affirmed the contract by taking possession of the premises, doing fitting works, opening for business and paying rent initially.

Strait Colonies appealed but the three-judge apex court said yesterday, among other things, that the contract holds since the company signed it without any qualifications after learning of URA's decision. The court also found Strait Colonies was aware of its legal right to rescind the contract, pointing to text messages from its director in August 2014 saying the firm may have to "walk away"and "close the chapter".

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

$153k fine for employers of victims in Geylang fire

Straits Times
28 Jun 2018
Charmaine Ng

Trio housed foreign workers in overcrowded shophouse, resulting in four deaths in 2014

Three employers have been fined a total of $153,000 for housing foreign workers in overcrowded private residential premises, resulting in the death of four workers in a 2014 shophouse fire.

Ong Lai Kar, director of Essential Clean and Care; Ong Huay Chew, director of Seng Foo Building Construction; and Koh Kok Seng, director of Bestway Cleaning Services, have also been barred from employing foreign workers.

The trio were convicted under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act last Friday. They had housed their foreign workers in a shophouse in Lorong 4 Geylang since August 2014, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.

On Dec 6 that year, a fire broke out in the shophouse, leading to the deaths of four workers and several others being injured.

While the cause of the fire was electrical in origin, the ministry's investigations revealed that 22 foreign workers were residing in the shophouse, which exceeded the Urban Redevelopment Authority's then-prevailing occupancy cap of eight persons.

MOM then took prosecution action against the employers for housing the workers in overcrowded conditions, the ministry said.

One of the directors, Ong Lai Kar, is also facing charges of abetting the other two employers to house their foreign workers in the overcrowded shophouse.

The master tenant, property owner and other involved parties of the affected unit are also facing charges under the Planning Act and Fire Safety Act. If convicted, they could be fined up to $200,000, jailed up to two years, or both, under the Fire Safety Act.

Ms Jeanette Har, director of well-being at MOM's foreign manpower management division, said employers who fail to ensure that their workers are housed in safe and proper accommodation will be firmly taken to task.

"Lives have been lost. Employers are legally obliged to exercise a duty of care towards their workers, and this duty cannot be simply delegated to others," she was quoted as saying in MOM's statement.

In the last two years, MOM has conducted more than 3,000 housing inspections on private residences housing foreign workers.

Foreign workers who have issues with their accommodation are urged to first raise the matter to their employer, the ministry said.

"If their employers fail to make improvements to the living conditions, they should immediately seek advice and assistance from the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) at 6536-2692 or report the matter to MOM at 6438-5122," it added.

"Members of the public who come across foreign workers living in overcrowded and poorly maintained accommodation can similarly report the matter to MWC or MOM."


Lives have been lost. Employers are legally obliged to exercise a duty of care towards their workers, and this duty cannot be simply delegated to others.


Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Recent High Court judgments creating positive ripples for low-wage and migrant workers

15 Jul 2018
Kelly Ng

Recent landmark High Court judgments involving foreign workers appear to have created positive ripples for lower-wage workers here, but non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and lawyers said more can be done to prevent disputes between employers and workers from landing in court.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Monday (July 9) it may bar employers from paying foreign workers less than the amount stated in their in-principle approvals (IPAs), which are letters the companies receive from the MOM after their work-permit applications are approved.

The IPAs state key salary terms including basic and fixed monthly salary, and companies must send the letters to foreign workers before they depart for Singapore.

Since February this year, when mediating salary disputes, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) has insisted that employers provide documentary evidence that a worker has consented to any salary reduction. It no longer allows for arguments that a worker provided tacit or verbal consent, the MOM said in a parliamentary reply to Member of Parliament Louis Ng.

While the ministry made no mention of a High Court ruling in November last year, Justice Lee Seiu Kin had said in the absence of any other written agreement between employer and employee, the salary stated in the IPA should be paid.

"I would go so far as to state that even if there was a written contract of employment which provides for a monthly basic salary of less than the sum stated in the IPA, the burden would lie on the employer to show why the IPA figure does not reflect the true salary," Justice Lee said in the case involving a worker from China.

In another ruling in May, High Court judge George Wei said a Bangladeshi site supervisor was entitled to more overtime pay as he was "not employed in an executive or managerial position". The decision stirred public debate and prompted National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay to chime in on the unfair practice of misclassifying workmen as "managers" or "executives".

The MOM said it takes a "serious view" of firms' attempts to misclassify their employees to avoid obligations, and warned that "stern action" would be taken against errant employers.

In handling such complaints, a ministry spokesperson said the MOM and TADM are guided by the law as interpreted by the courts. Where relevant, they would be guided by the judgment.

"The case started a discussion and created awareness in the public about this practice unfair to low-wage workers," said lawyer Ronald Wong of Covenant Chambers.


The two High Court cases are significant because they clarify certain "grey areas" in the law, said lawyer Melvin Chan, who represented the workers in both cases and won.

NGO Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) said it would welcome a "decided move" by the MOM to ban salary reductions from levels stipulated in IPAs for the duration of the work permit. The approach is much "cleaner" than the present scheme, which allows for salaries to be reduced with the workers' written consent and requires employers to inform the MOM. The current system has caused a lot of dispute and added to the workloads at MOM and the TADM, said TWC2 treasurer Alex Au.

On Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad's concern that foreign workers who perform below par would get repatriated under the suggested approach – which the MOM will discuss with stakeholders – Mr Au said employers should be "nudged to invest" in retraining their staff. "It would align with Singapore's general idea of improving productivity," he said.

To guard against employers who may frequently repatriate and switch workers as a result, the authorities could model the scheme after the approach for hiring foreign domestic workers, said Mr Au.

Currently, the MOM considers employers who hire domestic helpers more than three times in a year as a cause for concern. Those who wish to hire a fourth domestic helper within the one-year period will either have to meet with the ministry's officials or attend the Employers' Orientation Programme before they can hire another worker.

The MOM could also design a safeguard to keep a closer watch on firms that prematurely terminate more than a certain percentage of its work permit quota. "There are plenty of ways in which we can nip in the bud the tendency to abuse the termination flexibility given to employers," said Mr Au.


The recent judgments are all the more significant, given the extra fortitude it takes for migrant workers to pursue their claims in court. For many, there is the fear of getting fired or repatriated.

"The overall system of resolving salary claims heavily emphasises conciliation, which tilts the outcome, in terms of opportunity cost, towards settlements rather than upholding legal rights," said Ms Desiree Leong, a volunteer at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics.

Since April last year, salary-related disputes for workers regardless of income levels have been heard at the Employment Claims Tribunals, which operate under the umbrella of the State Courts. Cases heard at the tribunals must first have undergone mediation at the TADM.

To appeal to the High Court against a tribunal order, one must obtain permission from the District Court.

To raise awareness of the recent court judgments, Mr Chan suggested the authorities convey relevant, precedent-setting court rulings to employees and workers through pamphlets or circulars.

Mr Au called for more safeguards to prevent disputes from happening, such as stronger enforcement against employers who fail to keep proper records of hours clocked and amounts paid.

He said: "We should strive for prevention measures to be put in place so that we don't have to bring matters to court in the first place."


Other recent High Court judgments that could improve the lot of foreign workers


In March, a panel of three judges including Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon upheld the conviction of a married couple who abused their Indonesian maid and increased the sentence for the husband.

It laid out a sentencing framework for maid abuse cases that will, where relevant, identify the degree of physical and psychological harm caused in relation to each charge.

Chief Justice Menon had signalled in 2016 the need to calibrate sentencing benchmarks "upwards" for maid abuse offences.


In a 2016 judgment, the High Court ruled that legal costs could be awarded to the worker although he was represented pro bono. While many judges were already doing so prior to the ruling, the case provided a platform to "actively ask for costs", said lawyer Melvin Chan.

Such awards, however small, go a long way in helping impecunious litigants pay off administrative fees and eases the burden of lawyers from small firms.

Copyright 2018 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Grab-Uber deal breaches competition laws: Watchdog

Straits Times
06 Jul 2018
Christopher Tan

It proposes to impose financial penalties; Grab disagrees with assessment and defends merger

After more than three months of deliberation, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) has determined that ride-hailing firm Grab's acquisition of American rival Uber's South-east Asian business is an infringement of competition laws. It proposes to impose fines on both players.

In a statement released yesterday, the CCCS said it had "provisionally" found that the deal led to a substantial lessening of competition in the sector here. It has also issued a proposed infringement decision against the transaction.

In its strongest pronouncement on the deal so far, the CCCS said Grab and Uber had proceeded with the transaction despite knowing that it might breach competition laws. It noted that both turned down an offer from the commission 17 days before the deal was completed to take "confidential advice" on it. Instead, they went ahead "despite their own view that the outcome would be irreversible, thus rendering it practically impossible to restore the status quo".

The CCCS also found that both had even agreed to split any anti-trust financial penalty.

In its findings, the CCCS said that cab-booking services do not offer enough competition as they account for less than 15 per cent of the ride-hailing market. It added that barriers to entry for newcomers are "high".

"Without any intervention from CCCS, it could continue to hamper the ability of potential competitors to access drivers and vehicles," the watchdog noted.

Thus, Grab would be able to raise fares, increase the commission it charges drivers and lower the quality of its services, it said. It noted that it had received "numerous complaints" from drivers and riders.

To counter this, the CCCS proposed getting Grab to remove exclusivity clauses for all its drivers, undo exclusivity deals with fleet operators, and revert to the pricing algorithm and driver commission rates in force before the acquisition.

It also proposed to impose financial penalties on the two companies, but did not spell out the quantums.

Grab said it disagrees with the CCCS' assessment.

"The CCCS appears to have taken a very narrow approach in defining competition," its spokesman said. "While we are one of the most visible players in transport, we are not the only player in the market. CCCS has not taken into account the dynamic developments and intense competition going on over the past few months."

Grab asserts that it had "proactively engaged with the CCCS" before the deal was signed.

"We conducted the acquisition legally and in full compliance with Singapore's applicable competition laws," the spokesman added.

She said the CCCS' proposed measures "go against Singapore's pro-innovation and pro-business regulations in a free market economy".

Singapore University of Social Sciences senior lecturer and transport economist Walter Theseira said the CCCS' measures will not lead to a significant increase in competi-tion "without the entry of a well-financed competitor".

"The difficulty that small start-ups such as Ryde have had will not go away simply because exclusivity arrangements are removed from Grab drivers," he said. "The majority of drivers will still find it in their interest to take most of their bookings through the dominant player."

TSMP Law joint managing partner Thio Shen Yi said the CCCS' measures look reasonable, but he is unsure how sustainable measures on pricing would be.

"As for unwinding the transaction, given that Uber has exited the market, we can't return to the original position," he said. "So, my guess is that a financial penalty would have to be seriously considered."

Dr Lee Der-Horng, director of the NUS-LTA Transport Research Centre, described the CCCS' verdict as "ill-rooted". "Providing incentives to either passengers or drivers should not be considered a norm in the private-hire business," he said.

As for Uber exiting, Dr Lee asked: "Should a less-competitive business be 'protected'?"

Measures proposed by CCCS

The competition watchdog has concluded that Grab's acquisition of Uber's regional business is anti-competitive. It has proposed that the parties do the following:

• Grab to remove exclusivity obligations, lock-in periods and termination fees on all its drivers, including those who rent from Grab Rentals, Uber's Lion City Rentals or other rental partners.

• Grab to remove exclusivity arrangements with any taxi or private-hire fleet.

• Grab to maintain its pre-acquisition pricing algorithm and driver commission rates until competition is revived in the market.

• Uber to sell Lion City Rentals wholly or partly to any potential competitor, and not sell to Grab without CCCS approval.

The watchdog also warned that it might order the merger to be undone, and that both parties face the risk of fines.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

First man sentenced under Organised Crime Act

Straits Times
28 Jun 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

The first person to plead guilty to offences under the new Organised Crime Act was sentenced yesterday to two years' jail and a fine of $50,000.

Singaporean Or Poh Soon, 55, will spend an additional two months and 10 weeks behind bars if he cannot pay the fine.

He had collected bets and sourced for punters for an illegal remote gambling syndicate which ran more than five 4-D and Toto websites.

The court heard that from June 1 to Nov 27, 2016, the estimated turnover of one of the sites was about $26.64 million.

In arguing for the newspaper vendor to receive at least two years' jail and a fine of $40,000, Deputy Public Prosecutor Teo Lu Jia urged District Judge Edgar Foo to consider that Or played an integral role in one of the largest organised crime syndicates uncovered here. "The court should send a strong deterrent message so that like-minded offenders would not find the risk of being caught and punished to be worth taking."

Or, who was unrepresented, pleaded for leniency, saying he has health issues. He had pleaded guilty on June 8 to one count each of illegally managing remote gambling activities, helping in public lotteries and being a member of a local organised criminal group.

The syndicate, led by three brothers, had three main clusters and Or worked for the leader of one of them, Lean Kay Cheong, 62. Lean's cluster had about 95 agents, DPP Teo said, adding that Lean accepted bets for 4-D and Toto based on the same draw dates and winning numbers as Singapore Pools' games.

Or started working for Lean in 2013. He was paid a commission of 8 per cent of the bets collected and would also get 5 per cent of the amount won by his punters. His commission was later raised to 10 per cent, earning him about $62,000 in commissions between 2013 and 2016. The cases involving the other alleged syndicate members are pending.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

'Creative thinking' helps lawyer who fought and won High Court cases for migrant workers

15 Jul 2018
Kelly Ng

He fought – and won – three recent landmark High Court cases involving foreign workers, even earning plaudits from at least one judge for meticulous work done.

While the achievement has largely flown under the radar of public attention, lawyer Melvin Chan Kah Keen's efforts have not gone unnoticed by migrant-worker advocates, who say his team at TSMP Law Corporation works pro bono cases the way it would approach fee-earning ones.

The most recent High Court case involved Bangladeshi Hasan Shofiqul. Mr Chan and his colleague Darren Tan Tho Eng successfully argued that the 33-year-old site supervisor was not employed in an executive or managerial position.

They dug up various records to show that Mr Hasan put in many more overtime hours and was entitled to much more overtime pay than what was computed by his former employer, China Civil (Singapore), and the Assistant Commissioner for Labour.

The judgment by Justice George Wei has since stirred a larger debate on whether some professionals, managers and executives are given inflated titles but shortchanged when it comes to overtime payments.

While the judgment, which highlighted Mr Chan's and Mr Tan's "detailed submissions", came out in May, the duo's work began in 2016.

Besides devoting long hours to the case, they had to apply some "creative thinking". To make up for the lack of proper employment records kept by the employer, the lawyers tracked down two workers Mr Hasan previously supervised and pored through their timesheets to compute the amount of overtime pay he was owed.

"Hasan kept his own records but they were not signed. So we had to be creative in using secondary sources... Some of his former colleagues were initially reluctant to testify against their employer but we managed to convince two to let us go through their timecards and agree to sign affidavits in support of the claims," said Mr Chan, 45, who is TSMP's head of litigation and dispute resolution.

And although the High Court case has concluded, their work continues. The matter is now back with the Assistant Commissioner for Labour, who has been tasked to re-calculate Mr Hasan's claim.

As legal representation is not allowed in the Labour Court, the lawyers have been working with non-governmental organisation (NGO) Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) to help Mr Hasan prepare his case so that he will not be disadvantaged.

Former lawyer and TWC2 volunteer Choo Wai Hong said Mr Chan is one of six or seven lawyers that the group taps to support foreign workers.

"It is always a challenge to find lawyers, often at short notice, but Melvin is always willing to take on cases and his teams argue them capably," said Ms Choo.

"They work (pro bono cases) like a real case. We have ever gone to his office and gotten affidavits signed at 8.30pm on a Sunday night," she said.

Mr Chan said migrant workers were a group TSMP set out to help, because they receive less institutional support and often lack knowledge of their rights.

"It's an often overlooked and under-served cause because they are not immediately perceived to be weak or vulnerable... The firm had already given talks to foreign workers on their basic legal rights. Then we realised this community has urgent need for legal representation in specific areas, so it was a natural fit for us to channel our pro bono efforts to them," Mr Chan told TODAY.

In another landmark case, Mr Chan represented Chinese worker Liu Huaixi, who worked for department store company Haniffa. High Court judge Lee Seiu Kin ruled last year that foreign workers should be paid salaries stated in their in-principle approval letters, in the absence of any other written agreement by both worker and employer. Haniffa had to pay Mr Liu S$6,500 in owed salary and payment in lieu of notice. In-principle approvals are letters which employers receive from the Ministry of Manpower after their work permit applications are approved, and must send to workers before they fly to Singapore.

For a case involving another Bangladeshi worker Islam Md Ohidul in 2016, Mr Chan successfully argued that costs could still be paid in cases where lawyers act pro bono.

Mr Chan said TSMP promotes pro bono work among its lawyers through an internal benchmark of 20 pro bono hours per year, which most exceed. The firm has sought to "institutionalise" a pro bono culture amongst its lawyers so that those who do more pro bono work would not fear losing out to their peers, he said.


Cases involving foreign workers are unlike others, and it is rare for them to be fought all the way to the High Court, said lawyers.

Besides language barriers, the workers may no longer be in Singapore, said Mr Chan.

"By the time a salary dispute gets brought to the court, the worker has typically either quit or been terminated by the employer. Once they are sent back, it is a challenge to continue communications with them. We have a very small window, when the worker is still in Singapore, of one to two weeks to get all the evidence in order," he said.

The lawyers work closely with NGOs and their pool of volunteer interpreters.

Mr Anil N Balchandani, a partner at I.R.B. Law who has also defended foreign workers pro bono, cited the challenge of providing for the workers' practical needs, including shelter, employment and medical help.

"Most do not know their rights and are fearful, economically stranded, and threatened with repatriation. Or they may just be mentally and physically exhausted," said Mr Anil.

When their practical needs are not attended to, some workers involved in criminal cases prefer to "plead guilty out of convenience so as to return home quicker", he said. Those alleged to have committed these offences are typically detained until they plead guilty or go to trial.

Mr Anil, who devotes 20 per cent of his practice to pro bono work, said his aim is to provide access to justice to a group that makes up one-fifth of Singapore's population.

"Without proper legal, political and union representation, the migrant worker cause will remain inaudible," he said.

One migrant worker he successfully defended is Chinese bus driver Zhang Kun, who was accused of a rash act while driving a public bus. Mr Zhang was acquitted last year after a district judge ruled that the prosecution had not proven its case beyond reasonable doubt.

Ms June Lim, founder and managing director of Eden Law Corporation, said the lack of financial incentives is the most common reason why lawyers may not take up cases involving foreign workers.

"You must remember that law firms are private entities run like businesses. For those of us who do pro bono work, we want to do the right thing," said the 32-year-old.

Focusing solely on cases involving migrant workers is not financially sustainable, Ms Lim said.

Asked how he and his colleagues typically celebrate their court victories, Mr Chan said: "We usually just send an email to congratulate each other. But Mr Liu did invite us for a small celebratory dinner last year."

He added: "Foreign workers sometimes fall through the gap because they are not Singapore citizens. I think lawyers should, wherever possible, focus on areas where there is not so much institutional support."

Copyright 2018 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Measures could help market entrants compete with Grab, say experts

Straits Times
06 Jul 2018
Adrian Lim

The merger between Grab and rival Uber in March has made it difficult for new entrants to compete with the ride-hailing giant, said observers, and measures proposed by Singapore's competition watchdog yesterday are a right move to tackle it.

They also said that by requiring Grab to remove any exclusivity obligations imposed on drivers and maintain pre-merger pricing and commission rates, the ride-hailing market's contestability should hopefully be restored.

The experts were responding to yesterday's announcement by the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) that it had provisionally found that the Grab-Uber mergerinfringed the Competition Act.

Under the tie-up agreement, Uber sold its South-east Asian business, including Singapore's, to Grab in exchange for a 27.5 per cent stake in the latter company.

National University of Singapore's (NUS) law faculty Sheridan Fellow Kenneth Khoo said that in the ride-hailing business, a platform becomes more attractive to both users and drivers as their numbers increase because of efficiencies in matching both parties.

This means a new entrant like Ryde or Go-Jek starts off with a "major disadvantage" because it will have far fewer users, making it difficult to reach a big enough scale to challenge Grab.

"The problem is worsened if and when Grab imposes exclusivity obligations on its drivers so that they cannot easily switch over to a competing platform," he said. Removing these is thus an important measure, he added.

But NUS law faculty's Associate Professor Burton Ong said the CCCS' measures may have "limited effect" in restoring competition.

"Without details about how rigorously these measures will be implemented - for example, whether the CCCS will put an absolute prohibition on price increases and withdrawal of driver incentives - and how long they will be kept in place, it is hard to predict whether new entrants can effectively challenge Grab's dominance," he added.

Lawyer Kala Anandarajah, who heads Rajah & Tann's competition and antitrust and trade team, said that while the CCCS' measures will presumably bring back market competition, the fact remains that Uber has exited the sector.

Ms Anandarajah said the effects of the CCCS measures will not be seen overnight, but with existing technology and non-exclusive access to the platform, they could happen quite fast, she added.

Private-hire car driver S.K. Tan, 62, agrees with the CCCS' measures, saying drivers should be free to operate on any platform and not be punished with reduced incentives for doing so.

Mr Yap Shiwen, 32, who takes Grab at least twice a week, reckons that fares have risen between 10 per cent and 20 per cent since the Grab-Uber merger.

Mr Yap, a contributing editor for a tech blog, said the increase "may be a correction to market rates after a sustained price war with Uber".

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

ADV: Research positions at the NUS Centre for Maritime Law

Singapore Law Watch
28 Jun 2018

Penal code review to better protect vulnerable

Straits Times
14 Jul 2018
Aw Cheng Wei

Shanmugam: It may include new offences, harsher penalties for those who target group

An ongoing review of the Penal Code may include new offences and harsher punishments for those who target the vulnerable, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

In a keynote address at an event organised by the Association of Muslim Lawyers last night, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Home Affairs Minister, said that more must be done to protect children, domestic workers and those with disabilities.

"How we treat them reflects on us as a society," said Mr Shanmugam. "We have to do right by them."

Drawing on recent high-profile cases where vulnerable victims were hurt or killed by people who are supposed to be protecting them, he added that the Government is exploring how children can be better protected against sexually abusive and exploitative behaviour, such as child pornography.

Cases raised by Mr Shanmugam included the deaths of Ms Annie Ee, who was intellectually disabled, and two-year-old Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nasser in 2015.

Ms Ee died after a couple whom she was living with beat her repeatedly. Mohamad Daniel died from bleeding in the brain after his mother and her live-in boyfriend kicked and slapped him for days.

Offenders in both cases were sentenced to between 10 and 161/2 years in jail. Ms Ee's male abuser was given 14 strokes of the cane while the man who contributed to Mohamad Daniel's death got 12 strokes.

Domestic workers are another group that deserve stronger protection, said Mr Shanmugam. He raised the case of Filipina Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, whose weight plummeted from 49kg to 29.4kg after she was restricted to a 15-month diet of sliced bread and instant noodles by her employers. In a case that concluded last year, her employers were slapped with a 10-month jail term following prosecutors' appeal.

Mr Shanmugam also noted the public outrage over what was perceived as inadequate punishment for mixed martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson, which came in an online petition with more than 26,000 signatures.

Last year, Robinson was sentenced to four years' jail for a range of offences from sexual penetration of two 15-year-olds to showing an obscene film to a six-year-old girl. Investigators also found 5,902 obscene films in his apartment.

Such crimes are "particularly heinous, and all are senseless", said Mr Shanmugam.

On the role that the law can play in protecting the vulnerable better, he said that the law is about saving lives. "The law is not a game... My duty is to make sure that these games are not played. So we will change the law."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Property players reel from sudden measures

Straits Times
06 Jul 2018

Developers scramble to launch projects; experts say move needed to curb rising prices

Many in the real estate industry were shocked by the sudden announcement yesterday of new property cooling measures that will take effect today.

Developers were scrambling to launch new projects last night ahead of the measures taking effect, even as property buyers and sellers tried to understand the implications for their loans and purchases.

Several industry experts generally concur that the new measures are necessary to put the brakes on escalating private property prices.

It took 15 quarters of market corrections to bring private residential prices down by 11.6 per cent in the second quarter of last year, but flash estimates from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Monday showed that private home prices rose for the fourth straight quarter, up 3.4 per cent in the second quarter, after a 3.9 per cent increase in the first quarter.

This left the URA's overall private residential price index at just 3.6 per cent below its last peak in the third quarter of 2013 and 9.1 per cent above the last trough in the second quarter of last year.

"It is like administering antibiotics to the nation's real estate sector. If you take time to implement the measures, then you will see the developers rushing to put out their launches before the measures take effect," CBRE head of research for Singapore and South-east Asia Desmond Sim noted.

The measures appear to target those who buy for investment purposes, Mr Sim said.

The additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD) rates for Singapore citizens and Singapore permanent residents purchasing their first residential property will remain at zero and 5 per cent, respectively.

But the ABSD rates for all other transactions will be raised by five percentage points and 10 percentage points for entities.

But Mr Sim noted that the measures are ultimately aimed at curbing excessively high land bids by developers.

An extra ABSD of 5 per cent will be introduced for developers buying residential properties for housing development. This amount is non-remittable, which means that even if the developers sell all the units within the specified timeframe, they will not get the 5 per cent back.

"It will also likely discourage developers from building too large a project or too many units that they cannot sell. Those who have already accumulated some land bank may reconsider whether to buy more land in the light of these measures.

"Instead of just cooling demand for homes or the finished product, the Government is now targeting land costs or costs of the raw material," Mr Sim said.

Dr Lee Nai Jia, senior director and head of research at Knight Frank Singapore, sees sales volume of new and resale private property dropping by about 40 per cent in the coming months because of the latest move to raise the ABSD and tighten loan-to-value (LTV) limits on residential property purchases.

Some analysts say the tightening of the loan-to-value (LTV) limits on residential property purchases could affect the market's fledgling recovery.

For LTV limits, they will be tightened by five percentage points for all housing loans granted by financial institutions. These revised LTV limits will apply to loans for residential property purchases where the option to purchase is granted on or after July 6. But they do not apply to loans granted by the Housing Board (HDB).

What this means is buyers will have to cough up more cash or use more of their Central Provident Fund savings to pay for their property, analysts say.

"All this is happening a bit too fast. The HDB market just started to recover, and even though private property prices are higher, transaction volumes aren't that great yet. If you slam the private property market, what is going to happen to the HDB resale market?" an analyst said.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

ADV: SUSS Law - The Human Face of Law

Singapore Law Watch
27 Jun 2018

Insolvency limbo: the SGD bond market

Business Times
14 Jul 2018
Marissa Lee

The Singdollar bond market is grappling with an unprecedented number of insolvencies. What lessons are there for the investment community?

Goodbye credit boom, hello insolvency limbo. In June, precision- engineering firm CW Advanced Technologies became the latest issuer to seek a court order to stave off creditors, after its plan to re-tap the bond market to redeem its first series of notes got quashed by poor market sentiment. Since November 2015, at least 13 issuers have defaulted on a total of 23 Singdollar bonds by missing coupon payments, failing to repay note holders at maturity, filing for judicial management, filing for bankruptcy protection and in one case breaching a financial covenant. The number excludes companies like Ezion, which strictly speaking has not legally defaulted on any notes since it got note holders to agree to swap their debt for equity through an out-of-court process before its next coupon was due.

That's S$3.2 billion in face value of Singdollar bonds and perpetual securities rocked by defaults, representing 2.6 per cent of the S$123 billion outstanding Singdollar corporate bond universe, which includes government agencies and statutory boards.

Among the defaulted, Marco Polo Marine has returned to solvency after note holders agreed to swap their debt for equity. But 10 other issuers remain stuck in various stages of restructuring while two have been liquidated.

Unlike Singapore's stock market, the Singdollar bond market is still in its infancy.

It was only in 2012 that high-yield Singdollar bond and corporate perp sales really took off, with Genting Singapore tapping the market with a S$1.8 billion perpetual issue, followed by a second one that raised S$500 million.

That bull market offered companies a convenient way to diversify their capital structure by reaching out to affluent investors who didn't ask too many questions. Better still, perps could be accounted as equity rather than debt in a company's books.

Now, one sinking ship after another, that value proposition has been called into question.

A debt capital markets lawyer here told The Business Times: "When I first came in, I was actually very shocked by the whole process of how easy it is to raise a bond. Issuers want to issue bonds quickly but don't want to spend on fees, so that comes at the expense of credit ratings, and the due diligence process.

"A lot of corporate perps are geared to accredited investors who don't necessarily understand what they are buying. The Singapore market has developed to be cheap, good and fast... I understand cheapness, but sometimes the cheapness makes you shake your head."

Corporate perpetuals are often structured such that issuers do not guarantee fixed payments and have no legal obligation to redeem the principal. With the higher risks come higher yields - all well and good in a risk-on environment.

In contrast to the US, where lower-rated high-yield debt is targeted at hedge funds, private banking clients have been the driving force behind the Singdollar high-yield market. Last year, corporate perpetuals accounted for 16 per cent of aggregate issuance volumes.

No one really talked about defaults or restructuring risks. Prior to 2015, the last time Singapore witnessed a default was in 2009, when S-chip Sino-Environment defaulted on a S$149 million convertible bond issue. So, during the period of ultra-low interest rates that followed, folks here happily snapped up the debt of Singapore's more high-risk companies, which for a time yielded some juicy semi-annual payouts.

Now, the credit cycle has peaked, turning certain high-yield instruments into junk.

The right to payment

While note holders have priority over share investors in a liquidation event, they are often just as powerless as share investors if issuers (or the secured lenders who control them) choose to bulldoze their way through a restructuring, as those holding the debt of Trikomsel and Rickmers Maritime Trust discovered during the earlier parts of the default parade in 2016.

By convention, bond investors don't have influence over how a company is governed or conducts its business, with their right to demand immediate payment kicking in only in the event of a default. This is because they are lenders, not owners of the company, unlike shareholders. When creditors of all classes clash over the fate of a delinquent issuer, the only thing that underpins note holders' bargaining power is the threat to demand immediate payment. Even then, they can only take action through a bonds trustee that has limited incentive to enforce their rights vigorously, until it deems that it is sufficiently indemnified and funded.

This feature of collective action through the bonds trustee is not unique to Singapore. Justin Yip, partner at Withers KhattarWong explains: "What is different between Singapore and other jurisdictions is the composition of the investor base. In other jurisdictions such as the US, the majority of high-yield bonds are held by institutional and professional investors, and three or four funds may already constitute a majority position (in a bond tranche)."

In any case, note holders could do very little when issuers such as Swissco or Hyflux chose to suspend their coupons after having distributed dividends to shareholders while kicking the can down the road.

And it's no longer just accredited investors who are facing losses, but more than 20,000 non-accredited mom-and-pop investors as well. Hyflux is seeking to restructure S$900 million in face value of perpetual securities and perpetual preference shares and will soon make contact with retail investors. The pain here could cut deep as investors were allowed to use their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings to ballot for Hyflux's S$400 million preference share offering in 2011.

Although many investors viewed perpetual preference shares as bond-like instruments no different from perps, the CPF board considers preference shares as shares rather than bonds, so the requirement that CPF-qualified bonds must be rated at least A2 by Moody's or A by S&P or Fitch did not apply.

On the other hand, Hyflux's unrated perps issued later in 2016 did not qualify as CPF-investable.

In its assessments, the CPF board does not conduct independent checks on an issuer's financial health. But as a blanket safeguard, no more than 35 per cent of one's CPF funds can be invested in shares, property funds or corporate bonds, a CPF spokesman said.

Another little-known detail about how Hyflux's preference shares differ from its perps is that pref shareholders lack an appointed trustee to represent their interests as a group.

Towards a more discerning market

Indeed, gaps in investor education need to be addressed. Most observers agree that banks should crack the whip on better information disclosures to aid that learning process.

Lim Sin Teck, partner at Morgan Lewis, flags that due diligence and disclosure standards in the international high-yield market are more robust than here: "Right now we're seeing a whole range of standards in disclosure in the Singapore market.

"For example, we don't typically see detailed descriptions of an issuer's existing loans, whereas that is common in the US dollar high-yield bond market - one to two paragraphs on each material loan."

Information like that helps bond investors and their relationship managers understand the main terms of loans that, in many instances, rank ahead of the bonds which are unsecured.

After the outcry in 2016, when it emerged that many accredited investors had been sold junk bonds without fully understanding the risks involved, the Monetary Authority of Singapore suggested that issuers should disclose key financial metrics, such as their interest coverage ratios, more clearly to investors.

Asked if DBS Bank, the biggest bookrunner here, has taken steps to improve disclosures during the bond IPO process since then, Clifford Lee, head of fixed income at DBS, tells BT: "DBS has consistently through the years, applied best practice disclosure standards used in international offerings for its bond deals across markets, including the Singdollar bond market.

"This entails making applicable business and risks disclosures in offering documents, together with financial disclosures from audited and/or reviewed financials."

Conditions are ripe for change. Today, as interest rate hikes become obvious, investors are no longer bidding aggressively for bonds on the basis of headline yield alone.

In the international markets, many "fixed-for-life" perpetuals - which let issuers borrow at a fixed rate that never increases throughout their life thus creating no incentive for them to call - trade below par now despite being over-subscribed at issuance as recently as last year.

In Singapore, the high-yield market has been thrown into limbo. The last high-yield issuance through the door was GSH Corp's listing of S$50 million, 5.15 per cent notes on May 3. Issuers such as Perennial Real Estate have shelved plans to retap the market.

Broadly, total new issuance volumes across the entire Singdollar corporate bond market are down close to 40 per cent from the same period last year, according to DBS.

In the past, the era of cheap money diminished bond investors' clout, making it nearly impossible to negotiate better terms and protective clauses during the book-building process.

Now, a more nervous market and the gradual awakening of investors who have had their first brush with credit stress could help improve the health of the high-yield market.

Simon Jong, head of fixed income research at DBS Bank, says: "Bond holders have become more discerning, and perhaps more assertive about the stuff they want. This has led to an overall maturity of the market, greater pricing disparity across bonds and more discipline amongst investors."

Other observers have suggested that activist bond funds, absent here, could be a good countervailing force to make sure that Singapore companies don't over-stretch themselves as they lever up to grow.

Meanwhile, painful as they may be, defaults are a necessary part of the process as Singapore's corporate bond market matures.

Mr Lee explains: "While the bankruptcy laws in Singapore are clear and the legal system is well trusted, our economy is still relatively new. As such, there is also less default history and recovery data in the event of liquidation. This situation, combined with the fact that the public debt market here is still not as developed and deep, makes the valuation and trading of distressed debt more difficult."

He adds: "It is normal for the Singdollar market to be less developed for high-yield issuers, because even in the US dollar bond market, the last segment of the bond market to develop was the high-yield bond market."

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Higher stamp duties, tighter loan limits for home purchases

Straits Times
06 Jul 2018
Rachel Au-Yong

Private property curbs surprise market; steep price recovery prompts Govt to act

Concerns about the swift rise in private home prices have prompted the authorities to further tighten cooling measures last night, in a surprise move that will lead to property buyers paying higher stamp duties.

From today, Singaporeans and permanent residents have to pay 5 per cent more for their second and successive properties. For example, a second home that costs $1 million will incur an extra $50,000 in stamp duties.

But for foreigners, this Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) applies even on their first property.

Residential property buyers will also be allowed to borrow less.

The proportion of a property's value that a buyer can borrow, known as the loan-to-value (LTV) limit, has been slashed by five percentage points. For instance, a buyer taking his first loan on a $1 million home can borrow only $750,000, down from $800,000.

These measures do not apply to residents taking Housing Board loans.

Developers appear to be hit hardest. For those developers purchasing residential properties for housing development, they will be subject to an ABSD of 25 per cent, up from 15 per cent, although this will not be applied if they fulfil several conditions, including completing and selling all their units within a prescribed period.

However, they must pay upfront an extra 5 per cent of the property price, and this will not be waived. This will have an impact on properties sold en bloc, for example.

The moves, announced at 7pm, are aimed at dampening demand.

On Monday, the Government's second-quarter flash estimates showed private home prices rising by 3.4 per cent, bringing the total increase to 9.1 per cent over four quarters since the middle of last year.

This uptrend came after 15 straight quarters of decline, which pushed private home prices down 11.6 per cent by the middle of last year.

The steep price recovery led Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong to say last night that the Government is "concerned that prices are running ahead of economic fundamentals".

The combination of rising interest rates and a large supply of new units expected to go on sale in the next two to three years could lead to buyers over-extending themselves financially.

"We want to avoid a severe correction later, which can have more destabilising consequences. Hence, we are acting now to maintain a stable and sustainable property market," Mr Wong added.

The recovery had also led observers to predict a new peak in private home prices by the end of this year, as Monetary Authority of Singapore managing director Ravi Menon warned about "euphoria" in the property market on Wednesday.

Observers were divided on how effective the measures would be.

Property analyst Nicholas Mak of ZACD Group believes the new measures are premature, saying it might hasten an oversupply of units in the market as cautious investors put off their purchases.

In a bid to beat the higher taxes, property agents sent out messages and crowds flocked to showflats such as Riverfront Residences in Hougang and Parc Colonial in Woodleigh last night to sign sales agreements for new homes.

VestAsia Group chairman Steven Choo, however, said the measures were likely to prevent a rush of foreign funds and "en bloc cash" from snapping up units at escalating prices.

"Markets are psychological: When things are going up, people want to sell and buy, and it feeds into each other. The Government has moved decisively to moderate that," he said.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Offenders should have consecutive jail terms for separate crimes: Chief Justice

27 Jun 2018
Faris Mokhtar

The High Court has ruled that a convicted person who has multiple separate offences should generally be given sentences that run consecutively instead of concurrently, subject to the "totality principle".

The ruling was made after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon ordered two jail sentences for a man who committed unrelated crimes to run one after the other instead of at the same time. On Tuesday (June 26), he issued a detailed written grounds of his decision.

In October 2016, Raveen Balakrishnan slashed the cheek of a 20-year-old man with a knife outside the St James Power Station nightclub.

While out on bail after being charged in court, he led a group of people to attack another man in an unrelated incident in April last year. Raveen was then 23 and a first-year polytechnic student.

Six months later, he was sentenced to 3.5 years' jail and six strokes of the cane for voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means, and two years' jail and three strokes for rioting. A District Court judge ordered both terms to run concurrently, which is an aggregate of 3.5 years' jail.

The judge was convinced that Raveen was not "beyond any hope for reform and rehabilitation" and there was a "decrease in (his) rate of offending".

However, the prosecution appealed against the jail terms, saying the judge "failed to appreciate" key factors, such as the different nature of Raveen's offences, and that he had committed the rioting offence while out on bail for the first.

Running the sentences concurrently means that Raveen, "to a substantial degree, avoided being punished for the unrelated second offence", the prosecution argued. The aggregate sentence imposed did not reflect his "culpability and recalcitrance".

Raveen's defence lawyer countered that there was no requirement in law for the two sentences to run consecutively, and that the district judge had adhered to the totality principle, which requires looking at the overall criminality, and whether punishment meted out is excessive.

Following the appeal, Chief Justice Menon raised the total jail sentence from 3.5 years to 4.5 years in March this year. The nine strokes of the cane handed to Raveen remain unchanged.

In the written grounds of his decision, the Chief Justice noted that each of Raveen's offences carried a "multitude of aggravating factors", and he has past records, so the lower court's decision was "wrong in principle" and the judge's reasons for running the sentences concurrently "simply did not stand up to scrutiny".

Court documents showed that Raveen has had past brushes with the law, including violence and property-related offences, and he was ordered to undergo probation and reformative training. Then, four months after his reformative training stint, he assaulted someone with a knife.

There was no strong evidence that Raveen had shown genuine remorse, and though the district judge said that he might have committed the assault offence in the spur of the moment, his rioting offence involved premeditation and was committed while he was on bail, Chief Justice Menon said.

On the district judge's observation that there was a decrease in Raveen's rate of offending, Chief Justice Menon said that this was "simply wrong in law".

"Re-offending must, in principle and as a matter of policy, be considered aggravating, whatever the number of charges brought," he added.

He pointed out that concurrent sentences for unrelated offences "would not adequately serve, and in fact may undermine the sentencing considerations that underlie the individual sentences comprising the aggregate term".

To ensure that the totality principle is applied, the courts have to "run a final check", to ensure the aggregate sentence reflects overall criminality and is not "crushing", taking into account the offender's past record and future prospects.

"A mere arithmetic addition of individual sentences might, in many situations and despite the fact that the offences are unrelated, lead to aggregate sentences that are disproportionate to the overall criminality presented," he said.

"If an aggregate sentence is considered excessive, the sentencing judge may opt for a different combination of sentences to run consecutively or adjust the individual sentences."

Explaining why he gave a 4.5-year jail term instead of a 5.5-year one that Raveen would have received if his individual sentences were to run consecutively, the chief justice said that he was taking into account the totality principle, and that the heavier punishment would have a crushing impact on Raveen's future prospects. This also takes into account the offender's youth, and "the hope that he remained amenable to reform and rehabilitation".

Copyright 2018 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Care and control orders in divorce cases need attention: Forum

Straits Times
14 Jul 2018

It was revealed by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling in Parliament that shared care and control orders by the Family Court comprised a mere 4 per cent of all divorce care and control orders in 2016 (Call to ease housing rule for divorcees sharing care of kids; July 12) .

This is an astounding statistic.

Given clear scientific evidence of the importance of the involvement of both a father and mother in a child's development and upbringing, one would imagine that the majority of divorce cases have been given shared care and control orders.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Singapore is a signatory, stipulates that everyone - including governmental and judicial authorities - should make decisions and act in the best interests of the child.

It also adds that governments must ensure the rights of parents and families to provide guidance to their children.

A letter to The Straits Times Forum written by Professor Richard A. Warshak, citing research endorsed by 110 leading social scientists, is also unequivocal about the benefits of shared care and control orders on the long-term welfare and interests of children caught in divorce (Shared parenting beneficial for children despite conflict; April 2).

In this regard, how is a child's interests best served if care and control is awarded to only one parent?

Can the Family Court share how many of the sole care and control cases are awarded to the mothers, and how many to fathers?

Oh Ee Hoe

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Landscaping firm and director charged for accident in which worker was severely burnt

06 Jul 2018
Chen Lin

A landscaping company and two of its officers have been hauled to court for a 2016 workplace accident, in which a foreign worker was severely burnt after he was allegedly pressured to clean an underground water tank that later exploded.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said its preliminary investigations indicated that both the employer and supervisor of Mr Rahman Mohammad Ataur contravened the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

If convicted, his employer, Environmental Landscape, could be fined a maximum of S$500,000. Its director Wong Shang Ling could be jailed for up to two years and/or fined up to S$200,000.

Mr Rahman's supervisor, Hossan Billal, faces a jail term of up to two years and/or a fine of up to S$30,000 for negligence that endangered his safety.

In June 2016, Mr Rahman, now 23, was instructed to clean a water tank in Sungei Tengah that was accessible only through a manhole. The Bangladeshi, who came to Singapore to work in 2015, detected a smell from the tank but was allegedly told not to make excuses and to take along a halogen lamp.

When he flicked the lamp on, there was an explosion and he was engulfed in flames.

He suffered third-degree burns on 73 per cent of his body, including his face, and was in coma for three months. He spent a total of six months in the hospital and had to undergo procedures such as skin grafting for his upper body and fingers. His corneas had to be operated on because his eyes were injured in the blast.

He needed reconstruction surgery for his nose, lips, eyelids, ears and eyebrows, and had some scars reduced through laser.

Mr Rahman recently underwent surgery to elevate his ears so he could make use of spectacles and hearing aids.

The non-governmental organisation, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), held a crowdfunding campaign several weeks ago for Mr Rahman's medical expenses as his work injury compensation claim had not been processed. The campaign raised more than S$15,000.

His work injury compensation claim came through on June 12 and he received a six-figure sum from his employer's insurer for permanent incapacity.

Mr Rahman said the money was used for his ear surgery. He hopes to undergo more procedures including for his eyebrows, and needs to buy medication and pressure garments for his hands.

His scars from the episode go beyond the physical.

Mr Rahman – who used to earn S$540 in basic monthly salary – said he has to repay the S$16,000 fee he incurred to come to Singapore. His family back in Bangladesh has been harassed and his home, damaged.

Asked about his employer being charged, he said: "I don't get any benefit from them being charged in court and I cannot recover better if they are punished, but I hope something can be done so that everyone can remember that such a situation can happen, and this is not fair to me and to other workers."

He has been volunteering at Home, where he helps to translate and explain cases to other migrant workers.

Home's social work executive Jevon Ng said the organisation is heartened that Mr Rahman's employer is being taken to task, but pointed to other workers who are still being made to work in unsafe conditions without adequate precautions.

"Regular enforcement is needed to instil the importance of safe workplaces to employers," said Mr Ng.

There is also an urgent need to raise the minimum insurance coverage quantum for medical expenses, he said. Current requirements under the Work Injury Compensation Act are often inadequate for medical treatment when serious accidents occur, he said.

"When employers are unable or willing to pay for ongoing medical treatment once the … quantum is exceeded, the Ministry of Manpower does not get employers to pay for medical treatments unless it is deemed to be 'immediately medically necessary', which is often not the case," said Mr Ng. This forces medical practitioners to be conservative in their treatment, he added.

The MOM said under the Work Injury Compensation Act, employers are liable to pay for medical expenses and medical leave wages. Mr Rahman's medical bills amounted to over S$300,000 and MOM understands that his employer is presently paying the full amount by instalments.

For Mr Rahman, the conclusion of his work injury claim process is bittersweet, as it means he can no longer remain in Singapore and will have to leave soon.

"It is difficult to continue with surgeries in my own country because they don't have the facility," he said.

"What I used to be able to do last time, I cannot do now. I cannot work in normal jobs," he said. "I want to be normal again."

Copyright 2018 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

SGX enters new era as it starts dual-class shares for qualifying IPOs

Business Times
27 Jun 2018
Angela Tan

Market observers say SGX has done a thorough study of issue, and the safeguards are in line with acceptable market standards

Singapore Exchange (SGX) on Tuesday approved the biggest change to its listing rules, giving the go-ahead for companies with dual-class shares (DCS) structures to seek a primary listing on its main board with immediate effect.

With the rules and safeguards in place, new-economy stocks - such as those of start-ups and technology firms - which have shares with different voting rights will now be allowed to raise funds through an initial public listing (IPO) in Singapore.

SGX's chief executive officer Loh Boon Chye said on Tuesday: "SGX today joins global exchanges in Canada, Europe and the US, where companies led by founder entrepreneurs who require funding for a rapid ramp-up of the business while retaining the ability to execute on a long-term strategy, are able to list. Investors who understand and agree with the business model and management of DCS companies will also have more choice."

A spokesman from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said: "SGX's framework for DCS structures strikes a balance between supporting high-growth companies and having in place safeguards to mitigate governance risks associated with such structures. DCS listings will broaden the range of investment options for investors and add vibrancy to Singapore's capital markets."

SGX's green light comes barely two months after rival Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) broke its "one-share-one-vote" principle - considered the bedrock of good corporate governance standards - and accepted companies with weighted voting rights structures to list.

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, targeting a valuation of over US$50 billion, will be the first to list under HKEx's new framework.

SGX's decision to adopt the controversial structure comes after two rounds of public consultations, and months of intense debates with the industry and experts on its pros and cons.

DCS companies must meet SGX's existing main board entry criteria, as well as satisfy the exchange on their suitability to list under the structure.

In place are safeguards against the two main risks presented by DCS structure - expropriation and entrenchment risks.

For example, SGX requires an enhanced voting process in which all shares carry one vote each regardless of class, for the appointment and removal of independent directors and /or auditors, variation of rights attached to any class of shares, a reverse takeover, a winding-up or a delisting.

To prevent founders from entrenching themselves, each multiple vote (MV) share will carry a maximum of 10 votes, and be limited to named individuals whose scope must be specified at the IPO. There are also sunset clauses where MV shares will auto-convert to ordinary voting (OV) shares under circumstances the company must stipulate at the time of the IPO.

Market observers said SGX has done an extremely thorough study ahead of adopting DCS.

Vineet Mishra, who heads Singapore investment banking and South-east Asia Equities Capital Market at JP Morgan, told The Business Times: "SGX's measures, rules and safeguards are in line with acceptable market standards. Singapore is more prescriptive in its listing standards than the more developed exchanges today. But it is the right approach as a starting point, considering the fact that the standards in developed markets have evolved over time."

Tham Tuck Seng, Capital Markets Leader at PwC Singapore, said the safeguards are sufficient to protect minority shareholders.

"Ultimately, the implementation of the DCS rules are really a balancing act - there must be sufficient safeguards to protect the non-controlling shareholders; they must not be overly burdensome and yet be flexible enough to attract DCS listing aspirants, especially new-economy companies which are innovative and have high growth potential."

He added that the one-share-one-vote structure would continue to be the default structure for IPOs in Singapore.

Stefanie Yuen-Thio, joint managing partner at TSMP Law Corporation, said: "The move by the SGX to allow dual-class shares is great news for the Singapore market and shows our regulators' openness to progressive changes.

"The rules strike a good balance between innovation and corporate governance, restricting the extra voting rights from being exercised on important matters, on which the founders' interests may not be aligned with those of minority shareholders.

"They are also more flexible than Hong Kong's new rules, which focus on innovative companies; in contrast, Singapore's rules do not have such eligibility requirements and the regulators have a freer hand in considering which companies and which sectors should be allowed to use dual-class shares in their IPOs."

Eng-Kwok Seat Moey, DBS Group's head of Capital Markets, said the DCS structure fits well into mid-cap companies, notably those in technology startups and family-run businesses, many of which have been monitoring SGX's ruling on the structure before deciding on their listing venue.

"To be a financial market, we need to offer more products and be as comprehensive as possible."

Now that SGX has decided to allow a DCS structure despite the reservations of investors and stakeholders, Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen of the National University of Singapore Business School said it is critical that SGX and sponsors exercise proper due diligence over the quality of companies using such structures.

The corporate governance advocate added: "In Hong Kong, where DCS has also been adopted, the Securities and Futures Commision has upped the heat on sponsors and taken some to task. Investors should not just rely on the safeguards but should be even more discerning with DCS companies."

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Duo jailed for aiding ex-CHC leader in alleged escape bid

Straits Times
14 Jul 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

Singaporean to serve 27-week term, while Malaysian gets six-month sentence

Another two men who helped in the alleged escape bid of former City Harvest Church leader Chew Eng Han in February, were sentenced to jail yesterday.

Singaporean fish farm owner Tan Poh Teck, 53, was sentenced to a 27-week jail term, while Malaysian private tour guide Tan Kim Ho, 42, was given six months.

Each man pleaded guilty to one count of abetting Chew, 58, to leave Singapore from Pulau Ubin jetty, which is an unauthorised point of departure.

In April, a six-month jail term was slapped on Malaysian freelance driver Khoo Kea Leng, 45, for helping Chew in his alleged bid to escape on Feb 21.

Chew boarded a boat that day and left for Malaysia in an alleged attempt to escape his jail term of three years and four months, which he was supposed to start serving from Feb 22. The sentence was for his role in the misuse of more than $50 million in church funds.

The court heard yesterday that in October last year, Chew became acquainted with Khoo and asked him if he could send him to Johor Baru illegally.

Khoo contacted Tan Kim Ho, who said one of his customers known only as Uncle Shun might be able to perform the task.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Eugene Sng said Uncle Shun then quoted a price of $8,000 initially for the trip. Half was to be given to him before the trip and the remainderafter Chew completed the journey.

For his role, Tan Kim Ho was promised RM1,000 (S$340) from Uncle Shun. They eventually agreed on a price of $12,000 to be divided equally among Khoo, Tan Kim Ho and a boatman.

On Feb 20, Chew met Khoo near Marine Drive and gave him $8,000. Khoo then went to Johor Baru to hand over $4,000 to Tan Kim Ho and Uncle Shun.

At about 10pm, Tan Poh Teck received a call from a man known as Lao Bai, who told him to transport Chew to the waters off Pulau Ubin. Chew would then board Lao Bai's boat for Malaysia. The fish farm owner was promised $1,000.

At about 7am on Feb 21, Chew's older brother picked him up from his home and took him to Changi Village. He took a bumboat to Pulau Ubin before boarding Tan Poh Teck's boat from its main jetty. The pair were travelling east when Police Coast Guard officers caught them just minutes later.

Chew was charged on Feb 22 with leaving Singapore for Malaysia from an unauthorised point of departure.

On March 1, he began his jail term for criminal breach of trust. The pre-trial conference for his current case will be held next Thursday.

Tan Poh Teck is out on $25,000 bail to settle personal matters. He was ordered to surrender himself at the State Courts next Monday.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Midas board flags suspicion over seal, signings in loan papers

Business Times
05 Jul 2018
Jamie Lee

The board of troubled railway parts maker Midas Holdings has raised suspicions over the way in which an alleged board resolution that had been used to provide liability guarantees for 400 million yuan (S$82.3 million) in loans was signed.

The debt-laden Chinese firm, which is embroiled in round-tripping scandals and management dispute, had been called to the court under civil suits filed by Chinese moneylender Jilin Provincial Micro Refinancing Corporation.

In the first hearing held on June 26, it was found that the loan-guarantee document was sealed with a rubber seal meant for parcel deliveries, and not with the company's common seal, the Midas board said in a regulatory filing on Wednesday.

The actual common seal is kept in Singapore, and meant to be used on important documents.

According to the board resolution, directors Chan Soo Sen and Tong Din Eu had abstained from voting on it. But they were unaware of the board meeting convened at the company as stated in the board resolution, nor were they informed of such board meeting or resolution, Midas said.

"Both Mr Chan and Mr Tong were absent at the signing and no effort to ratify the resolution was made."

As a result, the chief financial officer of the company has no record of the three loans made by Midas' unit Jilin Midas or the board resolution that approved the 400 million yuan guarantee.

It is also unclear whether the former CEO Patrick Chew had signed the board resolution. Photos of Mr Chew signing certain documents had been submitted as court evidence. The board noted that the signature of Mr Chew is in Chinese, and not his usual signature.

"If Mr Chew did sign the board resolution, it will contradict his earlier denial about his ignorance of the underlying loans related to the guarantee. If Mr Chew did not sign the board resolution, then forgery could have occurred."

In June, Midas also found that its Chinese unit Shanxi Wanshida Engineering Plastics has been engaged in round-tripping and has previously undisclosed, unauthorised bank accounts.

On June 7, the board obtained bank statements for Wanshida's account with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's branch in Ruicheng. These showed evidence of round-tripping, made to create the impression of a 60.6 million yuan loan by Wanshida to Luoyang Midas Aluminium Industries.

Separately, another apparent set of round-tripping transactions was found between Wanshida and Jilin Midas. As Jilin Midas is under judicial management, the board has no access to its bank statements and said it will verify if round-tripping has also taken place here at a later date.

The Midas board has also found other irregularities linked to undisclosed loans.

In May, the board declared that the company cannot operate as a going concern, while the firm's auditors said separately that its auditor reports for Midas from 2012 to 2016 can no longer be relied upon.

Trading in Midas remains suspended.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Real estate firm told to pay couple $210k they lost in NZ scam

Straits Times
27 Jun 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Faber Property found negligent in marketing project; claims against directors dismissed

A couple who lost some $210,000 invested in a New Zealand residential project six years ago will get their money back after a district judge held local real estate agency Faber Property negligent in marketing the project and failing to ensure the developer had actually secured title to the land.

But the judge dismissed the claims against Faber's director and associate director, making clear - for the first time in the real estate context - that a company director cannot be personally liable for statements made on behalf of the company in the course of business.

Mr David Haw and his wife Cindy had sued Faber, its sole director Jimmy Sim and associate director Belle Seah.

Faber marketed a residential project near Auckland developed by New Zealand company Albany Heights Villas (AHVL).

The couple bought three units in the project in 2012. They made two payments of $15,000 and US$142,656 (S$194,000) to Singapore-based Hunter Sterling & Company, which owns AHVL.

It turned out that AHVL had neither the land title nor the resource consent to develop the parcel. Evidence showed that neither Mr Sim nor Ms Seah knew this at the material time.

AHVL became insolvent and probes in New Zealand showed that the people behind the project had creamed off "substantial sums" paid as deposits by many buyers from Singapore and New Zealand.

Investigations showed that Hunter Sterling was owned by Christopher Cook. Besides him, three others were involved in the case, according to a 2015 court judgment involving another Singapore couple who had sued in New Zealand. They were Roderick Neilsen, a former director of a failed finance company, as well as Peter Chevin and Paul Bublitz, both undischarged bankrupts in New Zealand.

Mr Haw and his wife, through lawyers Harish Kumar and Jonathan Toh, sued Faber and its two officers for negligence and fraudulent misrepresentations. They said that, among other things, Ms Seah had vouched that the developer had a good track record, and investments monies would be held in a safe trust account.

Faber and Mr Sim, defended by Mr Akesh Abhilash, disputed the claims, and so did Ms Seah, who represented herself.

District Judge Lee Li Choon said it was "untenable" to hold Mr Sim personally liable for stating that Faber had done due diligence checks on the developer. "The director of a company cannot be held personally liable for all the statements made on behalf of the company in the course of the company's business," she added in judgment grounds released last week.

She also pointed to "policy considerations" based on a 2007 Court of Appeal decision to make clear that the liability for negligent misstatements made in the course of business attached only to the company.

The judge found that Faber had not taken steps to verify that the developer or its owners had the " purported experience and good track record".

"The reality is that this was completely untrue. The developer AHVL and Hunter Sterling were the scheme of four crooks... hatched some time in 2010, just a year before Cook approached Belle."

The judge said that Faber was "completely reckless" in going ahead with the project, breaching its duty of care to the couple and other investors.

She ordered the company to pay the sum sought by the couple, together with legal costs, while the couple were to pay the costs to Mr Sim and Ms Seah.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Marry or have kids and get free modules at SUSS

Straits Times
14 Jul 2018
Isabelle Liew

Scheme for uni's part-time adult students starts from July 23

From July 23, part-time adult students of the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) who marry or have children during their course of study will receive free modules, the university announced yesterday.

This Marriage and Baby Bonus scheme is "in support of Singapore's continued focus on encouraging marriage and parenthood", it said in a statement.

To qualify for the scheme, the candidate must register his or her marriage, or a child's birth or adoption, on or after the implementation date.

The candidate must also be Singapore citizens or permanent residents who are at least 21 years old.

Those who qualify can redeem either two free modules, with a maximum of five credit units per module, or one 10-credit unit module.

Each module of five credit units would typically cost about $2,000 before the government subsidies kick in. After subsidies are applied, a student has to pay about $1,000.

A module with 10 credit units costs $2,600 to $4,000. After subsidies, it costs between $1,100 and $1,800.

The scheme is open to all fee-paying SUSS students who are enrolled in a part-time programme, including undergraduate, law and postgraduate programmes. Students on SUSS scholarship or company sponsorship are not eligible for the scheme.

Mr Safeel Noor, 23, a part-time psychology and sociology student, said: "I think students here (who want to get married) would benefit from this programme, because the point of these part-time courses is to make ourselves more marketable as we advance into the working world.

"This scheme may also help Singapore's declining birth rate."

Ms Andrea Chua, 27, is studying art education and psychology part-time in SUSS while working as a graphic designer.

Said Ms Chua, who got married last year: "I would love to apply for the scheme as I enjoy learning new things to upskill myself."

She added that with the skills she could pick up from taking the extra modules, she would be able to advance faster in her job, and save more money to buy a house and pay for her future children's expenses.

The scheme is open to all fee-paying SUSS students who are enrolled in a part-time programme, including undergraduate, law and postgraduate programmes.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

ADV: Research positions at the NUS Centre for Maritime Law

Singapore Law Watch
05 Jul 2018

Retiree's jail term for oral sex with boy increased

Straits Times
27 Jun 2018
Selina Lum

A 63-year-old retiree who performed oral sex on a 12-year-old boy in the toilet of a park had his jail term raised from the minimum eight years to 11 years yesterday, after an appeal by prosecutors for harsher punishment.

The additional three years of jail for Chua Hock Leong includes six months that was imposed in lieu of caning, said the Court of Appeal.

The offence carries mandatory caning of at least 12 strokes but it cannot be enforced in this case as Chua is over 50 years old.

Chua, who is married with grown-up children, had been sentenced last year in the High Court for sexually assaulting the boy in a handicapped toilet in Tampines Eco Green, in Tampines Avenue 9.

The judge declined the prosecution's request to impose extra jail time in lieu of caning.

The prosecution appealed, asking for Chua's prison sentence to be increased to 12 years and with another 24 weeks' jail in lieu of caning.

Yesterday, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, speaking for the three-judge court, said the extra six months' jail was to make up for the deterrent effect that was lost by the exemption from caning.

Justice Phang noted that Chua was 61 years old when he committed the offence. Most offenders of a similar age would know they will escape caning because of age, he added.

The extra jail time underscores the importance of deterring others from committing such crimes, the court said.

Chua was five times older than the boy and instead of advising him not to play truant, he preyed on the victim to satisfy his own depraved sexual desires, the court added.

Explaining the reasons for raising Chua's jail term, the court noted aggravating factors, including the psychological harm caused to the boy and Chua's lack of remorse.

The court noted that Chua sought to portray the boy as the sexual predator who propositioned him. It noted that the boy now fears older men and no longer goes out on his own.

On the morning of Jan 27, 2016, the boy was waiting for his friend to be dismissed from school when he said "hi" to Chua, a retired technician.

The two had never met. The boy said Chua gave him $2 to go with him to the park.

The boy said Chua barged in when he went to use the toilet cubicle. As Chua performed oral sex on him, he pushed him away and ran out. His mother later made a police report.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Rachel Eng leaves WongPartnership for PwC role

Business Times
13 Jul 2018
Tan Hwee Hwee

Rachel Eng is leaving as a partner of WongPartnership to take up a new role with a Singapore law firm that is part of PwC global legal network.

Ms Eng will stand down as partner and deputy chairman of WongPartnership with effect from Aug 31.

PwC Singapore's executive chairman Yeoh Oon Jin said: "We are pleased to welcome Rachel to our PwC global legal network firm, which focuses primarily on legal services adjacent to PwC's core services. I foresee that we will have opportunities to continue working with WongPartnership in areas outside our core capabilities."

Ms Eng has spent more than 23 years with WongPartnership. She was involved in several significant initial public offerings on the Singapore Exchange, including the listing of Sasseur Reit, the first outlet mall Reit to go public in Asia, and Dasin Retail Trust, the first Singapore Exchange- listed China retail property trust providing direct exposure to the fast-growing Pearl River Delta region.

She said: "I am proud to be part of the team that has driven the growth of WongPartnership. After so many fulfilling years with the firm, this is an opportune time for me to pursue a new challenge and I am excited to be able to provide adjacent legal services to PwC's clients. I wish WongPartnership and its partners all the very best."

WongPartnership's managing partner Ng Wai King said: "We are grateful to Rachel for her many contributions to the firm over the years. Rachel will be missed, but we can understand her desire to explore other opportunities outside WongPartnership. We wish her well in her new role."

Alvin Yeo, chairman and senior partner of WongPartnership, said: "We have a strong working relationship with PwC Singapore and have been involved in many of their initiatives including the merger of Pricewaterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand in 1998. Our collaboration will continue going forward. We are sad to see Rachel leave us, but we are happy to have her join an institution that has been a friend of WongPartnership for many years."

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Six charged in alleged MLM scheme on forex

04 Jul 2018
Wong Pei Ting

The director of a company on the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) investor alert list, together with five of his associates were hauled to court on Wednesday (July 4) for suspected involvement in a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme.

Leong Koon Wah, 45, who is the director of Singliworld Pte Ltd, was served with five charges, including one of promoting a prohibited pyramid selling arrangement called SingliForex scheme.

The scheme offered to investors in Singapore and Malaysia between 2014 and 2015 promised high returns, purportedly from the company’s trading of leveraged foreign exchange, said the police in a press release on Tuesday.

Investors could receive commission based on the trading activities of those they directly recruited, as well as that of new investors recruited by traders they brought in earlier.

The charge sheet did not reveal how much money was involved in the scheme. The offence carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail and S$200,000 fine.

Leong’s other charges included one count under the Companies Act, in which he allegedly used Singliworld, a company incorporated in Singapore, to conduct fraudulent trading.

The charge sheet stated that he induced customers to invest in a “leveraged” foreign exchange trading scheme with Hong Kong-incorporated Triumph Global (Asia) Limited and New Zealand-incorporated Union Markets Limited, although the two companies were not involved in any genuine foreign exchange trading activities.

They also had no sustainable means of funding the returns to customers.

If convicted of fraudulent trading, Leong could be jailed for up to seven years, and/or fined up to S$15,000.

Leong, who is also part of the management committee for Triumph Global and Union Markets, also faces three counts under the Securities and Futures Act for allegedly carrying on businesses of leveraged foreign exchange trading – a regulated activity – although all three companies did not hold a capital markets services licence issued by the MAS to do it.

Each of these charges carries a punishment of up to three years and a fine of up to S$150,000.

The five associates charged alongside him are Ng Kuan Chuan, 32; Lim Kang Wee, 37; Tan Meng Chye, 57; Lee Yoon Chaw, 54; and Wan Keng Yuen, 48.

The court has not heard which positions each of the five held.

But Ng, a Malaysian, was served with charges similar to Leong’s under the Companies Act as well as the Securities and Futures Act.

The rest were hit with one count each of promoting the SingliForex pyramid selling scheme.

The cases of Leong and Ng, whose bail amounts are set at S$240,000 and S$200,000 respectively, will be heard in court again on July 9.

Tan, Lee and Wan will return to court on July 18, while Lim’s case will be heard again on July 31. Their bail amounts were set at S$30,000 each.

Copyright 2018 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Surgeon suspended over 'professional misconduct'

Straits Times
27 Jun 2018
Salma Khalik

Tribunal: He did not properly evaluate patient's condition nor keep proper records

A surgeon has been suspended from practising for seven months for not properly evaluating a patient's condition, not informing her of alternative treatments and not keeping proper medical records.

A disciplinary tribunal (DT) convened by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) heard that the patient, who complained about diarrhoea and rectal bleeding, had gone to see Dr Ganesh Ramalingam on April 22, 2014.

Dr Ganesh suggested two procedures - gastroscopy and colonoscopy - to which the patient agreed. Both were carried out the same day.

However, the colonoscopy caused a puncture in the colon and corrective surgery was necessary. This was successful but the patient needed a colostomy, a surgical procedure to provide an opening in the abdomen for the colon. The patient had to live with this for two months. She also has two scars as a result of the corrective surgery and the colostomy. Her husband later complained to the SMC.

The DT described this as unfortunate for the doctor, saying that "if the outcome of the procedures had been uneventful, it would not have precipitated this complaint".

Dr Ganesh was not found guilty of botching the procedures, but for what happened before they were carried out.

The tribunal decided to suspend Dr Ganesh for seven months, censure him and make him pay the costs of the proceedings.

The DT found Dr Ganesh's conduct during the consultation puzzling. He did not find out enough about the patient's diarrhoea and rectal bleeding, such as "the nature, frequency and history of previous episodes". He also did not ask if there was a family history of bowel disorders, and if the patient had gone overseas recently.

The DT, chaired by Dr Joseph Sheares, said this constituted "an intentional, deliberate departure" from standards expected of doctors.

Although the patient agreed to the procedures, the DT said her decision was not an "informed" one as the doctor did not tell her why he wanted to carry them out, or that there were alternative treatments such as oral antibiotics.

Dr Ganesh also failed to keep adequate medical records, such as characterising the symptoms of the patient , why he recommended the procedures or the explanation and advice he had given her.

The DT also questioned why the procedures were carried out within four hours of the consultation when there was no need for such urgency.

It said: "We wish to stress that this conduct of Dr Ganesh was entirely inexplicable."

The tribunal decided that it needed to "send a strong signal to the public that the medical profession does not (and will not) condone a doctor's failure to respect a patient's autonomy" in deciding the treatment he gets.

The SMC suggested a one-year suspension, but was willing to go with eight to 10 months as Dr Ganesh had pleaded guilty, which led to significant savings in time and costs for the hearing. The defence said a three-to six-month suspension and a fine would be more appropriate. He also did not offer any "excuses for his shortcoming".

The DT said it was inclined to agree with the SMC that a longer suspension of 12 months was warranted, given Dr Ganesh's "bewildering conduct".

However, it also wanted to give credit to him for acknowledging that he deserved a suspension. It said: "This is a manifestation of Dr Ganesh's true remorse for not attempting to downplay his acts of professional misconduct."

It added that "such a posture is not often seen at the DT hearings" as doctors would normally argue that their breaches were not as serious as the SMC made them out to be.

Although the patient agreed to the procedures, the disciplinary tribunal said her decision was not an "informed" one as the doctor did not tell her why he wanted to carry them out , or that there were alternative treatments such as oral antibiotics.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

10 years' jail for killing wife

Straits Times
13 Jul 2018
Selina Lum

Daughter who witnessed the stabbing suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

A 10-year-old girl rushed into her mother's bedroom after hearing screams, only to witness the gruesome sight of her father repeatedly stabbing the woman.

The horrifying episode left her with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including seeing shadows and images of a knife. She would also cry at night, the High Court heard.

Yesterday, Mohamad Jonit Adnan, 38, was sentenced to 10 years' jail for killing his estranged wife, Madam Sri Idayu Ghazali, 29, in their Yishun Ring Road flat on Aug 13, 2016.

Jonit, who stabbed his wife more than 30 times, was assessed to be suffering from a major depressive episode at the time.

He pleaded guilty to a charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, as his psychiatric condition reduced his mental responsibility for his actions.

The court heard that the couple, who married in 2007 and had two daughters, were in a rocky relationship. He did not have a stable job and had an extramarital affair with a woman, with whom he had a son.

She applied for a divorce in March 2016. In July that year, she applied for a personal protection order against Jonit, who moved out of the flat that month.

Meanwhile, Madam Sri Idayu's parents, sister Sulastri and a domestic worker moved in.

On the evening of Aug 13, Jonit took his daughters to a nearby playground. He asked them if their mother had stayed out late, and they replied "yes". This angered him because he suspected she was going out with another man.

Jonit took the children back to the flat, then picked up a knife from the kitchen and hid it inside his back pocket.

After Ms Sulastri left the flat with the older girl, then 11 years old, Jonit confronted Madam Sri Idayu and asked if she had gone out the previous night. According to him, she replied, with expletives, that it was none of his business.

On hearing this, he took out the knife and began stabbing her.

Their younger daughter rushed into the room when she heard shouts of "sakit" (Malay for "pain") and saw her father stabbing her mother.

Jonit stopped stabbing when he saw the girl in the room. He ran to the kitchen to throw the knife out of the window and fled the flat.

The girl then ran down to tell her aunt and sister what had happened. Ms Sulastri called the police when she saw Madam Sri Idayu covered in blood.

Jonit later surrendered to two police officers who had been dispatched to the scene.

Madam Sri Idayu was taken to hospital with stab wounds on her face, chest, abdomen and hands. She died at about 4.30am the following day. An autopsy found at least 30 stab wounds on her body, eight of which were fatal.

The prosecution sought a jail term of 10 years, while the defence asked for between five and seven years' jail.

Culpable homicide carries a punishment of life imprisonment or up to 20 years' jail, with possible caning or fine.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Sakae case: Who's blowing the whistle on corporate Singapore?

Business Times
04 Jul 2018
Michelle Quah

Food chain Sakae Sushi may be viewed as having scored a recent victory in its long-running legal battle with a former director, but we shouldn't be so quick as to blow the full-time whistle just yet.

While Singapore's apex court did last week rule in Sakae's favour in its claims against former director Andy Ong, the court's findings of "systemic abuse" and "misappropriation of funds (and) assets" by Mr Ong may also have put the entire matter well into extra time, by begging another question: where have Singapore's corporate and market regulators been on this issue?

First, a necessary recap of this long-running case. Mainboard-listed Sakae Holdings (Sakae), which runs the Sakae Sushi chain, had in September 2010 invested in a 24.69 per cent stake in a joint venture company, Griffin Real Estate Investment Holdings Pte Ltd (GREIH).

Gryphon Real Estate Investment Corporation Pte Ltd (GREIC), of which Mr Ong was a director and owned shares in, held the remaining 75.31 per cent. Mr Ong was also an independent director of Sakae from 2003 to 2013.

Mr Ong had, in 2009, proposed to Sakae founder and chief Douglas Foo that they come together to acquire more than 90 per cent of the units in the shopping mall Bugis Cube, which they could then redevelop and sell at a profit.

GREIH was to be the vehicle through which this would happen.

In early 2013, Sakae was informed by an international firm of accountants appointed by Mr Foo that "irregular" financial transactions had been undertaken in GREIH; Mr Foo had appointed the accountants to inspect GREIH's accounting records and financial affairs after he had noticed and become concerned about certain transactions.

He had, upon receiving the accountants' report, immediately notified Sakae's audit committee and external auditors of the findings.

Sakae's board of directors, through its lawyers, notified Singapore's white-collar-crime police, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), and reported the matter to Singapore's Minister for Finance as required to by the Companies Act.

Sakae subsequently commenced legal action against Mr Ong and his company ERC Holdings Pte Ltd to "secure and preserve (Sakae's) interests in GREIH".

Singapore's High Court in 2017 ruled, among other things, that Mr Ong "was apparently able to and did divert (GREIH's) assets to companies in the ERC Group" through seven transactions, which included:

    • The wrongful diversion of S$16 million from GREIH to companies in the ERC Group, as part of a "sham" lease agreement "concocted in order to divert funds" from GREIH;
    • The unauthorised extension of two loans totalling S$20 million from GREIH to ERC Unicampus (a company part of the ERC Group); and
    • GREIH's unauthorised payment of S$8 million to Mr Ong, as part of a supposed project manager agreement, which the court also termed a "sham".

The High Court determined that these acts were "oppressive" to Sakae as a minority owner of GREIH and that Mr Ong had breached his fiduciary duties which he owed as a director of Sakae.

Mr Ong appealed the High Court's decision. In its judgment last week, the Court of Appeal largely upheld the High Court's findings. A key portion of its ruling also has a direct bearing on the conduct and regulation of corporate Singapore.

"In our view," the judgment said, "the facts of the present case, taken as a whole, present a picture of systemic abuse by Andy Ong, the key figure behind all the impugned transactions".

It added that the abuse "benefitted one group of shareholders (namely, GREIC and, subsequently, ERC Holdings as well, both of which were controlled by Andy Ong at the material time), at the expense of the other (namely, Sakae)".

"It is indisputable that these transactions taken together, coupled with the systemic nature of Andy Ong's abuse, occasioned serious commercial unfairness to Sakae," it said.

'Systemic abuse'

Such findings of "systemic abuse" beg the question of why Singapore's regulators and authorities have thus far remained silent the entire time this case has been playing out publicly.

Sakae, in a filing to the Singapore Exchange in January 2013, said it had already reported the allegedly fraudulent transactions to the CAD, which means the matter had been brought to the attention of the authorities.

One would have thought that, in a case such as this, where unauthorised actions were made again and again to defraud another party, a probe would have been the very least action undertaken by the authorities; yet, there has been no announcement to this effect.

While it is understandable that the relevant authorities and corporate and market regulators would prefer to keep the progress of their investigations or deliberations confidential until they are concluded or a decision has been reached, it has to be said that the marked silence from these quarters - in the past five years since this case was reported - does little for market confidence.

One could argue that the authorities could be choosing to wait for the private civil suit to be settled either between the parties or by the courts before announcing any action on their part, but the counter to that is that such actions have not stopped Singapore's regulators before.

Of course, it could also be said that there is time yet and that it remains to be seen if any word or action will be uttered/taken by the relevant authorities on this matter - and one hopes there will be.

The Court of Appeal's judgment, which settled a private lawsuit, not a prosecutorial action brought about by the authorities, cannot be the final word on this issue; the lack of involvement by the authorities would give the unfortunate impression that companies, directors, investors and other stakeholders within the eco-system would need to tap on their own resources to seek redress for wrongs done to them.

The authorities ought to make themselves heard on what they will and will not stand for. One hopes that, by the time the final whistle is blown, the needed penalties have been doled out to keep the players on the field in check.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Prosecution seeks 4 years' jail for dentist

Straits Times
27 Jun 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

He duped CPF Board into disbursing $434k from patients' Medisave accounts to his clinic

The prosecution has called for a four-year jail sentence for a dentist who came up with a bogus claims scam involving his patients' Medisave accounts.

Steven Ang Kiam Hau, 44, duped the Central Provident Fund (CPF) board into disbursing $434,241 from 14 patients' Medisave accounts to the clinic where he worked - The Smile Division Dental Surgeons @ Orchard.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Teo Guan Siew told District Judge Kan Shuk Weng that Ang had abused his position as an accredited medical practitioner.

The DPP said: "The accused's criminal conduct was especially egregious bearing in mind the profile of his patients. His patients were mostly not sophisticated or highly educated individuals.

"The youngest of the accused's 14 patients was 49 years old, the oldest was 65... These were not individuals who had the rest of their working years to replenish the Medisave savings that were decimated by the accused's offences."

Ang would certify that day surgeries were conducted on multiple dates when they were, in fact, done in a day or two. As a result, the CPF Board was induced into disbursing multiple claim amounts to the clinic in Lucky Plaza.

Ang's legal team, led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, urged Judge Kan to sentence their client to six months' jail. SC Singh said performing the procedures on the patients over a number of days "would have been contrary" to the best interests of Ang's patients.

He added: "The procedures that were performed on the patients were highly invasive, involving extremely high levels of pain, which meant that if the procedures were not performed in a single day, the patients had to undergo sedation on a number of occasions."

On May 4, Ang pleaded guilty to 30 cheating charges involving five patients and $65,858. Another 253 charges involving the remaining amount will be taken into consideration during sentencing.

As part of the ruse, Ang would offer underprivileged patients lower rates than at other clinics before making dishonest claims from their Medisave accounts with their consent. DPP Teo had earlier said Ang's share of the net fees was 56 per cent, while Smile was entitled to the rest.

Ang, who joined Smile in 2007, came up with the scheme two years later. The dental group's managing director Cecil Goh Chin Chye, 48, found out about the scheme in 2011, and saw it as a way to attract patients, the court heard.

The offences came to light after the Ministry of Health made a police report on July 14, 2014, following an audit.

The cases involving Goh, Smile's practice manager Yeo Meow Koon, 47, and dentist Daniel Liew Yaoxiang, 36, are still pending. Ang is out on bail of $250,000 and is expected to be sentenced on Aug 3.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Man gets 20 years' jail for raping son's ex-girlfriend

Straits Times
13 Jul 2018
Selina Lum

47-year-old, who first had sex with girl when she was 11, given 15 strokes of the cane

A company director, 47, who raped an underage girl who was his son's former girlfriend was sentenced to 20 years' jail and 15 strokes of the cane yesterday.

A High Court judge said the man had taken advantage of the "innocence and helplessness" of a young girl over a long period, and had no qualms about causing her emotional damage to satisfy his desires.

Justice Lee Seiu Kin accepted that there was no physical violence involved but he said the man's behaviour was "predatory" and "manipulative", and that he was "old enough to be her father".

The man cannot be named to protect the identity of the girl.

In March, he admitted having sexually abused the girl from December 2012 to May 2014, when she was between 11 and 13.

He pleaded guilty to two charges of statutory rape and one charge of sexual penetration of a minor. Fourteen other charges were considered during sentencing.

The court heard that he was accessing his son's Facebook account in December 2012 when he found nude pictures of the girl.

The Primary 5 girl had sent the images via private message after the Primary 6 boy asked for them.

The man contacted the girl, saying he wanted to meet her to talk about her break-up with his son. On Christmas Eve, he drove her to Copthorne King's Hotel and raped her in a room he had booked.

Initially, the girl felt angry about the rape and was afraid he would share the nude pictures. However, she grew to like the man, who told her he loved her. He also showed concern for her.

They continued meeting for consensual sex in carparks, hotels and the rooftop of her condominium. When she turned 12, he drove her to a deserted carpark, gave her birthday presents and asked her to perform oral sex on him.

He also took pictures of their sex acts with his mobile phone.

In February 2014, she wanted to end the affair after getting into a relationship with a teenage boy, but the man refused. Using prepaid SIM cards, he posed several times as a mystery man and sent her messages threatening to post her naked pictures online. Unaware that he was responsible for the messages, she turned to him for help.

He also contacted her friends, and used her naked image as the profile picture of a WhatsApp account. In July that year, a parent saw the picture in a chat window on his daughter's phone, and recognised the victim.

Defence counsel Anand Nalachandran asked that the man be given 12 to 15 years' jail, as his client had indulged in extra-marital affairs as a mechanism to cope with stress at work and home.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ng Yiwen argued that the man be given 21 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane, saying he had no genuine feelings for the girl at all. Instead, she was just an "easy target" that he treated as a sex object.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Taking an oBike home is illegal - even if company has shut down, say lawyers

Straits Times
04 Jul 2018
Zhaki Abdullah

The wheels may have come off for bicycle-sharing operator oBike, which has shut down its operations in Singapore. However, lawyers have warned anybody thinking of taking one of its 70,000 two-wheelers left scattered around the island that doing so would be illegal.

Since the unexpected June 25 announcement of the company's closure, videos have circulated online detailing how to dismantle the electronic lock found on the rear wheel of each oBike.

However, taking one of the firm's rental bicycles in such a way would be illegal as they remain the property of oBike.

Mr Jonathan Kok, a partner with law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, said: "If any person unlocks the bicycle and removes the bicycles without oBike's permission, that person would have committed theft.

"As the bicycles are the assets of oBike, the liquidator can sell the bicycles and use the money from the sale to settle debts owing to creditors, which may include refunding the deposits owing to users."

However, he noted that whether users get a refund of their deposits depends on whether there is enough money raised from the sale of oBike's assets to pay all creditors.

Users could potentially face criminal charges if a police report is filed against them for taking an oBike home, added Farallon Law Corporation managing director Nicolas Tang.

oBike chairman Shi Yi told The Straits Times on Monday (July 2) that as part of its exit strategy, the beleaguered firm had considered giving away its bicycles to users in lieu of paying back their deposit, though this plan was ultimately dismissed.

However, Mr Kok said such a decision that can only be made by the liquidator, and not oBike itself. He added: "The liquidator will take into account the overall value of the assets of the company and the overall debts owing to the creditors (in particular the secured creditors) in order to determine what is the best way to raise money to pay off the creditors."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Teacher who paid for massage with fake notes loses appeal

Straits Times
26 Jun 2018
Selina Lum

A secondary school teacher who used two counterfeit $100 notes he had made to pay for massage services began his three-year jail term yesterday after losing his appeal.

Daniel Wong Mun Meng, 44, failed to convince a High Court judge that the notes were intended as a teaching tool to "excite and engage" his students on the topic of currency exchange.

His contention that he wanted to use the notes as props for the school's Maths Day, because they depicted youth from uniformed groups and were in line with the event's SG50 theme, was rejected.

In dismissing Wong's appeal against conviction for counterfeiting the money and using the fake notes as genuine currency, Justice Aedit Abdullah said his reasons beggared belief.

In late July 2015, Wong made the two fake notes by photocopying a genuine one on his home printer.

On the night of Aug 3, 2015, he drove to Orchard Towers, where he offered to pay a Vietnamese woman $200 for "services". He paid Ms Nguyen Nhu Trang with the fake notes before driving her to Fragrance Hotel in Balestier Road. They spent about an hour there.

He testified in court that she gave him a full body massage and then had sex with him. But Ms Trang told the court that no sex was involved.

The case came to light after she tried to use one of the fake notes at a supermarket and was caught by a cashier.

Police officers arrested Wong at Bukit Batok Secondary School on Aug 20, 2015. He was suspended from teaching duties in December the same year.

Wong was found guilty after a 12-day trial and sentenced to three years' jail in November last year. He had been out on bail pending appeal.

Yesterday, his lawyer Melanie Ho argued that he should be cleared of the charges. She pointed to the scheme of work for Wong's class to establish that he did intend to deal with currency exchange as a topic.

But the judge questioned whether this really substantiated Wong's reason for producing the counterfeit notes or provided an excuse for him.

"Do teachers generally create counterfeit notes to fulfil the scheme of work?" he asked, adding that Monopoly money or other currency could have been used.

Ms Ho argued that three years was too harsh for Wong. She added that his infidelity has taken a toll on his marriage.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Chin said Wong's defence was an afterthought, adding he failed to mention any intention to use the fake notes for class or for Maths Day when questioned by the police.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

President Halimah attends NUS commencement

Straits Times
13 Jul 2018

It was a homecoming of sorts for President Halimah Yacob, as she attended the National University of Singapore (NUS) law school's commencement ceremony yesterday.

The ceremony was her first since she became the university's 10th chancellor last November.

Madam Halimah graduated from the NUS Faculty of Law in 1978. She was back there again in 1999, and earned her master's in law in 2001.

About 360 law graduates were conferred their degrees at the ceremony. Yesterday's event kicks off the first of 23 commencement ceremonies being held at the University Cultural Centre over eight days. A total of 6,785 students will receive their bachelor's while 4,082 will be conferred postgraduate degrees.

Yesterday, NUS president Tan Eng Chye told the law graduates that apart from their legal training, other attributes such as curiosity, empathy and determination would be needed for them to succeed in the field.

"You will also need to constantly seek out new knowledge, to enlarge and enrich your understanding, and to discover new and different ways of doing things," he said.

In his speech, Prof Tan also paid tribute to Justice Chao Hick Tin, Senior Judge of the Supreme Court of Singapore, for his contributions.

Justice Chao, 75, was presented an honorary Doctor of Laws, the university's highest honour, by Madam Halimah.

Prof Tan said Justice Chao had, over a career that has stretched more than 50 years so far, held some of the highest legal offices, including that of attorney-general and Supreme Court judge of appeal.

"His expertise in international law, as well as his resolute spirit of public service, was called upon in landmark agreements and treaties that secured and promoted Singapore's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and commercial interests," said the NUS president.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Woman drops claim on third party's share of home in divorce

Straits Times
04 Jul 2018
K.C. Vijayan

In the first reported case of its nature after a recent landmark Court of Appeal ruling, a woman opted not to fight to have her brother-in-law's share of her matrimonial home be included in the pool of assets to be split between her and her former husband.

Her decision comes in the wake of a ruling by a five-judge Court of Appeal in April that claims made by a third party on property involved in divorce proceedings could not be heard by the Family Justice Court and had to be decided by the High Court.

The $4.8 million house in Changi, which was the retiree couple's home in a marriage lasting nearly 29 years, was held by them both with 10 per cent owned by the husband's brother.

The woman had initially insisted the couple had beneficial ownership of his share and it should be included in the matrimonial assets.

But her brother-in-law indicated he wanted his 10 per cent rights from any sale of the house. The contest would mean the claim would have to be referred to the High Court to be resolved there first and the Family Court hearing on the division of matrimonial assets deferred until that was settled.

The top court's ruling found that under the Women's Charter - the law that provides for marriage and divorce - a Family Justice Court has power only to divide assets in the specific context of matrimonial proceedings involving the two spouses.

A separate civil suit has to be started to determine the ownership of a disputed property before proceedings to divide matrimonial assets can continue before the Family Justice Court.

The woman notified the Family Court last month to drop the 10 per cent claim, enabling the case to be moved ahead instead of being stayed until the 10 per cent issue was settled.

"Following the Court of Appeal decision... these proceedings concerning the division of matrimonial property can thus continue, and only the parties' 90 per cent share held in their names would be included in the pool of matrimonial assets," wrote Justice Debbie Ong in decision grounds last week.

It is understood there could be more such cases where the affected spouse may forgo claiming disputed properties that have third-party interests.

In a separate pending divorce case, a woman, represented by Salem Ibrahim LLC, decided not to commence a civil suit to pursue her claim for a share of the $6 million matrimonial home, which is in the name of a third party.

"In a very long marriage, documentary proof can often be deficient. That lacking may not pass the rigours of a High Court civil suit where strict property rights are applied in contrast to the rough and ready reckoning norm in the Family Court," said Mr Salem.

In the case involving the $4.8 million house in Changi, Justice Ong ordered the assets of the couple worth some $21.3 million, which included several properties, to be divided on a 50:50 basis, after considering their direct and indirect contributions to the family of four during their marriage.

The judge noted their split was both bitter and acrimonious and both even fought over ownership of the marriage certificate, which was in the husband's possession.

The wife, represented by lawyer Foo Soon Yien, argued it was a matrimonial asset and sought for it to be awarded to her, claiming it would help her recover from the trauma of a failed marriage if she had it. She had undergone psychiatric treatment for post traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

The husband, defended by lawyer See Chern Yang, objected, alleging she wanted the certificate in order to destroy it, which she denied.

Justice Ong ruled the certificate was not a matrimonial asset and made no order on it.

"It proves the parties were married, but the subsequent court order has dissolved this marriage. This matter on the marriage certificate should not be a cause for further acrimony between the parties," she added.

The parties' names in the case were redacted.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

S'pore and Malaysia must comply fully with 1962 water treaty: MFA

Straits Times
26 Jun 2018
Royston Sim

Singapore has reiterated that both Malaysia and the Republic have to adhere fully to the 1962 water agreement, after Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday criticised the price of raw water sold to Singapore as "ridiculous", and said he planned to renegotiate the pact's terms.

In a statement yesterday, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said that the 1962 treaty was guaranteed by both governments in the Separation Agreement, which was registered with the United Nations when Singapore broke away from Malaysia in 1965.

"Both sides must comply fully with all the provisions of these agreements, " the spokesman said.

In separate interviews with Channel NewsAsia (CNA) and Bloomberg Television, Tun Dr Mahathir revived the water price issue which was a recurring source of tension between both countries, especially during the later half of his previous term as prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

He told CNA that the price - 3 sen per thousand gallons - is "ridiculous", and that Malaysia will approach Singapore on renegotiating the terms of the deal.

Asked if he will talk to Singapore about going back to the drawing board on the issue, Dr Mahathir said: "We are studying the case properly and we will make a presentation."

However, he said it is "not urgent" during a news conference yesterday after a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia supreme council meeting.

On whether the Cabinet discussed the matter before his media interviews, he replied: "We didn't discuss the water issue. But I was asked by the press."

The water agreement, which expires in 2061, entitles Singapore to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of raw water from the Johor River daily. In return, Johor is entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2 per cent or 5 mgd of the water supplied to Singapore.

Singapore pays 3 sen per thousand gallons of raw water, and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per thousand gallons.

In his interview with Bloomberg published yesterday, Dr Mahathir criticised the 1962 water supply deal with Singapore as "too costly", and said it is among the issues with Singapore "that we need to settle". This follows on his announcement last month that Malaysia plans to scrap a multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail (HSR) line from Kuala Lumpur to Jurong East. He has yet to inform Singapore about its intent, he confirmed during the CNA interview.

In an earlier interview with The Straits Times in March, before he won the election last month and became prime minister for a second time, Dr Mahathir described the price of the water sold to Singapore as "absurd".

The legally binding 1962 treaty contains provisions that make clear Malaysia cannot unilaterally raise the water price any time it wants.

A veteran diplomat who declined to be named told The Straits Times Dr Mahathir is reviving the water price issue now as he has never accepted the terms of the 1962 pact.

The 1961 and 1962 water agreements provided for a price review after 25 years - in 1986 and 1987, respectively. Malaysia chose not to review the price then, MFA said in an article on its website on the issue.

But Singapore allowed for a renegotiation of the issue when Dr Mahathir later raised it in 1998.

Over the span of four years, both countries underwent several rounds of talks on water and other bilateral issues as part of a package. Malaysia continually raised its asking price for water, and the matter became a sore point in relations.

In October 2002, Dr Mahathir decided to abandon the process.

In January 2003, then Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar made public all correspondence on the matter, and the Government released a booklet, Water Talks, to debunk Malaysia's claims.

In it, the Government said that it costs Singapore RM2.40 to treat every thousand gallons of water. By selling at 50 sen, Singapore is providing a subsidy of RM1.90 per thousand gallons of water.

"His intention is to make the Singapore Government look unreasonable hoping, first, that Singaporeans will pressure our government on his behalf, and, second, to set up an alibi with his own people," he said.

"All this is out of Dr M's standard playbook. Singaporeans should not be deceived. Good neighbourliness ought to be a two-way street."

It also said Johor sold the treated water to Johoreans at RM3.95 per thousand gallons, which amounts to RM46 million in profits a year.

All in, Singapore has paid over $1 billion on various water treatment infrastructure, including building a dam to create the Linggiu Reservoir that increases the yield of the Johor River, said the Government.

In a Facebook post yesterday, diplomat Bilahari Kausikan said Malaysia buys "considerably more" treated water from Singapore than it is entitled to under the terms of the agreement. "Why should it do that unless it is getting a good deal?" he wrote.

In a written parliamentary replylast year, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Singapore has been regularly supplying Johor with 16 mgd of treated water - in excess of its entitlement.

Mr Kausikan said he believes Dr Mahathir is now raising the water issue "only as a diversionary tactic" in preparation to ask for a waiver or reduction of the compensation Malaysia has to pay Singapore if it formally cancels the HSR project.


We are studying the case properly and we will make a presentation.

MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, when asked if he will talk to Singapore about going back to the drawing board on the water issue.


Both sides must comply fully with all the provisions of these agreements.


Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Widow's suit against SMRT and LTA settled

Straits Times
12 Jul 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Case would have addressed question of liability when driverless trains kill someone

A High Court suit by a widow against SMRT Light Rail and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) over her husband's death has been settled out of court by mutual agreement.

Madam Lee Yoong Cheng, whose husband was run over by two driverless LRT trains, sought damages for alleged negligence - a claim which SMRT Light Rail and LTA denied in court papers filed earlier.

The court settlement spares the knotty question of where liability lies when a driverless train runs over a commuter which this test case could perhaps address in some other possible occasion.

Mr Ang Boon Tong, 43, fell on the tracks while he was walking on the LRT platform at Fajar station at 12.42am on March 24 last year. At 12.48am, a train pulled up and ran over him. Its sole passenger, an SMRT employee, heard a noise but did not investigate. The train was about to leave but it stalled, so a station controller was alerted and he activated a switch that enabled the train to proceed.

Another train pulled up nine minutes later, and this time, the station controller, who was on the platform, noticed that the carriage jerked upwards. After the train left, he saw Mr Ang's body on the tracks and alerted the operations control centre.

The coroner's inquiry last August heard that Mr Ang died of multiple injuries and ruled the death a "truly tragic misadventure".

It emerged that when Mr Ang, a cook, fell off the platform, he was in an intoxicated state. The inquiry noted that he had the equivalent of almost three times the alcohol limit for motorists.

Madam Lee had claimed that SMRT Light Rail and the LTA breached their statutory or common law duty of care, which led to Mr Ang's death, according to court papers filed in the suit then by Hoh Law Corp lawyer N. Srinivasan.

But SMRT Light Rail and LTA, in court papers filed then by WhiteFern lawyer K. Anparasan, countered, among other things, that Mr Ang caused the accident by failing to be alert to his surroundings and not taking reasonable care of his own well-being, given that he was intoxicated at the time.

An LTA spokesman, responding to The Straits Times on the deal, said: "The Land Transport Authority will continue to work closely with SMRT to enhance safety at LRT platforms.

"This includes ongoing trials of a video analytics system which is able to alert SMRT staff of any unauthorised entry onto the tracks."

Mr Srinivasan said: "Our client is glad that the matter has been amicably resolved. It has provided her with closure on this incident, enabling her to move forward with her family."

Both lawyers said that the case was settled without any admission of liability. It is understood the terms of the settlement are confidential.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Vexatious cases: Courts may get more powers

Straits Times
03 Jul 2018
Tan Tam Mei

Proposed changes aimed at matters that may not have sufficient grounds to proceed

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has proposed tightening procedures to grant courts greater powers to control "vexatious" proceedings, matters that may not have sufficient grounds to proceed.

In a release on the proposed amendments to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (SCJA), which were put to public consultation yesterday, the ministry said the changes would allow the High Court or the Court of Appeal to act on its own to restrain a vexatious litigant, to varying degrees.

MinLaw did not cite a specific case, but said that the proposed changes would allow the courts to take a nuanced approach, as opposed to a total ban on all further legal proceedings brought by such a litigant, which is the case now. These are among several changes to court processes and procedures that the ministry is looking into.

"Vexatious proceedings typically have little prospect of success, but the litigant might continue to pursue the matter," said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan.

"When the individual cannot win the case on merit, sometimes he looks at various methods including judicial review. This is often at the expense of the court's and other party's resources."

He said it could amount to an abuse of court processes and inappropriate use of the court's time and public resources.

In a 2016 case, a woman was ordered by the highest court to seek its permission if she wanted to sue again in the future. The former civil servant had, over a 16-year period, filed a series of suits demanding a judicial review, claiming to be a victim of wrongful dismissal.

In judgment grounds then, Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash said: "If such an order is not made, the vexatious litigant, having lost sight of rationality or reality and being armed with an aggravated sense of injustice about his case, is very likely to persist indefinitely in instituting legal proceedings."

The proposed changes to the SCJA would allow the court to order that no further documents be filed if it found that doing so would be vexatious or for an improper purpose. If passed, they would also let the Court of Appeal dismiss, on its own motion, appeals or applications in cases where the matter relates to an issue it has already decided on, or where it lacks jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Other changes include allowing courts to conduct civil hearings via video conference or other electronic means.

The ministry also intends to strengthen procedures for Court of Appeal cases. It is looking into allowing appeals in civil matters from the State Courts to be brought directly to the Court of Appeal in situations where a ruling is required urgently.

In such cases, permission of the Court of Appeal will be needed, and it must involve points of law of general public importance.

The public consultation on the proposed amendments to the SCJA runs until July 30.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Magnus Energy confirms former MD's lawsuit

Business Times
26 Jun 2018
Marissa Lee

Charles Madhavan's suing over wrongful termination; company yet to address other concerns raised by him

Almost a month after Magnus Energy parted ways with its newly appointed managing director and disclosed that the executive raised concerns about past transactions, the company has yet to tell shareholders what those concerns involved.

In an announcement on Monday, Magnus said Charles Madhavan had on June 22 served the company a writ of summons in relation to his claim for wrongful termination.

Mr Madhavan had raised questions about loans made by the company; a loan from chief executive Luke Ho; and a luxury car bought for a key management personnel.

Magnus announced on May 28 the cessation of Mr Madhavan in his executive role, citing "differences with management and board".

The Catalist-listed company, whose core business is in oilfield equipment supplies and services, also said at the time that Mr Madhavan had highlighted to the company's sponsor, Stamford Corporate Services, personal concerns about some of the company's past transactions. Magnus said at the time it was in the midst of reviewing those concerns and would be responding to the sponsor's queries.

On May 31, Magnus said it had received a letter of demand from Mr Madhavan claiming for wrongful termination.

Mr Madhavan, who spoke to BT on June 6, said he was concerned about money loaned to an Indonesian contractor that had not been collected.

In May 2015, Magnus gave PT Hanjugin, an Indonesian contractor, a S$5 million loan to develop a manganese mine and build houses on the island of Timor, according to filings on the Singapore Exchange. The interest on the redeemable convertible loan (RCL) was 9 per cent per annum. Magnus took a land plot as collateral.

In 2016, Magnus disbursed another S$5.9 million to PT Hanjugin to build three roads and a dam in Java. All four projects were cancelled later that year, but S$1.9 million of that sum has not been repaid.

On August 31, 2017, four months before the RCL was due to mature on Dec 31, PT Hanjugin told Magnus that it needed time to restructure the entire S$6.9 million outstanding principal debts owed to Magnus, as well as another S$0.5 million in unpaid interest on the RCL.

The land in Timor held as collateral is also subject to a dispute, Magnus learned last month.

Mr Madhavan questioned why the company, which is loss-making and has a market capitalisation of S$12.6 million, did not take steps to recover the monies from PT Hanjugin sooner.

He also took issue with a S$650,000 one-year loan that the company borrowed from Mr Ho and independent director Seet Chor Hoon, to spend on a Malaysia microalgae oil cultivation facility, filings show.

Although the company managed to repay S$100,000 of the loan, the due date for the outstanding S$550,000 amount has been extended to April 2019.

The loans by Mr Ho and Ms Seet carry a 10 per cent annual interest.

Mr Madhavan said he had suggested to the board that Magnus should liquidate a car held on the company's books with a net book value of S$276,563. The car, purchased in the 2016 financial year, was registered in the name of an unidentified key management personnel and "held in trust for the group", Magnus's latest annual report reveals.

Mr Ho declined to comment to BT with respect to the issues raised by Mr Madhavan.

When BT asked the board for more information about who runs PT Hanjugin, and what due diligence was done before Magnus entrusted it for various construction projects, non-independent non-executive director Nick Ong Sing Huat replied last Friday: "We went through the processes, this was internal."

He added: "The company is in the process of preparing for the EGM (extraordinary general meeting) and is working with its legal professionals. The company will be make the appropriate disclosures in due course."

Although Mr Madhavan's executive role has been terminated, a vote by shareholders at an EGM is required to remove him as a director of the company.

Mr Madhavan's questions have reached the company's sponsor, Stamford Corporate Services, and Magnus has promised to follow up with a public announcement after it has reviewed his concerns. Bernard Lui, sponsor for Magnus and partner at Morgan Lewis, declined to comment for this story earlier this month.

Mr Madhavan's concerns and allegations come more than four years after the Commercial Affairs Department sought information on Mr Ho in relation to the 2013 penny stock crash when he was then Magnus' CFO.

Mr Madhavan joined Magnus on April 2, after a share placement raised his stake in the company to 5.5 per cent.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Legal 'stalwart' senior counsel Jeffrey Chan retires after 45 years

Straits Times
12 Jul 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Senior Counsel Jeffrey Chan is longest-serving legal service officer

A veteran of the legal service, Mr Jeffrey Chan, who retired last week as principal senior consultant at the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), was a man of several firsts.

He was the first President's Scholar to read law in 1969 and, after joining the Singapore Legal Service, the first to be awarded a scholarship to get a master's in law at Harvard University in 1981.

Senior Counsel Chan, 67, eventually became the first chief of staff of the Legal Service and was appointed deputy solicitor-general in 2008.

He was also the longest-serving legal service officer with 45 years of experience under his belt, said an AGC spokesman.

He was also in the State Courts as magistrate, state coroner and deputy registrar, High Court (assistant registrar), Land Appeals Board, Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Defence, where he was the director of legal service, she added.

Mr Chan started at the AGC in 1973 as a deputy public prosecutor cum state counsel and, during his tenure, made critical contributions to the AGC's core work of being the Government's legal adviser, and the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

He headed the civil division from 1995 to 2007 and then the international affairs division, as well as the Legal Profession Secretariat from 2008 to 2015 before the role was transferred to the Ministry of Law.

As a litigator, he represented the the Government in numerous civil and criminal cases, and appeared for the Attorney-General in numerous applications and other matters concerning the legal profession.

The international matters in which he represented Singapore included serving as chief negotiator for the Singapore-Indonesia Extradition Treaty, and chairing the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law in 2000.

In 1973, Mr Chan graduated at the top of his law class at the University of Singapore, whose dean at the time, Dr Thio Su Mien, said when contacted last week that the word "stalwart" came to mind.

"Yes, indeed, a stalwart in his service to the law and the state and his retirement years will no doubt continue to be fruitful," she noted.

Attorney-General Lucien Wong said: "The AGC has been very privileged to have been able to call Mr Jeffrey Chan one of our longest-serving staff."

Noting the office had benefited tremendously from Mr Chan's contributions, he said: "After 45 years of sterling service, we are happy that Jeffrey would be able to take a well-deserved break and pursue his other interests.

"We thank him for the generosity of his spirit as a colleague, friend and mentor, and the expansiveness of his mind as a legal officer."

Mr Chan said on Monday: " I am happy to say that the past 45 years which I spent in the public service have been filled with very rich experiences and I have absolutely no regrets serving in the public service.

"Really, the best part was the people that I met while working in the AGC and the other departments I was posted to.

"I have a lot to be thankful for, all these people who made my life so rich over the past 45 years."

Mr Chan is now a part-time principal senior consultant with law firm JLC Advisors and will also teach part-time at the National University of Singapore law school from January.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Strata Titles Board issues stop order for Cairnhill Mansions en bloc sale

Business Times
03 Jul 2018
Yunita Ong

Penthouse unit owner refuses to withdraw objection to how sales proceeds apportioned; case could be headed to court

A second collective sale attempt in a week has come up against a speed hump: the Strata Titles Board (STB) on Monday issued a stop order on the en bloc sale bid by Cairnhill Mansions, which could send this case to court.

The Business Times has learned that the owner of the penthouse unit, the only owner who filed an objection to the collective sale bid by the 61-unit Cairnhill Road development, has refused to withdraw her objection to the method of apportionment of the sales proceeds - and this, after two rounds of mediation on May 28 and June 18.

The issuance of the stop order puts an end to mediation, and gives the collective sales committee (CSC) 14 days to apply to the High Court to approve the sale.

This comes on the heels of the stop order issued last Wednesday for the en bloc sale attempt at Goodluck Garden in Toh Tuck Road over the reserve price and development charge.

Construction and property development company Low Keng Huat had bought the 43,103 sq ft Cairnhill Mansions for S$362 million in February via private treaty after the tender closed in December 2017. This was Cairnhill Mansions' fifth attempt at a collective sale.

The owner-occupier of the sole 792 sq m penthouse was supposed to pocket S$15.17 million from the sale; the owners of the other units, which are 188 sq m in size, were to have received S$5.77 million apiece.

But BT understands the penthouse owner disagrees with how the sum of money each owner will get was arrived at. BT found out that each unit's share of the proceeds was determined by the average of three valuations produced by different consultancies, as a proportion of the average valuation of all the units.

The penthouse owner objects to the assessments of the value of her unit because they were made in 2010, without valuers having entered her unit to inspect it; she contends that they may thus not have properly accounted for the amount of enclosed space her unit has.

Marketing agent CBRE declined comment.

The lawyers representing the CSC are Lee Liat Yeang and Ling Tien Wah of Dentons Rodyk & Davidson; those representing the objector are Adrian Tan and Ong Pei Ching of TSMP Law Corporation.

Sing Tien Foo, director of the National University of Singapore's Institute of Real Estate Studies, said the method of apportionment is a critical part of a collective sale.

Kenneth Szeto, a partner at law firm Withers KhattarWong, said the law says the method of apportionment must be fair and equitable, but largely does not provide specific guidelines.

The Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers (SISV) recommends that one or a combination of methods be used for apportionment. These are valuation, strata area (floor area of the unit) and share value (which determines the share an owner has in the common property, his or her voting rights, and amount payable for maintenance of the property).

Owners typically approve by vote the method of apportionment in an extra-ordinary general meeting.

Mr Szeto said most residential en bloc sales consider share value and strata area. The weightage is determined by the property consultants, since in some cases, the difference in strata area may not be proportionately reflected in the share value allocated to the different-sized units.

Nicholas Mak, executive director of ZACD Group, said residential developments tend to opt for a combination of strata area and share value, as these concepts are easily understood by owners. However, valuations can be contentious because of their more subjective nature, he said.

An independent valuer's report confirming that the method of apportionment is fair and equitable must be submitted as part of the application to the STB for a sale order.

BT understands that Cairnhill Mansions' CSC will have five months to obtain a sale order from the High Court under the sale-and-purchase agreement with Low Keng Huat. The long stop date is 14 months from the date of the contract, or if the purchasers are unable to obtain outline planning permission within eight months from the date of the contract.

In the cases of Cairnhill Mansions and Goodluck Garden, the High Court will consider the merits of their respective CSCs' application for a sale order, and decide whether there are grounds against the granting of the this order, said Tan Ching Chern, another Withers KhattarWong partner.

In the en bloc boom in the last decade, the Holland Hill Mansions collective sale bid also went to court. The High Court held that the objector to that sale would have been paid more if the method of apportionment had been done only on the basis of strata area. However, the court ruled that the 50-50 strata-area and share-value methods used in calculating apportionment had not been made in bad faith. The Court of Appeal upheld this decision and the collective sale was successfully completed.

In the case of Gilstead Court, the Court of Appeal held that asking the minority to pay double the amount that the majority had paid initially to contribute to the costs of the collective sale was an act that lacked good faith.

A Low Keng Huat representative told BT it could not take action until it had heard of STB's move from its lawyers.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Select Committee verifying information received, will release report later this year: Janil

26 Jun 2018
Siau Ming En

The parliamentary Select Committee studying deliberate online falsehoods agrees a "multi-faceted approach" is needed and that no single institution has the sole responsibility of determining the truth, but is taking its time to analyse the materials submitted, said Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary on Monday (June 25).

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the East-West Center's International Media Conference, Dr Janil, a committee member, said its report – which will cover ways Singapore can combat online falsehoods – will be released later this year.

In the meantime, it is verifying and checking the information received, and looking at various competing ideas.

"We're analysing the material that was presented to us, the considerations that were put before us, the arguments that were made in front of us… we are ploughing through a lot of material, that's what's taking so long," he said.

The 10-member committee chaired by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Charles Chong held eight days of public hearings in March. It heard from 65 witnesses including local and overseas experts, as well as technology and media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Google.

At Monday's conference, Dr Janil was part of a keynote panel on fake news with Professor Cherian George from the Department of Journalism at the Hong Kong Baptist University, Facebook Head of Public Policy for ASEAN, Malaysia and Singapore Alvin Tan, and Singapore Press Holdings editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez.

Dr Janil said that if any laws were introduced, they would be targeted at the "egregious end of the spectrum", where the misinformation could affect issues related to race, religion, national defence and security.

"But our key intent is to preserve, as much as possible, the opportunity for that type of discourse which we feel is very important for the resilience of our society," he said. This includes satire, commentary and comedy.

Legislation will have to be part of the multi-faceted approach, he said.

Laws require "correct calibration" to ensure that there will be trust, an increased space for discourse while taking down most egregious cases, Dr Janil told more than 300 journalists and media professionals from around the world at the conference, which was jointly hosted by think-tank Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Singapore Management University.

Prof George said any legislation should not only apply to opponents of the state, but governments too. Given its power, any misinformation from the state could have a more serious impact on society, he said.

"Unfortunately… Asian governments, including Singapore, have a particularly bad record of writing laws that are narrow, that are proportionate and that are fair. So this is why… we need to not give any government a blank cheque and scrutinise whatever bills that are tabled," he added.

Prof George said he was "disappointed" that the submissions made by SPH, Mediacorp and the Singapore Press Club to the select committee had suggested regulating social media platforms, but did not ask for more autonomy and independence to deal with deliberate online falsehoods.

"I think you do need additional freedom, you do. It's shocking that in Singapore – unlike most parts of Asia – its people outside the press that are telling the press, please, have more freedom. For some reason the press doesn't want to echo that," he added.

Facebook's Mr Tan noted difficulties faced by the social media company in having a universal policy to handle certain information, given the different laws across countries.

The social media giant has 2.2 billion Facebook users from over 200 countries.

But Dr Janil disagreed, noting that it is "a solvable problem from an engineering perspective". Global companies often engage with local laws, such as on tariffs, and still find some uniformity in their policies, he added.

Agreeing, Prof George said the Internet giants like Facebook should not be let off the hook too easily with such claims, adding that more can be done.

Citing an example of how there are more moderators working for Facebook in Germany than Myanmar, he said: "The truth is, Facebook as a commercial company, takes more seriously the problems that occur in markets where they are making more money from."

"We are going to be dependent on Facebook for a long time. But we should not be satisfied with platitudes from Zuckerberg and his representatives," he said.

Mr Tan disagreed with the characterisation and said Facebook has invested significantly in the problem.

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Dr Janil Puthucheary (right) speaking aon the topic of fighting fake news at the East-West Center's International Media Conference on Monday (June 25).

Copyright 2018 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Call to ease housing rule for divorcees sharing care of kids

Straits Times
12 Jul 2018
Rachel Au-Yong

Divorced parents who share care and control of their children should each be allowed to list them as essential occupiers - a necessary step for them to be considered an eligible family unit for a subsidised Housing Board flat.

This suggestion was made by three MPs who, in a spirited discussion, sought help for a small group of divorcees caught in a bind.

Currently, divorcees granted shared care and control - a court ruling that divides day-to-day decision-making concerning a child between both parents - have to agree who gets to list the child as an essential occupier.

This requirement is "consistent and fair to all HDB flat owners where each person can only be listed in one HDB flat", Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling said.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who has been championing greater access to subsidised housing by divorcees, said the Housing Board's policy penalises divorced parents for a court ruling that is out of their hands.

He added that the rule does not gel with a change made earlier this year, when the Ministry of National Development removed a time bar that made divorcees wait three years before they can apply for a second subsidised flat.

"Aren't we back to square one?" he asked. Ms Sun replied that the HDB will "exercise flexibility" towards divorced couples who cannot reach an agreement.

Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) and Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) also lent their support. Ms Rahayu, a lawyer who handles divorces, said HDB's policy "does not gel with the principle of a shared care and control arrangement because parties have actually been ordered to allow the children to live with them".

Noting a rise in the number of his residents given shared care and control, Mr Yam suggested the ministry work closely with the Family Court to come up with housing policies that minimise disruption to parents and children.

Ms Sun disclosed that shared care and control comprised 4 per cent of all divorce care and control orders in 2016, and added: "The numbers speak for themselves."

She also said the ministry has to work independently as it cannot influence the court's decisions.

Rachel Au-Yong

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Disclosure, conversion safeguards for dual class shares fall short: CFA

Business Times
03 Jul 2018
Angela Tan

SGX says such governance issues regarding dual class share structures have been considered

Singapore Exchange (SGX) has introduced numerous investor safeguards for dual class share (DCS) structures, but those for disclosures and share conversion have fallen short, CFA Society of Singapore and CFA Institute warned.

The organisation, which offers the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, remains steadfast in the belief that "one share, one vote" is the bedrock of good corporate governance standards, and that unequal voting rights will weaken the checks and balances between shareholders and management, and immunise management against stakeholders' critics and accountability.

Nevertheless, it is "glad" that SGX has introduced safeguards to protect shareholders from self-dealing and other misuses of corporate resources by insiders for personal gain, or those not acting in the best interests of shareholders as a whole.

However, CFA highlighted two areas where the safeguards did not go far enough.

"In the area of disclosures, we are concerned that after listing and satisfying the listing requirements, the original holders of multiple voting (MV) shares may become sleeping directors and not accountable for their future actions,'' said spokesman, Maurice Teo, who is also the co-chair of the advocacy committee of CFA Society Singapore.

To address this, CFA says SGX should additionally ensure that MV shareholders disclose regularly their engagement with the company and their participation in management. The regulator should mandate that the issuer disclose in its annual report:

  • the need for continuation with the adopted DCS structure,
  • the engagement of MV shareholders in management of the public company,
  • remuneration paid to MV shareholders,
  • attendance of MV shareholders in board committee meetings; and
  • any conflict of interest that MV shareholders may have with new ventures and activities engaged in post listing and/or disclosures made in the last annual report.

It also noted that the DCS scheme allows the holding of MV shares through a "permitted holder group", rather than direct individual.

"In these instances, we expect that all disclosure requirements would be applied equally as if MV shares were held directly by the directors or founders,'' Mr Teo added.

The second area of concern lies in provisions relating to the automatic conversion of a MV share into an ordinary voting (OV) share when the MV share is sold to a person who is not a director, or when the director ceases to be a director.

"SGX has allowed for the automatic conversion stipulation to be waived by shareholders through the enhanced voting process. We strongly disagree with any waivers of the automatic conversion provisions, as this (automatic conversion) is an important safeguard; allowing a waiver could further erode corporate governance standards,'' Mr Teo said.

"It is important to recognise that providing individuals who have no directorate or managerial functions with super voting rights is against the reason why DCS would be granted in the first place," he explained.

He stressed that perpetuity or long-term entitlement of super voting rights must be avoided, and preferential treatment under DCS structure should expire when the founders'/entrepreneurs' influence over the company fades.

"We believe these recommendations will strengthen protection for minority shareholder interests, and ultimately enhance Singapore's reputation as a safe and attractive investment environment with strong market integrity,'' Mr Teo concluded.

When approached, SGX shared that such governance issues have indeed been considered.

"We did consider the concerns expressed and decided that such governance issues are best addressed by putting voting power in the hands of the non-controlling shareholders to vote on fundamental matters and appoint the independent directors that immediately safeguard their interests," an SGX spokesman said.

Following months of debate over the controversial DCS structure, SGX finally adopted it on June 26, as the battle for high-profile listings heats up globally.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

oBike blames new rules for Singapore exit, but writing already on the wall

Business Times
26 Jun 2018
Jacquelyn Cheok

Observers say the bike-sharing operator has had cash flow woes and has run up a loss of more than S$4m

The announcement on Monday may have come as a shock to commuters, but the writing was already on the wall for oBike.

oBike said it is shuttering its Singapore operations and will not be applying for a bike-sharing licence from the Land Transport Authority (LTA), citing difficulties in complying with proposed regulations here.

This follows just two weels after the homegrown bike-sharing operator pulled out of Australia, reportedly ahead of a similar regulatory crackdown there.

The Business Times understands, however, that regulations notwithstanding, financial pressures could have played just as big a part in the pullout. Launched in Singapore in January last year, the company has, since early this year, been grappling with cash flow problems, including its having run up a loss of more than S$4 million last year and owing various service providers months of fees.

For the financial year ended Dec 31, 2017 (FY2017), oBike brought in S$912,668 in revenue, but recorded some S$4.25 million in losses, according to BizFile data. Its total current liabilities stood at S$22.7 million, while its total current assets came up to S$11.3 million.

It also owes "several months of fees" to Ruder Finn, a public relations agency in Singapore. BT understands that oBike engaged Ruder Finn's services last September, but that its contract with the PR outfit has been "put on hold due to payment issues".

oBike's logistics partner, which rounds up indiscriminately-parked oBike bicycles, suspended its services to oBike this year when it hadn't been paid its fees, BT has learnt.

The source, who declined to name the logistics partner, said oBike had told this partner that it was in talks for a merger or acquisition and that the fees would be paid when oBike found a new owner. But those talks are believed to have fallen through.

Lee Der-Horng, director of the NUS-LTA Transport Research Centre, told BT that oBike's exit from Singapore did not come as a surprise, and in fact demonstrated that the bike-sharing business model is "simply not sustainable".

He said: "I will not be surprised if more operators are forced to step out of the small Singapore market. Their incomes are pathetic. Whatever fees they collect are far less than their expenses. We haven't seen the operators develop new avenues to expand their incomes based on the mobility data they have collected. The bursting of the bike-sharing bubble is just a matter of time."

Tan Boon Ping, chief of SPH Ventures, agreed that a consolidation of the bike-sharing sector is imminent. He told BT that bike-sharing startups are increasingly becoming less attractive to venture capitalists, given the high regulatory costs required to maintain their operations.

"Take Mobike. After raising a huge amount of venture capital (US$928 million), it was sold to Meituan-Dianping for only US$2.7 billion. This deal has given the sector a reality check."

On Monday, oBike said in an official statement that bike-sharing, as a first- and last-mile mode of transportation, has an important role to play in a car-lite society. "However, due to the new regulations imposed by the authorities, this will not be a viable business model for oBike, and we foresee that it will only cause the company to sustain further losses."

The Parking Places (Amendment) Bill tabled in March is aimed at tackling the indiscriminate parking of about 100,000 shared bicycles in Singapore. If it is passed, operators will be required to share information with each other on those who park the bicycles indiscriminately, so that these recalcitrants can be penalised.

In assessing operators for the operator's licence, the LTA will consider their ability to manage indiscriminate parking by users, their fleet utilisation rate and other factors.

BT understands that under the new rules, operators will also have to pay S$60 for every bicycle they deploy. This comprises a S$30 licensing fee and a S$30 security deposit. They will also pay a S$1,500 one-time application fee. (Australia's new rules require operators to pay A$3,000 (S$3,040) in fines if an abandoned bicycle blocks a street for two hours.)

China-based ofo and Mobike, as well as Singapore-based Anywheel and SG Bike, confirmed on Monday that they are applying for the bike-sharing licence from LTA before the July 7 deadline. Another local player, GBikes, has already said it would bow out next month.

Notably, GBikes and oBikes are no longer partners of GrabCycle, Grab's marketplace app that lets users access various bicycle and e-scooter sharing services on one platform. GrabCycle's remaining partners are Anywheel and PopScoot.

A Grab spokesman said: "We are strong believers in the bicycle- and personal mobility device-sharing opportunity, and its impact on the livability of our future cities. We will continue to serve and grow GrabCycle as we work towards our vision as the everyday app with multiple transport options and daily essential services for consumers."

Perhaps the biggest question on oBike users' minds on Monday was the fate of their deposits. To rent an oBike bicycle, they had each placed a one-time S$49 deposit, and thereafter, had paid usage fees of 50 Singapore cents for every 15 minutes; students paid a deposit of S$19.

In response to the question, an oBike spokesman said: "Check back on Facebook for updates."

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

No rush to change laws on Airbnb: Lawrence Wong

Straits Times
12 Jul 2018
Rachel Au-Yong

Reasons include 'mixed' public views, global trend showing short-term stays raise rents

New laws allowing for Airbnb-style stays are unlikely to come any time soon.

The reasons include the "mixed views" given in a recently-concluded public consultation and the global trend showing that such short-term stays raise rents and home prices, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong in Parliament yesterday.

"We are studying the matter very carefully," Mr Wong said of an ongoing review of a proposed framework for regulating short-term rentals of private homes.

"If and when we choose to (make changes), we will make sure there are indeed appropriate safeguards," he told Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC).

Among the proposals made is to allow properties to be used as short-term accommodation for up to 90 days, as long as owners who hold 80 per cent of the share value agree to a change in land use.

Currently, stays have to be for at least three months. But stays booked on the Airbnb portal tend to be as short as a couple of days.

Ms Lee also questioned whether the proposed threshold of 80 per cent was too low, as residents who disagree would still have to put up with potential disamenities such as noise and a lack of privacy.

Mr Wong noted that given the mixed views from the consultations, "we are going to review... what's the best way to ensure that all property owners have a say".

He also disclosed that from 2015 to 2017, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) received 1,808 reports of illegal short-term stays in private homes while the Housing Board got 390 such complaints.

So far, one case has been brought to court, where two former property agents were fined $60,000 each for illegal short-term stays in a Bukit Timah condominium.

Mr Wong also told the House that government agencies can take up to several months to conduct inspections and interviews to obtain compelling evidence of an offence. Providing details and evidence would help to speed up such checks, he added.

To prevent such complaints, Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) suggested the Government act against websites advertising home-shares.

But, Mr Wong said, such websites "in and of themselves do not contravene the rules", as they do not specify a timeframe in their listings.

A check on an unnamed home-sharing website by Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC), during the discussion, showed there were at least 196 listings that allowed for an illegal short-term stay of five days in the Novena and Orchard areas, part of Mr Yong's Moulmein-Kallang ward.

"Residents cannot understand why investigations are taking so long because they have pictures of people coming in buses and Grab cars every two, three days.

"During my house visits, they even tell me which are the units, and when I knock on the door, indeed, sometimes different residents come to talk to me," he said.

Mr Wong told Mr Yong he will ask the URA to make sure it has "sufficient resources to do their enforcement and make sure that this is done expeditiously".

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

M&A appetite of Singapore firms dips as they pursue revamp

Business Times
03 Jul 2018
Lisayani Kriwangko

EY survey finds 40% of S'pore execs plan on acquisitions in next 12 months, down from 52% six months ago

M&A appetite among Singapore and South-east Asian companies has dipped, says Ernst & Young (EY) in its 18th Global Capital Confidence Barometer.

The biannual survey of 2,500 executives across 43 countries found that 40 per cent of Singapore executives plan on pursuing acquisitions in the next 12 months, down from 52 per cent six months ago.

This decline can be attributed to companies' current intentions to restructure; according to the survey, 83 per cent of Singapore executives see portfolio transformation as the most prominent boardroom issue.

"We've seen that companies have really realised that you need to focus on a few things that you can do well and make a lot of money in, and get rid of the stuff that doesn't make sense," said Vikram Chakravarty, Asean managing partner for advisory services at EY, during the launch of the survey's Singapore-specific results on Monday.

"In Singapore, there are a lot of divestments playing out right now, and we expect the larger deals to come through. We can't comment on some of these because they are not public yet, but many of them are overseas deals," he added.

The main driver of this is technology adoption.

Capital gained from divestments will be invested in new technology which is expected to boost productivity.

Cloud computing and big data are prominently featured in 34 per cent of the Singapore respondents' boardroom agendas, while 33 per cent focus on distributed ledger technology such as blockchain.

Contrast that with the 21 per cent of SEA companies focusing on AI and robotic process automation; none of the surveyed Singapore firms are focusing on such technologies.

As the adoption of new technologies increases, close to two-thirds of local and SEA companies (63 per cent and 64 per cent respectively) indicate that they are struggling to hire people with the right skills.

Singapore's technological opportunities are also attracting both local and overseas investors.

The top investment destinations among Singapore respondents are Singapore, Malaysia, China, Japan and Australia.

Meanwhile, Singapore is the second most popular investment destination among SEA respondents, with Malaysia being the most popular.

Another area with potential growth is infrastructure, with 97 per cent of local respondents expecting government investment in infrastructure to increase over the next 12 months.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

27 complaints against oBike this year: Case

Straits Times
26 Jun 2018
Deepanraj Ganesan

There have been 27 complaints against bicycle-sharing operator oBike since the start of the year, a number that is significantly higher than those against two other operators.

ofo SG faces two complaints and Singapore Mobike has three, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) told The Straits Times yesterday.

"Consumers mostly complained that they did not receive a refund of their deposit despite requesting the refund several months prior," it said.

"Case will follow up with oBike on this matter and urges consumers with unresolved disputes to contact us for further assistance."

It added: "Consumers who had made payment via credit card to the bike operator within the last 120 days can consider lodging a chargeback claim with their card issuer as soon as possible."

oBike announced yesterday that it will cease operations immediately in Singapore. It cited difficulties in meeting new requirements and guidelines by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to curb indiscriminate parking, that will kick in from July 7.

Launched in January last year, oBike - with a fleet of about 14,000 bikes - is the first major bike-sharing operator to cease its operations here.

LTA said users should request a refund of their deposit from oBike and those facing difficulties in getting a refund may wish to approach Case through its hotline on 6100-0315, or submit their feedback online.

oBike users said there was no clear instruction in the app on how they could get a refund of their deposit. Users had to pay a one-time deposit of $49. Students were charged $19. The usage fee was 50 cents for every 15 minutes.

The oBike app states a refund can be done via the app and the money will be reimbursed within 30 days.

Ms Delcia Lim, 23, a student at the University at Buffalo in Singapore, lamented: " I tried to access the app... but it has been almost impossible to get a refund because it shows a connection error.

"I have a $19 deposit and while it may not be a lot of money, I think they should have at least given a clear instruction on how customers can get their money back."

oBike said users can continue to rent a bike with its partner, GrabCycle. But customer service officer Farhan Afiq, 25, said: "I tried signing up but... they (GrabCycle) have temporarily stopped new sign-ups."

For undergraduate Fariz Zulhilmi, 24, this incident is a warning against paying too much upfront.

"I had purchased 30-day passes from one of the bicycle-sharing companies before and did not think much about it.

"Next time if there is a service which asks for a large deposit, I don't think I will be very keen on using it."


Consumers mostly complained that they did not receive a refund of their deposit despite requesting the refund several months prior.

CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION OF SINGAPORE, on the complaints filed against bicycle-sharing operators.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

ADV: Research positions at the NUS Centre for Maritime Law

Singapore Law Watch
12 Jul 2018

ADV: SUSS Law - The Human Face of Law

Singapore Law Watch
03 Jul 2018

Court rejects caregiver's bid to lift protection orders against her

Straits Times
25 Jun 2018
K.C. Vijayan

PPOs had been issued as a result of actions in caring for mum, sister

A woman who was the sole caregiver of her dementia-ridden mother and her mentally retarded sister had personal protection orders (PPOs) obtained against her in 2012. This was after someone alerted the authorities about her conduct in a case of family violence.

She is now asking the courts to lift the five-year-old protection orders, but a family court has rejected her bid. District Judge Azmin Jailani instead varied the orders as sought by the Adult Protective Services (APS) on behalf of the mother and sister to make them more restrictive.

Calling it an uncommon case, the judge stressed it was important to appreciate the circumstances that led to the issuing of the PPOs.

Those proceedings stemmed from the woman's "emotional and psychological attrition'' in taking care of her mother and sister, wrote District Judge Azmin.

"To the (woman)'s mind, she was duty-bound to ensure the safety and care of (her mother and sister), and this responsibility overwhelmed her," he said in judgment grounds released recently.

The PPOs had been obtained against her by the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports on behalf of the two incapacitated persons who were then living with the woman.

Someone had alerted Trans Family Services about her conduct towards them, and the agency started a probe in 2008.

The ministry appointed Trans to pursue the PPO proceedings, which were then uncontested by the woman as she understood the orders would not impede her from caring for or seeing her two relatives.

The judge noted the PPOs were issued as a result of the stress she experienced in taking care of her two relatives, who were later placed in two separate nursing homes.

She visited her mother daily and her sister weekly and the considerable contact and interaction also meant there was considerable contact with the nursing home staff.

The woman, represented by lawyer Geralyn Danker as a legal aid brief, applied to revoke the PPOs as she was dissatisfied with the homes' treatment of her mother and sister.

She claimed the PPO "was used as a weapon against her'' and the stigma was such that she was mistreated and hindered from caring for her mother and sister.

Mr Joshua Lai from the Attorney-General's Chambers representing APS of the Ministry of Social and Family Development, who acted for the incapacitated duo, rejected her claims, saying she had placed the duo at risk of family violence.

APS dwelt on incidents that occurred between 2015 and 2017, based on witness evidence. The acts involved the woman's failure to heed medical advice, interfering with the medical treatment of the incapacitated duo and her "rough interactions" with them.

The judge found the woman's application to be a non-starter and was concerned that she would be emboldened in her actions if there was no PPO. He added it was more troubling that, despite the PPOs and the latitude given to her by the nursing homes, the woman displayed "an over-zealousness in supervising the nursing home staff".

District Judge Azmin varied the PPOs to partially include additional conditions as sought by APS on the two respondents' behalf. Among other things, the woman's supervised visits to her mother were restricted to two sessions a week and she was not to interfere with the administration of her mother's medical requirements without the nursing home's approval.

The woman is appealing in the case, in which the parties' names have been redacted.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Pioneer batch of 24 lawyers receive professional certification in building and construction law

Lianhe Zaobao
11 Jul 2018
Poh Lay Hoon

This article was first published on 2 July 2018 in the Singapore Mandarin broadsheet, Lianhe Zaobao.

SLW commissioned a translation to give the legal community a view of legal reports from different Singapore news outlets.

Building and construction law is the first practice area where lawyers can apply to become accredited specialists. It has attracted 75 applicants to date. 

An upcoming area of expertise that will also receive accreditation is maritime and shipping law, which is now open for registration. It is expected that the next batch of specialists in this practice area will be announced early next year.

Looking to file a construction-related lawsuit, but unsure of where to consult lawyers who are familiar with building and construction law?

Fret no longer, as you now have access to a list of lawyers who have been accredited as specialists in building and construction law via Singapore Academy of Law's official website.

Earlier this year in January, 24 lawyers were successful in their applications to become Singapore Academy of Law's first batch of building and construction law specialists under "The Specialist Accreditation Scheme".

Mr. Sriram Chakravarthi, Senior Director, Legal Development Cluster, Singapore Academy of Law, explained that this accreditation scheme is designed to distinguish and recognise lawyers who have specific skills, expertise and experience in his or her area of practice.

 "We hope that this will inspire the junior lawyers to continue to hone their craft to attain accreditation in their chosen area of specialisation.”

Building and construction law is the first practice area where lawyers can apply to become accredited specialists and it has attracted 75 applicants to date. As applicants are judged based on credentials and work experience, the selection process involves them taking a qualifying examination and passing an interview. Out of the 24 successful applicants this year, 13 of them are 'Senior Accredited Specialists' with at least 10 years of post-qualification experience (PQE), while the remaining 11 are 'Accredited Specialists' with at least 5 years of PQE.

Several of them told Lianhe Zaobao that this accreditation scheme not only recognised their professional capabilities, providing an assurance to their clients of the quality of their services, but at the same time has also brought them more complex cases.

Mr. Christopher Chuah Chee Kian, a lawyer and partner at WongPartnership, said this accreditation is a benchmark of excellence and endorsement of specialist skills and ability, which is useful in recognising the expertise of lawyers as well as in strengthening their portfolios. He said that his clientele has increased after being accredited as a Senior Accredited Specialist. With the boom in construction and infrastructure work regionally, the list of Accredited Specialists would also provide a reliable and independent means of selecting local lawyers who are well acquainted with building and construction law to represent foreign clients. 

Ms. Goh Wanjing, a lawyer at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, also received more enquiries after becoming an Accredited Specialist early this year. She added that members of the public who require a construction lawyer are now able to approach a group of lawyers who have gone through a rigorous assessment and passed the threshold in order to become an Accredited Specialist. "I believe this gives some security to clients as construction law is a highly specialised area. It requires a good understanding of the technicalities and nuances.”

Mr. Ho Chien Mien, Partner and Head of Construction & Engineering at Allen & Gledhill, said that this accreditation scheme enables law firms to leverage this recognition to promote their practice to clients and potential clients in Singapore and regionally. He added: "This accreditation will further strengthen the reputation of Singapore lawyers by showcasing their expertise and proficiency in different sectors and industries, especially in building and construction. "

Allen & Gledhill have one of the largest building and construction practices in Singapore, comprising 25 lawyers, of which 10 are partners and 15 are associates. Four of them have been accredited as Specialists.

A Senior Accredited Specialist who has been practising law for more than 27 years, Mr. Ho said: "This scheme recognises our specialist skills, knowledge and experience in the field of building and construction law, which gives clients confidence in our services. It enables potential clients to select suitable counsel to handle their legal issues by providing them with the necessary information."

He pointed out that while it is difficult to gauge whether accreditation has directly helped them secure more cases, his firm have been engaged for a substantial number of complex cases after becoming a Senior Accredited Specialist.

His colleague, Ms.Charmelia C. Sugianto, is another lawyer accredited under this scheme. She said that the accreditation is a formal recognition of her specialisation in the practice of building and construction law, which encourages her continued dedication to the pursuit of excellence in this area of practice.

Mr. Raymond Chan, senior partner at law firm Chan Neo LLP noted that there are similar schemes in Australia, the United States and Canada. He cited as an analogy how patients with specific illnesses would seek out specialist doctors for treatment. Similarly, this accreditation scheme assists clients in engaging lawyers who fit their requirements and are experts in their respective fields. Due to the regional boom in construction and infrastructure projects in recent years, local en bloc projects have also flourished, signifying that more new projects will be released into the market in the near future. Mr. Chan foresees that the number of disputes in the construction industry may also increase accordingly. 

Even though accreditation has not resulted in his law firm receiving more cases, he believes that accreditation is useful, although the benefits may not be realised so early.

Separately, a second practice area in which lawyers can be accredited as specialists is maritime and shipping law. Applications are now open and the list of successful candidates is expected to be announced next year.

Spike in construction-related lawsuits in recent years 

For the past few years, there has been an increasing number of building and construction-related lawsuits.

The number of Supreme Court judgments published on the Singapore Academy of Law’s Singapore Law Watch and LawNet was 8 and 10 cases in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and 15 cases each in 2015 and 2016. 

The number of decisions last year surged to 20, and there have already been 9 verdicts as of 19th June this year.

It is notable that these cases were brought up before the High Court or Court of Appeal, meaning that the claims in each case exceed $250,000.

In view of the fact that judges are not required to give written grounds for every case, the actual number of cases is likely to be higher.

Source: Lianhe Zaobao © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Ex-interim CEO of Ipco taking company to court

Business Times
02 Jul 2018
Tan Hwee Hwee

The former interim CEO of Ipco International has served two writs of summons against the listed construction and turnkey project company.

The first writ of summons issued against Ipco's subsidiary, Nueviz Investment, pertained to a claim of S$266.159.48, Ipco said on Saturday.

Goh Hin Calm, the former interim CEO who chose to step down on March 14, alleged in a statement of claim that ex-CEO Quah Su Ling made a purported advance of the said amount to Ipco's subsidiary, Nueviz. The plaintiff also alleged that he was assigned the advance as an intended settlement of a private debt owed by Madam Quah.

Nueviz had since confirmed its accounts carried the sum as an advance from Madam Quah but the subsidiary cannot confirm legality of the advance and whether it is assignable without access to the details.

Ipco also said that its lawyer had sought to obtain a copy of the debt agreement between the plaintiff and Madam Quah, but to no avail.

The company added that the plaintiff was a former director of Nueviz and the subsidiary posted combined losses of over S$18.2 million between FY14 and FY16 under his stewardship. These losses mainly stem from Ipco's holdings in the shares of Blumont Group, Liongold Corp and Asiasons Capital, which has been renamed Attilan Group.

Nueviz is one of the subsidiaries called upon to assist the Commercial Affairs Department with investigations into an offence since 2014, Ipco said.

The plaintiff has also filed a writ of summons against Ipco for claims totalling S$778,456.40 on amounts due from his alleged entitlements including bonuses, emoluments in lieu, gratuity, untaken accrued annual leave and medical expenses.

He alleged that he was wrongfully terminated as senior finance and admin manager, a role he resumed after resigning as interim CEO. Ipco dismissed the plaintiff on April 27.

Ipco said the plaintiff was dismissed following a comprehensive review of the performance of the company and accounts of its subsidiaries.

It added that the claims have no merit and that it is considering counter-claims.

Ipco posted a net loss of S$42.5 million for the year ended April 30, 2018, last Friday. The stock closed unchanged at 0.2 Singapore cent on Friday.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

More people caught for having illegal cigarettes

Straits Times
25 Jun 2018
Tan Tam Mei

Lower prices drive black market, even as peddlers have become more discreet: S'pore Customs

More people have been caught buying or possessing contraband cigarettes in the past year, as the price difference between duty-paid and duty-unpaid cigarettes continues to drive demand for the latter, said the Singapore Customs.

As the authorities continue to tackle the illicit trade, Singapore Customs statistics show that last year, 5,846 people were caught for buying or possessing contraband cigarettes. This is an increase from 5,184 in 2016 and 5,472 in 2015.

In February this year, tobacco tax went up by 10 per cent, making cigarettes at least $1 more expensive.

However, the number of people caught for peddling contraband cigarettes has decreased. There were 309 people arrested last year, down from 437 in 2016 and 462 in 2015.

In the past years, the overall number of duty-unpaid cigarettes confiscated has remained consistent, with 2.8 million packets seized in the past two years, and 2.9 million packets in 2015.

The number of people prosecuted for cigarette offences has also decreased: 582 last year, down from 630 in 2016 and 778 in 2015.

A Singapore Customs spokesman said it works with law enforcement agencies at the borders to conduct enforcement to curb the smuggling of duty-unpaid cigarettes. It also conducts inland enforcement against syndicates.

Contraband cigarettes do not come with the SDPC - or Singapore Duty-Paid Cigarette - mark, which features a series of vertical lines and the letters "SDPC".

Last year, four cigarette syndicates were busted, up from three in the previous two years.

However, Singapore Customs continues to remain vigilant, as it said contraband cigarette peddlers have become more discreet by operating in back lanes and alleys, and via social media platforms, to avoid detection.

Of the peddlers caught between 2015 and last year, close to two-thirds were foreigners.

In March, a syndicate leader was handed the heaviest sentence for contraband cigarette offences in four years. Mok Chee Kin, 50, who is stateless, was fined $30 million and jailed for five years and eight months for crafting a plan to smuggle contraband cigarettes into Singapore via Jurong Port in 2016.

The spokesman said: "To suppress demand, Singapore Customs conducts islandwide operations - for example in the heartland, industrial estates and the Central Business District - to enforce against street peddlers and buyers of duty-unpaid cigarettes.

"Singapore Customs also closely monitors social media platforms to clamp down on off-street cigarette peddling activities."

According to those with knowledge of the illegal cigarette trade, the demand for contraband cigarettes has remained consistent over the years despite crackdowns by the authorities. The price of these cigarettes can be half that of duty-paid ones.

Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam said he sees about one inquiry each month from clients accused of peddling duty-unpaid cigarettes.

"Peddlers are tempted by the quick profit. From what I understand, they get into the trade through word of mouth," he added. "More (peddlers) are also willing to take the risk because they believe the trade isn't as (risky) as peddling drugs."

The amount of revenue collected by Singapore Customs for duty-paid cigarettes was slightly above $1 billion in the past years. About $1.1 billion was collected last year, a slight increase from $1.07 billion the previous year. For the first four months of this year, about $446 million has been collected.


Peddlers are tempted by the quick profit. From what I understand, they get into the trade through word of mouth. More (peddlers) are also willing to take the risk because they believe the trade isn't as (risky) as peddling drugs.


Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Damages received count as couple's assets

Straits Times
11 Jul 2018
Selina Lum

Compensation for man's crash injuries can be divided between him and his wife in divorce: Judge

The compensation that a man won in a lawsuit, after suffering serious injuries in a traffic accident, is a matrimonial asset that can be divided between him and his wife in a divorce, a district judge has ruled.

The novel issue arose in a case of a couple with three children who are divorcing after 22 years of marriage. The 52-year-old man is a service technician, while the wife works part-time as a cleaner.

Their dispute over the division of matrimonial assets included a sum of about $434,000 that the husband received after he won a court judgment for damages for injuries suffered in a 2012 accident.

The husband contended that this sum was not a matrimonial asset and thus was not liable for division, but his 43-year-old wife disagreed.

In written grounds issued on Monday, the judge said the compensation sum was a matrimonial asset because it was neither a "gift" nor an "inheritance".

Matrimonial assets, as defined under the Women's Charter, include assets acquired during the marriage but exclude assets "acquired by gift or inheritance".

The wife, represented by Mr Lee Ee Yang of Covenant Chambers, cited a 2002 case in which the High Court included lottery winnings as part of the matrimonial assets.

The wife argued that the compensation money was largely meant to compensate the husband and his dependants for his loss of income and earning capacity.

The husband, represented by Ms Seenivasan Lalita, argued that the compensation was received from a "wholly external source which is akin to a gift or an inheritance".

The husband argued that the compensation was given to him as a result of the injuries suffered personally by him.

District Judge Tan Shin Yi ruled that only about $149,000 - or 34.4 per cent of the husband's compensation award - should be added to the pool of matrimonial assets.

She derived this after calculating that the damages awarded to the husband specifically for pain and suffering, special damages and interest amounted to 34.4 per cent of the total sum awarded.

The judge said while the component of pain and suffering was personal to the man, the wife had taken care of him after he was injured. The components awarded for future medical expenses and future loss of earnings and earning capacity were not added to the pool.

The matrimonial assets, totalling about $1 million, include the matrimonial flat worth $400,000; a parcel of land in the Philippines owned by the wife, valued at $57,000; insurance policies and CPF funds.

Judge Tan ruled for the wife to be awarded 40 per cent of the total assets. Both the husband and wife have filed notices of appeals against the decision.

The husband argued that the compensation was given to him as a result of the injuries suffered personally by him....

The judge said while the component of pain and suffering was personal to the man, the wife had taken care of him after he was injured.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Mustafa founder in legal tussle with stepfamily

Straits Times
01 Jul 2018
K.C. Vijayan

The founder of the popular Mustafa Centre, Mr Mustaq Ahmad, is being sued by his step-siblings and their mother, who are seeking a court-ordered account of the affairs and records of Mohamed Mustafa & Samsuddin (MMS).

At issue in the stand-off, among other things, are two company share allotments in 1995 and 2001 which the plaintiffs, led by Mr Ayaz Ahmed, are seeking to void because they allegedly diluted their interests as beneficiaries of the Mustafa estate.

Mr Mustaq, 67, and the other defendants, in rejecting the claims, allege that the lawsuit was sparked by Mr Ayaz's demand for more financial benefits.

The feud is rooted in the Mustafa estate and whether its share in MMS was diluted following the two share allotments which enlarged Mr Mustaq's holdings.

The Mustafa estate arose after family patriarch Mustafa Majid Khan died intestate on July 17, 2001.

He was survived by his second wife Asia and their five children as well as Mr Mustaq, whose mother Momina was married to Mr Mustafa from 1945 until she died in 1957.

The patriarch's six children and Madam Asia are beneficiaries of the Mustafa estate in varying portions under a Syariah Court Inheritance Certificate, and Mr Mustaq is the sole administrator and trustee of the estate.

MMS was incorporated in February 1989 to operate the department stores and general wholesale trade, with Mr Mustaq and Mr Shamsuddin Mokhtar Ahmad as shareholders and directors with articles of association including share issue being incorporated into the firm's Constitution.

Mr Mustafa later that year became a shareholder and director, holding 19 per cent of the one million shares in the company.

Prior to MMS, there was a partnership named Mohamed Mustafa and Samsuddin Company formed in 1973 between Mr Mustafa and Mr Shamsuddin, a cousin of Madam Momina. This company was terminated in September 1989 and its business was wholly transferred to MMS, according to plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs claim the Mustafa estate, together with Mr Shamsuddin and his estate after his death in April 2011, remained a minority shareholder in MMS.

They alleged in court papers filed by lawyers from Darshan & Teo that Mr Mustaq and his wife Ishret Jahan as majority shareholders in MMS conducted its affairs in a manner "oppressive" to the Mustafa estate and with disregard to its interest as a minority shareholder.

Among other things, they alleged that the couple used their controlling power at the MMS annual general meetings to pay directors' fees averaging 51 per cent of the company's net profits per year between 2001 and 2014. For almost 13 years, they added, the couple and not the minority shareholders, including the Mustafa estate, benefited from MMS' substantial profits. No dividends were paid between 2000 and 2013, they claimed.

Denying the allegations, the defendants said the plaintiffs did not have any standing to make any claims. They added that a 1973 "common understanding" reached with Mr Mustafa and Mr Shamsuddin, as well as a 2001 "common understanding" with Madam Asia and others on behalf of the plaintiffs, allowed Mr Mustaq to continue running the business as he always did and with full discretion to decide on the quantum of directors' fees to be paid.

Thedirectors' fees paid to the couple averaged about 35.43 per cent of net profits yearly from 2000 to 2016. For financial year 2016, they were paid $5.2 million out of net profits of $10.712 million.

Among other things, the 2001 share allotment exercise saw Mr Mustaq's share portion grow to 61.25 per cent of 13,340,000 MMS shares from 42.57 per cent of nine million shares, while the Mustafa estate's share fell from 22.07 per cent to 14.89 per cent, said the plaintiffs.

The company's net assets stood at $308.23 million with cash and bank balances at $40.26 million, while accumulated profits stood at $147.4 million as of 2013, according to the plaintiffs.

Based on this 2013 total of $495.89 million, the Mustafa estate's value of 14.89 per cent would be potentially about $74 million. But Mr Mustaq and co-defendants in court papers filed by lawyers from Rajah & Tann claim shares in MMS allotted to Mr Mustafa and Mr Shamsuddin after it was incorporated were fully paid by Mr Mustaq.

Mr Mustaq said the business started in 1963, when he was 12, with him selling handkerchiefs in Campbell Lane. By 1973, it had grown and his father was supervising the business at 67 Serangoon Road as he was then away in India. It also became the Mohamed Mustafa and Samsuddin Company, a partnership.

The 1973 "common understanding" was that the company was owned by Mr Mustaq, and Mr Mustafa and Mr Shamsuddindid not contribute or assume risks for the partnership, and did not receive any payments except out of goodwill at Mr Mustaq's discretion.

The business grew under Mr Mustaq and he built the Mustafa Centre in Syed Alwi Road.

In 1989, Mr Mustaq dissolved the partnership and incorporated MMS with himself and Mr Shamsuddin as shareholders, and added on Mr Mustafa, but all the MMS paid-up capital was funded by Mr Mustaq. He retained the company name MMS because of the goodwill built over the years.

The defendants argued that the shares that devolved on the Mustafa estate after Mr Mustafa died were thus held in trust for Mr Mustaq as the beneficial owner, as he paid for them. They are making a counterclaim for a court declaration to that effect, which the plaintiffs deny.

The defence added that due process was followed in the 1995 and 2001 share allotments, and said that at no time since Mr Mustafa'sdeath in 2001 until 2016 did the plaintiffs query or object to his conduct of affairs in relation to the Mustafa estate.

Mr Mustafa, Mr Shamsuddin and the plaintiffs did not contribute financially to the defendants' businesses or MMS and merely treated MMS as "their personal cash machine", said the defence.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due this month.

Key players


• Mr Ayaz Ahmed,47; executive at Mustafa Centre, Singapore.
• Madam Khalida Bhano, 58; housewife
• Mr Istiaq Ahmad,52; works at Mustafa Goldmart in Chennai, India
• Mr Maaz Ahmad Khan, 50; works at Mustafa Centre, Singapore
• Madam Wasela Tasneem, 41; housewife based in India
• Madam Asia, mother of five plaintiffs listed above and based in India


• Mr Mustaq Ahmad ,67; shareholder, director of Mohamed Mustafa & Samsuddin Co (MMS) and founder of Mustafa Centre
• Madam Ishret Jahan, 65; his wife and shareholder and director of MMS.
• Ms Shama Bano ,40; and Mr Abu Osama,46; their children and directors at MMS
• Mr Iqbal Ahmad, 67; director and company secretary of MMS.

The 1973 "common understanding" was that the company was owned by Mr Mustaq, and Mr Mustafa and Mr Shamsuddin did not contribute or assume risks for the partnership, and did not receive any payments except out of goodwill at Mr Mustaq's discretion.

Business as usual

The family of Mr Mustaq Ahmad said that the company's businesses will not be in any way affected by the lawsuit.

Responding on the family's behalf yesterday, Mr Mustaq's daughter Shama Bano said: "We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the conduct of the plaintiffs, who have taken advantage of my father's kindness and generosity over the decades; and even now when the lawsuit is going on, continue enjoying benefits from my father.

"It is my father's position that the company has always been his and it was he who has built it up over the years. The plaintiffs have never disputed this understanding over the course of almost 50 years until now when they have suddenly made this claim."

She added that the business was running as usual and that the plaintiffs are not involved in the management or operations of the business.

"It is very revealing that the plaintiffs have not provided any evidence that they have made any substantial or meaningful contribution to the business over all these years when my father was building the business up," she said.

K.C. Vijayan

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Australian court approves Marine Bay Sands' bid to reclaim $8m from tycoon

Straits Times
24 Jun 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Chinese-Australian businessman gave false address and racked up debt at S'pore casino

Marina Bay Sands (MBS) will get to move ahead with its bid to recover more than A$8 million (S$8.1 million) owed by an elusive Chinese-Australian businessman who had given a false address in his credit application at the casino here.

An Australian judge allowed MBS' application to send notice of the Singapore judgment, which has been registered in the Australian court, to his known home and business addresses in lieu of serving it on him in person.

China-born Mr Wang Zhi Cai, 63, racked up his sizeable debt as a patron at the MBS casino in 2014. However, subsequent checks to reach him at his given address in Australia proved futile as there was no such address.

"The amount of the judgment is considerable, more than A$8 million, and Mr Wang appears to be engaging in behaviour that suggests he is trying to evade service," said Justice David Davies of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, in decision grounds released on Friday.

MBS had obtained a judgment against Mr Wang for the monies in the Singapore High Court and registered the judgment with the Australian court last September for enforcement against him.

But attempts to serve the registration notice personally on Mr Wang at the registered office of his own company - TMG International Design Pty - or at its place of business in New South Wales failed.

A business partner suggested he be contacted via a WeChat address in China that was provided.

Searches also revealed that he owned a condominium unit in Kirribilli but several moves to serve the papers on him there failed, as did attempts to call him on two given phone numbers in Australia and China.

Last month, an Australian court deputy assistant registrar refused MBS' application for an order of substituted service, which would have allowed the Notice of Registration of the Singapore judgment to be posted to the addresses linked to Mr Wang and be taken as having been served on him personally.

The registrar had concluded that the evidence indicated Mr Wang was in China, but on appeal by MBS, Justice Davies held this was a mistake as the only possible evidence Mr Wang was overseas was that he had a Chinese phone number.

"That, however, said nothing about where Mr Wang was to be found," said the judge.

He ruled it more likely Mr Wang was in Australia given that he is the registered owner of the Kirribilli property, and based on the discussions which the MBS lawyer had with two people connected to him, including his business partner.

"Mr Wang is obviously making himself elusive, no doubt because he is aware of the default which led to the judgment in Singapore," said the judge.

He ordered that the copies of the registration notices be posted to his residential and office addresses which was to be taken as being issued to him personally. A copy was also to be mailed to the given WeChat address.

If Mr Wang ignores the notice once it has been served, a default judgment against him would follow, which would enable MBS to apply to seize any of his assets in Australia up to the value of the amount owed. The A$8 million sum is understood to be the largest sought by MBS against a patron from Australia.


The amount of the judgment is considerable, more than A$8 million, and Mr Wang appears to be engaging in behaviour that suggests he is trying to evade service.

JUSTICE DAVID DAVIES, of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in decision grounds released on Friday.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Foreland, unit ordered to make payments over lawsuit

Straits Times
11 Jul 2018

Singapore-listed textile firm Foreland Fabrictech Holdings and one of its units have been ordered by a Chinese court to make payments over a lawsuit regarding a private lending and guarantee agreement amounting to seven million yuan (S$1.4 million).

The firm has been told to pay twice the total amount of any interest charges and fees incurred for late payment of the loan. It must also pay legal costs.

The court in the city of Fujian also said it will impose some expenditure restrictions on Foreland and the unit, Fujian Jinjiang Fulian Knitting Co.

Foreland told the Singapore Exchange (SGX) late on Monday that its current board had not been aware of the loan agreement, which was struck by several parties, including the company, Fujian Jinjiang Fulian Knitting Co, former executive chairman Tsoi Kin Chit and former executive director Cai Fengquan.

The company said it is seeking legal advice and may challenge the guarantee provided in its name, as it said it was not notified of the lawsuit and not given a proper chance to defend itself in court. Foreland added that it is insolvent and is "exploring various options and is in discussion with potential investors".

The firm told the SGX two months ago that it may have lost control of the Fulian unit as Mr Tsoi had been "increasingly reluctant" to cooperate in matters relating to the subsidiary, which he was effectively controlling.

He was publicly reprimanded by the SGX in November 2016. The company lodged a complaint with the Commercial Affairs Department against him, centred on 290 million yuan paid as compensation by Fulian to a customer.

Mr Tsoi stated on May 6 that he would not cooperate or allow Foreland access to Fulian's funds. He also declined to change Fulian's legal representative from himself to executive chairman Yang Meng Yang.

On May 9, Foreland's lawyers in China issued a due diligence report on Fulian. This disclosed a total of 26 court proceedings against the unit. The report also noted that Mr Tsoi's staff at Fulian had omitted mentioning the court proceedings in their financial records, so these proceedings were not included in the auditor's statements.

Foreland said in its May 9 announcement that it will continue to vigorously pursue legal proceedings against Mr Tsoi. Foreland has a net carrying amount in Fulian of 61.1 million yuan as of May 9.

Foreland Fabrictech's shares are suspended from trading on the SGX.

Foreland told the Singapore Exchange late on Monday that its current board had not been aware of the loan agreement, which was struck by several parties, including the company, Fujian Jinjiang Fulian Knitting Co, former executive chairman Tsoi Kin Chit and former executive director Cai Fengquan.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.