01 October 2014
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S'pore rated highly as seat of international arbitration: study

Business Times
01 Oct 2014
Michelle Quah

Its stature set to grow even more with region becoming increasingly popular choice

[SINGAPORE] Singapore's standing as a preferred seat of international arbitration is not only growing, but will be supported by the region becoming one of the most popular choices for international arbitration in the future.

This is according to a global report from international law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), which surveyed 53 legal practitioners - including lawyers working in law firms, as well as corporate counsel - from 34 jurisdictions.

The bulk (85 per cent) of the respondents said they were regular users of international arbitration, while more than two-thirds said their firm or organisation had practitioners who sat as arbitrators.

The report, "International Arbitration: Research-based Report on Choice of Venue for International Arbitration", looks at the factors that influence a party to select one arbitration venue over another, given the significant increase in international arbitration in recent years, and the development of arbitration-related infrastructure across a much wider global platform.

Sixty per cent of those surveyed believe that South-east Asia will be one of the most popular choices for international arbitration in the future - with Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea being candidates as emerging regional centres.

Singapore - a traditional favourite - received positive feedback on all aspects of the arbitration process. And, two in five respondents (42 per cent) said that they would be more likely to consider Singapore now than they would have five years ago.

Kent Phillips, Singapore-based arbitration partner at BLP, says: "The arbitration landscape has dramatically changed in Asia in recent years as international trade with and within Asia has continued to rise. Arbitral institutions - such as the SIAC (Singapore International Arbitration Centre) - now rival many of the London or European equivalents."

The survey results also confirmed that choice of seat is considered an important component in the parties' arbitration agreement - with 98 per cent of respondents saying it was very important or quite important. Unsurprisingly, nearly all respondents (97 per cent) felt that the choice of seat was more important in ad hoc arbitration than in institutional arbitration.

Half of all respondents said that, in their experience, parties selected a seat that was in the same jurisdiction as the selected governing law of the contract in more than three-quarters of cases.

BLP reported a surprisingly high percentage of respondents (49 per cent) that said that, in the case of institutional arbitration, parties were more likely to select a particular seat if it was the home of the relevant institution than if it was not.

It also pointed out that 75 per cent of respondents felt that a personal connection with the city under consideration as seat was either a very important factor or a quite important factor. And the local law of the seat was considered important by all respondents.

About three-quarters felt access to a pool of good and experienced arbitrators to be an important factor. But, only 37 per cent felt that the presence of good local lawyers at the seat of arbitration was an important factor in choosing a seat.

In terms of the seats of arbitration, the survey found that the traditional ones fared well. When respondents were asked to express an opinion on a range of possible venues, London, Paris, Singapore, Stockholm, Vienna and Zurich were rated four or five out of five by 70 per cent or more of respondents.

In contrast, a significant number of respondents gave Beijing, Johannesburg, Moscow and Mumbai a rating of only one or two out of five.

Interestingly, Tokyo was given a rating of three or above by 85 per cent of respondents - putting it slightly ahead of New York and Miami, which were rated at three and above by 83 per cent and 80 per cent of people, respectively.

Mr Phillips noted: "While Hong Kong and Singapore are still the firm favourites, a number of regional arbitration centres are springing up, including in Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia.

"However, it seems commercial parties still have real reservations about resolving disputes through Chinese courts."

michquah@sph.com.sg

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Widow and niece now helping police with investigations

Straits Times
25 Sep 2014
Toh Yong Chuan & Carolyn Khew

Both quizzed on details of allegedly missing items

THE multi-millionaire widow who was allegedly manipulated into handing control of her assets to a former tour guide from China is now helping the police with investigations.

Madam Chung Khin Chun, 87, was seen entering the Police Cantonment Complex yesterday with her niece, Madam Hedy Mok, 60.

"The Commercial Affairs Department wanted to find out more details about what was missing from the house," said Madam Mok last night.

Former tour guide Yang Yin, 40, who was living with Madam Chung at her $30 million Gerald Crescent bungalow from 2009 until last month, was arrested last week for suspected criminal breach of trust.

Madam Mok, who owns a tour agency, said she and her aunt were interviewed separately for about an hour each. She added that she was advised by police not to reveal what they told investigators.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Madam Mok and her aunt held a press conference, where they said Madam Chung was applying to terminate the Lasting Power of Attorney she gave Mr Yang in 2012.

A psychiatrist who assessed the widow certified that she had the mental capacity to do this despite having been diagnosed with dementia this year.

Madam Mok also began separate court proceedings last month to seek damages from Mr Yang for allegedly abusing her aunt's trust, and to revoke the LPA.

After a closed-door hearing, it was decided the hearing to revoke the LPA would be adjourned for two weeks to give the Office of the Public Guardian time to consider Madam Chung's application.

Mr Yang's lawyer, Mr Joseph Liow, who was at the hearing, said his client had applied to the courts on Aug 29 to have Madam Chung returned to his care. On Aug 2, Madam Mok had taken her aunt out of her bungalow and into her home. A month later, she made Mr Yang's wife and two children leave the bungalow, where they had been staying since last year. Mr Yang was overseas at the time.

This forced Mr Yang to withdraw his court application. As he was no longer living in the bungalow, "it did not make sense" for him to ask for the widow to be returned to his care, said Mr Liow, who declined to speak about other matters.

Mr Yang's 34-year-old wife, Madam Weng Yandan and their children, aged two and eight, returned to their hometown in Hangzhou almost two weeks ago, reported Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao. She returned to China as she "feared for her children's safety" and wanted to lead a "peaceful life". Madam Weng added that she would help her husband fight his legal battles even if it meant having to sell his parents' Hangzhou condominium unit, which is estimated to be worth $460,000.

She stopped short of revealing more but said she and her husband would say their piece when the "time is right". Mr Yang's 72-year-old father and 68-year-old mother, who are both retired, also said that their son was very filial and had never committed any crime.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

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SGX details plans for minimum share price

Business Times
18 Sep 2014
Kenneth Lim

It also seeks more disciplinary powers and proposes industry-led committees

[SINGAPORE] Singapore Exchange (SGX) has unveiled its most detailed proposals yet on setting a minimum share price for the mainboard and on creating industry-led enforcement committees.

It is also seeking additional disciplinary powers - all with the goal of improving market quality - especially following the 2013 collapse of penny stocks.

Richard Teng, SGX's head of regulation, said: "Trust and confidence are paramount in any marketplace, and we are always on a continuous journey to enhance trust and confidence and quality of the marketplace."

SGX is seeking public feedback on its proposals via two consultation papers.

New rules for a 20 Singapore cent threshold for mainboard companies could be announced in March 2015 and be implemented the year after. Companies whose six-month volume-weighted average price are too low from March 2016 will be placed on a watch list; they will have up to three years to resolve the issue or face delisting, according to the proposals.

To help with the transition, SGX will waive its share-consolidation fees until 2017 for companies that need to consolidate their shares to meet the new requirements. As at June 30, 222 companies had six-month volume-weighted average prices that were too low.

The watch list is currently for mainboard-listed companies which have reported three straight years of losses and have market capitalisations below S$40 million. These criteria will stay, although SGX will tweak certain aspects to make it more consistent with the minimum-share-price rules.

Companies which are on the watch list for failing to meet both the share price and financials criteria will remain on the watch list until both issues are resolved.

Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen of the National University of Singapore welcomed the proposal to impose a minimum share price: "I think we have become too much of a penny stock kind of market."

SGX is also spelling out proposed details of three new independent committees that will comprise members of the corporate finance, accounting, legal and investment communities.

The exchange plans to refer listing applications, including reverse takeovers, to the listing advisory committee if there are issues such as unusual structures or public-interest concerns.

A disciplinary committee will have all the disciplinary powers of SGX, as well as the power to require the resignation of directors and key officers from any listed company. Other additional powers that this committee could have include censuring issue managers and restricting issuers' access to capital markets.

An appeals committee will have the power to review decisions by the disciplinary committee.

SGX is also seeking additional disciplinary powers for itself against issuers, such as the authority to impose fines and to require the appointment of special auditors and compliance advisers.

The proposed additional powers for the disciplinary committee raised some eyebrows.

Lawyer Robson Lee of Shook Lin & Bok said: "These are very powerful instruments and they must be very carefully calibrated."

Not having had a chance to carefully study the papers yet, he said he wondered whether such additional powers would require legislative backing.

Prof Mak said there could be concern that if committee members are too aligned with industry, they might be inclined towards having more listings. It would be good if the committees could include investor advocates and individuals with regulatory backgrounds, he suggested.

"At the end, the composition of those committees is going to be so important, because people are going to look at that and see if they're credible," he said.

David Gerald, the president of the Securities Investors Association of Singapore, said the widening of SGX's enforcement powers will lead to greater responsibility and accountability.

"This move should give comfort to minority shareholders, who are often in a bind when companies are subject to forced delisting, putting their investments in jeopardy."

The public consultation lasts until the end of Oct 16, 2014.

kenlim@sph.com.sg

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Susan Lim case: Court slashes SMC's cost claims

Straits Times
01 Oct 2014
K.C. Vijayan

It awards council only $317,000 of the $1.33m it claimed from surgeon

TWO years back, the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) had found surgeon Susan Lim guilty of overcharging. In an ironic twist, the High Court ruled that the legal bills sought by SMC from Dr Lim were themselves inflated, and slashed them from $1.33 million to $317,000.

The bills claimed were for work done by the council's lawyers and other costs related to two disciplinary committees brought against Dr Lim, as well as her appeal to the Court of Three Judges.

Dr Lim, 59, had been probed by the committees for overcharging a member of the Brunei royal family for medical treatment.

In 2012, she was found guilty of professional misconduct, suspended for three years, censured and fined $10,000 by the SMC. Her appeal to the Court of Three Judges was dismissed last year.

The legal bills claimed by SMC were examined and argued over two days in July before High Court Assistant Registrar Jacqueline Lee, who issued her decision grounds last month.

SMC had sought some $900,000 for work done by its lawyers at the two disciplinary committee hearings led by Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and lawyers Melanie Ho and Lim Wei Lee respectively.

Assistant Registrar Lee was not convinced by the evidence and reduced the sum to $180,000. She also cut the $150,000 legal bill sought by SMC against Dr Lim for the appeal hearing to $70,000.

The court also disagreed with the sums sought by SMC for the legal assessors hired to advise it on points of law for the two committees. It ruled that Dr Lim should pay SMC only $22,000 of the $235,000 invoiced by the assessor for the second committee.

The legal assessor for the first committee had billed $49,200, which the court pared to $45,000.

Separately, the bills for two expert witnesses set at some $52,000 were also slashed to $14,000. Ring binders for which SMC had priced at $6 per unit for Dr Lim to pay were cut to $2.50 per unit after the court found it had used the cheaper version in past hearings.

Among other things, Dr Lim's lawyer, Mr Paul Tan, had objected to the $900,000 bill for the lawyers, pointing out there was provision to pay only one lawyer, and not two.

But lawyer Melanie Ho countered for SMC that the costs claimed was for one lawyer only at each stage of the inquiry. For instance, Senior Counsel Yeo presented the opening statement and preliminary arguments in the first hearing, while Ms Ho led evidence in the prosecution's case.

But Assistant Registrar Lee ruled "that such an interpretation of costs of one counsel/ solicitor cannot be allowed", as SMC had not been given permission by the disciplinary committee to claim fees for more than one lawyer.

She also viewed with "great circumspection" the claims by SMC's lawyers that some 1,900 hours and $1.229 million in total time cost was incurred for the disciplinary committee hearings.

SMC, which is understood to be appealing against the decision, declined comment when contacted yesterday.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Tax rules for a changed global economy

Business Times
25 Sep 2014
Jonathan Stuart-Smith

The first seven deliverables in the OECD's BEPS Action Plan provide a preview of the new-look tax world coming soon

The OECD's Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting signals a new tax world. How will it impact Singapore businesses expanding overseas or MNEs investing in the country?

ON SEPT 16, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued seven of the deliverables due under its ambitious 15-point Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS). For the past couple of years, there has been significant global political and media pressure for reform of the current system of cross-border taxation, to counter the perception that some multinational enterprises (MNEs) may be shifting income to low-tax jurisdictions and undertaking transactions that result in double non-taxation.

Since the OECD commenced the BEPS project in February 2013, it has worked closely with the Group of 20 (G-20) member countries to seek a consensus on how to rewrite the international tax rules. These 44 countries, representing 90 per cent of the world economy, together with representatives from other jurisdictions including over 80 developing countries, have worked hard to reach an agreement. These seven deliverables go a long way in painting a picture of how the new tax world will look. The remaining eight deliverables will be announced by December 2015.

In essence, the deliverables seek to ensure alignment between taxation and the relevant substance that creates economic value. The OECD argues that globalisation, combined with increasingly complex operating models, has opened up opportunities for MNEs to reduce their tax burden. As a result, tax laws and OECD principles designed to prevent double taxation have also led to instances of reduced taxation - or, in some cases, double non-taxation.

The deliverables take the form of recommendations on changes in domestic tax law, as well as changes to the OECD model tax treaty. A quick summary of the 700 pages devoted to the seven deliverables is as follows.

Action 1 - the digital economy

The report notes that the "digital economy" cannot be isolated from the economy as a whole. It reviews the taxation challenges raised by the digital economy and considers options for addressing these challenges, including taxable nexus (permanent establishment), withholding tax and VAT. Further work will be done in this area. Also, several of the other deliverables are expected to deal with BEPS issues: controlled foreign corporation rules; permanent establishment rules; and transfer pricing.

Action 2 - hybrid mismatch arrangements

The report outlines recommended domestic tax law and tax treaty changes to neutralise the tax mismatch. The proposed linking rules are aimed at preventing double deductions of the same item of expense, and situations where the expense is deductible in one country but the income is tax-exempt in the other country.

Action 5 - harmful tax practices

The report reviews OECD member country preferential tax regimes, mainly focusing on intellectual property (IP) regimes such as patent boxes. It calls for tax incentive regimes to require substantial activity and considers a nexus approach to determine the substance of the activity. For example, only the proportion of the IP income that corresponds to the level of R&D activities carried out in that jurisdiction may qualify for tax benefits. The OECD outlines a process for compulsory, spontaneous exchange of information on tax rulings between tax authorities. However, there is no requirement for the ruling to be made public.

Action 6 - tax treaty abuse

The report aims to put an end to "treaty shopping" and double non-taxation, by preventing access to tax treaties where there is a lack of substance in the country of residence. It offers two options for doing this: a US-style, objective "limitation on benefits" article; or a more subjective, European-style "principal purpose" test. Countries may also adopt both options.

Action 8 - intangibles

The report gives interim guidance on how to allocate the returns derived from intangibles developed by an MNE. The returns to "cash box" companies, who fund the development of intangibles, should be limited. The allocation of returns should be in line with value creation. The report will be finalised in conjunction with work on the other deliverables.

Action 13 - transfer pricing documentation

The report recommends a three- tiered approach, including a master file and a local file, which is consistent with the approach set out by the Singapore tax authorities in the current consultation document regarding transfer pricing documentation. Action 13 also calls for a "country by country report". This is one of the most important parts of BEPS. It will give tax authorities the "big picture" of where an MNE earns its revenues and profits; where it has its share capital, retained earnings, tangible assets and employees; and where it pays tax. By comparing these data points, tax authorities will be able to derive ratios - for example, profitability versus tax payments - which will allow it to focus attention on areas for further investigation. The OECD is not calling for this information to be made public.

Action 15 - multilateral instrument

The report concludes that it is legally feasible and practically desirable to develop a multilateral instrument, to translate the changes in the OECD model tax treaty to changes in the 3,000 actual bilateral tax treaties. The alternative of renegotiation of each treaty would take many years.

Potential impact on Singapore

These seven deliverables are likely to affect many MNEs doing business in Singapore - be they homegrown businesses expanding overseas or MNEs investing in Singapore.

The OECD is looking closely at preferential tax regimes around the world and it is expected that Singapore will form part of its review, to be reported next year. As such, the Singapore business community and government agencies should carefully consider the discussions regarding substance and the implications for Singapore, especially with the spontaneous exchange of information on tax rulings with other tax authorities.

We expect that many countries will implement the country by country report, so Singapore businesses should review their IT systems to see whether they can retrieve the data requested. Secondly, the data should be analysed to identify any outliers or variances that may be questioned by the tax authorities. Companies may need to reconsider their transfer pricing policies and execution, as well as their substance footprint.

On treaty shopping, this has long been on the watch list of the Singapore tax authorities and hence should have minimal impact on Singapore businesses.

Singapore is not a member of the OECD, but given its position as an international hub, the BEPS deliverables will impact Singapore businesses. The rules are being rewritten and good governance requires companies to anticipate the changes and be prepared for the new world.

The writer is global tax desk leader, Asia-Pacific, at Ernst & Young Solutions LLP.

The views here are his own

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OECD starts big push to stop corp tax avoidance

Business Times
18 Sep 2014
Michelle Quah

It could also affect Singapore firms with cross-border presence

[SINGAPORE] The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has launched its ambitious plan to rein in corporates attempting to exploit loopholes in the global tax system - a move that will impact companies ranging from international conglomerates such as Google Inc, to smaller Singapore companies with a cross-border presence.

The first "elements" of the plan - called the "Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting" (BEPS) - were unveiled on Tuesday, and focus largely on preventing corporates from abusing bilateral tax treaties.

Tax treaties are typically entered into by governments to prevent a double taxation of profits and benefits across borders, to encourage international trade and growth. But many corporates have been using them to pay a very low rate of tax or no taxes at all.

A Reuters investigation last year found that three- quarters of the 50 biggest US technology companies channelled revenues from European sales into low- tax jurisdictions such as Ireland and Switzerland rather than report them nationally.

Google, in particular, dominated the news on this front: the giant search engine company was reported to have used tax treaties to channel more than US$8 billion in untaxed profits out of Europe and Asia each year and into a subsidiary that is tax-resident in Bermuda - which has no income tax.

"We are putting an end to double non-taxation," said OECD's head of tax, Pascal Saint-Amans.

BEPS is intended to finally bring the international taxation system up to speed with the globalisation of corporates and the complexity of their cross-border transactions.

Broadly, the new initiatives aim to: address the tax challenges of the digital economy; create new model tax and treaty provisions to neutralise "hybrid mismatch arrangements", or arrangements that exploit differences in the tax treatment between two or more countries; prevent the abuse of tax treaties by realigning taxation and relevant substance; bring about greater disclosure through improved transfer pricing documentation and a template for country-by-country reporting; and counter harmful tax practices.

The changes are not without their challenges.

Brian Tully, head of transfer pricing business at Thomson Reuters, told Forbes: "Historically, companies only had to show the transaction flow from one country to the other. These new changes show a company's global structure with key financial metrics. This will introduce an unprecedented amount of detailed data reporting to global tax authorities. Companies have never had to collect, let alone report, this kind of data, and countries have never had to enforce it."

Companies also need to be aware that not all jurisdictions are created equal; some governments are better prepared and better equipped to manage the changes than others. How each country chooses to enforce these changes will also matter.

Alan Ross, tax leader at PwC Singapore, said: "The big worry for businesses is that different tax authorities will require different information, which could add to the administrative and cost burden for businesses. Efforts to coordinate how tax authorities respond will be challenging but crucial."

And it won't be just the large multinational companies (MNCs) that will be hit by the new OECD initiatives; smaller Singapore companies with a cross-border presence and foreign companies with a presence here will also be affected.

Looking at the impact on businesses here, Mr Ross said the treaty abuse provisions are unlikely to significantly affect Singapore- domiciled groups - unless they are using other avenues to invest in other countries (for example, by using Mauritius as a route to invest in India). But they need to keep an eye on the actions of treaty partners in the region, such as Indonesia, China and India, in the event that these jurisdictions take a different view of what constitutes an abuse of a tax treaty.

He adds that the additional reporting requirements will have more of an impact.

"This is likely to draw attention, somewhat unfairly, to taxpayers with high revenue and low headcount, paying low taxes - for example, Singapore procurement hubs of MNCs operating under an incentive. This is likely to force MNCs to justify their transfer-pricing arrangements through robust qualitative analysis.

"Singapore, which continually seeks to attract substantive business, should be well positioned in this regard. But, clearly, disputes may arise from other tax authorities if they perceive that a Singapore company's income is out of whack with its employed base, relative to its affiliates in the overseas country trading with Singapore."

Mr Ross warns that the greatest concern for Singapore in the longer term is whether the focus on harmful tax practices will ultimately impact the tax incentives provided by Singapore to attract businesses here.

"At first sight, it should not - as the focus is to align taxation with where substantive people functions take place, and Singapore can hold its head high in this respect. However, determining what is substantive is often in the 'eye of the beholder' - namely the other jurisdictions which deal with the Singapore company," he said.

michquah@sph.com.sg

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Blumont launches libel suit against The Edge

Straits Times
01 Oct 2014
Grace Leong

THE Blumont Group has launched a libel suit against the publisher and editor of The Edge Singapore over an article on last October's penny stock crash. Blumont told the Singapore Exchange (SGX) on Monday that it is seeking damages from The Edge Publishing and editor Benjamin Paul, and an injunction to stop the magazine from publishing similar claims made in the original article.

Blumont had issued a clarification on Sept 1 in relation to the article entitled "Hunting for the Truth", published in the Sept 1-7 edition of The Edge Singapore and The Edge Malaysia. The article made a series of claims, including one that said Blumont had sponsored an employment pass for Malaysian businessman Soh Chee Wen. The firm denied this, adding it had demanded a correction.

Blumont executive director Ng Kim Huatt declined comment yesterday while Mr Paul did not respond to requests for comment.

Blumont is one of eight mainboard-listed companies being investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department over possible breaches of securities laws.

Gold mining firm LionGold Corp also addressed certain allegations in the story in an SGX statement on Sept 2. The Edge had reported that former LionGold chief executive Nicholas Ng quit after a short stint because Mr Soh insisted on "calling the shots".

LionGold told the SGX that "no single individual has or ever had unfettered authority over the business and affairs of the group". It said Mr Ng resigned in March due to a medical condition and that Mr Soh, an adviser to LionGold chairman Nik Ibrahim Kamil, does not attend board meetings or receive remuneration.

The Edge reported that LionGold had paid "for a first-class seat for diamond mine investor Joseph Gutnick on a flight from Canada to Singapore last year" at Mr Soh's request. LionGold, also part of the CAD probe, said it never paid for any air tickets for Mr Gutnick. The firm said it was seeking legal advice.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Finance manager accused of lying: City Harvest trial

Straits Times
25 Sep 2014
Selina Lum

Auditor didn't recommend purging of accounts: DPP

CITY Harvest Church (CHC) finance manager Sharon Tan was yesterday, in her eighth day on the stand, accused of lying in the trial involving alleged wrongdoing by church officials and staff.

The prosecution said Tan lied when she claimed it was an outsider - an auditor - who had recommended that the church purge its books of its bonds in music production company Xtron.

Tan is one of six people, including founding pastor Kong Hee, accused of misusing $50 million of church funds to boost the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, and covering up the misuse.

The prosecution said all the accused, except Tan, channelled money from the church's building fund into sham bond investments in Xtron - which manages Ms Ho's career - and glass manufacturer Firna. Four of them, including Tan, then allegedly devised transactions to clear the sham bonds from CHC's accounts to throw auditors off the scent.

Earlier in the trial, Tan had said the source of the transactions was the church's auditor, Mr Sim Guan Seng, who said at a meeting in April 2009 that he "doesn't like the bonds" and they should be cleared off the church's books.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh challenged this, pointing out that it was not recorded in the minutes that he had said this at the meeting with deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and board member John Lam.

Tan admitted it was not in the minutes, but maintained that Mr Sim had said this to her after the pastor and Lam left the meeting, and that she told them in an e-mail shortly after.

But DPP Chionh questioned how Mr Sim would have the power over church management to make this suggestion just because he did not like the bonds. Tan replied that, at the time, the mindset was to do what the auditors wanted.

DPP Chionh noted, however, that her e-mail to Tan Ye Peng and Lam did not mention that Mr Sim had told them to clear the bonds - further proof that she was lying about what the auditor had said.

Tan disagreed, pointing out how her e-mail stated that Mr Sim hoped to see "this (Xtron) issue being solved in this financial year". She said the statement referred to the Xtron bonds.

DPP Chionh said: "You are indulging in creative misinterpretation of the plain words of even your own e-mails in order to escape the lies that you have told about what Mr Sim supposedly said."

The DPP also repeatedly questioned Tan about why she would not admit to being the main contact for the audit team.

Auditors Foong Ai Fang and Mr Sim had testified that Tan was the point of contact when she took over as finance manager from co-accused Serina Wee. But Tan insisted that Mr Sim did not work with the audit team and had wrongly assumed she was the contact person.

DPP Chionh argued there was no reason for Mr Sim and Ms Foong to lie, and that Tan was simply trying to avoid being accused of more lies.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Wrong to use 'irrevocable' when it isn't

Business Times
18 Sep 2014
R. Sivanithy

EARLIER this year, a listed company here embarked on a non-underwritten rights issue to raise money for investment and working capital and, presumably to enhance the attractiveness of the offer, its announcements on the rights issue highlighted the fact that the company's substantial shareholder had given an "irrevocable" undertaking to fully subscribe to its portion.

The Encarta World Dictionary gives the meaning of "irrevocable" as "not able to be revoked, undone or changed", so it appeared that no matter what, the substantial shareholder would have had to fully take up its share.

Put another way, the company appeared to be guaranteed several million dollars from its biggest single shareholder which, it has to be said, had to be confidence-boosting to other shareholders pondering whether to take up their rights.

However, when the exercise was completed, it emerged that the substantial shareholder had only subscribed to about one-third its original allotment because of a clause in the offer information statement which said that if that shareholder ended up with more than 30 per cent of the company's shares post-rights, the shareholder's portion would be scaled back to below 30 per cent so as to avoid triggering a takeover.

Technically and legally, no rules were broken. Moreover, no one would reasonably begrudge excusing the substantial shareholder from the onerous burden of having to launch a mandatory takeover offer just because it contributed cash to help the company.

But the point to note here is that an "irrevocable" undertaking did not really live up to its billing as being "unchangeable" since it actually was changed.

It is important to address this because, in a disclosure-based regime, it is crucial that words carry the correct meanings.

Consider, for example, that there is no recourse for shareholders who may originally have been undecided as to whether to subscribe to the rights, but then were swayed by the idea that a substantial shareholder apparently had enough faith in the company to pump in several million dollars, only to find that the actual amount that shareholder paid was much less than thought.

Might public interest and the spirit of disclosure have been better served if, instead of the misleading word "irrevocable", the original rights announcements had said upfront that the substantial shareholder had given a "conditional guarantee" to fully take up its rights, the condition being that the proportion would be scaled back if the shareholder ended up holding more than 30 per cent of the company?

We think so, for the simple reason that companies should be made to use the correct words when asking the public for money. The word "irrevocable" with its connotation of being immutable and cast in stone should not be permitted if there is a subsequent escape clause, and all the more so if that clause is disclosed in a separate document despatched to shareholders later.

As noted above, "conditional guarantee" would better capture the company's intent as well as the obligation of the substantial shareholder - provided, of course, that the condition is also clearly explained right at the start.

Meanwhile, retail investors should note that when a rights issue is not underwritten, there is always a possibility that it could be heavily undersubscribed, in which case any promises and apparently unshakeable undertakings previously given by prominent shareholders could be changed. Until the rules require the correct words to be used, it's best to note that in the stock market, there are no guarantees.

sivan@sph.com.sg

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SingTel refutes claim of A$713m tax avoidance

Business Times
01 Oct 2014
Michelle Quah

Others also lambast report claiming over A$80b in foregone tax from ASX 200

SINGAPORE Telecommunications (SingTel) has hit back at a report claiming that the telco had dodged more than A$700 million in taxes due to the Australian government.

The Singapore telecommunications giant says the report wrongly applied the Australian corporate tax rate of 30 per cent to its entire group profits, not all of which are liable for Australian tax.

Others have since come out to denounce the report, which has garnered much attention and was widely reported Down Under.

The report, "Who pays for our common wealth? Tax practices of the ASX 200", looks at the tax practices of the ASX 200 - the largest companies listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

Produced by United Voice and the Tax Justice Network - a coalition of unions, churches and charities - it purported to find that nearly a third of ASX 200 companies have an average effective tax rate of 10 per cent or less. It claimed that overall, the effective tax rate of ASX 200 companies over the last decaded was 23 per cent, leading to more than A$80 billion (S$89.03 billion) worth of forgone tax from 2004 to 2013.

Among the companies it highlighted was SingTel - it claimed the telco dodged A$713 million in taxes during the 10-year period.

SingTel - which is listed on both the Singapore Exchange and the ASX, and has operations in Australia through Optus - has come out to clarify such claims.

"The article has simply and incorrectly calculated tax foregone in Australia by applying the Australian 30 per cent corporate tax rate to the accumulated total of SingTel Group profits," a SingTel spokesman said.

Australia levies a flat 30 per cent rate of tax on corporate income; however, non-resident companies, such as SingTel, are required to pay income tax only on Australian-sourced income, and not on income derived from all sources.

The SingTel spokesman went on to say: "SingTel's Australian subsidiaries undertake all their legal and governance responsibilities diligently, including their Australian tax obligations."

The report has also come under fire from other sources. The Australian columnist Stephen Bartholomeusz says the report was "built on a complete absence of the facts".

"The report is remarkable for the shallowness of its understanding of corporate taxation and, indeed, of the entities it points the finger so accusingly at," he adds.

Mr Bartholomeusz says the authors of the report don't seem to know the difference between a company and a trust (a trust doesn't pay tax), and that they have applied Australian tax rates to non-Australian income earned incurred by non-Australian resident companies such as 21st Century Fox and SingTel.

He concludes by saying that this sort of "shambolic and misleading analysis in the United Voice/Tax Justice report ... is less than constructive, is damaging to the companies and trusts concerned, undermines taxpayer trust in the tax system, and confuses the debate".

michquah@sph.com.sg

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Mum gets maximum 10 years' jail for causing son's death

Straits Times
25 Sep 2014
Hoe Pei Shan

Woman, who has schizophrenia, admits pushing son, 9, out of window

SHE was about to admit to causing the death of her only child, nine-year-old Gabriel, by pushing him out of a fifth-storey window last year.

But 32-year-old Rebecca Loh showed little expression in the High Court yesterday.

Instead, the bespectacled woman, who has a history of schizophrenia, stood up and in an almost chirpy voice, said: "I plead guilty."

When Justice Tay Yong Kwang asked if she understood the consequences of her plea, she replied: "Ya, I admit to the charge. Oh, and I also seek leniency."

She was sentenced to the maximum of 10 years in jail for culpable homicide. The judge said he agreed with Deputy Public Prosecutor Eugene Lee, who had called for a long jail term, "to allow for her to be properly treated and rehabilitated".

First diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2006, Loh, a single mother, had been living with her mother, believed to be 65, and son in a West Coast Road flat.

Gabriel suffered from a host of medical conditions related to his liver that left him jaundiced and with brittle bones.

According to court documents, Loh was worried about providing for her special-needs son, as she had been unemployed for 10 months.

She previously worked as a cashier and at fast-food joints.

She had lost contact with the boy's father soon after Gabriel was born.

She thought that by ill-treating Gabriel, he would be taken away by the authorities and put into better care.

On June 1 last year, she carried her son from the living room sofa, where he was playing a handheld electronic game, and put him on the ledge outside the window.

As the boy stood on the parapet, she admitted pushing his hands from the clothes-drying pole holders.

The boy fell to the ground and died in hospital.

Loh was arrested on the same day and initially charged with murder.

This was amended in July to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

In 2011, she was also charged over possession of a chopper in a coffee shop. Later that year, she beat her mother for not allowing her to go for a movie.

In February last year, she was admitted to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) after trying to strangle her mother, the family's sole breadwinner who worked as a part-time assistant at a bakery.

Through the years, she suffered relapses because she skipped treatment and stopped taking her medication.

After her latest arrest, psychiatric assessments at IMH found that Loh was "at a moderate to high risk" of committing a violent act in the future, and that she possibly needed treatment for the rest of her life.

She was, however, deemed fit to give her plea in court yesterday.

Loh's lawyer Amarick Gill requested time to get further input from medical experts on the appropriate length of any jail sentence.

But Justice Tay dismissed the suggestion. He gave her the maximum sentence, backdated to her arrest, and said this was "in view of the accused's history and... for the safety of those (whom she) may come in contact with".

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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Ex-tour guide in wealthy widow case arrested

Straits Times
18 Sep 2014
Carolyn Khew & Toh Yong Chuan

IN A dramatic turn of events, a former China tour guide accused of cheating a wealthy widow who has dementia was arrested for suspected criminal breach of trust yesterday.

The development comes amid a court battle between the man, 40-year-old Yang Yin, and the 87-year-old widow's niece over her assets, which are believed to be worth $40 million.

The niece, 60-year-old Hedy Mok, had reported to the police that Yang allegedly stole jewellery and cash belonging to her aunt, Madam Chung Khin Chun, while having been entrusted to act as her legal guardian.

The police are believed to have acted following the report.

On Tuesday, the police and Immigration Checkpoints Authority (ICA) took Yang to the Police Cantonment Complex for questioning. ICA is also probing Yang's status as a permanent resident here.

Around noon yesterday, a handful of plainclothes police officers were spotted inside Madam Chung's Gerald Crescent bungalow, where Yang had been staying since 2009. His wife and two young children moved in last year.

The officers spent more than an hour at the $30 million house, interviewing a maid and Madam Mok.

Yang had met Madam Chung in 2008, while acting as a private tour guide during her holiday in Beijing. In 2010, the widow made a will leaving all her assets to Yang.

Two years later, she also appointed him her guardian, giving him full control of her assets through a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).

Madam Chung, whose husband, Dr Chou Sip King, died in 2007, has no children and was diagnosed with dementia this year.

Her niece started court proceedings last month, claiming that Yang had manipulated her aunt, a retired physiotherapist. But he claims the elderly woman was neglected, and wanted him to take care of her as a "grandson" she never had.

A pre-trial conference is expected to take place next Wednesday.

Since the news of the saga broke two weeks ago, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI) has lodged a police report accusing Yang of falsely claiming to be a director with the association.

Yang and his wife Weng Yandan also came under fire for posting photographs of their lavish lifestyle online.

Two months after he was granted the LPA, Yang wrote in his blog: "Let my cash vault grow towards $50 million! Come on, money, I love you!"

He also wrote about his love for watches, branded goods and stays in luxury hotels, and uploaded photos of items such as a $14,000 Frank Muller watch he said he was planning to buy.

The posts were either edited or removed by last night.

It has also been revealed that Madam Mok had made police reports alleging that cash, jewellery and art pieces were taken from her aunt's art gallery in her bungalow.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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Niece's court action against former tour guide adjourned

Straits Times
01 Oct 2014
Carolyn Khew

THE court action by Madam Hedy Mok to strip former China tour guide Yang Yin of control of her wealthy aunt's assets was yesterday adjourned by nearly a month.

This is to allow a separate court application by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) to be settled first.

On Friday, the Family Court will hear whether to suspend the powers given to Madam Mok and Mr Yang to act on behalf of the widow.

By suspending their roles, the OPG can step in to get an independent medical assessment of 87-year-old Madam Chung Khin Chun, whose assets are believed to be worth $40 million.

She was diagnosed with dementia this year and the OPG wants to know if she has the mental capacity to revoke the LPA on her own.

Madam Mok, a 60-year-old tour agency owner with whom Madam Chung has been living since Aug 21, told The Straits Times: "While I understand that the OPG must have its reason for the step that it took, I hope this gets sorted out soon." She added that her aunt's well-being comes first.

Madam Mok has accused Mr Yang of manipulating her aunt into handing him a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) which gave him control of her assets.

Mr Yang moved into Madam Chung's $30 million bungalow in 2009, a year after acting as her private tour guide during a trip to China. In 2012, she applied to the OPG to give Mr Yang the LPA.

Madam Mok is also suing the 40-year-old Mr Yang for damages over his alleged breaches of duty under the LPA.

Mr Yang's lawyer, Mr Joseph Liow, said these civil cases could come to a "standstill" if the OPG's application is approved. He was speaking after meeting Madam Mok's lawyers at yesterday's pre-trial conference, which he revealed was adjourned till Oct 28.

Last week, the OPG lodged a police report against Mr Yang for possible financial abuse after it emerged he had boasted about his wealthy and lavish lifestyle online. The report was made on Sept 17, the same day Mr Yang was arrested for suspected criminal breach of trust.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

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Hong Leong to fight Morgan Stanley again: Pinnacle Notes case

Straits Times
24 Sep 2014
Grace Leong

NY judge denies bulk of bank's bid to dismiss suit over failed Pinnacle Notes

HONG Leong Finance (HLF) has won another shot at taking on financial giant Morgan Stanley in New York.

It has been almost a year since HLF lost a bid in federal court in New York to claw back from the US investment bank $32 million in compensation paid out to Singapore investors of Pinnacle Notes, which failed amid the global financial crisis of 2008.

HLF alleged that Morgan Stanley persuaded it to sell the notes - ultimately designed to fail - to its customers by emphasising they were "conservative" and "low-risk products" suitable for middle-class and working-class Singaporeans, and small and medium-sized enterprises.

Under an agreement with the bank, HLF, in 2006 and 2007, sold $72.4 million worth of Pinnacle Notes, which later failed. It was ordered by the Monetary Authority of Singapore to pay more than $32 million to customers in compensation.

The US District Court last October dismissed HLF's case, ruling that its claim was not made out, as HLF did not have business or clients in the US in connection with the notes. The federal court found "no nexus between (Morgan Stanley's) activities in the US and the allegedly infringing activities abroad".

But HLF has since filed a new suit in New York against Morgan Stanley and others, alleging fraud, fraudulent inducement and negligent misrepresentation, among other things.

It has succeeded in blocking the US bank's efforts to have all of its claims dismissed.

Justice Eileen Bransten, of the State of New York Supreme Court, in a Sept 12 judgment obtained by The Straits Times, denied Morgan Stanley's attempt to dismiss HLF's suit on grounds that a New York connection is lacking and that the action should be brought in Singapore.

She took a leaf out of the book of a separate but related case brought in New York by a group of Pinnacle Notes investors who had sued the bank for US$154.8 million (S$196 million) for selling complex investment products allegedly designed to fail.

"The court (in that case) also deemed the Singapore forum inadequate, because the Singapore courts could not subpoena ex-employees of Morgan Stanley (and others), whose testimony... would be critical to exposing the alleged fraud," she noted.

"Here, HLF has incorporated all the allegations from (that case), and thus, similarly, has demonstrated to this court that the alleged fraud was devised in New York, through the actions of Morgan Stanley and (others), and that the situs of the transaction, as well as the availability of the evidence and witnesses, favours HLF's choice of New York," Judge Bransten said.

HLF also succeeded in blocking Morgan Stanley's bid to dismiss its claims for breach of contract and breach of implied duty of good faith. Morgan Stanley contended that these should be dismissed because HLF settled its customers' claims without obtaining the bank's written consent.

But the judge ruled: "The court notes that HLF's failures to meet certain requirements of the Singapore Financial Advisers Act allegedly stem in part from (Morgan Stanley's) misrepresentations and fraudulent scheme."

But it was not a total loss for Morgan Stanley.

The judge dismissed HLF's claim of negligent misrepresentation and for equitable subrogation.

"HLF is heartened by the decision, and we are confident of our case," a spokesman said.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Man sues wife over 'hacking' in midst of divorce

Straits Times
17 Sep 2014
K.C. Vijayan

WHILE they were going through a bitter divorce, a woman hacked into her husband's laptop and used the information against him, the man has claimed.

And it was her own lawyers who recommended the hacker to her, it is alleged.

The man is suing both his estranged wife and her law firm for trespass and breach of confidence, in addition to the ongoing divorce proceedings.

High Court Justice Quentin Loh, in dealing with the case, was so concerned to learn of these allegations that he has asked the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to probe.

"I was troubled by the allegation that lawyers were putting forward a computer expert to hack into opposing parties' computers, notebooks or iPhones," he said in judgment grounds released last week.

"There was also possible perjury and breaches of professional ethics and rules," he noted, adding that crimes could have been committed, including those under the Computer Misuse Act.

Although the judge allowed the information obtained by the wife to be used in the divorce case, he also gave the green light for the husband's lawyer Edmund Kronenburg to appeal against this decision.

If it is overturned by the Court of Appeal, this will be a landmark case because it means that information obtained illegally cannot be used in civil proceedings.

The judge also clarified that it was up to the Family Court dealing with the divorce to decide if the information was to be admitted as evidence.

The couple, who started divorce proceedings two years ago, cannot be named to protect the identity of their two children, aged eight and six.

The man claims that his wife copied the contents of his laptop in December 2012, including backup data from his iPhone, when he was on holiday in Hong Kong with the children.

Her sworn statements to the Family Court later contained information taken from the laptop, including SMS and WhatsApp messages.

She denied hacking into the laptop. But the woman, who had already moved out of the family home at the time, did admit she had returned to get her belongings.

She noticed the laptop, accessed it and saw a number of files on the desktop which she claimed included a plot to frame her.

So she asked her private investigator, Mr Dennis Lee, to make copies of the relevant files to show that the husband had been untruthful during divorce proceedings.

Mr Lee was someone who had been recommended to various clients of family lawyers, including the woman's lawyer in the family court proceedings, as someone "who could hack into computers, notebooks or iPhones, whether protected by a password or not", according to allegations noted by the judge.

Said Justice Loh: "Dennis Lee is not the usual private investigator in divorce cases but was clearly retained because of his expertise in computers."

He noted that there was an "evasive silence" as to how he came to be hired by the wife.

"No doubt the police or the AGC will get to the bottom of this matter," he added.

Stressing that he had not yet come to conclusions about the allegations, he made it clear that the court "takes a very dim view of solicitors who sanction, let alone encourage, their clients' involvement in such illicit activities as hacking".

"Most upsetting is that in the middle of this maelstrom are two young, innocent children," said the judge, adding that their interests had been "overshadowed completely".

When contacted, an AGC spokesman declined comment as the case is being investigated by the police.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Court rejects appeal of mentally ill man who caused father’s death

TODAY
01 Oct 2014
Neo Chai Chin

SINGAPORE — The schizophrenic son of a pastor who started a fire that killed his father in 2009 had his appeal against his jail sentence rejected by the apex court yesterday.

Ho Wei Yi, 34, had been sentenced to eight years’ jail in February after he pleaded guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The trial judge, Justice Tay Yong Kwang, had backdated Ho’s sentence to Sept 21, 2011 — the start of his prison remand when he was certified fit to make the plea.

But defence lawyer Ramesh Tiwary argued that Ho’s sentence should be backdated to Aug 6, 2009, when he was first remanded in prison before being committed to the forensic ward at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

Conditions for Ho at the ward, where patients are under lock and key with restricted visits allowed, were similar to those of a prison, the lawyer argued. Ho did not have a choice about being warded at the IMH and to ignore his time there would be prejudicial to Ho, he added.

But Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang said Justice Tay knew exactly what he was doing in sentencing Ho.

In rejecting the appeal, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said Justice Tay’s ruling was correct in the interests of Ho’s rehabilitation and the public’s protection.

Early release might not be helpful to Ho, who did not quite appreciate his condition in the past. He would also get proper treatment in an institution, said Justice Chao.

Ho, who has paranoid schizophrenia, had resented his parents for making him undergo treatment for his condition.

He heard voices on Aug 5, 2009, and set on fire a mattress in the family’s McNair Road flat before fleeing, the court was told.

His 58-year-old father, Michael Ho Shiong Chun, who was a pastor with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was found in the master bedroom toilet. He died of smoke inhalation.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Widow seeks to strip tour guide of guardianship

Straits Times
24 Sep 2014
Toh Yong Chuan & Carolyn Khew

Application filed to revoke China national's Lasting Power of Attorney

IN A dramatic turn of events, the wealthy widow who handed control of her assets to a tour guide from China now wants him stripped of the guardianship.

Madam Chung Khin Chun, 87, yesterday asked the Office of Public Guardian (OPG) to cancel the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) which she gave Mr Yang Yin in 2012.

The move came after a psychiatrist who examined her last week found that she has the mental capacity to revoke the LPA, despite suffering from dementia.

The OPG last night confirmed that it "has received Madam Chung's application to revoke her LPA and is reviewing it".

The LPA is a legal document that allows a person to appoint another to make key decisions on personal welfare and financial matters should he or she lose the mental ability to do so.

Madam Chung's niece, Madam Hedy Mok, had earlier started court proceedings to revoke the LPA, accusing Mr Yang of manipulating her aunt and spending her wealth.

The 40-year-old Yang moved into Madam Chung's $30 million Gerald Crescent bungalow in 2009, a year after acting as her private tour guide during a trip to China.

His wife and two children followed him last year.

In 2010, Madam Chung, whose assets are worth about $40 million, changed her will and left everything to him.

Madam Mok's lawyer, Mr Peter Doraisamy, declined to comment on whether they will contest the will, saying only: "That is confidential at this point in time."

Madam Chung's decision to revoke the LPA was announced by her lawyer, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, at a press briefing yesterday.

Meanwhile, Madam Mok will continue to press on with court proceedings against Mr Yang, and a pre-trial conference is scheduled for today.

Mr Doraisamy explained that this was needed in case Mr Yang contests Madam Chung's decision to strip him of the LPA.

"There could well be a challenge," he said. "Since the matter is already before the courts, let the courts decide.

"They have the jurisdiction and the power."

Madam Mok, the 60-year-old owner of a tour agency, added: "I am doing this for the sole purpose of protecting my aunt's interest."

Should the LPA be revoked, "I will work according to all her wishes - if everything goes to charity as originally planned, it will happen."

She was referring to an earlier will by Madam Chung in which the widow planned to leave most of her assets to charity.

Mr Yang, who is a permanent resident, was arrested last week for suspected criminal breach of trust. He remains under investigation.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg


Yang sued for damages as well

FORMER China tour guide Yang Yin is being sued by Madam Hedy Mok for allegedly manipulating her aunt, Madam Chung Khin Chun, for his own personal gain.

This was confirmed by Madam Mok's lawyer, Mr Peter Doraisamy, during yesterday's tense press conference, which was attended by The Straits Times and news agencies such as Agence France-Presse.

"We have filed a High Court suit against Mr Yang in which we have claimed losses and damages arising from what we say are his breach of duties... under the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)," said Mr Doraisamy, who is from Selvam LLC.

The amount of damages that is being sought has yet to be determined, he added at the press conference, which was held at Selvam LLC's office in Collyer Quay.

The suit - the writ for which was issued last month - is separate from Madam Mok's application to revoke the LPA, which Madam Chung gave to Mr Yang in 2012.

Madam Mok has already succeeded in obtaining a worldwide Mareva Injunction to freeze Mr Yang's and Madam Chung's assets.

Mr Yang's lawyer, Mr Daniel Zhu of Straits Law Practice, did not respond by press time.

CAROLYN KHEW

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S'pore welcomes Jakarta's move to ratify haze pact

Straits Times
17 Sep 2014
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

Indonesian officials hail decision as a new chapter in efforts to tackle issue

INDONESIA'S Parliament unanimously agreed to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, in a move officials hailed as a new chapter in the country's efforts to take a stronger lead in tackling an annual problem that has irked residents in affected areas and neighbouring countries.

"This is the right step for Indonesia to show that it is serious in addressing the transboundary haze caused by forest and plantation fires," Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya told Parliament yesterday. Ratification, he stressed, would benefit Indonesia the most as it would better protect citizens from the negative effects of forest fires and safeguard the country's natural resources.

All nine parties in the outgoing Parliament yesterday backed a Bill to ratify the agreement, 12 years after Indonesia signed it alongside the other nine Asean members - but failed to win approval for it from MPs until recently.

The Bill is expected to be formally signed into law by the President in the coming weeks, and after that an instrument of ratification will be deposited with the Asean secretary-general.

The House's reluctance in the past became a sticking point last year, when haze levels reached record highs in Riau as well as Malaysia and Singapore.

MPs had felt certain clauses could infringe the country's sovereignty, leaving Indonesia in the awkward position of being the only Asean member to hold out.

But the government has clarified that though the treaty obliged Indonesia to be responsible for responding rapidly to fires and cooperating with its neighbours, sovereignty was not negotiable.

Instead, the pact strengthened Indonesia's existing regulations and policies in dealing with fires.

"These responsibilities do not come with sanctions. Any differences among us (Asean members) will be settled amicably through discussions and consultation," Dr Balthasar added yesterday.

"Indonesia can make use of the human resources and equipment available within Asean countries," Mr Milton Pakpahan, a Democrat MP who helped to push the Bill through, told Parliament.

Singapore welcomed the Indonesian Parliament's decision to ratify the treaty, the Environment and Water Resources Ministry said in a statement yesterday.

It also said the ratification was timely, given the recent spike in the number of hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

"Singapore looks forward to closer cooperation with the Indonesian government and our Asean partners to tackle this recurrent problem," the ministry added.

Under the terms of the treaty, countries have to cooperate in taking measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate the haze by controlling the sources of fires, in exchanging information and technology, and in helping one another manage outbreaks.

Indonesia's Environment Ministry said yesterday that it had already begun taking measures in line with the Asean agreement.

Indonesia will also be starting cloud-seeding in the coming days to induce rain to douse forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg

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Should SGX allow dual-class structures?

Business Times
01 Oct 2014
Dayne Ho & Stefanie Yuen Thio

The question arises as Alibaba moved its listing to NYSE after delisting from HK bourse, which disallowed this practice

AS the excitement around the biggest initial public offering (IPO) of all time begins to settle, one question may be looming large again: Should Singapore allow dual-class share structures to be listed on the local stock exchange?

Alibaba's recent listing was an incredible success and its book-building process was completed well in advance at the highest end of its indicative price range. Interestingly, this occurred even though Alibaba's shares have a dual-class element because shares held by the founders allow it to control the composition of its board of directors.

Despite public pushback in recent times against shares with unequal rights, it is clear that there is demand for such shares for certain companies. As an example, other companies which are famously (or infamously) known for their dual-class share structures include Google, Facebook, Zynga, LinkedIn and Manchester United plc.

So why does the question of permitting dual-class shares rear its head again? Because Alibaba, a PRC company that had originally listed a substantial component of its business on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKSE), delisted this business in 2012 and has now moved the listing of its entire group to New York. One of the critical reasons for eschewing the HKSE was the prohibition against a dual-class structure. If this had been permitted, would Alibaba now be listed in the Fragrant Harbour rather than traded on Wall Street?

Even in Singapore, this issue was a live one just a couple of years ago. Back then, there was much excitement over the potential listing of Manchester United on the SGX-ST, which would have been a big coup for our exchange. Unfortunately, Manchester United also eventually chose to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange and, again, one of the reasons cited was the fact that our rules do not permit dual-class shares structures.

Since then, Singapore's Ministry of Finance has indicated that, in theory, a dual-class share structure is permissible in Singapore for listed companies although whether a company is actually allowed to list with such a structure will fall within the purview of Singapore Exchange.

Is it time for Singapore to re-evaluate its position on dual-class structures? The main argument against this is that entrenching certain rights in the hands of management is bad for corporate governance. This point is indisputable and the SGX-ST should be lauded for placing shareholder protection above profits. However, if dual-class structures are here to stay, then perhaps we need to start asking if there is a balance to be struck between the negatives of a dual-class structure and the potential advantages (such as the ability to focus on long-term goals rather than short-term performance), in a way that suits the Singapore market. To that end, a couple of initial thoughts are set out below.

First, dual-class structures should only be allowed where there are good business reasons for it. A listing where IPO proceeds are used to pay down the company's debt while entrenching control of the controlling shareholders should continue to be rejected. Dual-class share structures should be limited to certain industries.

An obvious one is the technology sector, where some of the world's biggest companies - such as Google and Alibaba - play. Technology companies generally have a markedly different DNA from more traditional brick-and-mortar companies. Cutting-edge developments in technology mean larger risks and rewards, leading to higher valuations when a company succeeds. Witness the eye-popping price tag for WhatsApp and Instagram. The tech sector is also very dependent on key personnel. Think about how instrumental Steve Jobs was to the success of Apple.

These factors support an argument that the commercial realities of the sector warrant different consideration. A positive knock-on effect is that a pro-technology approach may provide a boost to Singapore's own tech sector as it moves out of its infancy.

Second, any concession for dual-class structures should be finely calibrated. Perhaps a dual-class arrangement can be treated in a similar fashion to other forms of ongoing mandates that listed companies on the SGX-ST regularly obtain, such as for ongoing interested party transactions or share buyback mandates.

Dual-class structures could be subject to renewal approvals, but possibly over a longer period, say five years, and approval thresholds could be tweaked so the consensus of a larger group of shareholders would be needed to defeat a renewal resolution. This may allow the founders and management sufficient leeway to focus on business performance.

On the flip side, if 75 per cent of the shareholders are not satisfied with the performance of the company after such an extended time, it is relatively clear that the dual-class structure in that specific instance is quite likely not working out.

Of course there are other corporate features that can be implemented to mitigate the risks of a dual-class structure. What's important is to ensure that we are constantly re-evaluating our regulatory regimen to stay relevant and competitive.

The Hong Kong press has done a lot of chest-beating over losing the Alibaba listing. This may put pressure on the HKSE to reconsider its position. Singapore has always had a more nimble and responsive bourse, with the ability to implement novel structures effectively. Instead of a binary "Yes/No" response to dual-class structures, is it time to consider whether there are balanced ways in which business concerns can be addressed without sacrificing shareholder protection, so that we can continue attracting top-tier listings?

Dayne Ho is co-head of Equity Capital Markets and Stefanie Yuen Thio joint managing director, TSMP Law Corporation

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Feedback sought on proposals regarding new US tax law

Straits Times
24 Sep 2014
Yasmine Yahya

THE Government has proposed new regulations to help financial institutions here comply with a new United States law that is being imposed worldwide.

The US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca) requires all financial institutions outside the US to regularly submit information on financial accounts held by US persons to the US Internal Revenue Service.

If they fail to do so, these financial institutions face a 30 per cent withholding tax on certain gross payments received from the US.

To help financial institutions here comply with this law that took effect in July, Singapore has substantially concluded an agreement with the US.

This Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA), to be signed in the fourth quarter of this year, will allow financial institutions here to report the required information to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras), which will in turn pass it to the US.

This will help ease the compliance burden for Singapore's financial institutions as their reporting obligations would be deemed met once they have passed the information to Iras.

The Ministry of Finance (MOF), the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Iras said on Monday that they are inviting public feedback on two proposals:

• The draft Income Tax (International Tax Compliance Agreements) (United States of America) Regulations 2014, which set out the due diligence and reporting obligations of Singapore-based financial institutions in relation to the Fatca IGA, and;
• The draft Fatca e-Tax Guide, which provides further explanation of those obligations.

The public consultation began on Monday and ends on Oct 17.

The regulations and the e-Tax Guide set out the reporting regime and include information on various issues related to Fatca, such as the financial institutions that must report.

They also set out the due diligence procedures required to identify the reportable accounts, the information to be reported and the timelines.

The public can download the documents for this consultation from the MOF website, www.mof.gov.sg

yasminey@sph.com.sg

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Singapore lauded for low pre-trial remand numbers

Straits Times
17 Sep 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Global survey cites 'exceptionally low' S'pore figures, together with Finland's, as model

SINGAPORE'S "exceptionally low" pre-trial remand numbers have been held up, together with Finland's, as a model for others to follow.

A new US-based study on the use of pre-trial detention worldwide highlights the Republic's progress in the past decade, at a time when the overuse of pre-trial detention elsewhere is a rising concern and in need of urgent reform.

Titled "Presumption of Guilt: The Global Overuse of Pre-trial Detention", the report published recently by the Open Society Justice Initiative - part of a network founded by billionaire investor George Soros - is the first global survey of the damage done by the overuse of pre- trial detention. The New York-based Open Society Foundations, the organisation that is part of a network that runs the Open Society Justice Initiative, works to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, legal and social reform.

Written by Mr Martin Schoentiech, the report argues that more than 14 million people a year are affected by the "massive and excessive" use of pre-trial detention around the world.

It also argues that the overuse of pre- trial detention affects economic well- being, public health and the rule of law. Among other things, it highlighted a case where one murder suspect was remanded behind bars in India for 38 years before being ordered to be freed by the court in 2006.

Earlier this month, in a landmark move recognising the problem of pre-trial detention, India's top court ordered its prisons to release all inmates awaiting trial who had been behind bars for half the maximum term without trial.

"Virtually every country in the world could benefit from reducing its pre-trial detention population," says the report.

It notes that European taxpayers spend some US$18 billion (S$22.8 billion) annually on keeping such inmates behind bars, while in the United States it costs on average more to detain a juvenile than the annual tuition cost at Harvard University.

"Fortunately, positive reforms are possible. Both Finland and Singapore, for example, have shown that proactive and coherent policies can limit the unnecessary use of pre-trial detention," says the report.

It attributes Singapore's success to a sustained policy initiative to curb a prison population that peaked at 18,000 in 2002, declining to 13,000 some eight years later.

It notes that the use of pre-trial detention also declined at the end of the same period, forming less than 8 per cent of the prison population, which is "an exceptionally low proportion by global standards".

While almost a third of the world's 10 million kept behind bars in 2012 were in pre-trial detention, Singapore had 8.8 per cent as a proportion of its prison admissions for that year - the third-lowest on the list.

The report also notes that Singapore and Finland shared some common features in their political and social infrastructure which keep prison numbers down.

Among the reasons are policy continuity, a strong state apparatus and a qualified, experienced civil service.

These background factors translate to clear policies and processes to deal with defendants awaiting trial in different ways, among other things, says the report.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Involve family members when drawing up LPA: Forum

Straits Times
01 Oct 2014

I FULLY agree with the experts' view that family members must be informed when a person draws up a Lasting Power of Attorney ("Experts call for more safeguards to LPA scheme"; last Thursday).

One of my family members, a single, successful businesswoman approaching 60, wanted to draw up an LPA to empower her nephews - one of whom is my son - to act on her behalf should she become mentally incapable.

She felt it was a simple case of doing the paperwork, and trusted that her nephews would do what was best for her.

The problem was that she had not informed her siblings of her intent, and I felt she should first talk to the family and the nephews about her personal preferences on her welfare.

Otherwise, should the LPA be effected, the nephews would not know her wishes, while having to manage the other elders who may dispute their decisions.

In improving the LPA scheme, the authorities could perhaps study the process of advance care planning used in the health-care sector.

Under this, facilitators help patients and their family members to talk through the options and record the patients' care preferences before a medical crisis strikes. The document also serves to appoint a substitute decision-maker.

While all these schemes are intended to help reduce hassle, we can do better if we focus less on efficiency and more on strengthening bonds within the family.

My late father declined to draw up an LPA. Instead, he got his children to discuss and reach a consensus on what would be best for him and our mother. That has brought us much closer together as we all care for my mother, who is showing early signs of dementia.

Giselle Goh (Ms)

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Faster IP application processing for S'pore, Europe

Business Times
24 Sep 2014
Cai Haoxiang

ENTREPRENEURS in Singapore and Europe can look forward to a faster and more efficient patent application process from next year.

The European Patent Office (EPO) and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) on Tuesday agreed to launch a pilot programme, called the Patent Prosecution Highway, from January 2015.

This is to support greater trade flow and innovation between Singapore and Europe.

Under the programme, patent applicants whose claims have been found to be patentable by either the EPO or IPOS may ask for accelerated processing of corresponding applications of the other office.

Both offices will also refer to and share work results as much as possible.

This should result in lower costs for applicants and a faster application process.

Tan Yih San, chief executive of IPOS, said that both offices strongly advocate creativity and innovation.

They are also committed to helping businesses invest and build a competitive edge with their intellectual property, he said.

EPO president Benoit Battistelli said Singapore is a dynamic and fast-growing market. "IPOS has established itself as an important partner for European companies that are targeting Singapore. Through this agreement they will strongly benefit from a simplified access to patent protection there," he said.

haoxiang@sph.com.sg

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Match-fixing suspect contests detention order

Straits Times
17 Sep 2014

DAN Tan Seet Eng, the alleged ringleader of an international match-fixing syndicate, is contesting his detention without trial.

Represented by lawyer Hamidul Haq, Tan last month filed a court order seeking a judicial review of his detention.

He has been in detention since last October, after being nabbed in an islandwide raid conducted by police and anti-graft officers on Sept 17.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed with The Straits Times yesterday that an application for a review of the detention had been received. "The application is now being processed by the Attorney-General's Chambers," she added.

Tan, who is reportedly also wanted in Italy and Hungary, has been labelled by Interpol as the "leader of the world's most notorious match-fixing syndicate". The Singaporean businessman's alleged ring is said to have rigged over 150 matches in countries including Hungary, Finland and Nigeria.

The order to detain him was issued by Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which allows for suspects to be detained without trial.

In a written reply to parliamentary questions, he explained last October that the Act is used "as a last resort in cases where accomplices and witnesses dare not testify against criminals in court, for fear of reprisal". Detention orders are reviewed annually.

Tan's lawyer Hamidul, from Rajah & Tann, told The Straits Times last night: "His detention should be reviewed by the courts as such cases (referring to match-fixing cases) should not be within the domain of detention without trial."

JOYCE LIM

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Curbs up ahead for F&B ads targeted at kids

Business Times
01 Oct 2014
Claire Huang

FROM January next year, advertisers and the media industry will have to comply with a new framework that restricts the promotion of food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt targeted at children 12 years and below - across all media.

The new guidelines limit advertisers from making items such as chocolates, confectionery, soft drinks, diet drinks and sugar-free sweets appealing to children, in the wake of Singapore's battle with obesity.

On Tuesday, Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Health, said that a committee on guidelines for food advertising to children was established last July to develop the comprehensive framework.

It comprises representatives from the Health Ministry (MOH), Health Promotion Board (HPB), Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF), Food Industry Asia (FIA), and the media and advertising industries.

The new guidelines state that all food and beverage (F&B) ads targeted at children must meet the Common Nutrition Criteria that set limits on sodium, saturated fat and sugars, while listing required quantity of components such as fibre and wholegrain.

ASAS chairman Tan Sze Wee said that the rules apply on ads placed on third-party websites with a local domain.

Outdoor ads of "unhealthy" products such as those seen at bus stops are not to appear within 50 metres of a primary school.

"It's very easy to track them," said Prof Tan, "because the Land Transport Authority does have Google Maps, they actually have a website in which they know the jurisdiction or even the bus that plies around places near the schools."

Advertisers of unhealthy foods will also not be allowed the use of licensed characters or toys; interactive games or contests; as well as the use of language and visual elements to appeal to children.

But they will still be allowed the ordinary display of products in store and at point of sale. They will also be able to use the sponsor's name and trademark, as well as the use of brand equity characters.

More than 90 per cent of the F&B advertising dollar will be affected by the new rules but Prof Tan pointed out that the new measures are not meant to stifle the industry. "We are creating the platform for companies to re-formulate their product and services, to allow them to be differentiated."

Prof Muhammad Faishal noted that the health food market was "developing quite rapidly around the world" and would "open up new areas of businesses".

The global food product market is growing at about 4-5 per cent, said Prof Tan. He noted that the top 20 companies command only 10-15 per cent of the market, indicating the tremendous potential for local companies.

And companies have to move with the times, said Sunny Koh, deputy president-designate of SMF.

"At the end of the day, there's a high cost of manufacturing in Singapore, so what is your unique selling point? So I think this health food may be the unique selling point because if not, you'll be competing against the same foods in neighbouring countries, which are produced more cheaply than ours."

The new guidelines will be incorporated into the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice and will be administered by the ASAS - advertisers have to declare to the media owner that they have fulfilled the nutrition criteria.

ASAS will ensure compliance, handle all complaints and also conduct periodic spot checks of samples of media communications.

"In the event that a company still refuses to comply," said Prof Tan, "ASAS and the Consumers Association of Singapore in the past have proceeded to name the company and the product publicly."

To prepare stakeholders for the implementation next year, ASAS is conducting training workshops in November, featuring international specialists.

The idea of food ad restrictions was mooted in 2012 by MOH, as dietary habits of children are often formed well before the age of five.

The obesity rate among primary, secondary and junior college students was 12 per cent last year, but MOH said that adults here face a greater problem.

Currently, information on the cost of obesity to the country is not available, but the government will be compiling data over time to try and evaluate how far such measures will go in reducing the country's healthcare expenditure.

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SGX must overcome market's cynicism and scepticism

Business Times
24 Sep 2014
R. Sivanithy

SINCE the start of the year, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) has embarked on a radical revamp of its business in order to improve and strengthen the marketplace. Some proposals are still at the consultation stage and will take time to come into force - for example, moves to give the exchange more disciplinary powers will require statutory approval, which could prove a lengthy process. Some will probably meet with resistance from the business community and may have to be tweaked to gain acceptance, while others may have to be totally scrapped.

Among the challenges that the exchange will encounter in the weeks and months ahead in its bid to transform the market, the biggest will probably be the need to overcome an ingrained cynicism and widespread scepticism which, sad to say, seems to have taken root in many corners of the local marketplace.

Take, for example, the proposal to require a minimum sum of 20 cents to retain a listing on the mainboard, which was presumably partly mooted to address criticism that Singapore is mainly "a penny stock market" or, to use a colloquialism, "a kuching-kurap" market.

This move, which was first proposed in this column more than 12 years ago (Hock Lock Siew, "Time to introduce rules on continued listing", April 8, 2002) should be welcomed because apart from (hopefully) resulting in more active trading and an improvement to the market's low-priced reputation, it should force companies to actively manage their share prices by being more proactive in engaging the investment community if there's a danger of the price falling below the specified threshold.

Yet, instead of viewing the move in the correct light or taking it in the right spirit, anecdotal feedback has been laced with scepticism and cynicism, some of the choicest being: "It's a waste of time because all it will do is force penny stock punters to look at Catalist instead" and "Other markets also have plenty of penny stocks, so there's nothing wrong with being a penny stock market."

Detractors should rightfully be asked what they would have the authorities do - persevere with stocks that could trade for as low as 0.05 or 0.1 cent indefinitely, or at least try and impose some quality requirement, albeit one that is purely mechanical?

It's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" position that the exchange finds itself in - do nothing and get criticised for running a penny market; attempt a change for the better and have to deal with objections that it won't make a difference.

The same applies to the move to reduce board lots from 1,000 shares to 100 from next January. Here, the aim is not just to improve liquidity but also to bring stocks that are expensive in absolute dollar terms within closer reach of the average retail investor.

This is surely better for the market, yet again the response from many market watchers has been to question the usefulness of the move, one common observation being that it won't make a difference since stocks like SingTel and Singapore Airlines already have smaller board lots but these are not as liquid as their corresponding 1,000 lots.

In our view, reducing the standard trading lot to 100 is a great idea but it actually does not go far enough. SGX should consider allowing investors to trade single shares, which would then obviate the need for the out-dated "odd-lot" market where disproportionately high transaction costs are incurred.

Setting aside for now the need to scrap the odd-lot market, the point is that whenever the exchange proposes changes to existing protocols, or attempts what it perceives as improvements, there is an automatic, reflex wave of scepticism and cynicism from market participants.

The reason for this reflex response is too complex to go into here; suffice it to say for now that overcoming the market's cynicism and scepticism is the exchange's biggest challenge if it is to see any real improvements.

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Hearing focuses on buying of 'palm oil': City Harvest trial

Straits Times
17 Sep 2014
Selina Lum

It's code for Suntec stake that church wanted to buy

THE City Harvest Church (CHC) trial yesterday was dominated by discussions on the purchase of "palm oil" - the church's code name for the Suntec convention centre back in 2009 when it was hoping to buy a stake in the property.

Church finance manager Sharon Tan said the reason the church had pumped funds into Xtron was for the purpose of buying a stake in Suntec.

Xtron was the vehicle it would use as the church did not want to be seen as vying for a commercial property, she said. The money for the purchase would be paid to Xtron as advance "rent" and the church would then "lease" the property from it.

According to Tan, the purpose of delinking Xtron from the church was also for this - so that it did not look as though it was the church that was buying Suntec which would jeopardise its chances of doing so. The code words were used for the same reason - to keep the transactions confidential so as not to jeopardise the purchase, she added.

Tan is among six, including founding pastor Kong Hee, accused of misusing $50 million in church funds to boost the music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun and covering up the misuse.

The prosecution has alleged that all the accused, except Tan, funnelled money from the church's building fund into sham bond investments in Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna. The prosecution contends that four of them, including Tan, then devised a series of transactions to clear the sham bonds off CHC's accounts in order to throw auditors off the scent. These "round-tripping" transactions made it look as if Xtron and Firna had redeemed the sham bonds when, in reality, the redemptions were financed with church funds.

They include a $12 million payment from CHC to Xtron, which Tan said was advance "rent" for the Suntec property it intended to buy.

Tan's lawyer, Senior Counsel Kannan Ramesh, also suggested yesterday that there was a legitimate reason the bonds were redeemed - it was the church's external auditor who had suggested getting rid of them. He took her through a meeting in April 2009 between the church's new auditor, Mr Sim Guan Seng, and board member John Lam as well as deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng.

Sharon Tan said Mr Sim "did not like" the church's bond investments in Xtron which he felt complicated the accounts. She said Mr Sim was "relentless" in his view that CHC and Xtron were obviously related and told them to "clear" the bonds off the church's books. Told the payment would be given as rent, Tan said she had "no doubts" about the legitimacy of the plan, as it was just a "reclassification" in the books, from investment to pre-payment. The church board was very serious about buying "palm oil" and had discussed using Xtron to secure Suntec, she added.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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OPG applies to suspend powers of niece, tour guide

Straits Times
30 Sep 2014
Carolyn Khew & Toh Yong Chuan

THE Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) has called a truce to the tussle between the niece of a rich widow and a former China tour guide over control of the widow's assets.

In an unexpected twist, the office applied to the courts yesterday to temporarily suspend the powers of Madam Hedy Mok, niece of 87-year-old Madam Chung Khin Chun, and Mr Yang Yin.

If approved, neither can represent the widow. This would allow her to be independently assessed by a medical expert to be appointed by the court.

The check will determine if she has the mental capacity to revoke the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) she gave to Mr Yang in 2012, which, in effect, allowed him to control her assets estimated to be worth $40 million.

The wealthy widow, who has no children and was diagnosed with dementia this year, met the 40-year-old Mr Yang in 2008 while on a holiday in Beijing.

Mr Yang, a Singapore permanent resident, is embroiled in a legal tussle with Madam Chung's niece over the widow's assets, which include her $30 million Gerald Crescent bungalow.

Madam Mok, 60, who owns a travel agency, was appointed by the court on Aug 1 as her aunt's deputy for the purposes of commencing legal proceedings on behalf of Madam Chung under the Mental Capacity Act.

Explaining the latest move, an OPG spokesman told The Straits Times that the "actions are necessary to safeguard and protect the interests and assets of Madam Chung".

"The OPG will decide on the cancellation of the LPA after the court has made a determination on Madam Chung's mental capacity."

The spokesman added that the Public Guardian must be satisfied that the necessary revocation steps have been taken, before the LPA can be cancelled.

The OPG's court application was made yesterday and the lawyers representing both Madam Mok and Mr Yang were informed at about 5.30pm.

The application will be heard at the State Courts on Friday.

When contacted, Madam Mok's lawyer, Mr Peter Doraisamy from Selvam LLC, would not comment, saying they had just received the application and were assessing it.

In a press statement, Mr Yang's lawyer, Mr Daniel Zhu of Straits Law Practice, said his client "welcomes and supports" the application of the OPG.

Earlier last week, the OPG said it had lodged a report with the Commercial Affairs Department against Mr Yang after it emerged he had boasted about his wealthy and lavish lifestyle online.

The report was made on Sept 17, the same day that Mr Yang was arrested for suspected criminal breach of trust.

The wealthy widow asked the OPG last week to cancel the LPA she had given Mr Yang.

The move came after a psychiatrist who examined her said she had the mental capacity to revoke the LPA, despite suffering from dementia.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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The pros of ratifying Asean haze agreement

Straits Times
24 Sep 2014
Laode M. Syarif

AT A time when forest areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan were causing haze in the region, Indonesia's lawmakers finally decided to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution on Sept 16.

The move essentially removed what had long been a "diplomatic disturbance" for Indonesia's environment and foreign ministries at every regional meeting on forest fires and transboundary haze.

Two months ago, at a presentation to the Indonesian Parliament's Commission VII (which oversees the environment), I told members of the commission that delaying ratification will do more harm than good.

The House of Representatives did not have strong reasons not to ratify the agreement, as it will continue to complicate Indonesia's diplomacy efforts within Asean and internationally. Any further delay is also bad for the environment.

Some of the questions posed to me by several House members at the presentation gave the impression the members had never read the articles under the agreement.

One lawmaker said that, until my presentation, the government had not given them a comprehensive explanation on the pros and cons of ratifying the haze agreement.

Indonesia is the last of the 10 Asean countries to ratify the haze pact, which obliges countries to, among other responsibilities, cooperate to prevent and monitor cross-border haze, set up an early warning system and exchange information and provide mutual help during fires.

Countries are also required to take appropriate measures to monitor fire-prone areas and undertake measures to prevent and control activities related to land clearing and forest fires.

The measures include developing and enforcing laws, educating the community and strengthening fire-fighting capacity in the regions.

The above obligations may appear burdensome, but the fact is that most of them have been met by the Indonesian government. There are environmental and forestry laws and two government regulations in place that not only ban the slash-and-burn method in land clearing, but also require all concession-holders to prevent fires in their concession areas.

A national emergency response infrastructure has also been set up to allow coordination in fire-fighting efforts between and among the environment and forestry ministries, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency and regional governments.

There is also constant monitoring of all hot spots in Indonesian forest areas by the central government.

However, these legal and institutional mechanisms seldom operate the way they should. Preventive efforts and public education remain lacking.

Fire-fighting efforts are carried out only when there are protests from neighbouring countries. Fire-fighting equipment and financial support are still lacking - even though forest fires happen every year and have destroyed millions of hectares of Indonesian forests.

Indonesia has to implement the above measures even if there is no Asean haze agreement.

If the Indonesian government is really serious about protecting Indonesia's forests, rich biodiversity and its people, ratifying the haze pact is a step in the right direction.

Besides the above obligations, there are other responsibilities that have to be jointly met with other Asean countries.

Asean countries should make financial arrangements to fund the operations of the Asean Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control to prevent and mitigate forest and peatland fires.

Malaysia and Singapore, for instance, could make substantial financial contributions because many of their companies operate in Indonesian forest areas. Intensive diplomatic efforts are needed because, under the haze pact, financial contributions are voluntary. Countries are not obliged to make substantial contributions.

Now that Indonesia has ratified the haze pact, any dispute with fellow Asean countries over haze originating from Indonesia will have to be "settled amicably by consultation or negotiation", as stipulated in Article 27 of the agreement.

In the past, Indonesia's status at regional meetings on forest fires and transboundary haze has always been that of an observer. This meant the Indonesian delegation had no right to vote on the issue or to suggest an amendment or protocol to any agreement being discussed at the table.

It is in Indonesia's interests to become a "party" to the haze pact, which boosts its bargaining position to pursue Indonesia's interests in the region and internationally.

Now that the haze agreement has been ratified, the Indonesian government has to ensure that all obligations under the agreement are properly implemented.

No new laws are required as the current Indonesian laws are sufficient to implement the above obligations and responsibilities.

Indonesia needs to boost its efforts in curbing forest fires as it has now committed itself to the agreement.

Indonesia has to show neighbouring countries and its own people that the government is serious in enforcing the law and, if need be, will take the cukong (big business owners) responsible for the fires to court.

Finally, I place my hopes in president-elect Joko Widodo and his deputy Jusuf Kalla, and hope they will extend the moratorium on the issuance of new licences for logging and other land uses in primary natural forests and peatlands. The nationwide moratorium issued by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expires next year.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The writer is a senior adviser on legal affairs at the Partnership for Governance Reform (Kemitraan) and an international environmental law lecturer at Hasanuddin University in Makassar.

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Electronic charts still not widely used

Business Times
17 Sep 2014
Malminderjit Singh

About 5,000 tankers have until July to adopt system

[SINGAPORE] The majority of ships in the global tanker fleet have yet to adopt the Electronic Chart Display & Information System (ECDIS), according to data published by the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO).

Amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas), an international maritime safety treaty, requires mandatory carriage of ECDIS from July 1, 2015, for all tankers over 3,000 gross tonnes, apart from permitted exemptions.

More than 8,500 tankers will be required to comply with these rules and with less than 10 months to go, the UKHO revealed, 58 per cent of these ships do not yet use an electronic navigational chart (ENC) service.

The amendments to the Solas Convention requiring the mandatory carriage of ECDIS were adopted in 2009.

To date, approximately 3,600 tankers, or 42 per cent of the global tanker fleet, use an ENC service. This leaves almost 5,000 tankers that do not use an ENC service and therefore may not have the ECDIS installed.

The UKHO data also revealed a significant divergence in ENC use among different tanker sizes and types.

Overall, 23 per cent of the global product tanker fleet of approximately 1,700 vessels use an ENC service, compared to 44 per cent of crude tankers and 63 per cent of LNG tankers.

With less than a year to go before these amendments to the Solas Convention come into force, owners and operators of tankers that are not yet ready to comply need to ensure they have a plan in place to adopt ECDIS in a thorough and diligent manner.

Whether it is the physical installation of ECDIS on board, the delivery of type-specific training for crew or the necessary revisions to bridge policies and procedures, it is a considerable undertaking.

Since launching the global ECDIS seminar programme in 2011, the UKHO has provided free expert guidance on the ECDIS transition to more than 2,300 delegates.

By the end of 2014 that is projected to exceed 3,400 delegates in 55 locations, as it helps professionals in the shipping industry, including managers, owners, ship personnel, regulators and auditors, to achieve this important requirement.

"The transition to ECDIS is a very complex and significant undertaking, whether it is for a single ship or an entire fleet," said Paul Hailwood, an expert on ECDIS and integrated bridge operations who delivers the ECDIS seminars.

"This data on the current state of ENC use across the global tanker fleet reveals that there is still a long way to go in a short period of time if the fleet is to be fully ready to comply with the Solas regulations, even allowing for exemptions and the grace period until a ship's first survey date."

He added: "There are also wider implications for the ability of the industry to deliver a transition to ECDIS on this scale in such a short period of time, given the inevitable constraints on capacity, such as crew training places and the availability of engineers to manage the installation process."

msingh@sph.com.sg

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New law fails to save killer from gallows

Straits Times
30 Sep 2014
Selina Lum

He is the first murderer to be denied re-sentencing after law change

A 39-YEAR-OLD killer who has been on death row for five years for knifing an elderly housewife more than 110 times in 2005 was yesterday denied the chance to escape the gallows.

Muhammad Kadar is the first convicted murderer to have his bid for re-sentencing rejected by the Court of Appeal after laws were changed last year to give judges the discretion to impose a life sentence and caning, instead of the death penalty, for certain categories of murder.

Five murderers before Muhammad had succeeded in their applications to be re-sentenced under the amended laws.

Upholding Muhammad's original death sentence yesterday, the three-judge court made it clear that he was guilty of the most serious form of murder - he had intended to cause death.

The court said that his own testimony and other objective evidence showed he had intended to kill Madam Tham Weng Kuen, to silence her so she could not identify him.

Yesterday's appeal verdict brought to a close the long-running case of Muhammad who, together with his older brother Ismil, first went on trial in 2006 for murdering their 69-year-old neighbour in her Boon Lay flat while they robbed her.

The trial, spanning three years, saw many twists and turns, including Muhammad's stunning confession that he was the sole assailant, although he had implicated his brother in police statements.

Both were found guilty of murder by the High Court in 2009 and sentenced to hang.

In a dramatic twist in 2011, Ismil was freed after the Court of Appeal cleared him of murder.

Muhammad's appeal, on the other hand, was dismissed.

However, he was given a reprieve as executions were put on hold in July 2011 when the Government began a review of the death penalty regime.

Last year, changes to the law made the death penalty mandatory only for murder with the intention to cause death. It was discretionary for three other categories.

Earlier this month, Muhammad applied to the Court of Appeal to have his case sent back to the High Court for re-sentencing.

His lawyer, Mr Amarick Gill, argued that the case was one of murder with the intention of causing injury that was sufficient to cause death, which would have given him a shot at being re-sentenced to a life term.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor Anandan Bala argued that Muhammad himself had admitted he planned to kill Madam Tham so that she could not identify him after the robbery.

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal agreed with the Deputy Public Prosecutor and dismissed Muhammad's application for re-sentencing, ruling that his brutal attack was intended to kill.

The five convicted murderers who succeeded in their bids for re-sentencing were: Malaysians Fabian Adiu Edwin and Jabing Kho, Chinese national Wang Wenfeng, Bangladeshi Kamrul Hasan Abdul Quddus and Indian national Gopinathan Nair Remadevi Bijukumar.

Muhammad's clemency petition to the President is pending.

selinal@sph.com.sg

 

*****************Background Story *****************

 

ABOUT THE CASE

May 2005: Madam Tham Weng Kuen is found dead in her flat. Ismil Kadar, 37, arrested for an unrelated crime, is charged with murder.

June 2005: Muhammad Kadar, 29, is charged with murder. His DNA was found on Madam Tham's purse. He fingers his brother Ismil as her assailant.

March 2006: The trial begins. It drags on as defence lawyers challenge if the police statements were given voluntarily.

September 2007: In a twist, Muhammad confesses to being the sole culprit.

April 2009: The High Court finds both brothers guilty of murder and hands down the mandatory death penalty.

April 2011: Prosecutors reduce Ismil's murder charge to robbery with hurt.

July 2011: Ismil is freed from prison after the Court of Appeal clears him completely.

October 2012: Ismil gets seven years' jail and six strokes of the cane for drug consumption.

September 2014: Muhammad applies for re-sentencing.

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Woman 'tried to kill female ex-lover who spurned her'

Straits Times
24 Sep 2014
Selina Lum

A TUMULTUOUS romantic relationship between two young women ended with one of them stabbing the other in a hotel room, the High Court heard yesterday as a 25-year-old woman went on trial for the attempted murder of her former lover, three years her junior.

Giselle Shi Jia Wei is accused of stabbing Ummul Qurratu 'Ain Abdul Rahman twice in the chest before turning the knife on herself in a hotel room in Geylang on July 22, 2012.

The prosecution's case is that Shi broke up with Ms Qurratu 'Ain but later tried to get back with her. When the latter was not willing to do so, Shi could not accept it and decided to murder her, and then kill herself.

One of the stab wounds fractured the victim's breastbone and punctured the wall of her heart.

Shi faces a life term or up to 20 years' jail if she is convicted of attempted murder. A second charge of attempted suicide has been stood down for now.

The bespectacled, long-haired woman looked frequently at her former lover as Ms Qurratu 'Ain, 22, a freelance musician, testified about their stormy relationship and the stabbing.

They met in 2010 and started a steady relationship in July 2011.

The alleged victim, who had short hair and wore a black jacket and slim-fit pants, told the court that they fought over the simplest things - financial matters, jealousy and "things I say wrong".

She lived at Shi's family home for nearly half a year but was mostly confined to Shi's room as they did not want Shi's parents to know she was there. In May 2012, however, Shi's mother discovered her presence and told her to leave.

The couple then lived in Johor Baru for about a month before returning to Singapore.

Ms Qurratu 'Ain said Shi became "calculative, possessive, and insecure". They squabbled over the use of toiletries and Shi kept a book on the money she spent on her, controlled her job choices and made her close her Facebook account, she said.

On July 14, 2012, they had a row at upscale nightspot Mink, after which Shi said she wanted to end the relationship.

A week later, on the night of July 21, Shi asked to meet her.

Ms Qurratu 'Ain assumed Shi wanted closure and agreed.

The couple had supper, during which Shi was "exceptionally needy", she said. They then went to a hotel, where Shi repeatedly pleaded to get back together. She refused.

Ms Qurratu 'Ain said she was lying in bed when Shi, who was straddling her leg, rummaged in her bag and then raised her hands.

"I felt something pierce my chest," said Ms Qurratu 'Ain. The knife was pulled out of her chest in the ensuing struggle, but Shi stabbed her a second time, she said.

She fainted and, when she came to, she thought she saw Shi slitting her wrist. Shi then covered her with a blanket and said: "Now we can be together forever."

Ms Qurratu 'Ain later got away and sought help from two hotel guests. The trial continues today.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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

4 appointed judicial commissioners

Straits Times
16 Sep 2014
Aw Cheng Wei

FOUR new faces were appointed yesterday by President Tony Tan Keng Yam as judicial commissioners. They are Ms Valerie Thean, 45, Mr Aedit Abdullah, 44, Ms Hoo Sheau Peng, also 44, and Associate Professor Debbie Ong Siew Ling, 48, said the Prime Minister's Office.

Judicial commissioners have the same powers and functions as Supreme Court judges to preside in the High Court, but are appointed for a specific period.

All will serve three years except Prof Ong, a law don, who will serve two.

Ms Thean will also be Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts from Oct 1. The mother of three is currently Senior District Judge of the Family and Juvenile Justice Division of the State Courts.

The only academic of the four, Prof Ong teaches at the law faculty and was awarded the Singapore Academy of Law Merit Award and the Legal Aid Bureau Amicus Award last year.

Mr Aedit, who was Senior Counsel at the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) for two years, most recently defended Singapore's decision to retain Section 377A criminalising sex between men, earlier this year.

As a district judge, he sentenced former National Kidney Foundation CEO T.T. Durai to three months' jail for fraud.

Ms Hoo is also from the AGC and is currently its Civil Division's Deputy Chief Counsel (Advisory and Administration). She has been in the legal service for more than 20 years.

Both Ms Thean and Ms Hoo will assume their new roles on Sept 30, and Mr Aedit and Prof Ong on Nov 17.

Attorney-General V.K. Rajah said in a statement that Ms Hoo and Mr Aedit have been "key members of the AGC leadership and have contributed enormously to make AGC what it is today".

Judicial commissioners were introduced in 1986 to get senior lawyers in private practice on the Bench to help clear the backlog of Supreme Court cases.

They can be named full judges and remain on the Supreme Court's Bench until they turn 65.

With these new appointments, Singapore will have eight judicial commissioners and 14 judges, including Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

awcw@sph.com.sg

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

Over 8,000 get aid from courts' one-stop centre

Straits Times
30 Sep 2014
Joyce Lim

MADAM Hirnie Tahir lost her cashier job when her degenerative eye disease became worse last year. Her former husband was in jail and she needed money for her four children, aged five to 11.

Then came a surprise one-off gift of $200 from the Community Justice Centre (CJC).

"I was really surprised and grateful for the help," said the 38-year-old. "I thought the CJC officer just wanted to find out about my financial situation and refer me to other agencies."

She is one of a growing number of people getting help from the centre, a charity set up in 2012 to assist those who cannot afford lawyers. It also chips in with cash assistance, provides food rations and collaborates with other social agencies for longer-term support.

In less than two years, it has already helped more than 8,000 people. Last year, the centre's Social and Referral Services programme helped 477 needy people, many of whom required financial aid. In the first eight months of this year, the number of people helped was already 489.

And this month, the centre launched the On-site Legal Advice Scheme, under which two lawyers are on hand at the State Courts five days a week to give free legal advice. An average of 14 people use the service every day, said the centre's executive director, Mr Leonard Lee.

Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan, who volunteers at the centre, which is based at the State Courts, called it a "one-stop hub" where the needs of the underprivileged could be addressed as a whole.

"Underprivileged litigants would usually have many other problems apart from the legal ones," he said. "If the root of the problems is unresolved, their lives would continue to be miserable."

The centre, a collaboration between the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the Ministry of Law, the courts, the Law Society and the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, was set up because more people had begun representing themselves in court.

More than $420,000 was raised at its inaugural charity golf event at Sentosa Golf Club last Friday, according to Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon, who is also the centre's chairman. The aim is to raise $800,000 in total.

For Madam Hirnie, the centre's contribution helped tide her over until she could get help from the community development council. She said: "The $200 help may not have been much to others, but it certainly helped to put food on the table for another two weeks."

joycel@sph.com.sg

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

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Singapore Law Watch
24 Sep 2014
LexisNexis

Lawyer glut can be a happy problem

Straits Times
16 Sep 2014
Tan Chong Huat & Alvin Chen

THE current discussion on the implications of the leap in the number of Singaporeans enrolling in overseas law schools raises larger issues beyond the economic realities of finding jobs in the legal sector.

Today's highly developed legal environment is a far cry from early 19th-century Singapore, when almost anyone could be a law agent and lawyering was a part-time job.

To ensure that only persons with formal qualifications could advise and represent clients, the number of entrants to the legal profession was restricted in the 1870s to those with the appropriate qualifications.

Since then, admission to the profession has been regulated under the Legal Profession Act and the limited places in local law schools serve as an additional control valve.

But with increasing affluence, it is impossible to restrict the number of Singaporeans who study overseas for a law degree that will help them gain entry to the Singapore Bar.

The legal profession promises upward social mobility, which is uppermost in every parent's mind.

Such hopes are difficult to displace, and Singaporean law students today are, in a sense, little different from English legal apprentices in the past who aspired to become gentlemen through the practice of law.

Short of a drastic change to the number of recognised foreign law degrees, a lawyer glut is likely to stay with us for some time.

We should see this as a happy problem, as it offers the legal community an opportunity to examine how best to allocate more resources to enhance the practice of community law, and the larger society an opportunity to appreciate the role of law in society.

As observed in the 2013 Report of the 4th Committee on the Supply of Lawyers and by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in his address at the 2014 Mass Call for newly qualified lawyers, there is a critical shortage of lawyers practising community law, such as family law and criminal law.

From a sociological perspective, it has been argued that the number of lawyers in any society depends on the social role that lawyers are expected to play.

We now have more potential lawyers, but if they do not intend to practise either family or criminal law, the legal profession will not continue to grow optimally and we will face the twin problems of a stagnant profession and unaddressed social needs.

It is thus timely that a number of measures, including the establishment of a third law school, are being taken to encourage prospective lawyers to practise community law. The challenge is to ensure that they stay the course.

The 4th Committee had recommended a more streamlined selection process to ensure that only candidates who show a genuine interest in the practice of community law be admitted to the third law school.

Also, the teaching pedagogy in this school would focus on incorporating elements of practical or vocational training.

We would suggest that these recommendations be complemented by mentorship programmes with senior practitioners and placements in law firms practising community law.

In addition, community lawyers will need more support in performing their work, given the financial constraints they operate under as well as the complex legal issues that may be raised in community law cases.

One example is the recent landmark decision by the Singapore High Court which set a default benchmark sentence for negligent driving that causes death.

That case considered the legal culpability of negligent drivers, the need for general deterrence and whether past court decisions should be overruled retroactively or prospectively. These are difficult issues for the Bench and Bar to ponder.

The third law school, the existing two law schools and other relevant stakeholders should work together to establish a centre to conduct research into community law issues.

Research findings should be readily made available to community lawyers as well as the courts to assist in producing a fully informed outcome in each case.

Some concerns about the glut of lawyers stem from a fear that more lawyers may mean more lawsuits. An over-litigious society is obviously undesirable.

One long-term solution is to educate students on the proper function of the law in society and why law has an important role to play in addressing social needs.

With the increasing emphasis on promoting Singapore law, it may be time to consider whether law should be formally taught as a subject at our junior colleges. In the United Kingdom, law is offered as an A-level subject.

As for fears that this may encourage even more students to take up law at a time when the profession has problems absorbing the numbers, the fact is that the study of law not only develops critical thinking skills but also offers a gateway to other professions.

So while Singaporean law students today should be realistic in assessing their chances in pursuing a legal career, those who wish to practise community law as a life-long vocation should be given as much support as possible.

At the same time, in view of the central role of law in Singapore society, it is crucial to inculcate a proper understanding of the law in our younger citizens, so as to minimise the risk that more lawyers will result in an over-litigious society.

The first writer is managing partner, and the second writer is head, professional services support, both of law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP.


Background Story

We now have more potential lawyers, but if they do not intend to practise either family or criminal law, the legal profession will not continue to grow optimally and we will face the twin problems of a stagnant profession and unaddressed social needs.

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Khattar comes full circle

Business Times
30 Sep 2014
Francis Kan

After an illustrious career in law and public service, Sat Pal Khattar is focused on growing his family investment company for his children

SITTING in his office at Raffles Place overlooking the business district where he forged a reputation as one of Singapore's pre-eminent tax lawyers, Sat Pal Khattar ponders the circuitous path of his career.

The law firm he founded 40 years ago, KhattarWong - one of Singapore's most prestigious - still bears his name and the gravitas of his reputation even though he left several years ago.

Yet, his long and illustrious law career is bookended by entrepreneurial stints - first helping run his father's small sporting goods business even as he read law at the University of Singapore, and now as the chairman of his family investment company, Khattar Holdings, which he runs together with his two sons.

"I've come full circle starting with business and now ending with business," says the 72-year-old, who was born in Behra, India, before moving to Singapore with his family in the 1950s.

His career may have come full circle, but along the way there have been numerous peaks. While he will always be best known for his exploits in the legal arena - having handled Singapore's biggest tax cases - his stint as a lawyer is just one of many notable achievements.

An early taste of business

His first taste of working life was as a teenager helping out with his father's sporting goods business, something he carried on doing even after he entered university. His early entry into the business world disrupted his education, and he had to sit for his A level examinations as a private candidate after having studied at Raffles Institution.

Mr Khattar reveals frankly that he chose law because it was the only faculty that he could qualify for. "Law was the only one that wanted to take me. Back then everyone wanted to be a doctor or an engineer," he recalls with a chuckle.

He attended lectures while working at his father's business, and arranged for tutorials to be held after 5pm with his lecturer Professor Tommy Koh, who later went on to be Singapore's ambassador to the United Nations. He soon had to take a bigger role in the business after his father died when he was in the second year of university.

Despite the hectic schedule, he graduated with an honours degree in 1966, and later a master's in 1970. He entered the Civil Service as a Deputy Public Prosecutor and State Counsel in the Attorney-General's Chambers, a job he immediately disliked.

"For six months, I was doing criminal work, and made a decent job of it, but coming from a business background, it wasn't very exciting," he said. So the young legal officer volunteered for the tax department, then a three-man operation where "nobody wanted to go".

He entered the Inland Revenue Department and soared up the ranks to the level of Senior Legal Officer, Superscale Grade F in 1971, one of the youngest to achieve that level of seniority in the Civil Service. For his contributions to the Civil Service, he was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Silver) at the National Day Awards in 1972.

He was tasked by then-Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee to help set up an insurance co-operative to be run by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), even though he had no experience in the insurance business.

"Dr Goh said that the trade unions must have financial sinews, and asked me to go help them. I told him I didn't know anything about insurance and he said 'That's okay, neither do they'," he said.

Private practice

Mr Khattar left public service in 1974 to set up his own law firm, Sat Pal Khattar Co, as a boutique tax practice. His timing was to prove fortuitous - as soon after he set up his company, the-then top tax lawyer in Singapore, a senior partner at Rodyk & Davidson, left the country. This left a gaping hole that Mr Khattar was more than willing, and able, to fill. Demand for his services soared and within six months he was joined by property law specialist, David Wong.

After growing KhattarWong into one of the country's biggest law firms, he had a yearning to try his hand at yet another career, and retired from the firm in 2007 to focus on his family investment company.

He had come into some money in the early 1990s after being forced to sell two houses he owned behind Shangri-La Hotel, after the area was re-zoned. The windfall of over USS$35 million allowed him to set up Khattar Holdings in 1994 and make some "meaningful investments", primarily in India.

"I never thought I would give up doing law, but I felt that I didn't want to be doing it until I was 75," he explained. "I'm 72 now and I don't mind the slower pace."

Khattar Holdings was also a business set up with his three children in mind. His younger son, Arvind, 36, joined the firm 12 years ago after graduating from the London School of Economics. Older son Navin, 42, a lawyer by training who is based in London, held out for a few years before coming on board eight years ago. Only his daughter Shareen, 44, has gone her own way as an entrepreneur.

Around one-third of Khattar Holdings' investments are in India, with the rest spread across South-east Asia and Europe. The company invests in anything from pharmaceuticals and banking to property and hospitality. Their investments can take the form of private equity, or listed equities and fixed income instruments.

In it for the long haul

Mr Khattar makes clear that when it comes to investing, they are in it for the long term. His business acumen was honed during his time as a lawyer, when many of his cases exposed him to the movers and shakers of business. He has also sat on the boards of various listed companies here, including a stint as chairman of property developer GuocoLand.

These days he is setting the stage for his sons to take control of the business. "What they don't have is the grey hair. Over time they will develop the nuances and the grey matter, and they will be doing business with their own level of friends."

He adds: "I want to be there for as long as I am able to help and support. You can't buy wisdom at the department store."

Of all his achievements, he finds particular satisfaction in his public service. He has held positions including the chairman of the Singapore Business Federation, member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights and life trustee of the Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda). Indeed, the shelves of his office are filled with trophies and awards that attest to his commitment in this area.

Despite his packed schedule over the years, he always made time for his family. "Time was always a problem, but even if I had to go for two dinners that night, I would go home to see my wife and children first."

As for his plans when he finally does retire, he replies: "I hate golf, I'm in the process of giving up golf. I had 400 unread books that have become 700 unread books. Some of them have gone from being current to historical!"

'What they don't have is the grey hair. Over time they will develop the nuances and the grey matter, and they will be doing business with their own level of friends. I want to be there for as long as I am able to help and support. You can't buy wisdom at the department store.'

- Mr Khattar (above) on setting the stage for his sons Navin, 42, and Arvind, 36, to take over the family investment business. Photo: Desmond Foo/The Straits Times

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'Do Not Call' rules: Realtor to be second person charged

Straits Times
23 Sep 2014
Irene Tham

A PROPERTY agent from real estate firm Huttons Asia will be the second person to be charged here with breaching the "Do Not Call" rules since they kicked in on Jan 2.

The unnamed agent allegedly sent unsolicited telemarketing messages to advertise various residential property developments here to numbers listed in the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry.

He will face 27 counts of violating the rules, which carry a fine of up to $10,000 per message sent, tomorrow.

The rules bar firms from marketing to numbers listed in the registry without first getting consent. More than 600,000 phone numbers are on it.

"Telemarketers looking to promote their products or services to individuals with Singapore telephone numbers must abide by the DNC provisions," said Mr Leong Keng Thai, chairman of the Personal Data Protection Commission which administers the DNC rules, in a statement yesterday.

"It is a frustrating experience for individuals who have registered their numbers with the DNC Registry to continue receiving unsolicited telemarketing messages, and the commission will take enforcement action against those who continue to ignore the rules," he added.

The commission has investigated more than 3,500 valid complaints to date, while investigations into 1,700 other complaints are ongoing.

The real estate sector accounts for about half of the complaints pertaining to DNC-related offences, with the rest from sectors such as private education and retail.

Star Zest Home Tuition and its sole director Law Han Wei, 35, were the first to be charged with breaching DNC Registry rules.

Last month, Law and the agency were each fined $39,000 - or $3,000 per charge - after pleading guilty to 13 of 37 offences committed between Jan 3 and 14.

Two other unnamed organisations had agreed to pay between $500 and $1,000 to compound their offences for sending telemarketing messages to numbers listed in the registry.

The commission has also issued warnings to 900 organisations against which the public had lodged complaints.

itham@sph.com.sg

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

Fung Choi suspends trading over dispute with lender

Straits Times
16 Sep 2014
Melissa Tan

AN EXTENDED trading halt for Fung Choi Media has morphed into a longer suspension, with the firm locked in a dispute with a lender over whether it had defaulted on a payment.

The printing and packaging firm, an associate of Fraser & Neave (F&N), yesterday asked the Singapore Exchange (SGX) for a voluntary suspension of trading in its shares as it seeks legal advice.

The mainboard-listed firm is trying to decide what to do now that its Hong Kong unit, Fung Choi Printing, has been placed under receivership by the lender, BCA Best Business Service.

BCA holds US$30 million (S$37.9 million) worth of Fung Choi's yuan-denominated bonds due in 2016.

It alleged that around May this year Fung Choi had failed to make an interest payment, which BCA said constituted a default under the bond agreement terms.

Fung Choi, however, told the SGX last week that it "did not agree that an event of default had occurred" and had "entered into discussions" with BCA. The two reached a settlement and amended the bond terms in July.

But the trouble did not end there. BCA and Fung Choi later disagreed again, this time over certain payments to be made as part of the settlement. That sequence of events ended in BCA appointing receivers to Fung Choi Printing earlier this month.

Fung Choi told the SGX yesterday that it is "taking legal advice on the effect of the appointment of receivers". "The company is in the midst of assessing the most appropriate remedies and avenues available in enforcing and defending its rights," it added.

It said since it was still "in the process of actively obtaining more information and being advised by its legal counsel", it had decided to ask for a trading suspension until that information and advice could be confirmed.

It said it was "using its best endeavours in expediting the above process" and would "seek to lift the trading suspension as soon as possible".

The suspension yesterday morning followed an extended trading halt that began last week.

Fung Choi had halted trading on Monday morning last week. Three days later, it asked for the halt to be extended until the end of last Friday.

That was the group's second trading halt this month. It earlier called for a halt between Sept 4 and 5, right before it learnt of the appointment of the receivers on the afternoon of Sept 5.

Fung Choi missed a deadline last month for reporting its full-year 2014 results.

Over the last five months, Fung Choi has lost its chief financial officer and an independent director: Mr Woo Yiu Chung resigned as CFO in April, and Mr Wang Xiao Dong, an independent director, quit in July.

An F&N spokesman told The Straits Times earlier this month that the group "currently has no plans to sell its 29.5 per cent stake in Fung Choi".

melissatan@sph.com.sg

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

Water leakage: Strata Titles Boards replies: Forum

Straits Times
30 Sep 2014

WE REFER to Mr Chiu Mung Hing's letter ("In a bind over water leakage"; last Tuesday).

The Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act presumes the defect is within the upper unit when there is water leakage from it into the lower unit, unless there is proof to the contrary. Therefore, it is prudent for the owner of the upper unit to investigate.

If it is found that the leakage is from the upper unit, the owner should take immediate steps to rectify it.

Under the Act, if the owners of both units are unable to resolve the dispute amicably, the aggrieved party has the option to make an application to the Strata Titles Boards (STB).

The STB is a tribunal providing a less costly alternative where proceedings are not as complex or protracted as in the courts.

The STB Board will make an order based on the evidence and merits of the case, and the order is enforceable in the State Courts.

The STB's application fee of $500 covers two mediation sessions. The mediation and hearings are conducted by industry experts appointed depending on the nature of the case and the required expertise.

The applicant may apply to the STB for the $500 fee to be paid by the other party, and the STB may make an order if it considers this to be justified.

Sylvia Jackson Yap (Ms)

Registrar

Strata Titles Boards

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

Ex-insurance agent took $100,000 of client's money

Straits Times
23 Sep 2014
Elena Chong

A FORMER financial services consultant who misappropriated close to $100,000 in premium payments made by an Indonesian client was jailed for 20 months yesterday.

Steve Phoi Kok Hua, 47, admitted to six of 16 charges of criminal breach of trust as an agent. The rest were taken into consideration.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Zhang Zeyi said Madam Mike Widjaja Puspo, now 59, had bought three life insurance policies from American International Assurance (AIA) via Phoi between 1992 and 1995 for herself, her husband and son.

For years, she diligently paid the annual premiums of the policies to Phoi - until she found out by chance in July 2011 that the policies had expired or had been terminated in 1998 due to non-payment of premiums.

Phoi resigned from AIA in February that year.

Mr Zhang said Phoi pocketed the premiums in cash paid by Madam Puspo over the years as he was in financial difficulty.

None of the $96,300 has been repaid.

Phoi's lawyer, Mr Abdul Salim Ahmed Ibrahim, said his client's financial circumstances took a drastic downturn in 1996 due to marriage expenses and his mother's medical bills, as well as his credit card debts.

He also suffered from chronic epilepsy.

District Judge Victor Yeo said Phoi had betrayed the trust by misappropriating the premiums for his personal use, and had no qualms in doing so.

He said the court must send a clear warning to other members of the profession to deter them from betraying the trust placed in them by policyholders.

"If not for the fortuitous enquiry by the complainant victim with AIA, and thereby discovering the truth, the accused would have continued to deceive the complainant victim and collect the annual premiums for his personal use,'' he said.

Phoi could have been jailed for life or up to 20 years and fined on each charge.

elena@sph.com.sg

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

Gear up for OECD's global tax framework

Business Times
16 Sep 2014
Chris Woo & Chai Sui Fun

THERE has been unprecedented attention on tax avoidance in the last few years. This discussion has however, evolved over the years, shifting away from illegal acts of tax evasion to so-called "legal" tax avoidance involving the practices of Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) that purportedly lead to some proportion of their profits not being taxed anywhere in the world or taxed at very low rates.

This became apparent with the 2012 UK Public Accounts Committee hearing of the tax practices of certain MNEs. While these companies have argued that they have played by the rules, there was huge public outcry over what was perceived to be "the right amount of tax" to be paid. Following this, the US Senate has also launched enquiries into the tax practices of other MNEs, while the European Commission has opened investigations into taxpayer-friendly arrangements offered by several European countries to MNEs.

It is widely recognised that the international tax framework has not kept pace with the globalisation of MNEs or the complexity and cross-border nature of their operations - creating considerable uncertainty for both MNEs and tax authorities alike. In recent times, the primary focus has been on the exploitation of gaps in tax rules by companies to artificially reduce their corporate taxes. Acting on the call by G-20 leaders, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) embarked on the Base Erosion & Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, which aims to propose new international tax frameworks to close these tax loopholes

According to the OECD, BEPS relates chiefly to instances where the interaction of different tax rules leads to some part of the profits of MNES not being taxed at all. It also relates to arrangements that achieve no or low taxation by shifting profits away from where the activities creating those profits take place.

We have now passed the mid-point of the OECD BEPS project. Over this period, the OECD has made rapid progress in addressing some of these concerns, with the first set of recommendations to combat BEPS activities due to be announced later today.

Cure worse than disease?

One of the key areas of progress is in tax transparency. The implementation of the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca) and the adoption of automatic exchange of information as the new global standard for tax information sharing (as supported by more than 65 countries, including Singapore) signals the beginning of the end of "tax secrecy". Concurrently, the OECD is working on new rules under the "Country by Country Reporting" initiative, which obligates taxpayers to disclose information on their global profit allocation principles in relation to their business activities, by territory.

There will be new yardsticks in the international tax world, but will it stifle trade?

Ahead of this, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) issued a public consultation earlier this month for its proposed new Transfer Pricing Documentation guidelines which require the preparation of fairly extensive corporate and financial information of MNEs in a timely fashion. Taken together, these developments will certainly put pressure on increased disclosures of a MNE's tax affairs and global profit allocation principles.

Increased complexities and compliance efforts aside, MNEs are also most concerned with the potential chaos that will emanate from a lack of consensus on a global solution to address (perceived) BEPS concerns. Indeed, even before the OECD is set to release its recommendations this month to "mend" the international tax framework, many countries have already gone ahead to implement BEPS-related actions to safeguard their interests as the "battle against tax avoidance" rages on. Territories across Europe, South America, and even Asia (including Singapore), have already gone ahead and taken (unilateral) actions including strengthening enforcement on general anti-avoidance and/or transfer pricing rules, and restricting access to tax treaty benefits.

As this crusade continues, how the OECD's proposed international tax framework will interact with local country measures is unclear. While we hope that these initiatives will not cause more confusion, the greater fear is that the "cure" will be worse than the "disease", and that these measures could stifle bona fide commercial transactions that promote international trade, investment and growth.

However, these all go to show that paying taxes has evolved from being a pure legal obligation to a discussion on what is considered a "fair" amount of tax to be paid. Clearly, the onus is on both taxpayers and tax advisers to demonstrate responsible planning, which is aligned with real business strategies and objectives. MNE groups will need to revisit strategies on strengthening their internal controls and governance procedures, while balancing the need to remain competitive with the need to comply with increasingly complex tax rules.

The role of tax advisers will also need to evolve, from providing mere technical support to a Group's international tax affairs, to one where they would need to demonstrate a keen awareness of the subtleties behind international tax developments, reputational factors and "moral" responsibilities, and even potentially playing a "devil's advocate" role to better advise their clients. For instance, PwC's Code of Conduct in Tax Planning may serve as an example. While we take the view that PwC firms should always advise clients of appropriate options available to them under the law, we also believe we should only propose planning arrangements where either:

• the underlying business arrangements have some commercial purpose other than the avoidance of tax; or
• the tax outcomes of the arrangements are consistent with the intention of the relevant tax law or other relevant law in the country concerned or the international treaties it has entered into; or
• the planning creates economic or commercial consequences or effects including the necessary economic substance in each location to achieve those effects.

Unwanted pressure on Singapore

It is clear that there will be new yardsticks in the international tax world of the future. What is not clear is whether there will be any "winners" as countries battle over the same tax pie. Meanwhile, countries such as Singapore have tried to adopt a more balanced perspective in considering its tax policy developments with its tax administration needs. Accordingly, as a country which has successfully initiated programmes to facilitate and stimulate substantive investments, Singapore, like many others, is facing mounting but often unwarranted pressure from other states to tighten her rules. It remains to be seen, how individual countries such as Singapore will react to these proposals and address any inherent inconsistencies thereof.

Chris Woo is M&A Leader and Tax Leader (Designate), and Chai Sui Fun is Transfer Pricing Partner, at PwC Singapore

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Death penalty for drug traffickers is to protect society

Business Times
30 Sep 2014

Remarks by Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam, at the High-Level Side Event at the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly "Moving Away from the Death Penalty: National Leadership" on Sept 25, 2014

THERE needs to be a more careful assessment of the facts (on the death penalty) and the different situations in different countries. The approach of a sweeping statement that can apply to all is counterproductive.

Let me share with you, in this context, Singapore's experience, where the death penalty is targeted at drug traffickers.

There are major drug trafficking centres in the region: Afghanistan, South-east Asia, amongst others. Drug production and transportation is now a major sophisticated multi-national corporation activity run by cold, calculating, ruthless operators who trade the lives of their victims for profit. Millions of drug victims in our region. We would be a natural front for drugs to come in on a large scale, because we are a wealthy city-state with lots of young people and a major logistics hub, from where drugs can be easily distributed throughout the world, from Singapore.

If you look at major cities in developed countries, you will find entire neighbourhoods that have been destroyed by drugs and drug-related activities, including theft. Entire lives and generations are destroyed. Young people born in such slums have no access to education and the drug culture completely prevents them from having meaningful human existence.

Globally, drug use kills between 100,000-250,000 people, mostly young people. Singapore is probably either the only country, or one of the few countries in the world, which has successfully fought this drug problem. For those who ask for whom the death penalty can be a deterrent, I say to them, come and see for yourself in Singapore, and compare the region and the rest of the world.

Death penalty for traffickers, in our experience, has been an effective deterrent, as part of a framework of laws, coupled with effective enforcement based on rule of law. Drug traffickers stay out of Singapore now largely because of the knowledge: first, that there is a highly professional and incorruptible police force and there is a high probability that they will get caught; and second, there is rule of law, an independent judiciary and a high probability that, based on the laws, they will face the death penalty. So we do not have slums, ghettoes, no-go zones for the police, or syringes in our playgrounds.

People know the story of Singapore - a story based on rule of law, human development, quality of life - that can be compared to the experience of any country around this table or any other table. You can send your 10-year-old child on public transport at any time of the day and night and not have to worry whether your child will return.

One of the main reasons that our society is probably one of the safest in the world is that we take a very tough approach on drugs. If a drug trafficker trafficks in a quantity which can supply 300 drug abusers for a week, he could face the death penalty. This is not revenge; this is not vengeance. This is based on the principle of deterrence and clear rule of law.

We see a lot of focus on people who face the death penalty but you don't see enough focus on their victims.

Drug traffickers impose immense penalties, including the death penalty, on their victims. Thousands of people die. We have stopped that in Singapore. We want to protect our people from becoming victims, and to protect our society.

This debate often proceeds on generalised statements and ideology. If we want to make progress, I suggest we engage in a discussion that looks at facts; focusing, among other things, on the victims of the drug trade - and the nexus between the drug trafficker and his thousands of victims.

Let's move away from rhetoric and let's focus on facts. To portray the debate as one of taking lives versus not taking lives is a straw man argument.

No civilised society can glorify in the taking of life. The question is whether, in very limited circumstances, it is legitimate to have the death penalty so that the larger interest of society is served. We imposed the death penalty in relation to drug trafficking and our laws provide for the death penalty in a limited number of other offences.

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Manager grilled on phone texts: City Harvest trial

Straits Times
23 Sep 2014
Jalelah Abu Baker

CITY Harvest Church (CHC) finance manager Sharon Tan came under intense cross-examination yesterday by the prosecution, who grilled her on her role in the alleged wrongdoing by church officials.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh pointed to snippets of text conversations saved on Tan's BlackBerry device which alluded to fears that the auditor might uncover something he was not meant to.

Some time in 2009, Tan wrote to the church's fund manager, Chew Eng Han: "There may be a prob...The same Mr Sim is doing the XPL (Xtron Productions Limited) accounts. So he will know where the money is going to."

The auditor, Mr Sim Guan Seng, had oversight of the books for both the church and Xtron, one of the companies in which the church allegedly made sham investments so as to fund the music career of founder Kong Hee's wife, Sun Ho.

Tan, Chew, Kong and three others are accused of misusing some $50 million of church funds for the secular music career of Ms Ho, and then covering it up.

It is the prosecution's case that the church made sham investments in Xtron and Firna, a glassware company owned by a longtime church member, and then engaged in what the accounting industry calls "round-tripping" to hide the irregularities from auditors.

Asked why it was a "problem" that the auditor was looking at both books, Tan said she was concerned that the Crossover project, which was meant to use Ms Ho's pop music to evangelise to non-Christians, would be "revealed".

She disagreed, however, when Ms Chionh then asked whether she meant that she did not want Mr Sim to know where the money was going.

Tan maintained she was worried about "disclosure", but did not elaborate on what she meant by that.

DPP: So, if I understand your evidence correctly, what you are saying is that, in order to keep the Crossover Project as secular as possible, we have to be discreet about the fact that the Xtron bonds were drawn down for use on the Crossover Project. Is that correct?

Tan: Yes, Your Honour.

DPP: Let me try one more time. If Xtron is an independent commercial entity, then why would the fact that it has independently made a decision to use its bond proceeds on the Crossover Project make the Crossover Project not secular or less secular?

Tan: Your Honour, because the investment comes from the church.

Tan, who has been cross-examined on the stand for four days, also maintained that she was instructed by the church's board not to record Xtron's negotiations for securing premises for a place of worship in meeting minutes, as they were "sensitive", but was not able to say why they were sensitive.

She later conceded that the missing information should have been recorded.

In his 90-minute cross-examination, former finance manager Serina Wee's lawyer, Mr Andre Maniam, said the investments were planned by Chew, and that Tan and Wee were mere "facilitators.

Tan agreed.

She continues on the stand today.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg

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ADV: Mediation and Expert Determination for Maritime Shipping

Singapore Law Watch
16 Sep 2014
MOOGAS

A leader in competition law issues

Straits Times
29 Sep 2014
Grace Leong

Lawyer helps businesses deal with corporate governance, compliance and antitrust issues

LAWYER Kala Anandarajah has dabbled in a variety of practice areas, including litigation and corporate law, and even went off the beaten path to specialise in environmental law in Singapore.

But Ms Anandarajah, who received the Public Service Medal at this year's National Day Awards, found her niche when she stumbled into competition law more than a decade ago, at a time when it was first discussed here.

"I stuck with this even though there was very little money in competition law in the beginning. I did environmental law and corporate governance, which had very little money as well in the beginning. I'm one of those lawyers who practised in niche areas of the law which no one else presumably wanted, and I continue to do so... because I'm interested in it," she said. "I get bored somewhat easily. But with competition law, I have not had such a moment."

And she has not looked back. Today, Ms Anandarajah, 48, heads Rajah & Tann's Competition and Antitrust and Trade practice, and is coordinating growth of the firm's practice across Asean.

She has been cited as a leading authority in corporate governance, compliance and competition issues by The Legal 500 Asia-Pacific and is among the top 100 women in antitrust in the world, according to the Global Competition Review 2013. Her body of work includes drafting the Singapore Airport Competition code and the Telco/Media Competition code for Brunei.

Her legal victories include winning a ruling by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) that a deal which Qantas and British Airways worked on together was not illegal. The two airlines sought a CCS decision in 2006 on whether their arrangement violated the Competition Act.

She also acted for Coca-Cola (Singapore) Beverages in reaching a settlement with the CCS, resulting in investigations being closed and, thus, saving her client millions of dollars in fines.

More recently, she successfully acted for one of four Japanese ball-bearing manufacturing firms and their Singapore subsidiaries hit with a record penalty of $9.3 million for engaging in cartel activities to fix prices. CCS began investigations here in December 2011 after JTEKT Corp and its Singapore unit, Koyo Singapore Bearing, whom Ms Anandarajah represented, filed an application for immunity under the CCS Leniency programme, an initiative that gives cartel members an incentive to come clean. For coming clean, her clients were spared having to pay the fine.

"Competition law is an area that is intimately tied to business and economics," she said. "If you want to attract foreign businesses to Singapore, it's important to have laws that promote business-centric values. Competition law is one of those."

And it is a law that multinational corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises operating across Asia must take seriously, as the financial penalties are substantial, she said.

"Many SMEs don't fully comprehend that competition law is business law, and how we enter into a contract can trigger competition law concerns. SMEs need to recognise that competition law goes beyond a pure contractual arrangement," she said. "They need to be thinking: What are they saying to the competitor? Are they sharing sensitive information that could aid in how they position themselves in the business arena? "MNCs tend to worry about competition issues in the United States, Japan, Australia and, increasingly, China. But they need to worry about Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam as well. By 2015, all Asean countries will have competition laws. In each of these countries, while the principles are the same, the nuances are different. So understanding the nuances is important."

Amid her accolades and achievements, she counts being married to her best friend and the birth of her twins among the key milestones in her personal life.

"I am a little crazy when it comes to the law - in fact, anything I do - I truly believe that whatever you do, it must be done with total commitment and passion," she said.

Ms Kala Anandarajah has dabbled in litigation and corporate and environmental law but found her niche when she stumbled into competition law more than a decade ago. She now heads Rajah & Tann's Competition and Antitrust and Trade practice. Photo: Caroline Chia

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Constitution should reflect will of the people: Forum

Straits Times
23 Sep 2014

THE report ("Ending elected presidency may not work"; Sept 11) cited an article by two lawyers on the basic structure doctrine. The authors posited a scenario whereby a move to abolish the elected presidency may not work even if it is passed by Parliament or supported by a referendum, as this may run afoul of the basic structure of the Constitution.

As the authors have pointed out, the basic structure is intrinsic to the very nature of the Constitution, and serves to place limits on state power. The separation of powers is in turn fundamental to achieving this purpose.

This is based on the notion that absolute power corrupts, and to prevent abuse, power should not be concentrated in the hands of a select few.

The tripartite system of dividing power between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary aims to provide a system of checks and balances.

The precise distribution and allocation of power may, however, be altered over time without necessarily violating the separation of powers. This may depend on the changing needs of society or will of the people. In fact, an overly rigid Constitution would not be desirable if its institutions were outdated or ineffectively structured.

Being a democratic society, our Constitution should also adequately reflect the will of the people.

While the basic structure doctrine has not received comprehensive judicial pronouncement in recent times, it is clear that elements such as the separation of powers, democratic principles and the idea that all discretionary power is subject to legal limits are essential to the Constitution.

The Constitution is, after all, not a written document for its own sake. It is an instrument meant to serve and protect the interests of the people.

Dierdre Grace Morgan (Ms)

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Privacy Act sows confusion

TODAY
15 Sep 2014
Richard Hartung

The past few weeks have brought about another slew of confusion related to the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which kicked in on July 2. Some bank statements were free of marketing inserts after the banks decided that the Act prevented them from sending anything, for example, while others were filled with fliers. A small non-profit organisation grappled with the question of whether a sign at the entrance to an auditorium was sufficient to comply with the Act and allow it to use photos from an event it held there. The human resource department at an SME increased the workload of its already-overburdened staff to ensure compliance with the Act.

These activities are only a few of many that illustrate the complexity and confusion that still surround the PDPA. Indeed, more than a month after the Act came into effect, organisations large and small continue to struggle to interpret the Act and figure out how to comply with it. Some even seem unaware as to what the Act requires them to do.

The PDPA is clearly well-intentioned. Before it came into effect, consumers were increasingly inundated with unsolicited marketing calls using their personal data, and concerns about companies abusing data to target consumers were growing. Cases of consumers being scammed or harassed when their data was used inappropriately were also on the rise.

The Act was designed to address these and a myriad other worries. As Mr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for what was then the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, explained during the second reading of the Act in 2012, consumers need a data protection regime to address growing concerns over the use of their personal data and to maintain trust in organisations which manage their data. The Act also strengthened Singapore’s position as a trusted business hub, he said, by putting it on par with other countries that have enacted data protection laws.

To ensure its effectiveness, any person guilty of an offence under the PDPA can be fined up to S$1 million or sentenced to three years in prison.

However well-intentioned it may be, the Act has created immense challenges and costs. As consulting firm PWC stated after the Act was passed, the challenges range from taking an inventory of all requirements and establishing a data protection structure to revisiting the way an organisation manages its entire set of clients’ and employees’ personal data.

Another difficulty is simply in understanding the Act. As an example of how complex the law is, NTUC’s Data Protection Officer Training Programme takes four full days to explain how the Act works and lay just a practical foundation. Guidelines issued by the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) last year, one of many documents explaining the Act, run to more than 100 pages.

And obtaining information can be difficult. As Singapore Dental Association president Kuan Chee Keong wrote earlier this year, perhaps reflecting concerns in other sectors as well, “the PDPA commission, overwhelmed with the brouhaha over the DNC Registry, has no time to address concerns in other sectors. The healthcare sector will just have to wait for our turn.” It was only last week, more than two months after the Act came into effect, that the PDPC issued further guidelines only for the healthcare, social, education and photography sectors.

Perhaps understandably, then, an Industry Readiness Survey, conducted by the PDPC earlier this year, showed that half of organisations did not have adequate data protection measures in place and were not clear about what needed to be done.

While more organisations may have figured out parts of the Act since then, a significant number are still not in compliance with the law.

MAKING THE ACT LESS CONFUSING

While the Act came into effect only on July 2, it has been clear that organisations find it challenging to figure out and implement the Act.

Given this, at least three steps seem imperative. The first is to publicise the Act so that more organisations know about it.

While policymakers may assume that everyone knows about the Act, talks held with SMEs and non-profit organisations as well as ordinary citizens indicate that many do not know about the PDPA or think that it does not apply to them. An effective publicity campaign is also essential.

Next, organisations, such as the chambers of commerce or the PDPC, could develop better programmes to help companies understand the Act.

Data protection officers need tools to explain how to implement the Act correctly, such as easy-to-understand guidelines, YouTube videos that go beyond only an introduction, quick answers to questions and other materials which explain things better than four-day workshops or hundreds of pages of guidelines.

Finally, a set of templates would make implementation easier. While each organisation is different and templates need to be tailored to their needs, easily obtainable samples of procedures, job descriptions and other materials would dramatically reduce the burden of compliance for many organisations.

Since even banks and other companies with enormous budgets have varying understanding of how to interpret the Act, it seems apparent that far greater efforts are needed to ensure organisations adhere to the letter and the spirit of the Act.

While the PDPA can bring about tremendous benefits in the long run, more support to make its implementation easier may be the only way to avoid burdening well-intentioned organisations across the island and ensure the legislation achieves its goal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Richard Hartung is a financial services consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

OPG should offer only LPA with specific powers: Voices TY

TODAY
29 Sep 2014

The Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document designed to protect the interests of individuals who may lose their mental capacity to make informed decisions in the future. Currently, there are two options for individuals who wish to make an LPA.

The standard option gives very wide powers to the person (the donee) whom an individual (the donor) appoints to make decisions and act on his behalf should he become mentally incapacitated in the future.

Under this appointment, the donee may act in the full capacity of the person making the LPA. This option costs S$50 and the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) has said that more than 95 per cent of people chose this option. The second option allows the donor to give specific or customised powers to the donee and these have to be drafted by a lawyer for an additional fee. The application fee for this option is S$200.

The latter obviously provides for better protection of the donor and I believe most people would naturally prefer this over the standard option.

In view of this important consideration, I suggest that the OPG offer only the second option at a lower, more affordable fee to donors.

It could also engage lawyers to provide the drafting of such LPAs to donors at competitive fees.

Jolly Wee

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Her legal work involves more than sailors and the sea

Straits Times
22 Sep 2014

MS FLORENCE Ong is aware that not everyone understands the work she does as a resident partner at Norwegian law firm Wikborg Rein.

"They think I do maritime law, which involves exciting things like arresting a ship and collision situations," she said with a laugh.

"What I am is a corporate and commercial lawyer working in the shipping offshore industry."

The commercial and corporate transactions she helps her clients with are similar to such transactions in other sectors.

These include mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures between shipping and offshore companies, corporate restructuring of shipping firms, the sale and purchase of vessels, and contract negotiation and interpretation.

After she graduated from the National University of Singapore in 1990, Ms Ong worked at two local law firms.

In 1993, she did her master's degree at Cambridge University and, in 1998, joined English law firm Norton Rose and gained exposure in its London and Beijing offices.

In 2003, she joined Wikborg Rein's Singapore office as part of its team qualified in English law.

She said: "It's a very special industry. If I were working in another sector, I would be working with mostly professionals, like bankers and in-house legal counsel.

"In this industry, you're dealing with charterers, brokers, banks, ship managers and the government authorities.

"It's interesting because everyone has different technical training."

In addition, the challenge of the industry is that "everything is just more fast-paced", she said.

She recalls that in the early 1990s, when she started out, it was acceptable to give clients a response in 48 hours.

Now, they expect one almost immediately.

Outside of work but within the context of the industry, Ms Ong sits on the committee for the Singapore chapter of Wista (Women's International Shipping and Trading Association).

The non-profit organisation of about 40 members provides a platform for women in shipping to network and help one another in the still male-dominated sector.

Activities include lunchtime seminars on maritime topics.

"Some have the idea that if you work in this industry, you have to board a ship and work with sailors. Actually, there are a lot of other things you can do."

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Anti-gambling Bill unlikely to be strong curb in long term

Straits Times
14 Sep 2014
Lim Yan Liang

At a recent gathering of friends, a normally garrulous buddy would tap on his mobile phone whenever the conversation bored him.

When I asked him what he was doing, he said he had been playing a round of Texas Hold 'Em, a popular form of online poker, and had just won a few dollars.

Nobody found it odd. After all, it was his phone, his money and his choice.

Like other casual online gamblers I spoke to last week after the Remote Gambling Bill was introduced in Parliament, he had cashed out his winnings at various gambling websites, worried that he would have trouble doing so when the Bill passes.

At first blush, it looks like the Bill has already succeeded: The twin threats of jail and not being able to cash out one's online winnings appear enough to deter most casual gamblers.

The proposed blocking of prominent gambling sites will also deter impulse gambling by making it harder to access such sites.

But I doubt that the Bill as currently drafted will be a very strong deterrent in the long term.

First, consider the likely profile of an online gambler.

Studies worldwide - including an Australian one published in March - have shown that online gamblers are most likely male, in their 20s to 40s and tech-savvy; they are likely to hold multiple accounts across gambling portals and access them using various devices.

Like my friend, they know how to get around website blocks.

The Bill requires overseas websites to ensure that their customers are neither gambling from Singapore nor minors - or face prosecution. But the requirement is unlikely to be effective as a person can mask the country he is in by using technological tools. On websites that check a user's age, few heed notices that tell them to leave if they are under 21. As for compelling banks to block payments to gambling sites, banks and credit card issuers here have been doing so for years.

Yet, some Singaporeans still gamble with impunity because once transactions are routed through online payment processors and e-wallets such as PayPal and Neteller, banks cannot tell who is receiving the money. In the event that the police find a way to track such transactions, they still have to grapple with the sheer number of payment providers online. One popular gambling website has over 40 accepted payment methods, with at least half available to Singaporeans.

Even if most e-wallet companies - which have no presence here and thus no obligation to obey the authorities here - comply with the proposed law, this will not deter online gamblers who use other ways to settle their accounts.

A popular way for Singaporeans to cash in and out of their online gambling accounts is to buy and sell funds to gamblers on the same website.

Like trading virtual goods in an online game, such transfers attract no fees, and bank transfers are between private individuals.

And this week, a PayPal subsidiary started accepting crypto-currency bitcoin, which will lead to greater anonymity for gamblers.

What then, is a better way of curbing unauthorised online gambling here?

Given the proliferation of gambling websites, it is impossible to block all gambling sites.

To meet the Bill's aim of protecting the young, telcos should be required to ensure that customers who are under the age of 21 do not go to gambling sites, by monitoring mobile data activity on their smartphones and tablets.

The telcos can do this because they would have biographical details such as the age of their subscribers.

Should limited online gambling options be allowed here, the options need to be comparable to what is in the market today, or some Singaporeans will still patronise such sites, even if they are deemed illegal.

As one expert said: "The problem is that the genie has been let out of the bottle, and it is very difficult to put him back."

yanliang@sph.com.sg

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Archbishop forgives man who owed $260k

Straits Times
28 Sep 2014
Theresa Tan

Seizure, auction of school assets called off after Catholic leader waives rental debt

A private school operator who owed a Catholic church more than $260,000 in rent was spared court action when Archbishop William Goh agreed to waive the entire debt.

Mr Steven Seow was relieved to find himself forgiven by the head of the Catholic Church here after falling back on rental payments to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Ophir Road.

The parish priest, Father Augustine Joseph, initiated legal action against him in July.

Mr Seow was the director of Elite International College, a private school that rented two levels of the church's annexe. He owed the church $263,000 after failing to pay his monthly rent of $28,000 for nine months, as well as other bills.

A spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese told The Sunday Times the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes is "undoubtedly the poorest Catholic parish in Singapore", as 90 per cent of its congregation of about 4,000 are migrant workers, many from India.

The church - built in 1888 and gazetted as a national monument - depends primarily on collections at its Sunday services to fund expenses including those for maintenance, administration and pastoral and outreach activities.

Rental income from its annexe was crucial for the church, which provides free meals to migrant workers on Sundays as well as free English and music courses, the spokesman said.

She stressed that the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes applied to the courts for a writ of distress primarily to enable it to secure the premises so that a new tenant could move in.

A writ of distress is a court order used to recover unpaid rent. With the help of a court official called the sheriff, landlords can seize and auction off an errant tenant's moveable property such as furniture and computers, to recover some of the unpaid rent.

The spokesman said: "Had the sheriff's sale proceeded, the proceeds would not have amounted to much, but it was nevertheless money that was sorely needed by the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes."

The Sunday Times understands that a public auction was set for Sept 17, but the seizure of assets and auction did not take place.

The spokesman said: "On appeal by the tenant, the Archbishop had - in the spirit of gospel values - decided to forgive the entire debt and to withdraw the writ of distress, effectively returning ownership of the assets to the tenant."

Mr Seow told The Sunday Times: "I appreciate and thank the church for its magnanimity, compassion and mercy in resolving this issue."

His school, which was registered in February 2012, closed in July this year. He did not say why it shut down, and did not answer questions relating to it.

The Council for Private Education, which regulates private school operators, said the college offered courses to prepare foreign students for an admissions exercise conducted by the Education Ministry before they can enrol in a government school. It also offered business, accounting and paralegal courses, among others.

The council spokesman said: "Based on records provided by the Elite International College, it did not have any students enrolled prior to its decision to voluntarily deregister."

theresat@sph.com.sg

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Snooping in divorce cases goes high-tech

Straits Times
21 Sep 2014
Janice Tai

Couples involved in bitter break-ups are increasingly resorting to illegal snooping to obtain incriminating information against their spouses, lawyers say.

Already, most of the evidence used in divorce cases these days comes from high-tech devices like mobile phones and computers. To get the upper hand, some spouses hire computer experts to hack into e-mail accounts or plant spyware in laptops and smartphones.

"In the past, it was the traditional documents and letters, but now, with technology and social media, as many as eight in 10 cases involve computer-generated evidence," said family lawyer Rajan Chettiar.

Earlier this month, High Court Judge Quentin Loh asked the Attorney-General's Chambers to investigate allegations that lawyers had advised a woman client to hire a hacker to get into her husband's laptop.

He said the court took "a very dim view of solicitors who sanction, let alone encourage, their clients' involvement in such illicit activities as hacking".

The number of non-Muslim divorces hit 7,525 last year, the second-highest annual figure on record.

Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta told The Sunday Times that she has handled about six cases so far this year in which her clients fell prey to hacking. She used to encounter only one or two such cases a year in the past.

This year, she also refused to represent five prospective clients who presented illegally obtained information about their spouses' affairs or assets.

Increasingly, clients are also asking lawyers how to hire hackers, or how to get their spouses to delete material obtained through underhanded means.

Family lawyer Abdul Rahman said he has fielded nearly a third more such inquiries this year.

Under the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, a person can be fined or jailed for accessing a computer to retrieve data or programs without permission.

It is a crime to hack into someone's computer regardless of whether the other party has suffered any harm.

However, there may be grey areas.

"If the wife has previously given her husband her password to her mobile phone or if he happens to see something by chance when she leaves it around, does it count as hacking?" asked lawyer Lee Terk Yang.

When a client presents evidence against her spouse, some lawyers accept it.

"I am satisfied with taking the information at face value instead of questioning the clients on whether they got it illegally," said Mr Lee.

Others feel they ought to probe deeper.

Mr Koh Tien Hua, who co-heads Harry Elias Partnership's family and matrimonial law practice, said he would ask his clients if the accessed smartphone, laptop or other devices belong to them.

"If they bought it and used it most of the time, or if it is a shared computer, it should not be considered as trespassing," he said.

Ms James-Civetta said that if she suspected the other party was using illegally obtained information against her client, she would object in court or try to prove it was retrieved inappropriately.

She felt it would be helpful to have guidelines for dealing with evidence obtained illegally, such as those in place in countries such as Britain.

Others said raising public awareness that such behaviour is illegal and relying on lawyers to do the right thing were enough.


Husband gets private investigator to plant spyware

A nurse who filed for divorce was shocked when her technician husband filed a counter claim accusing her of having an affair.

Grace (not her real name), 42, had decided on divorce after putting up with years of her husband coming home drunk, and getting verbally abusive.

Her lawyer, Ms Gloria James-Civetta, said the husband produced in court e-mail that Grace had sent to the man and photographs of the two together.

Grace, who denied the relationship, said: "I was so surprised that he had those materials because we slept separately after our marriage turned rocky, and my computer was in my room."

She found out during mediation that her husband had hired a private investigator, who made at least two visits to their five-room flat in Ang Mo Kio to plant spyware in her computer while she was at work.

The bug enabled him to receive a copy of every e-mail she sent and retrieve information stored in the desktop.

Ms James-Civetta objected to the use of this evidence in court. The e-mail and photos were not allowed to be admitted, as her husband failed to tell the court how he had obtained the information.

Grace was granted a divorce in October last year on the grounds of her husband's unreasonable behaviour.

"While this is a simpler case where the couple are simply fighting over the grounds of divorce to save face, the stakes could be much higher if assets or custody of children is involved," said Ms James-Civetta.

"That is why some spouses may turn desperate and resort to illegal ways of gaining the upper hand."

jantai@sph.com.sg

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Legal community urged to cater to needs of financial institutions

Business Times
13 Sep 2014
Claire Huang

New NUS centre will contribute to development of better laws and regulation: Shanmugam

IT is very important for Singapore's legal sector to be able to cater to the needs of banks and financial institutions as the Republic further develops as one of the top five financial centres in the world.

Law Minister K Shanmugam made this point at Friday's launch of the National University of Singapore's NUS Centre for Banking & Finance Law.

He said that the banking and financial sector is one of the key planks of the Singapore economy - contributing about 12 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product and creating just under 200,000 jobs. The Republic is home to 200 banks and 700 financial institutions.

The minister said: "As issues confronting the financial industry become even more complex and esoteric, it becomes all the more important that the legal community is able to keep itself apprised of the latest developments."

Mr Shanmugam said that with the global regulatory landscape for the financial sector evolving and the expansion of compliance teams in financial institutions, the new centre should aspire to undertake relevant scholarship and applied research.

This would raise the profile and the use of Singapore law for the various financial transactions.

He pointed out that the new centre, besides acting as a convenor for practising lawyers, policymakers and academics from the region, would "contribute to the development of better laws and regulation".

Simon Chesterman, dean of the NUS Faculty of Law, said the idea to have this new centre, among others, was mooted about two years ago.

The centre, as a thought leader, would generate new insights, he added.

"As a platform, the centre will ensure these ideas have an impact beyond the words spoken at conferences or published in academic journals. Its ongoing engagement with the financial community will, we hope, ensure that those ideas have a measurable impact on the development and reform of banking and finance law regionally and globally," said Prof Chesterman.

Over the past five years, Singapore's legal sector has grown significantly, in part due to the need for banking and financial lawyers.

The value of legal services exported has risen 71.5 per cent, from S$363 million in 2008 to S$622 million in 2013. Similarly, the nominal value-add of the legal sector has grown by 40 per cent, from S$1.5 billion in 2008 to S$2.1 billion in 2013.

The Law Ministry will continue to develop initiatives to support law firms to develop international capabilities, said Mr Shanmugam.

One of the areas is dispute resolution and he said the Singapore International Mediation Centre and Singapore International Mediation Institute will be launched later in the year.

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

Don't wait till you lose your mind

Straits Times
28 Sep 2014
Rachael Boon

Decide who and how you want to manage your life with a Lasting Power of Attorney

Getting the LPA is key for breadwinners

A high-profile tussle for control over a widow's $40 million assets has thrust the issue of having a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) into the spotlight.

The LPA is a legal instrument that allows you to appoint another person to act on your behalf if you lose your mental capacity.

Earlier this month, it emerged that retired physiotherapist Madam Chung Khin Chun had given former China tour guide Yang Yin the LPA in 2012.

This gave him full control over her assets, including a $30 million bungalow in Gerald Crescent.

In a recent turn of events, the widow, who was diagnosed with dementia this year, said that she was revoking the LPA after a new psychiatric assessment found that she has the mental capacity to do so.

About 6,500 people have made an LPA. The registry is maintained by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).

Experts told The Sunday Times the LPA is important for the average family which may be dependent on a sole breadwinner.

But don't wait till you are older to consider applying for it, they warn.

When did the LPA become an option?

The LPA was introduced under the Mental Capacity Act, a major piece of social legislation enacted in 2010.

The OPG was set up to support the Act's operations.

As a legal instrument aimed at protecting your interests, the LPA kicks in once you lose mental capacity.

This is unlike a will, which comes into effect only after you die.

Mr Gerard Ee, a member of the Public Guardian Board, says: "The LPA is a very important development. Most people may be familiar with the will, but they don't realise that the will is triggered only upon death.

"Now with a longer life expectancy, we're living longer but there's no guarantee that we can maintain full control over our mental faculty."

Anyone who is at least 21 can sign the LPA, which will be revoked upon death at which point a will, if one has been made, will take effect.

The donee, or proxy decision-maker, that you appoint can decide on your personal welfare matters, including where you should live and day-to-day care decisions, and what is known as property and affairs matters, such as those concerning insurance.

For instance, Mr Ee notes, if you lose mental capacity one day, you will find your bank accounts frozen.

The LPA can allow the donee to decide to access your funds for payments on your behalf.

Note that you must not be an undischarged bankrupt if you want to make an LPA for matters relating to property and financial affairs.

The OPG can investigate cases where the donee did not act in the best interests of the applicant.

How to apply for the LPA

There are two types of LPAs which require different forms.

The standard LPA is made using the basic form. It has a $50 registration fee, but this has been waived for two years since Sept 1.

The standard LPA gives the donee general powers and is the choice of more than 97 per cent of applicants.

Making an LPA that grants customised powers will cost $200.

This should be drafted by a lawyer to help you indicate specific wishes.

Senior partner Mabel Tan at law firm Joseph Tan Jude Benny (JTJB) says: "With the LPA, does that mean you give the donee the power to do anything and everything?

"No. Under the Act, there are certain consents that your donee cannot make for you."

These include the consent to divorce or adopt, for instance.

All LPA applications have to be witnessed and certified by a practising lawyer, a registered psychiatrist or medical practitioner accredited by the Public Guardian. The list is available on the OPG website.

You can also appoint more than one donee, but this may complicate matters if the donees cannot agree on certain decisions.

The LPA forms were revised from Sept 1.

They now use less legal and technical jargon, information has been streamlined and rarely used provisions were removed from the forms.

However, Ms Tan notes: "In the old form, there was a column, which was optional, for you to fill in a name of a person you can notify to say that you have an LPA and who the donee is."

She feels that option is still important as it is an additional form of security.

Once you have completed the forms, you need to submit an application to register your LPA with the OPG.

You may also submit the forms via post, and SingPost is providing free postal service for two years.

To enjoy the free postal service, you must download the Business Reply Service mailing label to print and affix to a C4-size envelope for the documents. There are also Business Reply Service envelopes at Alzheimer's Disease Association centres, social service offices and community centres and clubs.

Why make the LPA

Mr Ee says: "While one tends to think of it as related to old age, the reality is that you can lose mental capacity in any possible incident at any age, through an accident, illness, extreme high fever that affects the brain or (even) a very bad fall that damages the brain.

"The LPA is for people of all ages and especially for those who know there are people dependent upon them as the sole breadwinner."

He also adds that it is useful for those who don't have dependants and expect to live longer.

"The LPA fulfils this inner desire that you will be looked after in a certain manner by giving instructions to your nominee.

"Sometimes, it could be things like 'I don't want to be placed in an old folks' home'," says Mr Ee, adding that with the LPA, you are in control of your life even if you lose your mental capacity.

Dr Gopalan Raman, senior consultant at law firm KhattarWong, notes: "It is good to have an LPA signed especially if one does not have a spouse or children."

Even if one is married with children, it is advisable to make an LPA, he adds.

"If a person cannot communicate with lawyers, doctors or other caregivers, a donee may make decisions on his behalf.

"This becomes particularly relevant when people who live by themselves have to have their affairs managed."

For instance, he says that if a person wants to withdraw some money from the ATM but cannot recall his pin number or how much he wants to withdraw, a donee could help out.

Rajah & Tann partner Rebecca Chew says with an LPA that is properly registered, you avoid the situation where you have to apply to the court for deputies to be appointed to make decisions for the mentally disordered person.

She notes: "You get to choose who you would like to make decisions on your behalf, when you no longer have capacity to do so. When you lose capacity and there is no LPA, that decision is, in a sense, taken out of your control.

"In a situation where you have to go to court, there will be a lag time and that can be a couple of months."

Council for Third Age chief executive Soh Swee Ping also notes: "Much as the LPA is important, careful consideration and selection of the donee would be critical."

JTJB will conduct a free seminar on will writing and the LPA on Tuesday from 3.30pm to 5pm at its office at OUE Downtown 2 at 6 Shenton Way. If you have inquiries, call 6220-9388.

Ms Tan cites an example of a man whose wife had serious bleeding during childbirth and ended up in a coma.

"They were not very well-to-do, but she had savings. If they had done the LPA, the husband would have been able to give her better health care with her savings. He was struggling then."

Mr Ee stresses that the LPA is especially important for those who know their family is dependent upon them as a provider.

"Just imagine a family where everyone is financially independent. If the patriarch loses mental capacity, it's not disastrous.

"But in a family where the family income is not very high and the family depends on the breadwinner, then in my mind it becomes very critical that he or she has the LPA."

There is a misconception that this is an instrument only for the rich, but Mr Ee notes that "the poorer you are, the more important it is".

It's really about caring for your family who may be dependent on you, he adds.

rachaelb@sph.com.sg


Background Story

Being prepared

"While one tends to think of it as related to old age, the reality is that you can lose mental capacity in any possible incident at any age, through an accident, illness, extreme high fever that affects the brain or (even) a very bad fall that damages the brain... The LPA is for people of all ages and especially for those who know there are people dependent upon them as the sole breadwinner."

MR GERARD EE, a member of the Public Guardian Board, on making a Lasting Power of Attorney

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

Ex-CEO of Suzhou park in graft probe

Straits Times
21 Sep 2014
Kor Kian Beng

Suzhou Industrial Park's former chief executive officer Bai Guizhi, a Chinese national, has been investigated for graft, in the most serious scandal to hit the first bilateral project between China and Singapore.

The Sunday Times understands that coastal city Suzhou's disciplinary commission launched investigations against Mr Baion Sept 13 for "serious disciplinary violations" - usually referring to corruption - although it announced so only last Friday.

Sources said Mr Bai, 59, resigned as CEO of the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) joint venture firm, China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park Development Group (CSSD), days after he was investigated.

He was appointed to his role less than three months ago.

Chinese media reported yesterday that Mr Bai was likely implicated in his previous work in Jiangsu province, which has seen a recent spate of officials sacked under graft investigations.

"We don't think the investigations centred on his work in the CSSD as he has worked here only for a short time," said a reliable source who declined to be named.

The Sunday Times also understands that Mr Bai's predecessor, current CSSD chairman Zhao Zhisong, is now acting CEO of the firm, which has run the government-to-government project since it was launched in 1994.

Shenzhen University Sino-Singapore expert Lv Yuanli believes the sacking should have little adverse impact on bilateral cooperation and the commemorative activities for SIP's 20th anniversary, alongside a high-level meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Executive Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, later this year.

"Bai's sacking is not an isolated case that took place only in the SIP, but part of a new normal in China where officials of all ranks and backgrounds are being investigated, mostly for misdeeds in the past," said Professor Lv.

Still, he said, the case highlights the need for both sides to step up safeguards and conduct better due diligence on officials considered for key appointments.

SIP's administrative committee, an arm of the Suzhou city government overseeing the project, is believed to be responsible for Mr Bai's appointment and that of other key posts in the industrial park.

CSSD chief executives were Singaporeans from 1994 to 2000, when a Singapore consortium held a majority 65 per cent stake in SIP - which was set up with the backing of Singapore's former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the late Chinese strongman Deng Xiaoping.

The key goal of the 288 sq km industrial park was to replicate Singapore's industrialisation expertise and to transfer the Republic's "software" and way of doing things to Suzhou and other cities.

From Jan 1, 2001, Chinese nationals were appointed as CEOs after a loss-making streak in SIP saw Singapore shrinking its stake to 35 per cent and its share of the park to just 8 sq km, instead of the 70 sq km planned.

Things have picked up for SIP. It has become one of China's most successful industrial parks, and garnered international awards.

A Singapore consortium now holds a 28 per cent stake in the CSSD.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

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

Lawyer found guilty of misconduct after borrowing hundreds of thousands from client

TODAY
13 Sep 2014
Kok Xing Hui

SINGAPORE — A lawyer of more than 29 years’ standing has been found guilty of professional misconduct after he took two loans amounting to hundreds of thousands from a client.

Mr Ong Teck Ghee, the managing partner of law firm Ong & Lau, took S$150,000 from Madam Zhao Qian on Dec 19, 2011, to invest in a project he was involved in, which would yield her a S$54,000 profit. The pair had met in a social context in the previous month and Mr Ong had invited her for meals subsequently, where they carried out discussions on investments.

Shortly after, he approached her for a further S$500,000 investment although the amount she eventually handed over is in dispute. Mdm Zhao claimed she handed over the full sum in two tranches, but Mr Ong disputed this, saying he received only S$170,500.

Mr Ong was to have repaid the money for both loans to Mdm Zhao through a series of post-dated cheques, but many of them were dishonoured or stopped by the lawyer. After receiving only S$51,500 from Mr Ong, Mdm Zhao started legal proceedings against him in the High Court, and also lodged a complaint with the Law Society.

In a report released yesterday, the disciplinary tribunal hearing the complaint against Mr Ong noted that the main dispute in the matter was whether the pair’s relationship constituted a solicitor-client one. Under the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules, lawyers cannot borrow money or valuable security from their clients.

It found that Mdm Zhao was indeed a client, since certain exceptions to permitted borrowings from a lawyer were not met — for instance, a loan would be allowed if the person had sought independent legal advice.

The tribunal, which was presided by Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull, also pointed out why these safeguards against borrowings from lawyers were important. The nature of a solicitor’s professional standing is such that it engenders trust and confidence in him and clients need to be safeguarded against the “special influence” that a solicitor occupies, the tribunal said, in its 21-page report. The tribunal therefore ruled that there was cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action against Mr Ong for the two charges he faced. A Court of Three Judges will decide on the penalties.

This is not the first time Mr Ong has been embroiled in a financial dispute. In 2010, he had coaxed Mr Teo Bee Tiong into an investment agreement of S$450,000 — which, if successful within a year, would pay out S$900,000 to Mr Teo, and S$450,000, otherwise. When Mr Teo received nothing at the end of the 12-month period, he filed a suit against Mr Ong.

xinghui@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Gryphon sues Sakae over proceeds from property sale

Business Times
27 Sep 2014
Cai Haoxiang

Sushi chain says payment can be made only after other pending lawsuits are resolved

[Singapore] THE legal wrangling stemming from mainboard-listed sushi chain Sakae Holdings' involvement in the Bugis Cube commercial property venture has taken another turn, over more than S$90 million purportedly idling in the bank.

This time, Gryphon Real Estate Investment Corporation, essentially comprising about 90 investors, is suing Sakae and its executive chairman Douglas Foo for not paying out the property sales proceeds.

But Sakae's position is that the payment can only be made when pending lawsuits surrounding alleged financial irregularities at the special vehicle that invested in Bugis Cube, Griffin Real Estate Investment Holdings, are resolved.

Sakae announced the latest development on Wednesday.

According to court documents filed on Sept 8 and seen by The Business Times, Gryphon demands that part of the profits in the venture be distributed to investors as soon as possible.

Gryphon also alleges that legal action by Mr Foo and Sakae against Gryphon director Ho Yew Kong and former director Andy Ong resulted in delays in Bugis Cube renovations.

This allegedly led to liquidated damages of S$941,408.37 that Sakae and Mr Foo are liable for. Mr Foo is also allegedly liable for another late Goods and Services Tax (GST) penalty of S$169,478.10.

The Business Times understands that Sakae is in the process of filing a response.

Griffin is supposedly owned thus: by Gryphon (45.35 per cent), ERC Holdings (29.96 per cent) and Sakae (24.69 per cent).

For Sakae, the dispute centres around whether ERC, controlled by former Sakae director Andy Ong, is a valid shareholder of Griffin. ERC became a shareholder in mid-2012 due to a purported share option agreement.

Last January, Sakae raised the alarm over alleged financial irregularities at Griffin. They involved substantial payments to firms majority-owned or controlled by Mr Ong not disclosed to Sakae.

A legal spat intensified in the course of the year. There are currently a few lawsuits pending between both parties.

The dividend payment issue came about in a meeting between the feuding shareholders of Griffin last December.

Gryphon and ERC proposed that a portion of the profits be distributed to investors. Sakae refused. According to the plaintiffs in the latest suit, Mr Foo said this was because Griffin's accounts for the 2011 financial year were not finalised, and he was unsure who Gryphon shareholders were because of the disputed share option agreement that led to the current shareholding structure.

In another meeting between the three parties in July, Gryphon and ERC again failed to get Sakae to agree to distribute the profits.

They said interim dividends could be held by Gryphon on trust in case ERC was deemed not to be a shareholder of Griffin.

They alleged that if no dividends were paid before the previous two suits were resolved, this would be "highly prejudicial" to Gryphon's interests since their shareholding in Griffin was allegedly not in dispute.

Sakae closed at 66 Singapore cents yesterday, up a cent.

haoxiang@sph.com.sg

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

Haze law 'a local solution to issues across the border'

Straits Times
20 Sep 2014
K.C. Vijayan

CHIEF Justice Sundaresh Menon has held up Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act as the kind of domestic legal action that could deal with problems wrought by globalisation.

He said the Act is an example of a practical local solution to cross-border issues in lieu of coordinated international action.

He made the remarks during a discussion on challenges posed by globalisation to the rule of law at the World Bar Conference in New Zealand earlier this month.

The event was organised by the International Council of Advocates and Barristers, a Britain-based forum for lawyer groups from around the world.

In a speech that underlined the benefits of a globalised world, he also warned that globalisation "is no silver bullet - and indeed even silver bullets must be used with care". Among other things, the darker side of globalisation had far-reaching effects, such as borderless economic and cyber crime.

But this did not mean sovereign states are "helpless in the face of transnational problems".

Instead, they would have to think of domestic solutions, but any such unilateral move will have to be considered with one's neighbours in mind, he said.

He described the Act as an example of a "balanced domestic response to this conundrum".

Chief Justice Menon said that in recent years, the haze problem in Singapore has become severe as a result of industrial-scale deforestation carried out in the region by corporate entities.

"Our Act is designed to shift the cost-benefit calculus of the economic actors who perpetuate such practices," he added.

The Act provides for any entity, local or abroad, to be fined up to $100,000 per day subject to a $2 million cap for contributing to transboundary haze.

Among other things, the Act reduces the difficulties of identifying who is responsible for the haze in Singapore.

It allows satellite images and meteorological data to be used as evidence of the haze source. Any entity reflected on a map from the foreign state as the owner or occupier of the land may be presumed to have contributed or caused the haze pollution here.

The Chief Justice made clear Singapore is under no illusions that the Act will be a "panacea" but it is a key part of a holistic solution.

This includes further multilateral cooperation and a re-commitment to the Asean Transboundary Agreement signed in 2002, which was ratified on Tuesday by Indonesia.

Under the treaty, countries have to cooperate to prevent, monitor and mitigate the haze by controlling the sources of fires, exchanging information and technology, and in helping one another manage outbreaks.

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Ministry said the move was timely, given the recent spike in hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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

Lai Siu Chiu recounts her four decades in law

Lianhe Zaobao
13 Sep 2014
Poh Lay Hoon

This article was first published on 7 September 2014 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.

Face-to-Face

"Talks fast, walks fast, handles things fast". These words could be used to describe the working style of retired Supreme Court Judge, Lai Siu Chiu, 65.

She was appointed as a Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court in 1991, the first female to hold the post and also the youngest at the time.

Three years later, she made history again by becoming the first female Supreme Court Justice in Singapore.

Before her retirement at the end of October last year, Lai Siu Chiu contributed a song at a charity concert held in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Singapore Academy of Law.

She has continued to contribute to the nation after shedding her judge's robes, while keeping a low profile. Starting from the middle of this month, she will take up an appointment as a member of the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony for a term of three years.

This petite 40-year law veteran sits for a heart-to-heart interview with Lianhe Zaobao, her first with local mainstream media. She talks about matters ranging from her profession, her difficult decision not to hear criminal cases, and several sad court cases.


"I'm a very private person and I don't like publicity. That is why you will not see me in those magazines for socialites, such as Tatler and Prestige."

"I like to travel and I am also very fond of classical music. I am a member of the Friends of the SSO. I seldom read for pleasure. I mainly read law reports and law articles."

"Having come from a small place like Malacca, I would never have expected that I would one day become a Singapore Supreme Court Justice. I feel that I have been very fortunate."

"My mother passed away in 1988. When I was appointed as Judicial Commissioner in 1991, my brother told me that if my mother had been alive, she would have been very proud of me. I lost my father at a young age and it was my mother who raised my siblings and me. Though my mother was illiterate, she managed the family very well."

"I like to keep myself busy. I'm on the panel of arbitrators at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC). I've been fortunate to get arbitration work soon after I retired and it is still ongoing. I also do volunteer work. After my retirement, the Ministry of Home Affairs invited me to become a member of the board of the Yellow Ribbon Fund."

"Although I am impatient, I could be very patient with litigants in person,   because without a lawyer to represent them, these people would be at a disadvantage. I didn't want such litigants to feel their opponents had better chances of winning cases than them because of having legal counsel. "

The above are some of the introspective comments shared by former Supreme Court Justice Lai Siu Chiu in her first interview with local mainstream media after retiring from the bench almost a year ago. Usually very private, the first female Judicial Commissioner and Justice of the Supreme Court of Singapore shares her thoughts on the law profession, cases that she has heard and her memorable experiences...

Q&A

What do you find intolerable?

Rudeness of course. Lawyers who are rude not only to the bench but to their opponents and to the witnesses. I get very angry with lawyers who try to bully the witness; they raise their voice, they try and harangue the witness to get the answers they want. I tell them stop it immediately. I say, even I do not scold a witness unless there is some reason. How dare the lawyer scold the witness? Interpreters are also not allowed to scold witnesses. At one time, I told the head interpreter, it's my prerogative as a judge to do so, but I do not scold the poor witnesses. I said I was shocked that his interpreter actually scolded a witness!

Which lawyers would you consider good role models for others?

I will not name names, but I would say that the older generation of lawyers are good role models for younger lawyers. They are never late for court, are polite and respectful, do not argue with the judge, and do not treat opposing counsel discourteously. They may mock their opponent but they know the limits. It is a shame that most of them are over 70 and seldom come to court now.

Are there things about the legal sector that give you concern?

Dishonest behaviour by lawyers is a matter of concern. I get worried when I see cases of lawyers running away with their clients' money. One seldom sees veteran lawyers doing this. Such cases invariably involve young lawyers. What can one do? Do we teach them in postgraduate courses or do we need to instil something in them? I do not know. The Law Society has tried its best.

Another problem is the growing number of lawyers choosing corporate law, because mergers and acquisitions and financial services are very lucrative. This has meant a corresponding decline in the number of litigation lawyers. If a lawyer shows up in court for a case and is ill-prepared, he or she may get a dressing down from the judge. If a witness’ oral testimony differs from his affidavit evidence not because he is untruthful but because it is his first time in court and he is frightened, you could lose the case for your client even though it is not your fault, and you then have to face up to the consequences. Clients who lose a case may refuse to pay your fees. These are all the risks that litigation lawyers face.

What are your views on young lawyers?

Young lawyers are always in a hurry. They forget that they took an oath when they became lawyers and they forget that the legal profession is something very sacred and noble.

I often get asked by parents: Justice Lai, my son or daughter wants to study law. What do you think? My first question would be: Why law?

Often, the answer would be that law allows one to earn a lot of money. I would not say anything but I would think: Oh my goodness! That is the wrong thinking! What is regrettable is that this has been the trend. Compared to doctors, engineers and other professions, the starting pay of lawyers is the highest, and this has led to this problem we have today.

People choose law not because of noble ideals, a desire to help defend the poor or to fight criminal cases, Rather, they see it as a profession that makes a lot of money, a cash cow. They think, I can work in a large law firm and once I achieve this objective, I can make partner quickly. This is a worrying trend.

Law is no longer a noble profession but one where you can dream of making your first million by the age of 30 if you work hard. When I started out, there were very few lawyers; I was the 280th! There are now four to five thousand lawyers. It has become an industry where competition is intense.

AS A JUDGE...

Do female justices hear cases differently compared to their male counterparts?

There is little difference in how male and female judges hear a case. However, I believe that female justices are relatively more knowledgeable about the price of goods in divorce cases involving maintenance. Justice Judith Prakash and I are especially careful and detailed when it comes to examining maintenance expenditures.

I once asked a male judge, do you know the prices of different brands of lipstick such as Maybelline and Estee Lauder? He looked at me and admitted that he did not. Therefore, when ruling on maintenance for wife and children, the court adopts a broad brush approach and will not scrutinise the price of each item in detail.

Justices Judith Prakash and Belinda Ang will be retiring in 2016 and 2019 respectively. I hope that other female justices will be appointed by then. Of course, this should be based on their ability and competence and not just for the sake of appointing a lady judge. It will be up to the Chief Justice to look for suitable candidates.

Why did you choose not to hear criminal cases?

I have strong views on sentences for certain offences and I was concerned that my emotions would override my logic. This would not be fair to the accused. That was why I insisted on not hearing criminal cases.

I also found criminal cases very dreary but commercial cases are highly interesting. I dealt with all sorts of commercial cases and I did everything. In Hokkien, they call it "bao ka liao".

In the commercial fraud cases that I have seen, I saw people using all sorts of tricks and coming up with highly creative ideas to cheat their directors, partners or banks. It was shocking! That is why artificial intelligence such as computers and robots will never be able to replace humans. They do not have the ingenuity of the human mind. Though we may be judges, we also learn from our cases and from human nature.

"Some lawyers do not apologise if they are late"

Lai Siu Chiu is highly conscientious when it comes to how she treats others and deals with her affairs. She would apologise to lawyers if she kept them waiting for trials to start because she had to deal with chamber applications first, even though the delay was not her fault.

She noted that some lawyers have the habit of coming to court late. Quite a number of them would not even apologise when they do so.

One time, she needed to deal with 40 uncontested divorce cases. When it came to the sixth case, the lawyer was not in court when his matter was called. He came later but by then, he had lost his place in the queue and his matter was put at the bottom of the list.

"Because he chose not to be on time in court, he ended up waiting for more than two hours before his turn came. He learnt his lesson not to be late again for court."

Lawyer always gave same excuse that he was late because of difficulty getting a taxi

She remembers another lawyer who represented a defendant and who was always late. The hearings for his case lasted a week and despite Justice Lai's secretary calling his office every time, the lawyer always arrived late for the afternoon session. The same excuse given each time was he had difficulty getting a taxi.

"I decided not to wait for him any longer as there were other lawyers involved acting for other defendants. I would start the afternoon sessions without him as he was not cross-examining witnesses. When he realised the court would not wait for him any longer, the lawyer became punctual for both morning and afternoon hearings."

THREE SAD COURT CASES

1. Ownership dispute over family-run food court

Ang Kin Chiew had accused his parents and two brothers of not sharing the profits of their family food court business with him based on his shareholding. He took his family members to court but lost the case.

Justice Lai Siu Chiu had delivered a stern admonishment while giving her judgment: "This is a sad and worrying case. As the youngest of seven children, the plaintiff took his elderly parents and older siblings to court. I can only describe him as an unfilial son. He is Chinese, for which filial piety is the most important virtue. This is a traditional moral value of Asian society and the Chinese. In good traditional Chinese families, the young need to be filial to their parents and respect their elders." She even used the Chinese words for unfilial, "bu xiao shun", to criticise the plaintiff.

Why she found it sad:

"When I rebuked the plaintiff for being unfilial, my friends told me what I did was very good and I should have said what I did."

"The plaintiff seemed to be a weak person with no ability to operate a food court. He had to rely on his older siblings to do so. He was influenced by his wife and wanted to get a bigger share of the business. Thus he did this dreadful thing. His mother was very angry and berated him in Cantonese in court. He had looked down not daring to say a word. "

2. Tussle between mistress and sons over house

Two sons of the late Dr Wong Yip Cheong, founder of Adam Road Hospital, had gone to court in a tussle with his mistress over the ownership of an $8 million bungalow at Chancery Hill Road.

Justice Lai had ruled against the sons, finding that Dr Wong, who had dementia, was mentally competent when he signed the document transferring the house to his mistress. She criticised the brothers in court for trying to wrest their father's assets: "Your father would be heartbroken if he knows what is happening today!" The brothers subsequently lodged an appeal but this was dismissed.

Why she found it sad:

"This family dispute was very sad. I knew that Wong Yip Cheong was dying and could not reserve judgment. I gave an oral judgment on the eve of National Day, with the written grounds following later. He died two or three weeks later and his wife passed away several months following that."

 “As a court justice, we judge by the law and cannot pass moral judgment. It's not for me to say if he should not have had this mistress. Wong had met her when he was 40 and she was much younger at 19 years of age. Since he had promised her to give her the house, it was not right for his sons to try and take it back from her. That was very wrong."

3. Retired teacher sues bank

Hwang Cheng Tsu Hsu, a 92-year-old retired teacher from Chung Cheng High School (Main), had accused OCBC Bank of breach of contract in refusing to allow her to withdraw close to $9 million in deposits without good reason.

The bank had had doubts over her mental capacity and suspected that it was her adopted daughter who wanted the withdrawal and started the action. It thus froze the account on legal and moral grounds. Madam Hwang died in May 2010, around three weeks before the judgment was released. She lost the case. Her adopted daughter lodged an appeal, which was dismissed by the Court of Appeal. Madam Hwang's $10 million estate was ultimately inherited by her adopted daughter.

Why she found it sad:

“Madam Hwang treated her adopted daughter as her own but the evidence that came up in court was very sad. I read her medical reports and told the doctor, who was the witness, that she came across as such a lovely person, and the doctor agreed and said yes, she was such a delight. Unfortunately, she passed away just before I released my judgment. It was very sad."

BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS

• Born in Malacca. Youngest in the family with five brothers and two sisters. Three of her brothers are doctors. Among her siblings, she is the only one to have become a Singapore citizen.
• Lost her father at the age of 12. Brought up by her mother, who was keenly aware of the importance of education. Read law in university to achieve her ambition of becoming a lawyer.
• Completed her Cambridge Certificate and Higher School Certificate (HSC) in Malacca before reading law at the University of Singapore. Received her law degree in 1972.
• Called to the bar in 1973. Worked at Allen & Gledhill until April 1991, becoming one of a small number of female litigators at the time.
• Received her LLM from the University of London in 1977.
• Appointed as the first female Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court of Singapore on 2 May 1991.
• Became the first female Supreme Court Justice in 1994.
• Has two children. Husband is a surgeon.
• Positions held include Chairperson of the Children’s Charities Association, which comprises six member societies, and Chairperson of the Membership and Social Committee of the Singapore Academy of Law.
• Initiated "The LeX Factor – Law Has Talent" charity concert last year, which raised more than $300,000 for the Yellow Ribbon Fund.
• Retired from the bench on 30 October 2013.

pohlh@sph.com.sg

Source: Lianhe Zaobao © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Family sues over HK tourist's death

Straits Times
27 Sep 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Man died after structure erected for festival fell on him

THE family of a Hong Kong tourist who died after a marquee structure fell on him last year is suing those allegedly responsible for more than $1.5 million.

Bank manager Andy Chui, 34, was taking photographs and walking along Raffles Avenue in May last year, when the structure toppled and landed on him.

He suffered severe brain damage and other injuries, was certified brain dead and taken off life support five days later.

The 5m-high structure erected in Raffles Avenue, near the junction of Raffles and Temasek avenues, had an aluminium frame with plywood signboards displaying an advertisement for the Audi Fashion Festival to be held in the area.

Investigations showed that the structure which fell on Mr Chui was put up just before the event. But no inspection of it was done by a professional engineer, unlike the five initial structures that had been certified safe.

The additional structure was completed on May 13 at about 5am. Within two hours, plywood cladding in the form of signboards were attached to it by subcontractor Right-Space.

The cladding was 6m high and 11m wide, with an opening of about 5m high and 10m wide.

Right-Space had been hired by event organiser Mercury Events to work on structures like wooden hoardings and a catwalk.

A coroner's inquiry last December found that the structure had not been properly erected and was unstable at the time of the incident.

The dead man's father, Mr Chui Hin Sum, 63, is suing Mercury Events, as well as its subcontractors Lian Yick Metal Tents and Right-Space for alleged negligence which caused the death.

A High Court pre-trial conference was held on Thursday.

At issue is which of the three parties are liable, if at all, and how the court will apportion blame before damages are assessed.

Lian Yick was hired by Mercury to build the marquee structure while Right-Space installed the plywood cladding on the structure.

Mr Chui is seeking aggravated and exemplary damages of $1 million, in addition to dependency claims as well as other costs.

His lawyer Cosmas Gomez claims the parents have lost their means of support following the son's death, among other things.

Mercury's lawyer K. Anparasan argues that the firm took reasonable care in appointing competent and independent sub-contractors.

Lian Yick, defended by lawyer M. P. Rai, counters that the structure would not have toppled if it had not been materially interfered with, in court documents filed.

They said the marquee structure was handed to Mercury, after which Right-Space wrapped plywood claddings around it.

In defence papers filed, Lian Yick argued that the fixations to secure the structure had been released and re-fixed by the third party and they were not informed or requested to review its safety.

Right-Space, through lawyer Montague Choy, has filed notice to state their case and is expected to file their defence by next month.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Ferrari crash: Parents of victim seek $700k from driver's estate

Straits Times
20 Sep 2014
Joyce Lim

BEFORE 41-year-old Shigemi Ito was killed in the shocking Rochor Road crash two years ago, she promised her parents a new flat.

Now, the Japanese woman's elderly parents want the driver's estate to help make good on the gift. They are seeking more than $700,000 from the estate of Chinese national Ma Chi, who ran a red light in May 2012 while travelling at 178kmh in his $1.8 million Ferrari 599 GTO and smashed into a taxi.

The Singaporean cabby, Mr Cheng Teck Hock, 52, was killed along with his passenger, Ms Ito.

In January, a banker with DBS Bank, Mr Thio Tse Chong, launched proceedings in the High Court on behalf of Ms Ito's parents, Mr Machihiko Ito and Madam Kazue Ito.

The insurer of Mr Ma's Ferrari, AXA Insurance Singapore, represented by Mr K. Anparasan of KhattarWong law firm, is defending the claim on behalf of Mr Ma's estate.

The writ of summons included the ways Ms Ito, who was studying here to be an interior designer, had looked after her parents.

The couple, who live in Japan and are now in their 70s, used to visit her three to four times a year. Each time, she would give them $2,000 to support themselves with. She would also send a parcel of medical and health supplements worth around $450 to them in Japan around three to four times a year.

Before she was killed, she was planning to purchase a residential apartment in Japan for her parents. The new home was valued at approximately $850,000. She had already set aside around $400,000 for the purchase.

Other claims include travelling expenses incurred by Mr Thio and his brother when they went to Japan for Ms Ito's funeral.

When asked about Mr Thio's relationship with Ms Ito, his lawyer Adeline Wong of Legal Ink Law Corp said Mr Thio declined to comment.

AXA's spokesman saidthe insurer was in talks with the "family's representatives for a resolution that is fair and favourable".

The accident sparked an uproar in both Singapore and China, with the driver being accused as a "road rebel" and "speed demon".

A coroner's inquiry in 2012 concluded it would have been extremely difficult for Mr Ma, who died in the accident, to react to any road conditions, given the speed at which he was going.

The speed limit for the area where the crash took place is 60kmh. The crash also injured Mr Ma's female passenger Wu Weiwei, then 23, and passing motorcyclist Muhammad Najib Ghazali, then 26.

joycel@sph.com.sg

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Divorce case ends in unusual living arrangements for child

Straits Times
13 Sep 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Teen to shuttle between two homes 'to stem worsening of ties with mum'

A BOY'S refusal to live with his mother, whom he blamed for his parents' divorce, has led a judge to order an unusual living arrangement.

District Judge Regina Ow-Chang ruled that the 13-year-old will spend every week from Sunday afternoon to Friday evening with his father and live the other days with his mother.

This is to stop the boy's relationship with his mother from deteriorating further, she said.

The judge also had harsh words for the way his parents, who are appealing against the custody decision, made the child a pawn in their divorce.

"This is a sad and disturbing case where parties had been so caught up in their conflicts that the child had become a hapless victim of their marital war," she said in judgment grounds released last week. "This had resulted in him becoming an angry, obstinate and confused teenager."

The boy may have rejected living with his mother, going so far as to go to the police, yet cried during counselling sessions with her.

He blamed his mother for having a boyfriend, yet accepted his father having a mistress while still married, the judge pointed out.

The couple were married in 1999 and divorced last year after living apart for three years. Both fought to gain custody of their child.

The mother's lawyer K. Mathialahan argued how she was the primary caregiver for the first 11 years of his life, giving both financial and emotional support.

But the father's lawyer Jeyabalen disputed this, claiming the mother preferred to spend time with her boyfriend and treated their child as an errand boy.

The boy has not seen his mother since April last year other than one session in May. Five other such sessions were cancelled after the child refused to see her. The boy made police reports whenever it was time to see his mother through these arrangements.

"I cannot fathom how a father can encourage his young child to make police reports against his mother over civil access issues," said the judge. She also took issue with the father for letting the boy see court affidavits filed by his mother and for threatening to post court documents on Facebook, noting how this "threw light on his character".

The judge also noted that the boy was "clearly estranged" from his mother despite being close earlier on, and the onset of puberty may have coloured what he thought of his mother, and was aligning himself with his perceived "blameless" father.

She found this was an appropriate case to make a split care and control order, "instead of the usual care and control to one parent and access to the other".

Such a shared care and control order is usually not given unless it is in the child's interest and to help bond with the parent, said family lawyer Koh Tien Hua.

The norm is for the child to live with one parent, while the other parent is given access.

The judge said that if care and control were given to the father, the boy's link with the mother would "deteriorate even further".

She made clear a shared care and control order underlined that both had an equal responsibility to the child and each was not to exclude the other in the boy's life.

She ordered both parties not to run down each other in the boy's presence or do anything which would exclude the other parent from the life of the boy.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Office of Public Guardian lodged report against ex-China tour guide

Straits Times
27 Sep 2014
Toh Yong Chuan & Carolyn Khew

THE Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) has revealed it lodged a report against former China tour guide Yang Yin after it emerged he had boasted about his wealth and lavish lifestyle online.

The 40-year-old had posted on Chinese social networking site Weibo: "Let my cash vault grow towards $50 million."

This was in September 2012, two months after he obtained a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) from Madam Chung Khin Chun, giving him control of the 87-year-old widow's assets, estimated to be worth $40 million.

"We reported this to the Commercial Affairs Department, highlighting our concern of possible financial abuse," said state-appointed Public Guardian Daniel Koh yesterday.

The OPG report was made on Wednesday last week, and on the same day Mr Yang was arrested for suspected criminal breach of trust. He has also been accused by Madam Chung's niece, Madam Hedy Mok, 60, of manipulating her aunt into making him her guardian. On Tuesday, Madam Chung applied to revoke the LPA.

The OPG yesterday said it was reviewing the application, but would not be drawn into saying when a decision would be made.

An LPA is a legal document that allows a person to appoint another to make key decisions should he lose the mental ability to do so. Anyone who is at least 21 years old can sign one.

Mr Koh assured the public that there are enough safeguards to prevent abuse of the LPA scheme. Not only do LPAs have to be certified by experts - such as a doctor or a lawyer - and approved by the OPG, but the body also has the powers to investigate complaints of abuse.

Last week, two OPG board members also visited Madam Chung, who is now living with her niece. "We found that her well-being was OK, she was comfortable in the environment, so we left her there," Mr Koh said.

But he also made it plain that the onus was on LPA applicants to make sure they pick a trustworthy guardian - it is not the OPG's responsibility to judge "the quality" of the decision.

Since the scheme was launched four years ago, "most people are using the LPA without a lot of fuss", said Mr Koh, adding that Madam Chung's case was "probably the only case" of alleged abuse.

Around 6,500 people have signed up for the scheme.

Meanwhile, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has made it clear that foreigners do not get extra points for volunteering in grassroots associations when it comes to applying for permanent residency or citizenship.

Mr Yang, who moved into Madam Chung's $30 million Gerald Crescent bungalow in 2009, was a member of the Jalan Kayu Neighbourhood Committee from July 5 last year to Sept 8 this year.

Pictures of him at grassroots activities have surfaced online.

"Volunteering in community service such as in People's Association grassroots organisations... has not been part of ICA's criteria when assessing Singapore citizenship or permanent resident (PR) applications," a spokesman said. The ICA is still probing Mr Yang's PR status.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

 

*****************Background Story *****************

 

Lasting Power of Attorney: How it works

MAKING IT

The donor appoints the donee by completing a form, which is certified by a lawyer, psychiatrist or doctor. The donor then registers it with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).

USING IT

The donee takes over affairs when the donor loses mental capacity. The OPG can check on the donor's welfare.

SAFEGUARDS

Third parties can check the validity of the form or ask for a medical report. Anyone can blow the whistle on possible wrongdoing and the OPG will investigate.

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

High Court dismisses appeal against conviction

Straits Times
20 Sep 2014
Selina Lum

MATCH-FIXER Eric Ding Si Yang will remain in jail after the High Court yesterday dismissed his appeal against his conviction for bribing three Lebanese football officials.

Upholding Ding's conviction on three charges of corruption, Justice Chan Seng Onn said he agreed with the findings of the district judge who convicted Ding after a 25-day trial.

However, the question of whether the 32-year-old businessman will serve his original term of three years in prison remains to be decided.

The prosecution has appealed for a heavier punishment of four to six years' jail and a fine of between $120,000 and $300,000, while he has appealed for a shorter jail term.

Sentencing arguments were adjourned for the prosecution and defence to sort out issues regarding two other charges that he is still facing, for stealing a document and for obstructing investigations.

Ding, who did not take the stand to give testimony during the trial, was sentenced on July 24 for providing three Lebanese football officials with prostitutes as bribes for fixing future matches.

He started serving the jail term immediately after he was denied bail pending appeal.

Yesterday, Ding's lawyer, Mr Hamidul Haq, argued that the prosecution had failed to link his client to the supply of women to provide sexual services to the referee and two linesmen.

Mr Haq criticised the prosecution for not calling Dan Tan - alleged mastermind of a match-fixing syndicate currently detained without trial - and two others to testify regarding the prostitutes.

Although Ding had sent an e-mail to referee Ali Sabbagh asking if he was "prepared to do business", Mr Haq argued that this was part of his client's "undercover" research for a book he was writing on match-fixing.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor Alan Loh argued that when Ding, using a fake identity, flew to Beirut in 2012 to meet Mr Sabbagh and others, he was trying to cultivate officials to fix matches.

The DPP argued there was no evidence Ding had a book deal.

Pointing to an e-mail Ding sent to Mr Sabbagh, with links to videos of bad refereeing decisions and telling him to do a "good job", the DPP said this was as good as a manual on fixing matches.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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ADV: Kaplan - Interested in the law industry?

Singapore Law Watch
13 Sep 2014
Kaplan

Safeguards in place for Lasting Power of Attorney scheme: OPG

TODAY
27 Sep 2014
Kelly Ng

SINGAPORE — It is not within the remit of the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) to judge the quality of an individual’s decisions to grant a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) to someone else, the OPG said yesterday.

During a press briefing to respond to calls for more safeguards to the LPA scheme, in light of a high-profile legal tussle involving a wealthy widow who had granted an LPA to a tour guide with whom she became acquainted, Mr Daniel Koh, who heads the OPG, stressed that safeguards were already in place. He added that individuals were responsible for appointing people they trust to make decisions on their behalf in the event that he or she loses the mental capacity to do so. This would include cases in which a person slips in and out of having the capacity to make a decision.

Mr Koh said: “(The) responsibility of individuals to make considered decisions cannot be overemphasised. Family members must play their part to understand and support the individual’s decision.” Existing safeguards include having professionals ascertain that an applicant is not under duress when granting an LPA.

Third parties can request medical reports to confirm that an individual had lost his or her mental capacity or they can blow the whistle on the proxy if they feel he is not acting in the individual’s best interests.

At the centre of the legal tussle are Madam Chung Khin Chun, her niece and Mr Yang Yin, a Chinese national whom Mdm Chung had met while on holiday in Beijing. Mdm Chung, who has dementia, had granted Mr Yang, 40, an LPA in 2012.

Mr Yang was arrested last week for alleged criminal breach of trust.

Mdm Chung’s niece has filed a lawsuit against Mr Yang for loss and damages arising from his alleged breach of duties under the LPA. She has also applied to revoke the LPA. The OPG is assessing the application.

Following media reports of the case, the OPG has engaged professionals to visit Mdm Chung and ensure that her well-being is not compromised. It has also lodged a report with the Commercial Affairs Department against Mr Yang.

Mr Koh explained that there was no requirement to notify family members when someone grants an LPA to a non-relative, as some applicants have said they did not want their family to know.

Stressing that the OPG serves as the last resort in safeguarding the interests of “vulnerable adults”, he said: “The State should only come in where applicants have no mental capacity to act, no deputies to act or when there is a possible miscarriage of justice.”

kellyng@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Complying with the 20-cent MTP rule

Straits Times
20 Sep 2014
Grace Leong

Mainboard firms may undergo share consolidation to keep listing: Analysts

MAINBOARD-LISTED companies failing to meet a new 20-cent minimum trading price (MTP) threshold are likely to undergo a share consolidation to retain their listing status, market observers say.

They note that this is a more likely option than transferring to the Catalist second board or undergoing a reverse takeover, because it does not affect a company's corporate structure, market capitalisation or the value of the investment. Also, share consolidation fees will be waived until 2017 by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) to help companies comply with the proposed rule.

The 20-cent MTP was one of various measures unveiled by regulators last month to curb speculation. It will take effect from early 2016.

A company may opt to undergo consolidation of its shares to meet the rule.

In such a scenario, if an investor has 10,000 shares, and each share costs 10 cents, his investment is worth $1,000. If a company wants to raise the share price to 20 cents, it has to consolidate shares in a 2:1 ratio. As a result, 10,000 shares will become 5,000 shares and the share price rises to 20 cents. But the investment is still worth $1,000.

But there is a drawback.

NRA Capital executive chairman Kevin Scully pointed out: "The main issue with share consolidation is liquidity. If you have to keep on consolidating, the number of outstanding shares may become too few, and the free float might be affected."

If a mainboard-listed company opts to transfer to the Catalist board, institutional investors may be affected by the downgrade if a mainboard status is one of their investment criteria, he added.

For retail investors, the move has little impact as both mainboard and Catalist companies still have to comply with continuing listing requirements, he said.

SGX is planning to introduce the finalised MTP rules by March next year. After a one-year transition, mainboard companies whose shares' six-month volume-weighted average prices are still below 20 cents as of March 2016 will be placed on a watchlist. They will then have up to three years to comply with the requirement, or face delisting.

Some 13 per cent, or 29 of the 222 mainboard-listed companies whose shares are trading below the 20-cent threshold, are already on the SGX watchlist of underperforming companies, the exchange noted.

Those figures are a concern, said Mr David Gerald, president and chief executive of Securities Investors Association of Singapore, as they could suggest that a fair number of these firms may end up on the watchlist if they fail to come up with a new business plan or inject new assets or capital to boost their bottomline.

In all, 67 issuers have been placed on the watchlist since its introduction in 2008, SGX said.

Under the proposed changes, companies that post pre-tax losses for three straight years, and have a daily average market value of under $40 million over the last six months, or those not meeting the MTP rule, will be put on the same watchlist.

But the SGX is proposing adjustments to the existing watchlist framework.

Since the change in the mainboard listing criteria, the attractiveness of mainboard companies as shells for reverse takeovers has diminished, Mr Scully noted.

"It is my view that the new mainboard listing rules have enhanced the value of Catalist shells. It may be in the interest of smaller mainboard companies to volunteer to downgrade to Catalist. There will be no more watchlist and they may get a better value for their shell, or listing status," he said.

Catalist companies account for 6 per cent of the value of stock market trading to date, compared with 1 per cent in 2010 when the transition from the old Sesdaq board to Catalist was completed.

New Catalist listings account for 48 per cent of total new listings to date, against 23 per cent in 2010. New Catalist listings make up 8 per cent of total market capitalisation of new listings to date, compared with 2 per cent in 2010.

Getting a sponsor to assist with the switch to the junior board to comply with the MTP rule may be a challenge for companies that are not profitable enough, or do not meet the sponsor's due diligence standards, remisier Alvin Yong said.

"In Catalist listings, the sponsor is literally the king. It is the sponsor that determines if the company is suitable for listing, whether it has a sound or viable business model, whether it should remain listed," he said.

Sponsors oversee everything - from the listing process to guiding and supervising the company on its journey towards the listing.

They are qualified professional companies experienced in corporate finance, and compliance regulatory work which are authorised by SGX to undertake post-IPO sponsorship activities, such as rights issues.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Eratat seeks investigation details from China watchdog

Business Times
13 Sep 2014
Jamie Lee

Probe involves forged bank confirmation linked to the company's main subsidiary

[Singapore] ERATAT Lifestyle said on Friday that it has requested for more details on the investigations led by the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC), which last month found a forged bank confirmation linked to the company's subsidiary.

In August, the company said that CBRC in Fujian had highlighted that Eratat's main subsidiary, HMW, had forged an earlier bank confirmation, and handed this document to the auditor of the group.

This followed an earlier announcement of a cash discrepancy at HMW. It showed the unit's cash balance was 73,321.63 yuan (S$15,079) as at last Dec 31, instead of 577 million yuan as indicated in an earlier document issued by ABC Bank, the subsidiary's bank in China.

The discrepancy was highlighted by an investigation by the Chinese bank, which also noted that the unit had bank borrowings of 34 million yuan as well as trade bills of 30 million yuan as at Dec 31, 2013.

Eratat's board responded then that this was "contrary to the understanding of the board, as the management has not reported any bank borrowings previously and there were also no such indications in prior bank confirmations obtained by the company's auditors".

On Friday, Eratat said that it has requested a revocation of the reply from CBRC; an investigation of the significant discrepancies; details of the investigation procedure undertaken by CBRC, and the evidence obtained by them; as well as supporting documents relating to HMW's account held with ABC for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Earlier this year, the China-based company failed to make interest payments on its bonds, and could not even raise enough funds to pay for a special audit. Its last interim chief executive, Ho Ker Chern - who was put in place to verify the group's cash balances and oversee investigations - resigned in end-May after not being paid for months.

Trading of Eratat's shares has been halted since January.

leejamie@sph.com.sg

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Death penalty needed in anti-drug fight: Shanmugam

Straits Times
27 Sep 2014
Tham Yuen-C

S'pore's position set out after UN call for end to capital punishment

SINGAPORE'S Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam has spoken out against a call by United Nations officials for countries to abolish the death penalty.

In his speech in New York City on Thursday, Mr Shanmugam urged a more careful assessment of the facts and situations in different countries that lead to the use of capital punishment.

"No civilised society can glorify the taking of life. The question is whether, in very limited circumstances, it is legitimate to have the death penalty so that the larger interest of society is served," he said at a meeting on the sidelines of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly.

In his opening remarks, UN deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson called on world leaders to do away with capital punishment in their countries, saying it was "incompatible with life in the 21st century". He also asked states to ratify a protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, created in 1989, which seeks to abolish the death penalty worldwide.

Mr Shanmugam later responded that "the approach of a sweeping statement that can apply to all is counterproductive".

Setting out Singapore's position, he said the death penalty is necessary to fight the drug scourge in an island state located near major drug trafficking centres.

As a wealthy city-state with many young people and a major logistics hub from which drugs can be distributed to the rest of the world, it would be a "natural front for drugs to come in on a large scale".

Yet, the country is one of the few in the world which has successfully fought the drug menace, he said.

"For those who ask for whom the death penalty can be a deterrent, I say to them, come and see for yourself in Singapore, and compare the region and the rest of the world... we do not have slums, ghettos, no-go zones for the police, or syringes in our playgrounds," he added.

As he had said in Parliament during debates on the death penalty, Mr Shanmugam said the punishment, as part of a larger framework of laws, and coupled with effective enforcement, had been effective in keeping drug traffickers out of the country.

This has allowed Singapore to protect its society and its people from becoming victims, he said.

"This is not revenge; this is not vengeance. This is based on the principle of deterrence and clear rule of law," he said.

Earlier, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said judicial systems with the death penalty were based on vengeance, and that "revenge alone is not justice".

Mr Shanmugam also said there is "not enough focus" on the victims of those sent to the gallows.

"Drug traffickers impose immense penalties, including the death penalty, on their victims. Thousands of people die," he said, adding that the debate also often "proceeds on generalised statements and ideology".

But to make progress, the focus would have to shift to facts, such as "the nexus between the drug trafficker and his thousands of victims". "To portray the debate as one of taking lives versus not taking lives is a straw man argument," he added.

Singapore was among a minority of UN member states at the meeting that was against the abolition of the death penalty.

Legislative changes were passed in November 2012 to remove the mandatory death penalty for certain instances of murder and drug trafficking.

yuenc@sph.com.sg

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PM's lawyers refute blogger's claim

Straits Times
19 Sep 2014
Tham Yuen-C

They argue blog post not about govt transparency, used sensational words

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong's lawyers yesterday refuted Mr Roy Ngerng's claim that his blog post was about government transparency and accountability, not about the unlawful misappropriation of Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

This was among a list of arguments they submitted during a closed-door hearing before High Court Judge Lee Seiu Kin on Mr Lee's application for a summary judgment on the defamation case against Mr Ngerng, without going for a full trial.

In written submissions of more than 100 pages, his lawyers sought to show that the 33-year-old blogger had defamed Mr Lee by using "the device of association with a group of persons who in Singapore have come to be associated with criminal misappropriation and buttressing it with sensational words like 'dishonest' and 'misappropriation' in the context of the... alleged use of CPF monies".

In the May 15 blog post, he had compared Mr Lee to City Harvest Church leaders, who are being prosecuted for allegedly misusing $50 million of church funds.

He compared a Channel NewsAsia chart detailing the relationship among the church leaders involved in the criminal case to another chart that he had created. His chart sets out the relationships among the CPF, Mr Lee, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Temasek Holdings, GIC and other Singapore companies.

Mr Ngerng's lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, had argued that the blog post, when read in its entirety, did not convey the meaning set out by Mr Lee's lawyers.

Mr Ravi, in submissions of about 70 pages, said the allegation in the charts was not against Mr Lee but against the Singapore Government, which "enriches itself and its reserves by only returning a portion of the profits made by GIC and Temasek to CPF account holders and retaining the rest of the profits to grow its portfolio of investments into two of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world".

He added that this retention of gains from investing the CPF funds is "legal". But it is "simply not fair to Singaporeans".

Mr Lee's lawyers from Drew & Napier, however, said the alternative meanings were "an afterthought" formulated to advance Mr Ngerng's political agenda.

"He needed a peg on which he can hang his political arguments. That is the explanation for his contrived meanings," they said, adding that Mr Ngerng himself knew he had no defence.

Also, they added, Mr Ngerng had admitted to defaming Mr Lee in an apology posted on his blog and in several lawyer's letters, and had made no attempt to "explain away any of these admissions".

They urged the court to give the "greatest weight" to these admissions in making its decision.

Responding, Mr Ravi said the admissions could not be used to obtain a summary judgment. The reason is that despite the apology for the blog post, Mr Ngerng had not "compromised or settled the action" by paying damages to Mr Lee.

The two sides also crossed swords on the issue of whether the common laws for defamation are unconstitutional.

Mr Ravi, arguing that it is unconstitutional, urged the judge to let the case be heard in open court, "given the constitutional right at stake".

He said that under the Constitution, only Parliament has the power to make laws to restrict a citizen's freedom of speech. But Parliament had not done so, he added.

Defamation cases are currently based on common laws of defamation, These laws, he argued, no longer apply, given that Article 14 of Singapore's Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression.

He added that the Defamation Act, enacted by Singapore's Parliament, has no provision for a person to sue for defamation.

Mr Lee's lawyers, citing judgments made in earlier cases, pointed out that the common laws of defamation are, in fact, constitutional.

They added that Mr Ravi had "missed the point" in his claims about the Defamation Act, and that the Act would have been "meaningless" if people could not sue for defamation.

The PM's lawyers also argued that since there were no legal issues that were "triable", a summary judgment would help all parties involved save on time and costs.

Earlier, Justice Lee granted Mr Ravi's request for Mr Ngerng to attend the closed-door session that lasted for three hours.

The blogger was accompanied to the High Court by his father, mother and older sister. The older Mr Ngerng said that, like any parent, he is worried about his son. "I hope this thing ends well."

Justice Lee will give his decision at a later date that was not specified.

yuenc@sph.com.sg

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

Why the chips are down for online gambling

Straits Times
13 Sep 2014
Walter Sim

Online gambling will be outlawed here if a new Bill is passed.

ONLINE gambling addict "Benson" was at his wits' end two years ago, having incurred a spiralling debt from his insatiable habit.

On the precipice, he made a decision that wrecked his marriage - he sold off his four-room Housing Board flat and squandered his share away on football bets within a week.

"My wife was so heartbroken that she left me," the 45-year-old father of one, who declined to give his surname, tells Insight. "She said that she could never trust me ever again."

The divorce made him come to his senses. He joined a support group at Blessed Grace Social Services' Gamblers Recovery Centre, quit gambling, and is now working on mending ties with his 10-year-old son.

It is tragic social plights such as this that the Government wants to prevent in tabling the Remote Gambling Bill in Parliament on Monday. Under the Bill, remote gambling is defined as gambling through the Internet, telephone, or any other forms of communication technology.

If passed in its current form, Singapore will be adopting what is arguably the strictest anti-online gambling regime in the world, observers say. Few, if any, jurisdictions have adopted such a multi-pronged approach in blocking websites, financial payments and advertisements.

For the betting public, many of whom are football fans who love a flutter on their team, the fines alone would present quite a penalty zone. Punters caught placing bets online could be fined up to $5,000 and jailed up to six months.

Anyone who abets a person under 21 to gamble remotely could be fined between $20,000 and $300,000 and jailed six years.

Gambling experts tell Insight that the litany of measures will effectively "choke the lifeline of the industry here".

MPs who gave it the thumbs up include Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who calls it a "positive and bold move".

The WongPartnership lawyer, who is a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Home Affairs and Law, notes: "We should guard against excessive gambling, regardless of the means."

MP Denise Phua (Moulmein- Kallang GRC), who chairs the Social and Family Development GPC, says the growth in online gambling here has become a "cause for concern".

She adds: "The Government is absolutely taking the right and necessary step to provide a legislative framework to regulate remote gambling activities."

British-based Global Betting and Gaming Consultants (GBGC) estimates the remote gambling industry here will rake in US$416 million (S$526 million) this year - up by more than 50 per cent from the US$271.58 million in 2009.

While still a fraction of the US$6 billion in gaming revenues earned by the two casinos last year, observers praise the Government for its proactive approach in nipping the problem in the bud.

The laws will deter the average Singaporean from placing an online bet, rather than serial gambling addicts who will find ways and means to game the system, says Mr Jonathan Galaviz, managing director of Las Vegas-based Global Market Advisors, which specialises in economics and government strategies in casino gaming, airlines and technology.

Acknowledging that blocking websites and barring online payments is a complex task, he points out: "Just because it will be difficult to enforce doesn't mean you don't enforce it. The blanket laws instill confidence that (the Government) is protecting its citizens, rather than upholding the pretense that it is doing all it can."

Ms Phua, who has been vocal in Parliament about casino issues, adds: "Even if these will not completely curb online gambling, they will discourage the layman from trying and signal that this is not something encouraged in our society."

How the chips have fallen

INDUSTRY watchers believe there could be a link between the opening of the two casinos here in 2010 - after a decades-old ban was overturned - and the rise in online gambling.

"Generally speaking, when something is legalised in society, it brings greater awareness of the issue to citizens," says Internet law expert Hannah Lim Yee Fen of the Nanyang Technological University. "Since it's in public consciousness, the mental psyche could have been: 'If I can gamble at the casinos, then I can do it in the comfort of my own home'."

Nascent concerns that the casinos would fuel problem gambling do not appear unfounded. This is despite the social safeguards in place, such as a $100 entry levy for Singaporeans and permanent residents, as well as exclusion orders for compulsive gamblers.

Consider the statistics: Since 2011, the number of people barred from casinos here has more than quadrupled to a high of 215,331 this year. The National Problem Gambling Helpline has also fielded about 21,000 calls annually for the past three years - a four-fold increase from 2009.

Mr Gerald Goh, clinical director of counselling centre ECMS Consultants, tells Insight that he has seen clients who, after being banned from the casinos, went online instead.

Ironically or not, one of the most vocal critics of online gambling has been Mr Sheldon Adelson, chief executive of casino firm Las Vegas Sands, which owns Marina Bay Sands.

He has decried online gambling as "fool's gold", writing in a Forbes magazine article last year that it causes people to lose their homes and hurts the young and economically vulnerable.

He has also claimed that with the diverted revenue streams, remote casinos will "cannibalise" land outlets which can better impose social monitors.

The odds of addiction

HE MAY have a point.

Multiple studies have painted a grim picture of online gambling as more dangerous than laying bets at a bricks-and-mortar casino.

Nearly 40 per cent of online gamblers tend to overestimate their wins and underestimate their losses, says an academic study published in the Psychological Assessment journal.

While the latest National Council on Problem Gambling statistics from 2011 showed that only 1 per cent of those surveyed participated in online gambling, this group was found to have the poorest self-control. They gambled longer and more frequently, and spent more money than planned.

However, some forms of gambling may be more addictive than others, studies have shown. In a recent Harvard study, it was found that online poker, unlike sports betting, does not promote addiction.

Still, in a poll of 1,000 Internet users conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) last year, almost three in 10 said they had gambled remotely at least once within the year.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said at the time: "This is not surprising, as one can gamble anonymously from almost any location at any time."

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing flagged the issue of online gambling as early as February 2012, when he said: "It's worse because there's no entry levy and that encourages people to chase their losses or double their gains."

Online gambling sites may offer perks such as free credits to lure people to place a wager.

Sports betting operators can also offer updates and time-based products, such as changing odds as an event progresses, says media and technology lawyer Bryan Tan, a partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay. All this could well tempt punters to dip their fingers into different pies.

Benson, the reformed addict, says he would have huge bets on more than 10 football matches at a time. On weekends, he would start betting in the afternoon - when the Asian leagues are in action, before moving with the time zones to the European leagues and then the South American ones.

"These offer better odds than (state-owned lottery company) Singapore Pools," he says, adding that the permutations of bets are endless. "You can bet on the number of corners, the number of red or yellow cards, and even which team kicks off the game."

He could also bet on other sports, from golf to tennis to basketball. And on days when the major leagues do not play, he turned to obscure Middle Eastern leagues to satisfy the itch.

It is thus unsurprising that football betting emerged the leading draw of online gambling in Singapore last year.

British-based consultancy H2 Gambling Capital estimates that 44 per cent of last year's S$406 million gross win value - that is, the amount gambling businesses win from their clients - came from football bets.

The rest came from turf club betting (25 per cent), casino games like roulette and blackjack (21 per cent), poker (6 per cent) and bingo (4 per cent).

Advertising - which the new Bill prohibits - is a common hook.

H2's director of mobile, poker and special projects, Joel Keeble, says most operators advertise either directly on popular websites, or via affiliate businesses that often "have local connections or knowledge".

Stamford Law Corporation director Yap Wai Ming, who sits on the editorial board of the Gaming Law Review And Economics journal, says: "Unregulated online betting sites normally harvest information from visitors and, with no regard for data protection laws, spam them with information about the sites."

Pinsent Masons' Mr Tan adds that online gambling companies have advertised by entering shirt sponsorship deals with football clubs in top leagues.

Until last year, Real Madrid players - including household name Cristiano Ronaldo - sported jerseys bearing the logo of Bwin, which is the world's largest publicly traded online gambling firm.

This season, at least three English Premier League teams - Stoke City, Aston Villa and Burnley - are sponsored by such companies. "This brings tremendous amount of exposure as these games are widely viewed."

A handle on the Bill

THE Bill is intended to plug a loophole in laws which were enacted before the Internet era and so do not expressly address remote gambling, says an MHA spokesman.

"(This is) an extension of our approach to terrestrial gambling," she says. "The provision of gambling is not permitted unless specifically allowed for, by way of an exemption or licence."

Furthermore, remote gambling poses the additional risk in that it could potentially become a conduit of funds for other illegal activities and syndicated crime.

Mr Christian Kalb of Paris-based consultancy CK Consulting says that such activities include money laundering and match-fixing. He adds that dozens of gambling operators are based in offshore tax havens, such as Costa Rica, Kahnawake in Canada and Alderne in the British crown dependency of Guernesey.

Stiff laws under the Bill would protect those under the age of 21, in tandem with the age limit of the two casinos here.

NTU's Associate Professor Lim says: "While (those under 21) are savvy with online technology, they may not be as savvy with the ways of the world. For example, they may not realise that unlike physical casinos where it is illegal to rig games, there are illegitimate online sites that do not play fair."

Statistics on the number of youth involved in remote gambling are not readily available, she says. "Even if the websites practise age verification, it is very easy for the under-aged to check the box and move on."

Stamford Law's Mr Yap offers another dimension to the need for stricter laws to protect the young. He says: "Many cases of loan-shark or gambling syndicate runners brought before the courts have involved teenagers, which goes to show how easily influenced they can be."

The MHA spokesman tells Insight that social games that simulate gambling are another cause of concern, because they "may result in youth becoming desensitised to actual online gambling products in the future".

The broad wording of the law in this respect has not gone unnoticed, and some observers fear that innocuous social games might be implicated.

The Bill defines a "gambling service" as "a service for the conduct of a game of chance where the game is played for money or money's worth, and a customer of the service gives or agrees to give money or money's worth to play or enter the game".

"Money's worth" in turn includes virtual credits, coins, or tokens purchased within a "game of chance", which includes any game that involves an element of chance and/or skill.

Mr Yap notes that many social games - including the likes of Farmville and Candy Crush - are largely based on "random generators" and thus can be construed to fall under the purview of a "game of chance".

"If all social games that have some element of chance are regarded as gambling and thus outlawed, the digital development industry may suffer a serious setback," he says, calling for more clarity to be introduced to the Bill before it is passed.

Mr Luc Delany, chief executive of the Britain-based International Social Games Association, agrees. He tells Insight that this might have an unintended consequence on an industry that "has nothing to do with real money gambling".

"(This) could outlaw the 'freemium'-pricing model, which relies on virtual goods and currency that have no real money value in the real world," he says.

Yet others feel that the laws might end up driving activity underground.

GBGC chief executive Warwick Bartlett tells Insight that the exemptions granted under the Bill will likely protect the existing monopoly gambling services.

"The danger is that players will resort to illegal gambling operators where the payout ratio is higher," he says.

MP Phua, likewise, feels that the allowance for exemptions is the Bill's largest flaw. She says: "It sends the signal that online gambling, as long as it is through an approved operator, is acceptable. Two wrongs don't make a right."


 

What the Bill proposes to do to crack down on remote gambling

GAMBLING via the Internet and telephone will soon be illegal, if the Remote Gambling Bill tabled in Parliament on Monday is passed.

The Bill seeks to equip the authorities with the power to fight the problem of unregulated online gambling, such as by turning off access to unauthorised remote gambling websites with the aid of Internet service providers, and by getting the Monetary Authority of Singapore to compel banks to block payments to and from these sites. Any form of advertising, be it online or offline, or on hoardings, that promotes such activity will be outlawed. Gamblers themselves could be hit with a $5,000 fine and six-month jail term. Agents who help gambling websites would be whacked even harder.

A key provision is protecting those under 21 from getting hooked. Anyone found to have lured an underaged person into remote gambling would face a mandatory fine of between $20,000 and $300,000, and jail of up to six years.

The Bill does provide for exemptions if applicants meet strict criteria - be based in Singapore, non-profit, contribute to a social cause, and have a good compliance track record.

Major state-run operators Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club, which both run remote gambling services, tell Insight they will seek exemption once the Bill becomes law.

Singapore Pools has had phone betting since 2005, and will seek ratification to continue the service, a spokesman says. She adds that it is "premature" to comment on the possibility of it launching other modes of remote gambling. A spokesman for the Turf Club, which already takes bets via a mobile application and phone, says it will apply for exemption should it meet the conditions.

waltsim@sph.com.sg

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

'It's about law and order, and social concerns'

Straits Times
27 Sep 2014
Charissa Yong

 

Next month, Parliament debates the Remote Gambling Bill. Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran, 52, tells Charissa Yong why the Government wants to draw a line in the sand on online gambling. The official point man for all things F1 here also talks about the race's future.

Why is there now a need for the Remote Gambling Bill?

The growing reach of the Internet, mobile bandwidth, and smart devices means many people now carry a computer in their pocket. This has fuelled a global surge in online gaming. Because of that, several countries reviewed their legislation.

We are no different and need to make sure we have the regulatory levers in place to deal with online gaming, before it becomes a big problem. The laws we have governing gaming today - the Common Gaming Houses Act and the Betting Act - were enacted well before there was such a thing as the Internet, (as) the fact they talk about gaming houses tells you.

What are the concerns the Bill seeks to address?

One is about law and order. Because these operations are transnational, there is a real risk of association with criminal activities and money-laundering.

The other is the social concern. Because online gambling is ubiquitous and accessible, you don't have the usual safeguards you might put in place, say, for example, to bar the underaged from a casino. The vulnerable are more exposed to this, especially the young, because they are more tech-savvy and better able to use technology to gamble online.

Some industry watchers say the rise in online gambling can be linked to the opening of the two casinos here in 2010. What do you make of this?

I don't agree. Online gambling is prevalent all over the world, even in places where there are no casinos. It's linked to the fact that the Internet and mobile bandwidth have become readily available. If you want to be involved in something like this, the barrier to entry is almost zero. That's what is driving this trend.

With all the technology that exists to help people circumvent the restrictions, how effective do you think the Bill will be?

The proposed Bill will prohibit advertising, payments, and Internet access to certain online gambling sites. Each on its own is already quite useful. Collectively, I think they'll be quite disruptive to this kind of activity.

But it doesn't mean it's a silver bullet. There is no such solution because technology is dynamic and it will evolve. And there always will be someone who finds a way around technical barriers.

But if we're able to put these measures in place, it will send a very strong signal of where we stand on the issue, and significantly impede those who have a mind to unlawfully gamble. Most people will take their cue from that.

What would you consider a successful outcome of the Bill?

If we succeed in deterring operators with criminal associations or otherwise from targeting the Singapore market with their online gaming products, and if we succeed in educating Singaporeans about the dangers of this kind of gambling, then we would have made a significant impact.

• How would we avoid driving such activities underground, where they become harder to regulate?

An outright ban may seem a very straightforward position. But it means, as many countries have recognised, that these activities will go underground. And the risk of criminal involvement will increase.

Combining the proposed restrictions with the possibility of having a tightly regulated exemption, which is a provision in the Bill, can help to mitigate this risk.

Some critics have said that this ban on remote gambling is the Government reacting to what it cannot tax. Allowing an exemption can be read as a way to raise revenue. What is your response?

This is not about trying to raise revenue. If our objective was raising revenue, our approach would have been very different.

There are other regimes in the world like Britain, for example, which has many licensed online gaming operators. That's a revenue-raising model.

But our primary objective is to prohibit online gaming. So, it is not a foregone conclusion that there will be an exemption just because there's a provision to do so.

What would an operator exempted from the prohibition here look like?

They must meet the criteria spelt out in the legislation. For example, they must be based in Singapore, be not for profit, channel their surpluses to charitable causes, and have a very good track record of compliance.

Even if they demonstrate all this, we'll have to think about what can be allowed. And even if we do, it must be very tightly controlled and subject to a range of important conditions, like having social safeguards to protect chronic gamblers.

But this is further downstream and we're jumping ahead.

• Do you gamble?

No, I don't (although) I've been known to have the odd friendly wager with some friends on a World Cup soccer match.

In 2012, Singapore signed a five-year renewal deal with Formula One to run the race here until 2017. Is a third five-year contract on the cards?

It's too early to say. We still have three years to go on the current contract, and the situation may be quite different by then. We'll have a better sense closer to the time.

But I can share with you how we went about it before, and the Government will probably use a similar method in the future. We looked at the potential benefits. Some are economic. We estimate induced tourism spending to be about $100 million, which benefits sectors like hospitality, retail and F&B in particular.

There is also the intangible benefit of branding Singapore. When people see Singapore, the city at night, its vibrancy captivates them.They then think, why don't we visit Singapore? Perhaps do business there.

When the time comes, we'll have to evaluate all these factors and others like the external environment, because there are more cities hosting the F1.

How has Singapore's position changed between the negotiation for the first contract and now?

When we first started the F1 in 2008, we were new to the whole thing so it wasn't as clear what we could bring to the table. It was clearer what F1 brought to us.

When we renewed five years later, we had become an important part of the F1 calendar. We are considered one of the top three races in the world. (F1 boss) Mr Bernie Ecclestone calls us a crown jewel, and those who know him know that he doesn't give away praise so easily.

This year, Bahrain had its first night race, which was once Singapore's ace in the hole. What was your reaction to that?

You must expect that if you succeed in something, then there will be others who seek to compete and put forward something similar. It was a matter of time.

But our entire case does not rest on being a night race. There's a lot more to us than that.

Our race is distinctive because we've combined it with lifestyle elements like large-scale concerts and the Grand Prix season of activities, as well as business elements, like being a platform for corporate networking and conferences.

The involvement of locals in the race, like the 1,000 ITE (Institute of Technical Education) students, is also what makes Singapore's F1 special, in my opinion.

What's the big plan to grow tourism for Singapore?

We can't just keep adding on more numbers in terms of visitors. So our strategy is to focus on quality tourism and yield. What we mean by that is that at the same time we want (visitors) to stay longer, and spend more.

(And) not just building more tourism infrastructure, but also enhancing the visitor experience through the software, such as events, activities, and service quality.

Take New York. It's not building attractions every year, yet it attracts a lot of tourists because of the activities and buzz it generates. Why can't we as well?

Are mega attractions and events, like F1 and integrated resorts, Singapore's way forward?

We do need good large-scale projects from time to time to refresh our tourism landscape. But there is a place for smaller-scale ventures, too. STB (Singapore Tourism Board) has the Kickstart Fund to support innovative efforts and lifestyle events, which may not be big but have the potential to contribute to tourism. We want people to come up with novel ideas to experiment with.

Pop-up dining ideas or retail ideas, things like that. It adds to the variety and vibrancy of our tourism scene.

As part of your work driving tourism in Singapore, you rub shoulders with celebrities and attend glamorous events. Is that your scene?

It's part of the job, not something I crave. You have to keep things in perspective. If I have any delusions of grandeur, I think my family (he is father of three children aged 17, 15 and 11) will bring me back down to earth very quickly.

Are you still excited by the glitz and glamour of the F1 races?

(Laughs) What was very fun for me was the Robbie Williams concert this year. My wife and I wanted to go. It was pouring, so we put on the poncho half the time and had the umbrella half the time. It was a great experience. I told people it's like having Glastonbury (a famous annual music festival in England) here.

charyong@sph.com.sg


Background Story

What's for supper

Ayer Rajah Food Centre

Block 503, West Coast Drive

• Mee goreng: $5
• Indian rojak: $5
• Chinese rojak: $5
• Teh halia: $1
• Calamansi: $1
Total: $17

 

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

A regulatory body separate from SGX?

Business Times
19 Sep 2014
Michelle Quah

THE Singapore Exchange's (SGX) plan to boost its disciplinary powers to improve the quality of the market is long overdue - coming as it did after debacles such as the penny-stock collapse last year.

Indeed, BT readers will also recall the countless times this paper has called for such added bite.

But, the devil is in the details: how exactly SGX intends to finally grow a sharper set of teeth (with the procedures not yet fully fleshed out) will determine if it will eventually succeed in doing so.

To recap: the Exchange rolled out two consultation papers on Wednesday, asking the public for its views on (among a host of other things) its plans to set up an external and independent listings disciplinary committee (LDC) and listing appeals committee (LAC).

The LDC will hear and decide on cases of breaches of listing rules brought by SGX before it. It will have "all powers available to SGX" plus some additional ones - including the right to issue public reprimands; impose limited fines; prohibit issue managers from participating in specific listings; and bring about the resignation of directors or executive officers from listed companies.

The LAC will have the power to review the decisions made by the LDC.

It is encouraging that SGX recognises the need to vest these committees with more powers than what it currently possesses. It has oft been said that the regulator's disciplinary tools lack bite (the toughest penalty it can impose on recalcitrant companies is a delisting from the Exchange) - a fact which has dulled the effectiveness of SGX's enforcement actions and, indeed, its regulatory might.

One only needs to look back to the long-drawn-out tussle between SGX and China Sky Chemical Fibre Co Ltd a couple of years ago for proof of this. The S-chip defied persistent edicts from the Exchange to appoint a special auditor to look into a host of dubious transactions.

Being able to hand out tougher penalties such as fines, asking for the resignation of the company's directors/officers, denying market facilities and issuing orders of costs against recalcitrant companies will definitely go some way in boosting SGX's firepower against listed companies and help it in its efforts to bring the market in line.

Statutory backing

It remains to be seen, however, just how the SGX intends to bring this about.

Unlike regulators such as the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) and the Securities Industry Council (SIC), SGX is not empowered by law to impose these new penalties, nor can it empower others to do so.

This means it cannot simply say it wants these new committees to have the greater disciplinary powers, wave a wand - and have it magically happen. SGX will need statutory backing to bring this about.

Currently, its ability to act against listed companies stems from the contract it has with its members - that is, the relationship and obligations that arise when a company lists on the Exchange.

SGX stipulates the rules of conduct for its members in its rulebook (such as the members' disclosure obligations) and it can enforce these; but it cannot unilaterally bring about criminal or civil action against its members that exist outside of this domain.

The Exchange will need current laws to be amended, such that the new powers it is envisioning can be vested in it. It will need to propose such amendments to the statutes to Singapore's Law Ministry, and these amendments will have to be passed by Parliament.

This means the public's acceptance of SGX's most recent proposals won't be enough to bring them about; much will depend on whether these proposals also get the government's endorsement. A lack of statutory backing would seriously hamper the Exchange's efforts to be a tougher regulator - and, arguably, leave it as toothless as it is now.

Our discussion on the merits of SGX's proposals to set up such committees would not be complete without an examination of whether such committees are necessarily the best entities in which to vest such powers.

BT has long argued for a separate, independent body to take on the current regulatory functions of SGX. We feel the Exchange's regulatory responsibilities conflict with its other role: that of a profit-making publicly listed business.

We have argued that it is difficult for a regulator to effectively discipline its constituents if it also depends on them (and potential listees, who observe such regulatory actions) for its livelihood; and that, even if this is only a matter of perception, it is problem enough.

SGX says it has considered this. In a February consultation paper, it said there exist enough safeguards to mitigate potential conflicts between its regulatory role and its commercial objectives. In its most recent consult, it says these committees are enough "to ensure that SGX's processes were more transparent, and could balance the competing needs of due process and efficient resolution of conflicts".

The problem with such a set-up - as opposed to a separate regulator manned by full-time staff - is that these committees will be staffed by people with (as SGX puts it) "relevant listings-related experience", "corporate finance experience", "accounting experience", "legal experience", or "directorship experience in a listed issuer". (This is also the case for SGX's existing disciplinary and appeals committees.)

Neater way

Given the small market that is Singapore, and the limited talent pool here, it could well turn out that these committee members (with such backgrounds) could be related to, have served on the boards of, or performed work for some of the companies that come under these committees' review.

No doubt, those who are in such positions of conflict will likely recuse themselves or be asked to step down or not be asked to serve on the committees. But it would require additional work and checks to ensure that all conflicts are taken care of. There's also the risk that some relationships may pass undetected.

It would be cleaner, neater and more efficient to just have a separate regulatory body to take care of this important function of SGX's. It would give investors greater assurance that their needs and interests are being taken care of, and make for a better public perception of the Exchange.

michquah@sph.com.sg

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

Tech-savvy folks can get around the tough measures, say experts

Straits Times
13 Sep 2014
Irene Tham

ONE aim of the Remote Gambling Bill is that by blocking gambling websites, cutting payment gateways and banning pop-up adverts, no one will stumble on them by chance.

But will online options really dry up?

Some critics tell Insight the measures are not foolproof, given today's tech-savvy consumers who know how to circumvent online restrictions.

For instance, Internet service providers (ISPs) are required to block websites only when directed by the Media Development Authority.

The blocking mechanism is not prescribed. But if ISPs are required to block only the original Web address - like how they are made to block pornography websites - then it is easy to circumvent prohibited sites.

Virtual private network (VPN) services - sold initially to corporations to secure their Internet links - can mask any Web traffic. VPN services are easily available and sold to individuals for as little as $10 a month. So when punters use VPN services, ISPs will not be able to detect access to a gambling website, much less block the access. And most gambling websites have "proxy" Web addresses - alternative addresses that can be entered into Web browsers to take users to the blocked sites.

So, killing the payment gateway seems the only measure that goes far enough to stop most problem gamblers.

Sure, lawmakers here could have made things tougher, such as by criminalising all parties, including banks, that assist in making online gambling payments - as in the US.

Here, financial institutions are required to block payment to certain websites only if directed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

"This relieves the banks from having to do their own detective work as to which account is in aid of online gambling payments," says Mr Yap Wai Ming, director of Stamford Law Corporation.

Once payment using Singapore-issued banking cards no longer works at prohibited sites, determined punters might use payment intermediaries and e-wallet service providers like US-based PayPal and UK-based Neteller.

But PayPal, which operates here, says it will comply with local laws. As for Neteller, it is unclear, as it does not have an office here. Even so, it is not easy to transfer money cheaply to these e-wallets.

Wire transfers cost at least $20 per transaction. The other option - setting up an overseas credit card or savings account, or using someone else's - is inconvenient and can be costly.

Virtual currencies such as Bitcoin are accepted by some gambling websites and e-wallets. But the technological barrier is too high for the average Joe.

An avid gambler of 15 years who declined to be named tells Insight these payment options are "self-defeating" due to the high cost and inconvenience.

This is why he believes that the primitive method of using illegal bookies - actual people who take bets at agreed-upon odds - will make a comeback.

Insight understands that bookies set up accounts at gambling sites for customers and process payments on their behalf. Most do not operate here and accept only cash. But punters have to find ways to access the blocked sites themselves. "The challenge is the enforcement of the law," the gambler says.

Another potential outcome is that once the Bill is passed, it may cause government-sanctioned Singapore Pools to raise its game.

Punters point to its low winnings and uncompetitive odds. This is why they turn to alternative online sources, they maintain.

itham@sph.com.sg

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Local law firm Allen & Gledhill emerges top in poll

Straits Times
26 Sep 2014
K.C. Vijayan

LAW firm Allen & Gledhill emerged as the dominant industry player in a poll of more than 20,000 in-house counsel across Asia and the Middle East.

It was voted the Singapore Firm of the Year in 12 out of 21 categories assessed, ranging from corporate practice to litigation - the highest number for a single law firm in Singapore.

The Asian-Mena Counsel's annual survey, released last week, is billed as the largest and most objective of its kind, and was based on returns and testimonials from the in-house counsel community in 11 jurisdictions.

The participants provided feedback on the firms they prefer to use, and the impressions the firms made on them. The survey was undertaken by the Hong Kong-based In-House Community, a 16-year-old company that runs legal events, produces a publication and manages a website.

The survey's report said: "Our 'Firms of the Year 2014' is not intended to be an inventory of the largest or most active firms practising in the Asia-Pacific or Middle East but, rather, a genuine representation of the firms that have made the most positive impression on their clients for a range of reasons, whether it be because of a firm's expertise or responsiveness, its reputation, or perhaps the flexibility it shows its clients."

Allen & Gledhill was also voted the Most Responsive Domestic Firm of the Year, alongside Drew & Napier, Rajah & Tann and Wong Partnership. Rodyk & Davidson received an honourable mention in the same category, out of about 900 Singapore law firms.

Recent significant briefs undertaken by Allen & Gledhill include the initial public offerings and listings of the first two oil and gas companies on the Singapore Exchange mainboard. It has also advised on many high-profile mergers and acquisitions and other related transactions, such as OCBC's HK$38.4 billion (S$6.3 billion) acquisition of Wing Hang Bank; CapitaLand's $3.06 billion buyout of CapitaMalls Asia; and 68 Holdings' $1.99 billion acquisition of Hotel Properties.

The firm's latest success comes a month after it was named the top Singapore legal brand in the first Asia-Pacific Law Firm Brand index, compiled by legal market research firm Acritas.

This index of domestic and international law firms was compiled using unprompted responses from 379 in-house counsel in organisations across the region with revenues of more than US$50 million (S$63 million). Allen & Gledhill was the only Singapore firm ranked in the top 20 of Acritas' Asia-Pacific brand list.

Established in 1902, the law firm is one of the largest in Singapore, with more than 300 lawyers. It is consistently ranked as a market leader.

Its chairman and senior partner Lucien Wong said: "We are pleased and honoured that we continue to be in the minds of clients for handling complex and cutting-edge work, providing innovative solutions and taking pride in a culture of excellence. Independent surveys are a useful source of feedback on the work law firms do for their clients."

Lawyers said independent survey results are an important reference point in deciding the choice of law firm. Mr Dhamendra Yadav, an in-house counsel at a Malaysian bank and a Singapore Corporate Counsel Association committee member, said Allen & Gledhill is well regarded by foreign financial institutions which, in turn, recommend clients such as multinational firms to go to them.

He said: "Allen & Gledhill is traditionally strong and the firm has a very good organic structure to hone and grow its talent," he said. "Lucien Wong is a titan and the way the firm is run and managed enables it to hold on to a lot of intelligent people."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Plugging gaps in the law to fight haze

TODAY
19 Sep 2014
Chua Chin Wei & Cheong Poh Kwan

The haze law passed by Singapore last month to punish polluters who cause the haze could have been put to its first test if the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) had stayed above 100 for a few more hours early this week.

Many of us in Singapore woke up on Monday to an acrid smell in the air as north-easterly winds sent clouds of smoke from South Sumatra our way. Residents in the western part of the island bore the brunt of the bad air, with the PSI hovering in the unhealthy range from 6am to 12am — just six hours short of what would have constituted a “poor air quality episode” as set out in the new Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

No legal action could be taken this time as the episode did not last for 24 hours or longer. But even if the haze had persisted, how enforceable is our new law? Could we have identified the likely culprits in the first place?

TECHNOLOGY BRINGS TRANSPARENCY?

A quick check on Global Forest Watch-Fires could give us a startlingly clear idea of who might be responsible. The online forest fires monitoring system, which was jointly launched by Indonesia’s National REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) Agency and the United States-headquartered World Resources Institute (WRI), shows that most fire alerts from the Indonesian island of Sumatra were detected in the Ogan Komering Ilir regency.

It could also tell us that a huge number of fire alerts — about 140 of them — were found in one pulpwood concession in the district of Tulung Selapan. The suspected firm is known to be a main supplier to a huge pulp and paper manufacturer, and has in the past been accused of clearing high carbon stock forests for commercial plantations.

Given the availability of such analyses that is publicly available on-the-fly, one might think the prosecutor’s job would be made easier. In reality, however, the concession data hosted on such tracking systems can be highly disputable even if they were to come from official sources. Local governments and companies are known to have different interpretations of concession boundaries. The complexity is aggravated when the boundaries overlap, which blurs the line of responsibilities.

During the Singapore Institute of International Affairs’ (SIIA) recent visit to Jakarta, we were reminded of the difficulties in pinning responsibility even with access to official maps and advances in satellite technology.

For instance, the Jakarta-based WRI team told us they were quite sure of a certain pulpwood supplier’s liability after their monitoring system detected a high density of hot spots in its concession in July. But when the team later studied the ultra-high resolution satellite images of the pulpwood concession in question, it saw only oil palm covers. Hence, the more likely culprits could be illegal encroachers who had razed the neglected concession to plant their own crops.

In such a scenario, the pulpwood supplier can defend itself against both criminal charges and civil claims if it could prove that the encroachers had acted without its knowledge or consent. And while the encroachers could theoretically be summoned to a Singapore court, they are unlikely to show up to fight the charges if they are small- or medium-sized plantation owners with no physical presence here.

This example demonstrates a clear limit of the haze law. Without eyes and ears on the ground, successful prosecution is hard to come by. Having a reliable network of verifiers on the ground is crucial as robust evidence is needed for the law to be applied.

Thankfully, many environmental activists and land rights lawyers that we met during our recent trips to Indonesia and Malaysia said they would be happy to help plug the information gap. Many recognised that their own communities would stand to benefit the most from such a legal deterrent, although some still had doubts over the real extent of the extraterritorial reach of the haze law. The SIIA will gather these representatives in Singapore this November to explore ways for more effective cooperation.

ASEAN UNITED ON HAZE

More encouragingly, not only has Indonesia stepped up its enforcement, as seen in the recent string of arrests, it has also broken a 12-year stalemate to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze on Tuesday.

As recently as March, two political parties in Indonesia’s Parliament were still disinclined to support the haze pact, citing concerns over potential sovereignty violations. The unanimous ratification thus came as a welcome surprise, particularly after years of lobbying by regional think-tanks, including the SIIA.

The move marks an important milestone for cooperation among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as Indonesia is sending a clear statement that it is ready to work with its neighbours to tackle the long-standing public health crisis and diplomatic sore point.

This will make it easier for some member states to channel resources to agencies that are actively monitoring fires on the ground, but have no easy access to corporate funding due to the unpopular whistle-blowing nature of their work.

Closer cooperation among member states may also encourage governments that have been reluctant to share their land use data to make them available — at least selectively — for the operationalisation of the ASEAN joint haze monitoring system.

If such is the case, the Singapore haze law would not exist as a regulation with no teeth.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Chua Chin Wei is deputy director and fellow for ASEAN business and sustainability and Cheong Poh Kwan is a policy research analyst at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. The institute will be hosting a haze roundtable on Nov 6.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

More free community legal clinics to open

Straits Times
13 Sep 2014
Aw Cheng Wei

At least three more to come, with one for every district

MORE lawyers will soon be on hand to give free legal advice at new community legal clinics around the island.

At least three more of these clinics will join the current two pilot facilities in Woodlands and Eunos, under an agreement signed yesterday by The Law Society as well as the Office of the Mayors and People's Association.

No timeframe has been confirmed yet, but it will happen "as soon as possible," Dr Teo Ho Pin, chairman of the mayors' committee, told reporters.

"We will slowly build up our network of legal clinics within the districts to make it more convenient for residents," he said.

Currently, the two clinics - set up in 2007 - handle about 3,000 enquiries yearly, said Law Society president Lok Vi Ming, adding that the number can be increased by at least 30 per cent with the new facilities.

"This service has proven to be extremely popular and demand has grown over the years," he said.

Each of Singapore's five districts will have at least one clinic, so as to make it easier for low-income residents to seek legal advice, said Dr Teo.

And more clinics will be added, depending on demand, said Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who was also at the event.

Currently, more than 60 per cent of those who need legal advice are not from the North West and South East districts, where the two clinics are located.

In the last seven years, about 1,500 lawyers have committed more than 5,000 man hours on almost 15,000 cases, mainly relating to matrimonial, loan and employment issues.

Mr Shanmugam said that there will also be a bigger collaboration between community development councils and The Law Society, so that people can get more well rounded care.

The clinics are part of the Community Legal Pro Bono Services Network - so people who approach the lawyers may not only be offered legal advice, but also be pointed to other agencies for further help.

For example, a resident who needs legal help on a broken marriage may also be referred to the family service centre for counselling, and the social service office for financial help.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "Eventually, we really want to make it seamless... integrate all the types of services and get them working together."

Mr Patrick Tan, the founder and chief executive of Fortis Law Corp, has been volunteering under the programme for seven years, and called it a fantastic experience.

The 41-year-old lawyer, whose 10 employees are all active in the clinics, said: "We find that we are able to help a lot of people.

"Even though each session does not last long, we are able to give basic advice and tell them where they can seek help."

The service is available to Singaporeans and permanent residents. They must register before they can attend the 20- to 30-minute consultation.

To do so, they can call 6536-0650 or send an e-mail to probonoservices@lawsoc.org.sg

awcw@sph.com.sg

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High Court amends sentencing benchmarks for vice-related crimes

TODAY
26 Sep 2014

Punishment for offences linked to prostitution to start from jail term instead of fine

SINGAPORE — The High Court has revised the sentencing benchmarks for certain vice-related offences, after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon found that sentencing precedents had made wrong assumptions about sentencing discretions.

Unlike the precedents, which used fines as the starting point in sentencing, the revised benchmarks will see those found guilty of procuring, receiving and harbouring prostitutes as well as living on immoral earnings punished with a jail term.

Also, they can expect the courts to use the entire sentencing range when determining their appropriate sentence, which may lead to stiffer sentences for each offence. Fines may also be imposed where offenders might have profited.

The revised benchmarks were set out in a judgment for a case involving the mastermind of an online vice ring, Poh Boon Kiat, who had appealed against his sentence in the High Court, which was released yesterday.

CJ Menon, who presided over the appeal, said “troubling” issues had arisen from the appeal.

First, the courts had been incorrect in assuming they had the discretion to impose a fine or a jail term or both for such cases. Based on the legislative history and context of the punishment provisions of these offences, no such discretion exists.

“It seems to me from these cases that although the courts have tended to view penal provisions that are introduced with a phrase such as ‘shall be liable’ as conferring a discretion, this generally is not and, in my judgment, ought not to be done, without considering the provision in its textual as well as legislative context,” said CJ Menon in his judgment.

Second, although the aggregate sentences imposed on those found guilty of vice-related offences were “generally proportionate” to the severity of their involvement, the entire range of sentences imposed by Parliament was not commonly used in cases of individual vice-related offences.

Taking these two factors into consideration, those found guilty of procuring, receiving and harbouring prostitutes as well as for living on immoral earnings should be sentenced to at least one day to three months’ jail, at the lowest level of culpability and harm, based on the sentencing matrix set out by CJ Menon.

Using the revised benchmarks, Poh, who had been sentenced to an aggregate of nine months’ jail for eight charges — six for procuring, receiving and harbouring prostitutes, one for living on immoral earnings and one for managing a brothel — would have been jailed for 12 months.

However, CJ Menon noted this shift in the starting point for the sentences was “a fundamental and unforeseeable change in the law” from Poh’s perspective and held that his appeal should be based on the prevailing sentencing benchmarks.

Based on that, CJ Menon found that only two sentences should run consecutively, instead of three as determined by the district judge, noting that Poh’s vice operation lasted only 10 days. This brought Poh’s aggregate sentence to seven months.

“In that light, I do consider that the total term of imprisonment ... was manifestly excessive,” said CJ Menon. “For this reason, I do allow the appeal.”

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

To view the judgment, click <here>.

Making a case for external law graduates: Forum

Straits Times
19 Sep 2014

I ECHO Mr Tan Soon Meng's sentiments ("Time to recognise external law degrees"; last Friday), especially his point that not recognising external law degrees hinders social mobility.

I have an external law degree (upper second class) but am not allowed to practise here.

There are limited opportunities even for the best external law graduates, because many in-house positions require admission to the Bar, as does the judiciary.

It is unjust for local graduates with lower grades to be allowed to practise, while external law graduates who may have performed better are relegated to subordinate roles.

The University of London has maintained that there is no distinction between the quality of its internal and external law programmes, which serve individuals of different stations in life.

I hope to see outstanding external law graduates being called to the Bar, so they can ease the shortage of community lawyers.

The legal industry and society at large stand to benefit from their life experiences, dedication and calibre.

Amarinder Singh Saran

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IP protection: S'pore top in Asia, second globally

Straits Times
13 Sep 2014
Mok Fei Fei

SINGAPORE is the top nation in Asia when it comes to protecting intellectual property (IP) and the second best globally, according to a new league table.

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) said in a statement yesterday that this is the fourth year in a row that the country has retained high positions for IP protection.

Initiatives to improve IP protection have not gone unnoticed, enabling Singapore to climb up the annual rankings, which are compiled by the World Economic Forum.

Singapore was ninth in 2006 globally before rising to third in 2010 and second in 2011, a place it has held since. The top-ranked nation this year is Finland.

Ipos attributed the improvement in rankings to its moves to develop the country as an IP hub of Asia.

An IP Financing Scheme that allows firms to estimate the value of their patents and to monetise such assets is one such initiative. An IP ValueLab has also been set up to help companies manage their IP.

Ipos added that the strong IP regime here has helped to attract commerce and foreign investments, including over 600 franchising systems with more than 40,000 franchisees in 2012.

Franchise agreements typically rely on a strong IP regime as they involve trademarks and patented products or services. Such companies are estimated to account for 18 per cent of the total domestic retail sales volume.

"Singapore's business-friendly IP regime has helped bolster the confidence of leading global companies such as Procter & Gamble, Continental and Mead Johnson, all of whom have selected Singapore as their location of choice for investments in business and research and development, citing the country's strong protection of IP rights as a factor in their decisions," Ipos said.

feimok@sph.com.sg

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SMC urges firms in disputes to mediate and cut costs

Business Times
26 Sep 2014
Claire Huang

A SHIFT in perspectives can produce a more cost effective outcome for businesses involved in disputes, said the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC), which hopes to give business leaders a new take on mediation.

As part of its move to further encourage businesses embroiled in disputes to turn to mediation as their first option, the SMC on Thursday held an inaugural event - "Unfolding Conversations, How Perspectives Shape Outcomes" - that was attended by about 150 business leaders from Singapore.

Loong Seng Onn, executive director of SMC said: "We want to drive home the point that mediation is there to ensure your business continuity. Not only does it save time and money, but also greatly increases the chances of arriving at a win-win outcome."

Part of the event was a panel discussion on managing disagreements, chaired by Gautam Banerjee, senior managing director and chairman of Blackstone Singapore.

The four panellists were Patrick Daniel, editor-in-chief of the English & Malay newspapers division of Singapore Press Holdings; Chong Siak Ching, chief executive officer of National Gallery Singapore; Loo Choon Yong, executive chairman of Raffles Medical Group Ltd, and Senior Counsel George Lim, partner in Wee, Tay & Lim LLP.

Citing the examples of two commercial disputes - one of which was over fees between a company and an expert it engaged, while the second case concerned discretionary bonuses to be paid out - the panellists noted that while business leaders often think they have a good chance of fighting it out in court, this was not necessarily the case.

They pointed out that court cases generally drag on for long periods while mediation or arbitration is not as time-consuming.

SMC has handled more than 2,300 matters since 1997, with a success rate of 75 per cent.

So why the low take up rate by businesses?

Ho Meng Kit, CEO of the Singapore Business Federation, noted there is not enough awareness among the business community on alternative dispute resolution.

"In mediation, the focus is on uncovering the underlying concerns of the parties. You want fast and commercially pragmatic solutions, and to retain control over the outcome."

Mr Ho added that one way to promote mediation as an alternative to the courts and reach out to companies, especially the smaller firms, would be to offer premises for mediation and have more outreach programmes.

In August, the SMC unveiled a slew of enhancements, key of which was to give companies easier access to specialist mediators. To this end, businesses with disputes can now seek subject matter experts from SMC in 10 fields, ranging from banking and shipping to construction and energy.

Last year, SMC handled 214 cases, of which more than 90 per cent were commercial disputes.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Lowering entry barriers would only worsen glut: Forum

Straits Times
19 Sep 2014

MR TAN Soon Meng ("Time to recognise external law degrees"; last Friday) argued that allowing external law degree holders to practise should increase the number of community lawyers here.

There is currently a glut of lawyers in the market ("S'pore facing a glut of lawyers"; Aug 17). Lowering the bar would compound this problem.

Also, there is no guarantee that external law degree holders would choose community law. What if they chose to go into corporate law instead?

I also disagree that "allowing only full-time foreign law degree holders from certain universities to practise hinders social mobility".

We have two local law schools - with another on the way - that admit students from various backgrounds, regardless of their socio-economic status.

A career in law is not the only means of facilitating social mobility. Fuelling this perception will only divert talent away from other crucial industries that offer good career prospects as well.

The dearth of community lawyers is a complex phenomenon that cannot be dealt with simply by lowering the entry barriers so liberally.

Perhaps it would be better to publicise the merits and significance of a career in community law.

Shaun Elijah Tan Yean Tat

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Widow 'knew what she was doing' when she made will

Straits Times
12 Sep 2014
Carolyn Khew

WHEN 87-year-old Chung Khin Chun decided to leave all her assets to him, she "knew exactly what she was doing", insisted Mr Yang Yin.

The Chinese former tour guide said that in 2010, when her lawyer drew up a new will for the wealthy widow, she was first made to undergo a medical examination.

The doctor found that Madam Chung, whose assets were worth around $40 million, was "fully aware of what she was stating in the will".

The widow, who this year was diagnosed with dementia, was also examined by a doctor accredited by the Office of the Public Guardian in 2012 before appointing him her guardian, said Mr Yang.

The doctor certified that Madam Chung had the "requisite mental capacity" at the time, and fully understood the implications, Mr Yang said.

The Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) granted to him that year gave him full control over her assets, which include a $30 million bungalow in Gerald Crescent.

"Madam Chung knew her actions would attract unhappiness from her relatives and she executed the LPA and the will to protect me and my family and to give us the assurance we would be provided for," said Mr Yang, who denied splurging on expensive hotels while on overseas trips.

As for allegations that Madam Chung "lives frugally nowadays", he said the widow is "getting on in years and does not lead such a lavish lifestyle any more".

"This does not mean, in any way, that Madam Chung is being treated badly. It is just a change in circumstances," he added.

CAROLYN KHEW

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Equity crowdfunding: Singapore takes it slow

Business Times
26 Sep 2014
Jacquelyn Cheok

MAS monitoring developments in other jurisdictions to craft regulatory framework

[SINGAPORE] Singapore isn't rushing to become the regional equity crowdfunding (ECF) hub, preferring instead to watch and learn from first-movers. And a convenient example is just across the Causeway, as Malaysia is well on its way to be the first to legislate ECF in South-east Asia.

When contacted, a Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) spokeswoman told The Business Times: "MAS notes that crowdfunding is emerging in some countries as an alternative source of financing for startups and small companies . . . and is closely monitoring developments in other jurisdictions and working with Spring to develop an appropriate regulatory framework."

Meanwhile, homegrown crowdfunding platform Crowdonomic.com - poised to become one of the first to offer ECF in the region - has pledged to be a strategic partner of regulators here to facilitate this alternative source of financing.

ECF, unlike traditional reward-based crowdfunding, lets backers or investors receive shares of a company (instead of gifts) in exchange for money pledged.

Last Friday, Crowdonomic.com became one of only two crowdfunding platforms to partner the Securities Commission of Malaysia (SCM) at the Synergy and Crowdfunding Forum. The first such forum in Asia, it sought to raise public awareness of the potential of ECF, and was attended by some 600 investors and entrepreneurs from around the world.

On Thursday, SCM issued a revised proposed ECF framework, stating that issuers can raise up to RM3 million (S$1.17 million) for a 12-month period and a maximum of RM5 million through an ECF platform. It is expected to legislate this by end-2014.

Despite Malaysia's policy progress, observers remain upbeat about Singapore's ECF ambitions, saying it may in fact be beneficial to see how things go first.

"Different governments have different priorities. But we remain hopeful that Singapore will take steps to regulate this space and become an ECF hub," said Leo Shimada, chief executive officer of Crowdonomic.com.

Singapore, already Asia's financial hub, will make a safe, regulated haven for broad-based investors and practitioners to do ECF, and set the stage for potential cross-border activity and excitement that will drive ECF the world over, said Kwek HongSin, CEO of crowdsourcing company Phoenixict.

The Republic's high usage of social media and technology were also what attracted Swedish crowdfunding platform, FundedByMe, to make Singapore its Asian hub late last year. It is now in talks with MAS and Spring to launch ECF on its platform - hopefully by the end of this year, it said.

Indeed, the time is now for ECF to take off in Singapore and South-east Asia, said observers.

Mr Shimada said: "The rules and regulations governing fundraising are behind the times, finding their origins in the US from the 1930s. Modernising our fundraising rules is critical, given how some 40 per cent of small businesses across Asia say that raising capital is their No 1 obstacle to growth. Singapore is no exception."

Startups, in particular, form the basis of Singapore's economic future through the innovation they stimulate and deliver.

"Hence, allowing startups to take greater control of their financing destiny through ECF is critical for innovation and economic progress," said Mr Shimada. "They should have access to simpler and faster means to raise capital, versus the offline, door to door, six to nine-month process which is the norm today."

He added that ECF would benefit investors too; as more of the middle class come into the market, it allows for more inclusive economic participation by an asset class which has to this day been mostly monopolised by a wealthy few.

With ECF, even the man-in-the-street can get in on the deal and the opportunity to invest in promising startups, leading to the democratisation of wealth and ideas across the entire economy, said Ranjit Ajit Singh, chairman of SCM, in his opening speech at the Synergy and Crowdfunding Forum.

Inspiring and game-changing, Mr Singh's speech showed the SCM to be a progressive regulator that recognises ECF's significance in stimulating entrepreneurship and innovation, said observers.

So what does this mean for Singapore?

"Before education," said Mr Shimada, "we must be able to raise mass awareness. It is Metcalfe's law - the more participants there are, the more valuable the crowdfunding network becomes. If ECF is not socialised to the mass public, it risks being too sub-scale to take off."

He cautioned that as ECF is essentially venture financing, a high-risk, high-reward asset class, the public must be educated to master the benefits of ECF to maximise returns while understanding the inherent risks involved.

Said Phoenixict's Mr Kwek: "ECF is not new but it lacks awareness. Regulators need to explore the possibility of having exemptions for new and genuine players in order to create vibrancy in the 'crowd-economy'. Setting stringent guidelines and restriction will only discourage developments in ECF here."

The global crowdfunding investment market, spanning over 600 crowdfunding platforms worldwide, is expected to hit some US$93 billion by 2025, according to a recent World Bank study.

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

More lawyers needed to help low-income group: Voices

TODAY
19 Sep 2014

Having more legal clinics is a step in the right direction to extend help to low-income residents. It will enable them to seek the legal advice they need (“More legal clinics islandwide”; Sept 13).

I think it would be challenging, however, to recruit more lawyers to volunteer, due to their personal and work commitments.

The clinics will also need a holistic framework to address both legal and social issues among the low-income.

To prevent these issues from growing, residents must be made aware of the clinics in their area. They must know the channels they can turn to for the right help and that their cases will be treated with confidentiality.

Residents should be able to get not only legal advice, but also referrals to the relevant government agencies or community services that can help them with their problems, whether these are matrimonial, financial or employment-related. They need all the assistance and expertise of the organisations and lawyers involved.

The relevant agencies must make the work attractive to increase the spirit of volunteerism. And through networking sessions with other lawyers, existing volunteers can share their experiences about using their skills to help society.

The law schools can also give students opportunities to participate in this initiative alongside veteran lawyers as a first-hand introduction to the legal framework and ways to solve challenges faced by the low-income.

I hope there will not only be more legal clinics, but also more lawyers coming forward to find satisfaction in their legal roles in society, as well as the resources to sustain the clinics so every case gets the attention it needs.

Darren Chan Keng Leong

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Builder gets record fine for worker's death

Straits Times
12 Sep 2014
Janice Heng

FOLLOWING a worker's death two years ago, construction firm CGW Construction was fined $150,000 yesterday for not taking reasonable measures to ensure its workers' safety and health.

The fine is the highest imposed on an employer for an offence under Section 12 of the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

It was also the firm's second conviction under the Act. In the first in 2011, it was fined $50,000 after a worker was injured.

The construction sector has been the leading source of workplace deaths, accounting for 17 of 30 such deaths in the first half of this year.

In the fatal accident on Oct 25, 2012, at a construction site in Beach Road, CGW employee Zhou Shi Hong fell 6.4m from the open side of a second-floor staircase landing.

He had been searching for concrete nails in a pail before standing up, suddenly losing his balance and falling backwards over the open side.

CGW was then a sub-contractor for worksite occupier Hyundai Construction and Engineering.

The Ministry of Manpower's investigations found that CGW had failed to put guard rails on the open side of the stairwell, even though their workplace safety documents said that guard rails would be installed.

The firm also failed to provide lifelines to which workers could anchor their safety harnesses, even though the agreement between Hyundai and CGW stated that it was CGW's responsibility to do so.

Furthermore, the firm had started work on the stairwell before their permit-to-work application had been approved by Hyundai. This process, for dangerous work taking place at a height of more than 3m, requires several formalised stages of safety checks before work can start.

CGW pleaded guilty before District Judge Ronald Gwee in the State Courts and was fined $150,000.

janiceh@sph.com.sg

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Defence: Victim's knife wounds were accidental - Stabbing of ex-lover

Straits Times
26 Sep 2014
Selina Lum

THE lawyer defending a 25-year-old woman on trial for trying to murder her former girlfriend yesterday contended that the accused was actually trying to kill herself, but the younger woman was accidentally knifed in the struggle that ensued.

But Ms Ummul Qurratu 'Ain Abdul Rahman, 22, denied that Giselle Shi Jia Wei had expressed any intention to commit suicide.

Shi is accused of stabbing Ms Qurratu 'Ain twice in the chest before turning the knife on herself in a hotel room in Geylang on July 22, 2012.

One of the stabs fractured the victim's breastbone and punctured the wall of her heart.

The prosecution contends that Shi tried to murder her lover and then kill herself, after Ms Qurratu 'Ain spurned her requests to get back together.

But yesterday, on the second day of the trial, defence lawyer K. Jayakumar Naidu put it to Ms Qurratu 'Ain that the injuries she suffered were "accidental and not intentional". She disagreed.

The courtroom was cleared while hotel surveillance footage was played of the naked victim escaping the room. A married couple then took the stand to recount how the victim had approached them in the lift lobby on the same floor. Ms Nur Farizah Abdul Aziz told the court the woman was covered in dried blood and seemed weak.

"She told me that someone had tried to kill her," said Ms Farizah. When she asked if the culprit was her boyfriend, the victim said it was her "friend".

Ms Farizah and her husband found towels to cover the victim, helped her to the ground-floor lobby and called the police. Paramedic Low Pey Yun, who attended to Shi, said there was blood on the bed and the floor of the room. Shi, who was on the bed, had a 2cm slash wound on her chest but there were no signs of a struggle, said the paramedic.

The trial continues. Shi faces a life term or up to 20 years' jail if convicted of attempted murder.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Convicted drug trafficker may escape gallows

TODAY
19 Sep 2014

SINGAPORE — A convicted drug trafficker who was sentenced to death may escape the gallows after providing the authorities with substantive assistance in disrupting drug trafficking activities outside Singapore.

Cheong Chun Yin, who was sentenced to death in 2010, is now eligible for re-sentencing after the Public Prosecutor decided to certify that he had helped the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in a substantive way, in light of new information received.

Cheong had been refused a Certificate of Cooperation under the amended Misuse of Drugs Act last year, after the Public Prosecutor determined that he had not fulfilled the criteria. Represented by lawyer M Ravi, Cheong filed for a judicial review in the High Court in January, but the application was dismissed.

He then filed an appeal against the High Court’s ruling, which is scheduled to be heard in the week of Nov 24. On whether the appeal would still go ahead, Mr Ravi said Cheong was inclined to withdraw it and file an appeal for re-sentencing.

“We are relooking things now,” Mr Ravi said, adding that Cheong was “very relieved”.

Cheong was arrested in 2008 and found to have been in possession of 2.7kg of diamorphine.

After being found guilty and sentenced, he appealed against the decision in 2011, but it was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

On Jan 1 last year, together with all the others who were convicted of capital drug offences prior to that date, Cheong was offered the chance to help the CNB disrupt drug trafficking activities, as a result of amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The Act was amended together with the Penal Code in 2012 to remove the mandatory death penalty for certain types of homicide and drug trafficking offences.

A drug trafficker must have played only the role of a courier and either have cooperated with the CNB in a substantive way, or have a mental disability that substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act.


Changes to the Act

The Misuse of Drugs Act was amended together with the Penal Code in 2012 to remove the mandatory death penalty for certain types of homicide and drug trafficking offences. A drug trafficker must have played only the role of a courier and either have cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau in a substantive way, or have a mental disability that substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Time to recognise external law degrees: Forum

Straits Times
12 Sep 2014

THE discussion on overseas law degrees and the difficulty in getting lawyers to take up criminal and family law has missed two points.

First, allowing external law degree holders to practise should increase the number of community lawyers here.

In the past, many police officers read law in part-time external degree programmes and ended up practising community law - a natural fit. Former policeman A.P. Thirumurthy is one such example ("Ex-cop now a family lawyer"; May 30, 2013).

That said, if external law degrees are recognised, those not interested in community law could also study for such degrees. But they would need to do so with their eyes open, knowing they might not get to practise in other areas because of the keen competition.

Second, the policy of allowing only full-time foreign law degree holders from certain universities to practise hinders social mobility.

Only those from well-to-do families can afford to go overseas to study full time. Most others seeking advancement can hardly afford the fees, living expenses and opportunity cost involved in overseas study, while knowing they may not secure a training contract with a law firm.

While the third law school should ease the shortage of community lawyers, it will not suffice as its graduates cannot be forced to practise only community law.

Tan Soon Meng

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Experts call for more safeguards to LPA scheme

Straits Times
25 Sep 2014
Carolyn Khew & Priscilla Goy

SEVERAL experts have called for more safeguards to the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) scheme.

An LPA is a legal document that allows a person to appoint another, labelled the donee, to make key decisions should he or she lose the mental ability to do so. Anyone who is at least 21 can sign one.

Currently, the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), which maintains the LPA registry, can investigate cases in which the donee did not act in the best interests of the applicant. The Public Guardian can then apply to the court to revoke the LPA.

Of the 6,500 signed since the scheme was launched four years ago, not a single LPA has been revoked because of a court order. The 308 revocation cases so far have been due to other reasons, which could include termination by the applicant or the death of one of the parties.

Lawyers whom The Straits Times spoke to said that it would be useful for the OPG to make it mandatory for family members to be informed when a person applies for an LPA, especially when a non-relative is appointed. Before this month, there was an option for the applicant to inform others. This was removed after the form was cut from 15 to eight pages in a bid to simplify the process.

"I would have thought that it would be useful to inform the family and have any disputes (settled) while the applicant is still mentally able," said lawyer Sim Bock Eng of law firm Wong Partnership.

Dr Tan Hwee Sim, a psychiatrist at Raffles Counselling Centre, suggested background checks. "A certain group of people can also be excluded - for example, those convicted of offences involving fraud or dishonesty."

Currently, only undischarged bankrupts face restrictions on being given an LPA.

All LPA applications have to be witnessed and certified by a lawyer or medical practitioner, for instance, who has been accredited by the OPG. Some of them said they would conduct their own checks when suspicions are raised.

"If the (LPA) donor is very old and brings in a total stranger to be his or her donee when he has family members, that would ring an alarm bell," said lawyer Sng Kheng Huat of Sng & Company.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg

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HDB did not infringe rack patent: Court

Straits Times
18 Sep 2014
Selina Lum

Judge rules its clothes-drying device is not similar to inventor's design

AN INVENTOR who sued the Housing Board, for what he said was an infringement on his patent for an external clothes-drying rack, has lost his case against the public housing authority.

Dismissing the suit brought by Mr Yiap Hang Boon, 54, the High Court yesterday ruled that HDB has not infringed his patent as its rack is not similar to the one he designed. In particular, Justice Chan Seng Onn found that HDB's rack does not act as a safety rail to prevent someone from falling out of the window, which is one of the main features of Mr Yiap's patent.

The judge added that Mr Yiap is barred from bringing the suit as he has passed the statutory time limit of six years.

Mr Yiap filed his suit last year, more than a decade after he first accused HDB of patent infringement.

The court also granted HDB's countersuit to revoke Mr Yiap's patent on the grounds that it was not an invention that can be patented. Justice Chan, who looked at clothes-drying racks in existence before Mr Yiap's patent took effect, found "no inventive step" in the one he devised.

Mr Yiap, who is jobless, was ordered to pay legal costs and expenses of $160,000 to HDB. He said he has no money as he sold his house and closed down a company he started to develop his racks.

The racks in question are stainless steel frames with parallel poles supported by two arms, mounted to the external wall.

In late 2000, HDB issued architectural drawings of clothes racks to shortlisted tender applicants for a flat upgrading project in Toa Payoh. HDB, represented by Mr Darrell Low, said it developed its own racks after a review to address safety concerns over bamboo poles falling from the higher floors when strong winds blew.

In January 2001, Mr Yiap filed his first patent, which later lapsed, for a rack that can be inserted into pole holders. He wrote to HDB, proposing that his racks be used in upgraded flats. HDB rejected his request six months later. In February 2003, Mr Yiap filed a further patent application, a modification of the earlier one - the subject of the current case.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Barriers to end-of-life preparations: Forum

Straits Times
12 Sep 2014

EARLY end-of-life preparations are important for peace of mind ("More Singaporeans making end-of-life preparations"; Sept 1). However, it is not an entirely smooth and easy process for some.

First, there is the language barrier. A significant proportion of people aged 55 and above speak only Mandarin and do not know any English.

The problem is that all legal documents, including those for the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), are in English. Thus, the language barrier deters some from making end-of-life preparations.

At Life Point, a project by the Society of Sheng Hong Welfare Services, volunteers help to explain the documents in a language that the elderly can understand, and help them to fill in the LPA form. For a nominal fee, the elderly can use a one-stop service to get their LPA signed by a lawyer and delivered to the Office of the Public Guardian.

Second, there is little public awareness of the LPA. Many elderly folk still do not know what it is for and how to go about obtaining one.

To increase public awareness, Life Point started public education on end-of-life preparations, including obtaining an LPA.

Third, it is not easy for some elderly folk who live alone to find a suitable donee (someone to make decisions on their behalf should they lose their mental capacity). They may have no family members to turn to and their friends are equally old. Others are not confident about entrusting their property and affairs to their friends.

With smaller family units and longer lifespans, this group is getting bigger. I hope the Government can help by setting up a public trustee service.

Liau Yi Fang (Ms)

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MDA proposes better consumer protection against telcos’ practices

TODAY
25 Sep 2014
Tan Weizhen

SINGAPORE — Pay-TV consumers could soon be empowered to ditch their contracts without having to pay a penalty if their service providers increase subscription fees, remove channels or material content within a channel, according to proposed changes by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

In another suggestion proposed to increase consumer protection, the MDA recommended that retailers no longer be allowed to force subscribers to upgrade non pay-TV services, such as broadband or phone service contracts, in order to make changes to their pay-TV services.

Additionally, service providers will also be required to highlight certain terms and conditions in a contract before it is signed. This includes specifics on price, presence of any unilateral contract clauses and any applicable recourse, and changes to service upon expiry of promotional or full services.

The three key recommendations are part of a public consultation launched by the MDA yesterday in response to feedback from consumers about pay-TV providers using clauses to raise fees and make changes to content and channels. The proposed changes were first raised by Minister of Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim in Parliament in March.  “Contracts between pay-TV retailers and consumers may contain unilateral variation terms that allow retailers discretion to make changes to terms and conditions of consumer contracts while they are still in force, without the consent of the subscriber,” the MDA said in the consultation paper.

“Some changes may be to the benefit of the subscribers, such as when new channels are added without corresponding increase in subscription rate. However, the MDA also recognises that there are occasions where changes can be detrimental to subscribers … In such instances, subscribers have little choice but to accept the changes or pay exit penalties or early termination charges to exit the contract.”

Analysts contacted by TODAY commended the recommendations, saying the proposed changes would improve the standard of the industry.

Mr Clement Teo, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said: “It will force them to properly start thinking about what kind of programmes to offer consumers, instead of packaging in services that no one really wants.”

He added that the changes will also stop the practice of lumping broadband services together with services that provide content.

IG market strategist Ryan Huang concurred, saying: “Telcos will now need to be more mindful of how they introduce unpopular changes as the proposal will make consumers more empowered to walk out of the relationship … The proposal will be a win for consumers, especially after the customer backlash over SingTel’s repackaging of sports content on its sports channel.”

In the last few years, consumers have been confronted by price hikes on sports packages. In 2012, football fans cried foul after SingTel removed Champions League matches from the original sports bundle and charged customers who had already purchased a sports package a higher fee to continue watching them.

And last year, SingTel charged a significantly higher fee for fans who chose a la carte EPL content on either its mio TV service or StarHub’s platform, as compared with its bundled packages.

The MDA noted in its consultation paper yesterday that last year alone, 17 pay-TV channels were removed from the offerings of StarHub and SingTel. When contacted by TODAY yesterday, SingTel and StarHub said they would review the proposed changes and provide feedback to the MDA.

To prevent any possible abuse of the system, the MDA is proposing that consumers be allowed to end their contracts without paying early termination charges only within 30 days of the date of change. If providers take any mitigating action, such as reducing subscription fees, they may then be allowed to impose early termination fees on consumers who opt to cancel their contracts.

The MDA is also proposing to allow retailers to levy early termination charges for certain freebies given to consumers. “A subscriber may enter into a high-end pay-TV service contract for the sole purpose of obtaining “free gifts”, such as laptops and tablets, which are not essential to the provision of the service, and thereafter ask to exit the contract the moment there are changes to the service.”

The public consultation closes on Oct 22.

anweizhen@mediacorp.com.sg


MDA’s key proposals to protect pay-TV subscribers

Unilateral contract variations

- Pay-TV subscribers to be allowed to end their contracts without early termination charges if retailers unilaterally increase subscription fee or remove any channels or material content within a channel.

- Consumers are allowed to exit contracts without early termination charges no later than 30 days from the date of change.

- Retailers are allowed to charge early termination charges for equipment not essential to the provision of the service, such as for laptops and tablets, subject to certain conditions.

- If a retailer takes the appropriate mitigating actions, such as reducing the subscription fee, it may be allowed to impose early termination charges.

Forced upgrade of non pay-TV services

- Retailers to be disallowed from forcing subscribers to upgrade their non pay-TV services to make changes to their pay-TV services. However, retailers are allowed to offer such upgrades as options for their consumers’ consideration.

Lack of awareness of important terms and conditions of service

- Before the contract is signed, retailers are to be required to bring to consumers’ attention important terms such as specifics on price, channels and material content within a channel.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

New professorship to encourage students to practise criminal law

Business Times
18 Sep 2014

THE National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (NUS Law) on Wednesday announced the establishment of the Amaladass Professorship in Criminal Justice with a lecture by Ho Hock Lai, the first professor appointed to the post. Speaking to more than 100 legal practitioners, students and academics, Prof Ho discussed the right of an arrested person to access a lawyer, an issue which caused contention in the case of James Raj s/o Arokiasamy v Public Prosecutor earlier this year.

The Amaladass Professorship commemorates criminal lawyer M Amaladass, who died in 2008. An anonymous friend had contributed S$1 million to NUS Law in 2009 to establish the Amaladass Fellowship in his honour. An additional gift was later made to convert the fellowship into a professorship.

"The fellowship was initially designed to support the research activities of an associate professor. Being upgraded to a professorship means that it now supports a full professor (with more) funding available for research," said an NUS spokesman. Establishing an endowed professorship typically requires a minimum S$2 million gift.

Said Simon Chesterman, dean of the NUS Faculty of Law: "This gift is . . . a timely reminder that the rewards of being a lawyer can be more than financial."

"The Amaladass Professorship will encourage more students to consider a career specialising in criminal law - and perhaps play an important role in ensuring access to justice for all Singaporeans," he added. Prof Ho was appointed to the position in April. His specialises in the areas of criminal evidence and legal theory.

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Guidelines clarify use of personal data for social, healthcare sectors

TODAY
12 Sep 2014
Tan WeiZhen

More clarity has been provided on how personal information should be handled under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which came into effect in July.

If a healthcare institution wishes to conduct research using the personal data and medical records of patients, it would not need to seek consent to use the information if it no longer has their contact details.

This was a scenario given under a set of guidelines issued yesterday by the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) for the healthcare, social, education and photography sectors.

However, the healthcare institution would have to ensure the data is used in the public’s interest and not in a way that is detrimental to patients. And it would have to get patients’ consent if it is able to contact them.

“If there is a need for a healthcare institution to use its patients’ personal data for research purposes and the institution is able to get such consent from its patients, it will have to do so,” said a PDPC spokesman.

The PDPC released the advisory guidelines after a three-week public consultation from May to June.

It has said the healthcare, social, education and photography sectors are among those that typically have to handle personal information in high volumes and that guidelines issued are based on sector-specific scenarios that happen on a regular basis.

In other healthcare-related guidelines, in the case of a general practitioner referring his patient to a specialist, consent is deemed to have been given as long as the patient agrees to the referral.

The social service sector, which drew the most feedback during the consultation — seven of 15 responses — was concerned about how fund-raising messages are sent to donors.

The PDPC clarified yesterday that voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) are not allowed to include fund-raising inserts in individual customers’ monthly mailers in collaboration with other companies.

However, they can send text messages to their donors and volunteers to ask for donations, subject to the rules of the Do Not Call (DNC) registry.

In the education sector, a question commonly raised by those who responded to the consultation was over the responsibility of school transport operators under the PDPA when using students’ data.

Based on the guidelines, the operators are considered to be an intermediary processing data on behalf of the schools, and schools will be held responsible for complying with the Act.

Meanwhile, those who are concerned that photographs taken of them may be used for an organisation’s annual reports or other corporate publications now have their fears allayed. The organisations taking these pictures will have to ask for consent to use the pictures of these individuals, said the PDPC yesterday.

PDPC chairman Leong Keng Thai said: “These guidelines are aimed at providing greater clarity to businesses and helping consumers to gain a better understanding of how to comply with the PDPA and protect personal data under their care. The PDPC will continue to develop resources to help businesses.”

Those found to breach the data-protection provisions under the PDPA may be fined or ordered to destroy the information, among other enforcement measures.

weizhen@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

Revised income tax laws to include public's suggestions

Straits Times
25 Sep 2014
Yasmine Yahya

THE Ministry of Finance has accepted several suggestions from members of the public to be incorporated into the revised Income Tax Act.

These include a suggestion to push back to July next year the implementation of a new rule that will allow Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS) members to withdraw their investments without selling them off first.

The Finance Ministry had initially proposed that this change take effect in January next year, but a member of the public suggested giving SRS operators more time to make the necessary changes to their systems and operational processes.

Currently, withdrawals can be made only in cash, so if an SRS member wants to withdraw shares from his account and transfer them to his Central Depository (CDP) account, he has to sell the shares, withdraw the cash, and then buy the same shares again to place them in the CDP account.

Allowing SRS members to withdraw investments without selling them first will reduce their costs, as they will not have to pay the transaction fees for selling and re-buying the investments.

The Finance Ministry is also accepting a few suggestions on the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC), a scheme that offers businesses cash payouts or tax deductions when they invest in productivity.

One suggestion that has been accepted is to amend the definitions of certain terms in the Act to make it clearer how and when companies can benefit from the scheme.

The ministry received 102 suggestions on its proposals during the public consultation exercise held from July 4 to 24.

Of these, 32 have been accepted and comments from those seeking clarifications will be addressed in the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore's e-Tax Guides, the ministry said.

The remaining suggestions were not accepted as they were inconsistent with either the legislative drafting conventions or the policy objectives of the proposed legislative changes, it added.

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Views differ on anti-gay sex law at NUS forum

Straits Times
18 Sep 2014
Walter Sim

Top lawyers debate repealing of Section 377A at human rights session

THE subject of universal human rights took a local turn at a university forum on Tuesday night, with two top lawyers disagreeing over whether an anti-gay sex law should be done away with.

National University of Singapore (NUS) law don Walter Woon said he was in favour of repealing the law because of what he sees as a "constitutional problem".

The Government has said that the law will not be proactively enforced. But Prof Woon, a former attorney-general, cited Section 35(8) of the Constitution to make the point that the powers to prosecute lie with the Attorney-General.

"So we have a very dangerous precedent here where the political authorities are saying to the Public Prosecutor - who is supposed to be independent - there are some laws that you don't enforce," he said at the 12th NUS Tembusu Forum attended by about 250 students.

"I find that very uncomfortable," he added.

Section 377A makes it a crime for men to commit acts of gross indecency with other men, whether in private or public. It carries a jail term of up to two years. The law, enacted in 1938, has been in the spotlight in recent years following Parliament debates and constitutional challenges.

Prof Woon said that homosexual sex was "absolutely impossible to prove" as a practical matter. He added: "As a matter of principle, if these are consenting adults, why should it carry a jail term?"

While considered a sin by certain religions, it could be accorded similar treatment to adultery and fornication, which are not crimes under the law, he said, adding: "If it is a sin, it is between you and God."

NUS Centre for International Law chairman Tommy Koh agreed that the provision should in principle be done without, but said abolishing it was "not so simple" given potential political pushback.

A majority of Singaporeans were against a repeal going by opinion polls, Prof Koh said.

"The compromise is a law in the book, but Singapore will not enforce that law," he said, adding that the Government's difficulty in balancing opposing opinions "should not be underestimated".

The panel at the two-hour forum titled Are Human Rights Truly Universal? also included Ms Braema Mathi, president of human rights group Maruah, and Mr Bernhard Faustenhammer, who heads the political, press and information section of the European Union delegation to Singapore.

They concurred that the idea of human rights is universal, but its application hinges on local contexts, such as culture and history.

Ms Mathi cited the example of Brunei's recent passing of the hudud law, an Islamic penal code that calls for death by stoning for adultery, which she said appears to contradict both regional and global human rights declarations.

waltsim@sph.com.sg

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Ending elected presidency may not work

Straits Times
11 Sep 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Fundamental features implied that cannot be changed by Constitution

ANY move to abolish the elected presidency may well not work - even if passed by Parliament.

Two lawyers suggest such a scenario as an example of how the separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary is a basic structure which cannot be changed by altering the Constitution.

Mr Calvin Liang, of Tan Kok Quan Partnership, and Ms Sarah Shi, of the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), write in the current issue of The Law Society's Law Gazette that recent cases have shown courts are beginning to recognise this basic structure.

They said: "The basic structure doctrine posits that a Constitution has certain written and unwritten features so fundamental that they cannot be abrogated through constitutional amendments."

Ms Shi, an Oxford University graduate, said the article, The Constitution Of Our Constitution: A Vindication Of The Basic Structure Doctrine, reflected her personal views and not the AGC's.

The elected presidency was raised in Parliament in May when an MP suggested scrapping the post and returning the role to its original ceremonial position as head of state.

The post was created when Singapore became independent in 1965. The president was chosen by Parliament but the role became an elected office with key powers, following amendments to the Constitution in 1991.

It has been argued that what Parliament gave, Parliament can take back.

But the authors point out that this confuses the issue of whether the basic structure can be changed as a matter of political reality with whether it would be lawful to abolish such a power.

They added: "More fundamentally, the basic structure is not tied to the source of the Constitution but to its core function as a power-limiting device."

The authors argue that the basic structure is implied and arises from the very nature of a Constitution and not by decree from the legislature or the courts.

They point out that the basic structure doctrine was expressly rejected by the High Court when first raised in a constitutional court case in 1989.

However, they cite a recent string of cases in which the courts have begun to recognise it.

These include Tan Eng Hong's bid for a judicial review of the constitutionality of section 377A of the Penal Code, seen as an anti- gay law, and the bid by Madam Vellama Marie Muthu for a court ruling on the prime minister's discretion on when to call a by-election when a seat falls vacant.

In addition, then Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong recognised this basic structure as part of the Singapore Constitution in the course of dealing with the case of Mohammad Faizal Sabtu, a convicted drug offender, in 2012.

Mohammad Faizal raised the question of law as to whether Parliament intruded into judicial power and violated the principle of separation of powers by requiring the court to impose a mandatory minimum sentence for a drug offence.

In addressing the question, the court looked at the Singapore constitutional framework, which is based on the British model. This accepts that a Constitution is based on certain unwritten basic principles, such as the separation of powers.

In effect, this means any move to abolish the elected presidency by constitutional change, even if supported by a referendum, could run into basic structure objections as it may "fundamentally alter the separation of powers".

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Case closed unless new evidence emerges, says lead investigator: Sydney double murders

Straits Times
25 Sep 2014
K.C. Vijayan

A LEAD investigator in the Sydney double murder has told The Straits Times that the case is closed unless new evidence surfaces.

Detective Sergeant Paul Thierjung also said that the police had collected enough evidence to charge Singaporean Ram Tiwary with the murders of his compatriots and flatmates Tay Chow Lyang, 26, and Tony Tan Poh Chuan, 27, in September 2003.

Mr Tiwary, who was later acquitted twice, has released a book titled 99 Months: The Case Of The Sydney Double Murders, which chronicles the eight years he spent in jail following the crimes.

Sgt Thierjung, who was in charge of investigating the case, said yesterday that he had not seen the book, in which his role is discussed on several occasions.

Mr Tiwary claimed that the detective had a "rough time" on the witness stand when quizzed about a lost video tape that could have been used as evidence. He said Sgt Thierjung had tried to brush it off but had been admonished by the judge.

Mr Tiwary also pointed out in the book how he had been arrested the day after he told the police he wanted to return to Singapore. The arrest came 256 days after the murders.

But Sgt Thierjung did not make anything of this statement.

"Maybe not that day, but he would have been arrested," the detective said yesterday.

"We were ready and the homicide section, legal counsel and others said he should be charged. The magistrate also ruled that he should stand trial."

He added that the homicide squad and the Crown prosecutors had examined the evidence before deciding to pursue the charges against Mr Tiwary, who was then 25.

"We had a duty to let the courts decide on the material we gathered."

He noted among other things how Chief Judge Peter McClellan, in Mr Tiwary's first successful appeal, had said that "there was evidence upon which a jury properly instructed could convict the appellant".

He added that the court in Mr Tiwary's second successful appeal also found the prosecutors had a "plausible" case and aspects of Mr Tiwary's account to the police "were difficult to accept".

As to whether the police did enough to pursue all the leads after Mr Tiwary's arrest, Sgt Thierjung said investigations were done to "the nth degree".

"You don't stop even when he is charged. Investigations continued and so as more evidence hits the light, you keep going for that evidence."

He explained that while some may complain about how the case eventually unfolded, "a person is entitled to an acquittal if there is reasonable doubt".

"That does not mean he or she did or didn't do it. Two people were killed and I feel sorry for the families."

vijayan@sph.com.sg


About the case

MR RAM Tiwary was accused and acquitted twice of the double murder of fellow Singaporeans Tay Chow Lyang and Tony Tan Poh Chuan on Sept 15, 2003, in Sydney. The trio, who were then undergraduates at the University of New South Wales, were co-tenants of the same upper floor of a duplex apartment.

Both were bludgeoned with a baseball bat in attacks that occurred some two hours apart.

Mr Tiwary was charged for the murders and convicted by jury and judge in 2006, but was subsequently acquitted by an appeals court, which ordered a retrial.

He was convicted again in 2009 by jury in a second trial, before another appeals hearing saw him freed in 2012.

The court held that while there was "considerable suspicion" about his version of events, there were reasonable doubts, such as the lack of forensic material linking him to the murders.

K.C. VIJAYAN


Man cleared of flatmates' murders tells his story

CONVICTED, sentenced to life imprisonment but ultimately acquitted of the 2003 murders of his two flatmates in Sydney, Singaporean Ram Puneet Tiwary shares his side of the story in a new memoir.

The book, 99 Months: The Case Of The Sydney Double Murders, is published by Marshall Cavendish Editions and will be on sale by Sunday. The 344-page book retails at $23.35 before GST.

In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, Mr Tiwary, 35, explains his long silence since returning to Singapore two years ago. "It was out of respect for the families, I thought speaking to the media might be insensitive," he says, adding that he was also afraid of more media attention.

He says friends convinced him he needed to set the record straight about his alleged involvement in the killings.

He also hopes that the book might prompt new witnesses to come forward and help solve his flatmates' murders. "It might be possible. Why not try?"

He declines to talk about his personal life or job but says he is no longer based in Singapore and never completed the mechanical engineering degree which took him to Sydney in the first place.

He did not talk to loved ones about his mental and physical anguish over eight years of jail time, two trials and two appeal hearings. Then a friend asked him to write "a series of notes" to her about what he had been through. It evolved into a book.

Mr Tiwary was studying at the University of New South Wales with fellow Singaporeans Tay Chow Lyang, 26, and Tony Tan Poh Chuan, 27, when both were murdered on Sept 15, 2003. Arrested and charged in May 2004, Mr Tiwary was jailed, but acquitted in 2012. Crown prosecutors said they would not appeal against the acquittal.

In the book, Mr Tiwary says he was asleep in his room on the day of the murders and unaware of Mr Tay's death. He later heard the struggle that led to Mr Tan's death, but was too afraid to go outside and barricaded his door.

He alleges that evidence supporting his version of events was either misplaced or suppressed by local police. The first video of him being questioned after the murders was reported as "missing" before the first trial. Mr Tiwary says the tape would have silenced allegations that he had a lot of blood on him and was cleaning it off when officers arrived.

Prosecutors also suggested that he killed his flatmates because of a A$5,054 (S$5,700) debt for rent and household expenses. An online chat message sent by Mr Tay showed Mr Tiwary had been paying his share, the book says.

Mr Tiwary received a life sentence after the first trial. In his book, he writes that jail conditions were so bad he became obsessed with cleanliness, soaking letters from relatives in disinfectant before reading them.

Attacks from fellow inmates left him with limited sensation in the right thumb and a scarred right shoulder. At one point, he decided if his appeal failed, he would "'take out' certain people" and then kill himself with drugs. "Being put in a cage really does make you an animal," he says.

He has not approached his former flatmates' families since his return - "I don't know how to take the first step. They have their own idea of how things happened" - but hopes they will read the book.

"I've tried to be honest and open about everything. I'd like it if they read it, but I don't hope for anything in particular for them to think after they've read it."

Mr Tan's family has declined to comment. Mr Tay's family could not be reached by press time.

AKSHITA NANDA

akshitan@sph.com.sg


Background Story

'I'D LIKE IT IF THEY READ IT'

I don't know how to take the first step... I've tried to be honest and open about everything. I'd like it if they read it, but I don't hope for anything in particular for them to think after they've read it.

- Mr Ram Tiwary, on his former flatmates' families

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