03 March 2015
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Court throws out man's bid to get back $500k in 'love gifts' to mistress

Straits Times
03 Mar 2015
K.C. Vijayan

THE High Court threw out a Singaporean businessman's bid to recover "love gifts" allegedly worth $500,000 from his China-born mistress after their two-year affair soured.

The court found Mr Kua Tee Beng, 67, could not back his claim that he had been pressured to give her lavish gifts including a $40,000 cheque and $295,000 to help buy a condominium unit.

"(Mr Kua)'s evidence that the defendant threatened to tell his current wife about their relationship does not sit comfortably with (his) own behaviour over the course of the parties' two-year relationship," said Judicial Commissioner George Wei. "Given that (Mr Kua) is an independent and successful businessman, I find it hard to believe that he would so easily succumb to the pressure he alleges," he said in judgment grounds released yesterday.

Mr Kua had sued for the return of three Rolex watches worth $50,000 in total, jewellery valued at $30,000 and monthly allowances amounting to $85,000 allegedly given over two years from June 2011 to hairdressing salon owner Ye Caiyan, 41.

He also sought the return of $295,000 he had put down for an $808,000 three-room apartment in Hong San Walk in Choa Chu Kang registered in her name.

Madam Ye, a Fujian native who is now a Singapore citizen, has three school-going children with her Singaporean husband, from whom she is legally separated.

Mr Kua is twice married and has three children, aged between 38 and 44, with his first wife.

He first met Madam Ye in August 2010 through her nephew, a mechanic at his workshop. Some seven months later, they became involved and he started giving her expensive items and money.

Both gave "wildly conflicting" versions of why the relationship ended in 2013, noted the judge.

Mr Kua's lawyer Subbiah Pillai argued she had exerted undue influence to make him give her the various items and that the condo was actually being held by her in trust for him so his children could not fight over it.

But Madam Ye's lawyer Ramalingam Kasi countered the items, given in the "context of a loving and sexually intimate relationship" were non-returnable as they were "voluntarily given".

The judge found Mr Kua did not offer a "single shred of evidence" to show he gave her the jewellery or three Rolex watches, instead of only one Rolex.

Nor could Mr Kua prove he had been threatened by Madam Ye into supporting her for over two years, paying maintenance monthly and holiday bills for her and her children.

Mr Kua claimed that Madam Ye went to his motor workshop office frequently to badger and "create a scene" for payments but no witness was called to support this claim, noted the judge, who was also not convinced Mr Kua wanted to buy the property for himself given his "lack of involvement" in the purchase, among other things.

"I do not find it extraordinary or implausible that (Mr Kua) intended to benefit (Madam Ye) with the entire $295,000. This is perfectly understandable given that the parties were in an intimate relationship at that point."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Short end of stick for firms targeted by short-sellers?

Straits Times
25 Feb 2015
Yasmine Yahya

THE fallout from accusations made against Noble Group by Iceberg Research reflects not just how influential such analysts can be but also that regulators are starting to pay serious attention.

Yet there is also an increasing awareness in the market that there is little that regulators can do in such situations, especially if the research firms are based overseas.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said last week that it would "take appropriate action" if the statements in the Iceberg report breached the Securities and Futures Act.

Iceberg has claimed that Noble uses accounting loopholes to inflate its profits and hide its losses.

The research house has declined to reveal where it is based, how many people are behind it or who they are. Its website has no identifying or contact information.

Faceless though it may be, its report has had a big impact, even after Noble denied the allegations. Noble shares declined almost 13 per cent to a two-week low in the two days of trading after the report was issued.

Although the stock recovered a bit of ground last Wednesday before the Chinese New Year break, it continued to fall yesterday, ending the day down 2.5 cents, or 2.3 per cent, at $1.06.

Noble is only the latest in a series of Asian companies on the receiving end of such attacks.

In the past four years or so, several research firms, usually based in the United States or Europe, have targeted Asian companies with similarly scathing reports, causing sharp falls in their share prices.

These research firms are often short-sellers. That is, they have made a bet that the company's share price will fall, so in triggering the slump of the stock with their reports, they are also making big profits.

Iceberg has denied shorting Noble stock. But in 2012, research firm Muddy Waters attacked Olam International after having shorted its shares.

Market observers have long called for more to be done to rein in such practices, noting that it is wrong for short-sellers to short a stock, then use their outsize influence to issue a negative report and cause that share to fall, thereby making a profit at the expense of retail investors.

"This is unfair trading in every sense but Muddy Waters got its reward. It exposes a loophole in the global trading community," said retail investor Geoffrey Kung.

The writers of such critical reports, which can cause volatility in the markets, should also be accountable and preferably regulated by the local authorities of the market, he added.

The watchdogs are now taking note.

In December, Hong Kong's securities regulator began its first legal action against famous short-seller Citron Research for issuing a "false and misleading" report on Chinese property developer Evergrande Real Estate Group and profiting from the company's share drop.

The MAS move to review Iceberg's report looks to be a step towards the same direction. However, corporate lawyer Adrian Chan notes that regulators will likely not be able to do very much.

"The odds are stacked against them, especially if the firm is beyond their territorial jurisdiction. They would need the cooperation of the relevant authority and even then, these things take a long time," he said.

"Definitely there should be a more holistic cross-border approach to ensuring a level playing field for capital markets, but the good news is that the authorities are moving in that direction, forging closer contact and cooperation."

Global regulators are working together more closely than before to tackle cross-border financial crimes such as tax evasion, money laundering and terrorism financing, he noted. It is only a matter of time before they turn their focus on rooting out unscrupulous short-sellers.

But veteran investor Mano Sabnani believes these short-sellers have their value too.

"They provide different perspectives - they are critical and look at the negative side of companies. We seldom see strong sell reports from regular broking houses and analysts," he noted.

"Regulators should not jump into action to catch these companies. Let the market decide. If the reports are bad, I'm sure the companies can refute the points made."

yasminey@sph.com.sg

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MAS crowdfunding proposals draw mixed views

Business Times
17 Feb 2015
Kenneth Lim

Lower capital requirements welcomed, but restricted investor pool in contention

[Singapore] NEW proposals by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to help develop a securities crowdfunding market has earned limited praise from the industry for bringing clarity to the fog of a frontier business.

MAS on Monday sought feedback on proposals to lower the capital burden on platform operators, but continued to restrict such marketplaces to sophisticated investors and to ban deal-related marketing to the public.

In explaining the consultation, MAS argued that securities crowdfunding can offer an alternative source of private financing for start-ups and small and medium enterprises, and allows young businesses to attain market validation.

In response to feedback, MAS plans to reduce the minimum base capital requirement for platform operators to S$50,000 from the current minimum of S$250,000 to S$500,000. MAS also plans to waive a S$100,000 security deposit requirement for platform operators. But MAS made a distinction between reward or donation crowdfunding and financial-return crowdfunding, asserting that the latter presented substantial risks for investors. The offer of securities, regardless of platform, is also normally a regulated activity.

MAS will therefore restrict securities crowdfunding to accredited or institutional investors. That will forbid platform operators from advertising individual deals to the general public.

Companies hoping to raise money on such platforms will also be exempt from issuing prospectuses, on the assumption that the offers are restricted to sophisticated investors.

The consultation in general was well received by industry players, who said they had been hoping for regulatory certainty as they planned to roll out platforms later this year.

"Now with clarity and some guidance, it becomes clearer, so players can start to decide which of the segments they want to play in," said Clearbridge Accelerator partner Steven Fang, whose firm is working with the Singapore Exchange to create a platform by the middle of the year.

The relaxed capital requirements, in particular, was welcome relief.

"It shows understanding of how equity crowdfunding is different from other kinds of capital markets," said Crowdonomic chief executive Leo Shimada, who said his firm is planning a securities platform for Singapore later this year.

The restriction of the platform to accredited investors, however, could become a point of contention.

Mr Shimada argued that the hurdle for being an accredited investor in Singapore is so high that many current angel investors will not qualify. "Crowdfunding as the name entails, a lot of the funding should be driven by the non-accredited market as well," he said.

Mr Shimada said Malaysia's solution, which allows retail participation, may offer a model for Singapore. To protect retail exposure, the rules could cap the investments of non-sophisticated investors, emphasize education and institutionalise transparency and disclosures, he added.

The task of balancing access to capital and protecting investors will be a difficult task, Mr Fang said.

"I looked through the document twice, and I think they're still unsure about the retail space, but a lot clearer about setting the guidelines for the accredited investor space," he said.

The rules must ultimately ensure that investors are given all the data that they need to make informed decisions, and offer them some recourse if there is wrongdoing.

"What's really critical here is protecting the investor," Mr Fang said. "All you need is one or two of these failed investments and then you will get a bad name and kill the whole industry because of that."

kenlim@sph.com.sg

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Rationale for axing law schools not convincing: Forum

Straits Times
03 Mar 2015

NATIONAL University of Singapore (NUS) law dean Simon Chesterman has suggested that the eight law schools dropped from the approved list are among the lower-ranked law schools in Britain and their graduates often find it harder to get jobs ("Shorter list of approved UK law schools welcomed"; last Thursday).

He then urged parents and students as follows: "Instead of spending tens of thousands of pounds on a law education at a lower-ranked school, they could be better off pursuing other degrees locally."

I have had the benefit of studying at NUS Law School, the Singapore Management University (SMU) Law School and Leicester Law School. I gained far more from my experience in a year in Leicester than I have in a year in the other two law schools.

It is not accurate to imply that graduates of the University of Leicester find it harder to get jobs. Recent alumni of the law school include at least one justice's law clerk and a leading investment banker. Several of us started our careers in top Singapore law firms, and most of us are now in offshore law firms, multinational corporations or financial institutions.

By narrowing the list of approved schools to high-cost areas of England like Oxford and London, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education has made the pursuit of an English law degree more expensive and a preserve of the rich. My parents had to sell their HDB home to send me to law school.

If the decision was made purely on rankings, the University of Bristol, which was ranked lower than the University of Southampton in the 2014 Guardian League Table for law schools, should have been struck off.

Many students choose to study law overseas because they desire to study law but are not able to secure a place in the local law schools. To suggest that they do something else is a fundamental failure to understand a person's motivation for studying law. Not all who choose to study law do it to become lawyers. This is a traditional mindset we should shift away from.

Stakeholders of the legal profession could have been better consulted before the recommendations were made. The eight law schools could also have been given an avenue to respond to the recommendations, rather than wait five years for the next review to take place.

Dharmendra Yadav

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US ruling on Net neutrality will have impact worldwide

Straits Times
25 Feb 2015
Ang Peng Hwa & Kyu Ho Youm

THE recent announcement by Mr Tom Wheeler, chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), that the US government will ensure Net neutrality signals a significant shift in how the Internet will be treated in the future.

The signal was clearly timed for the start of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) meeting in Singapore that began on Feb 9 after Mr Wheeler's announcement.

"These bright-line rules," he declared, "will ban paid prioritisation and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services."

Net neutrality is based on the core principle that Internet providers should treat online content equally. There should be no such thing as "fast lane" or "slow lane" in the Internet traffic for those who can or cannot afford to pay.

To date, only three nations - Brazil, Chile and the Netherlands - have formally ratified Net neutrality as a legal requirement.

Under the proposed rules, the US would regulate the Internet like a public utility provider. This would mean preventing Internet service providers (ISPs) from giving faster, better access to higher-paying customers, such as businesses. The FCC is expected to vote on the rules this week.

Although Net neutrality suggests moderateness (what could be more neutral than the very word "neutrality"?), Mr Wheeler's statement is strong and loaded with political overtones.

What's significant about his statement is that it was an explicit commitment by the US to Net neutrality.

His unreserved adoption of Net neutrality as a central principle of American Internet law was a paradigm-shifting moment.

For one thing, it brings the Internet within the ambit of regulators.

The US has always treated information services as a private- sector activity. This has meant a hands-off approach for the government. The Internet was viewed as a means to information services. Thus, it was left unregulated. Or more accurately, no new Internet-specific regulation was deemed necessary.

Because it had been invented from parts that were already regulated in the US - the telephone, the computer, software service - the Internet was already subject to regulation of one sort or another, albeit indirectly.

With the rise of the Internet, there was no move to develop a body of new regulation. For example, there are no rules on the quality of Internet service.

This was unlike Singapore, which had quality of service rules even from the early days of the Internet.

In Singapore, the Internet regulator, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), has developed a clear position on Net neutrality.

After a round of consultation in 2010, the IDA's position on Net neutrality came down on the side of protecting the consumer.

ISPs in Singapore can sell "fast lanes" as long as they continue to offer good service levels to their average users. But they are banned from blocking legitimate Internet content or degrading website access to such an extent that the websites become effectively blocked.

Second, the US government's policy change on Net neutrality can be said to be a triumph for grassroots politics. It is a direct result of the bottom-up push of Americans to the Obama administration to prioritise Internet users, not Internet gatekeepers.

Third, the change in stance on Net neutrality could have an impact beyond the US.

Under American law, Internet access is neither a human right nor a constitutional right. The FCC's Net neutrality rules are based on the US Communications Act, not on a constitutional mandate.

The FCC rules would reclassify broadband Internet - both wired and wireless - under stricter laws and treat it like a utility, giving people access to it the way they have access to power and water.

But as it is not constitutionally mandated, the rules will not be as permanent. This stands in sharp contrast to an increasing number of countries, such as France, Greece and Costa Rica, where individuals now have a constitutional right to access the Internet.

In this sense, the US trails, not leads, many other countries in promoting Internet access as a human right. Its decision is certain to animate conversations globally on this issue.

The Net neutrality evolution in American law is relevant to many countries as a valuable reference point to the interconnected world. Not because it may offer solutions to the world's Internet law issues, but because it has chosen, as in the past, to experiment with an array of new free-speech issues. Governments around the world should watch how the US government manages its Internet through Net neutrality.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

Ang Peng Hwa is professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where Kyu Ho Youm is the Wee Kim Wee visiting professor. The latter is from the University of Oregon, where he is the Jonathan Marshall First Amendment Chair.

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Human rights official's remark on M. Ravi slammed

Straits Times
17 Feb 2015
K.C. Vijayan

THE Law Society yesterday rebuked a Human Rights Watch (HRW) official who claimed it had sought opportunities to "knock down" lawyer M. Ravi following his recent outbursts.

It said a statement by Mr Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW's Asia Division, was "wholly incorrect and offensive".

Mr Robertson was cited as saying in a Reuters report last Saturday: "The Law Society of Singapore have not been enamoured of Ravi for quite some time and have sought opportunities to knock him down, and because of Ravi's medical condition, they have had this latest chance to do so."

The society last week ordered 43-year-old Mr Ravi to stop practising, pending examination and assessment by a consultant psychiatrist on his medical condition.

The society's move was preceded by serious concerns raised over Mr Ravi's medical condition, which it subsequently explained.

Mr Ravi's consulting psychiatrist had diagnosed him as being hypomanic and medically unfit for duty between Feb 3 and Feb 6. But he did not comply with the advice, appeared in court and continued work as a lawyer.

The society had said then that "his hypomania created risk of errors of judgment, erratic and abnormal behaviour, and emotional outbursts".

Last Saturday, Mr Ravi was said to have denounced the society for the "oppressive, arbitrary, discriminatory and inappropriate manner in which they have suspended me".

The Law Society's statement yesterday added: "While we do not consider it appropriate to engage in a media debate, we will briefly state that to say that the direction issued by the council is 'oppressive, arbitrary, discriminatory and inappropriate manner' is wrong and ignores the facts and the law."

The society criticised Mr Robertson for not contacting it to clarify its position before making his comment.

It suggested Mr Robertson should have acquainted himself with the facts first and allowed the society to respond to his allegation before publishing it.

"He is either totally unaware of or ignoring the objective facts that underlie the society's decision," it added.

The Law Society's governing council had made clear that while its range of options to deal with Mr Ravi included more drastic measures, its move to temporarily stop his practice "best balances the interests of Mr Ravi himself, his clients and the integrity of the legal profession".

Subject to Mr Ravi complying with the relevant matters, he could continue to practise as a lawyer, it added.

It also said: "Far from seeking 'opportunities to knock him down', council's approach has consistently been to find workable solutions to help Ravi manage his medical condition to enable him to safely continue in practice.

"We are puzzled by Phil Robertson's comment."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Aussie legal education more relevant: Forum

Straits Times
03 Mar 2015

THE removal of eight British universities from the approved list for admission into the Singapore Bar has, understandably, sparked protests ("Shorter list of approved UK law schools welcomed"; last Thursday).

Questions have been asked, in particular, as to why Australian universities were not similarly reviewed ("Some Aussie varsities 'rated lower', but were not delisted"; last Friday).

Many parents and prospective students may not realise that the legal education one gets from an Australian law school is likely to be more relevant than that from a British university.

Because of Britain's membership in the European Union, the British law course includes compulsory modules on EU law, which has little relevance for the Singapore practice.

At the same time, the British law course does not make modules such as company law compulsory, which is a significant handicap for the returning law graduate seeking Singapore qualification.

On top of that, even for the relevant modules taken, British law itself has diverged from common law (which forms part of Singapore law) in many respects.

There is more commonality between Singapore law and Australian law, than between Singapore law and British law, even for statute law.

The British course is also a three-year course, as compared with the four-year Australian course.

In other words, the UK law graduate may end up having taken far fewer relevant modules than the Australian graduate.

One of the reasons for the British universities' relative popularity is the very fact that they offer a three-year, and not a four-year course. However, at least one Australian university gives a one-year reduction for holders of the Law and Management Diploma from Temasek Polytechnic.

The Singapore Institute of Legal Education has also recently shifted the timing of the Part A Singapore law course (compulsory for all foreign law graduates) to be more suitable for the Australian graduation dates.

Thus, for parents and students who may not be confident of entry into the local law schools, it may not be a bad idea for them to consider the Temasek Polytechnic/Australian university route instead.

Josephine Chong (Ms)


Background Story

LET BAR EXAM BE DECIDING FACTOR

Anyone who wants a law degree should be able to get it. The solution to the glut of lawyers is the Bar exam. The Bar exam can be used as a quality control tool that helps to assess those who are likely to be suitable for practice. With this, everyone competes on a level playing field. This is also consistent with our meritocratic system. This should hopefully alleviate the unnecessary inferences drawn by some that the graduates of the delisted universities are inferior. If you are good enough, you will pass the Bar exam regardless of the university you graduated from.

- Livia Ong (Ms)

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ADV: LexisNexis Trends Update on Legal Cost Management

Singapore Law Watch
25 Feb 2015
LexisNexis

Woman loses appeal for residency visa Down Under

Straits Times
17 Feb 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Tribunal rejects claim she would not get adequate medical care in S'pore hospitals

AN AUSTRALIAN migration tribunal has rejected an elderly Singaporean woman's claim that she would not get adequate medical attention in Singapore hospitals if she was seriously ill.

The tribunal, using its own research on the Singapore Ministry of Health's website, said the health-care system in Singapore provided for different tiers of protection, such as via Medifund, MediShield and Medisave.

The mixed financing system is to ensure no Singaporean is denied access to basic health care because of affordability issues, the tribunal noted.

"The tribunal remains troubled by the sponsor's assertions that were the applicant in dire medical need, she would not be treated in a Singapore hospital because of lack of finances and lack of health insurance," it said in decision grounds out last week.

The Melbourne-based Migration Review Tribunal had convened last month to consider the appeal of the applicant, Madam Low Seok Keow, 79, over her failure to obtain a residency visa from the Australian authorities.

Madam Low, who had repeatedly visited her Australia-based son and his family, had sought the visa as an aged dependant to be supported by him as the sponsor.

She had testified with her son Lim Siak Wah and grandchild Cheryl Lim before the tribunal last November.

Tribunal member Rosa Gagliardi expressed doubts over whether the widow had substantially depended on her son for support for a reasonable period prior to the application.

She accepted that Mr Lim had a "strong cultural and emotional attachment" to his mother and took care of her well-being. But there was not enough to show that she depended on him more than on any other person or source of support.

Her profile showed that she had strong personal and financial attachments in Singapore, and had incentives to return here. Among other things, she had interests in the Singapore properties of her two sons and deposits totalling about $225,000.

She had said the deposit funds were kept to deal with any "unforeseen and high escalating cost of medical bills or treatment during emergencies such as (for) chronic illness".

She had also argued that she was totally outside all the schemes and was unable to contribute to Medisave because she used to be self-employed.

But the tribunal pointed out that, given the average Medisave account held $16,900, even if she did not contribute to such a scheme, "her total savings well exceed $16,900, meaning she (has) the ability to fund her medical requirements without diminishing her overall savings significantly".

vijayan@sph.com.sg


Background Story

ASSERTIONS TROUBLING

The tribunal remains troubled by the sponsor's assertions that were the applicant in dire medical need, she would not be treated in a Singapore hospital because of lack of finances and lack of health insurance.

- Australia's Migration Review Tribunal, in its decision grounds

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Qualifying Certificate scheme: Time for review

Straits Times
03 Mar 2015
Melissa Tan

Developers have chosen to delist or sell units to a Singapore subsidiary rather than pay fees to hold onto unsold units in a down market

SOME property developers have turned to creative restructuring over the past few months to escape hefty penalties for their unsold private homes.

They have sold those homes to a subsidiary, or gone to the extent of delisting, in order to avoid those penalties.

Under the Residential Property Act, "foreign developers" must apply for Qualifying Certificates (QC) when they buy private residential land for development.

Foreign developers are defined as developers whose shareholders and directors are not all Singaporean. Listed companies are deemed foreign as they would have some foreign shareholders.

Once it obtains this certificate, the developer is bound by the QC rules. One of the rules gives a developer five years to complete a project and two more to sell all the units - or a total of seven years from the date it bought the land. It is not allowed to rent out unsold units.

If it fails to meet this deadline, it may have to forfeit a banker's guarantee worth 10 per cent of the land purchase price. Unsold units risk being force-sold by the Government.

By limiting foreign companies' holding period, the QC scheme was meant to prevent them from hoarding land or buying land for speculation in Singapore.

But it allows developers to pay an extension fee to get another three years to sell the units. The fee goes from 8 per cent of the purchase price for the first year to 16 per cent for the second year and 24 per cent for the third. Since land purchases are often in hundreds of millions of dollars, that adds up to a staggering sum.

Developers don't want to pay the high fees, but are also loath to slash prices further to move units in a lacklustre market. As a result, some have turned to creative ways to get out of the bind.

One is to delist, if it happens to be a listed company.

Mainboard-listed Popular Holdings declared in January that it wanted to delist to avoid QC penalties, which could cost it up to $99 million.

Another way for a foreign developer to solve the problem is to sell all the units in the development to a privately-held Singapore company. This buyer could be the foreign developer's privately held parent company or subsidiary.

The buyer of the units would have to pay an additional buyer's stamp duty of 15 per cent - this is the rate for companies - of the homes' purchase price.

One example is mainboard-listed Hiap Hoe, which launched a high-end condominium near Orchard Road in 2012 but failed to sell any units. Eventually, it sold the entire project to its privately-held parent company in December last year for about 15 per cent lower than the bulk sale's initial asking price in October 2013.

Before that, Hiap Hoe offloaded some luxury units in another project last year to a subsidiary to avoid having to pay any extension charges on its unsold units.

Since Hiap Hoe's private homes did get sold, albeit to a related company, Hiap Hoe would not have breached QC rules.

Such actions are legitimate and, of course, not cheap for the developer to undertake.

However, they do raise a fundamental question: Is such a move in line with the spirit of the QC policy? Developers first found out that they could escape QC penalties by delisting back in 2013. That was when luxury developer SC Global - the developer of ritzy projects such as The Marq on Paterson Hill - decided to delist from the mainboard.

SC Global's delisting was closely watched because the developer had many unsold luxury units. Market watchers had believed at the time that the QCs it had obtained for its existing private projects would still apply.

After it delisted, SC Global was considered a privately-held Singapore company, and therefore not required to follow QC rules.

SC Global applied later that year to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to get the QCs on all its projects cancelled, and succeeded. Freed from the seven-year rule, it could hold on to unsold units and not have to pay millions in extension charges.

Extending the sale deadline at its 66-unit The Marq on Paterson Hill for a mere six months, for instance, would have cost $5.5 million.

The SLA at that time explained that SC Global's QCs were cancelled because it had now become a Singapore company.

Although SC Global was the first case made public, the SLA disclosed that Soilbuild Group had delisted and got its QCs cancelled a few years earlier. Soilbuild delisted in 2010 and became a Singapore company, got its QCs for its private project cancelled, then re-listed in 2013.

The SLA's pivotal decision that foreign-turned-Singaporean developers could get their existing QCs cancelled surprised market watchers in 2013, and for good reason.

By doing so, the SLA effectively sent the signal that developers can list, and tap foreign funds to buy Singapore land. If the market is bullish, they can sell and pocket profits. If the market turns bearish, they can choose to delist, hold on to their units and avoid paying extension fees. This lets them avoid the full brunt of the consequences of their investment.

It also goes against the objective of the QC in the first place, which was to prevent foreign developers from hoarding land or projects.

To be sure, developers are not to blame for wanting to avoid QC penalties. Their actions to delist or sell units to a subsidiary make perfect sense, given the rules in place and the poor condition of the property market.

It is not too late, however, for regulators to review how they assess future applications for retroactive QC clearances, which would make for a fairer marketplace.

melissat@sph.com.sg

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Dropping Reits' stamp duty concessions helps level playing field

Straits Times
25 Feb 2015
Goh Eng Yeow

THERE was a predictable moan from real estate investment trust (Reit) managers and tax experts over the Government's decision not to extend the stamp duty concessions for Reits on the purchase of local properties after they expire on March 31.

It would add another 3 per cent to the costs of Reits acquiring properties here and make it more challenging for them to grow their portfolios, they complain.

Yet, as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam noted in his Budget 2015 speech, the stamp duty concessions "were intended to enable the industry to acquire a critical mass of local assets as a base from which Reits can expand abroad, (and) this has been achieved".

One might also add that the move would level the field for other players in competing with Reits to acquire properties in Singapore.

In 2005, when the stamp duty waiver - together with a slew of other tax incentives - were given, there were only five Reits listed here with a total market value of $9 billion.

That has since grown to 28 Reits and six stapled securities - an asset class which involves a Reit "stapled" to other forms of investments - with a total market capitalisation of $67 billion.

But despite bulking up in a big way in the past 10 years, Reits have continued to chase property deals in the small congested Singapore market rather than try to use their financial clout to land prized catches overseas.

According to Ms Christine Li, director of research at Cushman and Wakefield, six of the top 10 investment deals last year involved Reits buying properties locally, worth a total of $4 billion in transaction value.

Several Reits are also 100 per cent Singapore-focused.

These include well-known names in the market such as CapitaMall Trust.

A few, such as Far East Hospitality Trust, are said to have a pipeline of local assets lined up for injection by their respective sponsors.

That said, the Government is going to extend income tax and goods and services (GST) tax concessions which Reits currently enjoy.

The implied message, one concludes, is that, going forward, Reits should try to buy from overseas to grow their portfolios.

With the extensions, Reits will continue to enjoy tax exemption on qualifying foreign-sourced income, a reduced withholding tax of 10 per cent on its payouts to foreign institutional investors and GST remissions on business expenses for Reits with overseas assets.

Ernst and Young tax partner Lim Gek Khim said: "For Reits investing in overseas properties, this would facilitate more overseas acquisitions and encourage the listing of cross-border Reits on the Singapore Exchange."

In its Think Singapore report, Citi Research noted that allowing the stamp duty concession to expire was a less damaging removal of a tax incentive given to the Reit sector.

This is because it is a transaction-based tax that would not add to the ongoing tax burden to the Reit or the Reit investor.

The impact of removing the stamp duty waiver is slight enough "not to create too un-level a playing field that would lead Reits to favour overseas acquisitions where stamp duties may still be payable in any case", it added.

engyeow@sph.com.sg

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Obstetricians up in arms over new protection limits

Straits Times
17 Feb 2015
Salma Khalik

OBSTETRICIANS here are in an uproar, with more than one in four saying they plan to stop delivering babies within the year.

This comes in the wake of changes to their protection plans that will leave them to fend for themselves against lawsuits from patients once they retire.

Unlike most other medical specialities where there is usually a three-year time limit, a baby has up till three years after turning 21 - or 24 years from birth - to file a lawsuit against the doctor.

Until last month, obstetricians who paid the Medical Protection Society (MPS) $36,000 a year were covered for suits against them, no matter when the complaint was made. So those who have retired remain protected for the rest of their lives.

With the change, the renewal fee drops to $22,045 a year from this month. But the doctors will be covered only for complaints made while they are members of the London-based MPS.

They could remain covered by paying fees to the not-for-profit MPS for 24 years after their last delivery.

Historically, there have been claims made many years after the delivery, and settlements run into hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars.

MPS told The Straits Times that such limited coverage is practised in many countries, including the United States.

This way, it can "price subscriptions for obstetric risks more accurately and fairly since it can be difficult to predict long-term obstetric risk".

MPS told the doctors that many factors can have an impact on the final value of the claim, "such as a change in legislation, the claims environment or increased consumer willingness to make a claim".

It said the alternative was to either raise the annual fees "significantly", or stop covering them altogether. Fees have already gone up by more than $10,000 over three years for obstetrics.

The Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Singapore (OGSS) did a survey among its 294 members after being notified of the change.

Of the 311 obstetricians and gynaecologists registered here, 231 responded, with 79 saying they plan to stop delivering babies when their membership is up for renewal.

Another 61 said they plan to stop within five years.

Some have already stopped accepting new expectant patients, preferring to concentrate on gynaecology, or the treatment of women's diseases.

Almost all said they feel "pressured to raise patients' fees" to cope with the extended premiums they might need to pay, and hoped that the Health Ministry (MOH) would cap payouts to patients the way Australia does.

Dr Abdul Aziz, who delivers about 400 babies year, said he will continue to deliver babies, but might have to double the fees.

If that results in a big drop in patients, he might stop as it "would not be worth taking the risks".

Dr Tony Tan, president of OGSS, said the society is in talks "with various stakeholders" to try to find a solution.

Professor Benjamin Ong, director of medical services at MOH, said the ministry is aware of the situation and is "working on the potential implications to our doctors".

salma@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/ST.Salma


Background Story

Doctors sued years after child's birth

CLAIMS can be made against obstetricians up to three years after a baby turns 21 years old.

Lawyer Charles Lin of MyintSoe & Selvaraj said parents here are well-informed and would check with their own doctors to see if a problem might have been caused by something during delivery.

Mr Lin is in the midst of a civil suit which was brought against a doctor when the child involved was five years old.

In other countries, suits can be raised many years after birth.

The Supreme Court in New South Wales awarded A$14 million (reduced to A$11 million on appeal) to Ms Calandre Simpson, aged 22 in 2001, for cerebral palsy caused by 15 to 20 minutes without oxygen at her birth.

In France, two 20-year-old girls are suing the hospital where they were born for accidentally switching them at birth.

SALMA KHALIK

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Firms moving to meet minimum trading price rule

Straits Times
03 Mar 2015
Grace Leong

Some propose share consolidation to get share price up during grace period

A MAJOR change that kicks in next year, requiring mainboard-listed firms to have a minimum share trading price of 20 cents, has already sparked action on some corporate floors.

The new Minimum Trading Price (MTP) rule takes effect on March 1 next year. The 12-month countdown to it has begun.

The year's grace period gives firms time to get their six-month average share price above 20 cents.

The best way of doing that is through a share consolidation, which involves reducing the number of issued shares. Once that has been done, each investor will have his stake re-calibrated to reflect the new shareholding.

While almost 250 firms of 650 mainboard-listed stocks are trading below 20 cents, only nine so far have proposed consolidations - Top Global, Uni-Asia Holdings, Aztech Group, Global Testing Corp, Hotung Investment Holdings, Captii, SP Corp, Multi-Chem and CEI Contract Manufacturing.

More consolidation applications are expected as a number of companies that tend to have their annual general meetings (AGM) in coming months would want to also hold the required extraordinary general meeting (EGM) at the same time to save costs, corporate lawyer Robson Lee said.

Property developer Top Global is starting its consolidation exercise now so it can be ready by next March when the SGX will conduct its compliance review, a company spokesman said.

The firm said it decided to seek SGX approval early for the share consolidation circular so it can run it by shareholders at an EGM to be held at the same time as its upcoming AGM. "The share price will be based on the average trading price from Sept 1, 2015 through Feb 28, 2016," said a company spokesman.

The MTP process has a clearly defined timeline.

After the grace period ends on March 1 next year, those still below the 20-cent level will go on a watchlist for three years, during which their shares will be ineligible for investment under the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Investment Scheme. The move is aimed at safeguarding CPF members' savings.

Companies that still fail to comply by Feb 28, 2019, could be delisted or have the option to transfer to the Catalist board, where there will be no MTP.

There are other benefits in getting the process going such as SGX waiving the fees for MTP-related share consolidations for two years. Some firms may have to bear only legal fees.

NRA Capital executive chairman Kevin Scully noted that the decision to do a share consolidation is also driven by a company's business outlook.

Some firms may opt not to do a consolidation now as they expect robust earnings and their share price to rise above 20 cents before the rule takes effect, he said.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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'Removing HQ tax break will not turn off firms'

Straits Times
25 Feb 2015
Rennie Whang

EXPERTS are confident a move to withdraw a tax break for companies that set up headquarters here will not greatly affect Singapore's appeal to big foreign firms.

They believe the move will promote higher value-added activity from companies looking to make their headquarters here, since they can qualify for another government incentive that requires more of them.

The Approved Headquarters incentive will be withdrawn from Oct 1, but the Development and Expansion Incentive (DEI) will still be available.

Under the Approved Headquarters incentive, companies providing management, technical or other support services to network companies outside Singapore have enjoyed a 10 per cent concessionary tax rate or even tax exemption on income from qualifying headquarters activities.

The DEI also includes the criterion that a company uses Singapore as its headquarters.

Companies seeking to apply for the DEI should consider undertaking more than just management support services, said KPMG tax partner Anna Low.

Other high-value economic activities they can undertake include high-tech manufacturing, technical services, supply chain management and innovation-related activities.

"The change is a rationalisation of incentives. The Government is clearly looking for new and incremental value-creation activities," said Ms Low.

"Foreign companies looking to set up headquarters in Singapore can still consider seeking support under the DEI, while local companies looking to use Singapore as their headquarters to expand regionally or globally can consider applying for the newly introduced International Growth Scheme," said Ms Low.

Under the DEI, the concessionary tax rate is not less than 5 per cent on income from the qualifying activities.

Mr Desmond Sim, CBRE research head for South-east Asia, believes Singapore remains attractive for many reasons. "The underlying qualities of Singapore - good workforce, low corporate tax rate, our status as regional hub for various industries - will still bring companies in," he said.

"The Approved Headquarters incentive is a good sweetener, but its removal will certainly not drive companies away."

The change could dampen office demand, but multinational firms can still tap into many other tax incentives, said Ms Christine Li, Cushman and Wakefield's research head.

"Many other factors, such as the ease of doing business, (also) contributes to the decision to set up or relocate the headquarters to Singapore."

wrennie@sph.com.sg

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Case issues alert over car dealer after complaints

Straits Times
17 Feb 2015
Olivia Ho

THE consumers' watchdog has issued an alert about a car dealer after receiving 12 complaints from customers who claim the ownership of the vehicles they bought had not been transferred to them.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) is investigating after buyers reported facing sudden repossession after buying their vehicles from Cars Today in Kaki Bukit.

The claims total almost $500,000.

In most cases, the cars were bought several months ago, but their ownership was not transferred, despite the buyers making several enquiries with the firm.

Many of the customers had their cars towed away at the weekend and others have been told by Cars Today's owner James Poh to expect a repossession.

Mr Poh, 60, admitted to The Straits Times yesterday that his company is struggling to repay a $1 million loan from credit company Kenso Leasing.

He claimed that Kenso suddenly demanded repayment within seven days on Feb 6.

As Mr Poh could not come up with the money in time, Kenso said it would repossess 43 cars from his customers.

Mr Poh said in Mandarin: "I begged (Kenso) for a six-month extension, but they said no.

"Many buyers have been calling me, but I don't have the money to repay them, I have no choice.This is my fault and I don't know how to fix it."

The Straits Times visited Cars Today's headquarters at the Entrepreneur Business Centre, 18 Kaki Bukit Road 3, last night and found it empty, its doors padlocked. At least three letters from lawyers or summons from the Small Claims Tribunal were on the floor.

The Straits Times understands the space was let to new tenants last weekend, as Cars Today owes three months' rent.

A commodity trader, who spoke anonymously, said he stands to lose his downpayment of $18,000 after repossession.

He has formed a WhatsApp group for other buyers facing the same plight, which currently has 14 members, and said he has heard of 10 cars having been towed away since last Friday.

Another buyer, Mr Marc Tay, is expecting his car to be repossessed any day now. He spent almost $31,000 on a Honda Civic last November.

The 25-year-old, who works in business development, said: "I tried to contact the financing company and told them I would willingly surrender the car if they would wait till after Chinese New Year, but they wouldn't even consider this small request.

"This is a big blow for me. I've just started working, and it's my own money - this whole incident has caused a big dent in my financial plans."

Case has advised affected customers to make a police report immediately and consult a lawyer as the claims are more than $10,000 and exceed the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Tribunal.

oliviaho@sph.com.sg

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Flyover killing: Man gets 16 years' jail and 12 strokes

Straits Times
03 Mar 2015
Selina Lum

SEARCHING for his lost wallet in Little India, construction worker Raju Arivazhagen, 31, went up to a fellow Indian national and asked if he had seen it.

Unknown to Mr Raju, Periyasamy Devarajan had earlier picked up his wallet and thrown it away after taking the $20 and ez-link card inside.

But Periyasamy, 20, lied that he had seen the wallet at the Kampong Java flyover and led Mr Raju there, plotting to rob him at the secluded spot.

Under the flyover, Periyasamy viciously attacked the older and smaller man, bashing him in the face and head with a rock, a branch and three concrete slabs weighing 10.5kg to 13.8kg each.

Yesterday, Periyasamy, now 23, was sentenced to 16 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane after he pleaded guilty to culpable homicide for killing Mr Raju three years ago.

He originally faced a murder charge, but it was reduced. No reason was given in court.

The High Court heard how the two strangers crossed paths hours after they went to Little India on Feb 7, 2012, which was the day of Thaipusam. Mr Raju had gone there with friends for drinks after visiting temples to observe the Hindu festival.

He boarded a taxi in the wee hours to return to his dormitory but alighted after realising he had dropped his wallet.

Periyasamy had gone to Tekka Market for drinks with his brother.

Although employed by a scaffolding company, he had stopped turning up for work since Jan 21 and was in financial difficulties.

Periyasamy saw Mr Raju's wallet as he was walking to a field at the junction of Hampshire Road and Northumberland Road.

Some time later, Periyasamy lied to Mr Raju that he had seen his black wallet at the flyover.

There, Periyasamy struck Mr Raju repeatedly until he stopped moving. Periyasamy then fled with Mr Raju's mobile phone.

Police nabbed him on Feb 12 after establishing his identity through intelligence and surveillance footage from the Little India MRT station and the Tanglin Police Divisional Headquarters, which is a three-minute walk from the flyover.

Two weeks after his arrest, Periyasamy assaulted a police officer when taken to the crime scene. A charge of hurting the officer and two unrelated charges of misappropriating mobile phones were considered during sentencing.

Deputy Public Prosecutor April Phang asked for at least 16 years' jail and 10 strokes of the cane, pointing to the viciousness of the attack by Periyasamy.

Periyasamy's lawyer, Mr Sunil Sudheesan, asked for 10 to 12 years, noting that his client was immature at the time but has since learnt his lesson.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Fortifying Singapore's four pillars of social security

Business Times
24 Feb 2015

THE Golden Jubilee budget presented yesterday by Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is, more than anything else, another big step towards providing greater social empowerment, progressivity, protection and inclusiveness which have come to be the hallmarks of economic policy-making in recent years.

As Mr Tharman noted, Singapore has, over the last decade, come a long way in strengthening the "four pillars" of its social security system - home ownership, CPF, healthcare assurance and Workfare.

In this budget, he has made fortifications. First, he has added a "Silver Support Scheme" which will provide income support to the elderly to the tune of S$600 every quarter on average, per recipient. He has enhanced the CPF system, by increasing mandated contributions during working years, including for older workers. He has also raised interest rates for smaller CPF balances such that some 80 per cent of CPF members will earn at least 5 per cent on their retirement savings, which is remarkable at a time of near-zero interest rates for all major currencies - and the Singapore dollar. There are more subsidies for education as well, including pre-school.

The corporate sector will heave a collective sigh of relief on two counts in particular. First, that the Wage Credit Scheme - which subsidises wage increases for workers paid S$4,000 and below - will be extended (albeit in a slightly diluted form) for another two years. And second, that this year's increases in most foreign worker levies will be deferred, which will enable labour-starved companies to breathe easier after suffering five years of progressively higher levies. Hopefully, this measure will reinvigorate the supply side of the economy and help boost economic growth as well, even if modestly.

The budget also contains some generous incentives but companies will have to do their bit to make the most of them. Case in point: the Productivity Innovation Credit (PIC) scheme (which offers funding for various qualifying activities) now offers more for innovation - for which it has, up to now, not been much used. Innovation will be pragmatically interpreted to include not just major technological breakthroughs, which are rare, but also less dramatic but effective innovations. Companies will need to come up with innovations to benefit from this.

With the greater emphasis on innovation, hopefully the administration of the PIC will be transferred to agencies better placed to assess innovative practices, such as the Economic Development Board (EDB) or the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), rather than the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras), which has other competencies.

What will also help with both productivity aGolden Jubilee budget presented yesterday by Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is, more than anything else, another big step towards providing greater social empowerment, progressivity, protection and inclusivenessnd innovation is the emphasis on skills development - another important element of Mr Tharman's budget. The proposed SkillsFuture Credit, under which citizens will receive credits over their lifetime to spend on skill-enhancing courses tailored to their needs and talent - is a practical and imaginative idea.

Productivity link

It recognises that learning does not stop at school or university, that it should be open to people of all ages, at any stage of their careers, and that in our time, education and training can be provided in a variety of ways, including online. The link with productivity is clear: no matter what incentives the government provides to companies to be more productive, without access to appropriately skilled workers (and given restrictions on hiring foreign workers), these incentives are unlikely to be very effective.

The impressive panoply of social measures unveiled by the Finance Minister - not only in this budget but also in previous years - are costly, and this is reflected in the numbers. Between FY2005 and FY2015, total social expenditure has gone up 2.7 times. Expenditure on health has gone up more than five times, with much of the increase coming over the last three years, while that on education has roughly doubled. In the economic sphere, expenditure on transport has gone up more than five-fold as well.

With generous health and education subsidies already in place (and which will be difficult to roll back), Singapore could be locked into high social spending for a long time to come. Singapore's tax revenues are only 14 per cent of GDP. In other countries that provide social benefits, the ratio ranges from around 27 per cent in South Korea to as much as 46 per cent in Sweden - where benefits are high and universal. While Singapore cannot go to that extent, there is little doubt that its tax to GDP ratio is on the low side for a country with a social benefit system in place. The government will be increasingly under pressure to find new sources of revenue.

In this budget, Mr Tharman has proposed two major revenue-enhancing measures. One is to include Temasek Holdings in the net investment return (NIR) framework, which means that the government can spend based not on actual investment income but on 50 per cent of expected long-term returns, including both realised and unrealised capital gains. How this would work needs more elaboration. How will long-term returns be calculated for an equity-based portfolio? Will a 50 per cent cushion be enough? If unrealised capital gains are not subsequently realised, or worse still, turn into losses, will there be adjustments in net investment returns in future years, or will Temasek and other contributors be "refunded" what they paid out but did not earn?

The other big revenue-raising measure in this budget is an increase in the top marginal rate of personal income tax to 22 per cent, from 20 per cent and smaller adjustments for others in the top 5 per cent of income earners.

This greater progressivity should be acceptable and even welcome, especially given that the top 5 per cent have been the biggest beneficiaries of growth in both wealth and income over the last decade. However, as Mr Tharman pointed out, Singapore cannot keep raising rates at the top without courting the danger of losing tax competitiveness.

Down the road, Singapore will have to find alternatives. For now, a model of direct taxation where 90 per cent of taxpayers pay only 20 per cent of taxes and the majority of the population does not pay any tax may be manageable. But in the future, and if the experience of other countries is any guide, this might need to be revisited.

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Sex tour organiser opts to stay in custody

Straits Times
17 Feb 2015
Elena Chong

Court revokes $100,000 bail at request of lawyer

THE first man in Singapore to be convicted of organising a commercial sex tour overseas chose to be remanded yesterday, pending sentencing next month.

District Judge Siva Shanmugam revoked Chan Chun Hong's $100,000 bail at the request of his lawyer Rajan Nair, who said his client did not wish to be released.

The 31-year-old, who will be sentenced on March 23, turned to face his parents and gestured that he was going into custody before being led away from the dock by policemen.

Chan, also known as Chris, had faced 145 charges. He admitted to seven of distributing obscene materials, one of making travel plans for an undercover cop to have commercial sex in Cambodia, three of distributing information to promote conduct of commercial sex with a minor, and one of having obscene films at his Yishun Ring Road home.

The Nanyang Technological University civil engineering graduate was a Singapore Armed Forces captain when he transmitted more than 100 obscene photographs and videos of young girls to others between December 2011 and November 2012.

When he was arrested last March, he was a financial consultant who topped his cohort in sales. He left around June after he was charged in court.

Acting on information received in 2013 from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on a male Singaporean distributing child pornography electronically, police managed to establish Chan's identity.

Investigations showed that Chan, who was subsequently diagnosed as a paedophile, had distributed the obscene materials to trade for new child pornography after he became addicted to it.

In mitigation, Mr Nair said Chan had suffered a depressive episode after his late Taiwanese fiancee died in 2010 following a two-year cancer battle. Almost a year after he had stopped accessing his Internet account, he foolishly acceded to requests from an "Internet friend" for information and help in arranging a commercial sex trip, the lawyer said.

The friend turned out to be an undercover cop.

"It is Mr Chan's case that he never had sex with a minor whether locally or overseas," said Mr Nair.

If the decoy cop "Teo Dennis" had not instigated him, Chan would not have arranged the trip for Teo Dennis and himself or anyone else to go overseas for commercial sex with minors, the lawyer said.

He added that it was very likely Chan would have cancelled the intended April trip to Cambodia as he was busy with his work.

"The only silver lining in this whole episode is that Mr Chan has been forced to confront his problem and is now finally able to courageously take steps to ensure that he does not suffer a relapse."

The lawyer argued that the prosecution's submissions that Chan was targeting minors were based on "suppositions, suggestions and suspicions".

"The court cannot rely on such matters for sentencing," he said.

Mr Nair also said it was not correct for the prosecutor to say Chan "is not a newbie to the realm of commercial sex with minors overseas" as there were no facts to prove this.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Yang Ziliang said Chan claims he had never had sex with a minor and that he did not have any experience with the Cambodian prostitution scene, yet he has consistently informed other parties otherwise. "The accused claims in mitigation that he 'truly regrets the commission of the offences', but from his constant efforts to diminish his responsibility, it appears that what he truly regrets is having been caught."

The maximum penalty for organising a trip for commercial sex with a minor overseas is 10 years' jail and a fine. The punishment is the same for distributing data intended to promote such conduct.

elena@sph.com.sg

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Legal eagle never too busy for his passions

Straits Times
02 Mar 2015
Wong Wei Han

Managing partner of top law firm relishes his role in the arts scene

MOST people would probably feel exhausted merely looking at Mr Philip Jeyaretnam's typically packed schedule.

Most days, the renowned lawyer - and acclaimed author - races from meetings and case-preparation sessions to court hearings often lasting a full day. His evenings are spent on conference calls with clients.

But Mr Jeyaretnam, managing partner of Rodyk & Davidson, would not have it any other way.

"I don't know if this is a good or bad thing - but I'm really addicted to my work, and I love to be surrounded by people who love their jobs," he said.

"The legal profession is probably not the best career for people who complain that they have too much work or too little time."

At the age of 50 - which he believes to be the peak of his life - he is relishing the myriad roles he plays as head of one of Singapore's top law firms, a highly-sought-after commercial litigator and international arbitration counsel, as well as the new board chairman of the School of the Arts (Sota) since Jan 31.

His initial plans for Singapore's first pre-tertiary arts school will draw on his lifelong passion for literature and creative writing.

But he insists his first priority is still law and he expects Rodyk to grow further.

He said: "With the internationalisation of trade and investment, Singapore's status as the seat of choice for cross-border dispute resolution in Asia is stronger than ever. To quantify, volume of such cases has almost tripled in the past eight years."

In terms of staff strength, since he became managing partner in 2011, Rodyk has grown some 40 per cent to a team of over 200 lawyers across practices including commercial arbitration, as well as corporate and financial services.

It has an office in Shanghai and an associated office in Jakarta.

"Our business growth would be roughly comparable to the headcount rise that we've had, and I expect another 15 to 20 per cent increase in headcount in the next three years," he said.

"My job is to spot trends in the market, and also help my partners to look at new areas. There are many changes in the market and we need to be organised to respond effectively.

"Often, that means cajoling someone to get out of their comfort zone and be ready to do something new or different as the world changes.

"We are a service provider in a very competitive international market, and we cannot afford to stand still."

Mr Jeyaretnam remains every bit as active in the front line despite having managerial duties at Rodyk. The Cambridge-trained lawyer looked pleased as he recounted last year's actions.

"Last year, I spent around 80 to 90 days in court hearings. For every hearing day, you typically need twice as much time for preparation. In the past two years, I've also represented clients in arbitrations in London and Zurich.

"As you can imagine, my workload is tiring. But this is the time of my life, really.

"I'm right at the best age for a man - certainly for a lawyer. At 50, you're wiser, I hope, you see things faster because you've been around the block enough, and you're still full of energy."

But for all that he has achieved in the legal industry so far, "Philip Jeyaretnam" is a name equally well known as a key figure in Singapore's art scene.

His appointment as Sota board chairman is just the latest chapter of his artistic pursuits that began when his short story, Campfire, won a national award in 1983.

Since then, writing in his spare time, he has released three critically acclaimed novels and still produces short stories regularly.

His latest, Moonshine In Singapore, is close to being finished and will be published this year as part of a collection with an SG50 theme.

As he takes up his new role at Sota, he hopes he can help spread the passion for writing to more young Singaporeans.

"One thing I'm keen to explore is how to make creative writing and storytelling a key part of the Sota student experience. Storytelling is the foundation of all arts - and Singapore needs more storytellers.

"One thing I try to do at Rodyk, and in my other endeavours such as at Sota, or as a trustee of Singapore University of Technology and Design, is to help young people make the most of their lives.

"Whether it is helping shape an institution, or it is speaking directly to an individual, it's all about bringing to bear a perspective that might help guide others as they learn and grow."

He also sees Sota becoming part of a wider national effort to promote a vibrant arts scene here, one of the key intangibles a global city must have, he added.

Between Sota, Rodyk and his role as chairman of the Singapore Writers Festival steering committee since 2007, he knows what it is like to be extremely busy. But he shrugged off the notion that he may not have the time to juggle the law and the arts.

"The key is to schedule your time. When I set aside two hours after church on Sunday to write, I do exactly that.

"That's really the essence of things. Because there are so many hours in a day, so many hours in our lives - there is always time for all the different things you want to do."

Despite having a relatively high public profile, he prefers to keep his family life private.

The father of three teenage children declined to say much about his family, except to express his hope that his children will find fulfilment in whatever interests they pursue. As he has done.

whwong@sph.com.sg


Background Story

ADDICTED TO WORK

I don't know if this is a good or bad thing - but I'm really addicted to my work, and I love to be surrounded by people who love their jobs. The legal profession is probably not the best career for people who complain that they have too much work or too little time.

- Mr Philip Jeyaretnam, who spent around 80 to 90 days in court hearings last year, despite having managerial duties at Rodyk & Davidson

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Tax incentives for S-Reits extended but not stamp duty remissions

Business Times
24 Feb 2015
Lee Meixian

[Singapore] INCOME tax and GST concessions for Singapore real estate investment trusts (S-Reits) will be extended for five more years, but stamp duty concessions for the purchase of local properties will be allowed to lapse after March this year, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Monday. This is because the stamp duty concessions "were intended to enable the industry to acquire a critical mass of local assets as a base from which the Reits can expand abroad, (and) this has been achieved", he said in his Budget speech.

With the extensions, Reits will continue to enjoy tax exemption on qualifying foreign-sourced income, a reduced withholding tax of 10 per cent (from 17 per cent) on distributions to foreign institutional investors, and GST remissions on business expenses for Reits with overseas assets. (The latter also applies to listed registered business trusts in the infrastructure, ship leasing and aircraft leasing sectors.)

The finance ministry further announced changes to facilitate fund-raising by these Reits and business trusts through their special purpose vehicles (SPVs). From this April until March 2020, they will be allowed to claim GST on business expenses incurred to set up SPVs that are used solely to raise funds, as well as GST on the business expenses of such SPVs. This is especially relevant since Hong Kong, a close competitor for similar listings, does not have a GST regime, said Teo Wee Hwee, real estate tax leader at PwC Singapore.

All these moves are aimed at promoting Reit and business trust listings in Singapore amid intensifying competition in Asia as various countries develop and improve their own Reit and business trust frameworks.

Asia Pacific Real Estate Association chief executive Peter Verwer noted that many Asian governments, including those of China and India, are looking to chase down Singapore's lead in financial services. "Today's statement by the Singapore government keeps it ahead of the pack," he said.

The industry welcomed the extensions and said the removal of stamp duty concessions for local acquisitions will have limited impact on S-Reits, since most are already acquiring abroad for better returns on investments. Many have also braced themselves for the possible removal in the run-up to the Budget, they said.

DBS analyst Derek Tan said removing the stamp duty concession will add about 3 per cent to the cost of acquiring local assets. "Industrial Reits tend to have more domestic-oriented portfolios, so their pace of acquisitions may slow and yields may dip. They will have to negotiate harder," he said, citing Ascendas Reit, Mapletree Industrial Trust, Viva Industrial Trust, Mapletree Commercial Trust, Frasers Centrepoint Trust, CapitaMall Trust and CapitaCommercial Trust as some examples of Reits with wholly local assets.

According to Christine Li, director of research at Cushman & Wakefield, of the top 10 investment deals last year, six involved Reits buying properties locally - translating to about S$4 billion in transaction value, or two-thirds of the total investment value of the top 10 leasing deals.

PwC's Mr Teo noted that there are other ways to acquire local properties without paying substantial stamp duties. "If you can't buy the asset, you may have the option of buying the company that owns the asset, since most real estate is held using special purpose vehicles. By doing that, you should end up paying a substantially lower stamp duty of 0.2 per cent based on the net asset value of the company."

Such share deals are common in Singapore, particularly for sophisticated and institutional investors, but less so for Reits since they enjoy stamp duty remissions.

However, unlike Reits which enjoy tax transparency, these companies will have to pay tax on their rental income. Even so, there are ways to achieve tax transparency - by converting these companies to Limited Liability Partnerships, which are tax transparent in Singapore, for example. Such conversions may also qualify for stamp duty relief. "Then it's as good as the Reit owning the property directly," said Mr Teo.

leemx@sph.com.sg

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101 building row deepens with AGM vote on levy

Straits Times
16 Feb 2015
Joyce Lim

Owners of 2 units against resolution to pay for opposing side's legal fees

THE owners of two units at The 101 building in Beach Road who are suing the building's management corporation strata title (MCST) and two of its council members will now have to contribute to the opposing side's legal fees.

Last Wednesday, a special resolution for the owners to pay a one-time levy of $100 for each share they hold was passed.

The aim is to raise $100,000 to fund the defence of the lawsuits and to pay for court penalties.

The special resolution brought about strong objections from Mr Lim Kim Seng, who owns a commercial unit at The 101, and Mr Koh Seow Tee, who represented Madam Leong Wai Chee, who has a residential flat there.

Both were not allowed to vote because they had not paid up certain fees - fees which they have gone to court to contest.

Mr Lim, a 60-year-old retiree, owns the unit with four of his siblings.

They are seeking close to $500,000 in damages from the MCST, council chairman Mei Wai Luen and treasurer Tan Fung Chuan over issues concerning the alleged removal of air-conditioning compressors, unjustifiable fees and abuse of power.

But after the special resolution was passed at the annual general meeting (AGM) with at least 75 per cent of the owners voting for it, Mr Lim and his siblings, who hold 67 shares in the building, will have to fork out $6,700 for their defendants' legal fees.

Mr Lim told The Straits Times: "I am not going to pay. I will wait for the court's decision. We are again being victimised."

Madam Leong, 68, who is seeking damages from the same defendants for allegedly stealing her air-conditioning compressors, forcing her to move out, will also have to contribute $2,400 to the defence.

Just before last Wednesday's meeting, police were called to the six-storey mixed residential and commercial property after Mr Lim and Mr Koh, 82, had a fiery showdown with the council members.

The duo had been denied entry into the AGM after they refused to surrender their mobile phones to prevent them from recording the minutes of the session.

They were eventually allowed to attend the meeting without having to give up their phones.

At the AGM, Mr Mei and Mr Tan were re-elected as council members. Attempts to contact them were unsuccessful.

As part of the current court battles, Mr Mei was ordered to pay a penalty of $10,000 last October for contempt of court after failing to comply with an injunction order from the High Court.

He was also ordered to pay Mr Lim $15,000 as costs of the committal proceedings.

joycel@sph.com.sg

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SGX minimum-trading-price rule kicks in

Straits Times
02 Mar 2015
Grace Leong

Affected firms have one year to bring share price above 20 cents

THE Singapore Exchange's (SGX) contentious new rule setting a minimum trading price (MTP) of 20 cents for mainboard-listed companies is on the books from today.

Even though this was flagged last August, few affected firms - with share prices under 20 cents - appear to have taken steps so far to address their position.

But they have a year's grace - until March 1, 2016 - to get their six-month average share price above 20 cents.

The new rule is aimed at curbing speculation and market manipulation here. Today, almost 250 out of 650 mainboard-listed stocks are trading below 20 cents.

After the grace period, those still below that level will go on a watchlist for three years, during which their shares will not be eligible for investment under the Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme. The CPF announced this move, aimed at safeguarding members' CPF savings, on Feb 10.

Meanwhile, companies that fail to comply with the MTP by Feb 28, 2019, could be delisted or have the option to transfer to the Catalist board, where there is no MTP.

The number of companies trading at 20 cents or below appears to have increased from about 220 when the rule was announced last August. Most indicated then that they would consider share consolidation, transfers to the Catalist board, or other corporate actions.

So far, only a handful have proposed share consolidations to shareholders, and all in the three weeks prior to yesterday's launch, according to SGX's website. They include Top Global, Aztech Group, Global Testing Corp, Hotung Investment Holdings, Captii, and CEI Contract Manufacturing.

"Some are still adopting a wait-and-see, and holding out for market forces to push their share prices above 20 cents," remisier Alvin Yong said. "Those trading below two to four cents will definitely do share consolidations if they want to remain listed."

Share consolidation props up the share price by reducing the number of shares in the market, he said. "If you own 100,000 shares of a company that's trading at 10 cents apiece, after consolidation to a 10:1 ratio, 10 shares will become one share. The new shareholding will be 10,000 shares and the new theoretical trading price will be $1."

"But share consolidation doesn't guarantee that stocks will stay above 20 cents. Prices are determined by market forces and the company's fundamentals."

Having more than a third of mainboard stocks trading below 20 cents has led to the Singapore market being labelled a "penny" market, or seen as lacking quality, which could hamper capital-raising efforts. SGX has said higher-priced shares tend to have better liquidity and are less susceptible to manipulation.

But critics of the rule say such regulations are unnecessary and impede trading activity.

Already, the number of companies with share prices below 20 cents has grown partly because investors and traders have been shunning such stocks, Mr Yong said. That, combined with the latest CPF move, will likely affect liquidity and further dampen share prices of such companies.

Mr Tan Choon Wee, president of the Small and Middle Capitalisation Companies Association (SMCCA), said he believes the move will increase issuers' cost of listing and confuse shareholders, as they have to recalculate the value of their holdings.

"Further, there will be many instances where investors will be left with odd lots, even with the lot size adjusted down to 100 shares, and have to incur costs to manage such lots," he said. "Another potential scenario is the share price keeps falling (despite) share consolidation, triggering the next round of consolidation."

gleong@sph.com.sg

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CPF changes to boost savings and returns

Business Times
24 Feb 2015
Claire Huang

Initiatives will help workers meet their basic needs in later years

[Singapore] THE government will roll out substantial changes to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme that will help working Singaporeans, especially the lower and middle-income groups, save more for their retirement and earn more returns, to help them meet their basic needs in later years.

From Jan 1 next year, the CPF salary ceiling will rise to S$6,000 from S$5,000 to help the middle-income save more in their working years. The higher ceiling, which was last raised in 2011 from S$4,500, is expected to affect at least 544,000 CPF members.

The move, said Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister in his Budget 2015 speech on Monday, will mean that a 45-year-old worker who earns S$6,000 or more now, will save an additional S$60,000 by age 65.

Concurrently, the contribution cap of the Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS) will go up to S$15,300 from S$12,750 for citizens and permanent residents, and to S$35,700 from S$29,750 for foreigners. Limits on tax reliefs for CPF and SRS contributions will be adjusted accordingly.

Wu Soo Mee, EY human capital partner, said that raising the CPF ceiling now could help defray medical costs, among other things.

The higher ceiling will help the lower and middle-income groups attain the full retirement sum of S$161,000, said Marcus Kok, a principal pension consultant at PwC Singapore.

To encourage Singaporeans to retain savings in their CPF accounts, the government will pay from next year one percentage point more in interest on the first S$30,000 CPF savings from the age of 55 - on top of the one point extra interest for the first S$60,000. It would mean that the first S$30,000 in the Special, Retirement or Medisave accounts can earn up to 6 per cent interest. The existing basic interest rate for the Special, Retirement and Medisave accounts is 4 per cent, while the rate for the Ordinary Account is 2.5 per cent.

From January 2016, those above 50 to 55 will have their contribution rates raised by two points - which will match the level of the younger workers at 37 per cent - with employers and employees sharing the increase equally. Employers will have to contribute one point more for workers aged above 55 to 60, and half a point more for those aged above 60 to 65.

While these initiatives were generally welcomed by analysts and the labour movement, higher contribution rates is an area that has been met with resistance by employers in the past. Daniel Ho, director of taxes at Deloitte Singapore, said that while employers appear to have suffered another whammy in trying to cope with rising business costs, the extension of the enhanced Temporary Employment Credit scheme should help offset the impact for the next three years.

To get companies to re-hire older workers beyond the stipulated age of 65, the government will be spending S$50 million to provide employers with an additional Special Employment Credit (SEC) of up to 3 per cent of wages for those who are 65 and above in 2015. This is on top of the 8.5 per cent wage offset that employers would receive in 2015. The government will also provide a S$500 million top-up to the SEC fund to meet the needs of the scheme until it expires in 2016. More details will be provided at the Ministry of Manpower's Committee of Supply debate.


KEY POINTS

• From Jan 1, 2016: CPF income ceiling to go up from S$5,000 to S$6,000; Higher Supplementary Retirement Scheme contribution cap
• Higher contribution rates of between 0.5 and 2 percentage points for workers aged 50-65
• Additional one per cent extra interest on first S$30,000 CPF balances from age 55

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Set baseline standards for good governance: Forum

Straits Times
16 Feb 2015

THE recent spotlight on town council lapses raises several issues ("Audit of WP-run town council flags major lapses"; last Tuesday). These include what constitutes good governance and whether there is a need to specifically include such rules in the law.

Some would argue that officers employed in public institutions should abide by the spirit of the law and act in good faith, with a view to protecting the public interest. The drawback is that "good faith" and "public interest" are left to different interpretations, and this makes compliance arbitrary and difficult.

Others may prefer that the law include an exhaustive list of good-governance rules for compliance. But this may result in unwieldy legislation which may not cover grey areas. It may also result in institutions strictly doing what is mandatory while ignoring practices not specifically included, even though it may be in the public interest to do so.

In considering any amendments to the law, include specific baseline mandatory rules, as well as a general provision for institutions to abide by the spirit of the law.

Such baseline mandatory rules should include good-governance practices such as disclosing related party transactions and establishing internal controls over payments and receipts of public funds.

For grey areas, a general provision for officers to act in good faith and public interest would require that institutions abide by the spirit of the law, with the onus of proof to be on the officers running the institution when called upon to do so.

Good governance in public institutions is too important to be left to chance. Clear and unambiguous baseline standards in the law would be instrumental in ensuring transparency, integrity and accountability of Singapore's public institutions.

Tham Tuck Meng

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Sham marriages: 30 middlemen convicted in 2 years

Straits Times
01 Mar 2015
Theresa Tan

Three dozen middlemen who arranged sham marriages to help foreigners extend their stay here have been convicted in the past two years, as the authorities continue to crack down on marriages of convenience.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) told The Sunday Times that the go-betweens are mostly solo operators who earn between $3,000 and $5,000 for every sham marriage they arrange.

They include Singaporeans and foreigners, both men and women, and they tend to be in low-wage jobs such as cleaners.

In 2012, it became a criminal offence to arrange or enter into a sham marriage, as more foreigners were found doing so.

In 2013, 284 people were found guilty of being involved in sham marriages. Last year, 170 people were convicted. The figures include the couples in false unions as well as the middle- men.

Asked about last year's lower figure, the ICA spokesman said: "The new law could have had a deterrent effect."

Lawyers say the foreigners seeking bogus spouses are usually Chinese and Vietnamese women, some of whom are involved in the vice trade here. Male Indian nationals seeking jobs here are also known to be involved.

The Sunday Times understands that these foreigners often come to Singapore as tourists and enter into a marriage of convenience in order to stay here for much longer. No sex is involved and the couple do not live together after getting married.

From the cases dealt with in court, the foreigners pay the middlemen up to $26,000 to get a Singaporean spouse. The Singaporean spouses are usually paid between $2,000 and $5,000.

Some of the Singaporeans also receive a few hundred dollars each time their foreign spouses get a visa extension, said lawyer Kertar Singh.

Lawyer Josephus Tan suspects that syndicates are often involved in these shams, as a host of people here and overseas are involved in linking the couples. But he also felt that the recent law with its tough penalties has had a deterrent effect.

Before the law was passed, those suspected of being involved in a sham marriage could be charged only with giving false information to the authorities, an offence carrying a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $4,000, or both.

Under the new law, the culprits face up to 10 years' jail or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Some of the middlemen caught have married foreigners for money themselves, although this is not common, the ICA spokesman said.

Singaporean Vickneswari Pillai Rajoo, 41, a jobless woman, married an Indian national for $2,000 in 2013 as she was in financial difficulty.

She later arranged for jobless Singaporean Melisa Sue Annylou Dass Maniam, 33, to marry Indian national Jatinder Singh, 23, who wanted to find work here.

Melisa was paid $2,000 but Vickneswari received only $200 for her part.

Vickneswari was sentenced to nine months' jail last year. Melisa received a six-month term and Jatinder, six months and six weeks.

"The ICA takes a tough stance and prosecutes errant couples and middlemen trying to circumvent our system by engaging in marriages of convenience to obtain immigration facilities, such as long-term passes and permanent residence, in Singapore," said the spokesman.

Members of the public can report suspected cases by calling the ICA on 1800-391-6150.

theresat@sph.com.sg


Background Story

OFFERED UP TO $3,000 FOR FAKE UNION

Singaporean Mohamed Ja'ali Ja'affar Shadik, 26, offered up to $3,000 to Singaporeans prepared to help foreigners live here by marrying them.

There would be no sex involved and the couple would not even have to live together after their sham marriage.

Mohamed Ja'ali, a part-time mover, made money too, pocketing $12,200 from three sham unions.

He arranged for the Singaporeans - two women and a man - to marry Indian nationals.

One of the foreigners, Bikramjit Singh, 31, was a waiter hoping to work here.

While still in India, he was told that he could improve his chances of getting a work permit if he married a Singaporean.

A fellow Indian introduced him to a man known only as Ali, Mohamed Ja'ali's accomplice. Bikramjit paid $13,000 to have a sham marriage arranged and was introduced to Nur Adilah Fitriah Rosli, 24, a Singaporean cleaning supervisor.

They registered their marriage in 2013.

Nur Adilah was promised $3,000 by Mohamed Ja'ali, but was only paid $800 after the marriage was solemnised. It is not known what happened to the remaining $2,200.

In 2013, Mohamed Ja'ali was sentenced to nine months' jail, while Nur Adilah and Bikramjit were each sentenced to six months' jail.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority is investigating Ali. Its spokesman said Mohamed Ja'ali was not part of a syndicate.

Theresa Tan

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Sweetening the deal for firms to innovate and expand abroad

Business Times
24 Feb 2015
Jamie Lee

Government to introduce two new schemes, boost existing incentives

[Singapore] THE government is pushing more Singapore companies to go overseas and innovate - and will introduce two new schemes, while amping up existing incentives, to make it happen.

This comes as Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Finance, on Monday said that the lag in productivity growth resulted mainly from the poor performance of domestic-oriented sectors.

Over the past five years, outward-oriented sectors posted productivity growth of over 5 per cent per year on average. By comparison, those who have been focused on the local turf registered productivity growth of less than one per cent.

"Budget 2015 will sharpen support to businesses that are making significant effort to raise productivity, especially by innovating and internationalising," said Mr Tharman.

To nudge more companies to explore overseas markets, the government will offer a new 10 per cent concessionary tax rate on certain income of larger companies that are expanding abroad. Details have not been announced, but Mr Tharman said that such companies must continue to anchor their key business activities and headquarters in Singapore.

On top of this, the government will raise its support under its internationalisation grants to 70 per cent for all forms of overseas activities for three years. As it is, 700 projects are expected to qualify for the revised scheme.

The government will also broaden a tax incentive - which now offers a 200 per cent tax deduction against qualifying market expansion activities - to cover manpower expenses. This effectively means the scheme could cover salaries incurred for Singaporeans posted overseas, said Mr Tharman.

These incentives to push companies beyond Singapore are expected to cost S$240 million, he added.

To ensure that homegrown firms will be able to compete effectively overseas, the government will boost incentives for companies scaling up through acquisitions. One move is to raise the tax allowance for acquisition costs from the current 5 per cent to 25 per cent of the acquisition value.

Besides this, companies will be able to claim benefits for acquisitions that translate to a 20 per cent shareholding in the target firm, down from the 50 per cent threshold now. "This will be especially helpful for SMEs, who may not be able to acquire large stakes in their expansion strategies," said Mr Tharman.

To boost innovation, Mr Tharman tweaked existing grants for SMEs, and ramped up financing for new firms.

SMEs that apply for the Capability Development Grants will go through a simpler process if their projects are valued below S$30,000. Funding support of up to 70 per cent of project costs will also be extended till 2018.

Mr Tharman introduced a venture debt risk-sharing programme, under which the government will provide 50 per cent risk-sharing with selected financial institutions offering venture debt over an initial two years. He expects to "catalyse" some 100 venture debt loans, totalling about S$500 million, during this time.

Eric Tham, head of group commercial banking at UOB said that this risk-sharing programme is a "forward-thinking move", as Singapore becomes an international hub for high-tech ventures.

Likewise, Anuj Kagalwala, financial services tax leader at PwC Singapore, supported the move, as it speeds up the search for "Singapore's very own Alibaba and Facebook".

Mr Tharman also increased the co-investment cap for both the Startup Enterprise Development Scheme and Business Angel Scheme.

And with this emphasis on innovation, the government will boost R&D funding, and for this, the National Research Fund will be topped up by S$1 billion this year, said Mr Tharman.

leejamie@sph.com.sg

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Expat poached clients from own employer

Straits Times
14 Feb 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Dutchman may have to pay millions for breach of duty and loss of profits

AN EXPATRIATE executive who set up a rival company to siphon clients from his long-time employer could face a payout of millions of dollars after losing a High Court case.

Mr Antonius Martinus Mattheus Schonk worked for Enholco, a Singapore firm offering spare parts and consultancy services to the oil and gas industry, for 23 years.

He was sacked in August 2012 after his bosses discovered he had set up the rival firm, and had taken steps to lure away the business and customers of Enholco when he was still its employee.

Mr Schonk, 62, a Dutch national based in Singapore, was sued by Enholco, which alleged that he had breached his fiduciary duties to the firm and had acted in a manner conflicting with its interests.

Enholco sought $1.7 million for losses incurred from his breach of duty and damages of $2.8 million to $4.2 million for loss of profits. The damages to be paid by Mr Schonk will be determined later.

In its judgment released last week, the High Court rejected Mr Schonk's claim that the firm he set up was done with the knowledge and consent of his bosses as part of a deal.

Mr Schonk, defended by lawyer See Chern Yang, denied the company's claims and also alleged he had been wrongfully dismissed.

He argued that his company was set up to take over one division in Enholco known as Unit 2, and there was a verbal deal in 2001 made with Enholco's managing director, Mr Haank Gerhard, 70, that he would take over all the business and assets of Unit 2.

In exchange, Mr Schonk would relieve Enholco of the costs of operating Unit 2.

Enholco, represented by lawyers Lau Teik Soon and K. Chandra Sekaran, countered that since 2001, Mr Schonk had never once claimed that Enholco had ceded, sold or transferred Unit 2 to him.

Justice Choo Han Teck found "telling" evidence which showed that Mr Schonk's explanation was a "late idea" in the legal proceedings.

The judge noted that although Mr Schonk was in charge of Unit 2, he kept Mr Gerhard fully informed of the business and monthly expenses of Unit 2, which clearly contradicted his claim that the unit belonged to him.

"However one looks at the evidence, (the Unit 2 agreement) is devoid of clear detail and unsupported by the conduct of the parties over the years," said Justice Choo.

He found that Mr Schonk not only started a rival firm but also took steps to lure away business while still working for Enholco.

"I find that throughout the years... Mr Schonk was the party whose conduct was surreptitious and not straightforward.

"I am also sceptical about his explanations as to why he deleted records from the company's computers. It was a deliberate act designed to comprehensively remove any trace of evidence against Mr Schonk," he said.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Delisted British law schools express disappointment

Straits Times
28 Feb 2015
Amelia Teng

They defend quality of their degrees, will work towards reinstatement

MOST of the eight British universities which have been removed from Singapore's pool of accredited law schools have expressed their disappointment.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, they maintained that their law degrees are of high quality, questioned the criteria used to delist them, and added that they will work towards being reinstated in the next review.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) cut the number of British law schools whose students can be admitted to the Singapore Bar from 19 to 11, weeding out those which are believed to have fared poorly in certain rankings. The changes will affect only next year's intake, and not students already studying there.

It explained that the move was "to ensure the continued high quality of overseas-trained entrants to the Singapore Bar".

Except for the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, the other seven delisted law schools - the University of Exeter, University of Leeds, University of Leicester, University of Liverpool, University of Manchester, University of Sheffield, and University of Southampton - all sent e-mail to The Straits Times responding to the Government's decision.

Professor Alastair Mullis, head of the University of Leeds' law school, expressed the sadness that after four decades, "we will soon have no Singaporean students".

He described Leeds as one of Britain's leading law schools, pointing to how it recently was ranked eighth out of 67 universities in the Research Excellence Framework, which released its report last December.

"We are convinced that, at the time of the next review, Leeds will present the Sile with a formidable case for re-accreditation."

The Singapore Institute of Legal Education (Sile), after accepting recommendations from the 4th Committee on the Supply of Lawyers, said in 2013 that it will review the list of approved law schools every five years.

A University of Liverpool spokesman highlighted its "awardwinning" law clinic, run by final-year students, and pointed out that its criminology and security honours degree programme is offered at the Singapore Institute of Technology.

The director of the University of Leicester International Office, Ms Suzanne Alexander, described the school as ranked among the top 20 British universities, and among the top 1 per cent in the world.

She also said that the school, which admitted 49 Singaporean law students between 2012 and last year, continues to have a law exchange programme with the Singapore Management University. She added: "We are naturally very disappointed by the outcome of the Sile review."

A spokesman for the University of Exeter, where there are 110 Singaporean law students, said it is strengthening its law curriculum and is "confident" that it will have a strong case for reinstatement in the future.

Professor Tamara Hervey, head of the University of Sheffield's law school, also expressed similar confidence.

A spokesman for the University of Manchester, which has 98 Singaporean law undergraduates, said it will continue to offer them the "highest quality teaching".

The National University of Singapore's law faculty has an exchange programme with the University of Manchester and said it has no plans to change this.

Some of the universities, such as Leeds, said they were holding dialogues with their Singaporean students to address their concerns over the delisting.

Professor Hazel Biggs, head of the University of Southampton's law school, which takes in 10 to 20 Singaporean students each year, said it is "working closely with our current students to provide the best possible advice and guidance".

Mr Airell Ang, 27, a second- year law student at the University of Liverpool, said that graduates from the eight schools may now find it even harder to get a six- month practice training contract at a law firm - a requirement for the Bar - when they return.

"But I remain optimistic that employers will not look at the school we come from, and our image will not be tainted."

ateng@sph.com.sg

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Go forth and multiply: Encourage internationalisation of Singapore businesses

Business Times
24 Feb 2015
Russell Aubrey & Sandie Wun

BUSINESSES of all sizes should be rejoicing over the goodies distributed in this year's Budget announcement. Particularly, the measures targeted at helping Singapore companies internationalise send a clear message that local businesses need to look beyond the domestic market in order to achieve breakthroughs in growth.

Foreign revenue generated by the top 1,000 companies in Singapore by revenue (Singapore 1000) has increased steadily from S$149.9 billion in 2011 to S$223.9 billion in 2014. This upward trend is similarly seen in the SMEs. The top 50 SMEs ranked as having the highest overseas turnover derived revenue of S$1.78 billion in 2014, a 29 per cent increase from S$1.38 billion in 2011.

With the expected formation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015, it will not be a surprise that international revenues will continue along the upward trend.

To further encourage internationalisation by Singapore companies big and small, three measures, costing the government S$240 million in total, were introduced.

Firstly, there would be an increase in support to 70 per cent of grants awarded by IE Singapore. Secondly, double tax deductions will be enhanced to cover salaries paid to Singaporeans working overseas. Lastly, a new tax incentive, the International Growth Scheme with concessionary tax rates on incremental income, will be accorded to qualifying companies that embark on a journey to internationalise.

It remains to be seen the conditions that need to be met by companies to enjoy these benefits. There was also no sunset clause announced by the finance minister on the International Growth Scheme. As with all other tax incentives, we expect that there will be a sunset clause, which we hope will take into consideration that the internationalisation of a company is not a short-term effort that reaps rewards immediately, but one that will likely yield results and returns only after a period of time.

Recognising that mergers and acquisitions are possibly a faster strategy by companies to acquire scale and forge alliances both locally and internationally, the current Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) allowance will be extended for another five years and will be enhanced to 25 per cent of the value of a qualifying investment, up from the 5 per cent threshold previously allowed.

The maximum tax deduction of S$5 million is unchanged though. The 50 per cent shareholding condition will also be relaxed to allow for the M&A allowance to be accorded so long as there is an acquisition of at least 20 per cent shareholding.

The reduction in the shareholding threshold is a welcomed enhancement on two fronts. It makes the now increased M&A allowance more accessible to companies where a less than 50 per cent stake is acquired. The enhancement also makes the M&A allowance more accessible to SMEs in particular, making the adoption of M&A as a strategy to internationalise more attractive.

The changes to the M&A Scheme are aligned with the clear theme in this year's Budget on assisting SMEs and making their access to fiscal assistance for expansion easier.

But this year's Budget is not just about focusing on companies - in fact, it is one of the most holistic, touching on every aspect of the economy and life, from overseas growth to continued education through the years to social support for various segments of the society. It is a special SG50 Budget indeed.

As Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also chairman of the SG50 Steering Committee, said: "SG50 is about celebrating the enduring values that we share as Singaporeans, values that undergird the Singapore Spirit . . . reflecting on how far we've come as a nation in the last 50 years, celebrating where we are now, and committing to an even better next 50 years."

In the same light, as much as Budget 2015 is about reflecting on our achievements to date as a nation and redistributing the fruits of our nation's labour back to our people, it is also about propelling this little red dot to greater heights and further beyond the shores of Singapore.

It is a truly a progress plan that underpins Singapore's readiness for her next 50 years of successful nation-building.

  • The writers are respectively partner and director, transaction tax, at EY in Singapore

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Dynamic Oil's links with debtor under study

Straits Times
14 Feb 2015
Grace Leong

THE liquidators of Dynamic Oil Trading told creditors yesterday that one of their key priorities is to look into the Singapore unit's dealings with Tankoil Marine, its largest debtor.

Previous reports have suggested that Tankoil could have been involved in the alleged fraud in Singapore that led to the collapse of Denmark-based OW Bunker, Dynamic Oil's parent firm and the world's biggest bunker supplier.

The Straits Times understands that letters of demand have been issued to Tankoil, which owes US$156.4 million (S$212.6 million).

The firm, whose bunker supplier and bunker craft operator licence was revoked by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore on Feb 9, could not be reached for comment.

The liquidators said they could not comment further on the matter, but hope to work closely with the trustees of the Danish parent to gain full access to Dynamic Oil's Singapore records maintained in Denmark.

The creditors' meeting yesterday also unanimously confirmed the appointment of the provisional liquidators - KPMG partners Bob Yap Cheng Ghee, Chay Fook Yuen and Tay Puay Cheng - as liquidators of Dynamic Oil.

Based on the statement of affairs filed by Dynamic Oil directors, there is an estimated US$329 million in receivables due to the company. In addition, it has more than 100 unsecured creditors, to whom it owes about US$198 million.

KPMG, which was confirmed as the liquidator of OW Bunker's other unit, OW Bunker Far East, signed a cooperation agreement with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) yesterday.

It sets up a framework for the collection of all amounts owed to Dynamic Oil. A similar agreement was reached with OW Bunker Far East on Monday.

Said Mr Yap: "With the strong mandate from the creditors, and the support to be provided by them, we will focus on taking steps to maximise recovery for their benefit. We are also confident that with the cooperation agreement in place, the process of recovering receivables will be accelerated; and we will work actively with the receivers to achieve such recovery."

Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP is acting for the liquidators, while Drew & Napier LLC is acting for the receivers.

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Landmark decision on death penalty sparks legal debate

Straits Times
28 Feb 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Law fraternity discusses first case before apex court after rule change

WHEN it comes to a murderer, how brutal must he be to warrant the death penalty?

In a landmark decision last month, judges were divided on this point - deciding in the end by three to two that convicted killer Kho Jabing, 31, will hang.

The decision sparked keen discussion among the legal fraternity, who noted that while it did provide some guidelines on when the death penalty should be upheld, these may not be enough.

Kho's was the first murder case to reach the Court of Appeal since new laws kicked in two years ago, giving judges more sentencing discretion for murder and drug-trafficking offences, as an alternative to mandatory hanging.

In 2008, Kho, a Sarawakian rag-and-bone man, bludgeoned a construction worker repeatedly with a branch while trying to rob him.

The decision of the nation's highest court last month hinged on what three of the judges said was the "sheer savagery and brutality" Kho had displayed. In essence, the act "outraged the feelings of the community", which justified the death penalty.

The two dissenting judges, however, were not convinced there was enough evidence to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Kho had struck the victim three or more times, or with such force as to cause the man's fatal skull fractures.

Said Singapore Management University don Chandra Mohan, a former district judge, writing in a law blog: "As the dissenting judgments have demonstrated, differences in the findings of facts as to whether the accused had shown a blatant disregard for life, the manner in which he had done so, and considerations of the relevance of the 'other circumstances' could well lead to inconsistencies in sentencing.

"Hopefully, future judgments of the Appeals Court will help to curb such inconsistencies."

Law graduate Grace Morgan argued in daily legal news service Singapore Law Watch that the court's assertion that the killer's brutal acts "outraged the feelings of the community" raised the question of what kind of outrage was needed to warrant the death penalty. Ms Morgan, who is a pupil at law firm Rodyk and Davidson, said it would be difficult to decide whether, for instance, three blows by the accused would cause enough outrage, rather than two.

A more precise alternative could be whether the offender acted in such a way that it "shocks the conscience", she suggested. A killer who cuts up his victim's body could be one such example.

She argued this would pitch the standard slightly higher than the current test, and would lessen some of the difficulties involved in trying to find the "precise level of moral culpability in borderline cases such as this (Kho Jabing) case".

Criminal lawyer James Masih pointed out that the court's decision was based on the facts of one particular case, and that each case was different. The law would become clearer as more rulings were made, he said.

Ultimately, though, there would be no hard and fast rules as each decision would depend on the facts of a particular case.

Said Associate Professor Mohan: "Unfortunately, the devil may still lie in the details."

Kho's lawyer Anand Nalachandran is currently preparing his appeal for clemency to the President.

vijayan@sph.com.sg


Background Story

DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

As the dissenting judgments have demonstrated, differences in the findings of facts as to whether the accused had shown a blatant disregard for life, the manner in which he had done so, and considerations of the relevance of the 'other circumstances' could well lead to inconsistencies in sentencing... Hopefully, future judgments of the Appeals Court will help to curb such inconsistencies.

Singapore Management University don Chandra Mohan, a former district judge, writing in a law blog

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Higher tax rates for top 5% of income-earners

Business Times
24 Feb 2015
Siow Li Sen

But this is offset to varying extent by the rise in CPF salary ceiling to S$6,000

[Singapore] THE rich will have to pay more taxes under the redistributive Budget as Singapore continues to ensure a fair and equitable system of taxes and benefits.

The government will raise the marginal tax rates for the top 5 per cent of Singapore's income-earners though the impact is offset somewhat by the increase in CPF salary ceiling.

The top marginal rate will rise by two percentage points, from 20 per cent to 22 per cent for the highest income earners, with a chargeable income above S$320,000, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Monday.

There will also be smaller adjustments made to raise income tax for the others in the top 5 per cent bracket. These changes will apply starting with income earned in 2016 and on taxes to be paid in 2017. The move is expected to raise additional revenue of S$400 million a year when it comes into effect.

"This tax increase for high-income earners will enhance progressivity and strengthen future revenues. This is a calibrated move. We have assessed that it should not significantly dent Singapore's competitiveness," said Mr Tharman.

Tax rates are not the only way Singapore stays competitive, he said, noting that the country's other key strengths include a culturally diverse and cohesive society, a family friendly environment, clean air especially compared to other Asian cities, and a world-class healthcare system.

Singapore's tax philosophy is to keep the tax burden on the middle-income low, so that they get to keep what they earn, as much as possible.

"In several advanced countries, taxes on the middle-income are much higher than in Singapore, in order to fund higher social benefits: not just for the lower-income but often for everyone else including the upper-middle income and the rich.

"Our philosophy is to keep the burden on the middle-income low, and target benefits at the most important needs of the poor and middle-income groups. Taken overall, this is a better deal for middle-income households," said Mr Tharman.

"We have designed our system such that we have lower overall taxes than most countries, but nevertheless maintain a highly progressive regime," he said.

"The higher-income group makes a significant net contribution into the system, which enables the lower-income group in turn to get significantly more benefits than the taxes they pay."

In other words, when all the taxes - GST, income, property and other taxes - are added up and compared to benefits received, the low income group gets more benefits than the taxes they pay, while the high income tax pays more taxes than benefits received, he said.

Still, the higher income tax rate is far from punitive. And when the increase in CPF salary ceiling from the S$5,000 to S$6,000 is factored in, the net effect is an increase in total income for someone earning S$250,000.

According to Wu Soo Mee, EY tax partner, human capital, advisory services, for someone earning S$250,000 there is an increase of tax of S$145 under the new tax rate table, after reliefs. "The increase in tax would have been higher had it not been for the higher CPF relief due to the increase in CPF contributions (arising from the increase in CPF salary ceiling)," said Ms Wu.

As the annual employer's CPF contribution is S$2,040 higher, overall the employee has an increase of total income (net of tax salary plus employer's CPF) of S$1,895, she said.

Ms Wu calculated that the increase in CPF contributions is neutralised when income rises to S$400,000.

"The level of income at which the increase in employer's contributions will be wiped out by the increase in tax liability is S$403,136," she said.

lisen@sph.com.sg

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Does Advance Medical Directive impact insurance? - Forum

Straits Times
14 Feb 2015

BEFORE making an Advance Medical Directive (AMD), I wanted to find out if it would affect my life insurance policies.

But I just could not find the answers. The insurance companies did not seem to have knowledge of the AMD Act.

The only response I received from one of them was the standard one: That the company would assess every insurance claim on its merit and on reports from the doctors. This is a very generalised and evasive reply.

Does the Act make it mandatory for all insurance companies to regard all life insurance claims as a result of an AMD death as valid?

In other words, will the insurance companies accept that an AMD death is not "unnatural" or "premature"?

What insurance policies are not affected by the AMD?

In the event that insurers do not honour life policies under an AMD death, what recourse does one have?

Loon Chee How

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Owner of top-of-the-line BMW loses suit over alleged defects

Straits Times
28 Feb 2015
Selina Lum

A REGIONAL sales manager who sued BMW agent Performance Motors over numerous alleged defects in a $387,100 model, has lost his High Court lawsuit seeking a new car and a refund.

Instead, Mr Chan Chee Kien - the first customer to buy the top-of-the-line 550i from Performance Motors - has to pay the agent $4,700 in storage charges, as it won its countersuit against him for refusing to collect the car from its workshop.

In a 61-page judgment released yesterday dismissing Mr Chan's suit, Justice Chan Seng Onn described his own observations when taken on a test drive for the plaintiff to demonstrate his noise complaints. The judge said he had to strain his ears to detect the "very faint" sound produced when the car went over a hump of a certain shape at a particular speed. "If it was not specifically pointed out to me, I would not have noticed it at all," he said.

The judge rejected Mr Chan's claim that a sales consultant had made fraudulent misrepresentations about the quality and performance of the car to mislead him into buying it.

The judge also rejected his claim that Performance Motors had breached conditions under the Sale of Goods Act. He accepted that the agent had satisfactorily repaired genuine defects without cost to the customer.

Justice Chan said: "I have some sympathy for the plaintiff as he bought an expensive car and he naturally had very high expectations of the level of quietness, comfort and pleasure he should have in driving it.

"It did not meet his subjectively high standards. But that is not the test to determine if he is entitled to reject the car and claim the return of the purchase price."

In May 2010, Mr Chan decided to buy the 550i even though Performance Motors had not brought in the model and did not have a car for him to view or test drive.

He took delivery of the car in August 2010. But from October, he complained of various problems, including a "helicopter-like" sound emanating from the undercarriage when the gear was in "drive" or "reverse" mode.

Over the next 15 months, the car was sent for repair seven times, spending 354 days in the workshop.

But Justice Chan found that the bulk of the 354 days in the workshop was because of Mr Chan's refusal to collect the car, with 72 days spent on troubleshooting and 17 days for actual repair work.

In his suit, Mr Chan listed 16 specific oral representations allegedly made by the sales consultant.

But the judge did not believe that he could recall specific representations "with such incredible detail". He noted that Mr Chan, who had previously bought three other BMWs, was a fairly sophisticated customer who would not rely on sales hyperbole.

Out of at least 30 complaints made by Mr Chan, the judge determined that 18 were not defects and that the other 12 defects had been successfully rectified.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Spa package refund not assured in case of serious illness

Straits Times
24 Feb 2015
Cheryl Faith Wee

WHEN a person becomes so seriously ill that she is unable to use up a spa or facial package bought earlier, getting a refund from the beauty salon is not a given.

A customer of a skin treatment company learnt this hard truth last year. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and was advised by her doctors to stop facial treatments immediately.

The customer, who declined to be named for privacy reasons, still had $5,995 worth of facial sessions left in her package, but the company was willing to refund only $3,800. She went to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) for help and managed to get back $5,500.

She is among a small number of people who ask for refunds on their beauty packages because of serious medical conditions, according to the 10 beauty and wellness companies The Straits Times contacted. Some of them get such requests only once every few years.

Serious medical conditions include critical skin conditions, cancer and terminal illnesses.

Medical reasons, however, do not guarantee a refund.

"Unless it is contractually provided for, it is not mandatory for the company to provide the customer with a refund in spite of the medical condition," said Mr Benjamin Cheong, a partner at law firm Rajah & Tann.

Spa and wellness companies with CaseTrust accreditation from the consumer watchdog will offer a full refund within a cooling-off period of five working days. For refund requests due to serious medical conditions which happen after the cooling-off period, most firms usually allow them out of goodwill and on a case-by-case basis. Five of the 10 companies interviewed require a medical certificate of proof.

Said Mr Edward Tong, honorary secretary of the Spa and Wellness Association (Singapore): "In terms of compassionate consideration, I would think most businesses will consider if the reason provided is legitimate and factual. Most forward-looking businesses want to enhance goodwill and long-term relationships with regular customers."

Beauty and slimming company Mary Chia receives three to five refund requests due to serious medical conditions every year. The firm will usually suggest alternative treatments that get the green light from the customer's doctor, or suggest transferring the remaining sessions to the customer's friend or family member.

If the customer does not agree to either of the suggestions, the firm will then require a medical statement from a doctor to decide whether to grant a refund.

"The company will, at its sole discretion, provide a refund for genuine cases," said Ms Sharon Tan, 33, the group senior marketing and business manager for Mary Chia Holdings.

Others require more details. At Global Wellness Holding - which runs Body Contour, Passage New York, and Hair Inc New York - customers seeking a refund for medical reasons have to be certified unfit by a registered medical practitioner. The doctor must also make specific reference to the treatment programme in his document.

As refunds often involve contractual and legal issues, consumers are advised to scrutinise their contract. For instance, some businesses include clauses which state that any cancellation of packages will incur administrative charges, said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.

Others note that customers who cancel will not enjoy the discounts that come with the package - each consumed treatment will thus be charged its full price and the customer will have to pay back the difference.

"Consumers should do their due diligence and read the terms and conditions of the contract carefully before signing on the dotted line," said Mr Seah.

cherylw@sph.com.sg

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Acupuncturist loses appeal against 6-month suspension

Straits Times
14 Feb 2015
SELINA LUM

AN ACUPUNCTURIST has been suspended from practising for six months, after the High Court dismissed his appeal against the sentence imposed by the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Practitioners Board.

Mr Yip Kok Seng, 73, was punished for professional misconduct after a woman in her 40s raised concerns in 2008 about him touching her inappropriately while treating her. Mr Yip, who ran a clinic in Crawford Lane, was also fined $5,000.

The case dates back to April 2008 when the woman sought treatment from Mr Yip for cervical spondylosis in her neck and back. She e-mailed the board a month later, asking about her treatment. She said Mr Yip had touched her breasts, inner thighs and tailbone without her consent.

The board told her to lodge a formal complaint, which she did the following month. In it, she said she was sceptical as to whether it was necessary for him to touch those areas of her body and was disturbed there was no female chaperone present then.

The board referred the case to an investigation committee but Mr Yip filed a court application in 2010 to stop the board from probing the complaint. He failed to block the inquiry, which was heard between August 2010 and March 2011. He was found to have breached the TCM Practitioners Act and the ethical code.

The board suspended him for six months and fined him $5,000 in 2011. He appealed to the High Court to let him call four more witnesses. A second inquiry was held in 2012, but the committee stuck to its earlier decision. He then appealed to the High Court.

Representing himself yesterday, Mr Yip questioned the board's motives in telling the woman to lodge a complaint instead of referring her to the police. He admitted touching her thighs and tailbone, as it was part of the treatment, but not her breasts.

The board's lawyer, Ms Rebecca Chew, said the punishment meted out to Mr Yip was in line with past cases.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Ex-counsellor's case against Prisons thrown out

Straits Times
28 Feb 2015
K.C. Vijayan

He claimed his right to promote Sikh faith was violated

THE High Court has struck out a former volunteer prison counsellor's claim that the prison authorities violated his right to promote the Sikh religion in jails, pointing out that he had no standing to bring the challenge.

Justice Quentin Loh found Mr Madan Mohan Singh, 62, did not have a personal right because the prison is a restricted, enclosed security zone that a person ordinarily would have no access to, let alone promote his faith there.

Mr Singh had served with the prisons department as a volunteer Sikh religious counsellor from 2000 to December 2011, when his volunteer pass was not renewed.

This was after a probe in 2011 found that he had actively encouraged Sikh inmates to challenge the hair-grooming policy by making requests to keep their hair and beard unshorn in prison.

In January last year, Mr Singh sought a court declaration that the Singapore Prison Service breached his right to promote the Sikh religion among Sikh inmates.

In judgment grounds released on Thursday, Justice Loh held that Mr Singh had to show an "actual or arguable" breach of his constitutional rights before standing can be established.

"This is to prevent 'mere busybodies', whose rights are unaffected from being granted standing to launch unmeritorious challenges," the judge said.

The prisons department has a policy where Sikh inmates with unshorn hair and beards, when admitted, are allowed to remain so during their jail term.

But those who profess to practise the Sikh religion are not allowed to keep their beards or hair unshorn if they were admitted with hair or beard shorn by their choice.

The policy has been in practice for about 40 years. Prisons found Mr Singh's alleged actions to be a serious threat to the discipline, security, safety and order of the prison, noted Justice Loh.

Mr Singh's lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, had argued that the policy breached the right of Sikh inmates to practise their religion and this led to a violation of his right to propagate his religion, among other things.

The judge found that Mr Singh's arguments were "misplaced" as there was no logical link between the hair-grooming policy and the non-renewal of Mr Singh's volunteer pass to counsel in prisons.

He said the renewal of his volunteer pass depended on Prisons' assessment of his suitability and compliance with prison rules and regulations, among other things.

Quashing the substance of the hair-grooming policy would in "no way lead to the renewal of (his) volunteer pass and thereby vindicate his alleged right to propagate to the Sikh inmates".

Justice Loh made it clear Mr Singh is not an inmate and the hair-grooming policy did not apply to him. "This is obviously not a right that is personal to (Mr Singh) and he has no standing to pursue the issue."

Mr Singh's application to quash the labelling of prisoners as practising or non-practising Sikhs by Prisons also failed "to get off the ground", said Justice Loh.

This is because Prisons dropped the terminology in 2013 and used the terms "shorn" and "unshorn" to differentiate between Sikh inmates for the purposes of the hair-grooming policy.

The judge noted that two dialogue sessions were held between the Sikh Welfare Council, the Sikh Advisory Board, and Prisons and Ministry of Home Affairs officials in 2013.

During those sessions, the authorities reviewed the policy and said it was inappropriate to allow Sikh inmates with shorn hair to be given the same concession as Sikh inmates admitted to prisons with unshorn hair.

Mr Singh, a sports shop owner, said he would be filing an appeal. He acknowledged that this was a "sensitive case".

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Drone users call for less restrictive rules amid review

Straits Times
24 Feb 2015
Lester Ho

REGULATIONS for flying drones in Singapore should be streamlined and less obstructive, according to users and developers of the gadgets here.

They hope that the current review of drone regulations by the Ministry of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) will provide clearer guidelines on drone operations and include minimal restrictions.

The challenge will be to ensure that privacy and safety concerns are met without undermining innovation and development.

Currently, drone users must apply for at least one of three permits before flying them here, which can take a minimum of two weeks.

Under the Singapore Air Navigation Order, a model aircraft may not be flown within 5km of an aerodrome - such as an airport or air base - unless the operator obtains a permit.

A permit is also required for flying drones higher than 61m above mean sea level when they are 5km or more away from an aerodrome.

Such rules ensure there are safety buffers to keep unmanned aircraft clear of flight paths.

Finally, drone operators need an aerial photography licence - even if they do not plan to use cameras attached to the machines.

Drone operators say the regulations are too restrictive and bureaucratic, and make deployment and development of the technology difficult here.

Mr Rude Lee, 33, from aerial photography company Skyshot, called for the permit approval time to be reduced. "Every time we want to fly, we have to contact different departments at CAAS, the Ministry of Home Affairs and, sometimes, the air force," he said. "We have to turn away clients with last-minute requests because we won't get the permits in time."

Mr Gabriel Kang, founder of drone research firm Sensory Robotics, said: "The only people being punished are those who try to stick to the rules.

"All drones have cameras - it's a safety feature. You have to see where the drone is going as it can travel out of sight very quickly. You want to make sure it doesn't hit anything, and you can't do that without a camera to see where it is flying."

Lawyers say the review is a step in the right direction in separating regulations for manned and unmanned aircraft, which have different needs.

Technology lawyer Gabriel Voisin, from law firm Bird and Bird, said the Ministry of Transport's review shows there is an interest in drawing up a drone-friendly regulation. But he added: "The real difficulty will be to balance issues of safety, privacy and public opinion with the interest of the industry."

lesterh@sph.com.sg

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Singapore's legal sector: The fight for market share

Business Times
13 Feb 2015
Sarah Kogan

EACH year Chambers and Partners carries out thousands of in-depth interviews with clients and lawyers in Singapore and the wider Asian region. Our latest annual rankings for Asia-Pacific were published on Feb 10, 2015.

In the last 12 months, the Singapore legal market has been characterised by continued growth, as well as much volatility in terms of movement of lawyers between firms. Interviewees tell us that while the market for legal services remains buoyant, both established firms and new entrants are under increasing pressure to adapt their offering through flexible fees, more practice area specialisms and better regional coverage.

PRICING PRESSURE

Pricing pressure has become a growing challenge for law firms in Singapore, as clients push for flexible billing at both the high end and mid-market levels.

Although clients still identify good quality representation as their top priority, they also tell us they are looking for the sweet spot between value and quality. While a favourite refrain may still be: "They are expensive, but they are worth it!", clients are nevertheless becoming more price sensitive. As one general counsel remarked: "What we look for are good, cost-effective lawyers. Good comes first - and these guys are that . . . but it could have been done a lot cheaper!"

Given the competitive nature of Singapore's legal market, it is unsurprising that clients are more bullish than in the past when it comes to demanding competitive pricing. Even in a long-term relationship, the level of fees can be a deal breaker. As one source cautioned: "They should not rest on their laurels. If they continue to be so exorbitant, then there is a risk for them that we go elsewhere."

Clients are also increasingly interested in alternatives to the traditional bill-by-hour system, whether this be a cap, fixed fee or retainer arrangement. For more cost-conscious clients, such arrangements can be attractive, but only where the agreement is realistic. As one interviewee told us: "You get what you pay for. I've rarely seen a cap not being breached - if a client imposes a cap then you may get poor quality - but if you have no cap then it can also become a problem."

CROWDED MARKET

This downward pressure on pricing is unsurprising given the increase in the number of law firms in Singapore.

Nevertheless, for those firms that can leverage their existing strength in the region, it is still possible to gain traction quite quickly. For instance, having reopened in Singapore in 2012, Freshfields has already secured rankings in three practice areas, including a band two ranking for Energy & Natural Resources. Relative newcomer Morrison & Foerster has also quickly built its team since it entered the market in 2013, and is ranked in the Corporate M&A table in the latest edition.

On the other hand, for international firms that are newer to Asia, and which have not chosen to pursue a local tie-up, the landscape can be quite challenging. The battle is not only to attract clients, but also to retain key partners, especially within the mid-market ranks. As one source explained: "There is an appetite for teams to be moving around to different firms, there is a lot of personnel movement, and more fragmentation."

In the last two years, we have seen growth particularly in the number of mid-market entrants to Singapore, including the arrival of UK names such as Simmons & Simmons, Nabarro, and Reed Smith. This influx has resulted in particularly fierce competition to hold onto top legal talent in this segment of the market. During 2014, we saw a number of partners upsizing to more established firms, including Paul Ng's move from Stephenson Harwood to Milbank, and Nabarro's former Singapore head Emerson Holmes across to Clifford Chance. Often it appears such moves are driven not only by the lawyer's desire to be part of a leading brand, with all the benefits that brings, but is also a response to client pressure to offer a stronger regional platform.

DEMAND FOR GREATER SPECIALISM

On the other hand, we see that new entrants who can offer advice to clients in niche areas are still in great demand.

This is illustrated particularly clearly in the TMT (telecommunications, media and technology) sector, where until relatively recently there was a shortage of specialised lawyers available on the ground. As one source puts it: "Like many places in Asia, despite the size of the clients involved, it is an under-represented area of specialism." UK-headquartered Olswang opened its Singapore office in 2012 and has already achieved a top-tier ranking in our TMT table. It is a similar picture in the insurance sector, where DAC Beachcroft and RPC have both been able to secure band one rankings in our insurance table, having only opened their doors in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Meanwhile, the leading full-service firms, both domestic and international, have also continued to expand the scope of services they offer to clients, with an increase in lawyers working in niche areas such as financial regulatory, FCPA ( Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) work and competition law. In response to these changes we continue to expand the practice areas we cover in our Singapore chapter, including for the 2015 edition, a new sub-table for individuals who specialise in banking and finance regulatory work.

For now, Singapore's legal market appears to be on course for further expansion and diversification. While increased competition presents all law firms with challenges in maintaining profitability, Singapore nevertheless remains a highly attractive location for lawyers due to its strategic importance as a regional economic, political and legal hub, and as Asia's leading destination for dispute resolution. For clients, the high levels of competition among legal providers is also a positive, driving up standards and encouraging firms to hone and expand their offering.

The writer is deputy editor of Chambers Asia-Pacific guide

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Kannan Ramesh named judicial commissioner

Straits Times
28 Feb 2015

SENIOR counsel Kannan Ramesh has been appointed a judicial commissioner of the High Court.

The 49-year-old will serve for a term of two years with effect from May 22, the Prime Minister's Office announced yesterday.

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

The position was introduced in 1986 to get senior lawyers, in private practice, on the Bench to help clear the backlog of Supreme Court cases.

Mr Ramesh, a father of one, specialises in dispute resolution, insolvency and restructuring, as well as international arbitration.

He is the managing partner of Tan Kok Quan Partnership, but will step down from the position. He recently represented church finance manager Sharon Tan in the City Harvest trial.

He will also step down from other positions, including being a member of the Singapore Academy of Law's Law Reform Committee and M1's board.

He said: "It is a privilege and an honour to be asked to serve. This is the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in an institution which I have always held in the highest regard. I look forward to contributing and making a difference."

He graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree from the National University of Singapore in 1990.

He was appointed a senior counsel - which recognises the best and most skilful advocates in the legal profession - in 2012.

With his appointment, the Supreme Court will have 13 judges, 10 judicial commissioners and five senior judges.

 

LIM YI HAN

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M. Ravi taken to court over mental health

Straits Times
23 Feb 2015
K.C. Vijayan

WITH lawyer M. Ravi's mental health still in question, the Law Society is going to court to force him to get a medical examination.

Mr Ravi, 43, was ordered to stop practising by its governing council on Feb 10, following serious concerns about his mental health.

A Law Society spokesman, responding to queries by The Straits Times, explained that under the Legal Profession Act, it had to make the court application within a week of the ban, or the lawyer's suspension would automatically be lifted.

The application was filed on Feb 17, and the ban now remains until the outcome of the court hearing at least. The final decision on whether he is fit to practise will be made by the judge.

The society said earlier that Mr Ravi's ability to practise was affected as he had been diagnosed with hypomania - where overactive and excited behaviour can seriously impact a person's daily life. To get the ban lifted, he needs a medical report saying he is fit to continue as a lawyer.

"As at Feb 17, 2015 (seven days after the direction was issued), the state of Mr Ravi's medical condition remained unclear," said the spokesman, adding that the lawyer had not given the society any information that would justify lifting the ban.

The society also made clear that in making its move, it had to "consider and balance the wider interests of the public and profession against that of the individual concerned".

The ultimate aim, it said, is to find a way for Mr Ravi to manage his medical condition "that is satisfactory and workable and which, if properly complied with, may allow him to recover and return to practise".

The society, which is represented by Shook Lin and Bok lawyer Pradeep Pillai, is due to argue its case before Justice Quentin Loh tomorrow.

Mr Ravi, when contacted yesterday, said he would be applying to dismiss the application. He added that he has been voluntarily seeking treatment from a psychiatrist.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Ex-CEO of China Sky to pay civil penalty, give up 10% of his shares

Business Times
13 Feb 2015
Lynette Khoo

[Singapore] FORMER chief executive of beleaguered China Sky Chemical Fibre, Huang Zhong Xuan, will pay a civil penalty of S$2.5 million and surrender 10 per cent of his shareholding in China Sky under a settlement agreement with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

The civil penalty was meted out after he admitted to making misleading public disclosures and failing to make the required disclosures to the market, thereby breaching the Securities and Futures Act (SFA), the MAS said on Thursday.

The S$2.5 million penalty will be paid from the US$3.7 million in his Singapore bank account, which was frozen under a High Court injunction that MAS obtained in 2013. The surrender or cancellation of his shares will raise the net asset value per share for existing China Sky shareholders.

MAS assistant managing director for capital markets Lee Boon Ngiap said: "The offer by Huang to surrender 10 per cent of his shareholdings in China Sky is the first negotiated settlement of its kind, directly benefiting existing shareholders of China Sky. We will continue to work closely with other statutory agencies to enforce the law against those who commit offences in our securities markets, whether they are based in Singapore or overseas."

The MAS said the offer is expected to be approved by China Sky's board of directors.

Mr Huang has also undertaken not to assume the role of a company director or be involved in the management of any Singapore-listed entity for three years.

Separately, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) said it is reviewing the roles of the other directors on China Sky's board and those of its key executive officers who were holding appointments at the time relevant to the breaches of the listing rules noted by the special auditor of China Sky.

"SGX will take further action that it deems necessary," it said on Thursday. The Exchange will allow trading in China Sky shares to resume once the company complies with conditions imposed by SGX.

China Sky's "misleading disclosures" from 2006 to 2011 that breached Section 199(c) of the SFA were related to its announced purchase of a piece of land in Fujian, China, and its subsequent abortion of the deal.

The disclosures incorrectly depicted the transaction counterparty as an independent third party, when it was a related company, and provided a false reason for the delay in the transfer of the land-use rights to China Sky's subsidiary, MAS said.

Mr Huang has also admitted to contravening Section 203 of the SFA through China Sky's failure to make prompt and proper disclosure to the market concerning the Fujian land acquisition, which could have had a material effect on the price or value of its securities.

The Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) opened an investigation in February 2012; later on, in consultation with MAS and the Attorney-General's Chambers, it agreed to discontinue the criminal probe so that a civil-penalty settlement could take place.

The civil-penalty regime came into force in 2004 to complement criminal sanctions and provide a nuanced approach to fighting market misconduct. Under Section 232 of the SFA, MAS may enter into agreements with any person for the person to pay a civil penalty for breaching certain SFA provisions - with or without admission of liability.

CAD director Tan Boon Gin said: "Cases like this have jurisdictional issues that make case resolution challenging. This case has come to a successful resolution through close collaboration between MAS, CAD and SGX, as well as assistance rendered by the authorities and regulators in the People's Republic of China.

"The settlement is a fair and equitable one which is commensurate with the severity of the breaches. It not only ensures that Huang is punished for his misconduct, but his offer to surrender his shares is a remedial measure that will benefit existing China Sky shareholders."

Mr Huang had in Oct 8, 2012 agreed to dispose of his entire 49.9 per cent stake in Rock Mart Equities, which owns 307.52 million shares or a 37.75 per cent direct stake in China Sky, to strategic investor Zheng Kai Su. Mr Zheng, a general manager of a plant belonging to a China Sky subsidiary, became the legal representative of that subsidiary in September 2013.

On Thursday, China Sky said a supplemental agreement between the two men was inked on Tuesday to extend the deadline for completion and to make reference to Mr Huang's offer to surrender 15.34 million China Sky shares under the civil penalty settlement with MAS.

Mr Zheng will be deemed to hold 292.18 million China Sky shares upon completion of the share agreement. This share sale is conditional on the confirmation by the Securities Industry Council that it will not trigger a mandatory offer, the Fujian-based company said.

lynkhoo@sph.com.sg

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Timely for S'pore to look into 'Internet neutrality' rules

Straits Times
28 Feb 2015
Irene Tham

ON THURSDAY, the five-member Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States voted in favour of the toughest rules yet to protect a "neutral Internet", potentially setting the stage for further global reforms.

The new safeguards are meant to ensure that every content provider on the Web is treated equally by Internet service providers (ISPs).

For instance, ISPs that carry and deliver online content to end-users cannot create "fast lanes" for content providers that pay extra for prioritisation. Also prohibited are the blocking and "throttling", or slowing down, of lawful content and services.

The rules will apply to mobile-phone Web access as well.

The groundbreaking decision has put the US ahead of many nations in ensuring that the Internet will remain open to innovation, by not discriminating against poor start-ups.

So far, only Brazil, Chile and the Netherlands have introduced similar "Net neutrality" legislation. Specifically, these laws protect consumers from having to pay varying fees to ISPs and mobile operators for accessing services online.

They help preserve the original intent behind the public Internet, created in the mid-1990s.

ISPs, or "carriers" in tech-speak, were meant to carry all legitimate content impartially to end-users. End-users, or customers, do pay fees based on the speed of the links they use for access. However, ISPs are not supposed to charge companies more for prioritising their data. For example, they cannot charge YouTube extra for putting its videos on faster lanes to reach customers.

Without "neutrality", consumers could end up having to pay more to access the Internet. ISPs could, say, package services sold to consumers and charge different fees. A basic service would give access to just e-mail and social networks. "Premium" might let consumers stream videos and music, while "Super Premium" would allow downloads.

Brazilian law professor Ronaldo Lemo reportedly said: "Today, that sounds like an aberration but, without Net neutrality, it's a possibility."

Singapore's position

IN SINGAPORE, carriers can sell fast lanes to content providers.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) requires ISPs to ensure that user access to legitimate websites does not slow down to the point where online services become "unusable". However, it does not ban throttling outright, which means ISPs have the option of slowing access to some websites, without rendering them unusable.

IDA also imposes minimum service-quality standards such as 99.9 per cent network uptime, and requires ISPs to publish typical surfing speeds for their networks during peak times.

Given the FCC's stand, it would be timely for Singapore to review some rules. It would also be apt in view of comments made in February last year by Singtel chief Chua Sock Koong at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. She said regulators should let carriers charge major Internet content providers for consumers to have faster access to their content. This means, for instance, charging Google, WhatsApp or local content providers to speed up their content to customers.

The comments sparked criticism from netizens.

A review is also called for because many of Singapore's existing broadband rules were set quite a while ago. Technological advances now allow ISPs to pinpoint what websites people go to. Previously, they could identify traffic only by type, whether it consisted of video or still images. Thus, the ability to sell fast lanes to online content owners is a recent development. In a high-profile deal in February last year, video streaming operator Netflix agreed to pay a fee to American ISP Comcast so its videos could travel on fast lanes to customers.

Contention over fast lanes

SOME see nothing wrong with carriers selling fast lanes to giant bandwidth gobblers such as Netflix and YouTube. These sites require a fatter "pipe" - which is more costly for carriers - for smooth video streaming.

After all, as Ms Chua argued, content companies are making profits from using carriers' infrastructure to reach customers, but not paying for it. Content companies such as Skype and WhatsApp have also eaten into carriers' voice and messaging revenues.

However, proponents of a neutral Internet feel that carriers are already making money from consumers, who pay more for higher-speed broadband plans. Carriers should thus deliver all content without discrimination.

There is also a potential conflict of interest as some carriers are content players too. Singtel last month announced a new video-streaming service called Hooq for the Asian market. As Mr Benjamin Tan, managing director of local ISP SuperInternet, put it: "What is to stop a telco from picking on providers that compete with it for business, thus stifling innovation?"

Contention over throttling

THIS issue also raises debate. ISPs can slow down certain online services, but IDA's current rule does not define the minimum "usable" standard. For instance, is it acceptable for an Internet user to be interrupted for five seconds multiple times during a 45-minute video stream?

Digital media lawyer Matt Pollins, an associate with Olswang, does not expect regulations in Singapore in the near future to go as far as those passed by the FCC. Still, he said, IDA's position could come under intense scrutiny in one to two years.

"Singapore is now seen as the Silicon Valley of Asia. Tighter Net neutrality rules might be needed to ensure that Singapore's many Internet start-ups can compete on a level playing field with established operators," he said.

itham@sph.com.sg

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Roots of international law in 1603 incident off Changi

Straits Times
23 Feb 2015
Navin Rajagobal

In recent weeks, stories about Singaporeans' knowledge of their history (or lack thereof) have been prominent in the media. Here is one event that Independent Singapore should remember.

I WOULD like to take this opportunity to highlight an important historical incident with lasting global repercussions that took place very near our island.

Few residents of Singapore would be aware of this event, and I would not blame them for this, because it occurred in 1603.

This Wednesday, Feb 25, marks the 412th anniversary of the event.

The incident I refer to happened off Singapore's upper east coast, near Changi. The Santa Catarina, a Portuguese merchant ship captained by Sebastian Serrao, was attacked and seized by smaller ships commanded by Jacob van Heemskerk from the Netherlands.

The Santa Catarina and its precious cargo of silk, porcelain, camphor and other spoils were swiftly dispatched to Amsterdam. When these were auctioned, the proceeds amounted to about �300,000, a princely sum in 17th-century northern Europe.

Naturally, the Portuguese wanted their treasure back, while many in the Netherlands were troubled by the legality and morality of the seizure.

The Dutch wished to disrupt Portuguese domination of Europe's trade with Asia as part of their continuing conflict with their former overlord, Habsburg Spain, which ruled Portugal.

But van Heemskerk's mission to Asia, meant to promote trade, was not explicitly authorised to attack Portuguese shipping, and so the assault on the Santa Catarina could be construed as piracy.

In response to the brewing domestic and international scandal, van Heemskerk's sponsor, the United Amsterdam Company, hired an up-and-coming young lawyer named Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) to draft a paper that would defend the seizure of the Santa Catarina.

Grotius shrewdly justified the incident off Changi by claiming that van Heemskerk's action had lawfully challenged Portugal's unfair monopoly on commerce with Asia.

He explained that the Portuguese had not only blocked the Dutch from Asian ports and markets, but also used unlawful force against other Europeans and Asians to maintain their domination of the Asian trade. Hence, by seizing the Santa Catarina, van Heemskerk had engaged in a "just war" to punish Portuguese transgressions and defend freedom of navigation between Europe and Asia.

Grotius' views on the Santa Catarina incident, published as Mare Liberum (The Free Sea) and De Jure Praedae (On the Law of Prize and Booty), and the opposing arguments generated by his views, became the spark that ignited the development of modern international law. Some scholars refer to this as the "Grotian Moment".

For example, Grotius' affirmation that the high seas were international territory and that any country was free to use it for maritime trade became a cornerstone of international law relating to oceans.

This principle was eventually codified in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), which is widely recognised as a "constitution" for oceans and seas.

In addition, Grotius' assertion that war is justifiable only when it serves a right (just war theory) became a guide for international law relating to the use of force and self-defence. This was later enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The charter justifies use of force by states only for self-defence or if endorsed by the UN Security Council in the interest of international peace and security - in other words, for the right reasons rather than for aggression.

Not surprisingly, Grotius is considered to be the "father" of international law or at least one of its earliest pioneers.

The connection to Singapore initially appears to be a case of incidental geography. But there is more to this story, because van Heemskerk did not act alone. The resident population helped him.

The Santa Catarina, which was sailing from Macau to Malacca, was anchored off eastern Singapura. The local authority at the time, Johor-Riau, had been founded by evacuees fleeing the Portuguese conquest of Malacca in 1511. Therefore, Johor-Riau was happy to ally with van Heemskerk and provided intelligence, combatants and rowing yachts to carry out the raid.

In fact, Raja Bongsu (later Sultan of Johor-Riau) had sought out van Heemskerk in Pattani and invited him to sail to Singapura to set a trap for the Portuguese. He and other native leaders were probably on the Dutch flagship, the White Lion, during the raid on the Santa Catarina.

The battle began at about 8am on Feb 25, 1603. The raiders focused on the Santa Catarina's sails so as not to damage the cargo or sink the ship. Even so, the confrontation was fierce, with at least 70 casualties.

By 6pm, the Portuguese surrendered the Santa Catarina in return for safe passage to Malacca, which was granted.

The Netherlands' alliance with the local authority was a major plank of Grotius' legal justification for the seizure of the Santa Catarina. By supporting the locals in their struggle against Portuguese Malacca, van Heemskerk was not a pirate, but an agent of Johor-Riau.

Singapura, of course, went on to become a major international hub for trade and shipping. Freedom of navigation, access to global markets and free trade - concepts that would have been familiar to Grotius - are now key elements of Singapore's foreign policy, as they have been crucial for the island-state's economic success.

Recent developments such as the South China Sea territorial and maritime disputes have also highlighted the importance of international law relating to the seas.

Some observers have suggested that China's "nine dashed lines" map, which seems to enclose the busy sea lanes of the South China Sea, harks back to the mare clausum (closed sea) principles favoured by the Portuguese in the 1600s.

This would be contrary to the mare liberum (free sea) principles championed by Grotius after the Santa Catarina incident and subsequently encapsulated in Unclos.

I am therefore of the view that Independent Singapore, as it turns 50 this year, should remember the 412-year-old Santa Catarina incident, since it spurred the development of international law, and it happened just off Changi.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The writer is director, faculty affairs, at Yale-NUS College and former deputy director of the National University of Singapore Centre for International Law.

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NParks bikes: Prosecution must reframe law question

Straits Times
13 Feb 2015
Selina Lum

THE Brompton bicycles saga, which led to a $5,000 fine for a former National Parks Board (NParks) assistant director, who lied to auditors about his relationship with a bike supplier, was brought before Singapore's highest court yesterday.

The prosecution took the case of Bernard Lim Yong Soon to the Court of Appeal, asking it to decide when people should be jailed for lying to public servants in order to mislead an inquiry into a matter concerning public- sector governance.

The prosecution is contending that a prison term should be imposed when the offence is a "calculated, deliberate act, committed with planning and forethought".

But the three-judge court questioned if it was wise to make a blanket ruling to jail people for wrongdoings that can cover a wide gamut of potential scenarios, such as lying to a superior about taking excess stationery.

It wondered what exactly was meant by "public-sector governance" and also noted that "inquiry" could cover situations ranging from a passing question to a subordinate, to a formally appointed committee of inquiry.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang declined to give a ruling based on the present question of law submitted by the prosecution. However, they gave the prosecution two weeks to re-submit a "more appropriately framed" question and will then decide whether to consider it.

Mr Lim, the man at the centre of the case, addressed the court briefly, saying that what has happened in the last 2 1/2 years was sufficient punishment.

Mr Lim added that he was "still not gainfully employed".

In 2011, he tipped off the boss of bicycle retailer Bikehop on an upcoming NParks tender for foldable bikes.

Bikehop, the sole bidder, won the tender to sell 26 Brompton bikes to NParks. In 2012, the deal came under public scrutiny over the $2,200 price of each bicycle.

Quizzed by Ministry of National Development auditors about his relationship with the Bikehop boss, Mr Lim lied that they met for the first time only after the tender was awarded.

Last June, Mr Lim was fined $5,000 by a district court for giving false information to a public servant. This was upheld by the High Court, dismissing the prosecution's appeal for jail.

The prosecution then referred the case to the apex court on the basis that a question of law of public interest has arisen.

Yesterday, the court raised its own questions, including whether this was an appropriate case to invoke the apex court's power to set a sentencing benchmark.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Ex-CPIB assistant accused of theft, cheating

Business Times
28 Feb 2015
Claire Huang

Singapore

A FORMER assistant at the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) has been charged in court with 15 offences, including the stealing of credit cards and cheating.

Christopher Gan Boon Khong, 25, faces two counts for the theft of two cards, 12 of cheating and one of causing hurt.

Most of the charges relate to the events of last June 29, when he allegedly stole a HSBC credit card belonging to Wendy Lim at around 2am at Club V6 in Jalan Sultan. Three minutes later, he was said to have cheated cashier Lee Tai Tee by buying nine shots of tequila worth S$135 using the card; in the next 50 minutes, he supposedly ran up a S$1,430 bill buying 11 flower garlands.(In some nightspots, patrons buy these garlands as a gesture of appreciation for their favourite performers.)

Gan is also accused of stealing a DBS debit card belonging to Vedula Vijay Kumar the following month, also at Club V6. He then headed for Club 1+1 in Tanglin Shopping Centre, where - just 45 minutes later - he allegedly bought two bottles of Martell.

Then, less than 10 minutes later, he allegedly used the card to buy four more bottles of Martell valued at S$776 at Club Gaga, also at Tanglin Shopping Centre.

Gan was back at Club V6 about an hour later, where he apparently threw a Chan Kian Hong to the ground and kicked him in the groin.

Gan's bail has been set at S$15,000; the case will be mentioned on March 27.

For theft, he could be jailed up to three years and be fined. The maximum punishment for each cheating offence is a jail term of 10 years and a fine. If convicted for causing hurt, he could be jailed two years and fined S$5,000.

In a statement on Friday, CPIB said Gan resigned from the service last July 4.

It added that it does not condone criminal or improper acts by its officers and that errant officers will be dealt with and can expect to face criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings if they are involved in wrongdoing.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Time to answer questions about pay of directors

Business Times
23 Feb 2015
Wong Su-Yen

Companies need to recognise that the "new normal" of governance requires full disclosure

Probing how much individual professionals earn is usually not kosher. A recent poll of 1,000 Americans revealed that 53 per cent considered discussing their income at a dinner party taboo, second only to "the sex lives of those present" (59 per cent).

Taboos may vary from culture to culture, but it would appear we have a similar discomfort around director remuneration disclosures in Singapore, based simply on the low level of such disclosures by listed companies.

The Code of Corporate Governance requires that companies fully disclose the remuneration of individual directors on a named basis (Guideline 9.2). According to the 2014 SID-ISCA Singapore Directorship Report, only 31 per cent of all the 717 listed entities on the Singapore Exchange precisely disclosed directors' annual fees and remuneration.

So, how much are directors in Singapore paid anyway?

According to Handshakes, which compiled the data for the Singapore Directorship Report, the average annual fees for non-executive directors for FY2013 is S$68,250 for small-cap companies (those with a market capitalisation of less than S$300 million), S$77,806 for mid-cap companies (market capitalisation of between S$300 million and S$1 billion), and S$143,096 for large-cap companies (market capitalisation of more than S$1 billion).

For executive directors (chief executives and senior management), the numbers are much higher. The average annual remuneration for executive directors is S$465,930 for the small-cap companies, S$827,587 for the mid-caps, and S$2,686,028 for the large-caps.

Before we get too excited about these numbers, let us not forget that they reflect only 1,049 out of 4,839 non-executive director (independent and non-independent) seats where specific director remuneration data is available - a mere 21 per cent of total board seats. Clearly we have some way to go.

Companies need to recognise that the "new normal" of governance requires full disclosure. This includes a rigorous discussion of remuneration in the boardroom, proof of pay-for-performance linkage, and responsible long-term incentives. Shareholders have a right to know the financial decisions a company makes, and executive and director remuneration are key expenses that should be disclosed in more detail.

Remuneration disclosure is not, as some may claim, a uniquely Western construct. Several countries in Asia, including Hong Kong and Japan, have made pertinent strides in the direction of greater transparency, partly spurred by the Financial Stability Boards' guidelines for financial institutions. Variations of these good corporate governance practices have had a subsequent spillover effect on regulators and boards of companies in other industries.

The main reason companies cite for not disclosing individual directors and senior executives' remuneration is typically tied up with the sensitivity of how such disclosures could result in poaching of senior executives, including executive directors. Detractors also claim that increased disclosure exerts upward pressure on compensation levels.

Certainly, increased disclosure leads to greater public awareness which helps to regulate and control pay. Admittedly, the side effect is potential inflation of pay. This underscores the need to use disclosed data with caution, to interpret the disclosures carefully, and to adopt a responsible approach to managing executive remuneration.

That said, the most important compensation consideration from an incumbent's perspective is a sense of fairness and equity (rather than just wanting more). Increased pay disclosures may actually help with assessing fairness and equitableness. By withholding information, we actually make it easier to perpetuate anomalies and mistrust.

I believe that another common, mostly unspoken, reason for not disclosing remuneration is rooted in behavioural economics: what matters to most individuals is knowledge of a higher relative income rather than the absolute income level. In other words, we cannot help but compare ourselves to others. We are afraid of discovering how much more a peer makes compared to ourselves. Or we feel bad for making our peers feel bad that we earn more than they do.

Such scenarios are more likely when inadequate explanations are provided as the basis for remuneration decisions. In fact, remuneration disclosures out of context are not dissimilar to advertising a vehicle for sale but specifying only the price. Without knowing the make, model, year, mileage and other relevant factors, it is impossible to ascertain if the price is fair and appropriate.

Which brings us to the proverbial elephant in the room: absolute levels notwithstanding, are directors fairly paid? While that is a subject for another day, suffice it to say that besides disclosure of each individual director's remuneration on a named basis, companies should also explain how the pay is determined, and what benchmarks are used. This helps investors to understand the link between the remuneration paid to directors and the company's performance.

Asian companies generally lag behind their Western counterparts when it comes to remuneration-related disclosures. Relevant remuneration disclosures go a long way towards bridging the gap, enhancing corporate reputation, and bolstering shareholders' confidence regarding the governance of Singapore-listed companies.

After all, Singapore is among the highest rated countries for corporate governance standards across the world. The present low level of disclosure on directors' remuneration is a black mark on our sterling image.

It is time to address the inconvenient question.

The writer is a member of the Governing Council of the Singapore Institute of Directors

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Han's loses brand claim against HAN

Straits Times
13 Feb 2015
K.C. Vijayan

But HAN fails in bid to have court erase 'Han's Cafe' as trademark

IT WAS win some, lose some for each side in a court showdown over the use of "Han" in Singapore's restaurant scene.

Well-known chain Han's Cafe failed in its bid to stop HAN Cuisine of Naniwa, a high-end Japanese restaurant, from using a similar name.

But the owners of HAN Cuisine also failed to have the court erase "Han's Cafe" as a registered trademark, despite arguing that Han is a common surname here.

Judicial Commissioner George Wei disagreed with HAN, ruling that a name or part of it can be recognised as a trade mark.

"The fact that Han is a surname does not mean that, as a matter of principle, it must be treated as being devoid of a distinctive character" he said in 81-page judgment grounds released yesterday.

The judge accepted that Han seemed a fairly common surname in China, Korea and Japan and that it was, taken on its own, not distinct enough to satisfy trade mark registration rules.

But the unique style and font used by the chain, including its framed outline, were enough to make it sufficiently unique.

He also found that Han's was a local brand which has grown familiar to many Singaporeans since being founded in 1980.

Han's Cafe owners had alleged that HAN Cuisine of Naniwa, which opened in June 2012 at Odeon Towers had infringed its trademark and passed off its business as part of Han's Cafe's.

HAN Cuisine, owned by home-grown Gusttimo World, which also runs the Pinch catering service, offers traditional Osaka-based Naniwa cuisine and its specialities include meat and vegetable skewers.

Lawyer Mark Goh argued for Han's Cafe that the Japanese restaurant's name was visually, phonetically and conceptually similar to its own trademark.

But HAN's lawyer Suresh Damodara disputed this, saying the cuisine and character of both restaurants were vastly different.

Han's Cafe is a self-service, low cost, Hainanese Western restaurant, while HAN Cuisine is a full-service fine dining Japanese restaurant which also serves champagne and other high-end liquor, he said.

The judge ruled that the HAN sign needed to be considered "in its entirety", and that included the addition of "Cuisine of Naniwa" and the Japanese-style circle around the words.

When treated as a whole, the the similarity between the names was marginal. There was also no likelihood of people confusing the two brands.

The judge said that the average consumer who approached the HAN Cuisine restaurant and observed the HAN sign applied at various positions in and around the restaurant, "would be disabused of any notion that there is an economic connection" between Han's Cafe's goods and services and those of HAN Cuisine.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

RHT Holdings prepares to list on Catalist

Business Times
27 Feb 2015
Claire Huang

[Singapore] THE holding company owned by the equity partners of law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP has started the process for its proposed listing on the Catalist board of Singapore Exchange. The move is a first by a Singapore law firm to list its professional services arm in the Republic.

RHT Holdings Limited, a professional services group in Asia, on Thursday said that the proposed listing is scheduled for the first quarter of 2016 or earlier. It is the holding company for four of 12 subsidiaries under the RHT Group of Companies - RHT Compliance Solutions, RHT Corporate Advisory, RHT Capital and RHT Management Services. RHT Holdings has appointed Hong Leong Finance Ltd as its financial adviser and sponsor for the proposed listing.

Tan Chong Huat, the holding company's non-executive director, said that the proposed listing will provide funds for the group's international ambitions. "In three short years, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP and the RHT Group have become premier names in Singapore for legal and professional consulting services, respectively. We now wish to tap into capital markets to accelerate growth both in Singapore and internationally."

Asked about the amount to be raised, Mr Tan said that it hinges on the valuation, which could be higher as the company is now looking to make one or two acquisitions.

He noted that the Republic is the group's home base, and its reputation as a financial hub will fuel the company's growth. And while "the price earnings given to businesses on the Catalist" in Singapore is "actually quite low", Mr Tan said that the professional services industry is a business that investors here will understand, so he thinks that the company is poised to do well in Singapore.

Citing the example of consultation papers released by the Monetary Authority of Singapore in recent years, Nizam Ismail, who heads RHT Compliance Solutions, noted that the financial industry here is facing a tremendous amount of rule changes, and this represents business opportunities.

In the 18 months since RHT Compliance Solutions was started, it now has a client base of 100 organisations, said Mr Nizam.

In line with its strategy to stay ahead of the competition, the company plans to gain a foothold in Indochina next, Mr Tan said, followed by Hong Kong.

Last November, Zico Holdings, which provides professional services in areas such as trust advisory, business support and advice on syariah or Islamic law, was listed on the Catalist board on the Singapore stock market.

It was set up to mainly serve the customers of Kuala Lumpur-based legal outfit Zaid Ibrahim and Co, commonly known as Zico, and was a way for Malaysia's biggest law firm to tap capital markets while adhering to local rules that forbid non-lawyers from owning law firms.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Cab cameras must conform to privacy laws: Forum

Straits Times
22 Feb 2015

The proposal of the use of inward-facing cameras may be for the safety of taxi drivers and commuters and to resolve disputes related to fare payment ("Cab cameras to record passengers' behaviour?"; last Sunday).

But the implementation of this initiative needs to conform to privacy laws.

Here are some considerations regarding the implementation.

Firstly, the passenger needs to know how the video footage will be used by the taxi company and its employees, as well as the purpose. This should be put up on the websites of taxi companies.

There should also be signs in the taxis alerting the passenger to the use of the camera. Also, the retention period for the footage needs to be defined clearly.

Secondly, the video footage should be captured securely by the taxi companies and kept in a safe place in transit and at rest. The firms need to ensure that the footage is not accessible by taxi drivers.

Thirdly, if a passenger wants to view the footage in the event of a fare dispute, how will taxi companies provide this access?

In summary, while this is a good proposal from the National Taxi Association, we need to safeguard commuters' rights in the implementation of these inward-facing cameras.

Wong Shih Shen

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MINDEF seeks court order against doctor-inventor, TOC

TODAY
13 Feb 2015
Neo Chai Chin

Ting, five people behind website notified of action being taken under anti-harassment laws

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) is pursuing a court order under anti-harassment laws against a doctor-inventor and the people behind sociopolitical website The Online Citizen (TOC), over what it contends are false statements made and published.

Dr Ting Choon Meng and five individuals behind TOC were issued letters on Wednesday by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), which is acting for MINDEF. The letters informed them of action being taken under the Protection from Harassment Act, which took effect in November.

A pre-trial hearing has been fixed for March 5.

The move comes after Dr Ting rejected the AGC’s demand to stop making statements about MINDEF relating to the infringement of his patent for a mobile medical station and that the ministry had deliberately delayed court proceedings.

Dr Ting, co-founder of MobileStats Technologies, alleges that the Battalion Casualty Station that MINDEF had bought from Syntech Engineers was copied from his design.

MINDEF said Dr Ting’s patent had been declared invalid by the court, and that it had previously told him to pursue his infringement claim with Syntech Engineers, the commercial vendor of the station.

Commenting on the latest action by the AGC, Dr Ting said yesterday through his lawyer Choo Zheng Xi: “I will strongly resist MINDEF’s attempt to use the Protection from Harassment Act in this manner. MINDEF is fully entitled to, and has told, their side of the story on numerous platforms. Relying on the (Act) is overkill.”

Mr Choo is also one of the individuals behind TOC.

The website had also rejected MINDEF’s earlier demand to remove an article on Dr Ting or post a preface to the article that redirects to MINDEF’s clarification statement on the issue.

Its lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam said TOC had published Dr Ting’s statements responsibly and that it had given MINDEF the right to reply to the statements.

Mr Thuraisingam argued that the anti-harassment law was meant to protect persons, and not institutions such as MINDEF, from false statements of fact.

The ministry had said earlier that false allegations that impinge on its integrity could dent public confidence in MINDEF and the Government.

Under the Act, harassment is considered an offence, whether it is committed in the physical world or online. If convicted, a person can be fined up to S$5,000 and/or jailed up to 12 months. For repeat offenders, this increases to S$10,000 and/or jail of up to two years.

chaichin@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

S’pore students in UK hit out at law school restrictions

TODAY
27 Feb 2015
Neo Chai Chin & Amanda Lee

Those from eight dropped universities may be seen as inferior by employers

SINGAPORE — As a debate ensues on the pros and cons of different methods of ensuring the quality of returning law graduates from the United Kingdom, some law students there have lamented the restriction of choices for prospective students wanting a legal education in the UK.

These come in the wake of the Ministry of Law’s (MinLaw) announcement on Tuesday that eight UK law schools would be dropped from the list of universities recognised for admission to the Singapore Bar.

The reduced list of 27 overseas scheduled universities (OSUs) — including those from Australia, the US, and New Zealand — will apply to intakes from the 2016/2017 academic year.

The UK law schools that will be dropped include the University of Exeter, University of Leeds and University of Leicester. Among the 11 UK law schools retained are the University of Birmingham, University of Cambridge, and King’s College London.

Some have suggested that the authorities could have reverted to allowing only those with second-upper honours degrees and above to qualify for admission to the Bar here, but Senior Counsel Edwin Tong noted that this suggestion still carries uncertainties for the law students.

Trimming the list of recognised schools would be a better solution, said Mr Tong, who sits on the law Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC). The two ideas are ultimately different methods of ensuring quality and restricting the number of entrants to the Bar here, and both have their drawbacks and advantages, he said.

Law GPC chairman Hri Kumar Nair said he was personally not in favour of having any barriers of entry to the profession. Anyone who wants a law degree should be able to get one, provided they do not expect jobs as lawyers to be waiting for them when they graduate, said the Senior Counsel, adding that they should be prepared to compete if the market becomes tougher when they graduate.

Instead, Mr Nair felt the Bar exam should be “sufficiently rigorous” to ensure the quality of entrants.

In response to TODAY’s queries, president of the UK Singapore Law Students’ Society Kok Weng Keong regretted the fact that fewer practising Singaporean lawyers would benefit from the rich traditions of a UK legal education, which includes exposure to different legal systems.

“With the international direction that the Singapore legal industry is progressing towards — be it the Singapore International Commercial Court, the Republic as an arbitration hub, or Singapore’s increasing prominence as a global financial centre — more UK-educated lawyers will definitely be an asset,” said the second-year King’s College London student.

The primary concern of students and alumni of the eight affected universities is the potential perception that their universities are inferior to those still on the list, and the effect this may have on their employability, said Mr Kok, 22.

“How good a lawyer turns out to be will be dependent on his/her tenacity and individual ability, and not on which law school he/she came from,” he added.

Second-year University of Exeter student Valerie Quek felt students from the eight universities could now be viewed as “third-tier” law students, behind those who studied in Singapore and those still on the list of recognised law schools.

While the news was “disheartening”, she said she still harbours hopes of practising law here.

Final-year University of Exeter undergraduate Ong Lejing, 22, echoed the view that employers might think graduates from the delisted universities “have read a less preferred or substandard syllabus” and are thus less qualified.

Asked if it envisions a target number of returning law graduates, MinLaw said the review of the OSU list is a qualitative review to ensure the continued high quality of overseas-trained entrants to the Singapore Bar.

“The impact on the overall number of law graduates is a consequence of the refinement of the list. Moreover, the effect of the review will only be felt in about five years’ time.”

chaichin@mediacorp.com.sg

leeguiping@mediacorp.com.sg


Law schools’ rank inconsistent across British broadsheets

A check on the rankings by three United Kingdom broadsheets, which were used in identifying the eight UK law schools that will be dropped from a list qualifying them for admission to the Singapore Bar, appears to partly bear out sentiments against such a methodology for being inconclusive of quality.

Schools largely fared differently across rankings done by different broadsheets, and many of them jumped or dropped places from year to year, TODAY found. The schools retained, however, are generally ranked higher than those axed.

The rankings — also studied longitudinally — used by the Singapore Institute of Legal Education in shortening the list of recognised UK law schools were The Times’ Good University Guide, The Guardian’s University Guide and The Independent’s Complete University Guide.

For instance, the University of Bristol — one of the 11 retained UK law schools — ranked 33rd on The Guardian this year, but 11th on the other two.

There were also swings over years. For example, even the University of Cambridge placed third, fourth and first, respectively, from 2013 to this year on The Guardian’s ranking.

The situation was the same when it came to the schools that were dropped. The University of Leeds, for instance, jumped about eight places from 2013 to last year, then dropped between one and three places this year.

AMANDA LEE

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Students probe claims of wrongful conviction

Straits Times
21 Feb 2015
Amir Hussain

One person freed from prison with their help

A STUDENT project set up to investigate claims of wrongful criminal conviction led to a jailed man being cleared of drug consumption last year - three years after he was first remanded.

The case was the first successful outcome under the Innocence Project that was set up by law students from the National University of Singapore in April 2013.

The initiative is receiving an increasing number of requests from people in prison to have their cases re-examined. The project received 34 applications last year, a five-fold jump compared with the seven it received in 2013.

There are now 56 law students in the project, up from about 20 when it started.

Applicants write in to the Innocence Project from prison or have a representative fill out a form online on their behalf.

A team of three or four students will then investigate the case to see if it meets the selection criteria. Applicants must be serving a prison sentence and have exhausted all avenues of appeal.

Besides going through court documents and trial transcripts, students also interview the applicant in jail.

The project is supervised by lawyers and faculty advisers and the students do not offer legal advice.

After a case has been investigated, it is evaluated for a follow-up with a pro-bono lawyer.

The project collaborates with the Law Society's Pro Bono Services Office and the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore.

Third-year law student Victor Leong, 24, joined the project two years ago as he wanted to be "involved with pro bono work, which directly impacts people".

Together with three of his peers, Mr Leong investigated an application in August 2013, made by a man jailed for consuming drugs. In February 2011, the man was found guilty of taking morphine - a controlled substance - without medical authorisation. In fact, he had taken medicine containing codeine, which affects urine tests for morphine.

The man, who had previous convictions for drug offences, also said his former lawyer instructed him to remain silent when his defence was called. He was sentenced to seven years and six months' jail, and ordered to be given six strokes of the cane.

Three weeks after Mr Leong's team investigated the case, it was forwarded to pro bono lawyer Mervyn Cheong. After a re-trial was initiated, the court, acting on an application by the prosecution, ordered a discharge amounting to an acquittal in April last year.

"There was some notion of disbelief that our work had actually helped an applicant," said Mr Leong. "We couldn't imagine that this would happen when we took up the project."

Innocence Project head and second-year law student Jaryl Lim, 22, said the scheme has since handed over another case involving violence-related offences to a pro bono lawyer.

Twenty other cases are being evaluated for follow-up action.

"Most of the applications we received ended up being rejected and for good reason - our criminal justice system is already very robust," said Mr Lim. "But no matter how perfect a criminal justice system may be, there will be people who fall through the cracks, and it is precisely these people that we want to help."

Said Mr Cheong: "Without the Innocence Project and the students' initial efforts to kick-start a train of inquiry, the case would have slipped through a small gap in the criminal justice system.

"It shows as well that it is never too early for a young law student to contribute meaningfully to legal pro bono work, including criminal work, where an individual's liberty is at stake."

amirh@sph.com.sg

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M Ravi ‘ignored doctor’s advice’ to stop practice last week

TODAY
13 Feb 2015
Neo Chai Chin

Lawyer was diagnosed last week as being hypomanic, but continued to practise despite being advised not to

SINGAPORE — The Law Society (LawSoc) today (Feb 12) broke from its usual practice of not issuing media statements on action taken against individual lawyers, shedding light on the circumstances in which it stopped lawyer Ravi Madasamy from practising until certified fit by a psychiatrist.

The society said its council decided to issue a statement to the media and its members because Mr Ravi had made public allegations against the LawSoc that were inaccurate.

Mr Ravi was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had a public spat with the society in 2012, which ended when he agreed to stricter monitoring of his condition.

The LawSoc said its council was informed in the past week that Mr Ravi’s psychiatrist had diagnosed him as being hypomanic. Hypomania is part of bipolar disorder and characterised by a distinct period of elevated or irritable mood. Mr Ravi’s psychiatrist felt his condition was worsening and stated that his hypomania created risk of errors of judgment and emotional outbursts, the society said.

Mr Ravi had been certified medically unfit for duty from Tuesday to Friday last week and was advised not to practise during this period, the LawSoc said. He was also advised to be hospitalised for observation, but did not comply.

Mr Ravi continued to practise and the council became concerned about his mental condition and fitness to practise. It ordered him to stop practising in his own interests and those of the legal profession and the public, the society added.

When contacted today, Mr Ravi said he was issued a medical certificate and acknowledged that his psychiatrist had deemed him hypomanic, but maintained that he was fit to practise. He had appeared in court last Friday, he added.

Mr Ravi told TODAY he was trying to get a quorum to call for an extraordinary general meeting to pass a vote of no confidence in the LawSoc council.

Two of his clients, bloggers Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui, are now represented by Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, he added.

Mr Thuraisingam, who runs his own law firm, confirmed that he began representing Ngerng and Han from yesterday in their court cases arising from a Hong Lim Park protest last September, and Ngerng in his defamation lawsuit brought by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The LawSoc said Mr Ravi’s practising certificate for the year ending March 31 was subject to conditions, including the society’s right at all times to obtain information, from him or his psychiatrist, on his mental state and fitness to practise.

The society said it could have pursued more drastic measures against Mr Ravi. The lawyer had gone to the LawSoc’s office this week claiming that he was suspended because of his bid to stand in the next General Election. A video capturing his visit was also posted on the Internet.

On Feb 2, Mr Ravi declared at a  hastily-called press conference that he would stand in Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency, adding that he aspired to become the Prime Minister one day.

 And in a five-minute video posted online last Saturday, Mr Ravi also went on a tirade against Ngerng.

chaichin@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Court backs law body in barring M. Ravi

Straits Times
27 Feb 2015
Selina Lum

ACTIVIST lawyer M. Ravi, whose mental health is in question, remains suspended from practice, after the High Court yesterday barred him from working until he is medically certified fit to practise.

The decision came after the Law Society, which regulates lawyers, applied to the court to compel him to undergo a medical examination.

Mr Ravi , 45, told reporters after the closed-door hearing that the move was discriminatory, unfair and politically motivated in the wake of his announcement that he would contest the next General Election.

He said he will see psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow, who is overseas, next Thursday. Hours later, in a statement, Mr Ravi said he was concerned that the suspension would deprive his clients of his legal assistance.

"The only thing I can do is use the suspension as a compulsory rest. It is then for me to provide the court with a clean bill of health from a physician as soon as possible," he said.

A statement from the Law Society said Justice Quentin Loh found that the society "had acted reasonably with good grounds to issue the direction for Mr Ravi to cease practice and was satisfied that Mr Ravi's fitness to practise has been impaired by reason of his medical condition".

On Feb 10, Mr Ravi was ordered by the society's council to stop practising, following concerns about his mental health.

Under the Legal Profession Act, it was obliged to apply to the court within seven days to order Mr Ravi to submit to a medical examination. The application, made on Feb 17, was heard on Tuesday and yesterday.

Yesterday, the society stressed that it was exercising its duty in making the application against Mr Ravi. "The judge stated that the Law Society has a duty to the public to ensure that lawyers are mentally and physically fit to practise," said the statement.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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All about the buzz: Drone regulation

Business Times
21 Feb 2015
Jacquelyn Cheok

AS Singapore works towards formulating localised regulations for unmanned aircraft operations, 3 homegrown drone startups – Avetics, Garuda and HOPE Technik – tell Jacquelyn Cheok what they think of the impending rules and how drones can radically transform commercial aviation in the next few years.

Drone regulations to hover over Singapore

THE Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore(CAAS) have started a review of the regulatory framework, said Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo at a parliamentary debate on Feb 12, 2015.

The review will address how Singapore can facilitate the growing use of drones while observing safety and security concerns. In the coming months, relevant stakeholders will be consulted on various issues such as the feasibility of differentiated levels of oversight for different uses and the need to register drone systems and specify where such systems can or cannot operate.

This comes as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Feb 15 proposed long-awaited rules for commercial drone operations in the US, that will require operators to pass a written exam – every two years - on FAA rules to obtain a certificate for drone flying, and to comply with safety requirements. The new rules are likely to take effect in 2017, a delay that could strain cash-strapped startups, which could be out of business before the market booms, industry analysts warn.

On the ground

Under existing regulations, it is illegal to fly drones for commercial purposes in Singapore, although they can be used for non-commercial purposes provided they weigh not more than

7 kg (without fuel) and operators abide by the Air Navigation Order (ANO).

The current ANO prohibits the flying of drones within 5 km of an aerodrome or at an altitude higher than 200 ft above mean sea level when outside 5 km of an aerodrome, unless a permit has been obtained from CAAS.

Drones heavier than 7 kg are subject to the same regulations and controls as manned aircraft, such as registration, airworthiness and flight operations requirements.

As a general rule, enforcement action will be taken against a person who commits an offence (eg. prying into another person’s property and privacy) using a drone. Contravention of current regulations may lead to a fine not exceeding S$100,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years.

All about that buzz


Airing the issues

Consultation with stakeholders will lead to robust framework

“I think the government is taking the right approach by being cautious and consulting as many relevant stakeholders as possible. We are still in the early days of drone technology. The important thing is to keep the conversation going among all relevant parties.” - Garuda CEO Mark Yong

System should be transparent, equitable and scalable

“Currently, one of the biggest issues is a perceived lack of transparency at times when permit applications are denied. When we lack extremely clear rules to demarcate go and no-go situations, operators have to spend more time deciding how to structure their drone missions.

When security concerns lead to permit denial and these reasons cannot be made known, frustration naturally results.”- Mr Yong

System should include differentiated levels of oversight

“I would like the regulations todistinguish among the different tiers of drone operators: the commercial operators with industrial grade hardware, full insurance protection and certified pilots vs hobbyists, for example.”- Mr Yong

Designate a permanent test site for commercial operators to test their drones

“Preferably the size and location of St John’s Island, this will be a place where developers can test their drones without having to seek clearance on an ad hoc basis.

During the development of hardware, regular testing will lead to much safer drones and allow Singapore to lead in this field.” - Avetics CEO Zhang Weiliang

Safety is top priority; training and education required

“Businesses and individuals must fully appreciate the complexity and dangers of deploying drones, and that a drone is not just another piece of equipment they can buy.” - Mr Zhang

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

Bills on use of underground space tabled

Business Times
13 Feb 2015
Lee U-Wen

[Singapore] THE government wants to make it easier to facilitate the planning and development of underground spaces in Singapore over the long term.

On Thursday, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah introduced two Bills - the State Lands (Amendment) Bill and the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill.

The first will provide greater clarity on the depth of underground space a landowner can make use of. Currently, the laws are vague in that a landowner is allowed to use and develop an underground space only up to a depth that is "reasonably necessary".

The proposed amendment to the State Lands Act will specify that a person owns that underground space up to a maximum of 30 m below the Singapore Height Datum (SHD), unless stated otherwise in the state title.

The SHD, a level fixed across Singapore from which height measurements take reference, is pegged to the country's historical mean sea level.

The Law Ministry said in a statement that this amendment would not affect how landowners now use and develop underground space; they will continue to own all the space that they require.

The basements of developments in Singapore typically extend to about 15 m underground, or about two to three storeys down.

As for the Land Acquisition Act, the government is looking to amend this law to carry out the development of public projects that require only a specific stratum of space.

Both amendment Bills will be debated at a future Parliament sitting - likely to be after the Budget debate - before the House votes on whether to pass them into law.

It was back in September 2013 when National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan first spoke of the government's intent to develop an "underground equivalent" of the Master Plan.

The Master Plan, which is reviewed every five years, is the statutory land-use plan that guides Singapore's development in the medium term, that is, over the next 10 to 15 years.

Mr Khaw said then that the government would look at how such practical underground plans could complement the above-ground Master Plan to make Singapore "even more exciting and liveable".

The government has embarked on large-scale underground projects over the years. Last year, the Jurong Rock Caverns - South-east Asia's first underground oil-storage facility that goes 130 m beneath the Banyan Basin on Jurong Island - was officially opened.

In 2008, the Singapore Armed Forces opened the Underground Ammunition Facility to store the military's munitions and explosives.

The Ministry of National Development is expected to announce more plans for underground development at a later date.

leeuwen@sph.com.sg

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Court strikes out application to review prisons’ grooming policy

TODAY
27 Feb 2015

SINGAPORE — The High Court has struck out an application by a former volunteer Sikh religious counsellor with the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) who had taken issue with the prison’s hair grooming policy for Sikh inmates and said his right to propagate his faith had been violated, after the SPS did not renew his volunteer pass.

Justice Quentin Loh said the applicant, Mr Madan Mohan Singh, did not have reasonable cause and that his application to start judicial review proceedings on these issues was “frivolous, and vexatious and/or otherwise an abuse of the processes of Court”.

Mr Singh, who was represented by lawyer M Ravi, had filed an application in 2013 to quash the labelling of Sikh prisoners as “practising” or “non-practising”. He had also sought a declaration that the SPS had violated his right to propagate his religion — which is contingent on him obtaining leave for the quashing order.

In response, the Attorney-General applied to have these applications struck out.

Based on the facts set out in Justice Loh’s judgment published yesterday, Mr Singh, a counsellor with the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association’s Sikh Aftercare (Counselling) Services, began volunteering with the SPS in 2000.

In 2010, he wrote to the SPS requesting a review of the prison’s hair grooming policy for Sikh inmates. Sikhs who have unshorn hair and beards at the point of admission can keep them unshorn during their incarceration. But those who had shorn their hair and beards at the time of admission or during incarceration would not be allowed to grow them out.

In his request, Mr Singh asked the authorities to look into incidents where the policy had not been adhered to. He also objected to the terms “practising” and “non-practising” Sikhs, used at the time to distinguish between Sikh inmates with shorn and unshorn hair and beards.

The SPS has since switched to using the terms “shorn” and “unshorn”.

Following his request, the SPS saw a spike in the number of Sikh inmates requesting to keep their hair long. Upon investigation, it found Mr Singh had “actively and persistently encouraged” inmates to keep their hair and beard unshorn to challenge the policy. This was deemed a threat to prison discipline and safety. In December 2011, Mr Singh was told his volunteer pass would not be renewed.

Mr Ravi had argued that Mr Singh had the right to seek the quashing order, as by not renewing his volunteer pass, the SPS was curtailing Mr Singh’s right to propagate his religion to a group of Sikhs to whom he owed a duty to rehabilitate.

But Justice Loh disagreed, noting that the application, interpreted substantively, was to quash the hair grooming policy, not challenge the non-renewal of Mr Singh’s pass. Even if he accepted the argument that the policy was the reason for the non-renewal, this was still not an infringement of Mr Singh’s constitutional rights. This was because prisons are restricted spaces, within which inmates suffer temporary exclusion from society. “A person would thus ordinarily have no access to a prison, much less free access to propagate his religion to the inmates,” he said.

Justice Loh also noted that Mr Singh did not object to the policy in the first 10 years of his stint with the SPS.

Two prominent members of the Sikh community, including chairman of the Sikh Welfare Council’s Inmate Counselling Subcommittee Manmohan Singh, also filed affidavits on behalf of the Attorney-General attesting to the fairness of the policy, he said.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

To view the judgment, click <here>.

ADV: Kaplan - Find out more about Business and Law programmes

Singapore Law Watch
21 Feb 2015
Kaplan

Bunker supplier implicated in OW scandal loses licence

Business Times
13 Feb 2015
Malminderjit Singh

MPA's probe into Tankoil Marine has revealed breaches of the terms of its licences for bunker supply, bunker-craft ops

[Singapore] ONE of Singapore's top 10 bunker suppliers, lately implicated in the bunker scandal that led to the collapse of OW Bunker, has been barred from operating in Singapore.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) revealed that its investigations into the operations of Tankoil Marine Services - ranked the sixth among top bunker suppliers here last year - had turned up breaches in the terms and conditions of its licences for bunker supply and bunker-craft operations.

It is a further twist to the OW Bunker scandal that has hit the bunker trade in Singapore and worldwide.

Along with Tankoil, MPA announced that it has also revoked the bunker-supply and bunker-craft operator licences of Hong Fatt Oil Trading for similar breaches.

With their licences revoked from Monday this week, the two companies have been barred from running as bunker suppliers and bunker craft operators in the Port of Singapore, MPA said on Thursday.

Tankoil's sixth placing last year - up from seventh the previous year - capped a rapid climb up the rankings, considering that it was not even among the top 50 in 2012; it was then placed 66th.

Hong Fatt was 33rd on the 2014 list.

MPA said on Thursday that it had conducted routine checks last year on Hong Fatt and Tankoil under its ongoing efforts as the industry's regulator to ensure the safety, reliability and quality of bunker supplies in Singapore.

MPA's separate investigations into the two companies revealed discrepancies and wrongful declarations in the records kept on board their bunker tankers. There were also instances of transfers of bunker between tankers, carried out without MPA's approval.

Last November, as the news of the fraud that hit OW Bunker's Singapore subsidiary broke, plunging the Danish marine fuel supplier into liquidation, MPA had confirmed that it was making "routine" checks on Tankoil.

In its statement, MPA issued a reminder to all licensed bunker suppliers and bunker-craft operators to adhere to the terms and conditions of their bunker licences. It said it would take firm action against licensees who contravene the terms of their licences; actions taken would include suspension or revoking of their bunker licences.

When contacted, KPMG, the liquidator of OW Bunker in Singapore, declined comment on how the ban on Tankoil would affect the claims-collection process for OW Bunker.

msingh@sph.com.sg

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Swee Hong gets order against proceedings

Business Times
27 Feb 2015
Lee Meixian

[Singapore] LISTED contractor Swee Hong on Thursday said it had on Feb 25 obtained an order from the High Court which restrains further proceedings in any action against the company for six months.

This follows its announcement two weeks ago that it had filed an application in the High Court to propose a debt restructuring plan with three of its creditors - United Overseas Bank, the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore and ACL Construction.

"The order is intended to bring stability to the company's operations, and allow the company time to finalise the scheme of arrangement in consultation with its key creditors, for the benefit of all the company's creditors," it said. "The order also strengthens and reinforces the company's ability to perform its obligations under its ongoing public sector construction contracts."

Swee Hong is working on some Land Transport Authority road and sewer-diversion projects. It added that it will continue to operate as usual in providing customer services while it puts in place a scheme of arrangement. It had also said in its recent announcement that despite some cash flow difficulties, there was a reasonable prospect or rehabilitating the company if it was allowed to carry on its business "without the threat and distraction of proceedings and other action which may be taken by its creditors". It also reassured stakeholders that the filing of the application would not adversely affect its commitment and ability to deliver its current construction projects.

Swee Hong turned its share trading halt to a suspension on Feb 11. The stock last closed at S$0.126 on Feb 5.

leemx@sph.com.sg

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

Who 'owns' a Facebook page?

Straits Times
19 Feb 2015
Selina Lum

High Court rules that Facebook Inc does; the person who sets up the page only owns the page's contents

SETTING up a Facebook page does not give a person any "ownership" over the site.

Instead, the page belongs to Facebook Inc, ruled the High Court on Tuesday in a unique case involving a Singaporean content producer and Indonesian-Chinese billionaire Frank Cintamani.

In 2010, 39-year-old Lee Kien Meng, whose company Senatus provides digital media services, was hired by Mr Cintamani, 41, to promote the 2011 Men's Fashion Week and Women's Fashion Week.

The Singapore events, run by Mr Cintamani through his companies including Fide Multimedia, is meant to showcase Asian fashion labels and help the country position itself as a global fashion centre.

But after Mr Lee set up Facebook promotional sites for the two events, he fell out with Mr Cintamani. Believing that Mr Lee was behind a series of hacking incidents involving the pages, the billionaire removed him as an administrator.

When Mr Cintamani refused his request to hand over the pages, Mr Lee sued him in 2012.

He asked the court to declare him the owner and sole administrator of the two pages and to order Mr Cintamani to give up all rights to the pages to him.

He also claimed to have suffered losses after Mr Cintamani deactivated the pages, and wanted $250,000 in damages.

Mr Lee, after losing his case, appealed.

His lawyer, Mr Jeffrey Beh, argued that whoever creates a Facebook page should be recognised as its owner.

He also claimed that in e-mail exchanges, Mr Cintamani agreed to Mr Lee's request to hand over the pages, but later reneged.

Mr Cintamani's lawyer, Mr Derek Kang, argued that after the falling out, Mr Lee was no longer involved with the events and so was no longer authorised to administer the pages.

During the appeal, the court asked financial disputes lawyer Lionel Leo, from Wong Partnership, to give his independent view.

Mr Leo agreed with district judge Chiah Kok Khun, who had dismissed the case in the first instance.

Mr Leo said that while administrators can edit pages, add applications and delete comments, these are not ownership rights but privileges granted by Facebook Inc.

Justice Chan Seng Onn on Tuesday upheld the lower court's decision, pointing out there are no terms in Facebook's service agreement which gives the page creator ownership rights.

Under the agreement, which all Facebook users have to sign up to, users simply "own" the content they post, but Facebook Inc owns the pages and has the power to remove them for any reason.

In this case, Justice Chan noted, Mr Lee did not claim for the contents.

He also dismissed Mr Lee's claim that an implied agreement with Mr Cintamani gave him an irrevocable right to administer the pages.

Justice Chan said he was unable to conclude from e-mail that Mr Cintamani had agreed to reinstate Mr Lee as administrator and transfer control to him.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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MAS plans to boost market oversight

Straits Times
12 Feb 2015
Melissa Tan

RULES dealing with financial activity such as short selling, derivatives and market misconduct are set to be toughened up.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) released a consultation paper yesterday on proposed amendments to the Securities and Futures Act (SFA).

One change concerns short selling, which involves selling borrowed assets, such as shares, in hope of making money by repurchasing them later at a lower price. The MAS wants to boost transparency in this area by requiring more disclosure, it said yesterday.

For instance, investors would have to report their short positions to the MAS, which would then publish aggregated figures. This new rule would likely take effect in the middle of next year to give the financial industry time to prepare for it, the MAS said.

The regulator had already proposed the change in August last year, but said yesterday that it wanted to make it part of the SFA.

Another major change is aimed at enhancing the authorities' power to act against market misconduct, such as the dissemination of false or misleading information.

The MAS pointed to a 2012 High Court ruling that in order for a disclosure about a stock to be considered "false or misleading", it must have had a significant impact on the share price.

However, the MAS suggested yesterday that a disclosure about a stock can be considered false or misleading even if it had zero impact on the stock's price.

That High Court ruling occurred at the high-profile Airocean court case a few years ago. A former independent director of air cargo firm Airocean had been sentenced to jail in 2011 for his role in issuing a misleading stock market statement.

However, the appeals court acquitted the director in 2012, saying that there was not enough evidence that the stock market statement was materially misleading.

The MAS has also proposed changes to derivatives, financial instruments that derive their value from underlying assets such as stocks and commodities.

The regulator wants to "extend its regulatory regime to OTC (over- the-counter) derivatives trading platforms and intermediaries, and introduce simplified, principles-based definitions of securities and derivatives", it said yesterday.

Over-the-counter derivatives are those traded directly between two parties rather than through a centralised exchange.

The MAS also said that though it is "not necessary to mandate a trading regime for OTC derivatives for now, it will assume powers to implement a trading regime" if one is needed.

Comments on the consultation paper must reach the MAS by March 24.

melissat@sph.com.sg

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Ex-tour guide told to prove he owns money he seeks to withdraw

Straits Times
27 Feb 2015
Toh Yong Chuan

FORMER tour guide Yang Yin was ordered by the High Court to prove that he owns the money frozen in the bank accounts that he is seeking to withdraw from.

The 40-year-old Chinese national has some $1.13 million in four OCBC bank accounts and wants to withdraw $12,000 each month to support himself and pay his lawyers.

But Madam Hedy Mok, the niece of wealthy widow Chung Khin Chun, is objecting to the withdrawals on the grounds that the money does not belong to him in the first place.

To break the impasse, the High Court yesterday ordered Yang to show proof that he has rights to the funds, said Yang's lawyer, Mr Joseph Liow, after the hour-long closed-door hearing.

"He has until March 26 to file an affidavit," said Mr Liow.

The Singapore permanent resident's assets were frozen in August last year after Madam Mok accused him of masterminding control over her aunt's assets, estimated to be worth $40 million, including a $30 million bungalow in Gerald Crescent off Yio Chu Kang Road.

Madam Chung met Yang in 2008, when he was her tour guide in China. The next year, he moved into her bungalow.

In 2010, she made a will leaving him all her assets, including the bungalow. Yang claims the widow, who has no children and whose husband died in 2007, treated him like a grandson.

Two years later, she granted him a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) which gave him control over her assets.

Madam Mok has sued Yang for allegedly breaching his duties under the LPA, which was revoked last November. Madam Chung has also made a new will which leaves her fortune to charity. Her niece has filed it with the Family Court and asked the court to execute it on her aunt's behalf.

Besides the civil court cases filed by Madam Mok, Yang also faces more than 300 criminal charges of faking receipts issued by his music and dance company.

The most serious charges are two counts of criminal breach of trust for allegedly misappropriating $1.1 million from Madam Chung. For each charge, he could be jailed up to seven years and fined. He has been denied bail and is in remand.

The next pre-trial conference for his criminal charges will be held next month while the next High Court hearing on his frozen assets will be in April.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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Law Society on why M. Ravi dropped as speaker

Straits Times
19 Feb 2015
K.C. Vijayan

THE Law Society of Singapore yesterday explained why it dropped lawyer M. Ravi as a speaker from an upcoming conference, saying it comes too soon after recent concerns surfaced about his medical condition.

Mr Ravi, 43, was lined up as a panellist last July for the society's Administrative and Constitutional Law Conference 2015 due on Feb 27.

At that time, there was no inkling that any concerns about his involvement would emerge.

The event will be spearheaded by Senior Counsel Michael Hwang and includes speakers from here and abroad.

The society's governing council suspended Mr Ravi from practice last week after he was diagnosed with hypomania. The ban was to stay pending a medical assessment, treatment and report by his consultant psychiatrist.

The society said: "Given the proximity of the conference, coupled with these concerns, which include his current medical condition, the effectiveness of his medical regime, and the workability of his monitoring system, the council is of the view that it cannot responsibly continue to include him as a panellist in our conference."

Mr Ravi has denounced the move to drop him and suggested the society could have asked him if he wished to continue as a participant "in the interests of avoiding attracting controversy to the conference".

The society said: "There was no indication that Mr Ravi would voluntarily withdraw from the conference. Council accordingly notified Mr Ravi of council's decision to withdraw Mr Ravi as a panellist at the conference." It made clear the decision was not taken "arbitrarily" and Mr Ravi was told of the grounds of its decision.

"These are not 'charges' as (Mr Ravi) alleged... The council has a duty to protect the integrity of the profession as well as the events that it organises. We owe a duty to the participants at our conferences. All available information, including that already in the public domain, has been considered before coming to this decision."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Designer hot on heels of brands using red soles

Straits Times
12 Feb 2015
Jessica Lim

HIGH-END shoe designer Christian Louboutin, seeing red over other shoe brands with crimson soles, has warned shops here to stop selling them.

The French designer took out an advertisement in The Straits Times Classifieds section last week, cautioning against copying his trademark red-lacquered outsole.

The ad pointed out that this trademark was being used without the designer's consent in Singapore, and that he would not hesitate to take legal action against a firm or person dealing in products that were "deceptively similar".

The shoemaker - whose trademark is for a particular shade of red called Pantone No. 18.1663TP - means business.

He has a history of legal tussles with brands which came up with red outsoles, from YSL to Zara. He has won suits when it was agreed that the colour and style were too similar to the iconic brand's, and lost others because the courts ruled that he could not have a monopoly on the colour red.

In Singapore, where a new outlet will be opened at the end of the year, Christian Louboutin representatives had already fanned out to shoe shops here last year to tell them to stop selling shoes with red soles. More than 30 shops, from large chains to lone outfits in the heartland, complied.

"Some of the retailers recently claimed they were unaware that the mark was registered," said the brand's solicitor, Mirandah Law's Prithipal Singh.

He warns shops here not to sell such shoes, legal action possible

The director of intellectual property law firm Ella Cheong, Mr Soh Kar Liang, said the notice is probably targeted at retail and distribution of shoes here, rather than at manufacturers as there are few in Singapore.

Neither will customers wearing red-soled shoes be taken to task.

"Some firms post this up as a general circular to remind people on a periodic basis. Others do it as a precursor to action," he noted, adding that registered trademarks may be infringed by unauthorised use, sale, import and even in advertisements.

Some players here feel that such trademarks are unfair.

Mr Charles Wong, co-founder of shoe retailer Charles and Keith, said: "They may have the trademark, but I don't think it's right to allow it."

He added that if someone registers blue soles as a trademark and another green soles, "then no one has any colours left to make soles with".

Others are ignorant of potential legal action.

Ms Yo Yo Wang, 32, who owns Elegant Fashion at Far East Plaza, which sells shoes from China and South Korea, said she has not even heard of the Christian Louboutin brand.

"We buy whatever our supplier gives us. I thought that as long as they are not fakes, it's OK," she said.

limjess@sph.com.sg

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Noble says Iceberg author a former staff; group posts US$240m Q4 loss

Business Times
27 Feb 2015
Andrea Soh

Singapore

NOBLE Group has fingered a former employee as the person behind Iceberg Research, as it reported on Thursday its first quarterly loss in three years due to a heavy impairment charge on an associate.

The author of the research reports is a "disgruntled" former employee that the group fired 1 1/2 years ago, Noble chief executive Yusuf Alireza revealed in a briefing call.

"We have a high degree of confidence we know who it is," he said. The company has handed the information over to the regulators and does not intend to take any legal action against the person.

"We don't plan to spend any management time on it or shareholders' resources on it... Our stakeholders will judge us not by an anonymous blogger but by our results, and that's what we want to focus on."

The largest commodities trader in Asia by revenue posted a net quarterly loss of US$240 million - its first since September 2011, against a net profit of US$117 million a year ago. For the three months ended Dec 31, revenue dropped 14 per cent to US$21 billion.

For the full year, net profit almost halved to US$132 million, missing by far the average estimate of US$470.6 million by 13 analysts, according to Bloomberg data. Revenue was 4 per cent higher at US$85.8 billion.

Notwithstanding these, "2014 was a landmark year for us", said Mr Alireza, pointing to how the sale of Noble Agri had freed up its balance sheet, and "breakthroughs" in performance and market penetration, in particular by its oil liquids and power businesses in the US.

The group said that it had written off US$438 million for the year, including a US$200 million charge for Yancoal Australia, the valuation for which had been criticised by Iceberg Research.

The little-known research firm had earlier questioned Noble's accounting treatment of certain subsidiaries and said that the group overstated the value of Yancoal - the Australia-listed coal miner in which Noble has a 13 per cent stake - by US$603 million.

Noble, however, said that its latest results had not been affected "in any way" by the Iceberg report. The group reviews the value of its associates and investments on a quarterly basis, and on a more detailed level annually.

It arrived at the value for Yancoal based on a cash flow model that has been verified by both internal control functions and its auditor EY, and used conservative assumptions around input variables such as production levels, fuel inputs and coal prices.

The model provides for a range of values, and "we have impaired Yancoal right below the bottom of that range", said Mr Alireza, who also called Iceberg's suggestion of using the market capitalisation of Yancoal as its value "naive".

Both its board and auditor are comfortable with the adjustments in value, he added.

Noble's shares have fallen 12 per cent since Iceberg published its first report on Feb 15. Its website does not provide any contact details nor other identifying information.

In its second report on Thursday, Iceberg pointed to a "divergence" between Noble's net profit and operating cash flow as a result of Noble overstating the fair value of its long-term contracts.

Noble has a practice of booking the entire profit for long-term unrealised contracts the same day they are signed, said Iceberg. It also suggested that Noble had manipulated projections for forward prices and tonnage to inflate the fair values of these contracts. "These contracts surged from near zero in 2009 to an unprecedented net US$3.8 billion," it said in a 28-page report released before Noble announced its results. Impairing these values would "dramatically impact" Noble's financial performance.

Iceberg further accused Noble of stretching accounting rules "to the maximum", though it said that there was no outright accounting fraud.

Noble rejected these claims of inflated unrealised contract values as "factually incorrect". Iceberg had ignored the fair value of inventory, and the effect of short-term rolling hedging versus the long-term physical contracts, it said.

The group has a consistent mark to market - or the practice in measuring the fair value of its contracts - policy, Mr Alireza emphasised. "This is our core business."

As part of the asset-light strategy that the group is pursuing, its business model relies on the group's ability to manage market, credit and operational risks for buyers and sellers. The group manages 12,000 contracts with a weighted average duration of five years.

These are marked to market in order to provide profit and loss figures daily, said Mr Alireza. "It's a function of risk management."

Iceberg Research is expected to release a third report that will focus on Noble's debt levels and its investment grade credit rating. Noble's shares, which were suspended on Thursday morning following the second attack by Iceberg, will resume trading on Friday.

sandrea@sph.com.sg

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Subhas' nephew steps up to further criminal law cause

Straits Times
19 Feb 2015
Lim Yi Han

THE nephew of criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan has stepped into his uncle's shoes to lead the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore (ACLS) - and he already has a clear mission in mind.

Mr Sunil Sudheesan wants to encourage more aspiring lawyers to join the criminal Bar.

The 35-year-old will serve as acting president of the association started by his uncle until an election in November next year.

Mr Subhas died of heart failure last month at the age of 67.

Mr Sunil, a partner at law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, which was co-founded by Mr Subhas, was appointed by the ACLS management committee last Friday. He was previously its vice-president and secretary.

Mr Sunil aims to boost membership from the current 98, and have senior members mentor younger lawyers, among his other plans for the association, which will be discussed at its annual general meeting next week.

"Not enough young lawyers are heading towards criminal law. We hope to encourage more of them to try out criminal law," he said, admitting that many are lured by the bigger bucks offered by corporate law.

"Young lawyers may opt for civil litigation or corporate work as the work pays more. Further, some may feel that criminal litigation is too daunting," Mr Sunil said.

"The hope is that the hesitancy will dissipate if senior ACLS members provide guidance to young lawyers."

The ACLS was founded in 2004 by Mr Subhas and other senior criminal lawyers to provide a platform through which concerns about criminal procedure, such as access to accused persons, can be aired.

It also runs legal clinics at Chong Pang in Yishun and in Hougang, where people can get free advice.

Mr Sunil, who graduated from the National University of Singapore and has been working in criminal law for 10 years, said: "I will do my best to further the causes of the ACLS.

"But the truth is that I would much rather prefer serving as vice-president to my uncle Subhas for the next two years. He left us too soon.

"Still, the last thing he wanted was for the ACLS to be equated with Subhas Anandan. He wanted the ACLS to be so much more and the current committee must work hard to ensure this."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

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AGC warns against public comments on Thaipusam case

TODAY
12 Feb 2015

SINGAPORE — In the wake of the arrest of three Singaporeans for various offences allegedly committed during a Thaipusam procession on Feb 3, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) yesterday issued a reminder warning against public comments, including on the Internet, as such statements may be sub judice contempt of court.

The accused — Ramachandra Chandramohan, 32, Jaya Kumar Krishnasamy, 28, and Gunasegaran Rajendran, 33 — are out on bail and will appear in court again on March 6.

The AGC said: “As criminal proceedings are currently before the courts, we would like to remind the public that statements made may be sub judice contempt of court, if the statements are calculated to affect the judicial process and there is a real risk of prejudice being caused to the ongoing proceedings.

“All parties are advised to refrain from making any public comments or posting any statements on the Internet on these matters which may have that effect, pending final determination of the legal proceedings by the courts.”

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Film-maker files police report against MP

Straits Times
27 Feb 2015
Rachel Chang

He accuses Lam Pin Min of making racially seditious comments online

POLICE are looking into a report made by film-maker Martyn See against People's Action Party (PAP) MP Lam Pin Min, whom Mr See has accused of making racially seditious comments.

Dr Lam posted on his Facebook page earlier this month about three Singaporean men who were arrested at Thaipusam celebrations on Feb 3 for various offences. These included disorderly conduct and voluntarily causing hurt to a police officer.

Linking to a blog post that has since been deleted, Dr Lam wrote: "An example of how alcohol intoxication can cause rowdiness and public nuisance."

In his police report yesterday, Mr See charged that these comments "distorted an allegation by the police into a statement of fact".

A police statement on the trio's arrest said that "all three men were believed to have been drinking earlier as they smelt strongly of alcohol".

But, Mr See said, this has yet to be established by the authorities as fact and the three men have not yet been tried.

In saying that the three were intoxicated while participating in the holy festival of Thaipusam, Dr Lam incited enmity towards the Hindu community, he charged.

The police yesterday confirmed a report has been made and told The Straits Times they are "looking into the matter".

Mr See also complained in his police report that Dr Lam's comments "caused ill will and hostility between different races and communities. The responses on his Facebook page show overwhelming hostility to his remark. Yet, he has allowed his offending words to remain online".

He added that Dr Lam breached the sub judice rule, as judicial proceedings in this case have yet to be completed.

Dr Lam, MP for Sengkang West, could not be reached for comment.

rchang@sph.com.sg

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Don't take the crowd out of crowdfunding

Straits Times
19 Feb 2015
Grace Chng

In seeking to protect small investors, MAS may deny them a good deal

THIS week's move by Singapore regulators to put out a consultation paper on securities crowdfunding (SCF) is timely.

SCF is a financial innovation using the power of the crowd.

It draws on the diverse expertise and experience of the masses to learn about companies, to invest if they like what they see - and receive equity in return.

Globally, SCF is fast gaining in popularity. In Singapore, Crowdonomic, founded in 2013, and a new joint venture between the Singapore Exchange and Clearbridge Accelerator will launch an SCF platform this year.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) consultation paper on SCF released on Monday has earned praise for proposing the go-ahead for start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises to tap SCF for new sources of funds.

The paper seeks a balance in offering these companies new funding avenues and at the same time ensuring investor protection.

The strongest views hinge on the term, "crowd". To MAS, the crowd means accredited investors, that is, wealthy and high-income earners. Some experts believe this may eventually be defined as investors with net personal assets of more than $2 million.

These individuals would form the apex of the wage-earner pyramid here, which means that the majority of people here are not allowed to make SCF investments.

Mr Lawrence Yong, founder of of Moolahsense, asked: "Will access to financial innovation belong to a privileged class?" Moolahsense is a crowd-based lending platform which started last year.

For instance, billionaire American entrepreneur and Paypal founder Peter Thiel invested US$500,000 (in Facebook for a 10.2 per cent stake soon after its founding, when it had only a US$5 million valuation.

If Facebook had been offered on an SCF platform, the wealthy Mr Thiel would have qualified to invest, but small investors would have been shut out of this highly lucrative investment.

The "crowd" - people from all walks of life, including retail investors - would be disadvantaged as they could have bought shares only when Facebook went public at a whopping US$104 billion (S$141 billion). So the crowd should refer to everyone. They come from diverse backgrounds in various disciplines and can bring their experience to bear in these investments.

In allowing only accredited investors, the MAS has overlooked other factors of risk appetite and investment needs, said Mr Yong.

Income and wealth standards do not wholly reflect a person's level of sophistication, except perhaps insofar as he can afford to lose the money.

His concern is that the less wealthy who have the investment know-how and are sophisticated investors will be locked out.

"Angel investors" would also be shut out. They are involved in venture financing here but may not be high-income earners. Rather, they are family and friends of entrepreneurs, typically investing $10,000 to $20,000 a pop.

Crowdonomic founder Leo Shimada said: "Angel investors are critical as it will provide additional capital access as well as sufficient critical mass to provide market validation or crowd wisdom."

The MAS is understandably wary of retail investors getting burnt. Not all start-ups survive, by any means, and retail investors may lose their money.

Mr Shimada suggests that MAS consider capping retail and angel investors' investments, depending on their income bracket.

The MAS proposal also restricts SCF platforms from publicising specific offers they list.

Mass outreach is the key to unlocking the power of the crowd, said Mr Shimada. "An alternative is to allow start-ups and SMEs to post investment-related advertisements online but have all of them point back to the SCF platform where investors must be vetted, and comprehensive offer-related information must be published."

chngkeg@sph.com.sg

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'False allegations can affect public confidence in Mindef'

Straits Times
12 Feb 2015
Jermyn Chow

FALSE allegations can impinge on the Defence Ministry's integrity and dent public confidence in the organisation and the Government, said the ministry yesterday.

"As a government organisation, Mindef is held to a standard of conduct that has to be no less than exemplary," said Mindef.

It was responding to a doctor's refusal to drop his claim that the ministry had copied his patented concept for an emergency mobile clinic.

Socio-political blog The Online Citizen (TOC) also rejected demands by the Attorney-General's Chambers to take down Dr Ting Choon Meng's allegations from its website.

In a statement yesterday, Mindef said it takes the allegations very seriously and has "provided opportunities for the false allegations to be corrected, but without success". It thus referred the matter to the AGC, it said.

The legal row between Mindef and Dr Ting, the co-founder of medical devices firm MobileStats Technologies, started last month when the latter made the allegations in a TOC report.

The AGC wrote to Dr Ting and TOC, asking them to cease the allegations, or it would apply for a court order under the Protection from Harassment Act.

But in replies posted on TOC's site on Tuesday, lawyers for the doctor and TOC argued that Mindef does not qualify as a victim of harassment.

Mindef reiterated that Dr Ting's patent was declared invalid last year and revoked. It said in the statement that it respects Intellectual Property laws and "honours patents that are valid".

JERMYN CHOW

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Shorter list of approved UK law schools welcomed

Straits Times
26 Feb 2015
Amelia Teng & Amir Hussain

Lawyers say it will ensure high standards but students studying there are worried

THE decision to cut eight British law schools from the list of overseas universities recognised for admission to the Singapore Bar has been welcomed by some lawyers here.

They said that it will not just ensure the high standards of the legal profession in the country, but also help curtail the growing number of Singapore students flocking to Britain to do a law degree.

But some students already at the affected schools are worried that their degrees would now carry a question mark, making it even harder for them to find a job as a lawyer when they return.

On the recommendation of the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (Sile), the Ministry of Law on Tuesday revised the list of recognised universities. It said the University of Exeter; University of Leeds; University of Leicester; University of Liverpool; School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; University of Manchester; University of Sheffield; and University of Southampton will be dropped from the list.

The changes, which will only affect intakes from next year, leave 11 British universities, such as the University of Birmingham and the University of Bristol. There were no changes to the 10 Australian, four American, two Canadian and two New Zealand universities on the list.

The eight universities which will be dropped had in the last three years accounted for 30 per cent of the 729 Singaporean graduates from British law schools.

But these eight schools are also among the lower-ranked law schools in Britain and their graduates are often the ones who find it harder to get jobs, said NUS law dean Simon Chesterman. "The message to parents and students is that instead of spending tens of thousands of pounds on a law education at a lower-ranked school, they could be better off pursuing other degrees locally."

Last August, Law Minister K. Shanmugam highlighted the spurt in the number of Singaporeans pursuing law overseas. In Britain, the number of Singaporean law students more than tripled from 350 in 2008 to 1,142 in 2013.

This made it harder for returning overseas graduates to get a six-month practice training contract at a law firm - a requirement for entry to the Bar. Last year, nearly 650 graduates competed for about 490 practice training contracts.

The number of local law graduates is currently about 400 each year, and this is set to increase when a third school focusing on criminal and family law opens at the SIM University.

Prof Chesterman was part of the 4th Committee on the Supply of Lawyers.

In 2013, the high-powered panel suggested that Sile review the list of overseas universities every five years - a recommendation which was accepted by the Government. The purpose, the committee said, was to ensure quality control. This is the first revision in the wake of that decision.

Law Society president Thio Shen Yi said a regular review is "important to ensure that we continue to get top-quality entrants to the Singapore Bar".

"In any review process, one can expect some universities to be added or removed. In an environment where there are far more law graduates than training contracts on offer, it is not surprising that this review contracted the existing list," he added.

Some students from the affected British law schools were disappointed with the changes.

Said Goh Jia Jie, 23, a first-year University of Liverpool law student: "Liverpool is still ranked quite highly in Britain and the world, and the education provided to the students is like that at any law school - challenging and arduous."

The Ministry of Law said it will work out provisions with the Sile to ensure that those who have secured a place in the eight schools before 2016 "are not adversely affected by the change", without giving details.

Ms Shannen Tan, a second-year law student at the University of Exeter, was able to look at the bright side. "From a long-term perspective, fewer lawyers will mean an increase in their value and worth in the future," said the 22-year-old.

Some lawyers believe that while a quality degree counts, it is not the only assurance of the makings of a good lawyer.

Said Peter Low law firm director Choo Zheng Xi: "A better way to ensure the quality of law graduates could have been to make the Bar exam more difficult to pass, or to let the market correct itself, because I know some excellent lawyers and law students from these eight universities."

Mr Josephus Tan, 35, a criminal lawyer with Fortis Law Corporation who has been recognised for his pro-bono work, graduated from the University of Southampton in 2007. "It doesn't really matter what school you come from. More importantly, it's your personal qualities, and the passion for the law that matters. I went into law to help people, not because of the prestige or the money," he said.

ateng@sph.com.sg

amirh@sph.com.sg

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Iceberg cool to MAS review of its report

Business Times
19 Feb 2015
Andrea Soh

Noble Group welcomes the investigation, vows to fully cooperate

[Singapore] ICEBERG Research, whose report on commodity trading firm Noble Group is now under investigation by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), took to the development coolly, even while Noble welcomed the review.

"It is perfectly normal that the regulators review our report," it said in an e-mailed response to BT's queries. "As many people have remarked, we use public financial information, which should simplify the review process."

Noble welcomed the news that MAS has started a review of the research report by Iceberg.

The firm will fully cooperate with, and fully support, the investigation, it said.

On Wednesday, MAS said that it was "reviewing the statements in the Iceberg research report".

"All market participants are subject to market conduct provisions in Part XII of the Securities and Futures Act (SFA)," a spokesman said via e-mail, referring to regulations that cover the manipulation of the securities market and making false or misleading statements.

"MAS will take appropriate action if there are breaches of the SFA."

Shares for Noble rose 1.9 per cent, or two cents, to S$1.07 on Wednesday after the group defended its financial statements against the claims by Iceberg, helping the company to regain some of the S$1.05 billion in market value that had been wiped off.

Even so, investors may still remain cautious, said OCBC analyst Carey Wong. "We also note that Iceberg intends to issue more reports on Noble and that could continue to cast a near-term pall over the stock."

Iceberg Research, a little-known research firm, on Sunday published a 17-page report that accused Noble of exploiting accounting loopholes to "fabricate profits".

It questioned Noble's treatment of certain companies such as Australian coal miner Yancoal as associates, and said that the practice "grossly overstated" the value of these companies.

It also alleged that the recovery of Noble Agri's business was "manufactured" through accounting manoeuvres.

Noble rejected these claims in a three-page statement on Tuesday.

"The carrying values of our associates, including Yancoal, are tested for impairment using discounted cash flow models that are updated every quarter. As is always the case these valuations are currently being audited as part of the FY2014 audit," it said.

The group added that its financial statements are reported in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards, and were audited by Ernst & Young (EY).

EY declined to comment, citing client confidentiality.

Noble said that its statement, which rebutted most of the claims made by Iceberg, "is not intended to be exhaustive".

Iceberg plans to release two more reports on Noble, focusing on the fair values of its continuing operations and operating cash flow, and its debt level respectively. It said it has no short position in Noble, and has not sold any of its reports on the firm.

But it intends to short-sell companies in future coverage, and hopes to gain attention through its coverage of Noble.

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Do Not Call Registry fees: Commission replies - Forum

Straits Times
12 Feb 2015

LAST Thursday's article did not present a complete picture of the cost of checking the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry in Singapore ("Do Not Call Registry fees 'too high'").

DNC Registry fees in Singapore cannot be compared with those in other countries, such as Britain, the United States and Hong Kong.

The models are different. Telemarketers in Britain, US and Hong Kong must pay a periodic subscription fee to download registered phone numbers from the DNC registries.

Singapore's DNC Registry also has three registers - voice call, SMS and fax - and 500 free credits are provided annually to organisations for checks.

Other jurisdictions cited in the article do not have all these features (that is, some registers are only for voice calls, and some do not have free checks).

Jurisdictions mentioned in the article use a model in which numbers listed on the DNC registries are downloaded by organisations for checking.

Singapore has adopted the "filtering" method, where an organisation submits its telemarketing list to the DNC Registry and the list is filtered by the DNC Registry before it is returned to the organisation.

This model avoids the transfer of phone numbers of individuals who are not customers of organisations to the organisations, which will increase the risk of misuse (that is, organisations using the list of registered numbers for other purposes).

If the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) were to charge a subscription model similar to the jurisdictions mentioned, organisations that do heavy telemarketing may pay less, but every other organisation would end up paying more.

With the current fee structure, 80 per cent of organisation accounts on the DNC Registry have been utilising the free 500 annual credits issued, and do not spend any money performing checks with the registry. Another 17 per cent pay, on average, $25 each month.

The PDPC holds regular engagements with the industry and will continue to work with it to address any concerns that the industry would have.

Evelyn Goh (Ms)

Director

Communications, Planning and Policy

Personal Data Protection Commission

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Dropping UK law schools may hit S’pore’s hub status: Voices

TODAY
26 Feb 2015

As a Singaporean reading law in the United Kingdom, I read with concern about the review of the overseas scheduled universities whose returning law graduates are eligible for practice here. (“8 UK law schools to lose spots on recognised list”; Feb 25).

Dropping eight of the 19 UK law universities on the recognised list may, in the short term, reduce the burgeoning supply of law students in the Singapore market, but may also be detrimental to the long-term success of Singapore as a regional and international legal hub.

This preventive measure may take us a step back in the liberalisation of our legal sector.

Diversity is an integral catalyst for developing our ambitions and jurisprudence. In legal education, diversity is a starting point for developing Singapore’s influence in international law.

I do not disagree that a sharp increase in the number of Singaporean law graduates would, in the short term, result in an oversupply.

However, considering the benefits of diversity in legal education the increasing number of returning law graduates is a testament to the attractiveness and potential of Singapore’s legal sector.

Reading law in the United Kingdom has provided me with the opportunity to learn from and work with international experts in arbitration and academia, for example.

It has enriched my experience, network and transferable skills, which will contribute to Singapore’s aspirations to being an international legal hub.

If the drastic approach we have now taken results in an increase in law students at the remaining 11 approved United Kingdom law schools, it would not solve the pertinent problem of an increase in Singaporeans pursuing law overseas.

A better solution is to allow the market forces of demand and supply to determine the suitability of applicants from diverse backgrounds, and to assess the individuals’ character and commitment to our legal sector.

I am grateful for the opportunity to develop critical-thinking skills and read law with an international perspective. Legal education per se is a process, and not a determinant of one’s ability to pursue law.

The perspective that one’s institution of study equates to one’s capabilities is wrong. It is the individual’s characteristics that matter.

In shaping our legal landscape, we should embrace the aspirations and commitment of Singaporeans as an opportunity, and not a problem, for the development of our legal sector in a globalised economy.

Kwek Jia Hao

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Obstetricians offered more cover, but still seek fuller protection

Straits Times
19 Feb 2015
Salma Khalik

OBSTETRICIANS who were left without insurance coverage after they retire have been given a short lifeline by the Medical Protection Society (MPS) - an additional five-year coverage at a higher rate than the annual premium.

But these doctors say the latest offer is still not enough for their peace of mind. That is because they need to be covered for as long as 24 years after they have delivered their last baby.

MPS said that, while claims by children can normally be made up to three years after they become adults at the age of 21, "where permanent disability has been caused, or in cases of mental incapacity, the period may even be longer".

Premiums for obstetricians have gone down from their recent level of $36,000 to $22,045 from this month, but their coverage has been reduced.

Up till now, obstetricians were given the same protection as other doctors - that is, they were covered for all suits against them for any professional mishap that occurred while they were members of the not-for-profit MPS.

But with this change in rules, they are covered for legal fees and compensation only for complaints made against them while they remain members of MPS.

Doctors usually stop paying the subscription fee when they retire, which means they will not be protected against any new complaints brought against them.

It is unclear if MPS will provide doctors with coverage beyond the first five years of their retirement, and if so, how much it will charge.

Dr Tony Tan, an obstetrician in private practice, said: "The five-year tail cover is inadequate. Though it'll cover the majority of cases, it will not cover all cases.

"We need peace of mind when we retire, like any other doctor."

Because of this, many of the senior doctors have indicated that they plan to stop delivering babies.

Dr Chua Yang said that if senior doctors stop delivering babies because of this change, it would put a strain on younger doctors, and that "an inability to get senior colleagues to help in dire situations will in fact make the practice more at risk".

Those who continue practising will also have to charge more, she said, adding: "There is no real outcome in this that actually benefits patients. That's a very sad turn."

Another obstetrician said the tail cover should be for at least seven years, so that the child would have been screened by the school health service and most problems, if any, would have come to light.

The vast majority of doctors here are protected by MPS. Those who opted for NTUC Income continue to enjoy incidence-based coverage, capped at $5 million.

The MPS limit is $15 million per case.

The Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Singapore, to which 294 of the 311 registered obstetrics and gynaecology specialists here belong, has asked the Health Ministry for help.

Professor Benjamin Ong, the ministry's director of medical services, said: "We are meeting interested parties, including MPS, and looking at other jurisdictions' approach."

He added that the cheaper subscription to be paid from this year can be "set aside for extended cover at the end". But he said whether this is enough will "depend on the runway to stopping work".

salma@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/ST.Salma

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Ravi makes a scene at Law Society office

Straits Times
12 Feb 2015
K.C. Vijayan

THE Law Society last night made clear that Mr M. Ravi's suspension has nothing to do with his announcement to stand for election, his political views or the clients he represents.

It came after a video showing the lawyer making a scene at the society's headquarters surfaced on YouTube yesterday.

The 43-year-old was told on Tuesday that he must stop practising and have his medical condition, bipolar disorder, examined by his psychiatrist. The society would then consider the medical report before any decision to allow him to resume practice.

Its president, Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi, told The Straits Times: "The council's decision to issue a direction to Mr M. Ravi to temporarily cease practice is based solely on the council's concerns that the present state of Mr Ravi's mental condition impairs his fitness to practise law."

After he was notified, Mr Ravi went to the society's premises with three others to hand over his letter of response to a staff member.

The scene was captured in a 12-minute YouTube video and showed the lawyer claiming that his suspension was triggered by his bid to stand for election. He also mentioned Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and was followed by a woman holding a placard that read "Stop persecution of M. Ravi". At one point, she prevented a staff member from leaving the South Bridge Road premises until Mr Ravi intervened.

It is understood the Law Society is aware of the video but is unable to comment due to ongoing investigations.

"The Law Society is an independent body and does not engage in assisting or hindering any of its members in any political aspirations they may have," said Mr Thio.

"The council owes a duty to the public and to its members to ensure that all practising lawyers in Singapore are not impaired by any physical or mental condition which affects their fitness to practise."

Mr Thio said the society considered a range of legal options based on the information available.

"Council could have pursued more drastic measures but we felt that this direction to Mr Ravi, to cease practice pending a medical examination, best balances the interests of Mr Ravi's clients, the integrity of the legal profession and Mr Ravi himself. In particular, council took into account the consideration that, subject to Mr Ravi satisfactorily addressing the issues that he faces, this option could allow him to continue practising law."

Mr Ravi told The Straits Times yesterday that he would seek to challenge the Law Society's move in court through an application for judicial review.

A medical report which he attached showed that he was reviewed by senior consultant psychiatrist M. Winslow on Feb 2 - the day he held a press conference to announce he would challenge PM Lee in Ang Mo Kio GRC in the next election.

Dr Winslow's review showed he was in a "hypomanic" phase of his bipolar disorder. During this phase, the sufferer is understood to feel or act abnormally happy, energetic or irritable.

In his medical report, Dr Winslow said: "I would like to have had him in hospital under observation, however he is not agreeable at this time and has promised to take adequate rest and follow up with all medications."

Dr Winslow gave him medical leave until Feb 6, when he appeared in the High Court to represent a client in an appeal. In the case, Mr Ravi alleged that the judge had breached his duty and he would refer the matter to the Chief Justice.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Related headlines

Lawyer Ravi barred from practice until psychiatrist says he's fit, ST, 11 Feb

 

Petrol companies ordered to explain latest price hikes

Straits Times
26 Feb 2015
Jessica Lim & Adrian Lim

PETROL companies have been ordered by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) to explain their latest price rises, which were more than the recent increase in government duty.

The move came after the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) on Tuesday accused the four players here - Caltex, Esso, Shell and Singapore Petroleum Company (SPC) - of profiteering.

Pump prices across the island were raised by up to 25 cents per litre for 98-octane-grade petrol and as much as 18 cents for 95-octane on Tuesday, a day after the Government raised tariffs by 20 cents a litre for premium-grade petrol and 15 cents for the intermediate grade.

In a strongly worded joint statement to The Straits Times last night, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and CCS said: "We will not hesitate to take firm action against parties who are found to be engaging in anti-competitive behaviours at the expense of consumers."

The CCS was set up by the MTI to enforce competition law here and target anti-competitive practices, such as price-fixing and other abuses of market power.

Petrol firms defended their move, saying that prices are not determined by government excise duties alone.

Shell, which raised the price of a litre of 98-octane-grade petrol by 25 cents to $2.28 per litre on Tuesday, said: "Other factors also impact pump prices... crude oil price, exchange rates, manufacturing and production costs from crude to fuel, distribution costs of bringing the fuel to retail sites, operating costs of running service stations and government goods and services taxes."

At noon yesterday, the firm dropped prices by two cents a litre for its 98-octane-grade.

SPC and Esso, which raised pump prices by one cent more than the tariff amount, said the goods and service tax (GST) needed to be factored in as well. The former said it is actually "charging less than the total of the additional petrol duty plus GST". Both firms have not changed prices since raising them on Tuesday.

Caltex raised prices by as much as the tariff increase on Tuesday, then reduced them by 3 cents later that same day.

Dr Tan Khay Boon, a senior lecturer of economics at SIM Global Education, said petrol firms may be facing higher costs due to rising wages and crude oil prices.

"But if there are no other changes except for the higher petrol tax, then a magnitude of price hike larger than the levy may suggest profiteering," he added.

The benchmark Brent crude came close to a six-year low last month at US$46 a barrel but has since been bouncing back slowly. At 8pm yesterday, Brent was at US$59.16.

Case has sent letters to all four petrol firms here, asking each to explain why they increased prices.

As of last night, no replies had been received.

Mr Seah Seng Choon, Case's executive director, said: "If they cannot explain, I would say that basically, they are profiteering. We reckon that the petrol firms used this (the tax hike) as an opportunity to increase prices and profit."

He pointed out that profiteering is not illegal but added: "As businesses, they need to operate in a responsible way. Increasing prices without proper justification to consumers is not ethical."

Motorist and IT manager Tom Bennett, 38, said: "All the companies raised prices at around the same time, which suggests that there is not enough competition in the market. As a consumer, you want to feel that you have a choice and there is a fair market. It does not feel that way now."

limjess@sph.com.sg

adrianl@sph.com.sg

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Counsel questions woman's credibility

Straits Times
19 Feb 2015
Selina Lum

ONE of Singapore's top trial lawyers yesterday tried to poke holes in the credibility of a woman who has accused veteran doctor Winston Lee Siew Boon of molestation by squeezing her breast on two occasions.

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, who is representing the 71-year-old doctor in his appeal, described her account as inconsistent and unbelievable.

He also raised doubts whether she mentioned the first incident of molestation in her initial police statement, or added it later to strengthen her case.

But deputy public prosecutor Tai Wei Shyong insisted there were no material inconsistencies in the woman's testimony.

Lee, a doctor for 40 years, was convicted of molestation and sentenced to 10 months' jail by a district court last year. He is appealing against the conviction and sentence.

The woman, a medical products sales representative, had testified that she saw Lee in June 2011 for nausea and flatulence. When she complained of chest pain, he put his hand under her bra and squeezed her breast.

She brushed it off as part of the check-up, thinking it was the doctor's way of showing the location of her heart.

But four months later, when she saw him for a sore throat and to discuss weight management, she said he groped her breast again. She made a police report after consulting her employer and a female doctor.

Yesterday, Mr Singh said it was unbelievable that a 33-year- old would think that squeezing her breast was a legitimate way to show where her heart was.

He also noted that when Lee was first questioned by police on Nov 4, 2011, he was asked only about the second incident. He questioned if the woman had mentioned the June incident in her initial report or if it was an afterthought. The appeal hearing will continue at a date to be fixed.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Lawyer Ravi barred from practice until psychiatrist says he's fit

Straits Times
11 Feb 2015
K.C. Vijayan

SAYING it was seriously concerned about Mr M. Ravi's mental health, the Law Society yesterday revealed that it has ordered the lawyer to stop practising with immediate effect.

He has been told that the ban will remain until a psychiatrist examines him and submits a report that he is fit to continue as a lawyer.

The society, responding to queries from The Straits Times, said it has received information which appears to show that Mr Ravi's ability to practise has been impaired due to his mental condition.

Mr Ravi, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006, yesterday insisted he was fit for practice.

He said that he had seen his psychiatrist, Dr M. Winslow, last month and then on Feb 2, and "there were no complaints about my fitness to practise".

He added: "I am now in consultation with my psychiatrist to sort out the matter."

This is not the first time the 43-year-old's condition has become cause for concern.

In 2012, a very public battle erupted between him and the Law Society, after its official showed up in court with a letter from the former's psychiatrist saying he was having a relapse.

The saga ended when Mr Ravi agreed to stricter monitoring of his condition.

Law Society president Thio Shen Yi told The Straits Times yesterday: "I cannot comment on this ongoing matter but if the society receives credible information that a member of the Bar may be unfit to practise law, it has a duty to investigate and ascertain that lawyer's competence to practise."

Last week, a video posted online showed Mr Ravi hitting out at his client, blogger Roy Ngerng, who was recently found guilty of defaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In an unrelated development, the Attorney-General's Chambers said yesterday that it will apply to strike out an application made by Mr Ravi for his client, Ms R. Angelina, calling it "scandalous, frivolous and vexatious, and is an abuse of process".

It is believed she wants to mount a constitutional challenge over the ban on drums during Thaipusam.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Related party transactions: MND replies - Forum

Straits Times
26 Feb 2015

WE REFER to the commentary by Associate Professor Lee Kin Wai ("The problem with related party transactions"; Feb 18).

All town councils (TCs) are to prepare their financial statements in accordance with the Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (FRS). Under FRS 24, a TC is required to disclose related party transactions in the financial statements, in particular, the nature of the relationship and the amount of transactions.

Prof Lee referred to the revised FRS standards, which are applicable to financial statements for periods beginning on or after July 1 last year.

Under the revised standards, transactions between a TC and its managing agent (MA) will also be considered related party transactions, if the MA provides key management personnel services to the TC.

When this comes into effect, all TCs, except Bishan-Toa Payoh TC, which employs its own staff, will have to make related party transactions disclosure in their financial statements.

This new requirement will apply to the TCs' financial year (FY) 2015/2016 (April this year to March next year) and subsequent accounts.

It did not apply to their FY 2012/2013 accounts, which was the period of the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) audit of Aljunied-Hougang- Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

It will also not apply to the TCs' FY 2014/2015 accounts (April last year to next month) to be tabled in Parliament in October, since the accounts began before July 1 last year.

The AGO audit highlighted that AHPETC and its MA, FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), are considered related parties under the prevailing FRS 24.

This is because the key management personnel of AHPETC - its secretary Danny Loh, its general manager How Weng Fan and its deputy general manager Yeo Soon Fei - are also owners of FMSS providing paid services to AHPETC; they control FMSS and have a clear personal financial interest in transactions between FMSS and the TC.

FM Solutions and Integrated Services (FMSI) and AHPETC are also considered related parties because FMSI is a sole proprietorship owned by Mr Loh.

In no other TCs are their key management personnel also owners of their MA. They are either direct employees of the TCs, like in Bishan-Toa Payoh TC and the former Hougang TC, or employees of the MA, not owners.

With the exception of AHPETC, all other TCs' auditors did not raise any observation on related party transactions in their auditors' reports.

Christine Yap (Ms)

Director

Corporate Communications

Ministry of National Development

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SMU in top moot court contest for 3rd time

Straits Times
19 Feb 2015
Pearl Lee

FOR the third year running, the Singapore Management University (SMU) will represent the Republic at the world's largest moot court contest.

Five students from SMU's law school, which was set up in 2007, beat the team from National University of Singapore at the national round of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Competition on Feb 7.

The students will head to Washington in April, where more than 100 teams will compete.

Each year, only one team from Singapore gets to go, and up till 2012, it was always the NUS team. NUS still holds the best track record, with four wins and seven second-place finishes.

SMU's team captain, Mr Patrick Tay, 25, said: "It is a big honour to represent Singapore, which sends only one team every year."

The SMU team also includes Ms Victoria Leong, 23, Mr Nicholas Liu, 31, Mr Qabir Sandhu, 25, and Ms Nanthini Vijayakumar, 22.

Their coaches this year are Mr Daniel Liu, 27, and Mr Kenny Lau, 26, both SMU and Jessup alumni.

For the national round held at the Supreme Court, both the SMU and NUS teams presented arguments and answered questions before a panel of judges who are also Jessup alumni: Attorney-General V. K. Rajah, Solicitor-General Lionel Yee and Senior Counsel Chan Leng Sun.

Mr Liu, now a justice's law clerk, described the national round as "a tough fight", adding that NUS is a recognised and well-established competitor with outstanding mooters.

To prepare the SMU team for the moot court contest, the coaches have invited law faculty alumni to act as guest judges each week. "The students practise in front of the guest judges to simulate the moot itself," said Mr Liu.

SMU finished second in the last two years. It lost to Australia's University of Queensland last year, and to the National Law School of India University in 2013.

Notable Jessup alumni in Singapore include Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah.

leepearl@sph.com.sg

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Doc rejects demand to stop 'false statements': Mobile-clinic patent dispute

Straits Times
11 Feb 2015
Jermyn Chow

Lawyers for doc, socio-political blog TOC say Mindef doesn't qualify as harassment victim

A DOCTOR involved in a dispute with the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) has rejected legal demands to stop making "false statements" over the patent for a mobile medical station.

Socio-political blog The Online Citizen (TOC) has also refused to take down Dr Ting Choon Meng's allegations against Mindef from its website.

Last month, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) wrote to both TOC and Dr Ting, the co-founder of medical devices firm MobileStats Technologies, asking them to stop repeating claims that Mindef had copied Dr Ting's patented concept for an emergency mobile clinic after speaking to him about it at a trade fair in 2005.

The AGC pointed out that Dr Ting's patent had already been declared invalid by a court last year and revoked.

If Dr Ting wanted to pursue his case, he should have sued the vehicle's manufacturer, Syntech Engineers, instead of Mindef, the end user.

It also rejected Dr Ting's claim that Mindef had delayed court proceedings to force him to drop his case by escalating legal costs.

The AGC said unless its requests to put an end to these allegations were met, it would apply for a court order under the Protection from Harassment Act.

But in their replies which were posted on TOC's site yesterday, lawyers for the doctor and TOC argued that Mindef does not qualify as a victim of harassment.

Dr Ting's lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, said in his letter that the Act, which which came into force here last November, was intended to protect vulnerable individuals, such as children and women, from incidents of cyberbullying or stalking.

"The Act is clearly not intended to apply to the Ministry of Defence, which has ample resources to defend itself and publicly clarify its official position via public channels," he added.

Mr Choo also pointed out that Mindef had clarified its position on its Cyberpioneer Facebook page and in The Straits Times.

He wrote that Dr Ting denies having made any "false statements" and "is unable to comply with your demands".

TOC's lawyer, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, in a separate reply, said using the anti-harassment laws against his client would not be fair since it had published Dr Ting's statement "responsibly and without bad faith or malice".

He said TOC allowed Mindef the right to reply by publishing an article with its rebuttals to Dr Ting's claims.

He also argued that the anti-harassment laws were meant to protect people, not companies, "much less a well-resourced government institution as Mindef".

He denied that the statements Dr Ting made about Mindef in the Jan 15 article, Inventor Forced By Mindef To Close Company Over Patent Rights, were false.

When contacted, Dr Ting told The Straits Times last night: "The court case has concluded and both parties are entitled to speak their minds about what transpired. I hope no further court action will be necessary."

jermync@sph.com.sg

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QC rules still apply for conversions to serviced apartments

Business Times
26 Feb 2015
Kalpana Rashiwala

A key motivation for developers seeking change is hope of exemption from 2-year sales deadline, without paying any penalty

[Singapore] DEVELOPERS that may be thinking of converting private residential projects on sites that are subject to Qualifying Certificate (QC) conditions to serviced apartments may be heading for a dead end.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) would still require them to sell the whole project within the stipulated two years after completion - or pay extension charges.

An SLA spokesman told BT: "Land which is bought with approval under a qualifying certificate is bound by the QC condition that all the completed units must be sold within two years of obtaining TOP (Temporary Occupation Permit). This condition remains in force even where a developer obtains URA approval to convert the entire development into serviced apartments."

BT understands that a key motivation for developers seeking change is hope of exemption from the two-year sales deadline, without paying any penalty.

"Instead of paying extension charges, which are quite high," said a market watcher, "these developers are probably hoping that if they were to turn their projects to serviced apartments, the QC condition could be lifted as they intend to operate the serviced residences.

"When the market recovers, these developers could potentially seek to convert the property back to a condo, obtain approval for strata subdivision and sell the condo units. Basically, their strategy is to convert the project to serviced apartments to ride out the market."

A property consultant added: "Basically, many of these projects are in the prime districts, and high-end prices have tanked, so these developers are not ready to accept fair value prices. They are looking for a way to buy time, hoping that the high-end market will recover or that the authorities will relax on QC conditions."

Under the Residential Property Act, a foreign company, defined as one that has even a single non-Singaporean shareholder and/or director, has to get a QC from SLA's Land Dealings (Approval) Unit before it may buy a private residential site. All listed property developers are deemed foreign companies.

QC conditions require the developer to complete construction of the project and obtain TOP within the stipulated timeframe - since Aug 5, 2010, this has been set at five years, though prior to that, this could have stretched to seven years. The developer is also required to finish selling all units in the project within two years of the TOP date. The rules are aimed at preventing foreign developers from hoarding or speculating in residential land in Singapore.

Since January 2011, a developer that wants extra time on either of these two deadlines has to pay extension charges - set at per annum rates of 8, 16 and 24 per cent of the site's purchase price for the first, second and third/subsequent years of extension, respectively. For the two-year deadline to finish selling the project, the extension charges are pro-rated based on the proportion of unsold units. The extension charges may be paid on a half-yearly basis.

Sites bought from the Government Land Sales Programme and on Sentosa Cove do not require QC.

The SLA spokesman said: "In such a situation where the development is converted into serviced apartments, the developer would be required to sell the entire development as URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) requires serviced apartments to be under one ownership and strata subdivision into individual units is not allowed.

"If it is unable to sell within the stipulated period, the developer can apply for an extension of time to sell and if approval is granted, an extension charge is payable by the developer."

Serviced apartments may be considered on land zoned for residential use in URA's Master Plan. This includes conversion of approved residential developments into serviced apartments.

"Serviced apartments may also be considered for the residential component of mixed-use sites," said a URA spokesman.

She said that the planning authority evaluates all serviced apartment proposals against a set of established guidelines. "Generally, the proposed serviced apartments should not be located in the midst of established residential areas and should front major roads. The guidelines ensure that serviced apartment developments are compatible with the surrounding uses and minimise any potential nuisance or disturbance to surrounding users."

Since strata division is not allowed in serviced apartments, developers who wish to restyle a condo into a serviced apartment development would need to make an application to the authorities to "extinguish" the strata titles in the project. Prior to that, the developer would have to buy back any units it had sold in the project.

If a developer wishes to turn, say, one block in a condo project comprising two or more blocks into serviced apartments, the authorities are likely to subject the application to detailed evaluation and may even impose additional criteria on the developer to ensure that the residents living in the strata-titled units in the other block or blocks are agreeable with the idea.

The topic of developers affected by QC conditions considering turning their housing projects to serviced residences has gained currency following City Developments executive chairman Kwek Leng Beng's comments last week on the Nouvel 18 condo that it developed jointly with Wing Tai. The project received TOP at the end of 2014. "There are two blocks. I think . . . we still have two years to do something about it, but in the meantime, we hope to apply for a waiver for the Qualifying Certificate . . . there is also a possibility we may convert one block into serviced apartments. Don't forget Shangri-La, at the side, they also have very beautiful serviced apartments which are doing very well."

Back in 2013, OUE is said to have enquired with the authorities about changing its Twin Peaks condo project in Leonie Hill Road into serviced residences but did not proceed as it found the conditions and regulations too impractical. The 462-unit project received TOP recently.

Word on the street is that Bukit Sembawang too has considered converting its Paterson Collection project which it has yet to launch, into serviced apartments.

Property industry players told BT that it would not be easy to convert a completed condo project or even one under construction into serviced residences - as there may not be provision for back-of-house facilities such as for laundry services and storage of towels as well as a breakfast area, reception and concierge services.

"Also," said an observer, "for serviced apartments, you need sprinklers within the units. Internal walkways in the development will also have to be sufficiently wide for service trolleys."

Besides interior criteria, URA probably also factors in the external environment, including the width of surrounding roads to gauge if they can handle the additional traffic arising from the conversion to serviced residences, he added.

kalpana@sph.com.sg

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Advance Medical Directive: Insurance not affected - Forum

Straits Times
19 Feb 2015

THE Advance Medical Directive (AMD) is a legal document that one signs in advance to inform the doctor treating him, in the event the patient becomes terminally ill and unconscious, that he does not want any extraordinary life-sustaining treatment to be used to prolong his life ("Does Advance Medical Directive impact insurance?" by Mr Loon Chee How; last Saturday).

Making an AMD is a voluntary decision.

The AMD Act states that the making of an AMD shall not affect the sale, procurement or issuance of an insurance policy. More details are available at the MOH website (https://www.moh.gov.sg/amd).

In addition, the AMD Act does not authorise any act that causes or accelerates death from the natural course.

Lim Bee Khim (Ms)

Director

Corporate Communications

Ministry of Health

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Observers call for Town Councils Act to have more bite

Business Times
11 Feb 2015
Kelly Tay

Khaw to address the need for a stronger legislative framework in Parliament tomorrow

[Singapore] OBSERVERS speaking to The Business Times ahead of Thursday's Parliament sitting have recommended that clear and strong penalties be spelt out if the Town Councils Act is to have any teeth.

They have criticised the existing Act as being "without bite", in that it lays out a myriad of rules which town councils are supposed to comply with, but is mostly largely silent when it comes to enforcement and penalties for non-compliance.

At tomorrow's session in the House, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan will speak on the need to beef up the legislative framework for town councils so that those in charge can be held accountable.

A copy of the motion obtained by The Business Times from the Ministry of National Development (MND) indicates that he will also call on lawmakers to "note with concern" the major lapses found in the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) audit of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

The opposition Workers' Party (WP), which runs AHPETC, had said on Monday that it will respond to the audit report in Parliament.

In the lead-up to the highly-anticipated Parliament session, observers such as Lan Luh Luh, associate professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School and Faculty of Law, have noted that the main problem with the Act is that it does not say what happens if there is negligence or a failure to comply: "There's not much accountability ... Probably the so-called punishing or disciplinary action will come only at the elections - if you don't do well, you get elected out - but by that time, it may be a bit dangerous because the accounts wouldn't have been properly kept for awhile."

As it stands, only three offences attract fines under the Town Councils Act: the wilful withholding of information from an auditor, the misuse of council funds and contraventions of the rules of the lift-upgrading programme. The first offence attracts a fine of up to S$1,000; the other two offences have maximum fines of S$5,000.

But the Act is silent on sanctions for other lapses. For example, MND cannot compel town councils to submit information - such as arrears reports - in full and on time, and no penalty is imposed on a town council that fails to do this.

In extreme cases, however, the minister may appoint a person to step in when a town council has failed to keep the common property clean, in good and serviceable shape or in a condition that does not endanger residents' health or safety.

But because observers do not think the situation at AHPETC has reached such a dire point, they ask what can be done in such cases, where the threshold for intervention has not yet been hit.

Corporate governance advocates such as NUS Business School associate professor Mak Yuen Teen say clearer and stronger penalties for non-compliance is only half the equation; the independence of the enforcement body must be scrutinised too.

"We currently have a convoluted governance arrangement (for) town councils. With MND supervising the town councils, it's a bit like how people say the SGX (Singapore Exchange) has a conflict of interest in regulating listed companies ... If we do strengthen the legislative framework (of the Town Councils Act), the independence of enforcement becomes very important."

Prof Lan agreed: "I don't think passing (a more stringent) Act is very difficult - the difficulty is in finding a legitimate, independent body to control the town councils. Which organ should oversee the town council because of its political nature? If it's any ministry, it would be a bit odd because (these are helmed) by the ruling party. I think that's the key thing that has to be resolved."

Both Prof Mak and Prof Lan would like to see the AGO conduct periodic audits of all town councils - like how it already checks the books of government ministries and statutory boards.

Because political dynamics are at play, Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said any review of the Town Councils Act would not be "a pure legislative exercise", even if the intent is to ensure that residents' best interests are always safeguarded: "It will have to interrogate the fundamental basics of what town councils are about - right now, they're not just your municipal estate offices, they also reflect the MP's leadership in the running of a public housing estate."

kellytay@sph.com.sg

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8 UK law schools removed from list of approved universities for admission to S’pore Bar

TODAY
25 Feb 2015
Teo Xuanwei

Change will apply to student intakes from AY2016/17 onwards

SINGAPORE — Nearly half of the approved UK law schools will be taken off the list of approved foreign universities recognised for admission to the Singapore Bar, after a review by the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE).

There are currently 19 UK universities on the list of Overseas Scheduled Universities (OSU), but SILE recommended cutting the list down to 11. The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has accepted the recommendation and will implement it for prospective intakes from Academic Year 2016/17 onwards.

The eight UK law schools taken off are: University of Exeter; University of Leeds; University of Leicester; University of Liverpool; School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; University of Manchester; University of Sheffield; and University of Southampton.

In total, these eight universities accounted for 30 per cent (221 out of 729) of Singaporean graduates from UK law schools in the last three years.

In a press release today (Feb 24), MinLaw said: “In implementing the revised list, transitional provisions will be put in place to ensure that Singaporean citizens and permanent residents who have secured a place before the relevant cut-off date in any of the UK OSUs omitted from the list are not adversely affected by the change.”

The SILE review follows a recommendation by the Fourth Committee on the Supply of Lawyer in 2013, which noted the burgeoning numbers of Singaporeans heading to overseas law schools and then returning to practise here. The high-powered panel proposed that the list of approved UK law schools be “reviewed and updated to better reflect the current rankings of UK law schools”.

In August last year, Law Minister K Shanmugam also warned of a possible glut in lawyers here due to the spurt in the number of Singaporeans studying law overseas.

Although the number of recognised overseas universities has remained at 35 since 2006, the total number of Singaporeans reading law in the United Kingdom has more than doubled to 1,142 between 2010 and last year, based on the MinLaw’s estimates.

In addition, there were 386 Singaporeans pursuing a law degree in Australian universities last year. The UK and Australia are the main sources of returning law graduates.

xuanwei@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

MAS must be creative in crafting crowdfunding rules

Business Times
18 Feb 2015

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) proposal to make equity crowdfunding a sophisticated investor-only market has drawn criticism from some industry players, who argue that the limitation goes against the very concept of raising money from a crowd.

The regulator is right to address the risk that the sale of securities poses to the investment public. But the proposed restriction poses an existential conundrum for the crowdfunding industry, which exists only because it purports to offer a pool of investors that is significantly larger than just the usual network of wealthy individuals and specialised funds.

In essence, is it still crowdfunding if there is no crowd?

MAS is entering this arena because it sees that small businesses and startups can benefit from a marketplace in which they can more easily access investors. On the other hand, the term "crowdfunding" does not change the fact that companies could potentially sell securities to the broad public. MAS is therefore wise to limit retail exposure.

The principle is simple enough. If a company wants to sell to the public at large, then it needs to follow the established rules on listing a company on the Singapore Exchange. Those rules exist because the public's money is at stake and certain safeguards are required. If a company does not want to produce a prospectus in order to sell its shares, then it should not be able to sell those shares to the retail investor with the same ease as a full-blown initial public offering.

But what if the public can be protected even if the issuer does not offer a prospectus?

That is the argument put forth by advocates of a more liberal regulatory regime. In Malaysia, for example, regulators allow retail investors to take part in offerings, but cap the amount that they may invest. In other words, go ahead and take the risk if you want, but we will try to limit your losses.

Safeguards could be set up in other ways as well. Cooling-off periods, dispute resolution mechanisms and capital-raising caps are examples of measures that have been proposed or introduced in other markets that try to address the retail issue.

Whether such safeguards actually work is unclear. The fundamental issue is what control minority investors have over the governance of a company. Traditional models in which a venture fund, for example, keeps close tabs on its investment and often plays a part in the actual operational and strategic affairs of the business may not be feasible in a crowdfunding format.

Simply allowing people to part with their money in the first place is also opening the door for potential manipulation and fraud. Early-stage businesses are often riskier investments than more established ones that qualify for the traditional listing route. If retail has no business getting in that game in the first place, why even offer that option?

Still, a market that lets the crowd play safely will be a welcome addition to the financial ecosystem. As imperfect as those options are, MAS should nevertheless give them serious consideration and assess their effectiveness as a complete package. Investor protection must be paramount, but that does not mean the rules cannot be creative in achieving that goal.

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OW Bunker fallout could lead to exit of Opet S'pore

Business Times
11 Feb 2015
Malminderjit Singh

Platts says S'pore unit closing off positions and settling oustanding payments

[Singapore] THE fallout from the OW Bunker scandal is far from over.

Bunker provider Opet Trade (Singapore) will reportedly soon exit the industry as a result of its large exposure to the Danish marine fuel supplier, which collapsed last November after allegations of fraud hit its Singapore subsidiary, OW Bunker Far East.

Opet Trade (Singapore) is likely to leave the fuel oil-and-bunker fuel markets in the second half of the year, trade publication Platts reported.

It has already taken the necessary first steps to do so, said Platts, which quoted sources as having said that Opet had contacted trading counterparties to close off their trading accounts, sort out bankers' guarantees and settle outstanding payments.

Opet, which is headquartered in Turkey, is said to have declined comment.

Last week, a company spokesman told Reuters that the company planned to shut down its six-year-old Singapore office; a separate company source said the operation had suffered a series of exposures to OW Bunker and other insolvent companies.

The company reportedly had exposure of up to US$33.2 million to OW Bunker Far East and its subsidiary, Dynamic Oil Trading (DOT).

Its Singapore operations had previously also been exposed to other insolvencies - notably of Vanguard Energy in 2013, and Baxus Marine, the year before that.

Opet, a subsidiary of Turkey's biggest conglomerate KOC Holding, incorporated its Singapore arm in 2008 and has about a dozen employees, trading an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 tonnes of fuel oil a month, Reuters stated.

Separately, OW's liquidators from KPMG Services and receivers from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on Monday announced that they had signed a cooperation agreement to facilitate the prompt collection and receipt of all receivables owed to group's Singapore subsidiary.

The agreement, signed last Friday, sets up a framework for the collection of all receivables owed to OW Bunker Far East, as its objective is to maximise recovery while preserving the rights of all parties concerned.

At a creditors' meeting held in Singapore on Monday, the creditors were informed that a special resolution in writing had earlier been passed by the sole shareholder of OW Bunker Far East to wind up the company.

The creditors' meeting unanimously confirmed the appointment of the provisional liquidators - Bob Yap Cheng Ghee, Chay Fook Yuen and Tay Puay Cheng, all partners of KPMG - as liquidators.

The creditors also resolved to set up a Committee of Inspection comprising not more than five creditors.

Based on the records of OW Bunker Far East, which have not been audited, the company owed an estimated US$330 million to mainly unsecured trade creditors.

ING Bank (ING) is the security agent under an Omnibus Security Agreement entered into in December 2013 between, among others, OW Bunker Far East and ING. ING had on Nov 14, 2014 appointed three partners of PwC as joint receivers to collect receivables assigned and charged to ING.

Clifford Chance Asia act for the liquidators and Drew & Napier, for the receivers.

The outcome of the OW's liquidation process in Singapore will heavily determine the outcomes of the group's creditors in Denmark.

Trade publication Shipping Watch reported last week that trustees dealing with the bankruptcy of OW Bunker Denmark are struggling to get an overall picture of claims against the defunct group's worldwide subsidiaries and that it may take another month for them to have a better idea of the claims and counterclaims for the group.

This is because three-quarters of the group's claims following its crash are scattered in subsidiaries around the world, with Singapore figuring heavily in the equation.

For instance, KPMG is handling DOT's claims against Tankoil Marine Services (Tankoil), which reportedly played a key role in the company's collapse, as it had received oversized credits from the defunct marine fuel supplier.

However, since Tankoil is reportedly not showing signs of financial distress or being anywhere close to shutting down its business, the Danish-based trustees have to wait until the Singapore-based liquidators, KPMG, can get the money owed to them from Tankoil.

Pernille Bigaard, an OW Bunker Denmark trustee, told ShippingWatch: "The only thing we can do is put pressure on the DOT trustees. DOT is bankrupt, so we'll be able to file claims in dividends from that estate."

msingh@sph.com.sg

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High Court to decide on ex-tour guide's accounts

Straits Times
25 Feb 2015
Toh Yong Chuan

THE HIGH Court will decide tomorrow whether former tour guide Yang Yin can withdraw $12,000 a month from his frozen bank accounts for personal and legal expenses.

The 40-year-old Chinese national, who had his assets frozen pending legal action, is also asking the court to lift the freeze altogether, and accuses his opponent, Madam Hedy Mok, of not sticking to a deal in which he would be allowed to withdraw $3,000 each week.

"The judge has heard arguments and she wants to think about it before making a decision on Thursday," Yang's lawyer, Mr Joseph Liow, told reporters after the two-hour closed-door hearing yesterday.

Yang's assets, which were frozen in August last year, included $1.13 million in four OCBC bank accounts. He claims the money was a gift from Madam Chung Khin Chun, a wealthy 88-year- old widow he had befriended and is accused of manipulating.

His assets were frozen after Madam Mok, who is the widow's niece, accused him of masterminding control over her aunt's assets, estimated to be worth $40 million, including a $30 million bungalow in Gerald Crescent off Yio Chu Kang Road.

Madam Chung met Yang in 2008 while he was her tour guide in China. The next year, he moved into her bungalow.

In 2010, she made a will leaving him all her assets, including the bungalow. Yang claims the widow, who has no children and whose husband died in 2007, treated him like a grandson. Two years later, she granted him a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).

Madam Mok has sued Yang for allegedly breaching his duties under the LPA, which was revoked last November. Madam Chung has also made a new will which leaves her fortune to charity. Her niece has filed it with the Family Court and asked the court to execute it on her aunt's behalf.

In another development, the Attorney-General's Chambers has made an offer to Yang to plead guilty to some criminal charges.

He stands accused of two criminal breach of trust offences which allegedly involve the misappropriation of $1.1 million from Madam Chung. Each charge carries a sentence of up to seven years' jail and/or a fine.

The Singapore permanent resident also faces more than 300 counts of faking receipts issued by his music and dance company.

Yang's criminal lawyer Wee Pan Lee confirmed the offer, but declined to provide details. It is also unclear if Yang will accept the offer. He has been denied bail and is in police custody.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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The problem with related party transactions

Straits Times
18 Feb 2015
Lee Kin Wai

RELATED party transactions (RPT) feature prominently in many corporate scandals around the world.

For example, the top management team of Enron used special purpose entities to manipulate profit. Cable TV company Adelphia Communications Corp guaranteed related party debts and provided extensive loans to its top executives.

RPT recently made headlines in Singapore, following an Auditor-General's Office audit of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

There are plenty of empirical studies that show the value-destroying impact of RPT. This explains why corporate governance laws insist on regulating them tightly.

But first, some definitions

A RELATED party transaction is a transfer of resources, services or obligations between a reporting entity and a related party.

Existing financial reporting standards (such as FRS 24) recognise that RPT is a normal feature of commerce and business. Many entities conduct their business activities through subsidiaries, joint ventures and associates, for sound business reasons. A subsidiary that sells goods to its parent at cost might not sell on those terms to another customer.

In a listed firm, the key concern in RPT is that the transactions may not be conducted in an arm's-length manner, resulting in substantial wealth loss to the shareholders.

Under FRS 24, a person is considered related to a reporting entity if he or she has control (typically for voting rights above 50 per cent) or significant influence (typically for voting rights between 20 and 50 per cent); or is a member of the key management personnel. A close family member of such a person is also considered a related party.

An entity is considered related to a reporting entity if both are in a parent company-subsidiary relationship; if it is an associate or joint venture; or if it provides key management personnel services to the reporting entity or to the parent of the reporting entity.

FRS 24 requires an entity to disclose the nature of the related party relationship, and to give information on the amount of the related party transaction, the amount of outstanding balances and commitments, and terms and conditions of the transactions. It also has to disclose bad debts, and details of guarantees given or received from related parties.

Empirical evidence on RPT

THERE is considerable evidence that RPT can be value-destroying if they are used for earnings manipulation and expropriation of wealth from shareholders.

In a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Banking and Finance, the authors (Yan-Leung Cheung , Yuehua Qi, P. Raghavendra Rau, Aris Stouraitis) found that Hong Kong firms enter deals with related parties at unfavourable prices compared to similar arm's-length deals. They pay higher prices for assets from related parties compared to similar arm's-length deals. When they sell assets to related parties, they receive a lower price.

Using a sample of listed firms in the United States, M. Ryngaert and S. Thomas (2012) find that RPT is associated with lower operating profitability, significant share price declines when RPT is first disclosed, and higher likelihood that a firm will enter into financial distress or securities deregistration.

Another study in 2002 by Kee-Hong Bae, Jun-Koo Kang and Jin-Mo Kim found that the stock price of Korean firms affiliated to industrial groups (chaebols) decreased when they bailed out other under-performing firms in the group through rescue merger.

Issues in the AHPETC case

THE Auditor-General's report dated Feb 6, 2015 highlighted several lapses in the governance of RPT in AHPETC.

The report stated that: "AHPETC did not disclose fully the RPT in its financial statements. Furthermore, it did not adequately manage the conflict of interests of related parties arising from ownership of its key officers. The related parties were two companies engaged by AHPETC to carry out managing agent services and essential maintenance and lift rescue services. They were FM Solutions and Integrated Services (FMSI) and FM Solutions and Services Pte Ltd (FMSS). The Secretary of AHPETC was the owner of FMSI. The Secretary, General Manager and Deputy General Manager of AHPETC were directors and shareholders of FMSS."

From a corporate governance perspective, one would expect that firms disclose their procedures for review, approval and ratification of RPT.

Good governance practices typically require a firm's audit committee or a group of independent directors to review and approve RPT. For example, the minutes of the meeting where the RPT was approved (and noting the views of the company's independent directors) should be properly documented. Furthermore, any related person interested in the transaction should abstain from voting.

The governance practice of some listed firms may provide a useful benchmark. In some countries, listed firms must send a circular to shareholders providing details of the transaction, including the opinion by an independent financial expert.

The Auditor-General's report also noted instances where "the Secretary and General Manager issued payment claims as owner of FMSI and director of FMSS respectively, and subsequently the same General Manager certified these payment claims and approved the payment vouchers in her capacity as an officer of AHPETC".

There were clear conflicts of interest and AHPETC has to put in place adequate mitigating controls to manage the conflicts, the report noted.

What are some possible mitigating controls? This can be independent checking and validation of work done against the invoices by non-related officers prior to payment approval, requiring non- related parties from the top management team to approve the payment, and explicitly prohibiting related parties from approving the payments. Waiver of these requirements should be on an exception basis and the reasons should be clearly documented.

Auditing related party transactions is challenging.

It may be difficult for auditors to identify all related parties and transactions warranting examination. Auditors must rely on management to provide detailed information on related parties and RPT. Thus, RPT should be assessed in the context of the company's overall governance structure, taking into account the importance of management's assertions about the existence and nature of these transactions.

The writer is an associate professor of accounting at the Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

 

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

 

ST OPINION ONLINE

Singapore Budget 2015: Help companies start retirement savings plans for workers. www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion

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Safeguards and steps to avoid conflicts of interest

Straits Times
11 Feb 2015
Rachel Chang

THE two worlds of town councils and the companies they hire to manage estates often overlap.

Town councils sometimes take on staff from the companies they hire to provide services to make for smoother operations.

But in the case of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), its general manager and secretary are not just employees of a company hired by the town council, but majority owners with financial stakes in them.

In other words, they stand to gain financially from decisions they are party to as town council executives.

Corporate governance experts said what is appropriate in a situation that involves "double-hatting" individuals with ownership interests is for safeguards to be in place to isolate them from decisions involving their second hats.

At AHPETC, this was not the case, said the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) in its audit report of the financial accounts of the Workers' Party-run town council.

AHPETC's secretary Danny Loh Chong Meng and general manager How Weng Fan are majority owners of its managing agent company, FM Solutions & Services (FMSS).

The AGO found that AHPETC did not properly disclose or evaluate transactions where such potential conflicts of interests were present, putting the integrity of $25.9 million worth of payments at risk.

Some of its senior staff, such as its secretary and general manager, owned companies that the town council had contracted to provide estate management services. The staff involved in approving payment also had ownership interests in the company that was receiving the payment.

AHPETC, in its reply to the AGO report, disputed that there was inadequate disclosure of potential conflicts among their staff. "The Town Councillors were very much aware of the details of composition of FMSS and the relationship of the directors and shareholders as town council management," it said.

Auditors said the proper procedure is for the "double-hatting" individual with an ownership interest to abstain from decision-making on tenders with potential conflict.

In addition, all instances of potential conflicts must be reported to an oversight body, like the board of directors, for approval.

The chairmen of People's Action Party-run town councils, like MP Zainal Sapari of Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council, said that is the way they handle double-hat staff even when there is no ownership conflict.

PAP MP Zaqy Mohamad, who chairs Chua Chu Kang Town Council, said "the individual should have a role that doesn't have to do with finances or awarding of contracts, like managing residents' feedback".

RACHEL CHANG

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Lawyers agree case is raising awareness of LPA

Straits Times
25 Feb 2015
Toh Yong Chuan

MR PETER DORAISAMY is a shipping lawyer while Mr Joseph Liow specialises in construction and employment laws.

Different fields, but both experienced litigators have crossed swords of late in the current battle over control of Madam Chung Khin Chun's wealth.

Mr Doraisamy, a 42-year-old director at Selvam LLC and who has practised law since 1999, represents Madam Hedy Mok, the niece of the 88-year-old widow.

Mr Liow, 46, the deputy managing director of Straits Law Practice LLC, represents Chinese national Yang Yin.

Mr Doraisamy said a high point came last November when the Family Court ruled that Madam Chung could revoke a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) that had effectively made Yang her guardian.

It involved an area of law rarely seen in court, given the novelty of the LPA. The scheme was introduced in 2010 to allow persons above 21 to nominate a volunteer to make decisions and act on their behalf if they should lose mental capacity one day.

In September, Madam Chung had asked the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) to cancel the LPA she granted Yang in 2012.

The OPG took the case to the Family Court to have a judge decide whether Madam Chung, who was diagnosed with dementia earlier last year, had the mental capacity to cancel the LPA.

Mr Doraisamy believes the case has raised public awareness on the LPA.

And disputes can be expected to rise, given the ageing population and more people turning to using the LPA, he added.

Mr Liow, who has been practising law for 22 years, declined to say how his firm came to represent Yang, citing confidentiality.

But he agreed with Mr Doraisamy that the publicity over the widow's case will raise public awareness on the scheme.

"With the public being more aware of such legal issues, I would not be surprised that there would be more disputes in relation to LPAs."

TOH YONG CHUAN

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Spike in complaints about defective goods

Straits Times
18 Feb 2015
Jessica Lim

Number of grouses handled by Case up 26.5%; car buyers' woes top the list

CONSUMER complaints about defective goods have jumped since the so-called "lemon law" came into force.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 701 such complaints from September 2013 to last August, the second year since the law came into force on Sept 1, 2012.

This is up 26.5 per cent from the 554 complaints received in the first year.

And the numbers look set to remain high, with 266 complaints already received from Septemberto the end of January this year.

Grouses from car buyers came up top, making up 30 per cent of the 1,521 "lemon law" complaints received so far.

A large proportion also came from buyers of furniture and mobile phones, as well as electronic and electrical goods.

The number of claims in these categories have also skyrocketed over at the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT), which received 218 vehicle purchase-related claims last year - up from 135 in 2013, 104 in 2012 and 64 in 2011.

A total of 249 claims were made in the electronic goods category, up from 82 in 2013.

Claims for cellphones rose from 249 in 2013 to 265 last year; those for furniture fell slightly to 280 last year, but were still higher than the 189 complaints in 2011 - the year before the lemon law was enacted.

The SCT is usually the last resort for consumers saddled with defective goods, with many first heading to Case.

Despite these rises, complaints make up less than 0.5 per cent of the total number of goods sold in these categories, said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.

The lemon law is an amendment to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act and the Hire Purchase Act, which gives consumers more protection against inherently defective products, colloquially known as "lemons".

It requires retailers to repair or replace a product found to be defective within six months of purchase - or give a refund.

"When there was no lemon law, it was more troublesome to get redress. More consumers know their rights now and are taking advantage of it," said Mr Seah.

He expects complaints to fall over time as retailers offer better- quality products and settle disputes on the shop floor.

This is the purpose of the law - to lift service levels and quality of goods sold here, he added.

Case successfully resolved 70 per cent of the lemon law cases for complainants who authorised it to handle their claims. The unresolved cases were ongoing, dropped or redirected to the SCT.

The 1,521 complaints logged by Case were valid. It throws out those deemed unfair to the retailer. In one case, a customer tried to get a refund for a mobile phone that had become waterlogged due to his profuse perspiration.

While Case does not track how many cases are thrown out, Mr Seah said they are in the minority.

But Ms Helen Khoo, executive director of WingTai Asia which manages the Topshop and Dorothy Perkins brands, sees "one or two" frivolous demands a month. They had none before the "lemon law" came into effect.

One customer tried to return a bag with a broken handle on it. A check by staff found that the model was sold two years ago.

limjess@sph.com.sg


Background Story

CONSUMERS MORE SAVVY NOW

"When there was no lemon law, it was more troublesome to get redress. More consumers know their rights now and are taking advantage of it."

- Case executive director Seah Seng Choon


How the 'lemon law' has worked

Furniture

Ms M.K. Koh, 41, received a full refund for a chair she bought for $319 last year.

It was delivered with a crack on its armrest, but repeated attempts to get a refund failed.

"They kept saying they needed the boss to make the decision, and then didn't call back," she said. The firm agreed to refund only after the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) intervened.

Car

A USED car started emitting a noise from its bonnet barely a month after sale, despite the salesman's assurance that it was in good condition.

Checks with a mechanic revealed that it had a gearbox problem that needed $4,000 to fix. After Case intervened, the car dealer agreed to foot $3,500.

The customer paid the remaining $500.

Mobile phone

DESPITE being given six months' warranty for a $50 phone charger, Ms Denise Wong (not her real name) could not exchange it when it broke after using it a few times. The seller, claiming it was the first unit reported to be faulty, refused to exchange or repair the item. Offers by Ms Wong to pay more to exchange the item for another one were turned down. With Case's help, the company agreed to a refund.

JESSICA LIM

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Firm wins appeal over breach of duty

Straits Times
10 Feb 2015
Selina Lum

Ex-manager to pay $11,000 in case involving husband's rival lease bid

A PHARMACY manager who was sued by her former employer for going behind its back to help her pharmacist husband put in a competing bid for a lease, has to fork out $11,000 in damages and legal costs to the company.

Last year, the High Court had ruled that Ms Tracey Yong did not breach her duty of fidelity as an employee by keeping her then employer Trident Pharm in the dark about her husband's rival bid.

But the three-judge Court of Appeal yesterday reversed this decision and allowed Trident's appeal, ruling that Ms Yong did breach the duty of fidelity she owed to the pharmaceutical company.

Ms Yong was competing directly with Trident and acting in a way inimical to its interests by seeking to be the successful bidder at its expense, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

However, the court, which also included Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justice Tay Yong Kwang, awarded only nominal damages of $1,000 to Trident, represented by Mr P. Sivakumar.

This was because even if Ms Yong's husband had not bid for the lease, it would not have gone to Trident in any event; a third firm had put in a bid that was more attractive than Trident's.

The court ordered Ms Yong, represented by Mr James Ponniah, to bear Trident's legal costs of $10,000 for the appeal. Each side is to bear its own legal costs for previous proceedings.

Ms Yong, 37, a pharmacist, worked for Trident from April 2004 to February 2007, managing its retail pharmacy at the National Dental Centre (NDC).

In September 2006, NDC invited tenders for a new lease as Trident's was due to expire in 2007. On Oct 13, her husband Thomas Wan, 40, registered a firm called The Dental Pharm, which went on to win the tender.

NDC's executive director, Dr Kwa Chong Teck, said Trident's bid was not acceptable.

Trident sued Ms Yong - who resigned on Dec 5, 2006 and ran her husband's store after it opened - as she was still its employee when Mr Wan registered his firm. Mr Wan was named as the second defendant.

The High Court dismissed Trident's claim, saying that joining a rival bid and failing to disclose that act to Trident did not amount to a breach of Ms Yong's employment duties.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Porsche Club, former member in legal spat

Straits Times
25 Feb 2015
JOYCE LIM

AN EXECUTIVE, whose company is suing the Porsche Club for copyright infringement, is now taking the same exclusive car club to court for terminating his membership.

Mr Franklin Tang Quan Yii is suing for unspecified damages in the Magistrates' Court, which allows claims for up to $60,000, for the loss of enjoying the rights and privileges as a member of the Porsche Club.

The club, which costs $250 to join and has a $15 monthly membership fee, comprises mainly professionals and businessmen. It holds motoring and recreational activities among its roughly 300 members.

To become a member with full privileges, one has to own a Porsche car in Singapore. But a year after ceasing to own a Porsche, the person can remain only as an associate member without voting rights.

In 2008, Mr Tang joined the club after buying a Porsche. In November 2012, he sold his sports car. But he had his membership renewed in 2013, as his wife had bought her own Porsche, and authorised him to use it. On March 4 last year, Mr Tang received an e-mail from Porsche Club informing him that his attempt to renew his membership for 2014 had been rejected.

The e-mail also highlighted that Mr Tang was simply an "associate member" in 2013, and that membership had expired at the end of that year.

But Mr Tang insists that at all material times he was an ordinary member, "by virtue of his wife's authorisation to use and enjoy her Porsche car after it was purchased in February 2013".

He claims that the club later "reversed its position" and sent him a notice around May 5 last year stating that his ordinary membership had been reinstated.

Mr Tang's lawyer told The Straits Times that his client rejected the offer to reinstate his membership and that the club has up to the first week of next month to file its defence.

Mr Tang is also upset that the issue of his membership was discussed at an Annual General Meeting held on March 23 last year, when the executive committee decided and announced that he was not a member.

Last March, local firm Philip Tang & Sons, where Mr Tang works as executive director, filed a lawsuit in the High Court against Porsche Club over copyright infringement.

The firm accused Porsche Club of reproducing an online membership portal which it developed, designed and installed.

Known as the Online Membership System (OMS), the portal allows the club to manage the particulars of its members and payment of fees.

According to court documents, the firm says it allowed Porsche Club the use of OMS only during the period Mr Tang was a member of the club's executive committee.

In 2009, Mr Tang was appointed to the post of assistant membership director but ceased to be an executive member in January 2013. At the end of December that year, his firm stopped hosting the OMS and deactivated it.

But Porsche Club reproduced the OMS on its website around Jan 16 last year, says the firm - an allegation the club denies.

The club said it had collaborated closely with Mr Tang by contributing to the design, layout and functions of the OMS. It rebutted Mr Tang's claims that he owns the copyright to the OMS, and described it as a generic online membership portal.

Attempts to reach the Porsche Club have been unsuccessful.

joycel@sph.com.sg

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Duo arrested under Sedition Act for The Real Singapore article

TODAY
18 Feb 2015

Police arrested a 26-year-old Singaporean man and a 22-year-old Australian woman “for posting remarks online that could promote ill-will and hostility among the different races in Singapore”

SINGAPORE — Police have arrested a 26-year-old Singaporean man and a 22-year-old Australian woman “for posting remarks online that could promote ill-will and hostility among the different races in Singapore”, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) said yesterday (Feb 17).

Police said on Feb 5, they received reports reports regarding an “insensitive article” that had been posted online.

The suspects were arrested on Feb 6 under the Sedition Act.

Channel NewsAsia understands the article in question had appeared on The Real Singapore website.

Word of the arrests came after the Ministry of Home Affairs had warned that police would take action against those who incite enmity with rumours over the Thaipusam procession.

Early today, The Real Singapore issued a statement acknowledging that one of its editors involved in the running of the alternative news site has been called up for investigation by police, along with four others in relation to an article about a Thaipusam incident, in which three men were arrested.

“The police take a stern view of acts that could threaten social harmony in Singapore,” an SPF spokesperson said.

Under the Sedition Act, anyone found guilty of promoting feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore could be jailed for up to three years, or fined up to S$5,000, or both.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Two leading remisiers to face off in court

Straits Times
10 Feb 2015
Rachel Boon

Protection order granted to one, pre-trial conference fixed for Feb 16

TWO leading remisiers have had such a bitter falling out that legal action is brewing.

Mr Vincent Khoo from OCBC Securities told The Straits Times yesterday that he has been granted a protection order against fellow remisier Andy Tan of UOB Securities.

He has also filed a Magistrate's Complaint against Mr Tan and a pre-trial conference has been fixed for Feb 16.

A protection order directs an alleged harasser to stop the behaviour while a Magistrate's Complaint lets the court decide if an offence has been committed.

Mr Khoo said the protection order stems from Mr Tan's responses and actions in recent months.

Trouble has been brewing for some time and centres on the Society of Remisiers Singapore (SRS). Mr Tan is on the society's executive committee and is its publications secretary. Mr Khoo was publications secretary from 2009 to 2013.

It was reported last month that Mr Khoo had been informed by the SRS late last year by letter that his membership was under review.

He was told last week to front up at a hearing on Friday to explain why he should not be suspended or expelled.

Mr Khoo told The Straits Times yesterday that he had e-mailed SRS executive committee members asking for an explanation. He said there was no reply from anyone but Mr Tan, and Mr Khoo felt his responses constituted harassment.

Mr Khoo was also singled out in the SRS' December newsletter, which stated that he was the only member whose membership was under review but there was no explanation as to why.

"I am a longstanding member. I told the judge that it's not fair, and putting my name up in a newly created category with no explanation at all, is trying to humiliate me. The order states that SRS cannot print any more of such things in this newsletter or elsewhere."

More tension arose last month when the society's executive committee alleged that Mr Khoo violated its constitution.

The root cause appears to be Mr Khoo's rebuttals of SRS' press statements in recent years.

On Nov 12 last year, for example, the SRS and Mr Khoo had letters published in The Business Times about ways to improve the stock market.

SRS president Jimmy Ho wrote that he was critical of Singapore Exchange (SGX) moves to reduce speculation in the local market while Mr Khoo backed the SGX's reforms.

The SRS in its letter to Mr Khoo late last year also said that there had been other incidents that served to "belittle, discredit or run down the integrity and standing of the SRS".

Mr Khoo had said that letters to the press are written in his own personal capacity and not as an SRS member.

He is also angry that he has been given only a week to prepare for Friday's review and that the SRS has not provided the evidence for allegations made against him. "They (SRS) are in a position of power but they don't treat me as a proper member. Even before deciding the status of my membership, they took away my privileges."

rachaelb@sph.com.sg

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

Law Soc court application for M Ravi to get medical exam to be heard again on Thurs

TODAY
25 Feb 2015
Neo Chai Chin

SINGAPORE – The Law Society’s court application for lawyer M Ravi to get a medical examination, as well as Mr Ravi’s objection to it, will be heard again on Thursday behind closed doors.

Both sides appeared before High Court judge Quentin Loh for several hours today (Feb 24).

The Law Society, represented by Mr Pradeep Pillai of Shook Lin & Bok, had applied to the court for an order for Mr Ravi to submit to a medical exam, after stopping him from practising earlier this month until he was certified fit by a psychiatrist.

The society had to get a court application or, under the Legal Profession Act, its suspension of Mr Ravi would be lifted.

Mr Ravi was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the society was informed this month that his psychiatrist had diagnosed him as being hypomanic. Hypomania is part of bipolar disorder and characterised by a distinct period of elevated or irritable mood. Mr Ravi continued to practise despite being certified medically unfit for duty for four days earlier this month, the society had said.

The Law Society’s council became concerned about his mental condition and fitness to practise. It ordered him to stop practising in his own interests and those of the legal profession and the public, it said in a media statement on Feb 12.

chaichin@mediacorp.com.sg

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