24 November 2014
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Watchdog must be fair to patients too

Straits Times
23 Nov 2014
Salma Khalik

Puzzling that Medical Council chose to be lenient with doctor who tried to cover up

The outcome of a recent disciplinary hearing by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) raises a number of questions, not least about how much patients can count on the watchdog body to protect their interests.

The case involved United States Merchant Marine Michael Balensiefer who decided to get some aesthetic treatment done while recuperating from a knee treatment here in March 2009.

He went to Dr Kevin Teh Tze Chen at the Singapore Lipo, Body & Face Centre at Novena Medical Centre for Vaser LipoSelection of his lower back. The $1,926 treatment liquefies fat before extracting it.

But things did not turn out well. Although he didn't know it then, the doctor wrongly gave him amoxicillin, a common antibiotic he had told the clinic he was allergic to.

As an antidote, the doctor gave him an injection in his right hand that made him react immediately. Mr Balensiefer, now 37, remembers shouting "Hot! Hot! Very hot!"

After the treatment, his hand was swollen. Two days later, the swelling had extended almost to his elbow.

A week later, he was in severe pain and his thumb and the part of his hand where he had been injected were turning black. He went to the emergency department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) where doctors warned he might lose his thumb and a finger as 15 cm of the artery in his arm was blocked.

Mr Balensiefer asked Dr Teh for his medical notes for the TTSH doctors, but Dr Teh did not mention that he had given the patient an injection of promethazine to counter the amoxicillin. The TTSH doctors were left puzzled as to the cause of the injury.

Dr Chia Kok Hoong, then head of vascular surgery at TTSH, operated and managed to save Mr Balensiefer's hand, but told him he would have to avoid exposure to cold and recommended that he not continue in his job as a rescue swimmer.

Mr Balensiefer said changing jobs resulted in a 23 per cent drop in pay.

In a case that stretched all the way to this year, Mr Balensiefer first turned to the SMC in 2009, but his complaint was dismissed. It was only last year that the medical watchdog began a disciplinary hearing, and only after being directed to do so in 2011 by the Minister of Health, to whom Mr Balensiefer had appealed.

Dr Teh, a general practitioner offering aesthetic treatments, faced six charges:

• Wilful neglect in allowing Mr Balensiefer to be given amoxicillin, a drug he was allergic to.
• Failure to act in his patient's best interests when he proceeded with the Vaser LipoSelection treatment despite realising the patient had been given a drug he was allergic to.
• Failure to tell the patient he was being injected with promethazine to treat a potential allergic reaction to the amoxicillin.
• Gross mismanagement of the care of the patient after treatment.
• Falsifying, or causing to be falsified, the patient's medical records to say the promethazine was diluted, when it was not; and
• Falsifying, or causing to be falsified, the patient's medical records to say his allergy was known on March 12, when it was only discovered on March 17, the date of the procedure.

Dr Teh was found guilty of four charges - the first three and the sixth - and fined $10,000. He was also slapped with the usual censure and asked to provide a written promise not to repeat the offence.

When one considers what the doctor did, and why he was found guilty, his punishment appears too light and sends the wrong signals of acceptable practice by doctors.

The three doctors on the SMC panel, Professor Lee Eng Hin, Dr Raymond Chua and Associate Professor Paul Thng Leong Keng, and the lay member, Mr Chan Kok Way, said they chose to be lenient in penalising Dr Teh and gave their reasons.

They felt that the first three offences were not serious enough for him to be suspended from practice.

The first was that he failed to ascertain if the patient had allergies. Mr Balensiefer had told the clinic nurse and she failed to record that information. But a doctor is expected to verify this for himself.

The second was that after discovering he had wrongly given Mr Balensiefer a drug he was allergic to, Dr Teh continued with the treatment. The panel felt that "given that the procedure was elective and cosmetic in nature, Dr Teh ought to have refrained from taking any risk".

They found him guilty of professional misconduct and said he should have told the patient about the mistake and given him the option of proceeding or returning on another day for the procedure.

The third offence was that Dr Teh gave the patient an antidote without telling him about it.

While many might agree the first offence was not so serious - accidents do happen - Dr Teh's subsequent actions, and especially his failure to come clean to his patient, appear to be cause for concern.

How can patients trust doctors who try to cover up their errors like this?

As the professional watchdog, the SMC has to look after the interest of the doctors it oversees. But surely it also has a duty to the public to ensure that errant doctors are not let off too lightly.

Dr Teh was found guilty of the sixth charge - of falsifying his patient's record, or causing it to be falsified. The panel felt that this was his most serious offence, yet did not feel it merited suspending him from practice.

Its reasoning: "We consider that as a young doctor just starting out in private practice, Dr Teh made a clinical mistake which caused him to panic. This, in turn, led to Dr Teh making a series of misjudgments which ultimately culminated in him dishonestly trying to cover his tracks."

Dr Teh is 40 years old, and at the time of his offences, had been practising for 11 years. If a doctor is considered sufficiently qualified to run his own practice, he should be held accountable for his actions.

He was cleared of two other charges - that he grossly mismanaged the care of the patient; and that he gave undiluted promethazine but falsified the records to show it had been diluted. On the latter, the panel noted that although his "record-keeping left a lot to be desired, there was a certain amount of uncertainty surrounding Dr Teh's administration of the undiluted promethazine".

The facts remain that this doctor gave his patient the wrong drug, failed to tell him about it, tried to cover up by giving him another drug - possibly undiluted, as Mr Balensiefer complained of pain when it was given, a common reaction when it is undiluted - then tampered with the case notes so "it diverted the blame to the nurses and cast them in a bad light", the SMC panel found.

And yet, he was merely fined $10,000.

It had to be clear to the panel that Mr Balensiefer's condition was worrying - especially when the TTSH specialists warned he might lose his fingers.

Dr Teh continued with his cover-up even when he knew his patient risked amputation. The TTSH doctors were trying to save the patient's fingers, but he did not tell them about the promethazine.

The committee said it noted that Dr Teh had since reformed much of his clinic's standard operating procedures with regard to the administration of medications.

But it also appears that the doctor showed little remorse as he steadfastly denied the charges, and the hearing took place over seven days between July 18 last year and Aug 19 this year. He even tried to blame his nurses, but one of them had recorded two conversations with him and that helped to prove his guilt.

During a recent parliamentary session, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the SMC should not be held back from getting the legal help it needs in its disciplinary hearings, simply because of lack of funds, or it would not be able to properly carry out its duty of regulating the medical profession.

"There will be a loss of confidence in its ability to safeguard the interests of patients and in the integrity of the medical profession," he said. He was referring, in part, to the high-profile, long-running dispute between the SMC and surgeon Susan Lim, and the costly legal fees incurred.

In the relatively low-profile case against Dr Teh - one that the SMC had initially decided had no merit to be investigated - it held a disciplinary hearing only after being told to do so by the minister.

After the panel concluded the case this year, Mr Balensiefer tried to appeal against its decision, but was told by the SMC that only the doctor had the right of appeal.

The law was amended in 2010 to allow complainants to appeal against SMC findings, but Mr Balensiefer's case had started in 2009.

This case also raises the issue of whether the SMC is consistent in dealing with errant doctors.

In 2011, a doctor was suspended for three months for not telling his patient that there was an alternative treatment. The decision was upheld by the High Court when the doctor appealed.

Last year, another doctor was suspended for nine months (reduced to five months by the High Court on appeal) and fined $10,000 for beginning a caesarian operation on a patient before the sedation took effect, and amending the notes to indicate the epidural was given 10 minutes earlier than it actually was.

The case against Dr Teh appears to be as serious if not more, yet his penalty was considerably lighter.

The SMC needs to ensure more consistency in the penalties it metes out to be seen to be fair to both doctors and their patients.

salma@sph.com.sg

facebook.com/ST.Salma

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






 

Signs of a more compassionate Singapore

Straits Times
16 Nov 2014
Radha Basu

Statutes to protect the vulnerable must be rigorously enforced and updated where necessary

Singapore is known the world over for its pragmatism and pursuit of economic excellence. Yet, even as many admire the city-state's fabled cleanliness, efficiency and low crime rates, there have been complaints about a compassion deficit.

The Lion City is rich, safe and successful. But, alas, mourn critics, it does not have much of a heart. Its justice system has long been known to be more punitive than protective.

All that is beginning to change quietly.

This year has turned out to be a landmark year for new and upcoming laws that are tempered with compassion.

Earlier this month, Parliament passed the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act to better protect men, women and children who are forced, tricked or lured into sex or servitude. The law increases penalties for sex trafficking and, significantly, outlaws labour trafficking for the first time.

In Singapore, the vast majority, if not all, victims of trafficking are low-wage foreign workers from impoverished Asian nations lured here by the promise of a better life.

During a debate in Parliament two weeks ago, People's Action Party backbencher Janil Puthucheary summed up the feelings of many when he pointed out that the new law was not about pragmatism or economic utility, but about what is morally right. "It speaks to our aspirations about wanting to be a better society," he said.

Indeed, the moral strength of a nation depends not just on how good life is for the majority, but also on how it protects the voiceless, vulnerable minorities. Several laws announced or passed this year aim to do just that.

The week before Parliament passed the law against trafficking, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing announced that Singapore will have a law next year to better protect vulnerable adults, such as sick or frail older people who may be abused in the privacy of their own homes.

In August, Parliament passed the Family Justice Act which, among other things, aims to ensure that children do not end up being bruised or broken by brutal divorce battles when their parents split up.

In July, Mr Chan announced that the Women's Charter was likely to be reviewed next year to ensure that spousal maintenance is based on need, not gender. Men are currently not allowed to seek maintenance from former wives. In a narrative dominated by deadbeat dads, the move will help the minority of men who are financially worse off than the women they were married to.

And in March, Parliament passed the Protection from Harassment Act, a broad, landmark piece of legislation which covers a variety of anti-social behaviour - often involving perpetrators in positions of power - from stalking to workplace sexual harassment.

In most of these cases, the changes were preceded by consultations with civil society groups that protect the interests of the various vulnerable communities, such as migrant workers and harassed or abused women, children and older folk.

Over the years, I have spoken to many such groups and dozens of victims who bemoaned the lack of adequate legal protections to help them punish perpetrators and get on with their lives.

The new laws are a good first step towards doing just that and must be applauded. What lies ahead, though, is the tough job of implementation, of bridging the gap between principle and practice.

And the question that arises is, will having laws on paper mean better protection for victims on the ground?

Indeed, even before the laws against human trafficking and harassment come into force, critics identified loopholes that may dampen their protective effect.

The human trafficking law, for instance, does not guarantee victims the right to jobs while they pursue cases against their traffickers in Singapore. Since most migrant workers incur hefty debts to get jobs here, the lack of a much-needed income may compel some to drop their cases and go home.

The harassment law, meanwhile, falls short of international best practices which impose legal obligations on companies to address the issue of workplace sexual harassment. This is not surprising, given concerns that holding companies accountable could raise business costs.

The extent to which victims get protection and support under these laws no doubt needs to be monitored carefully, with a view to amendments where necessary.

The authorities have said more than once that blanket guarantees for victims may be open to abuse, and that it is neither helpful nor necessary to hardwire all victim protection measures in law. Instead, each case will be assessed individually and victims will get the assistance they need.

Civil society groups, which have been instrumental in lobbying for greater protections for the vulnerable communities they represent, must continue to highlight the plight of victims who don't get due justice when these laws come into force.

But the authorities, too, must ensure rigorous and prompt enforcement. Relevant ministries in charge of implementing these laws must make public data on successful prosecutions made under each statute.

This is standard practice in many countries with strong laws protecting vulnerable groups. Right now, it is unclear whether this is indeed happening.

Take the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, for instance, which was amended in September 2012 primarily to better protect migrant workers from unscrupulous employers. There appear to be no publicly available figures on how many employers have been prosecuted under the Act since then.

So as Singapore continues its journey towards a justice system that does not just punish the perpetrator, but also protects the victim, enforcement remains key.

For the people it purports to protect, a law that is not enforced is as good as having no law at all.

radhab@sph.com.sg


Background Story

Putting into practice

Over the years, I have spoken to many such (civil society) groups and dozens of victims who bemoaned the lack of adequate legal protections to help them punish perpetrators and get on with their lives. The new laws are a good first step towards doing just that and must be applauded. What lies ahead, though, is the tough job of implementation, of bridging the gap between principle and practice.


Laws passed this year

• PREVENTION OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING ACT

Who it protects: Mainly migrant workers tricked into prostitution or forced labour

What it does: Defines human trafficking, increases penalties and offers shelter and counselling to victims

When: Passed this month and likely to come into force next year

• PROTECTION FROM HARASSMENT ACT

Who it protects: Victims of stalking, workplace sexual harassment and bullying

What it does: Introduces new offences like stalking and gives victims self-help measures to get the harassment to stop

When: Passed in March and likely to come into force soon

• FAMILY JUSTICE ACT

Who it protects: Children in divorce cases

What it does: Allows children to have legal representation in cases involving their parents

When: Passed in August and came into force last month

MORE LAWS TO COME

• NEW LAW TO HELP VULNERABLE ADULTS

Who it protects: The elderly, the mentally ill and disabled adults

What it is likely to do: It will give social workers the right to enter private homes to access suspected victims of abuse. The court can also appoint "deputies" to look after the best interests of vulnerable adults who have no next of kin

When: Next year

• WOMEN'S CHARTER

Who: The law will be reviewed next year to better protect men in divorce cases

What it is likely to do: Make maintenance payments based on need, not gender

When: Next year

• MONEYLENDERS ACT

Who: The Act may be reviewed to better protect small borrowers

What it is likely to do: Reduce interest rates charged by licensed moneylenders

When: Next year

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

Higher audit standards extended to public bodies

Business Times
11 Nov 2014
Michelle Quah

From Feb 1, audits of institutions like charities must meet same independence standards as listed firms

SINGAPORE'S public accountants and public accounting firms will soon have to adhere to stricter professional conduct and ethics guidelines aimed at greater audit independence.

The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra), the industry's regulator, announced on Monday that the Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics (Code) for public accountants and accounting entities will be strengthened further from Feb 1, 2015.

The changes include extending higher independence standards to all audits and reviews of public interest entities (PIEs), large charities and large institutions of a public character (IPCs) as opposed to only audits of listed and public companies currently, and having new requirements to further safeguard the independence of auditors. "As a profession that serves the public interest, it is crucial that public accountants remain a profession with integrity and independence, and serve as a valued and trusted source of information and advice," Acra said in its announcement.

"In this era of economic volatility and a rapidly evolving corporate landscape, the Code is a vital set of guiding principles for public accountants to rely on and enable them to make the right decisions when faced with conflicting choices between economic interests and ethical considerations."

The changes are a result of a review of the Code carried out by Acra's Public Accountants Oversight Committee, with the support of the latter's Ethics Sub-Committee. The amendments took into account revisions made to the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) Code up to September 2013.

The current Code is largely based on IESBA's 2006 Code of Ethics.

The key changes to it include:

• Extending higher independence standards to all audits and reviews of PIEs, large charities and IPCs, instead of just those of listed companies now; this is in recognition of the need for a high degree of public confidence in the financial information of such entities.

• Subjecting review engagements - whereby the public accountant expresses a conclusion which provides a limited assurance on the client's financial information, as opposed to a reasonable assurance provided in an audit engagement - to the same independence requirements as audit engagements. This recognises that, even though the type of assurance given is different in each instance, both audit and review engagements involve the public accountant expressing a conclusion on historical financial information.

• New requirements to further safeguard the independence of auditors, such as the identification of a Key Audit Partner (KAP), who would make key decisions or judgments on significant matters with respect to the audit; additional requirements will be placed on KAPs, such as partner rotation, cooling-off period before joining a PIE audit client in certain positions, and prohibiting a KAP from being evaluated on or compensated based on that partner's success in selling non-assurance services to the partner's audit or review clients.

This announcement comes days after the Ethics Pronouncement 200 came into effect. Issued by the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, the new pronouncement contains enhanced mandatory requirements for professional accountants, including public accountants, in terms of the controls and procedures they will have to put in place to counter money-laundering and terrorism-financing efforts. The pronouncement has been adopted by Acra, and will be applicable to public accountants and accounting entities registered under the Accountants Act who are regulated by Acra.

michquah@sph.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

ADV: Career Opportunities at NUS Law School

Singapore Law Watch
23 Nov 2014
NUS

Ralph Lauren ex-employee seeks damages over termination

TODAY
15 Nov 2014
Neo Chai Chin

SINGAPORE — A former employee of high-end retailer Ralph Lauren has filed a lawsuit against the company here, seeking damages relating to the termination of her employment as well as for distress caused.

Ms Sharon Joycelyn Tan Sok Ling, 38, was South-east Asia retail director of Ralph Lauren (Singapore) from January last year to Aug 15 this year. She allegedly became the subject of harassment, discrimination and emotional distress after reporting misconduct by the company’s human resources director to its managing director, Mr Alessandro Raniolo, and after informing the company of her pregnancy.

The statement of claim TODAY obtained a copy of stated that Ms Tan reported the misconduct to Mr Raniolo around January and informed him of her pregnancy the following month.

When contacted for its response to the lawsuit, Ralph Lauren (Singapore) declined to comment.

The alleged misconduct of the human resources director included lying to Ms Tan about her salary package and causing her salary last year to be reduced by about S$20,000.

Ms Tan said Mr Raniolo — who had previously given her positive performance reviews — dismissed her concerns and told her to forget about the matters raised.

Among the instances of discrimination and emotional distress cited by Ms Tan was being made to return to the office to submit a medical certificate in March, when she was supposed to be on bed rest after she experienced bleeding from her uterus following a business trip.

She had also been made to submit a weekly timetable of her schedule every Monday from June — which other team members reporting to Mr Raniolo had not needed to do — and her appraisal with him in July was “unduly harsh”, the document stated.

Her two previous review sessions last June and November had been positive. Ms Tan also stated that she had achieved sales targets during her employment.

She had raised her concerns from February to Mr Lawrence Chi, Ralph Lauren’s Asia-Pacific senior vice-president of human resources, but his mediation attempts failed.

Mr Chi asked Ms Tan in early August if she would consider an amicable separation from the company.

She proposed separation terms of 12 months’ salary for the distress caused, three months’ salary in lieu of notice and a further 12 months’ salary to find another job of a similar position. She also requested that there be no negative performance appraisal record.

But on Aug 15, her employment was terminated.

Ms Tan said she was made to sign a termination letter and a severance agreement under duress, as she had been told that the severance agreement to pay an additional two months’ salary and pro-rated annual wage supplement would be withdrawn if she left the table without signing either document.

When she said she wanted to at least speak to her husband first, the ultimatum was repeated.

She said Mr Chi had also misrepresented the implications of signing the severance agreement at the meeting.

In addition to damages, which were not specified, Ms Tan — who has given birth — is asking for the letter of termination and severance agreement to be set aside.

Ms Tan’s lawyer, from Tito Isaac and Co, filed the case with the district court — which typically deals with claims exceeding S$60,000 and up to S$250,000 — last month.

Ralph Lauren (Singapore), represented by Kelvin Chia Partnership, has yet to file its defence.

Neo Chai Chin

chaichin@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Firm behind Online Citizen registers, but criticises MDA process

TODAY
11 Nov 2014
Kelly Ng

SINGAPORE — The company behind socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) has submitted its registration forms to the Media Development Authority (MDA), in compliance with the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification, while also flagging concerns about the regulatory framework.

The MDA had asked The Opinion Collaborative Ltd (TOC Ltd) to register — which prohibits it from receiving foreign funding — saying it had imposed the requirement as TOC Ltd, like the website, is similarly involved in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political issues relating to Singapore.

Announcing it had done so yesterday (Nov 10), TOC Ltd also said the MDA’s “excessive and unwarranted concern with foreign funding has hampered its ability to be an effective media developer”. “The MDA’s obsession with foreign funding, unfortunately, also hampers our operational effectiveness — as owners of a small business, we cannot possibly afford to spend time filling in forms every month,” it added.

TOC Ltd noted that its latest submission is the third registration in relation to TOC, “to fulfil three different obligations, under two different identities with two different government agencies”. It called for the gazetting requirements on TOC as a political association to be lifted.

In response, the MDA said in a statement that the registration of TOC Ltd “upholds the long-standing principle that politics must remain a matter for Singapore and Singaporeans alone”.

It pointed out that the restrictions on foreign funding only apply to donations and TOC Ltd can still receive funds for commercial purposes, such as from foreign advertisers or subscribers. They also pertain only to the TOC website and not any other business TOC Ltd may be engaged in. “Such a regulation recognises the evolving nature of an online social enterprise and can hardly be regarded as excessive,” the MDA said.

As for the gazetting of TOC, the MDA said there was some overlap between TOC and TOC Ltd, but its members and directors are not the same. TOC Ltd is not gazetted under the Political Donations Act and is registered as a corporate entity with an undertaking not to receive foreign funding, it added.


Website cannot accept foreign donations

Since it was gazetted as a political association and registered under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification in 2011, TOC has been prohibited from receiving foreign donations or anonymous donations above S$5,000. TOC Ltd was incorporated in June this year to oversee the website’s administrative and management functions.

Corporate entities running two other websites with a socio-political bent, The Independent and Mothership.sg, had earlier complied with the MDA ’s requests to register. But a third website, the Breakfast Network, opted to shut down, citing onerous registration requirements.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

 

More options to deal with errant lawyers

Straits Times
22 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

President-elect wants the punishment to fit the crime

LAW Society president-elect Thio Shen Yi wants wider disciplinary powers for its governing council to deal with errant lawyers.

This is among a slew of plans on his agenda when he helms the society from next year, taking over from the incumbent, Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming.

Moves to focus on young lawyers, boost pro bono work and keep legal costs down for the average Singaporean can also be expected during his term, said Mr Thio, who is a Senior Counsel.

He will be taking over as president at a time of significant change and challenges in the legal landscape, such as the opening up of the Asian legal market and the advent of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC).

The professional conduct of foreign lawyers will also be regulated by the Law Society after recent amendments to the Legal Profession Act. Previously, foreign lawyers were registered with the Attorney-General's Chambers.

Mr Thio, 46, made it clear that such developments place "significantly more responsibilities" on the Law Society.

Referring to lawyer misconduct, he said he wanted to make the disciplinary process fairer and "tailor the punishment to fit the crime".

"Right now we can warn, reprimand or fine but I would like the council to have the power to tell a lawyer, 'Look, you have done wrong, I want you to attend three hours of ethics classes and three hours of being counselled by a senior lawyer'."

Mr Thio, currently the joint head of TSMP Law Corporation, grew the firm from one with just seven lawyers to 60 today.

He believes his experience gives him an understanding of the challenges faced by small firms, and urged them to move into areas that show potential for growth, including community law.

"They should consider moving out of sunset areas, such as basic conveyancing and accident work, which can be commoditised and churned out without significant lawyer involvement," he said.

"Then identify and move into sunrise industries like criminal or family law.

"It is simple math - a growing population means more crimes and more divorces."

The society will help small firms identify industry trends and build up relevant skills.

"Small law firms are indispensable. The proper functioning of the rule of law requires them. You can have a world-class legal and judicial system but if the man in the street has no access to justice, there is no genuine rule of law."

The setting up of the SICC to help Singapore become Asia's top international dispute resolution centre could see more foreign lawyers set up shop here.

But Mr Thio stressed that any increase will be "gradual, not exponential", and even then could be a boon to local firms.

He pointed out that some 15 years ago, "we commercial litigators feared that foreign firms would eat us for breakfast and take the arbitration work".

"That hasn't happened. Many of us can go head to head with foreign firms in international arbitration and it's not a zero-sum game. It has been win-win so far as the cross-border arbitration pie has grown significantly and local lawyers get a big piece of it.

"It is entirely in Singapore's interests to have strong law firms, whether big, medium or small."

Asked why he took on the job of Law Society president, once described as "the least enviable job in the legal profession", he said: "One cannot take away without giving back. A meritocratic society requires those who have benefited from the system to make things better for everybody else.

"The legal profession stands on the cusp of exciting times, we have visionary leadership in the Chief Justice, Attorney-General and Law Ministry. The Law Society has to pull its weight."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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

Thio Shen Yi elected Lawsoc president

Business Times
15 Nov 2014
Michelle Quah

[Singapore] WELL-KNOWN corporate litigator Thio Shen Yi has been elected president of the Law Society of Singapore (Lawsoc), the body representing all lawyers here, replacing incumbent Lok Vi Ming, who steps down at the end of this year.

Mr Thio, a Senior Counsel and joint managing director of TSMP Law Corporation, comes to the post from his current position as vice-president.

He said in a statement from Lawsoc on Friday that he intends to focus on issues such as pro bono work and the integration of foreign law firms into the Singapore legal fraternity during his term as president.

"The legal fraternity plays a critical role in a society governed by the rule of law. Lawyers represent the undefended, give voice to the voiceless, speak truth to power. As such, we have a responsibility to look beyond our briefs and billing targets and use our skills to give back to the community.

"Under my presidency, I would like the Law Society to continue galvanising its members in these efforts, building on the work of my immediate predecessor (Senior Counsel) Lok Vi Ming, past presidents and councils."

He added that he also hopes to work more closely with foreign lawyers and firms in Singapore "to build a more integrated profession that is ready for the challenges and opportunities that Singapore as an economic and financial hub will face in the coming years".

He also hopes the society "will provide thought leadership in worthy initiatives that will help the community, business and legal sectors".

The 2015 council of other office bearers are:

• Kelvin Wong, who heads Allen & Gledhill's Corporate & Commercial department and its Energy, Infrastructure and Projects practice (vice-president);
• Gregory Vijayendran, a partner in Rajah & Tann's Commercial Litigation Practice Group (vice-president);
• Kuah Boon Theng of Legal Clinic LLC, a firm she runs with another lawyer, Simon Yuen (treasurer).

The Lawsoc was established in 1967 under the Legal Profession Act. It carries out various statutory functions prescribed under the Act, including maintaining and improving the standards of conduct and learning of the legal profession in Singapore, the facilitation of the acquisition of legal knowledge by members of the legal profession, and protecting and assisting the public in all matters ancillary or incidental to the law.

michquah@sph.com.sg

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

Watchdog to form expert panel for data breach probes

Straits Times
10 Nov 2014
Irene Tham

Digital forensic contractors sought to help collect, analyse evidence

SINGAPORE'S privacy watchdog is looking to appoint a panel of digital forensic experts to help with data breach investigations here.

This comes in the wake of the leak of karaoke chain K Box's membership data in September - the biggest breach of personal data here.

It resulted in more than 300,000 customers' names, addresses and mobile phone and identity card numbers being posted online.

It is unclear, however, if the Personal Data Commission, which enforces data protection laws here, will call upon these experts to assist in its investigations of the K Box breach.

Tender documents seen by The Straits Times stated that the panel is required to support the commission in collecting and analysing digital evidence.

The contractors may also be tasked to recover lost data from computer hard disks, or provide digital forensic expert witnesses or evidence in court.

Tender instructions note that this is for "taking enforcement actions against organisations that are found to have breached the Personal Data Protection Act".

The legislation, which was fully enforced on July 2, seeks to provide safeguards against the wrongful collection, use and disclosure of personal data for marketing.

Under the new law, organisations must also take "reasonable security measures" - which are not spelt out - to protect consumers' personal data. Errant businesses face a fine of up to $1 million.

The role of the new digital forensic panel will not be limited to looking into data leaks. It is also expected to help the commission investigate violations of the "Do Not Call" rules, which carry a fine of up to $10,000 per breach.

The commission is looking to appoint up to five forensic contractors in the panel. The tender closes on Nov 28.

Lawyer Rajesh Sreenivasan, a partner at Rajah & Tann, said that the appointment of an external panel of experts is in line with what overseas privacy regulators do.

"It is an indication of the rapid maturing of a regulator with investigative powers, and embodies its readiness to effectively analyse complex data protection abuses in the context of Singapore's rising prominence as a global data hub," he said.

Lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson, said: "Digital forensic experts can help to determine what measures were put in place prior to any data breaches, and may be able to weigh in on whether the measures are reasonable."

itham@sph.com.sg

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

Court rejects appeals by prosecutors, ex-NParks man

Straits Times
22 Nov 2014
Selina Lum

Appeal for jail term and appeal against conviction fail to sway judge

THE High Court yesterday dismissed an appeal by prosecutors seeking a jail term of three to four months for former National Parks Board (NParks) officer Bernard Lim Yong Soon - the man at the centre of the Brompton bikes controversy - for lying to auditors.

Lim, a former NParks assistant director, was fined the maximum $5,000 in June by a district court which found him guilty of giving false information to a public servant after a nine-day trial.

The prosecution appealed for a deterrent jail term, given the public disquiet that arose over the propriety of the government procurement process.

But Justice Tay Yong Kwang rejected this argument. He said that just because there was a huge public outcry, that did not justify jailing someone who did not do anything to deserve it.

"You have to look at the facts, not how much publicity is generated," said the judge.

He also dismissed Lim's appeal against conviction.

In late 2011, Lim had tipped off the boss of bicycle retailer Bikehop about an upcoming NParks tender for foldable bikes.

Bikehop entered a bid to sell 26 Brompton bikes to NParks in January 2012. It was the sole bidder and it won the tender.

In June 2012, the deal came under intense public scrutiny over the $2,200 price of each bicycle.

When questioned by Ministry of National Development auditors about his relationship with Bikehop director Lawrence Lim, Lim lied that they met for the first time only in March 2012, after the tender was awarded.

But the truth was that the two first met at a night cycling event in September 2011, before NParks invited bids for the bikes.

In May, Lim was convicted of lying to the auditors but acquitted of a second charge of instigating the Bikehop boss to lie.

The prosecution has dropped its appeal against the acquittal.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Andre Jumabhoy pressed for Lim to be jailed for three to four months, citing public policy considerations.

The DPP argued that there was a strong public interest in ensuring the transparency of the process through which public funds are spent and pointed to the public disquiet over the bike deal.

Lim's lawyer, Mr Lawrence Ang, argued that his client's conviction was "unsafe" due to procedural lapses in the investigations.

He argued that, contrary to standard investigation procedure, the auditors did not give Lim a chance to read what they recorded at the meeting. Nor was he given a chance to explain himself. Justice Tay dismissed both appeals, saying he saw no reason to disturb the district court's decision.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Ex-lover sued for return of flat

Straits Times
15 Nov 2014
Selina Lum

Woman says it was a gift; he says she held it in trust

A 67-YEAR-OLD man who put down $340,000 for a condominium unit in Choa Chu Kang, which was registered in his China-born mistress' name, has sued her to get the flat back.

Former car workshop owner Kua Tee Beng also wants the return of three Rolex watches worth $50,000, jewellery valued at $30,000 and $85,000 in monthly allowances he had given hairdressing salon owner Ye Caiyan, 41.

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 met Madam Ye through her nephew, who was a mechanic at his workshop. Each has a different account of how the relationship began.

Mr Kua claims that Madam Ye invited him for social gatherings during which she told him that she was divorced and lonely.

Madam Ye denies this. Her version is that Mr Kua visited her salon regularly and wooed her; she finally agreed to be his lover after he promised to take care of her and her children for life.

After they became lovers, he gave her a $5,000 monthly "allowance" and paid her utility and grocery bills. Mr Kua claims Madam Ye had pressured him into supporting her and her children.

She says he did it of his own volition to show his love and that she took only $3,500 a month.

In 2011, through a property agent, Madam Ye found an $810,000 three-room unit condo at Palm Gardens. Mr Kua forked out nearly $340,000 for the deposit and other expenses for the flat, which was registered in Madam Ye's name.

Mr Kua, represented by Mr Subbiah Pillai, says he wanted the flat as an investment but Madam Ye influenced him into buying it in her name so that his children cannot fight over it. He contends that she was merely holding the flat in trust for him and refused to transfer it back to him - the rightful owner - when he asked her to do so.

But Madam Ye says she was the one who wanted to buy a private property so that she and her children would have a roof over their heads in the event of a divorce. She contends that Mr Kua offered to buy the flat for her as a gift.

Yesterday, Mr Kua denied an assertion by Madam Ye's lawyer Kasi Ramalingam that the flat belonged to her and that it was only when their relationship soured last year that he started demanding the flat's return.

"I trusted her. I let it be put under her name. Later I realised that she wanted to cheat me," he said through a Hokkien interpreter.

He vehemently denied that the flat was a gift to Madam Ye. "She is not my wife. I don't even give my wife such a big present," said Mr Kua.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Warrant out for S'porean ship handler

Straits Times
10 Nov 2014
Danson Cheong

FOR more than five years, the rusty shipwreck of the 187m-long MV Black Rose has remained where it capsized, on its side with its hull exposed in the Bay of Bengal, just off the Indian port of Paradip.

It will cost $25 million to remove the wreckage of the Mongolian-flagged bulk carrier - laden with 24,000 tonnes of iron ore - but because the ship had bogus insurance papers, no one will pay the bill.

Now, police in India have issued an extradition warrant for the ship's Singaporean technical manager, alleging that he had furnished forged and fabricated insurance papers for the ship, which sank in September 2009.

The Singaporean, Mr Kok Sitki, is one of the directors of shipping brokerage and agency Pacmar Shipping - which was in charge of tasks like crew management, logistics and other operations.

The 47-year-old is also one of the owners of popular Turkish restaurant Sofra in Beach Road here.

The Crime Branch in India's Odisha state told The Straits Times it had submitted a request through Interpol in September to extradite Mr Kok. Additional Superintendent of Police Santosh Kumar Pattnaik said the Indian authorities were seeking Mr Kok's deportation to stand trial in India.

Police here declined to comment on the case.

Five years ago, the MV Black Rose capsized after waves and wind caused the vessel's cargo of fine iron ore to shift and upset the balance of the ship. Its Ukrainian chief engineer died in the accident, but the remaining 26 crew members were rescued.

A probe conducted after the incident turned up the fake insurance papers that the captain had produced to anchor in the port.

Since then, the ship has made headlines in India over fears of oil spills and beach erosion, but the authorities have not begun to remove the wreckage, which lies at a depth of 14m, because of the lack of funds. Environmentalists have said the presence of the ship is an obstruction and has caused visible signs of beach erosion.

Meanwhile, Mr Kok - a Turkish-born naturalised citizen who came here in 1997 - said he has not been contacted by the authorities since 2010, when the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) called him up for questioning.

"I (told CAD then) we were the victims because after the vessel sank, the owners could not pay any money," he said. "As the technical managers, we had to pay the crew salaries, send the crew home, pay the port fees and compensate the (dead) engineer's family," he said, adding that Pacmar had spent about US$200,000 ($260,000) in all.

Black Rose Maritime is the registered owner of the vessel.

According to shipping database Equasis, it is listed as a Singapore-owned company, but is registered in the Marshall Islands. No records of the company exist with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

"After the vessel sank, (Black Rose) just said sayonara and left," said Mr Kok, adding that he has not been able to contact the company since.

dansonc@sph.com.sg

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Luxury watch stolen here shows up in HK

Straits Times
22 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Judge there orders Royal Oak timepiece returned to original buyer

A SWISS luxury watch was reported stolen in Singapore but resurfaced in Hong Kong two years later, under a new owner's name.

Now, a Hong Kong court has ordered that it be returned to the original buyer.

Mr Scott James Duncan, whose nationality was not stated in court papers, bought the Royal Oak watch made by Audemars Piguet for $8,686 in 2011 from an authorised dealer here.

In July the next year, he reported its loss to Audemars, which listed the watch on its stolen watch file.

But in March this year, the watch reappeared when it was dropped off at Audemars' Hong Kong premises for servicing by one Liu Song Bo, a Chinese national based on the mainland who claimed to be the new owner.

The Royal Oak watch range, first made in 1972, was the first to use steel rather than gold or silver for its case and band, and is reported to have created the market for luxury stainless steel watches.

Audemars applied to the court to rule on ownership between the two claimants, after seeking more details from both men.

The court, in judgment grounds on Tuesday, said Mr Duncan's purchase in Singapore was well recorded.

Mr Liu, on the other hand, had failed to appear at the hearing last month, though an invoice was produced to support his claim that he had bought the watch in Cambodia in December last year for 5,500 in an unknown currency, noted the judge.

Hong Kong deputy district judge J. Chow noted that the Cambodian shop - Lim Watches and Jewellery Shop - was not an authorised dealer for the brand.

"No further evidence, for instance, a certificate of guarantee, came to support the second claimant as the true owner of the watch," he said in decision grounds.

"Without taking adverse inference against the second defendant of his default of appearance, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear," he added.

He found that Mr Duncan's purchase in Singapore was well documented, noting that he had made a valid police report and, as owner, had taken it back to Audemars for maintenance on various occasions.

"I am driven to the conclusion that the true owner of the watch must be (Mr Duncan) and I so order," said the judge.

Mr Liu was ordered to bear the legal costs.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Aussie website gets nod to buy JobStreet

Straits Times
15 Nov 2014
Grace Leong

Approval comes after it agrees to competition commission's conditions

THE proposed acquisition of JobStreet Singapore by the world's largest online recruitment website has received the green light from the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS).

Australian-based website Seek, through its majority-owned unit Seek Asia Investments, plans to buy JobStreet for RM1.73 billion (S$670 million).

Kuala Lumpur-based JobStreet runs the online recruitment portal JobStreet Singapore here.

The CCS approved the merger after Seek agreed to sell the assets of Jobs.com.sg, including the domain name www.jobs.com.sg, among other pre-conditions. Jobs.com.sg aggregates recruitment advertisements listed on other online job portals.

Seek has committed to find a buyer for Jobs.com.sg within six months. If it fails to do so, Seek has agreed to appoint one or more independent parties to sell the assets "at no minimum price to a purchaser".

In addition, Seek also agreed to cap prices at current levels, allowing for inflation, to address concerns that the merger could result in prices of online recruitment advertising services increasing.

It also agreed to not enter into exclusive agreements with employer and recruiter customers, in order to keep barriers to entry low and preserve competition.

Employers, recruiters and jobseekers will have the choice to use other online recruitment advertising platforms.

These terms apply for three years from the date of completion of the merger.

"This is the first time that CCS has accepted commitments in order to address the competition concerns arising from a merger," its chief executive, Mr Toh Han Li, said. "The commitments on price caps, non-exclusive dealing and divestment were accepted by CCS after taking into account industry feedback."

Among reasons cited for approving the merger, CCS noted that "the willingness of job-seekers and employers to use multiple platforms for job search and recruiting is likely to reduce any competitive advantage gained by Seek from combining the significant job-seeker, employer and recruiter databases on JobStreet's platforms, post-merger".

Seek already owns 22 per cent of JobStreet.

Both companies notified the CCS of the proposed merger - the first here involving online recruitment firms - on Feb 20 as it could have competition implications.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Measures to protect consumers being considered: Iswaran

Straits Times
09 Nov 2014
Aw Cheng Wei & David Ee

Measures to protect customers are being looked into, revealed Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran yesterday in the wake of public anger over Sim Lim Square businessman Jover Chew's mistreatment of his customers.

But it may take some time, "especially if we need changes to our laws", Mr Iswaran said as he urged people not to take matters into their own hands.

Last month, it was reported that Mr Chew had refunded a customer $1,010 in coins. Then last Monday, a Vietnamese visitor was videotaped getting down on his knees and crying as he begged for a refund at the shop.

Among those who reacted was Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who wrote on his Facebook page last Thursday that changes to the law can be made to "better protect the vulnerable".

But some have engaged in an online campaign against Mr Chew, revealing his personal information.

Mr Iswaran wrote on his Facebook page that police are not just looking into reports regarding the Sim Lim Square case, but also a related report on harassment. The latter is believed to concern the online vigilantism against Mr Chew.

"We should allow due process to take its course," Mr Iswaran said.

Calling Mr Chew's actions "completely unacceptable", Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday said "bad conduct should be dealt with strictly". Speaking on the sidelines of an event, he noted the advisory issued by China warning its nationals to be careful in Singapore. He said: "Anytime people behave badly, even one incident, it can impact on the image of Singapore."

Referring to laws on cheating, he added: "My own view is that there are laws which can deal with that kind of conduct. I know the police are looking into it, and I know AGC is working with the police."

Last Friday, landlords at Sim Lim Square called for changes in the law so they can set up their own rules to allow them to reject undesirable tenants. But Mr Shanmugam said this needs to be studied carefully.

"There are hundreds of thousands of tenants in Singapore - and if it becomes easier for landlords to move them out on a variety of grounds, that could have substantial implications."

Lawyers whom The Sunday Times spoke to said the laws are largely sufficient. The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act empowers consumers to take civil action against companies that have unfair trading practices.

Disgruntled buyers can go to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) for mediation and, if that fails, turn to the Small Claims Tribunal. There is a need for both buyer and seller to be heard because there are errant parties on both sides, lawyers said.

But time, cost and stress can dissuade some from seeking justice, said Mr Justin Chan, a partner at Tito Isaac and Co. One change could be to allow tourists, who are often the target of shop scams, to be put on a fast track when seeking help from the Small Claims Tribunal, said Mr Sunil Singh Panoo, a lawyer at Dhillon and Partners.

Another is for powers to be given to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority to "suspend businesses... found guilty of profiteering or deceitful conduct", said Ms Yasmeen J. Marican, a partner at Harry Elias.

Mr Iswaran yesterday said the more immediate action for the Government was to work with Case to educate consumers on their rights.

Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair, who is a lawyer, yesterday posted on Facebook of his shock at what Mr Chew allegedly did to the Vietnamese tourist. He wondered if Case should be given more bite by being able to issue fines.

awcw@sph.com.sg

davidee@sph.com.sg

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Doctor succeeds in appeal against suspension

Straits Times
22 Nov 2014
Salma Khalik

THE Court of Appeal has overturned a Singapore Medical Council's (SMC) verdict that a doctor be suspended for three months for failing to act in the best interest of his patient.

In an unusual move, it also ordered the council to pay Dr Lawrence Ang's costs for the inquiry and the High Court proceedings.

The judgment, delivered on Wednesday by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, said there was nothing in the disciplinary hearing that supported a guilty verdict and "the question of sentence does not arise at all".

The SMC's disciplinary committee headed by Professor John Wong, chief executive of the National University Health System (NUHS), had found Dr Ang, an obstetrician and gynaecologist in private practice, guilty of one of four charges levelled against him.

It decided that that he failed to have a neonatologist, a specialist in the care of newborn infants, present or on stand-by for the delivery of a baby despite the presence of symptoms indicating that it may not be well.

Dr Ang delivered the baby at Thomson Medical Centre in 2009. Before birth, the baby's heart rate soared and Dr Ang wrote "NRFS" for "non-reassuring foetal status" in the delivery notes.

The baby was delivered less than 30 minutes later, cried once then stopped.

A paediatrician trained in neonatal resuscitation who was in the next room was called and the baby was resuscitated within one to two minutes.

But the baby had an infection and congenital pneumonia that required five months of hospitalisation.

The mother went to the SMC, but it decided that her complaint against the doctor was baseless. She then appealed to the Health Minister who directed the SMC to hold a disciplinary hearing.

The disciplinary committee, which also included Associate Professor Edward Chen of NUHS and Professor Ho Tew Hong of Singapore General Hospital as well as a lay person, decided in November last year that the baby's condition was not the doctor's fault.

But they found Dr Ang guilty of not having a neonatologist present and suspended him for three months.

Dr Ang told The Straits Times he appealed against the judgment only because he was encouraged to do so by many of his obstetrician and gynaecology colleagues in both the public and private sectors.

They told him the verdict would affect everyone's practice as "we would tend to overreact".

In deciding, Justices Menon, Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash made it clear that they "accept as final and conclusive" the disciplinary committee's finding regarding medical ethics and professional conduct - unless such finding is "unsafe, unreasonable or contrary to the evidence".

The judges decided it was the latter in this case, and overturned the guilty verdict because the committee had:

Failed to determine the standard of conduct required in such cases;

Failed to explain why it preferred certain medical opinions over others;

Taken into account facts that were not relevant to the charge, such as the doctor being away for more than four hours before the start of delivery; and

Made at least two factual findings contrary to the evidence.

The court also pointed out that while the two SMC experts said a neonatologist should have been there or on stand-by, even they differed on when this became necessary.

Five other experts called by Dr Ang said there was no such need for a neonatologist to be on stand-by. If there were, there would be "a lot of stand-by for a lot of normal babies", one said.

After the guilty verdict was quashed, Dr Ang said: "I was able to sleep soundly for the first time in four stressful years."

salma@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/ST.Salma

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Judge reduces forfeited bail of man whose colleague fled

TODAY
15 Nov 2014
Neo Chai Chin

Executive will lose S$400,000 of the bail money instead of S$540,000 for efforts as bailor

SINGAPORE — A High Court judge yesterday reduced the forfeited bail amount of a bailor whose colleague, who is facing charges for falsification of accounts, had absconded.

Justice Chan Seng Onn ruled that Mr An Wei, a senior executive at telecoms firm ZTE Corporation, had exercised some due diligence as a bailor. He reduced the bail amount forfeited from S$540,000 — 90 per cent of the S$600,000 bail, which a district judge had earlier ordered — to S$400,000.

Mr An had stood bail for his colleague Li Weiming, who was ZTE’s chief representative for Brunei, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific Islands. Li had allegedly conspired with two others to forge documents that resulted in US$3.6 million (S$4.67 million) paid out by ZTE to a company controlled by the other accused persons.

Of that sum, US$850,000 went to Li’s wife, who is not in Singapore.

Mr An was Li’s bailor from June 19 last year. Li disappeared on July 5 last year and a police report was made the next day.

Li’s case was cited by prosecutors in a separate case earlier this week when they successfully argued for S$150,000 bail to be revoked for former tour guide Yang Yin, who is charged with falsification of accounts and is engaged in a separate lawsuit over control of a wealthy widow’s assets. They had noted that the S$600,000 bail had not been enough to prevent Li from absconding.

Mr An’s lawyer Derek Kang yesterday called for two-thirds of the bail amount to be returned and produced statements of two bank accounts to show the bail money had come from ZTE.

For about a week from June 19 last year, Mr An saw Li when they were in the office, Mr Kang said. From around June 26 to July 4, Mr An went on a work trip and asked another colleague to stay in contact with Li while he was away.

On July 5, Mr An returned to the office but found Li absent. He went to Li’s home but the latter had fled.

The prosecution had argued for the bail amount to be forfeited as Mr An’s conduct as a bailor had been “woeful and cavalier”.

The pull of bail — motivating sureties for someone to take steps to ensure accused persons do not abscond — was absent in this case, prosecutors argued.

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Blogger Roy Ngerng found to have defamed PM Lee

Straits Times
08 Nov 2014
Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

SINGAPORE'S High Court has ruled that blogger Roy Ngerng defamed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who he suggested had misappropriated Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

The ruling by Justice Lee Seiu Kin is a first in Singapore on a defamation suit by a political leader over online remarks.

The judge said he could not accept Mr Ngerng's only defence - that the lawsuit was unconstitutional - and he issued a summary judgment against Mr Ngerng, who had wanted the case to go to trial.

The amount of damages which Mr Ngerng needs to pay will be assessed later, the judge said in a 39-page judgment out yesterday.

Meanwhile, Mr Ngerng, 33, cannot republish the allegation of criminal misappropriation, but his freedom of speech will not be curtailed, Justice Lee said.

The defamation suit was sparked by a May 15 blog post, in which Mr Ngerng compared Mr Lee to City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders, who were being prosecuted for allegedly misusing $50 million of church funds.

Mr Ngerng's lawyer M. Ravi had argued that under the Constitution, only Parliament has the power to make laws to restrict a citizen's freedom of speech. But Parliament, he said, had not done so.

And since defamation cases are based on common laws of defamation, these laws no longer apply because Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression.

Justice Lee, however, said that based on previous Court of Appeal decisions, "it is clearly settled law that the right to freedom of speech under Art(icle) 14 of the Constitution is restricted by the law of defamation". He wrote: "Accordingly, I find that there is no triable defence against the plaintiff's case in defamation."

The judge then spelt out why Mr Ngerng's May 15 blog post was defamatory. In the post, Mr Ngerng compared a Channel NewsAsia chart detailing the relationship between CHC leaders with his own chart of the relationships between the CPF, Mr Lee and GIC, among others.

Justice Lee noted that the CHC case was in the public domain on May 15, and "has come to be associated with the criminal misappropriation of funds in the mind of any ordinary, reasonable person".

He also noted that, in Mr Ngerng's post, "the allegation that 'money is being misappropriated' is unconditional and unequivocal".

The post also contains an implicit comparison between the lack of information given to the auditors in the CHC case and the lack of transparency with regard to CPF monies, he added.

This, he said, implies that Mr Lee is not willing to be transparent about the finances of the Government and GIC "because he wants to conceal the evidence of the criminal misappropriation".

Mr Ngerng had said the post, read as a whole, was not defamatory.

While the judge agreed it must be examined as a whole, the rest of the post is "consistent with the finding that the disputed words and images convey the meaning that the plaintiff is guilty of criminal misappropriation".

On Mr Ngerng's claim he did not intend to accuse Mr Lee of criminal misappropriation, the judge said intended meaning is irrelevant.

Last night, Mr Ngerng said on his blog he was disappointed with the ruling, and he will continue speaking on the CPF.

asyiqins@sph.com.sg


Background Story

What happened

MAY 15: Mr Roy Ngerng, 33, publishes a blog post that alleged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong misappropriated CPF savings.

MAY 18: Mr Ngerng gets a lawyer's letter from Mr Lee which asked, among other things, that he take the post down immediately, apologise and make a written offer of damages and costs. He takes the post down the next day.

MAY 23: Mr Ngerng apologises. He asks for damages to be dropped, but Mr Lee refuses.

MAY 27: Mr Lee turns down Mr Ngerng's $5,000 offer of damages, calling it derisory after Mr Ngerng failed to keep his promise to take down a YouTube video and blog posts making the same claims. Mr Ngerng instead changed the video setting to a private one and sent two e-mails to local and international media republishing the blog posts.

MAY 29: Mr Lee sues Mr Ngerng for defamation.

JULY 10: Mr Lee applies to the High Court for summary judgment, asking it to rule in his favour without going through a trial.

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Court may rule on mental capacity on Monday

Straits Times
22 Nov 2014
Toh Yong Chuan

Two psychiatrists testify on their examinations of rich widow

THE Family Court is expected to decide on Monday whether a rich widow has the mental capacity to change her mind over who should look after her welfare and assets worth $40 million.

The closed-door hearing on 87-year-old Madam Chung Khin Chun's bid to cancel the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) she granted to former China tour guide Yang Yin in 2012 was adjourned yesterday.

The court called its second expert witness, Professor Chiam Peak Chiang, a senior consultant at the Institute of Mental Heath (IMH), to give her testimony.

She was appointed by the court last month to examine Madam Chung and her report was submitted to the courts earlier this month.

Her testimony, which lasted nearly two hours, came after another psychiatrist, Dr Calvin Fones, was called to testify on Thursday about his examination of Madam Chung in September.

Dr Fones, who is in private practice, had previously certified that the widow had the mental capacity to cancel the LPA.

On the basis of his report, Madam Chung applied to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) in September for it to be cancelled.

The OPG then applied to the court to have an independent medical expert from the IMH examine Madam Chung, while suspending Yang's powers under the LPA.

The OPG said the move was "necessary to safeguard and protect the interests and assets of Madam Chung". It added that it would make a decision on the cancellation of the LPA after the court makes a ruling on her mental capacity.

Madam Chung, who was diagnosed with dementia this year, met 40-year-old Yang in Beijing in 2008.

Her niece Hedy Mok, 60, has accused him of manipulating the widow to seize control of her $40 million worth of assets, which included a $30 million bungalow.

She has also sued him in the High Court for abusing his powers as Madam Chung's guardian under the LPA scheme and is seeking damages.

Yang is on police remand after being charged with faking 331 of his firm's receipts.

He is also being probed by the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority on how he obtained his Employment Pass in 2009 and permanent residency in 2011.

The criminal charges against Yang will be next heard at the State Courts on Dec 4.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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MBS, RWS fined total of S$217,500 for breaching Casino Control Act

TODAY
15 Nov 2014

SINGAPORE — Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) have been fined a total of S$197,500 and S$20,000, respectively, by the Casino Regulatory Authority of Singapore (CRA) for various breaches including allowing excluded persons, minors or people without valid entry to enter or remain on their casino premises.

The offences were reported or detected between Jan 1 and June 30 last year, with the exception of an offence committed on Sept 24, 2012.

Among the fines levied this round, MBS received the heaviest penalty of S$75,000 for the September 2012 offence, for permitting an unauthorised person to exercise the functions of a special employee. The former casino staff had disguised himself as an elderly man wearing his old MBS staff uniform to trespass the casino and steal betting chips.

MBS was also fined for allowing five Singapore citizens and permanent residents (PRs) to enter the casino without valid entry levies, and for allowing one person to remain in the casino after the individual’s 24-hour entry levy had expired. MBS was also penalised for failing to prevent three excluded persons and three minors from entering and/or remaining on its casino premises without reasonable excuse.

RWS’ S$20,000 fine was for failing to prevent two minors from entering and/or remaining on its casino premises.

In two instances, RWS was censured for failing to prevent the entry of one minor and one PR, who had entered the casino without a valid entry levy.

In November last year, MBS was fined S$337,500 and RWS was fined S$190,000 for offences that were reported or detected between May 1 and Dec 31, 2012.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

High Court takes two to task in separate cases

Straits Times
08 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

One gave flawed report, other sought to include e-mails of doubtful value

THE High Court had sharp words for an expert who produced a flawed report and a woman who sought court approval to include documents of doubtful value, as it explained its verdicts in two cases in judgment grounds released last week.

In the first case, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who reduced an offender's jail term from eight to six months on hearing the appeal, took issue with a medical report produced to support her plea for a reduced punishment.

The medical report was meant to show the offender suffered from depression but also included her explanation for her criminal conduct.

It made the medical report look more like a fact-finding report than a professional medical opinion, giving a detailed account of what happened in an "exceedingly favourable" manner to the offender, said the Chief Justice.

Describing the report as "lacking in objectivity" and "plainly erroneous", he said either the doctor was given the wrong facts and had "not bothered to check them even cursorily", or he had misunderstood the facts.

Either way, this worked against any weight being given to the report, he said, adding that experts owe their duty first and foremost to the court and not to the client who pays their fee.

"The doctor in this case did himself no credit because he did not give me the sense that he had even a basic conception of the responsibility he owed the court when he put himself forward as an expert," said CJ Menon.

In the case, Indian national Mehra Radhika, 22, had pleaded guilty to arranging a marriage of convenience between a female Singaporean and an Indian national to make it easier for the latter to get a work permit and extend his stay here.

She appealed against the eight-month jail term, which CJ Menon reduced to six months, noting this was one-off and there were no factors supporting an "unusually stiff sentence".

He added that the aggravating factors called for a jail term but the circumstances were not so exceptional to justify a term exceeding six months.

In the second case, Ms Jeanne-Marie Ten had sued the National University of Singapore (NUS), claiming it had wrongfully terminated her candidature for the degree of Master of Arts in Architecture in 2006.

In the eight-year saga, Ms Ten, 44, alleged she passed the thesis examination but was denied the degree. She claimed NUS had breached the contract signed between them in 2001, which governed the conditions of her study.

In filing documents to support her claims, Ms Ten had applied to court to amend her statement of claim to refer to two e-mails sent to her in 2011 by the Ministry of Education (MOE), among other things.

NUS, which is fighting the suit, objected to the inclusion of the e-mails, arguing they were sent on a "without prejudice" basis and were privileged from disclosure.

A High Court assistant registrar ordered the inclusion earlier this year but Justice Woo Bih Li allowed the appeal by NUS.

In judgment grounds released last week, the judge said: "It is a pity that some time and money have been spent on this issue."

He said Ms Ten appeared to think that the MOE e-mails could be used to show MOE knew that certain conditions it imposed were unlawful and exceeded its obligations and authority.

"It is questionable how much probative value the MOE e-mails would have had in the overall dispute, even if they were admissible in evidence," he said. "However, I say no more on this."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Market players welcome LTA regulation of third-party taxi apps

Business Times
22 Nov 2014
Jacquelyn Cheok

SINGAPORE'S Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Friday introduced a basic regulatory framework for third-party taxi-booking apps, in the latest move by a government to regulate such services that observers said have disrupted the taxi industry globally. The new rules - designed to "safeguard commuter safety and interests" and expected to come into effect by the second quarter of 2015 - were welcomed by all four major players here: Malaysia-based GrabTaxi, Rocket Internet-backed Easy Taxi, San Francisco's Uber and the most recent entrant, Hailo.

"Hailo's gameplan has always been to constructively disrupt Singapore's taxi booking and payment status quo through technology and partnership . . . within the legal framework," Hailo Singapore told The Business Times. "The current regulatory environment in Singapore strikes a good balance between flexibility and consumer protection."

Launched here in October, Hailo Singapore is a joint venture between London's Hailo Network and SMRT Roads.

Easy Taxi, the Brazil-based platform that operates in 170 cities across Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, said that LTA's framework was among the most open, encouraging and comprehensive, given that it covers a wide spectrum such as licensing, service levels and consumer safeguards. "In Peru, for example, regulations only cover the standard of the car, whether it's clean, for instance," said Jianggan Li, co-founder and managing director of Easy Taxi Singapore. "This, of course, is based on knowledge of the countries we operate in."

GrabTaxi and Uber both cheered the fact that third-party apps are now seen as legitimate and beneficial services, and hailed LTA's move as progressive and giving stakeholders clarity about the industry. Meanwhile, observers pointed out that the new regulations were unlikely to cause much chaos for these companies. For one thing, they will be required to register with LTA; all have said okay.

Moreover, that all drivers should hold a taxi driver's vocational licence is something that each company already requires.

The third regulation, that of ensuring fare-related safeguards was a suggestion raised during LTA's consultations with commuters, the National Taxi Association, third-party apps and taxi operators on the regulatory framework, an LTA spokeswoman said.

Under the framework, third-party apps must disclose all information on fare rates, surcharges and fees payable for the journey upfront, before commuters accept the dispatched taxi.

Said Lim Kell Jay, general manager for GrabTaxi Singapore: "We make it clear to commuters on our website and within the app itself that they are to pay the necessary fees as stipulated by the respective taxi companies. We do not set our own fees or fares . . . in fact, we have a very strict rule on taxi drivers who overcharge customers."

For Easy Taxi users, Mr Li said, they are allowed to select the type of taxi they want and avoid the more expensive options such as the seven-seaters or limousines. "Our booking fee remains the same across car types. We also hope that the fare structure for the same types of cars, which is controlled by taxi operators, can be aligned to minimise confusion among commuters."

To ensure that taxi services remain equally accessible to all commuters, bidding and pre-trip tipping will be disallowed. Booking fees charged by third-party apps should also not exceed those charged by taxi operators.

One clause, however, may be tricky for these apps, and that is the proposal that commuters should not have to disclose their destination as part of their bookings, due to concerns that some drivers may choose their passengers, LTA said. It has thus decided that it should be made optional for commuters to provide this information.

Will this affect bookings? Not likely, said the players, even though they urge commuters to continue sharing this information as it will encourage more drivers to accept their bookings.

When asked about Comfort and CityCab's own app (which requires commuters to specify their destinations before they can make a booking), LTA confirmed that the new regulations will extend to taxi-booking apps and call-booking services belonging to taxi operators.

Local taxi operators, which jointly manage some 30,000 registered taxis here, also backed LTA's move. SMRT, for instance, reiterated its support for such apps. "We believe we can contribute, through a partnership with Hailo, to bring Singapore customers an integrated taxi booking and travelling experience . . . and help our drivers maximise opportunities," said Benny Lim, managing director of SMRT Roads.

Uber, which has been caught up in scandal of late for outlining a vision of spending US$1 million to dig up dirt on journalists critical of the startup, lauded LTA's new regulations as "great news".

"Uber works with governments around the world to develop new regulatory frameworks that embrace new technologies that bring choice to riders, more opportunities for drivers and a higher quality transportation alternative to cities," said Mike Brown, general manager, Uber South-east Asia.

The startup's spirits were certainly not dampened on Friday night as it hosted an exclusive live performance by local band The Sam Willows to celebrate its recent partnership with music streaming service Spotify.

The original article incorrectly stated that the regulation that all drivers should hold a taxi driver's vocational licence is something that each company already requires, even for drivers of Uber's supplementary private limousine services, UberX and UberExec. Drivers of UberX and UberExec are not required to have a taxi driver's vocational license, but they are required to have a valid driver's license and specific registration and insurance in place, and must be owners or employees of licensed limousine or rental car companies. The article has been amended to reflect that.

jaccheok@sph.com.sg

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Sick of scams: but what is the cure?

Straits Times
15 Nov 2014
Rachel Au-Yong

Consumers need greater protection, but what is the answer?

HORROR stories of consumers falling for too-good-to-be-true deals in Sim Lim Square are not new. But when a long-haired cellphone shop owner by the name of Jover Chew made headlines - not once, but twice - for his alleged bullying antics towards aggrieved purchasers, public outcry erupted with a newfound vengeance.

Late last month, Mr Chew's shop, Mobile Air, made headlines for a case in September, when it asked a customer to pay $2,400 for an iPhone 6 warranty that she did not want. He later grudgingly refunded her $1,010 - in coins.

Less than a week later, a video of Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai begging for his money back over a similar plight at the same shop went viral.

As news made its way to Vietnam, Britain and China, the rest of Singapore cringed. China even issued a travel advisory to warn its citizens of electronics scams in Singapore.

The Straits Times Forum has received at least 15 letters about the matter, while netizens left feedback on unrelated Facebook posts of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, criticising the inadequacy of consumer protection laws.

Anonymous operators of satirical group SMRT Ltd (Feedback) dug up Mr Chew's addresses and contact numbers and put them online. Some even sent pizzas to his last known addresses.

Social media helped galvanise citizens, thanks to "the drama of (Mr Thoai's) video, the unreasonableness of the contract, and the helplessness most people feel from consumer laws that do not seem to give enough protection to the small person", Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Tan Tarn How told Insight.

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who is president of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), has filed in Parliament two questions on how errant retailers and such cases can be better dealt with. Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran assured that measures to protect consumers are being looked into. But it may take some time, "especially if we need changes to our laws".

With Parliament adjourned most likely to next year, it may be a while before concerns of disgruntled consumers are assuaged.

Woes of the current system

WHAT happens if you find that you have unwittingly paid more than you bargained for?

Even as the non-profit, non-governmental Case argues for stronger consumer legislation, it also trots out its usual line - caveat emptor, Latin for buyer beware - as the public's first line of defence.

But that has its limitations. Dodgy sales tactics, which are not just confined to Sim Lim Square, include adding a zero to credit- card bills or placing a finger over dubious clauses as the hapless consumer signs on the dotted line.

Negotiation with errant retailers is not easy either, going by anecdotal evidence that they resort to intimidation to quash complaints.

An aggrieved consumer can also turn to Case for a resolution. The consumer watchdog dispenses advice on whether consumers have a legitimate case in seeking refunds or exchanges. For a fee, it can also represent members and help negotiate more complicated cases. But if a party does not abide by its recommendations, the penalties are light.

On Case not having enforcement powers, its executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon, said: "We are as effective as the current laws allow us to be."

Of the 30,000 cases that Case received last year, about 90 per cent were settled directly by the consumers, after receiving free advice from Case. A small number did not pursue the matter as their cases do not have any legitimacy.

Of the rest, about half opted for a letter from Case stating its opinion. Consumers took that letter to the retailer and saw the issue through to the end on their own. Each letter costs $10.

The others sought Case's help in negotiating with the retailer directly. For this, they were required to become a member for a $25 annual fee , "to establish a legal relationship so we can represent them", said Mr Seah.

While there were some full refunds, most were partial. "It's the consumer's word against the business," said Mr Seah. "We find the spot where both parties can settle - that's often between zero dollars and a full refund."

Most complaints are resolved at the negotiation stage but a small number - about 150 - go for mediation each year. This requires another $15.

Consumers who are still unhappy can seek recourse in the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT), constituted as a Subordinate Court - now known as State Courts - in 1985. This gives complainants a chance to settle the dispute in a civil proceeding instead of through a more costly civil suit.

Claims are for sums under $10,000 (or $20,000 if both parties agree to this in writing). Lawyers are not permitted to represent either party. It costs $10, $20 or up to $200 to lodge a claim, depending on its size.

There is then a 10- to 14-day wait before a mandatory mediation session. If that does not work out, there is another seven- to 10-day wait for a hearing.

Tourists can get a case heard within 24 hours. If that is too long, Case is the Singapore Tourism Board's appointed agent to mediate with the retailer or represent the tourist at the SCT.

After all that, getting back cash or assets from the errant party is difficult if they refuse to pay. Victims can file a writ of seizure and sale, but this requires more time and higher costs, as the bailiff charges for expenses. They might also wish to hire a lawyer to enforce the order.

Worse is if the other party has nothing to seize, said Chua Chu Kang GRC MP and lawyer Alvin Yeo. "That's why people sometimes give up and don't bother with civil recourse."

What about going to the police and getting criminal charges laid? Lawyers say that some of the tactics employed by retail scam artists could amount to cheating under Section 415 of the Penal Code. But the police will probably advise consumers to go to the SCT or Case, they point out.

"Our boys in blue are overstretched," says Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair, a lawyer who also chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law.

"There are so many disputes of small amounts, do we want our police to spend limited resources chasing these things?"

What about the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act then? Under this law, Case can invite errant retailers to sign an agreement to not engage in unfair trade practices, and to agree to give refunds to aggrieved consumers.

Since March 2004, it has served 22 such agreements, which were signed by 17 retailers, some in the beauty, medical and electronics industries. Mobile Air was among these.

The problem is these agreements are purely voluntary, and there are no criminal penalties if merchants later refuse to follow the terms of the agreement.

When companies refuse to sign these agreements, Case can file an injunction - a court order for the merchant to stop engaging in unfair practices.

But the injunction usually applies to a company name, not an individual's. As a result, it is a costly and ineffective measure, admitted Case's president, Mr Lim.

"I have to get witnesses to give statement, engage a lawyer, seek approval from the Injunction Proposals Review Panel, go to court. And then after the litigation process, all it takes is for the owner of the business to get a family member to set up another company and we're back to square one."

Of the five injunctions since 2004 - six, if Case succeeds in its current case against Mobile Air - Mr Lim said most of those involved have opened similar firms.

What should be changed

WHICH is why Mr Lim wants the laws changed to target recalcitrant individuals.

"Civil action seems limited in its effectiveness, which is why I prefer criminal action where there is evidence of wrongdoing... Go after the errant director directly. The threat of criminal prosecution usually deters business owners from dishonest behaviour."

He suggested having the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority - with whom businesses must be registered - impose a time-bar on errant retailers from opening up another shop, similar to that imposed on fraudsters and those declared bankrupt.

This would curtail individuals who operate and shut down fly- by-night companies, only to open them under a different name.

It would also require amendments to the Companies Act, and possibly revisions to penalties under the Penal Code. Mr Seah thinks the Attorney-General's Chambers might want to relook the definition of cheating to include "this sort of unacceptable, repeat behaviour".

With a more obvious definition that captures recalcitrant offenders, police are more likely to take action, he said. This would send out a strong deterrent message.

But Mr Yeo thinks any changes should come in the form of enforcement powers. "We should distinguish between hard-sell tactics and outright dishonesty - existing criminal laws are wide enough to cover the latter."

Other MPs have called for a body with statutory powers. A separate body could be created or powers could be appended to Case.

Several lawyers and MPs Insight spoke to pointed to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). A government champion of consumer laws, ACCC has successfully sued Apple for failing to live up to promises to repair faulty computers, phones and iPods. It can also impose fines on errant companies.

Having consumer protection laws like a mandatory warranty for a certain period gives peace of mind, said ChrisChong and CT Ho lawyer Richard Tan. But while Australia can afford to impose such laws due to its sizeable domestic market, it might be harder in Singapore, he warned.

Meanwhile, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa wants Case to have powers to slap fines on businesses with unfair practices.

Mr Nair said that besides penalties, there should be speedier avenues to seek recourse, especially if tourists are affected.

He favours appointing neutral adjudicators to resolve complaints on unethical business conduct, similar to how building disputes are settled at the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore under its Conciliation Panel.

Unlike mediation, the adjudicator is not there to negotiate, but to provide "rough and ready justice" in the form of a binding payout, he added.

"I'm not in favour of mediation where the 'bad hat' can gain something from the process because of technicalities," Mr Nair said.

If the party in the wrong is unhappy with the ruling, they can still lodge a complaint with the SCT, after paying the complainant. But, as long as the adjudicator has "sufficient common sense", Mr Nair thinks most cases would be resolved quickly.

"If he comes across any case of dishonesty, he can refer that to the police. That will be an effective filter for cases the police will have to look into."

But these new powers would require changes to the law. Association of Small and Medium Enterprises head Kurt Wee welcomes giving a consumer body more bite - but only if it does not cause businesses to incur more costs.

The Do Not Call Registry, for example, requires small and medium-sized enterprises to update databases, which adds another layer of compliance, he said.

"Looking at the full spectrum of the retail trade, I don't think errant retailers are rampant. Would having a statutory board focused on tackling these retailers be overdoing it?"

A faster and cheaper solution is better consumer education.

One criticism directed at Sim Lim Square management is that signs which name and shame retailers with high numbers of Case complaints are too small and only in English. Some Chinese tourists have mistaken the signs as advertisements for top retailers, said Case vice-president Ang Peng Hwa in a recent TV debate.

To deal with this, there will be new signs in about two weeks. Those at the centre's entrance will be at least A2 in size, and in English and Chinese, mall spokesman Sean Chia told Insight.

Mr Iswaran also said the Government will work with Case to better educate consumers on their rights. The body currently gives frequent consumer education talks. But consumers must do their bit. Case's president, Mr Lim, said: "Everyone has to take some responsibility - make sure you do your due diligence and shop around. If something is too good to be true, it might be."


How consumers are protected elsewhere

Australia

AUSTRALIA'S consumer law certainly has teeth. Products and services come with automatic guarantees that they will work and do what a consumer expects.

For example, products must match descriptions made by the sales staff, on packing and labels, or in advertisements. They must also not carry any hidden charges.

If the product or service does not work, a consumer is entitled to a free repair, replacement or refund.

However, consumer guarantees do not apply if a customer got what he asked for but changed his mind, found it cheaper elsewhere, or decided he did not like the purchase.

Errant companies that do not comply with consumer protection provisions can be fined up to A$1.1 million (S$1.24 million), and individuals, A$220,000.

The laws are enforced and administered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), an independent authority of the federal government, together with each state's consumer agency. In cases involving financial services, a separate commission might step in.

The ACCC admits on its website it cannot pursue all the complaints it receives, and "rarely becomes involved in resolving individual consumer or small business disputes".

Instead, it prioritises certain areas, like consumer protection in the telecommunications sector or tackling cartels involving Australians, as handling such matters is likely to "provide the greatest overall benefit" for all.

California, United States

CALIFORNIA has one of the strongest consumer protection laws in the United States, thanks to the power wielded by several advocacy groups, such as the Utility Consumers' Action Network.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs licenses and certifies more than 100 types of businesses and 200 types of professionals - including doctors, contractors and vehicle repair facilities - through 41 regulatory bodies.

These entities - semi-autonomous bodies whose members are appointed by the governor and the legislature - establish minimum qualifications for these professions, as well as investigate complaints and discipline violators.

Service representatives in the department can also answer consumer and licensee-related questions in 140 different languages.

The state encourages consumers to seek recourse through its Consumers Legal Remedies Act. Any consumer who suffers damage as a result of what is deemed unlawful can bring an action to recover damages, for restitution of property, or for punitive damages. Consumers can also apply to the courts to take out a court order.

Britain

IF A product is faulty or does not match the description given, a consumer has the right to return the product and get his money back, including the cost of postage and packing.

And while not mandated, most retailers provide a returns policy out of goodwill, and even extend the return-by date during special shopping seasons, like Christmas.

Laws cover not only brick- and-mortar shops, but also those that reside in the digital sphere. Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, customers have the right to cancel their order, up to seven working days from the day after they receive their goods.

RACHEL AU-YONG

rachelay@sph.com.sg

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Bailor to have $40,000 forfeited after court overturns ruling

TODAY
08 Nov 2014
Amanda Lee

122 accused people jumped bail last year from 99 people in 2012

SINGAPORE — The High Court has overturned a district court’s decision to remit a S$50,000 bail to a 37-year-old man after his bailee absconded.

The prosecution, who appealed against the decision yesterday, said the district court had erred in law by not finding that Mr Melvin Sim had lacked due diligence in his duties as a surety.

Judicial Commissioner (JC) See Kee Oon, who agreed with the prosecution, ordered S$40,000 of the bail sum to be forfeited to the state.

On Nov 30 last year, Mr Sim stood as surety for Mohammed Farhan Baharudin, who was facing drug-related charges. As the bailor, Mr Sim’s duties included ensuring Farhan’s punctual attendance at all court dates and times.

The court heard that Mr Sim and Farhan did not attend two pre-trial conferences held in March and April this year. For both hearings, the court was informed that Farhan was uncontactable. During the April hearing, the district court issued a warrant of arrest against Farhan with no bail.

A hearing was also fixed on May 20 for Mr Sim to show cause why the bail should not be forfeited.

At the May hearing, Mr Sim, who was unrepresented, told the court that after the Central Narcotics Bureau was unable to contact Farhan in mid-December, he made contact with the accused through the latter’s father.

The last time Mr Sim managed to contact Farhan was via telephone in late January. However, Mr Sim made a police report only on Feb 4.

In mid-February, Mr Sim tried to discharge himself from standing as surety for Farhan, but failed.

Mr Sim told the court yesterday that he paid only S$37, 000 of the bail amount, while the other S$13,000 came from Farhan’s father.

Deputy public prosecutor Sanjiv Vaswani argued that Mr Sim had failed his duties as a bailor — he did not get Farhan to attend court in April, failed to keep in daily communication with him and did not lodge a police report within 24 hours of losing contact with Farhan.

“The appellant submits that these breaches show a blatant disregard by the respondent of his duties as a bailor,” said Mr Sanjiv.

He noted that the district judge found that Mr Sim had done his reasonable best in trying to get Farhan to attend court. However, Mr Sanjiv said yesterday: “Any efforts as claimed by the respondent, in fact, took place after the accused had absconded from bail. Such efforts ... do not justify the decision made by the learned district judge to remit the entire bail amount to the respondent.”

In his ruling, JC See, who noted a previous judgment on bail forfeiture, said it must be understood that standing bail is a most serious matter and this must be brought home to all bailors and potential bailors.

In response to media queries, the State Courts said as of last year, there were 122 accused people who jumped bail, from 99 people in 2012.

leeguiping@mediacorp.com.sg

 

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Lack of remorse earns ex-cabby bigger fine

Straits Times
22 Nov 2014
Selina Lum

A FORMER cabby who ran a red light at a junction, causing another car to crash into his taxi, yesterday had his $1,000 fine for dangerous driving increased to $2,500.

The prosecution had appealed to the High Court to hand down a heftier fine for Lee Lai Nam, 68, arguing that his behaviour in the wake of the accident was appalling, and aggravated his offence.

Rather than help his two passengers, who were shaken and injured in the crash, Lee left them to fend for themselves, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Eugene Lee.

Lee was occupied with arguing with the driver of the other car and even demanded the fare from one of his passengers when they got out of the cab.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang agreed, saying Lee showed little regard for the well-being of his passengers. He noted that Lee, who has a string of driving offences, had contested the charge in a trial and shown little remorse even after he was convicted.

Lee, who was also banned from driving for three months, is now a petrol pump attendant.

On May 29 last year, he was driving along Bishan Road, with Ms Anjalai Shunmugam and Ms Nadeen Zainab Hafizah Shaik Ali in the back seat, when he ran the red light at the junction with Bishan Street 21. This caused a car that was making a U-turn from the opposite direction to hit his taxi.

Lee got out and started arguing with the female driver of the car.

His passengers sat on the side of the road where Ms Anjalai started vomiting. The other driver called an ambulance.

Ms Anjalai was given four days of medical leave while Ms Nadeen had to undergo surgery for hand fractures.

SELINA LUM

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Hearing on widow's mental state adjourned

Straits Times
15 Nov 2014
Carolyn Khew & Toh Yong Chuan

A HEARING to decide whether 87-year-old widow Chung Khin Chun is mentally fit to change her mind on who should look after her assets and welfare was yesterday adjourned to next week.

The closed-door Family Court hearing lasted for about an hour. Lawyer Peter Doraisamy, who is acting for Madam Chung's niece, Madam Hedy Mok, said the hearing will be held again next Thursday and Friday. He remained tight-lipped about the contents of an independent medical report on Madam Chung, which was submitted to court on Monday.

The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) had asked for the report, after Madam Chung applied in September to revoke a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) that she gave to former China tour guide Yang Yin in 2012. The LPA, in effect, allowed Yang to control her assets, estimated to be worth $40 million, which include her $30 million Gerald Crescent bungalow.

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

Madam Chung's niece has accused Yang of manipulating her aunt. Yang, a Singapore permanent resident, is currently in police remand and faces 331 charges of falsifying receipts amounting to slightly more than $450,000.

A spokesman for the OPG, which runs the LPA scheme, had previously said its actions "are necessary to safeguard and protect the interests and assets of Madam Chung".

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

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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AGC challenges bail for ex-guide

Straits Times
08 Nov 2014
Carolyn Khew

THE Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) filed an application yesterday to the High Court to challenge the decision to grant former China tour guide Yang Yin bail.

This comes a day after the State Courts decided to grant Yang bail of $150,000. Yang, who has been detained since Oct 31, has yet to post bail.

This is the latest development in the legal tussle between the 40-year-old Chinese national and the niece of wealthy widow Chung Khin Chun over her assets estimated to be worth $40 million.

Yang faces 331 charges for falsification of receipts worth about $450,000 made to his company, Young Dance and Music Studio.

Earlier in court on Thursday, District Judge Eddy Tham said, in response to the prosecution's argument, that Yang could not be denied bail just because he is a foreigner with "no roots" here. That would mean all foreigners cannot get bail, he added.

The judge also dismissed Deputy Chief Prosecutor Tan Ken Hwee's argument that the punishment Yang faces, if found guilty, would be of such a severe extent that it would push him into absconding.

Typically, those guilty of submitting false documents are sentenced to a few months in jail, he said.

Mr Tan had earlier urged the court to put the bail at $800,000, with four sureties.

He pointed out a recent case in which $600,000 bail and the withholding of a passport were not enough to prevent the accused, facing similar charges, from running away.

The High Court will hear the AGC's application on Monday.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

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Apex court overturns acquittal of ex-manager

Straits Times
21 Nov 2014
Selina Lum

High Court's interpretation of corruption was wrong, it says

ONE of the largest cases of private-sector corruption here took another twist yesterday, with the Court of Appeal overturning the acquittal of a former Ikea food services manager.

That means Leng Kah Poh now has to serve his original sentence of nearly two years' jail, and pay a $2.3 million penalty, the amount he pocketed from the racket.

With two accomplices, he had skimmed millions of dollars off inflated contracts to supply food to furniture giant Ikea between 2003 and 2009.

In February last year, the 53-year-old was convicted of corruption. But seven months later, after his appeal, Leng was cleared by a High Court judge who ruled that he was not guilty of corruption.

That was because he was one of the masterminds of the racket, rather than someone who was induced by a third party to act dishonestly against his employer.

But last month, a three-judge Court of Appeal decided the High Court's interpretation of corruption was wrong. Instead, it decided that a corrupt transaction did not necessarily have to be initiated by a third party.

"This has always been the law until the judge took a different view. We are just restoring what it always has been," Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang said yesterday, when the apex court restored the sentence of Leng's 98-week jail term and $2.3 million penalty.

In 2002, Leng and two others - Gary Lim Kim Seng and Andrew Tee Fook Boon - hatched a plan to rip off Ikea.

Using two companies - AT35 and Food Royale Trading - they bought food products from a supplier and resold them to Ikea at marked-up prices.

Over a period of seven years, the two companies made a profit of $6.9 million, which was split three ways.

Leng's role was to favour the two companies in placing orders for food supplies.

Tee was jailed 40 weeks while Lim was jailed 70 weeks.

Leng appealed and succeeded.

Justice Choo Han Teck accepted Leng's role in the food supply scam, but said it did not amount to corruption. He said that for someone to be guilty of corruption, he must have been induced by a third party.

But the prosecution asked the Court of Appeal to rule on whether someone who came up with the idea of receiving a bribe can be considered to have been "induced".

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said that "inducement" in the Prevention of Corruption Act does not mean an act of persuasion by a third party, but instead refers to the promise or receipt of a bribe.

The High Court's interpretation, he said, would lead to "absurd outcomes" in which a person who asks for a bribe would not be considered corrupt as he had not been influenced by a third party.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

MAS reviewing legal tender limits for coins: Forum

Straits Times
15 Nov 2014

WE THANK Ms Estella Young for her feedback on the legal tender limits for coins in Singapore ("Why no cap for $1 coins?"; Wednesday).

The currency issuing authorities generally set legal tender limits on smaller denominations of currency to minimise inconvenience and cost in handling large quantities of low-denomination currency.

Legal tender limits on coins have been adopted in a number of countries, including Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan. For example, in Britain, smaller denominations below 50 pence are legal tender up to £10, while higher denominations of £1 and above are legal tender for any amount.

In Singapore, when the Currency Act was enacted in 1967, there was a legal tender limit for the $1 coin, up to an amount not exceeding $10. There was no limit for the $1 note, which had coexisted with the $1 coin. However, the legal tender limit for the $1 coin was removed in 1982.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore is currently reviewing the legal tender limits for the various denominations of coins, including the $1 coin, and will keep the public informed of the outcome.

Bey Mui Leng (Ms)

Director (Corporate Communications)

Monetary Authority of Singapore

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Brunei 'not asking for discount on medical bill'

Straits Times
08 Nov 2014
Salma Khalik

It seeks only to be charged a fair and proper fee for Singapore doctors’ services

BRUNEI'S Health Ministry (MOHB) has said that it is not seeking any discount for the services rendered by Singapore doctors to the Brunei Sultan's sister-in-law before her death in 2007, in response to this week's report in The Sunday Times about how it has not paid for these services.

A statement issued yesterday by its lawyers, WongPartnership, said the ministry wants "only to be charged a fair and proper amount for the services actually rendered".

The original bill of $24.8 million for treatment and other services provided over 110 days to Pengiran Anak Hajah Damit charged by Dr Susan Lim resulted in a disciplinary hearing against Dr Lim by the Singapore Medical Council.

She was found guilty of overcharging more than a year ago, and was fined $10,000 and suspended for three years. She also had to bear the cost of the proceedings, which included High Court hearings.

The Sunday Times reported that Dr Lim has yet to receive payment for those services, including the fees of third-party doctors.

The statement said: "Our client, the MOHB, wishes to make clear that the MOHB has no issue with paying fair and proper charges for medical services."

What the ministry has issue with is that it considers Dr Lim's bills to be extremely high and without proper basis, the statement said.

The original bill was reduced to $12.6 million in August 2007, and further reduced to $3.2 million in November that year.

The statement said Dr Lim also gave the MOHB a document showing her charges to be about $8.8 million, with the $3.2 million for third-party bills.

It said: "In the circumstances, given the inconsistency of Dr Lim's various offers to 'discount' her bills, and since the matter was pending before the disciplinary committee, the MOHB took no position on Dr Lim's offers."

However, after the High Court's judgment in July last year, which upheld the decision by the disciplinary committee, MOHB engaged WongPartnership to resolve the issue of fees claimed by Dr Lim.

This matter was raised with Dr Lim's lawyers late last year and again early this year.

The statement said: "However, for reasons best known to Dr Lim, the MOHB was informed by Dr Lim's clinic in May 2014 that they did not want to engage in discussions through the MOHB's appointed lawyers."

The ministry told Dr Lim that it saw no reason to accede to her position, and asked that she direct all communications on her fees to WongPartnership.

salma@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/ST.Salma

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Judge removes himself from club dispute case

Straits Times
21 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

IN A rare move, a High Court judge has disqualified himself from hearing the case of a Singapore Swimming Club member who is challenging the club's decision to suspend and cease his membership.

The Straits Times understands that Justice Choo Han Teck adjourned the closed-door hearing on Monday, on learning that one of the committee members involved in the decision-making process was known to him.

A fresh hearing before another judge is expected to be fixed for next year.

The hearing is the second round of a legal spat between the club's management committee and retired businessman Mike Sim, 70.

Mr Sim, a life member, had applied for the hearing, alleging a breach of natural justice and a lack of valid reasons to remove him.

The club failed in its decision the first time last year when Mr Sim took the matter to court, crying foul over the committee's failure to follow the correct procedure in removing him then.

Justice Chan Seng Onn agreed with Mr Sim, who had been with the club for 40 years, and ordered that he be paid damages and costs in September last year.

The judge had then made it clear that his decision did not prejudice the club from restarting the process against Mr Sim.

A month later, the club suspended him again, with a view to ceasing his membership within six months.

The six-month period is meant to provide sufficient time to transfer the membership to a third party. His wife also received a suspension as their "family category" membership meant they were treated as one.

She is also challenging the move.

The first suspension took place last year after another member complained that Mr Sim's insider-dealing conviction made him an embarrassment.

In 2012, Mr Sim had been fined $153,000, while he was chief executive of the mainboard-listed company Sinwa, for insider dealing.

Suspending those convicted of serious crimes is common practice for recreational clubs.

Mr Sim is challenging the decision on several grounds, claiming the committee that made the second decision pre-judged the case.

Among other things, his lawyer R. S. Bajwa argued that his conviction did not involve any dishonesty or moral misconduct, as was claimed in the criminal case itself.

Defended by lawyer Chang Man Phing, the club is disputing the claims, arguing that Mr Sim's case is without merit and that the management committee had heard the case afresh before reaching its decision.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Not feasible for Case to enforce consumer protection laws: Forum

Straits Times
15 Nov 2014

MR DAVID Chang Cheok Weng suggests that the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) be given more powers to enforce and administer fines ("Laws do protect vulnerable consumers"; Thursday).

He cited the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, to support his point that it is not unusual to give a consumer association such powers.

However, he overlooked the fact that the Australian commission is a statutory authority whose role is to enforce the Competition and Consumer Act, while Case is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO).

I agree that it is highly unusual to give an NGO such powers.

Singapore already has the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, which enables an aggrieved consumer to initiate a civil suit through the Small Claims Tribunals or State Courts.

This remedy, however, may be inconvenient for tourists as they are unable to determine how long the process will take, the duration their visit will have to be prolonged, and the costs associated with it.

As pointed out by others, what is needed is a special office within the Singapore Tourism Board that is tasked with recording such grievances and pursuing them on behalf of the tourists.

It is better to give a statutory board the teeth to enforce consumer protection laws than to give it to an NGO.

Ravi Philemon

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Paying in coins? There are legal limits

Straits Times
08 Nov 2014
Yasmine Yahya

YOU do not have to accept a pile of 10-cent, 20-cent or 50-cent coins in payment of a debt.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) pointed out yesterday that there are legal limits when it comes to paying with small change. It means that you can reject coins used to settle an amount in excess of these limits and even take civil action against the payer to recover the debt.

The MAS statement follows two recent high-profile incidents involving people settling debts - and a few scores in the process - by using large amounts of coins.

In the first case, early last month, cellphone store Mobile Air at Sim Lim Square tried to give a customer a refund of more than $1,000 in coins.

In the second case, on Tuesday, Mr Lester Ong Boon Lin, a customer of car dealer Exotic Motors, left $19,000 worth of coins as payment at the car showroom. It was a particularly toxic form of protest, given that the change had a strong odour of fish.

Mr Ong, said to be the son of a famous nasi lemak franchise owner, had been ordered by a court a few months ago to pay the amount to Exotic Motors.

The MAS said yesterday that "a payee has no obligation to accept coins beyond the legal tender limits set out in the Currency Act".

The legal tender limit for coins of denomination below 50 cents is $2 per denomination. For 50-cent coins, the limit is $10. However, there are no limits for payment in $1 coins. That would mean that 19,000 $1 coins would not have breached the legal tender limits.

"The payee has the right to reject coins used to pay any amount in excess of the limits. In such a case, the payer continues to owe the payee the remaining debt," the MAS added.

"The payee may take civil action against the payer to recover the debt."

YASMINE YAHYA

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Legal costs to eat into Pinnacle Notes award

Straits Times
21 Nov 2014
Grace Leong

Investors could end up getting much less than the $26m settlement

THOUSANDS of investors here could be eligible for a cut of the US$20 million (S$26.1 million) settlement struck with American bank Morgan Stanley last week over claims that it sold rigged investment products that were "designed to fail".

But the settlement must be approved by a New York court and the investors' United States legal team has to be paid first. Taxes and costs of providing notice to investors also have to be paid.

Lawyers for a group of eight Singapore investors who launched the class action are seeking nearly US$7 million in fees and expenses incurred in the four-year-long legal battle. That means what is left for the investors, after taxes and costs, could come to around US$13 million.

As the case has been certified a class action, between 3,000 and 5,000 retail investors who bought certain Pinnacle Performance Notes between Jan 1, 2006, and Dec 31, 2010, may be eligible for restitution, even though some may already have received partial compensation through the Financial Industry Disputes Resolution Centre (Fidrec).

A Singaporean investor who wanted to be known as Mr Ho told The Straits Times that his family members lost close to $1 million investing in the product.

Mr Ho, 62, added that the settlement and legal fees were fair: "The lawyers could have wound up with nothing, if they had lost. Once the lawyers' take is satisfied, they won't pursue legal action further."

Mr Daniel Hume, a partner in US law firm Kirby McInerney, said his company wants reimbursement of up to US$950,000 that it advanced to investors.

Most of the expenses went to pay experts and discovery costs as well as flying several plaintiffs to New York to testify, he said. His firm also wants 30 per cent of the US$20 million settlement, or about US$6 million, awarded as attorneys' fees.

"This represents our legal fees for more than 15,000 hours worked on the case, most by senior lawyers," Mr Hume said.

"All that work was done at the risk of not getting paid at all. The investors risked none of their own money to pursue this case."

Under the settlement, the average distribution is estimated to be 28 US cents for every US$1 invested, before court-approved fees and expenses are deducted, according to the court papers.

The amount investors get will vary depending on the amount of notes bought, compensation already paid from other sources and the number of claims.

Once preliminary approval of the settlement has been given, investors will have 174 days to file claims. The court will then be asked to give final approval of the settlement and authorise distribution of funds to investors.

Payments may start by the middle of next year. Investors can get information at www.pinnaclenotesettlement.com by the end of this week.

Singapore distributors of the notes, including CIMB-GK Securities, DMG&Partners Securities, Kim Eng Securities, OCBC Securities, Phillip Securities, Maybank, UOB Kay Hian, DBS Vickers Securities, Hong Leong Finance and RHB Bank, are not eligible to claim.

Retiree S. K. Mak hopes to recover some of his $50,000 investment.

"The advertisement painted a very rosy picture. It said the notes were linked to the performance of five blue-chip companies."

"I was very sad when the notes went bust because, like me, a few of my sisters, also retirees, lost their investment. But at least they got partial compensation through Hong Leong," added Mr Mak, 72.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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MD jailed for 6 months for contempt of court

Straits Times
14 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

He displayed 'cavalier attitude' in flouting court orders, says judge

A MANAGING director of a company, who is in his 60s, has been jailed for six months for flouting court orders - believed to be the longest sentence given for contempt of court arising from a civil suit.

Moses Tay's assets and those of his company had been frozen after being sued by Maruti Shipping for breaches of contract and trust. The High Court also gave Maruti permission in 2010 to search Tay's office at Golden Agri Plaza and a Sentosa Cove condominium where he was living.

But Tay lied to Maruti's lawyers that RMM's documents were with auditors when they were not. He also withdrew $380,000 from his bank account in August 2010.

Judicial Commissioner Edmund Leow made it clear in judgment grounds released on Monday that a prison sentence was not the starting point for court contempt and was instead "normally a measure of last resort".

But Tay has displayed a "cavalier attitude towards compliance" in flouting the orders, the "most audacious" of which was to withdraw the money.

Maruti, through lawyer Eddee Ng, eventually obtained judgment last year for US$3.5 million (S$4.5 million) from RMM and another company linked to Tay, an Indonesian businessman and Singapore permanent resident. He was also made bankrupt last year.

"Now as a bankrupt, he can no longer make good his breach. This breach alone merits a substantial custodial sentence," said JC Leow, adding the withdrawal was done "deliberately and cynically".

The judge also found he had refused to hand over his passport as ordered and had left Singapore in "open defiance" of restrictions placed on him in relation to the suit.

Tay's lawyer A. Thirumurthy brought up his client's depression when pleading for a lighter penalty, but the judge dismissed the arguments.

"Tay's relapses into depression follow a clear pattern. His condition flares up at the most inopportune times, allowing him to avoid turning up in court," said JC Leow.

Tay was a repeat offender having been previously jailed for three months for court contempt in an unrelated case. The judge also ticked off Tay for delaying his latest contempt proceedings for over three years.

"Much time and money has also been wasted as a result of Moses Tay's deliberate and conscious design to drag the proceedings..."

Tay was allowed $40,000 bail pending a further appeal.

RMM and his son Martin, who was company secretary at the time, were also found guilty and each fined $10,000 for court contempt.

As for the sentence given to Tay, JC Leow said: "There is no doubt that prison life is harsh, but in the end the court is constrained by the need that the punishment is appropriate."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Two approaches to interpreting the Constitution: Voices

TODAY
08 Nov 2014

In his letter “Constitution should be based on idea of civil association, not consensus” (Nov 6), the writer advocated a Constitution based on the principle of free and equal citizenship, instead of public consensus.

This debate raises an interesting issue: How should our Constitution be interpreted? Its use of ambiguous words such as “life”, “personal liberty” (Article 9) and “equal” (Article 12) leaves significant room for interpretation. These words concern contested concepts that can be interpreted for or against the constitutional validity of Section 377A of the Penal Code.

There are two possible approaches to interpretation. First, a court may look at the Article’s plain text to decipher the Constitution framers’ intention.

This was the Court of Appeal’s approach, as evidenced by its statement that “within the prohibited grounds of discrimination delineated in Art 12(2), there is no reference to ‘sex’, ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender’”. The court stated also that “there is nothing precluding a legislature from amending the Constitution accordingly”.

The second approach is to turn to universal principles of morality, such as free and equal citizenship, taking guidance from theorists who have expounded upon these.

If the court had interpreted Article 12 on this basis, Section 377A could have been struck down for discriminating against homosexual males.

The latter approach, though, is not without problems.

First, do these universal principles even exist? If so, must our Constitution be guided by the principle of free and equal citizenship? Why not other principles?

Second, in Singapore’s pluralistic society, who should decide what these principles are? Leaving this decision to Parliament runs the risk of tyranny of the majority and the nebulousness of public consensus.

There is no easy solution.

Adding new phrases into the Constitution will not resolve these problems. Instead, it would gloss over the question at the heart of the debate: Whether universal principles of morality or the framers’ intent should form the basis of our Constitution.

This can guide the courts in interpreting the Constitution in future.

Failing to realise that a choice can be made may favour the first approach to interpretation.

After all, it is often easier to rely on written text than on unwritten principles of morality.

Alicia Teng Kia Hui

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Widow's psychiatrist testifies in Family Court

Straits Times
21 Nov 2014
Toh Yong Chuan

THE Family Court yesterday called its first expert witness in the ongoing hearing on whether a rich widow has the mental capacity to change her mind on who should look after her assets and welfare.

Psychiatrist Calvin Fones, who examined 87-year-old Madam Chung Khin Chun in September, made an unexpected appearance at the closed-door hearing. He told reporters that he was called by the court because of his "previous interactions" with her.

Dr Fones, who is in private practice, had previously certified that the widow had the mental capacity to cancel the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) she granted in 2012 to former China tour guide Yang Yin, who has been accused of manipulating the woman.

On the basis of his report, Madam Chung applied to the Office of Public Guardian (OPG) in September for the LPA to be cancelled.

The OPG then applied to court to have a separate medical expert from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) examine Madam Chung, while suspending Yang's powers under the LPA.

The OPG said the move was "necessary to safeguard and protect the interests and assets of Madam Chung".

The IMH assessment has been completed and is before the court.

Madam Chung, who was diagnosed with dementia this year, had met the 40-year-old Yang in Beijing in 2008. Her niece Hedy Mok, 60, has accused him of manipulating the widow to seize control of her $40 million worth of assets. He is under police remand after being charged with faking 331 receipts of his firm.

Professor Chiam Peak Chiang, the senior IMH consultant who examined Madam Chung, is expected to take the stand today.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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S'pore unit of OW Bunker to be liquidated

Straits Times
14 Nov 2014
Grace Leong

THE local operations of Denmark-based OW Bunker, the world's biggest bunker supplier, which collapsed because of alleged fraud at its Singapore subsidiary, Dynamic Oil Trading, are to be wound down.

Accountancy giant KPMG has been appointed as the provisional liquidator for subsidiary OW Bunker Far East, Mr Bob Yap, head of Advisory at KPMG in Singapore, told The Straits Times yesterday.

OW Bunker filed for bankruptcy in Denmark last Friday after reporting a US$125 million (S$161 million) fraud at Dynamic Oil and a US$150 million risk management loss, which pushed its debts to US$750 million. The company has blamed fraud by two senior employees for the losses at Dynamic Oil.

OW Bunker said it has reported the two employees to police under the Danish penal code. The Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) declined to comment on whether it is involved in the investigations.

A Danish newspaper had cited OW Bunker chairman Niels Henrik Jensen as saying that Dynamic's chief executive Lars Moller and some of his colleagues arrived unexpectedly at OW Bunker headquarters last week and explained the situation to chief executive Jim Pedersen.

The saga is expected to create a credit crunch in the industry here with fuel suppliers becoming more cautious. Already, the delivered price of IFO380-grade bunker fuel has climbed more than US$10 a tonne over the ex-wharf price since OW's collapse last week, traders said.

"Bunker pricing has gone up relative to cargo prices. On Monday, the price was about US$470 a tonne, but we were able to close deals at US$485 a tonne," said Mr Tang Weng Fei, who owns Seven Seas Oil Trading.

Meanwhile, The Straits Times understands that OW Bunker Far East's management has paid its nearly 60 employees up to date. "This is a creditors' voluntary liquidation. We are not making any decision to terminate any employee as of now. We need to decide who we need to help with the process," said Mr Yap. "If there are layoffs, those terminated have a preferential claim of up to $7,500, in accordance with the Companies Act Section 328."

He added that in accordance with Section 328, employee claims are ranked ahead of unsecured creditors. If a supplier has a claim for unpaid supplies, it needs to file a proof of debt with the liquidator.

A flurry of lawsuits have been brought against OW Bunker Far East and Dynamic Oil Trading, with claims over unpaid supplies totalling more than $5 million, according to a Reuters report.

The report, citing court documents, said law firm Rajah & Tann, on behalf of Hin Leong Trading, issued a writ of summons last Saturday against OW Bunker Far East for about US$1.3 million worth of bunker fuel delivered to the vessel Laguna. The report said the barge has been arrested.

Four other companies - Golden Island Diesel Oil Trading, Bunker House Petroleum, Equatorial Marine Fuel Management Services and Panoil Petroleum - have also made credit claims against OW or its Singapore units.

Meanwhile, Dynamic Oil staff are waiting to learn if they still have a job. "This is not a good time to be looking for a job," said one employee. "There aren't many openings."


Bunker market all at sea after OW collapse

Bunker fuel prices rise while credit crunch and lawsuits loom on horizon

TWO errant employees and allegations of fraud were all it took to rattle the entire industry that feeds fuel to ships calling on Singapore.

In the wake of the OW Bunker collapse, the prices of bunker fuel have gone up, a credit crunch is looming and a growing number of suppliers and barge operators are taking their trouble to the courts.

The once-cosy financing terms have disappeared with nervous sellers seeking faster payment, if not advance money, sapping the market of even more liquidity.

Meanwhile, liquidation proceedings have started at the local operations of Denmark-based OW Bunker, the world's biggest supplier, which collapsed due to alleged fraud at its Singapore subsidiary, Dynamic Oil Trading. KPMG has been appointed as the provisional liquidator for subsidiary OW Bunker Far East, Mr Bob Yap, head of advisory at KPMG in Singapore, told The Straits Times yesterday.

Meanwhile, the industry fears a huge backlash. Already, the delivered price of IFO380-grade bunker fuel has climbed more than US$10 a tonne over the ex-wharf price since OW's collapse last week, traders said.

OW Bunker filed for bankruptcy in Denmark on Nov 7 after reporting alleged fraud of US$125 million (S$161 million) at Dynamic Oil and a US$150 million risk management loss, which pushed its debts to US$750 million. The company has blamed the alleged fraud by two senior employees for the losses at Dynamic Oil, and have reported them to the police under the Danish penal code.

"The bunker business will go on, but those who used to give open credit are rethinking it," said Mr Tang Weng Fei, who owns Seven Seas Oil Trading and has some exposure to OW Bunker.

"For instance, suppliers that used to give 30 days' credit are now asking for cash in advance before delivery, if the buyer's financial condition isn't sound," he said. "Similarly, when suppliers buy oil, they have to open letters of credit to those who used to give them open credit."

Mr Tang said his firm has been sending letters of demand to OW Bunker Far East since payment for supplies were due this week.

Lawsuits have been brought against OW and/or its subsidiaries - OW Bunker Far East and Dynamic Oil Trading - with claims over unpaid supplies totalling more than $5 million, according to a Reuters report. Among those suing in Singapore are Hin Leong Trading, Golden Island Diesel Oil Trading, Bunker House Petroleum, Equatorial Marine Fuel Management Services and Panoil Petroleum.

Two South Korean refiners, SK Innovation, which fully owns South Korea's largest refiner SK Energy, and GS Caltex Corp, a joint venture between GS Holdings and Chevron Corp, are considering legal action to recover losses tied to OW's collapse, according to Reuters.

Some market participants say unsecured creditors, including suppliers and barge operators, are suing to protect their interests, as they are typically among the last in line to be paid.

Thomson Reuters Oil Research & Forecasts, in a report on Wednesday, estimated that ex-wharf suppliers in Singapore have a total exposure of US$500 million to OW, with individual exposure estimated at US$10 million to US$40 million each.

Barge operators typically make deliveries from their inventories on behalf of a reseller like OW, and reclaim the volumes delivered at a later date within the month.

Following OW's collapse, the report said some barge operators have demanded direct payment from the shippers - who are reluctant to comply as their contracts are with OW and not the barge operators - and are threatening to have their vessels arrested if they are not paid.

The fuel oil trading market has been poor all year. This is due to lacklustre baseline demand from each of the sector's three bastions - marine fuels, Chinese feedstock and the Japanese utility markets - and poor liquidity in the paper market after the exit or volume reduction by most banks, following the tightening of the regulatory environment, the report said.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore has said there are more than 60 bunker suppliers here, and OW Bunker Far East accounted for under 3 per cent of the 42.6 million metric tonnes supplied in Singapore last year.

gleong@sph.com.sg


Background Story

CREDIT TERMS CHANGING

The bunker business will go on, but those who used to give open credit are rethinking it.

For instance, suppliers that used to give 30 days' credit are now asking for cash in advance before delivery, if the buyer's financial condition isn't sound. Similarly, when suppliers buy oil, they have to open letters of credit to those who used to give them open credit.

- Mr Tang Weng Fei, who owns Seven Seas Oil Trading and has some exposure to OW Bunker

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Mall landlords seek change in laws to oust errant tenants

Straits Times
08 Nov 2014
Cheryl Faith Wee

Sim Lim management council can then act to end rental agreements

LANDLORDS at Sim Lim Square are hoping for changes in the law so they can set up their own rules to allow them to reject undesirable tenants.

This was one of the issues raised at a press conference yesterday, held by the electronics mall's management council, which is made up of 13 people who own units there.

The electronics mall, which has come under scrutiny for a small number of shops there practising questionable sales tactics, has about 480 shops owned by a few hundred landlords.

Most rental agreements are negotiated between landlords and tenants, and the management is currently not able to kick out recalcitrant shops.

Thus, they hope the laws will change so that Sim Lim Square's management council could possibly pass a by-law to terminate the tenancy agreements of unscrupulous retailers.

Said Mr Kwek Theng Swee, vice-chairman of the council: "The information technology sector has grown more competitive now with a lot of trade fairs and constant product launches. This has put high pressure on retailers and made them resort to such unscrupulous methods."

He added that this is limited to around 10 shops which have been blacklisted by the Consumers Association of Singapore for having a high number of complaints made against them.

The owners of these units have been informed of the unfair practices of their tenants, said Mr Kwek. But he did not say if they will throw these tenants out of the mall.

Said Mr Sunny Chew, the council's assistant secretary: "We need the authorities to take action so that we can weed out these shops. In the last five years, we have not been able to find a permanent solution."

The black sheep, while a minority, have affected the reputation of the mall, leading to lower footfalls.

Competition from electronics malls such as Funan as well as online retailers Lazada and Amazon have also hit business there.

Mr Vikas Gupta, 27, the manager of the group Sim City, which owns around 40 shop units in Sim Lim Square, said: "When such incidents happen, the effect is that shops here become emptier. The IT sector is also gradually fading."

cherylw@sph.com.sg

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How to bring about enforceable remedy for consumers: Forum

Straits Times
21 Nov 2014

IT IS not unprecedented to give non-governmental organisations (NGOs) the power to enforce legislation ("Not feasible for Case to enforce consumer protection laws" by Mr Ravi Philemon; last Saturday).

Indeed, in Singapore, even listed corporations have been licensed to enforce regulations. For example, the Rapid Transit Systems Regulations may be enforced by a company that is licensed under the Rapid Transit Systems Act to operate any rapid transit system.

If the issue is merely that the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) is an NGO, then perhaps we should explore converting it into a statutory board, or a company limited by guarantee, similar to our local universities or JTC Corporation.

Nevertheless, regardless of how enforcement is carried out, fining an errant retailer is cold comfort to an aggrieved consumer who would already be out of pocket.

Hence, it may be more effective to merge the Case and the Small Claims Tribunals' complaint systems, to ensure that complaints to Case result in an enforceable remedy for consumers.

Case could be given the task of recording grievances and pursuing them on behalf of all consumers in the Small Claims Tribunals and/or the State Courts.

Wilson Foo Yu Kang

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Clearing the air on rules covering short-selling: Forum

Straits Times
14 Nov 2014

I THANK Mr Koh Cheng Soon for sharing his concerns on the low volatility and resultant low turnover of our stock market ("Market regulatory framework favours short-sellers"; Nov 1).

To address such sentiments, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) has stepped up efforts to engage brokers and the media on various aspects of the market. These include measures such as improvements in market quality following a reduction of clearing fees and the introduction of a market-making programme for up to 10 per cent of SGX-listed stocks.

The regulatory framework is fair in its treatment of both investors' going long and selling short. Public queries are issued to companies in instances of sudden share price rises or drops. Circuit-breakers also apply in both instances.

Also, a short-seller must deliver shares following a short-sale, or face a penalty.

A long-investor can buy shares without paying the full amount for up to three days after the purchase, but a short-seller must cover his position during the day or borrow shares.

While there is no reporting requirement for long trades apart from trades in excess of 5 per cent, or by shareholders holding 5 per cent or more of the company, brokers are required to flag all short trades with daily results published on the SGX's website.

Going forward, the Monetary Authority of Singapore will implement aggregate short position reporting, which would require investors to report short positions that exceed the lower of 0.05 per cent, or $1 million of shares.

On the subject of the 20-cent minimum trading price (MTP), a company becomes subject to the MTP only if it cannot record a six-month, volume-weighted average share price of at least 20 cents at each of the quarterly watchlist review dates.

Even if a company is placed on the watchlist, it has a three-year period to raise its share price.

Also, companies will have a one-year grace period from the introduction of the MTP before it becomes effective.

In short, companies do not immediately face the effect of the MTP the moment their share price dips below 20 cents. Also, the business performance and valuation of companies are independent of the effect of MTP, including share consolidation to meet the MTP requirement.

Investors should not overreact when share prices dip below 20 cents.

An investor who buys or sells shares to the extent of creating a false market is in breach of the Securities and Futures Act. The SGX takes seriously any effort to thwart fair and orderly trading.

Mr Koh's feedback and suggestions are appreciated. We will continue to work with all market participants to improve and grow the Singapore stock market.

Chew Sutat

Executive Vice-President

Singapore Exchange

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A little old lady who quilts: Lee Suet-Fern

Straits Times
08 Nov 2014
Natasha Ann Zachariah

It is not uncommon for lawyer Lee Suet-Fern to pull an all-nighter to finish her work. But it is not always legal documents that keep her up until the wee hours of the morning.

The senior director and founder of Stamford Law Corporation can often be found hand-sewing patches into quilts that can measure as long as 2.5m.

To say that she is passionate about patchwork would be an understatement.

Visit her home in the Thomson area and quilts that she has sewn cover every centimetre of wall space. Beds are covered in these warm spreads and even the dining tables are decked out in quilted table mats.

Her clothes get the patchwork treatment too. At this interview, the brown skirt she wears has applique patches on them. She had sewn them on to cover curry stains.

"Professional work will always take precedence, but this is a hobby which has become my passion. I sew through the night because I've got some momentum," explains the 56-year-old, who is married to Mr Lee Hsien Yang, 57, chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The couple have three sons aged 29, 28 and 19.

Since picking up the hobby 18 years ago, she has made about 90 quilts.

Last month, two of her quilts were picked for the finals in the Traditional Pieced Quilts category at the International Quilt Festival Houston.

The prestigious annual event in the United States, which lasted for four days from Oct 30, is said to be the world's largest and most competitive quilt show. More than 60,000 people attended this year.

The quilts she submitted were selected in May by a jury to compete against 20 other finalists from around the world, from countries such as Australia, Brazil and Canada. This is the first time she is taking part in a quilt competition.

Her two entries are King's Parade, which features blocks made of 48 one-inch honeycomb hexagons arranged differently, and Magic Carpet, which has a kaleidoscope of stars and hexagons.

Although she did not win in Houston, the King's Parade quilt has made it through the selection rounds for the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival next year. The event, which is considered the biggest quilting festival in Asia, will take place at the Tokyo Dome in January.

The two quilts which were submitted for the Houston festival took her almost three years to complete. She even took small parts of the quilts along with her on business trips so she could continue sewing in her spare time.

She says her friends in the quilting community were stoked about her nomination as it is the "first time that a Singaporean quilt has made it to the finals" there. "To be chosen is already a dream come true. I couldn't imagine more," adds Mrs Lee, who went to Houston for the festival.

Her interest in knitting started while she was studying at the University of Cambridge in the 1970s.

Her then boyfriend, now husband, who was studying engineering science at the same university, used to wear only jumpers knitted by his mother, the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, wife of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

"That was what really sparked it off. He didn't have any store-bought jumpers. Not to be outdone, I wanted him to wear jumpers I had knitted too."

With help from a guidebook, she taught herself to knit and went on to sewing.

She also bonded with her mother-in-law, who was also a lawyer, over knitting. When Mrs Lee had her first child, Madam Kwa would share with her patterns on baby booties.

Recalling those times fondly, Mrs Lee says: "We madly knitted. I think my son had the largest collection of baby booties at that time. I still have some of those booties today, carefully stored away."

From knitting, she discovered other types of sewing skills, such as embroidery.

By the early 1990s, she was collecting fabrics as she was "entranced by their patterns and textures", though she did not know what she wanted to do with them yet.

While in Auckland, New Zealand, for an Inter-Pacific Bar Association's conference in 1997, she visited a quilt exhibition and fell in love with the elaborate designs.

"The penny really dropped for me at that exhibition. Everything was so beautiful and lovely. I found myself taking my lawyer's pad out and sketching some of the beautiful quilts at the exhibition. And of course, I wanted to make one of my own."

She has not looked back since. She has a workspace set up in her study with two sewing machines - a Swiss Bernina 820 machine and a Japanese Babylock Sashiko - and separate tables for cutting fabric and ironing.

Cupboards are stacked with fabrics such as Liberty Tana Lawns from London, batik and even those with quirky prints such as Hello Kitty.

Some quilts can take months or years to complete, as they have to be designed and pieced together from scratch.

"Inspiration comes from everywhere, as much of the quilting is in the geometry. Floor and wall tiles, Islamic patterns, pavement stones and, of course, naturally occurring shapes are gorgeous," says Mrs Lee, who has at least three to four projects going on at the same time.

She rarely gives away her quilts, but if she does, she gives them to fellow quilters.

"I take an incredible amount of time and much love and care to make a quilt. If I give it away, I want to be sure it will be loved and in a good home."

She belongs to a quilting group of about six other women, who gather at her house once a month to sew. All but one are homemakers and their ages range from the 30s to the 60s.

"The nice thing about sewing is that it's social and not a solitary pastime. You can watch television or listen to music at the same time. Even when the family wants to talk, I take my quilting out and work," says Mrs Lee.

"There's a satisfaction in making something with your own hands. When you make a quilt, it's something which is unique... it's yours and yours alone. Every artist's palette is different."

But despite her love for quilting, she says she rarely speaks about it to others. "I generally do not tell anyone that I quilt. The person who finds out is naturally surprised.

"Perhaps quilting is perceived as a 'little old lady' hobby, so those who find out I quilt realise that I'm a little old lady after all."

Magic Carpet (above) and King’s Parade (top) are two quilts by lawyer Lee Suet-Fern that were picked for a prestigious festival in Houston last month. ST Photo: Alphonsus 

Chernnatashaz@sph.com.sg

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21 Nov 2014
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$50 hair treatment voucher left her $4,000 poorer

Straits Times
14 Nov 2014
Amir Hussain

She says she was pressured into signing contract for $15,600 package

WHEN 75-year old Madam Susan Koo Moi walked into a Beijing 101 outlet last month, she simply wanted to use a $50 voucher.

Instead, she left the Funan Mall shop $4,000 poorer - the sum being a deposit on $15,600 worth of hair treatments.

Insisting that she was pressured into the deal, Madam Koo told The Straits Times that she has so far been unable to get a refund for the deposit.

She has lodged a police report, complained to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and even gone to the Small Claims Tribunal. But she was told her only recourse was a civil suit, as the value of her contract was above the tribunal's $10,000 limit.

The Straits Times tried to contact Beijing 101 - its management as well as its staff at Funan Mall - but the people it spoke to over the phone said they were not in a position to comment, and did not know whom to refer the media to.

When ST visited Beijing 101's Funan outlet on Wednesday morning, its manager would only say that Madam Koo had signed a contract and that her representatives had called multiple times to ask for a refund. She added that Beijing 101's management was handling the matter.

Later that same day, Madam Koo's family said a representative from the hair treatment firm had called to say it would be willing to offer a complete refund but this involved signing certain documents which would be e-mailed over. No more details were given.

Case had earlier sent a letter on behalf of Madam Koo to Beijing 101, cautioning the company, well known for its use of traditional Chinese medicine to treat hair and scalp problems, that it may have infringed certain sections of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.

These relate to taking advantage of a consumer not in a position to protect his or her own interest, and of exerting undue pressure or influence.

Madam Koo, speaking at her Lakeview Estate condo home in Upper Thomson which she shares with her retiree husband, said she blamed herself.

"I wondered how could I sign so blindly. I'm not that stupid right?" the former office administrator, who has three children in their 50s said in halting English.

She said she went to the Beijing 101 outlet at Funan alone, after calling for an appointment the day before.

She wanted to use a promotional voucher she had been persuaded to buy from a Beijing 101 exhibition booth at Junction 8.

While undergoing the treatment that her voucher entitled her to - she could not remember what exactly it was for - Madam Koo said the consultant who attended to her repeatedly tried to convince her to purchase a treatment package, as it would be cheaper in the long run.

When she finally relented and signed the contract, she said a staff member asked for her ATM card and made a NETS transaction. She was then told to draw more money from an ATM to pay for the package, but could only draw out $2,000 more.

She was not given a receipt, or a copy of the contract, said Madam Koo. She also claimed that she did not know the package she had signed for cost $15,000.

It was only the next day, when she checked her bank account, that she realised she had paid $4,000 in all. After the Hari Raya Haji holiday, Madam Koo visited the outlet with her son and a family friend. Madam Koo said she apologised for "mistakenly" signing up for the package, but staff members did not budge.

Beijing 101 employees told her they would only accede to her request if she provided a doctor's letter stating that she was suffering from dementia, she said.

She eventually received a copy of the contract she signed in late October, after the family friend requested it.

Madam Koo hopes her case would serve as an example to others in a similar situation.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon told ST he was aware of the case and that the association is working to help her reach a settlement with Beijing 101.

Case runs the CaseTrust accreditation scheme, which nearly 500 spa and wellness companies have signed up to. Under this scheme, firms offer a five-day cooling-off period during which consumers can ask for a full refund. "This allows consumers time to think over the contract," Mr Seah said.

Beijing 101 is not on the list of CaseTrust companies.

amirh@sph.com.sg

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Ex-guide granted bail but faces probe into $500k transfer

Straits Times
07 Nov 2014
Carolyn Khew

YANG Yin looked a relieved man after managing to secure bail of $150,000 yesterday despite the prosecution's insistence that he was a flight risk. But his legal battles are far from over as it emerged that the authorities are investigating a suspicious transfer of $500,000 from the account of 87-year-old widow Chung Khin Chun to his father in China.

It is not clear what the transfer was for. Yang, 40, a tour guide from China, is involved in a legal tussle for control over the widow's wealth, and has been accused of manipulating her.

He also faces 331 criminal charges for falsifying about $450,000 worth of receipts that were supposedly paid to his company, Young Music and Dance Studio, mostly for music lessons.

It was through this firm that he received an employment pass and then permanent residency.

These had allowed him to live with Madam Chung in her $30 million bungalow in Gerald Crescent since 2009.

He had been in remand since Oct 31, but District Judge Eddy Tham said that Yang could not be denied bail just because he is a foreigner with "no roots" here. That would mean all foreigners cannot get bail, he explained.

The judge also dismissed Deputy Chief Prosecutor Tan Ken Hwee's argument that the punishment Yang faces, if found guilty, are of such a severe extent that it would push him into absconding. Typically, those guilty of submitting false documents get a few months in jail, he said.

But even after the judge allowed bail, the prosecutor and Yang's lawyer, Mr Wee Pan Lee, continued to spar over how much it should be.

Mr Tan urged the court to put it at $800,000 with four sureties. He pointed out a recent case in which $600,000 bail and the withholding of a passport were not enough to prevent the accused, facing similar charges, from running away. It is understood that a high bail amount is not unusual for cases involving foreigners.

The prosecutor also brought up the $500,000, arguing that the money meant Yang had the means to post higher bail. Mr Wee, however, said there is no evidence to show that the money still remains. He added that Yang is simply accused of faking receipts, and does not "stand to enjoy" any of the proceeds.

Bail was set at $150,000, but the judge also ordered Yang, who is set to appear in court again on Dec 4, to surrender his passport and report to the police at 10am every day. He will leave Changi Prison, where he is in remand, on Monday at the earliest after bail is paid, said his lawyer.

The Attorney-General's Chambers, however, revealed later that it would be making an application to the High Court with regard to the bail decision but did not give details.

Madam Chung's niece, Madam Hedy Mok, who was in court yesterday with her lawyer, told reporters that she was "quite disappointed". She has begun legal proceedings against Yang, including one to claim damages for breaching his duty to her aunt. She alleges that Yang, who first met Madam Chung in 2008, had manipulated the elderly woman into handing him control of her assets worth $40 million.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

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Top S'pore lawyer bags regional legal prize

Straits Times
20 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

SENIOR Counsel Davinder Singh was named Disputes Lawyer of the Year for South-east Asia and India in inaugural awards by a top law magazine last night.

Mr Singh, 57, the chief executive of Drew & Napier, had under his belt a slew of high-profile cases that cemented his win in the 12-month evaluation period starting in June last year.

This included representing the Brunei Attorney-General in prosecuting a US$2.5 million (S$3.2 million) corruption case there and representing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng.

The Asian Lawyer's Emerging Markets Awards also saw the team that Mr Singh led bag the award for Cross Border Litigation of the Year for the Brunei case.

The team beat two other finalists, including an international law firm which, with an Indonesian outfit, jointly represented a Japanese aluminium consortium in a US$1 billion dispute with the Indonesian government.

Organised by US-based ALM, an integrated media firm, and The Asian Lawyer magazine, the awards recognise the top lawyers and firms in the region. The Asian Lawyer is the sister publication of The American Lawyer.

"The choices were not easy... (and) were the result of vigorous debate among top editors and reporters in Hong Kong, New York and London, and included editorial staff at sister publications (such as) The American Lawyer, Corporate Counsel..," wrote The Asian Lawyer's Mr Tom Brennan last month when the finalists were first announced.

"After narrowing down a wide field of submissions... we believe we've found a select group... that deserve particular recognition."

Law firms Allen & Gledhill, Rajah & Tann and Lee & Lee were the other Singapore finalists. Mr Singh and Drew & Napier were the only Singapore winners.

Mr Singh said last night: "This award would not have been possible without the efforts of the awesome lawyers in Drew, especially those in my team. I dedicate this to them and to our clients for their wonderful support."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Exercise your rights against errant shops, shoppers told

Straits Times
07 Nov 2014
Cheryl Faith Wee

Take precautions and stand firm against pressure sales tactics: Case

SHOPPERS should exercise their rights to prevent errant shopkeepers from bullying them into transactions, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

While the dishonest and aggressive sales tactics of some stores in electronics mall Sim Lim Square have been in the media spotlight and flamed online over the past week, consumers should themselves take precautions to ensure they do not fall prey to them.

Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of Case, said: "We hope that consumers will be able to stand firm and say 'no' to pressure sales tactics. Their money is in their wallet, and they can choose not to sign the sales agreement and pay the money."

Existing laws may have to be reviewed to deal with such cases, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin. In a Facebook post yesterday, he said the authorities should see how they can "strengthen or adjust" laws to deal with cases where individuals face hurdles to recourse.

"In some instances, the laws do not provide for particular actions and even if we may not like it, we can't go beyond the remits of the laws. So in these instances, we may have to review (them)."

Some incidents of overcharging occurred partly because shopkeepers concealed certain figures on receipts with their hands when showing them to customers, or added extra charges on invoices.

But the responsibility is also on customers to ensure that these invoices are clearly marked with the right figures, said Mr Seah.

For instance, they should examine their receipts closely by holding them in their own hands, instead of letting shopkeepers hold them or place them on a counter.

It is good practice to ask questions about what is printed on invoices - such as mathematical symbols like the multiplication sign - and what it represents.

Mr Seah said: "Consumers should exercise their rights to ensure all the costs are broken down before accepting the transaction. If you do not have the invoice, it is your word against the retailer's and it is very difficult for organisations like Case to arbitrate."

According to Ms Kala Anandarajah, head of competition and anti-trust and trade for law firm Rajah and Tann, the onus falls on the consumer to ensure that he reads a contract in its entirety before signing, because once it is signed, it tends to be binding on both parties.

The Singapore Tourism Board also advised consumers to do the necessary to protect their interests, such as researching products and checking return policies and coverage of warranties, before agreeing to purchases.

Some consumers feel that while taking measures to prevent cheating is important, dishonest practices should be curtailed.

Mr Ng Jian Min, 25, an engineer who does his research before shopping at Sim Lim Square, said: "Singapore should be a safe environment for everyone to shop in. I find it quite ridiculous that I should have to check my receipts so closely. There should be more severe laws to punish (errant) shops."

cherylw@sph.com.sg

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Duo linked to UN-blacklisted man charged

Straits Times
20 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

They are accused of paying bills for man connected to ex-Liberian leader

TWO Singaporeans were charged in the State Courts here last week after they allegedly flouted United Nations (UN) rules, by helping a Malaysian blacklisted for his links to a disgraced former African leader. Soh Boon Hock, 61, and Wan Teck Guan, 59, are said to have paid off various bills incurred by Malaysian businessman Joseph Wong Kiia Tai, who is on a UN list of prohibited persons.

Wong, an executive of Oriental Timber Company (OTC), was among those blacklisted by the UN Security Council in 2004 for providing military and financial support to former Liberia president Charles Taylor.

Taylor, who led Liberia for six years till 2003, was convicted in 2012 of crimes against humanity by a special court in The Hague and jailed for 50 years.

He was found criminally responsible for helping and abetting rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone, who carried out atrocities such as rape and murder between 1996 and 2002.

OTC undertook logging operations in Liberia during his term and Taylor is alleged to have used revenue from the timber trade to fund his abuses.

Soh and Wan were charged under the (Freezing of Assets of Former President of Liberia and Connected Persons) Regulations 2004 promulgated through the Monetary Authority of Singapore, invoked here for the first time.

Soh faces 108 charges involving about $825,000, allegedly used to help Wong between 2005 and last February.

He is said to have supplied Wong with a supplementary credit card with a $30,000 credit limit in 2005, for which Soh is the principal cardholder.

Soh is director of Link Gold International, a general wholesale trading firm also implicated in the case.

He is also alleged to have made a cheque payment for $2,915 from a bank account in the company's name to fund the credit card expenses of Wong.

Wan is the principal shareholder of the firm.

He is accused of using a bank account in the company's name to pay several of Wong's credit card debts in 2004.

Wan faces 22 charges involving some $55,000, said to have been committed between October 2004 and June 2007.

No plea was taken when the duo defended by Rajah & Tann lawyer Hamidul Haq appeared in court last week. Soh and Wan are out on $50,000 and $30,000 bail respectively.

If found guilty, they can be jailed for up to five years or fined up to $100,000 or both.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Less adversarial way mooted to tackle medical litigation

Straits Times
13 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

CJ also suggests mediation be taken more seriously

A NEW judge-led approach to settle family disputes started last month may be used to resolve medical malpractice cases too.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has suggested this as a way to settle such medical suits, pointing to the benefits of letting the judge be the director of proceedings rather than a referee watching two warring parties combat in court.

"The broad vision underlying our family justice reforms could well have a place in medical negligence litigation as well," he said.

He suggested this in a talk last month titled Evolving Paradigms For Medical Litigation In Singapore at the annual Oration of the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Singapore.

Last month saw the setting up of the Family Justice Courts, comprising the Family Division of the High Court, the Family Courts and the Youth Courts, all of which are administered by a new Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts.

The moves were meant to reduce acrimony between feuding parties and create an inquisitorial judge-led process which enables him to "guide and direct the proceedings proactively instead of relinquishing the prerogative to the lawyers, as is usually the case in the adversarial system", said CJ Menon.

He noted in his speech last month that the medical profession has already shown a preference for a less adversarial approach in the case of disciplinary proceedings. A similar preference could apply for medical negligence cases that end in court, he added.

In taking the lead, judges could keep the focus on fact-finding and "leave out of the equation emotionally charged matters of peripheral reference that parties might otherwise be keen to put forward to cast their opponent in a negative light or just to give vent to their emotions", he said.

He added the court's use of assessors could also help shift the approach to the inquisitorial system. Assessors use their specialist skills to help the judge come to grips with the technical material before the court. Unlike an expert witness, an assessor cannot be cross-examined.

The use of assessors could minimise doctors' fear of medical litigation by creating more confidence in the legal process and could help cut costs, among other things. This can also mitigate the dangers of "defensive medicine" - where doctors make decisions with an eye not just on the patient but also the risk of a lawsuit.

Urging a rethink of the way medical litigation is conducted, CJ Menon suggested mediation be taken more seriously and its potential benefits be made known to potential litigants.

He pointed out mediation is confidential unlike a court battle, which can ruin relationships, create constant stress and lead to dirty linen being "freely aired".

In mediation, there is no judge and the parties talk to settle with a mediator who facilitates the discussions.

The figures speak for themselves. From 2011 to Sept 30 this year, 73 per cent of the 718 matters that went for mediation administered by the Singapore Mediation Centre led to a settlement.

In cases involving medical negligence for the same period, a settlement was reached in 17 out of 19 cases - a success rate of 89.5 per cent.

"Thus it may be helpful to think of mediation as potentially being the first port of call in the medical malpractice context," said CJ Menon, noting strengthened efforts by the likes of the mediation centre and the Singapore Medical Council to raise public awareness of mediation.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Sim Lim case: Citizen action may be against the law

TODAY
07 Nov 2014
Xue Jianyue

Shop owner could take legal action against source of harassment: Lawyer

SINGAPORE — As the netizen-led campaign against Sim Lim Square shop owner Jover Chew continues, lawyers warned that such tactics — in part driven by frustration over ineffectual action on unscrupulous retail practices — put perpetrators at risk of running afoul of the law.

There are provisions under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act which could apply in the case of Mr Chew, whose identity card number, address and mobile number have been dredged up and shared online by members of the public over the past few days.

Lawyers also pointed out that online anonymity could pose a challenge to police investigations.

Mr Chew’s troubles began following reports that he had attempted to pay a S$1,010 refund ordered by the Small Claims Tribunal in coins, and that Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai had gone down on his knees to beg for a refund. His shop, Mobile Air, which had 25 complaints lodged against it with Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) between August and October, quickly became a symbol of the seedier side of Sim Lim Square.

Yesterday, a T-shirt printed with a Hokkien vulgarity was placed outside his shop, which was closed. Mr Chew’s particulars were also reportedly used to order three large pizzas to his home on Wednesday.

Mobile Air has also been served the Voluntary Compliance Agreement by CASE.

Lawyer Raj Mannar of Peter Low LLC said Mr Chew could take legal action against the source of harassment, especially if the online postings prove to be emotionally harassing and damaging to his business.

Mr Sunil Sudheesan, partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP, pointed to existing provisions under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act which could apply in this scenario. This would require a person to make a police report — Mr Chew’s wife is said to have filed one — followed by possible action by the Attorney-General’s Chambers after weighing the merits of the case.

However, little can be done if the person behind the harassment is not identified, Mr Raj pointed out.

While the Protection From Harassment Act — which is meant to better tackle harassment online — was passed in March, TODAY understands it is not fully in force yet.

Under this Act, action can be taken depending on whether the affected person feels harassed, whether the prosecution feels there is a case to be made and whether the person behind the harassment can be found, said Mr Sunil.

However, he added: “You can’t find who is behind the (online anonymous) post unless you go to the telco and find the IP address, but even that is not conclusive.”

While there have been calls for tougher consumer laws, Shook Lin & Bok LLP partner Robson Lee suggested more robust enforcement of the existing laws instead. For example, CASE could be given additional powers to administer fines to errant businesses.

The fines could be collected in a fund, which could be used to compensate victims of such practices and pay for foreign customers who have been affected to return to Singapore to assist with investigations, Mr Lee added.

In a Facebook post, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin expressed shock at the behaviour shown in the Sim Lim case and said the Government should explore ways to “strengthen or adjust” the laws to deal with cases where individuals face hurdles in seeking resolution.

“Some are disputes that may fall short of violating any laws or regulations, but they clearly assault our sensibilities!” he wrote.

xuejianyue@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Alleged match-fixer loses detention challenge

Straits Times
20 Nov 2014
Hoe Pei Shan

DAN Tan Seet Eng, accused by Interpol of being a global match-fixing syndicate kingpin, yesterday failed in his challenge against his detention without trial.

The 50-year-old businessman has been in prison since October last year after being detained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which allows for detention without trial.

The orders are up to a year and reviewed annually.

Last month, the detention order was extended for another year.

Tan filed a court order seeking a judicial review of his detention in August.

However, his application was yesterday rejected by the High Court in a closed-door hearing, said his lawyer Hamidul Haq.

The defence attorney told The Straits Times that no grounds were given for the rejection during the 21/2-hour session.

He added that he last saw his client in Changi Prison a week ago, and said they would meet again within the coming days to discuss the next move.

He said: "We are studying the situation following the result of the decision."

Labelled by Interpol as the "leader of the world's most notorious match-fixing syndicate", Tan, who is wanted in Italy and Hungary, is suspected of fixing more than 150 matches globally.

He was one of 14 people arrested during an islandwide raid in September last year.

Last month, three others also had their detention orders extended by another year.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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Onerous to license different areas of legal practice: Forum

Straits Times
13 Nov 2014

I AM an advocate and solicitor in private practice, and have some reservations about Mrs Charis Mun's suggestion ("License different areas of legal practice"; last Friday).

Law is already a specialised field. If different areas of legal practice are licensed separately, it could curtail the career prospects of practising lawyers. Young lawyers may not be entirely certain of what they wish to specialise in at the start of their careers.

It would also be onerous if lawyers were to be admitted to the Bar multiple times for different fields of law, and may have a negative impact on the spirit of comity among lawyers.

Also, it may be overly simplistic to think there is a dichotomy between community law and corporate law.

To my limited understanding, the more significant difference lies between contentious and non-contentious matters.

A contested divorce and an international arbitration may be equally contentious, while an agreement between two corporations may be as non-contentious as a Mental Capacity Act application made with the consent of the relevant parties.

As there are endless ways of classifying areas of legal practice, this may be a futile debate.

Lawyers today face numerous requirements, such as continuing professional development and pro bono work. These initiatives are accepted by lawyers as they are meant to benefit the community.

Mrs Mun's proposal, well-intentioned as it may be, would be too burdensome.

Wilson Foo Yu Kang

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

MOH mulls Bill on biomedical research ethics

TODAY
07 Nov 2014
Valerie Koh

Public feedback exercise launched

SINGAPORE — Using traceable human tissue for biomedical research without acquiring the consent of the donor before the procedure could soon be illegal.

This is one of many provisions under the draft Human Biomedical Research Bill, which seeks to formalise standards in this field and protect the welfare of research participants.

In 2003, the Ministry of Health (MOH) had conducted a public consultation exercise on a Regulation of Biomedical Research Bill. However, the bill was never tabled in Parliament. Instead, the Human Cloning and Other Prohibited Practices Act was passed, outlawing the buying and selling of human gametes and embryos.

During a media briefing today (Nov 6), an MOH spokesman said that the biomedical landscape has evolved, and the proposed laws are to protect the safety of research participants and to ensure greater transparency.

The ministry has launched a public feedback exercise to gather views on the draft bill’s two components — a human tissue framework and a human biomedical research framework.

Under the first framework, the general use of human tissue — removing, procuring, storing and supplying — will be subjected to controls, such as acquiring written content. However the commercial trading of human tissue will be banned. Anyone caught flouting this law could face the heaviest penalty in the bill — a maximum fine of S$100,000, up to 10 years’ jail, or both.

The second framework strives to formalise standards for all research institutions – private and public. Presently, research institutions have to appoint an independent Institutional Review Board, to review their research proposals, and give the greenlight.

Once the legislation takes effect, research institutions will have to notify the MOH of their projects and submit a declaration of compliance with the requirements of the bill.

The framework will also spell out the types of research that are restricted and prohibited. Any research involving human embryos and eggs, or requires human cells to be combined with animal foetus, will require approval from MOH.

However, researchers are not allowed to develop human-animal combination embryos beyond 14 days or the appearance of the primitive streak — a structure that forms in embroyonic development — whichever comes first.

The MOH spokesman said: “Concepts like getting informed consent, getting research reviewed by an external committee – all these are already in practice. They are in the form of guidelines. These are already practiced, but maybe with some uneven standards. This law tries to set a rule that applies to everyone.”

The feedback exercise ends on Dec 18. To provide feedback, go to www.moh.gov.sg/hbr.


The Bill that was never tabled

In 2003, the Ministry of Health (MOH) conducted a public consultation exercise on a Regulation of Biomedical Research Bill. However, the Bill was never tabled in Parliament. Instead, the Human Cloning and Other Prohibited Practices Act was passed, outlawing the buying and selling of human gametes and embryos.

valeriekohsf@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

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20 Nov 2014
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Drawbacks of licensing different areas of legal practice: Forum

Straits Times
13 Nov 2014

MRS Charis Mun's suggestion ("License different areas of legal practice"; last Friday) will not work because clients' cases may involve different areas of law.

Licensing different areas of legal practice would increase fees for clients if they have to seek legal advice from different lawyers.

Legal practice requires lawyers to be well informed and highly skilled in different areas of the law. To compartmentalise their areas of practice would severely dilute the expertise they can accumulate through engaging in diverse practice areas, and ultimately short-change their clients.

At a time when everyone is clamouring for legal fees to be reduced, what Mrs Mun is suggesting may have the unintended opposite effect.

The focus should be on the quality, and not quantity, of lawyers.

Chris Lee Kay Swee

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License different areas of legal practice: Forum

Straits Times
07 Nov 2014

I AGREE with Professor Simon Chesterman that law is great training for many careers ("Too many lawyers? Or too few?"; last Saturday).

In fact, I am among the graduates of the National University of Singapore Law Faculty who have never practised.

Not only that, I returned to complete a Master of Laws degree at the faculty while working in investment banking and found what I learnt useful and relevant in my career.

But not everyone who does not practise will benefit from studying law.

Ideally, the limited places in our law schools should be given only to those likely to benefit from legal training, and not simply based on academic merit in subjects with little relevance.

If the shortage of lawyers practising community law is a problem, a third law school is not going to be a solution unless its graduates are licensed to practise only community law.

Licensing different areas of legal practice separately is the way to go.

Such an approach requires lawyers to practise only in areas for which they have adequate expertise, and allow for greater benefits from specialisation and better quality advice for clients.

We have seen how costly it can be when lawyers handle cases outside of their areas of expertise ("Lawyer's fault that will is invalid: Court"; July 4).

Community law has little similarity to corporate law.

With greater specialisation, lawyers can have more in-depth training in the non-legal aspects related to their areas of practice.

Charis Mun (Mrs)

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Dennis Foo back in court over Raffles Town Club saga

Straits Times
19 Nov 2014
Selina Lum

NIGHTSPOT boss Dennis Foo is back in court over a long-running saga involving the Raffles Town Club (RTC), some 13 years after he sold his stake in it.

He has accused fellow founding shareholders Lawrence Ang, to whom he sold his shares and those in two other firms to resolve a legal tussle, and William Tan of a conspiracy to hide from him their plan to sell his stake on to new owners.

If Mr Foo, 61, had known this was going to happen, he would have remained an RTC shareholder, his lawyer, Mr Tan Chuan Thye, told the High Court yesterday in opening his case.

He said Mr Foo would have received $13.2 million in dividends from RTC alone in 2001. Instead, Mr Foo suffered a loss by selling his stake in the three firms to Mr Ang, 62, for $11 million.

The other two companies are food and beverage firm ABR Holdings, which holds the Swensen's franchise, and its subsidiary, Europa Holdings.

The legal saga started in 2000 when billionaire Peter Lim, one of Singapore's richest men who this year bought Spanish football club Valencia, sued Mr Ang and Mr Tan, 54, for reneging on an agreement to give him a 40 per cent stake in RTC.

Mr Foo was also a defendant but did not contest Mr Lim's claim. The case was settled out of court on April 19, 2001, with Mr Foo agreeing to sell his shares in RTC, Europa and ABR to Mr Ang.

It was only in March 2007 - in a separate suit brought by RTC against the four men - that Mr Foo saw documents relating to a meeting between Mr Ang, Mr Tan and new owners Margaret Tung and Lin Jianwei. It was dated five days before his deal with Mr Ang and Mr Tan.

Mr Foo said this was evidence of an agreement. But the defendants, represented by Senior Counsel Harry Elias, say the document, titled Minutes of Meeting, was just a record of a discussion.

The hearing continues today.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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OW Bunker saga: MPA making 'routine' checks on Tankoil

Business Times
13 Nov 2014
Malminderjit Singh

[Singapore] THE Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said that it was making "routine" checks on Tankoil Marine Services, reportedly involved in the OW Bunker saga, as the fallout from last week's fraud case continued on Wednesday.

Responding to queries from The Business Times, MPA said in a statement: "As the regulator of bunker suppliers, MPA is conducting routine checks on Tankoil Marine Services Pte Ltd. This is part of ongoing efforts to ensure the safety, reliability and quality of bunker supplies in Singapore."

News reports on Tuesday suggested that Tankoil could have been involved in the alleged bunker fraud in Singapore that led to the collapse of Danish bunker supplier and trader OW Bunker (OW).

Tankoil did not respond to BT's queries on these allegations.

A flurry of firms have filed lawsuits against the Singapore units of OW on Wednesday with claims totalling more than S$5 million. Besides Hin Leong Trading, which was already reported on Tuesday to have began legal proceedings, four more companies joined the queue to make their credit claims against OW or one of its Singapore subsidiaries - OW Bunker Far East and Dynamic Oil Trading. As reported by BT on Wednesday, Golden Island Diesel Oil Trading is one of these companies. The other three are: Bunker House Petroleum, Equatorial Marine Fuel Management Services and Panoil Petroleum, a Reuters report stated.

Although MPA said earlier this week that there are more than 60 bunker suppliers in Singapore, and OW Bunker Far East (Singapore) accounted for under 3 per cent of the 42.6 million metric tonnes supplied in Singapore in 2013, but as BT reported on Wednesday, the financial impact of OW's collapse could still be significant.

According to the Reuters report, court documents showed that the overall amount of claims made against OW Bunker Far East and Dynamic Oil Trading over unpaid supplies now total around S$5.3 million (US$4.11 million) made by nearly half a dozen companies.

"OW Bunker is a very large ship fuel supplier, perhaps even the biggest, so pretty much everyone in the sector had dealings with them or one of its subsidiaries," a trader was quoted as saying in the Reuters report. "I'm sure every single one of them will try to claim back money owed."

As BT earlier reported, the case could create a credit crunch in the industry here with fuel suppliers being more cautious and tightening their credit terms - a scenario that could trickle down the supply chain to the end-user.

msingh@sph.com.sg

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Property curbs: Which should stay and which should go?

Straits Times
07 Nov 2014
Janice Heng

EVERY few months, property industry players renew their call for cooling measures to be lifted, pointing to the sluggish property market.

The most recent suggestion came, albeit indirectly, from the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore.

In September, it warned that if cooling measures cause consumer sentiment to decline too much, "there could be a broader impact on the economy".

But it stopped short of calling for specific changes - unlike property developers in August, who did not hold back.

Each time the topic is broached, however, the Government reiterates its stance that it is still too early to do so.

Of course, the cooling measures will be relooked "sooner or later", as National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan put it during a Chinese news programme last week. There has been much speculation about when this might happen.

But apart from timing, there is another question about this eventual relaxation: Exactly which measures will or should be lifted?

A whole range of policies are referred to as "cooling measures", but some are arguably important not just as short-term moves to bring a soaring property market down, but as basic safeguards.

Even if prices cool as planned, some measures may be worth keeping.

One is the 35-year cap on the tenure of home loans. At its introduction in October 2012, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said it was part of the "broader aim of avoiding a price bubble and fostering long-term stability in the property market".

In other words, it was important not just as an immediate cooling measure, but also as part of a more stable property market.

The cap was also meant to protect both borrowers and lenders.

The MAS noted then that low initial monthly repayments, made possible by long tenures and low interest rates, might lead borrowers to take a larger loan than they can truly afford, and to have the repayments stretch over a longer period.The number of residents aged 65 and over with outstanding private mortgages has almost tripled since 2008, reaching 15,506 this July.

While some may be financing investment homes and are not in financial difficulties, others may be in danger of being saddled with a loan they cannot afford to keep servicing. The 35-year loan tenure cap for private property should help avoid that situation.

R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng considers the cap "a good measure to keep, irrespective of market conditions".

Similarly, other cooling measures that keep homeowners from overstretching themselves should be retained for that purpose.

"Loan-related measures should be removed last, as these measures encourage financial prudence," says OrangeTee managing director Steven Tan.

Take the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) of 60 per cent, introduced last June. This means financial institutions cannot extend a home loan if prospective borrowers' monthly repayments - for all their loans - exceed 60 per cent of their gross monthly income.

This protects borrowers from over-extending. It also reduces the risk of bank overexposure to bad loans by filtering out borrowers more likely to default, notes PropNex Realty chief executive office Mohamed Ismail Gafoor, who also thinks it should remain.

Playing a similar role to the TDSR is the Mortgage Servicing Ratio limit of 30 per cent. This is the proportion of gross income that can be used to service a loan for a Housing Board flat.

As it promotes financial prudence, it would make sense to retain this- at least in part - to ensure that buyers do not overstretch themselves.

In contrast to these cooling measures are those which seem to aim simply at reducing demand. These include the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD), introduced in 2011 and increased last year.

Singaporean property owners must pay 7 per cent on their second property, and 10 per cent on subsequent ones. The duty is higher for permanent residents and foreigners, with the latter paying 15 per cent on any property bought.

Experts point to this as the first of the cooling measures that should be tweaked or removed.

As a tax on property purchases, it merely discourages buyers.

Administratively, removing ABSD is also the easiest move if the Government wants to adjust any cooling measures, notes SLP International Property Consultants head of research Nicholas Mak. It will not affect existing properties, unlike loan curb changes which have implications for refinancing, for instance.

After ABSD, the next cooling measure which could be relooked is Seller Stamp Duty, say experts.

Payable on properties sold within four years of their purchase, it aims to discourage speculation and "flipping" of properties. "In times of a downturn, the SSD can prove to be a double-edged sword, amplifying losses for investors who need to liquidate their property investments," says Mr Tan.

janiceh@sph.com.sg

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Making a case for 'specialist lawyers': Forum

Straits Times
19 Nov 2014

MR WILSON Foo Yu Kang ("Onerous to license different areas of legal practice"; last Thursday) and Mr Chris Lee Kay Swee ("Drawbacks of licensing different areas of legal practice"; Forum Online, last Thursday) expressed misgivings about my proposal ("License different areas of legal practice"; Nov 7).

I have not suggested how the different areas of legal practice should be demarcated.

Each area can be as broad or as narrow as deemed fit, depending on its complexity. For example, community law can be licensed as a single practice area. Within corporate law, financial law may be licensed separately from corporate secretarial practice.

Even without separate licensing, corporate lawyers tend to be rather specialised in a limited number of niche areas. For example, if derivative- or equity-linked documentation is involved, the primary lawyer in a debt capital market transaction would bring in partners who are experts in their respective areas.

A lawyer should ideally be highly skilled in every area of the law, but this is not possible in reality. Specialisation allows an individual to focus on what he does best. A lawyer focusing fully on a particular area would have more experience to draw on, having handled a wider range of transactions.

If the legal sector is to play a key role in Singapore's development as a financial hub, such specialisation is necessary, especially with the increasing complexity of financial markets.

Clients' cases may involve different areas of the law, but if it is in relation to the same matter, the area would likely be within the same licensing field. If it is in relation to a different matter, there is no value-add in using the same lawyer.

Indeed, using a lawyer in an area he has no expertise in is not going to reduce costs - more time is needed for research and preparation, and errors are more likely to crop up.

As for young lawyers being uncertain about the areas of specialisation, that is the case with every 18-year-old opting for a course in university.

Surely, law graduates in their mid-20s, with the benefit of internships prior to the start of their careers, should be adequately informed to make decisions.

Charis Mun (Mrs)

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Case turns to court to bring Mobile Air to heel

Straits Times
13 Nov 2014
Kash Cheong

THE Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has decided to take out an injunction against Sim Lim Square retailer Mobile Air after the firm refused to sign an agreement to stop its unfair practices, Case said in a media release yesterday.

The injunction, if granted by the court, orders Mobile Air to refrain from engaging in unfair practices as stated in the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act. If the firm breaches the injunction, it may be charged with contempt of court, making the owner liable to a jail term or fines, said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.

Mobile Air had a week to sign the Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA) to pledge to stop its unfair practices but refused to do so.

The firm landed in the spotlight after it reportedly used questionable sales tactics on a Vietnamese tourist, Mr Pham Van Thoai, who said he paid $950 for an iPhone 6 but was asked to pay another $1,500 for a warranty before the shop would hand over the phone.

Images of the factory worker kneeling down to beg for a refund made it to the media and were circulated online, leading netizens from the satirical Facebook group, SMRT Ltd (Feedback), to splash shop owner Jover Chew's personal details online.

A check by The Straits Times last night found that the Facebook page of SMRT Ltd (Feedback) had been removed, though its Twitter account was still active. Police confirmed they had received several reports against Mobile Air, as well as a related report of intentional harassment, and were investigating.

Some 86 complaints were made against 10 stores in Sim Lim Square between August and October this year. Mobile Air has chalked up at least 25, topping the list, Case said.

The shop has been closed for over a week.

In any case, applying for an injunction against Mobile Air is likely to take some time, said Case. To do so, it has to seek approval from its relevant committees as well as the Injunction Proposals Review Panel at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, before applying for the court order. The whole process might take several months, said Case.

Case will also crack down strongly on errant traders who have refused to stop their unfair practices despite repeated warnings, it said.

Meanwhile, the Government is also studying other measures to protect consumers better, said Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran. "This may take some time especially if we need to amend our laws," he said in a Facebook post last Saturday.

"More immediately, we are working with Case and other stakeholders to educate consumers on their rights, so that they do not fall prey to such sales tactics, and know where and how to seek recourse when necessary," he added.

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New centre tackles cross-border business disputes: Singapore International Mediation Centre

Straits Times
06 Nov 2014
Lim Yi Han

Centre to meet demand as regional trade grows

SINGAPORE is one step closer to being a regional hub for dispute resolution, with the launch of the Singapore International Mediation Centre yesterday.

Businesses entangled in cross-border commercial disputes will be able to settle their differences with the help of a mediator through the new centre at Maxwell Road.

There are currently 66 local and foreign mediators on the panel of the centre.

In a speech at the launch, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the dramatic growth in trade and investment in Asia in recent years has led to more demand for quality dispute resolution services, but there was no organisation here focused on providing such services.

He said: "The Singapore International Mediation Centre will fill that gap and this will constitute a very significant step towards developing a more complete suite of dispute resolution services in Singapore."

Chief Justice Menon added that mediation is a particularly attractive way for businesses to settle their disputes, as it helps to preserve the relationships between disputing parties while they come to a mutually acceptable solution to the conflict.

The new centre will also benefit mediators as it provides opportunities for them to expand their portfolio of cross-border work, he added.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who was also at the launch, said in a statement that the new mediation centre will complement the arbitration sector and the upcoming Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC).

"Our focus on offering this complete suite of dispute resolution options for international commercial cases sets us apart from other jurisdictions, and enhances our standing as a one-stop dispute resolution centre," he added.

The centre adds to the upcoming SICC as well as the existing Singapore International Arbitration Centre.

On Tuesday, amendments to the Constitution - the supreme law of the land - were passed by Parliament, one of which is the setting up of the SICC.

The court will hear international cross-border commercial cases, including those governed by foreign law. It will be established as a division of the High Court and international judges will be appointed.

Meanwhile, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre is an independent organisation established in 1991.

Unlike court litigation, arbitration is a less formal procedure and is conducted in private.

Last year, the centre received 259 new cases.

Separately, the Singapore International Mediation Institute, which is a professional standards body, was also launched yesterday.

Mediation service providers or trainers can register with the institute, and mediators under these providers will then be accredited or certified.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, who was a guest of honour at the event, said: "Unlike arbitration and litigation, which are adversarial processes and result in a 'win-lose' situation, successful mediation can sometimes result in a better outcome for the parties, as win-win situations can be achieved through a flexible mix of legal and non-legal solutions."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

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Second OW unit in Singapore files for liquidation

Business Times
19 Nov 2014
Malminderjit Singh

Like sister firm OW Bunker Far East, Dynamic Oil Trading has appointed KPMG as provisional liquidator

[Singapore] THE fallout from the collapse of beleagured Danish marine fuel supplier OW Bunker continues.

Its Singapore subsidiary, Dynamic Oil Trading (DOT), filed for liquidation on Tuesday, less than two weeks after OW itself filed for insolvency in Denmark.

DOT has appointed professional services firm KPMG as its provisional liquidator. Liquidation enables companies with claims against DOT to file proof of these claims, which the provisional liquidator will see to, a KPMG spokesman said.

OW's other Singapore subsidiary, OW Bunker Far East, already filed for liquidation last week. It will hold a meeting with KPMG - also its provisional liquidator - on Dec 4 to discuss its outstanding debt, Reuters reported. The meeting will begin the process of winding down OW in Singapore and receiving a list of creditors and their claim amounts.

OW's collapse, arising out of a reported fraud by two senior DOT employees in Singapore amounting to US$125 million and risk-management loss of US$150 million, has hit the bunkering industry in Singapore and globally.

OW itself has reportedly run up about US$1.5 billion in debts globally because of this, with creditors starting to make their claims. Of this amount, OW owes banks, pension funds and other institutional financers an estimated US$750 million; it is estimated that it owes another US$730 million to around 150 trading counterparties for outstanding fuel bills, Reuters said.

Among its global creditors, 20 firms account for nearly half the outstanding fuel payments; they include large energy companies such as BP, Statoil, Sinopec, Glencore, Aegean Marine Petroleum and Phillips 66, with each owed between US$10 million and US$35 million.

In Singapore, at least five companies have already proceeded with legal action against OW or its Singapore subsidiaries DOT and Ow Bunker Far East. The five, whose claims against the group exceed S$5 million, are Hin Leong Trading, Golden Island Diesel Oil Trading, Bunker House Petroleum, Equatorial Marine Fuel Management Services and Panoil Petroleum.

Two South Korean refiners, SK Innovation and GS Caltex Corp, have disclosed that they are considering legal action against the group.

As a result of this legal action, it was revealed on Tuesday that seven of OW's vessels have been seized in Singapore by law firm Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP. Six of those ships were seized on behalf of Phillips 66 between Nov 15 and 17, following the seizure of the first vessel last week.

A Thomson Reuters research report last week indicated that former wharf suppliers in Singapore have a total exposure of US$500 million to OW, with individual exposure amounting to between US$10 million and US$40 million.

In a closed-door meeting last week held by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the International Bunker Industry Association, it was revealed that companies can expect to be asked to pay 100 per cent of debts they owed OW, but could not expect to be returned any money owed to them by OW.

Under the hierarchy of payments from OW, KPMG will be paid its fee as liquidator first. Tax payments to the government are next in line, followed by banks and financial institutions with staff salary payments coming next. All other creditors come only after that, raising the possibility that there may not be enough payments to settle their claims.

msingh@sph.com.sg

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Rich widow's medical report submitted to court

Straits Times
13 Nov 2014
Carolyn Khew

A PIVOTAL medical report on the mental fitness of Madam Chung Khin Chun, a wealthy widow who gave control of her assets to a former China tour guide, has been submitted to court.

This was revealed yesterday after a pre-trial conference for tomorrow's hearing, during which the Family Court will decide whether the 87-year-old widow should be allowed to revoke the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) that she gave to Yang Yin in 2012.

The saga has captured the public's attention ever since the widow's niece, Madam Hedy Mok, in September accused Yang of taking advantage of her aunt.

A year after meeting her in 2008 while acting as her guide during a trip to China, Yang moved into her $30 million Gerald Crescent bungalow. Not only did Madam Chung give him the legal powers to handle her assets when she lost the mental capacity to do so, but she also changed her will to appoint him the sole executor of her estate on her death.

Late last month, Yang, 40, was arrested for faking receipts at his company Young Music and Dance Studio, through which he received an employment pass, and then permanent residency. He faces 331 charges.

Madam Mok is also suing him for damages, along with contesting the LPA.

Separately, Madam Chung's lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam also made a public announcement on Sept 23 that she wanted to revoke the LPA.

The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) then got permission from the court for an independent medical assessment of Madam Chung, who had been diagnosed with dementia this year.

Speaking to The Straits Times after yesterday's pre-trial conference, Madam Mok's lawyer Andrew Lee and Mr Yang's lawyer Daniel Zhu said that the medical report had been submitted to the court on Monday. "All parties have received the medical report and will be reviewing it," added Mr Zhu.

An OPG spokesman had earlier explained that getting the independent medical assessment was necessary to protect the interests and assets of Madam Chung.

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

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

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Surgeon's husband fails in bid to have QC argue his case

Straits Times
06 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

High Court says overcharging issue very 'local', QC not necessary

THE High Court has rejected a bid by the husband of a prominent surgeon to have a Queen's Counsel argue his case in relation to alleged overcharging by two lawyers.

Mr Deepak Sharma is asking the court to quash a decision by a review committee that wholly dismissed his complaint against Senior Counsel (SC) Alvin Yeo and partially against lawyer Melanie Ho.

But Justice Steven Chong ruled the issues in the case were very "local" and found no special reason for Queen's Counsel (QC) Michael Fordham to represent Mr Sharma in the case.

Mr Sharma, 60, had complained about the allegedly excessive fees charged by Mr Yeo and Ms Ho for work they did in representing the Singapore Medical Council against his wife, Dr Susan Lim, in disciplinary and court proceedings.

After she lost and was ordered to pay costs, a bill of costs of about $1 million was presented to court and slashed to $370,000 last year.

Mr Sharma complained to the Law Society that the reduction showed gross overcharging but a review committee dismissed his complaint, finding the bill of costs was not exorbitant and there was no professional misconduct.

He applied in June to the court for permission to start judicial review proceedings of the decision, and sought Mr Fordham to represent him in this, as well as the judicial review itself and any other related proceedings.

Singapore's Legal Profession Act lets top-tier counsel - QCs or their equivalent - appear in court on an ad hoc basis if conditions are met. Mr Fordham was rated last year among the top 100 barristers practising in England and Wales by a leading publication.

But Justice Chong, in judgment grounds released yesterday, made clear that while Mr Fordham was "well-versed" in judicial review, it did not follow he was "well placed to argue all kinds of judicial review proceedings".

The judge said the potential issues in the case involved strong local content, and it had not been shown that Mr Fordham had special qualifications or experience in dealing with domestic sources of law. "Putting it bluntly, it is simply not clear what (Mr Fordham) can bring to the table given the highly local-centric nature of the issues arising," he said.

Mr Sharma, represented by lawyer Abraham Vergis, said he had approached no fewer than 20 SCs to assist him but all had declined for various reasons.

However, Senior Counsel Jeffrey Chan for the Attorney-General and lawyer Chistopher Anand Daniel for the Law Society, in opposing the application, both argued it was "not necessary" to have an SC or foreign SC handle the case.

The issues raised in the judicial review were not so complex or difficult that other local counsel would not be able to effectively represent Mr Sharma, they added.

Justice Chong agreed and held Mr Sharma should not have confined his quest for legal assistance to only the handful of local SCs.

The judge pointed to his lawyer Mr Vergis to counter Mr Sharma's claim of the lack of local counsel available, describing Mr Vergis as a "very competent local counsel".

In 2012, Dr Lim was found guilty of overcharging and was fined $10,000, suspended from practice for three years and censured.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

As old buildings age, re-think rules on en bloc sales

Straits Times
18 Nov 2014
Chia Yan Min

Current rules hold back the redevelopment of ageing buildings. Should they be changed?

BUILT in the 1960s, Cairnhill Mansions is one of several properties in the Orchard Road area that has seen better days. Age and rising maintenance costs are taking their toll on the apartment block: a resident was recently trapped in the lift for four hours due to a malfunctioning lift motor.

Many of the development's 61 owners are keen to sell their units and move on. They would prefer to do so in a collective sale, where the whole building and the land it sits on are bought by a single buyer for more than the sum of the individual units.

But going en bloc has proven difficult for such old properties.

Last month, Cairnhill Mansions started its fourth collective sale bid, after earlier attempts in 2005, 2007 and 2011 fell through.

In August, another ageing building, the 44-year-old Tanglin Shopping Centre, failed in its second try to go en bloc.

While the current dismal state of the property market is one problem, there is also the issue of gathering enough sell votes from each building's myriad owners.

Many of Singapore's oldest properties, including offices and malls, are strata-titled, which means their individual units are owned by different people.

Tanglin Shopping Centre, for instance, has 173 owners. Only 70 per cent of them agreed to go en bloc in August, far below the 80 per cent minimum threshold.

Mr Charles Ho, the sale committee chairman of Cairnhill Mansions, said it is "not a major hurdle" to obtain 70 per cent of owner agreements but tough to reach the 80 per cent consent level.

Other old buildings that have tried but failed to be sold en bloc include Ming Arcade and Far East Shopping Centre in the west Orchard Road area.

On the one hand, this shows that some owners still see value in their ageing properties.

But others argue that the peeling facades and outdated infrastructure in these old buildings make them eyesores and even health hazards.

Given their escalating maintenance costs and underutilised land area, often in central locations, they are prime targets for refurbishment and redevelopment. However, majority consensus among the owners of a strata-titled property can be difficult to obtain because of the collective action problem: when a large group of people have to act together, it becomes tougher to agree.

Some strata-titled property owners and property consultants have called for consent thresholds to be lowered for older buildings.

They say this would aid urban rejuvenation - a priority in land-scarce Singapore - and breathe new life into ageing properties that face escalating maintenance costs and, especially for malls and offices, struggle to compete with their glitzier counterparts.

Making it easier for commercial buildings to go en bloc could also spur the redevelopment of the sleepy western end of Orchard Road, which has dwindled in popularity as shoppers flock to newer malls further down the shopping belt.

Weighing tradeoffs

THE benefits of urban renewal, however, must be balanced against the interests of the owners of older buildings who are reluctant to sell their units.

Ms Elaine Chow, the executive director and head of research at Chestertons Singapore, said the current consensus levels "act as a necessary balance check".

"The interests and the rights of the minority shareholders need to be looked after and to be protected... This is especially so when it comes to matters of great importance, like having a roof over one's head," she added.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which governs collective sales, agrees.

A spokesman told The Straits Times that the current consent rules strike "a balance between protecting the interests of minority strata-property home owners and facilitating urban renewal".

The regulations for collective sales "must balance the interests of all strata-property owners, be they pro-sale or anti-sale", the spokesman added.

Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo, deputy head of the real estate department at the National University of Singapore, said there are a whole host of reasons - both monetary and otherwise - why some owners might not want ageing properties to go en bloc.

While more property owners are likely to consent to a collective sale when the market is booming and developers are willing to pay top dollar for a site, "there are always people not motivated by monetary incentives".

Some might feel emotionally attached to a home they have lived in for decades, while others might worry about not being able to afford a comparable home or commercial unit in the same area, he said. Prof Sing also said rules "need to protect minority owners from being drawn into collective sales started by speculators, who buy older properties and then try to launch a collective sale".

Mr Ong Kah Seng, director of R'ST Research, said not all urban renewal is unequivocally good. He said collective sales can have a "double-edged" impact on society and the cityscape.

While redevelopment results in "newer and fresher" environs, it also means "destroying our past".

"By now, even buildings built in the 1980s and 1990s are nostalgic, as each decade has its own architecture," he said. Too much collective sale activity and redevelopment might "create homogeneous building forms".

Tweaking consent levels

STILL, the quiet collective sale market might offer a good opportunity for policymakers to refine consent rules for ageing properties, if they want to spur redevelopment.

Of the 181 buildings sold en bloc since 2004, only 35 per cent were aged above 30 years old, the SLA told The Straits Times.

It also said that while the current rules are working well, the agency will "continue to monitor the situation".

One possible solution, raised by Mr Terence Tang, the managing director of Asia capital markets and investment services at Colliers International, could be to add more tiers of consent levels based on the age of the property.

Currently, developments less than 10 years old require 90 per cent of owners by share value to agree to the collective sale, while those 10 years and older require 80 per cent.

Mr Tang suggested that the consent level could be lowered to 75 per cent for buildings older than 30 years old and to 70 per cent for buildings aged above 40 years. Making the requirements less stringent would aid urban redevelopment and rejuvenation, he said. Of course, this should be balanced against the interests of the minority owners, who may be hesitant about or unwilling to take part in the sale, he noted.

One way to avoid turning elderly folk out of their lifelong homes could be to apply the lower consent rules only to commercial buildings and not residential ones.

Living in a decades-old home with ageing infrastructure might be inconvenient and expensive, but the alternative - purchasing a new property and moving out - could end up being even costlier for some owners.

On top of that, the value of a home cannot be measured in dollars and cents - homes are a repository of memories and sentiment can frequently outweigh monetary considerations.

Alternatively, in lieu of lowering the threshold, a rule mandating renovations at regular intervals might be viable.

Owners of shop or office units in commercial buildings might have similar reasons as homeowners for holding back on agreeing to a collective sale: higher rents at a new location, or the difficulty of finding suitable alternative space.

This would eliminate the collective action problem altogether, instead of merely making it easier to overcome. However, some owners might argue that they should have free rein to renovate their properties as they see fit.

The tussle between redevelopment and the protection of minority owners will continue to intensify as Singapore's strata-titled buildings continue ageing. It is timely to re-evaluate existing rules, to guard against old buildings sliding further into decline.

chiaym@sph.com.sg

 

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Laws do protect vulnerable consumers: Forum

Straits Times
13 Nov 2014

THERE has been much public outcry over Mobile Air's unscrupulous sales tactics.

While netizens and the authorities have expressed shock and disapproval over such tactics, it is not altogether true that we do not have adequate laws to protect consumers.

The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act does provide that "it is an unfair practice for a supplier... to take advantage of a consumer... who is not in a position to protect his own interests; or is not reasonably able to understand the character, nature, language or effect of the transaction or any matter related to the transaction".

The Second Schedule to the Act also defines unfair practice as "taking advantage of a consumer by including in an agreement terms or conditions that are harsh, oppressive or excessively one-sided so as to be unconscionable".

While it is always desirable for contracting parties to be astute and careful before signing a contract, it is not as if a less-than-careful buyer is without protection.

The purpose of the Act and its provisions clearly takes a proactive position in protecting such vulnerable and unsuspecting buyers.

It is undeniable, however, that these laws would improve significantly if the Consumers Association of Singapore were given more powers and if criminal sanctions were introduced.

MP Vikram Nair had commented that it is "highly unusual" to give a consumer association powers of enforcement and to administer fines.

In Australia, though, fines are enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. So such a practice is not unusual.

I hope our lawmakers can consider legislative reforms in the form of criminal sanctions.

In the meantime, while our laws are not perfect, there is some protection for those who are less than careful. Traders cannot think they can engage in deceitful practices and get away with it.

David Chang Cheok Weng


Background Story

ONLINE VIGILANTISM

While Mr Jover Chew's conduct was extremely reprehensible and damaged Singapore's reputation as a tourism hub, we should not go to the extent of posting his personal details online... Two wrongs do not make a right. We should not take the law into our hands. It is best to leave it to the authorities to decide the next appropriate course of action.

– Francis Cheng

Visit www.straitstimes.com to read Mr Cheng's complete letter.

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Public Guardian asking court to rule if LPA is valid

Straits Times
06 Nov 2014
Grace Leong

At stake is up to $30 million in assets belonging to former boss of SA Tours

THE Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) has turned to the courts for the first time to determine the validity of a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) - in a case involving assets worth an estimated $30 million.

The thorny case, centring on the former boss of SA Tours, Mr Ng Kong Yeam, 75, involves allegations by his family in Malaysia that his signature had been forged by Madam Kay Swee Pin to get the LPA.

Madam Kay was in the headlines in 2010 for suing the Singapore Island Country Club after the club suspended her for lying that she was married to Mr Ng, who now has dementia.

An LPA is a legal document allowing a person to appoint another - known as a donee - to make key decisions should he lose mental capacity.

In response to The Straits Times yesterday, a spokesman for the OPG said: "The OPG applied to court to determine the validity of Ng's LPA. This is the first of such an application made by the Public Guardian to court."

The case, to be heard in the High Court, centres on questions over whether the LPA appointing Madam Kay and her daughter Eva Mae as Mr Ng's donees on Feb 16, 2012 is valid.

The move comes amid a family feud over management of Mr Ng's personal welfare and financial assets - including SA Tours in Singapore and Malaysia - estimated to be worth up to $30 million.

The dispute involves Mr Ng's legal wife, Datin Ling Towi Sing, their three children, including Gabriel Ng; and Madam Kay, managing director of SA Tours, and her daughter with the older Mr Ng, Eva Mae, its marketing manager.

On Oct 3, Madam Kay and Eva Mae notified the OPG of their purported resignations as donees for him under the LPA. Their appointments had been in effect since Feb 16, 2012.

The OPG's move comes five months after Mr Ng's Malaysian family sought to revoke the LPA.

In court papers, they alleged that Madam Kay, relying on a purported letter of authority, had forged Mr Ng's signature in 2011 to obtain an LPA to manage his affairs.

But Madam Kay, 62, in court documents, denied the allegations of forgery.

She said she had signed Mr Ng's name because he had "given (her) authority to do so". But she said that she was "unable to find" the original letter of authority.

In court papers, Madam Kay also said there is "no evidence provided by the plaintiffs, that as attorney, we did not act in Mr Ng's best interests, ... (or) that the LPA was 'induced by fraud or undue pressure'".

But the OPG, in court papers filed on Oct 16, cited concerns that the LPA for Mr Ng "was not even validly brought into existence in the first place".

State-appointed Public Guardian Daniel Koh, in court papers, asked that he be "directed to cancel the registration of the LPA if the court determines the requirements for the creation of the LPA have not been met".

He also asked for the court to declare that Madam Kay and Eva Mae "never had authority to act as Mr Ng's donees" if it finds that the requirements for the creation of the LPA had not been met.

This, after Mr Koh discovered that the certificate issuer to the LPA, Mr Sum Chong Mun, a lawyer, "admitted that he did not personally verify that (the older) Mr Ng understood the purpose of the LPA, or that there was no fraud or undue pressure used to induce him to create the LPA".

Mr Koh said he discovered this after he had been provided court papers filed in June this year by Mr Gabriel Ng and his family seeking to revoke the LPA.

Represented by Mr Abraham Vergis of Providence Law, Mr Ng's Malaysian family had sought to revoke the LPA, alleging it was "fraudulently created", the requirements for its creation "weren't met", and that Madam Kay and her daughter had "not behaved in Mr Ng (senior)'s best interests".

Madam Kay, in her Oct 3 resignation notice, asked the OPG to "revoke the LPA as (Mr Ng) himself, being of unsound mind, is not in a position to do so".

The lawyer for Madam Kay did not respond to requests for comment on the OPG's application.

gleong@sph.com.sg

 

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

 

The case centres on questions over whether the LPA appointing Madam Kay and her daughter Eva Mae as Mr Ng's donees on Feb 16, 2012 is valid. The move comes amid a family feud over management of Mr Ng's personal welfare and financial assets - including SA Tours in Singapore and Malaysia - estimated to be worth up to $30 million.

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

S’pore must uphold family unit as basic societal building block: Voices

TODAY
18 Nov 2014

The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) has claimed that the Court of Appeal’s recent ruling upholding Section 377A of the Penal Code contradicts Singapore’s international obligations (“S377A ruling contradicts Govt position on equality”, Nov 17).

This reflects a deep misunderstanding of both domestic and international law, as well as the ruling itself. Indeed, the court has already addressed these points in paragraphs 186 to 188 of its judgment.

Under our Constitution, the right to equal protection comprises both formal and substantive elements. Formally, Article 12(1) declares that “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”.

Article 12(2) provides the substantive content of equal protection by stipulating that “religion, race, descent or place of birth” ought to be treated alike by the law.

In its letter, AWARE referred to a 2011 response where the Singapore Government informed the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women that “the principle of equality of all persons before the law is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity”.

In its recent ruling, the Court of Appeal held that the 2011 response does not in any way suggest that Article 12(2) should be expanded to include protection from discrimination based on “gender, sexual orientation and gender identity”, since the response makes no reference to either Article 12(2) or its prohibited grounds of discrimination.

It further observed that Article 12(1) of the Constitution “would indeed apply to all persons regardless of ‘gender, sexual orientation and gender identity’.”

Secondly and more fundamentally, the court emphasised that international law and domestic law are regarded as separate systems of law. International law does not form part of domestic law “until and unless it has been applied as or definitely declared to be part of domestic law by a domestic court”.

Conceptually, sexual orientation and gender identity are subjective and unclear. Their open-ended nature potentially undermines inherently gendered institutions such as marriage and family. They remain highly controversial and are not accepted as protected categories of non-discrimination under international law.

People are equal, but not all lifestyles or preferences are alike. Singapore would do well to avoid making sweeping changes to its laws and policies and continue upholding the family unit as the basic building block of society.

Darius Lee

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Impact of ruling may be extensive: Deepak Sharma's complaint over SMC's legal costs

Straits Times
12 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Issue centres on whether a non-party to a dispute has the standing to be involved

A PENDING legal ruling sparked by the husband of prominent surgeon Susan Lim seems simple enough, but it could have far-reaching consequences for the legal profession. The issue centres on whether a person who is not a party in a dispute has the standing to get involved.

Mr Deepak Sharma was not a party in the disciplinary and court proceedings involving Dr Lim and the Singapore Medical Council, but he lodged a complaint over the costs charged by the council for two lawyers who acted against his wife.

Earlier this year, a review committee dismissed his complaint against Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and partially dismissed it against lawyer Melanie Ho. It found that the bill of costs was not exorbitant and there was no professional misconduct.

Mr Sharma then applied for a judicial review of that decision and sought a Queen's Counsel to represent him in the proceedings.

Justice Steven Chong rejected the application for a Queen's Counsel in judgment grounds delivered last week. But his decision also raised the issue of whether Mr Sharma had the right to even apply for a judicial review or lodge a complaint given he was not a party in the case nor liable for the costs.

"It is neither plain nor obvious at this stage whether Mr Sharma is required to demonstrate his standing, and if so, whether he has the standing to lodge the complaint or to file a leave application," wrote Justice Chong in the judgment grounds.

The judge declined to rule on the matter last week, noting that it was a novel issue that could be settled later.

It is understood that the outcome of Mr Sharma's case could have far-reaching effects as it may open the floodgates for any person to complain even though he does not have a direct interest in a particular case.

Mr Sharma's lawyer Abraham Vergishad argued that there are sufficient checks and balances in the Legal Profession Act to guard against such a result.

Justice Chong also expressed doubts on whether the relevant provisions in the Act conferred "carte blanche" on any person to make a complaint even though he may have no direct interest in doing so.

But he made it clear that he did not have to rule on the issue at this stage, "however interesting and challenging it may be".

A ruling is expected when the application for the judicial review is heard in the High Court in due course.

Justice Chong noted that Mr Sharma's "purported standing" was that he was "the 'co-funder' of his wife's legal fees in her applications and appeals against the procedural decisions of the Singapore Medical Council". But there was no explanation as to why Dr Lim needed co-funding, given that she is a "person of very substantial means".

The Attorney-General's Chambers represented by Senior Counsel Jeffrey Chan maintained that Mr Sharma did not have the requisite standing.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due today.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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SPH in-house counsel among top 100 in Asia-Pac

Straits Times
06 Nov 2014

THE general counsel for Singapore Press Holdings has been named among the top 100 most influential and innovative working in Asia Pacific.

Ms Ginney Lim, who is also executive vice-president of corporate communications and corporate and social responsibility, has led the company's legal operations for 20 years. She also handled SPH's Reit initial public offering last year and became a non-executive director on its board.

Ms Lim was one of 29 Singapore-based in-house counsel named to the Corporate Counsel 100: Asia Pacific list drawn up by the Legal 500.

Legal 500 is a global legal rankings publication which has been analysing the capabilities of law firms across 106 jurisdictions for 27 years.

The 100 were chosen from 2.5 million in-house readers and partners at law firms in Asia, it said.

Selection criteria included changing or forming opinions within their company or industry, developing technical solutions to complex issues, and creating innovative structures to bolster the business.

Ms Lim said yesterday: "Looking back at my career, I believe my biggest personal achievement is having built up a strong, capable, dedicated, effective and conscientious team."

Other Singapore-based lawyers listed included Ms Michelle Koh, general counsel at CapitaLand, Ms Vanita Jegathesan, corporate counsel at Chevron, and Mr Chris Kim, director and associate general counsel and head of international legal at Facebook.

RENNIE WHANG

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Freeze order on local assets of ex-guide's wife

Straits Times
18 Nov 2014
Toh Yong Chuan

THE High Court has issued an order to freeze the local assets of the wife of former China tour guide Yang Yin so that they cannot be transferred out of Singapore.

However, Madam Weng Yandan, 34, left the country in September and it is unclear whether she even has any assets here.

Her husband's assets in Singapore and overseas have been frozen by a separate Mareva injunction since August.

Yang, 40, is being sued in the High Court by Madam Hedy Mok, the niece of widow Chung Khin Chun, for manipulating the 87-year-old widow for his own personal gain. Madam Mok, 60, a tour agency owner, is seeking damages which have yet to be assessed by the court. Her lawyer, Mr Peter Doraisamy from Selvam LLC, told reporters after the court session yesterday that his priority is to serve the court order on Madam Weng, who is believed to be in Hangzhou, China.

"We have to locate her in China and serve it through due process under Chinese law," he said.

The court made the decision after a one-hour closed-door session yesterday, in which Madam Weng was not represented.

Her husband's lawyers from Straits Law Practice were present but told reporters they were not representing her.

Yang met Madam Chung in Beijing in 2008 when he was her private tour guide. He moved to Singapore in 2009 after obtaining an Employment Pass and moved in with the widow at her $30 million Gerald Crescent bungalow, off Yio Chu Kang Road.

He subsequently became a permanent resident in 2011 and his wife and two young children joined him in Singapore last year.

Yang faces multiple ongoing lawsuits and investigations.

Besides the court case yesterday, he also faces a separate High Court suit by Madam Mok, who is seeking to terminate his Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) over the widow on grounds that he abused his powers. The LPA granted in 2012 gave him control over the widow's wealth and property, including the bungalow.

The police have also charged Yang in court with faking 331 receipts for music lessons and painting purchases. The receipts were allegedly fabricated to deceive the authorities that his firm, Young Music and Dance Studio, received about $450,000 in payments, so that he could obtain permanent residency.

Mr Doraisamy also told reporters that the High Count yesterday added the local bank account of the firm to the list of Yang's frozen assets.

Yang is now under police custody and the court has denied him bail. The Manpower Ministry and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority are also investigating how he obtained his Employment Pass and permanent residency.

Later this week, the Family Court is also expected to make a decision on a court application by the Office of the Public Guardian on whether Madam Chung has the mental capacity to revoke the LPA she granted to Yang.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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Botched nose job: Doc loses bid for lighter sentence

Straits Times
12 Nov 2014
Selina Lum

Court of Three Judges upholds 4-month suspension, $5k penalty

A 44-YEAR-OLD general practitioner who was handed a four-month suspension and a $5,000 penalty for botching a nose job lost his appeal for a lighter sentence for professional misconduct yesterday.

A Court of Three Judges upheld the sentence handed down to Dr Amaldass N. Dass in May by a Singapore Medical Council (SMC) disciplinary committee, which also censured him and ordered him to vow not to repeat similar misconduct.

Make-up artist Sng Hock Guan, 43, had complained to the SMC in April 2010 about Dr Amaldass' conduct before, during and after the rhinoplasty in February 2008.

At the time, Dr Amaldass, the husband of model Junita Simon, ran his own practice, Advanced Aesthetics & Surgery, at Orchard Building. He is now a stand-in doctor at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

In October last year, Dr Amaldass admitted he had failed to adequately explain the risks of the procedure to Mr Sng, who had had five prior nose jobs. He also failed to ensure the patient was effectively sedated before starting the surgery - when Mr Sng indicated he was not properly sedated, Dr Amaldass failed to halt the procedure and provide pain relief.

He did not tell the patient that he had left gauze dressing inside his nasal cavity. He also left remnants of a knotted thread in the area above Mr Sng's nose.

Infection set in and, about 10 days later, Dr Amaldass replaced an infected implant instead of simply removing it.

In his complaint, the patient said he felt "excruciating pain" during the procedure. "The pain made me cry and caused me to break out in a cold sweat," he said.

The committee said Dr Amaldass caused pain and suffering to his patient, breaching a fundamental tenet of the medical profession, which is to do no harm. Dr Amaldass' lawyer, Mr Niru Pillai, argued at his appeal yesterday that the committee had assumed without evidence that the patient was in agony.

The appeal was dismissed without SMC's lawyer, Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, having to make oral arguments.

In 2011, a medical negligence suit brought by Mr Sng against Dr Amaldass was settled for $250,000.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Chinese actor's wife wins suit over Porsche sale

Straits Times
06 Nov 2014
Selina Lum

THE wife of prominent mainland Chinese actor-director Zhao Benshan has successfully sued her former assistant and a car dealer for conspiring to defraud her of $395,000 over the sale of her Porsche Cayenne.

Madam Ma Lijuan, 49, is the second wife of Zhao, a household name in China. She moved to Singapore four years ago with her two children who were studying here, her lawyer Wendell Wong told the High Court yesterday.

She now has a few options to enforce the judgment, including applying to the court for bailiffs to seize and sell the defendants' assets.

In September 2012, she asked her assistant, Ms Florence Lim Meiling, to help her sell her Porsche as she wanted to get a bigger car for the family.

Ms Lim told Madam Ma she had found a buyer who was willing to pay $415,000. Ms Lim also told her that the car would be sold through her friend's car dealership, Primelink Motoring, which is solely owned by Mr Douglas Boon Ken Li.

Unknown to Madam Ma at the time, Ms Lim was the previous owner of Primelink.

Ms Lim then persuaded Madam Ma to pre-sign the sale and purchase agreement and vehicle transfer form. The purchase price was to be paid in two instalments - $20,000 on Oct 8, 2012, and $395,000 by Nov 30 that same year.

The car was handed over and, shortly after, Madam Ma received $20,000. When she did not get the balance by Nov 30, she became worried and questioned Ms Lim. Ms Lim gave various explanations. First, she claimed the money was used to reserve another car. Later, she said the dealer had died and there was no way to get the money back.

Ms Lim then changed the story, saying that the dealer's representative vanished after using part of the money to pay for her mother's medical care.

The car dealer, however, claimed that the full purchase price was handed over to Ms Lim in cash.

Madam Ma had won judgment against Ms Lim in August after the latter decided not to defend herself. A trial to hear her case against the dealer was scheduled to start yesterday but Mr Boon did not show up, and the court ruled in her favour.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Reinvent rules for remisiers

Business Times
18 Nov 2014
R. Sivanithy

THE Securities Investors Association of Singapore (SIAS) has hit one nail on the head with its call to revamp the way that remisiers, or retail trading representatives (TRs), are paid. This is a fundamental consideration - one that we have raised before in this Hock Lock Siew column such as "Vital to engage retail brokers too" (Aug 3, 2012) and "SGX should seriously meet retail needs" (Feb 19, 2014) - but has not been addressed.

Equally important, however, is that TRs today find themselves caught between a proverbial rock and a hard place - on the one hand, they are told that they have to reinvent themselves to meet the challenges posed by deregulation, the Internet and a retail body that demands more value for their money yet on the other hand, no one really has a clear idea of how this reinvention is to be best undertaken. Worse, the rules appear to be working against TRs trying to expand their role as plain order takers.

The problem is that under the Securities and Futures Act, TRs are barred from offering investment advice, even though they have to sit for exams to trade or execute trades in complex instruments known as Specified Investment Products or SIPs.

Yet every circular to shareholders carries the following in the heading: "If you are in any doubt as to the action you should take, you should consult your stockbroker, bank manager, accountant, solicitor or other professional adviser immediately", conveying the impression that TRs are able to offer financial advice when they cannot.

Or can they? Nobody knows with 100 per cent certainty - some TRs believe they can provide an opinion but only when asked; others think that they are prohibited from saying anything under any circumstances. Given the confusion on can and cannot be said, the vast majority opt for safety and say nothing because of fear of breaching the rules.

A vicious circle then kicks in - TRs are afraid to speak for fear of breaching the rules; this alienates clients who feel they are not getting any help from the TR community and this leads these investors to scale back on their trading. Falling retail business then encourages TRs to trade on their own to supplement lost income and because TRs then become more occupied with managing their own portfolios, clients receive progressively less input and aid than before.

This means that any remuneration scheme that attempts to link TR pay to the performance of clients' portfolios cannot be properly effective since TRs are at the very least forbidden to have any meaningful input when discussing investment options with clients. As one TR put it, "all I can do when asked whether to buy or sell is offer to email them my house's latest research".

If TRs are to have their pay tied to the performance of their clients' portfolios - or linked to clients' interests - then it is necessary to relax the rules to grant TRs more leeway when talking to their customers. These are investment professionals who are literally the eyes and ears of the market and they should be allowed to share their observations and opinions with clients.

There should also be greater clarity about what can and cannot be discussed between TR and client. More precise guidelines on this point are crucial and would be welcomed by all in the community.

As for TR compensation, the fact is that pay has dropped sharply over the past decade - commissions are about 70-80 per cent down from the one per cent that used to be the norm, and volume over the past six months is half what it was this time last year.

Yet TRs have to still wear the same hat as they always have - they are essentially credit officers who keep check on their clients' limits and shield their broking houses from risk, a thankless task since they have to do this without access to their clients' income or spending habits.

Despite this, the 60-40 split of commission between the house and TRs that has been practised for more than 20 years is still the industry norm. It is an unfair split because TRs bear a disproportionate amount of risk for a lower share. Granted, with the introduction of upfront collateral - albeit small - and a planned reduction in settlement from t+3 to t+2, credit risk will be reduced but if the TR profession is to attract and retain talent, at the very least the split should be altered to 50-50 as an industry norm and base starting point.

sivan@sph.com.sg

@RSivanithyBT

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Bail struck down for ex-China tour guide

Straits Times
12 Nov 2014
Carolyn Khew

He's a flight risk and wasn't up-front about $500k transfer: CJ

YANG YIN will have to stay in remand for at least another three weeks after an order granting the former China tour guide bail was struck down yesterday.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon decided the 40-year-old Yang was a flight risk, given that he had little roots in Singapore, and that he had not been up-front with the court about a $500,000 transfer from a wealthy 87-year-old widow's account here to his father's account in China.

Yang, who was first charged on Oct 31, now faces 331 counts of falsifying receipts, which gave the impression that his company, Young Music and Dance Studio, received $450,000 in payments for services such as piano lessons.

The prosecution believes that no actual work was done through the firm and that Yang simply used it to earn an employment pass, and subsequently permanent residency in Singapore.

He was living at Madam Chung Khin Chun's $30 million Gerald Crescent bungalow from 2009 until this September, when he was evicted by her niece Hedy Mok.

Madam Mok, 60, has accused Yang of manipulating her aunt into giving him control of her assets, and is suing him.

Last Thursday, District Judge Eddy Tham granted Yang bail of $150,000, but the decision was challenged by the Attorney- General's Chambers.

During yesterday's 30-minute High Court hearing, Yang, who wore purple overalls, was straining to listen to the Mandarin interpreter as the Chief Justice explained why it was "not appropriate" to grant bail.

The Chief Justice pointed out that when the prosecution told the court last week that it was investigating where a "suspicious" transfer of $500,000 out of Madam Chung's account went to, Yang failed to mention that, on the same day, it landed in his father's account.

In the absence of any explanation for the transfer, it appears that Yang has the means to "live comfortably" if he were to abscond, the Chief Justice said.

He was also of the view that the district judge had erred by failing to take into sufficient account the fact that the $150,000 for the bail was going to be provided by Yang's family in China. That meant that his Singapore guarantors would stand to lose nothing financially if Yang decided to run.

The district judge also did not attach enough weight to the fact that the offences involved are non-bailable ones, the Chief Justice said. That means Yang has to convince the court that bail should be awarded.

The case will be mentioned again on Dec 4, by which time the prosecution hopes to finish its investigations, which include analysis of the suspect's handwriting.

After bail was revoked, Yang's lawyer Wee Pan Lee said: "At the end of the day, the (prosecution) tried its best, I tried my best."

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

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Evolving paradigms for medical litigation in Singapore: Keynote address by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon

Singapore Law Watch
06 Nov 2014
Sundaresh Menon

Thai law review worries foreign firms

Straits Times
18 Nov 2014
Tan Hui Yee

A TOP Thai official has sought to calm fears that a government review of a foreign business law in Thailand would spark an investors' exodus, further slowing an already sputtering economy.

"We have not amended the law yet, we are just studying it," said Ms Pongpun Gearaviriyapun, director-general of the Commerce Ministry's Department of Business Development, which has held three consultations on the issue since last month.

The intent of the review, she told The Straits Times yesterday, was to facilitate foreign investment rather than impede it.

Her department was also looking into opening up the insurance and banking sectors - currently off limits to foreign companies.

The assurance comes after weeks of anxiety fuelled by a proposal that the Foreign Business Act (FBA) would be amended to classify a company as "foreign" if foreigners control voting rights in the company - even if the company is majority-owned by Thais.

Analysts say such a change would threaten the status of many joint ventures, potentially scaring away much-needed new investment. Thailand is staring at a full-year economic growth of just 1 per cent this year, in estimates announced by state think-tank National Economic and Social Development Board yesterday.

The FBA restricts foreign companies in many sectors of the Thai economy.

Foreign businesses are barred from areas where "Thais are not ready to compete" including legal services, architecture and several trades in the service sector.

As a result, foreign partners in joint venture companies often use preferential shares or Thai nominees to maintain management control over the businesses.

If followed through, the change would be deemed protectionist, noted Thammasat University's associate professor of international business Pavida Pananond.

"The use of nominees is widespread and is also practised by Thai businesses," she said.

"But amending the FBA for this only targets foreign businesses, not local ones."

The last attempt to tighten foreign ownership criteria in the Act was made in 2007, after Singapore state investment company Temasek Holdings was accused of using Thai nominees to circumvent foreign ownership restrictions to take over telecommunications company Shin Corp.

Then, like now, the military had just seized power through a coup and the country was being governed by an interim non-elected administration.

The attempt fell through.

The chairman of the Singapore-Thai Chamber of Commerce, Mr Oh Lock Soon, reckons it may fail again.

"The current Foreign Business Act already makes it very difficult for foreigners to invest here compared to other countries," he said.

If Thailand insisted on proceeding, "they will be nailing their foot to the ground".

The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce had stressed that the FBA needs to be relaxed to strengthen key sectors of the Thai economy.

Strategic sectors like financial services and telecommunications "should be performing better and contributing more to the economy" but "continue to suffer from unhelpful restrictions", it said.

Ms Pongpun said recommendations will be forwarded to the Minister of Commerce in the next few months.

tanhy@sph.com.sg

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Man 'used inheritance ruse to cheat pal of $2.36m'

Straits Times
12 Nov 2014
Elena Chong

AN UNEMPLOYED man concocted an elaborate ruse over a fake inheritance to cheat a friend of $2.36 million over a three-year period, a court heard yesterday.

Brendan Robert Don, 46, is alleged to have deceived Mr Alan Lye Cher Kang into believing that he was the beneficiary of an inheritance which had been seized by the Government.

Don is accused of inducing Mr Lye, who is in his 40s, to deliver sums ranging between $300 and $33,000 to him, saying he needed loans to pay for an assortment of fees to get the inheritance money released.

The alleged offences took place between Aug 30, 2011, and Aug 2 this year. None of the money has been recovered.

Don, who was charged with 450 counts yesterday, used a variety of means to con Mr Lye, according to court documents.

These included making claims that he needed money to pay various banks, government agencies and insurance companies to get the money released.

In May, he allegedly said he needed money to pay fees to help the permanent secretary engage a Certis Cisco vehicle, and induced Mr Lye to hand over $2,810.

In the same month, he is also said to have duped Mr Lye into believing that the loans would be required to meet various expenses, including fees and "overtime" to Monetary Authority of Singapore inspectors at Parliament House, payments to enter the building, open a safe there and make a deposit to rent a room.

Two months later, Don allegedly deceived Mr Lye into believing that he had to pay Cisco for the release of $8 million of the inheritance money and to pay OCBC Bank to release $20 million.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Grace Goh Chioa Wei said the prosecution's offer is to proceed on 20 of the 450 charges.

Don's lawyer, Mr Irving Choh, applied for time to make representations.

Ms Goh said the money went to Don "to fund his lifestyle".

Don was offered bail of $500,000 but his lawyer said his client could not post it.

If convicted, he faces a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine on each charge. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Dec 18.

elena@sph.com.sg

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Tey's bid to retain PR status

Straits Times
06 Nov 2014
Selina Lum

THE High Court yesterday reserved judgment on a second application this week for a judicial review by former law professor Tey Tsun Hang - this time against the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

On Monday, the same judge, Justice Quentin Loh, reserved judgment on whether Mr Tey should be allowed to go ahead with his bid to have the court review his sacking from the National University of Singapore last year.

Mr Tey, 43, was convicted in May last year of corruptly accepting gifts and sex from a student in exchange for better grades. He appealed and was acquitted by the High Court in February.

At a closed-door hearing yesterday, his lawyer M. Ravi argued that he should be given permission to proceed with his bid for the judicial review of the ICA's decision and decision-making process. The Attorney-General's Chambers is opposing his application.

Mr Tey, a Malaysian, was granted permanent residency status in 1998.

Several days before he was first charged in court on July 27, 2012, he made an electronic application to renew his re-entry permit, which was due to expire in six months, but was unable to submit it.

Without a valid re-entry permit, he would lose his PR status if he left the country.

Mr Ravi contends that the ICA did not comply with the proper procedure to notify him in writing that his application had been rejected. Without the notification, his application was not properly refused.

Mr Ravi is asking the court to compel the ICA to follow the proper procedure and also to reconsider its decision to revoke Mr Tey's PR status.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Road rage won't be tolerated: Judge

Straits Times
18 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

A DISTRICT judge made it clear that road hooliganism must never be tolerated, in condemning the conduct of a motorcyclist who traumatised a couple in a road rage case.

District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim, who had sentenced motorcyclist James Palin to three weeks' jail on Oct 28, stated this in judgment grounds released early this month after the Briton filed an appeal against the decision.

Palin, 33, a former regional director of a recruitment firm, punched the window of a Volkswagen in Tanjong Katong Road in November last year, shattering the glass, which cut the couple inside.

The spat started when Palin hit the bumper of the Volkswagen driven by Mr Chiang Pak Chien, 43, while overtaking him. Mr Chiang then overtook Palin, who sped past him again and braked immediately in front of the car. Mr Chiang braked to avoid crashing into the motorcycle.

Palin then walked over to the driver's side and punched the car window. The shattered glass cut Mr Chiang and his wife, Ms Valerie Tan, 42. She screamed and Palin left on his motorcycle. Ms Tan and her husband both suffered cuts on the body and face.

More significant were the post-traumatic stress disorder injuries suffered by Ms Tan, which included insomnia, panic anxiety and poor appetite, according to psychiatric reports.

Explaining her decision, the judge said "those persons who resort to violence because they were unhappy with other road users who cross their path must bear the full brunt of the law". Even if what Mr Chiang did was a "tad inconsiderate", she said Palin's rash reaction in punching the car window and endangering those in the vehicle was excessive.

Assistant Public Prosecutor Koh Huimin had sought more than three weeks' jail while Palin's lawyer Shashi Nathan urged that a fine be imposed instead as Palin was genuinely remorseful and a first-time offender. Palin also offered to pay the couple's medical expenses but they declined.

However, the judge pointed out that Palin "just rode away" after the incident and offered no help.

"The expression of remorse being genuine sounded hollow in the light of what has happened, and it appeared to me that it was just a standard, run-of-the-mill mitigating factor added for good measure and nothing more," said the judge, adding that she had exercised "some leniency" in jailing Palin three weeks. Palin has withdrawn his appeal and began his jail term on Nov 7.

vijayan@sph.com.sg


Background Story

NO REAL REMORSE

The expression of remorse being genuine sounded hollow in the light of what has happened, and it appeared to me that it was just a standard, run-of-the-mill mitigating factor added for good measure and nothing more.

- District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim, saying motorcyclist James Palin "just rode away" after the incident

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Master mediator of 25 years, 400 cases accorded highest title

TODAY
12 Nov 2014
Amanda Lee

Successful mediation depends on willingness to resolve matters, he says

SINGAPORE — With 25 years and 400 cases under his belt, Dr Lim Lan Yuan, 65, who got his start settling disputes in the construction industry, more than lives up to his title as senior master mediator at the Community Mediation Centre (CMC).

Based on his experience, Dr Lim said simple spats between neighbours can be settled within the hour with the help of solutions such as agreeing to set fewer flowerpots along common corridors, while complicated cases can take a few hours to resolve.

However, whether a mediation session turns out successful depends on whether the parties involved are seeking a resolution or bent on winning an argument, said Dr Lim, who is also adviser and member of the CMC’s advisory committee.

Last night, he was among those who were promoted at the CMC’s appointment ceremony and appreciation dinner for the year. Dr Lim was the only one promoted to principal master mediator — the highest title accorded to CMC’s panel of volunteer community mediators.

The CMC said it mediated 1,728 cases from 2011 to last year. Over the past three years, the CMC has successfully mediated, on average, about 72 per cent of the cases.

As a department under the Ministry of Law, the CMC handles disputes that do not involve legal issues between neighbours, family members, friends and colleagues.

The first half of this year has seen 759 cases registered with the CMC and 42 per cent of the cases have been resolved.

The other cases remain unmediated as mediation can only take place when both parties are willing to come to the table to work through the issues.

From 2011 to last year, the CMC mediated a total of 1,728 cases and its settlement rate averages at about 72 per cent. Disputes between neighbours made up the highest proportion of cases with arguments arising over issues such as noise disturbance and common property rules.

Speaking to TODAY, Dr Lim said his interest in mediation began in the 1980s when he was studying overseas for his master’s degree in law.

Dr Lim, who is also an associate professor at the Department of Real Estate at the National University of Singapore, said he had found the concept of resolving disputes without having to go to court interesting, especially in cases such as construction industry disputes, where many parties such as developers and architects are involved.

He was later appointed a court consultant by the State Courts when the concept of mediation was being explored by the judicial system here.

When asked for his thoughts about the Community Dispute Resolution Tribunals Bill, which proposes that tribunals be set up to help resolve complex disputes between neighbours, Dr Lim said such tribunals, similar to going to court, should only be looked at as the final and last resort. “The whole idea of mediation (is) always (to) try to encourage the (parties) to resolve,” he added.

leeguiping@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

ADV: Mediation and Expert Determination for Maritime Shipping (2nd run)

Singapore Law Watch
06 Nov 2014
MOOGAS

ADV: Career Opportunities at NUS Law School

Singapore Law Watch
18 Nov 2014
NUS

ADV: Mediation and Expert Determination for Maritime Shipping (2nd run)

Singapore Law Watch
12 Nov 2014
MOOGAS

Ex-China tour guide faces 320 new charges of faking receipts

Straits Times
06 Nov 2014
Carolyn Khew & Toh Yong Chuan

THE former China tour guide embroiled in a tussle over the assets of a rich widow was yesterday slapped with 320 new charges of falsifying his company's receipts.

Yang Yin, 40, had admitted in statements to the police that he created the false receipts so that he could stay in Singapore, Deputy Chief Prosecutor Tan Ken Hwee said in court yesterday.

Yang had made up "totally fictitious transactions" to present his firm Young Music and Dance Studio "as a thriving business when it is anything but that", he added.

Amounting to more than $420,000, the 320 fake receipts allegedly made between 2009 and this year were mostly for payments of between $500 and $2,000 for music lessons. Yang even allegedly made up names such as Beryl and Misher for his students. Nine receipts were for amounts between $3,000 and $6,500 for the sale of paintings.

Mr Tan also accused Yang of having "subverted the system" as these receipts and his firm helped him obtain permanent residency and long-term visit passes for his wife and children.

Yang, wearing the same "Survivor Singapore" T-shirt that he wore in court last week, was emotionless as the charges were read.

Yesterday's development is the latest twist in the saga between Yang and Madam Chung Khin Chun, 87, over her estimated $40 million worth of assets.

Last week, he faced 11 similar charges of falsifying receipts amounting to $28,000.

During the court session yesterday, the prosecution and Yang's lawyer also crossed swords over the issue of granting him bail.

Yang's lawyer Wee Pan Lee told the court that Yang's parents had arranged for a $150,000 sum to be remitted to Singapore to pay for bail. This was all they could raise and Yang is unlikely to "make them destitute by running away", said Mr Wee. Disagreeing, Mr Tan argued that this meant only that Yang's bailors, who had to be Singaporeans, would be "proxies" and thus unable to guarantee that he would not be a flight risk.

Madam Chung's niece Hedy Mok and neighbour Linda Tan were in court yesterday.

The court will decide today whether to grant Yang bail.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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S'pore investors settle Morgan Stanley suit

Straits Times
17 Nov 2014
Grace Leong

Four-year legal battle over US bank's 'rigged products' resolved for $26m

IT TOOK four years of litigation, involving 800,000 pages of documents produced by Morgan Stanley and 10,300 pages by Singapore Pinnacle Notes investors, who also had to fend off multiple attempts by the US investment bank to dismiss the US$129 million case in both New York and Singapore courts.

But the legal battle over allegations that Morgan Stanley sold rigged financial products that were "designed to fail" has finally been settled for US$20 million (S$26 million), The Straits Times has learnt.

Terms of the settlement, reached on Sept 9, were made public after the investors' lawyers filed papers in the United States federal court in New York last Friday, seeking approval for the agreement.

As the case has been certified as a class action, some 3,000 to 5,000 retail investors in Singapore who bought Pinnacle Performance Notes series 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9 and 10 between Jan 1, 2006, and Dec 31, 2010, may be eligible for restitution. This includes those who received partial compensation through the Singapore-administered Financial Industry Disputes Resolution Centre (Fidrec).

After the Notes were rendered nearly worthless when the underlying collateral became insolvent, some investors received partial payments from the distributors and brokers in Singapore that sold the Notes for Morgan Stanley.

US law firm Kirby McInerney, representing more than 200 Singapore investors, said the US$20 million settlement "represents a substantial portion of the remaining amount that could have been recovered for the class".

But it is scant consolation to most investors, who will likely never receive full compensation over the soured investment.

One affected investor, who declined to be named, said the settlement is "not enough".

"How much can the investors each get? It's peanuts," said the 70-year-old, who invested $2 million of his retirement monies in Pinnacle Performance series 7 Notes for a year before it went bust. He said he has "not gotten a penny" for his lost investment.

"I was told by the agent that Pinnacle has issued so many series already, so what's to worry?" he said, recalling the way the investment was marketed to him at the time. "The lesson I learnt is not to invest so much in one product, and to be very careful about structured notes."

For another investor, a plaintiff in the US suit, the settlement was about "getting justification after being cheated".

"The litigation has been going on for so many years. It's not so much about how much we are getting back. I'm looking for justification. We were all cheated," she said. "In the US, the law protects investors. Going through the litigation process helped us understand how we lost our money."

She was able to recover part of her investment through Fidrec.

Under the settlement, the average distribution is estimated to be 28 US cents for every US$1 invested, before court-approved fees and expenses are deducted, according to the court papers.

But the amount each eligible investor gets will vary depending on the number of Notes bought, the amount of compensation previously paid from other sources and the amount of valid claims submitted.

"Securities fraud litigations are notoriously complex and difficult to prove; rarely is there concrete direct evidence of fraudulent intent," said court papers.

Kirby McInerney partner Daniel Hume told The Straits Times he is hopeful that restitution payments can start mid-next year.

Mr Hume added: "This case was a long, hard fight against a very tough opponent. We could have lost the case at several points along the way and faced significant risks... So I feel fortunate that we held on to put a meaningful amount of money back in the hands of the victims."

In October 2010, Morgan Stanley and several affiliates were sued in New York for allegedly defrauding investors of US$129 million through products which were allegedly collateralised by subprime mortgages and Icelandic banks that later failed.

The investors, including the Singapore Government Staff Credit Cooperative Society, alleged Morgan Stanley structured the Notes to raise the risk of loss, but marketed them as safeand "an attractive alternative to bonds".

Although Morgan Stanley agreed to the settlement, it denied the allegations and wrongdoing.

Both sides say the settlement is "advantageous, considering the risks and uncertainties to each side of continued litigation".

"This settlement will provide meaningful compensation to those who were harmed by the Pinnacle Notes' collapse," said Mr Hume. "It also allows these investors, many of whom are retirees on fixed incomes, to close a difficult chapter of their lives."

gleong@sph.com.sg

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ADV: Career Opportunities at NUS Law School

Singapore Law Watch
12 Nov 2014
NUS

Settling disputes sensibly and amicably

Straits Times
06 Nov 2014

THERE is no doubt that Malaysia and Singapore established an important diplomatic precedent in the manner in which both countries resolved a disagreement over taxes relating to the transfer of railway land. Not only was the issue unambiguously defined and separated from other settled points of a larger agreement, the parties referred it to an international tribunal for arbitration, and a "win-win" outcome was sought that would leave each better off than before. In the same spirit, the tribunal's decision was mutually received "with an open heart", as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak put it.

Settling the issue amicably in order to move forward on various fronts, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted, is a reflection of the underlying pragmatism that is now driving bilateral ties.

But it was not always so, as amply illustrated by the chequered past of the Points of Agreement. This had been signed in November 1990 to settle the matter of railway lands in Singapore which, along with water agreements and a "crooked bridge", had been a persistent source of vexation for both sides. But various efforts over the years to resolve outstanding issues failed to achieve what arbitration has neatly effected, following a land swop that Mr Lee and Datuk Seri Najib had crafted in 2010.

Third-party arbitration to deal with Gordian knots is a rational way to settle matters that have been left to fester for decades. Successive generations would otherwise be left to wonder why the logic of mutuality and cooperation had not prevailed over politics much earlier - all the more when the costs of lost opportunity and inflation are factored into bilateral projects that do manage to take off ultimately.

When nations refuse to address thorny issues reasonably, what can emerge are positions that are contentious, like China's "nine-dash line" to lay hands on maritime rights in a manner that is inconsistent with international law, and Brazil's "frontage theory" to lay claim to Antarctic resources. However, considerations of tribunals like the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague are more likely to be well grounded in fact and accepted international norms.

As a model of dispute resolution, the arbitral route has much to commend itself to nations that simply cannot see eye to eye on a wide range of issues relating to trade and commerce, competition for resources, migration, ethnic groups or borders. It offers contenders control over how differences can be resolved, an impartial setting, the opportunity to sequester politically charged matters so cool heads can ponder the implications, and an objective judgment that is likely to be more palatable.

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Clarify the 'special circumstances' in adoption cases: Forum

Straits Times
17 Nov 2014

I READ with interest the Forum Online letters on whether single males should be allowed to adopt girls ("Let single men adopt girls" by Mr Tan Yong Chuan, Nov 7; and "Single men make less-than-ideal adoptive parents" by Mr Chan Yeow Chuan, last Monday).

The Adoption of Children Act disallows single men from adopting female children unless the court is satisfied that there are "special circumstances" to justify such adoption.

The issue is whether the law is justified in perpetuating inequality. If single women are allowed to adopt children of any sex, why is there a restriction on single men?

The main argument is that unequal treatment is required for the sake of the child's protection. There is a high risk of abuse, since the girl will be in a vulnerable position, being dependent on the older male.

While it is unfair, sexist and an unwarranted perpetuation of gender stereotypes, we cannot ignore the vast body of statistics and evidence in support of the status quo.

If Parliament lowers the standard below that of "special circumstances", there is likely to be public backlash that the adoption laws do not provide sufficient protection for girls.

Unless and until there is sufficient evidence illustrating otherwise, the status quo is justified.

However, the situation can be mitigated through the execution of the laws.

There can be greater transparency and clarity: A potential adopter has the right to know what constitutes "special circumstances".

While the court undoubtedly applies a case-by-case approach, it would help if there were clear guidance available and accessible to the public.

This would pave the way for our society's progression away from the status quo.

Eden Li Yiling (Ms)

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Proposed community tribunal aims to keep proceedings simple

TODAY
11 Nov 2014

Emphasis still on mediation for spats among neighbours

SINGAPORE — The proposed tribunal for resolving spats among neighbours when mediation fails will seek to keep proceedings simple and informal, with no lawyers permitted unless both parties consent to it and the tribunal agrees to it.

Monetary damages awarded under the tribunal — which will be established under a new Community Dispute Resolution Tribunals Act — will also be capped at S$20,000, as the informal nature of the proceedings was unsuitable for complicated claims involving large sums of money, said the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

Launching a public consultation exercise on its proposal yesterday, MinLaw said the tribunal would also have powers to order a person to refrain from continuing the action or behaviour vexing his neighbour, such as disallowing loud music from being played during certain hours or removing something that is obstructing the common corridor.

An earlier public consultation exercise held from March 9 to April 21 had found that there was support for mediation — informally by grassroots leaders and formally by the Community Mediation Centre. But a few felt formal mediation was not always effective and there was strong support for a tribunal as a last resort.

In the consultation paper, MinLaw said the emphasis for resolving community disputes should still be on mediation. It proposed that the tribunal only hears cases when the applicant has attempted mediation, and the Registrar can also order the parties to attend a pre-hearing mediation even after a case has started.

Only claims relating to the new cause of action can be brought to the tribunal. Similar to decisions made in the Small Claims Tribunal, there will be limited provisions for appealing against the decision of the Community Dispute Resolution Tribunal, to promote finality and avoid incurring high costs through appeals.

MinLaw is also seeking public feedback on proposed amendments to laws under the Civil Law Act allowing individuals to seek court action in community disputes, to establish that a person’s enjoyment of his property should not be disturbed by his neighbour, such as by making excessive noise or smells and conducting surveillance of a person. The availability of such recourse would not be dependent on the type of property a person lives in, unlike existing provisions.

The consultation exercise ends on Nov 30. The consultation paper is available on http://www.mlaw.gov.sg and http://www.reach.gov.sg.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Shipping lines adding Ebola clauses to their contracts

Business Times
06 Nov 2014

[New York] AS Ebola persists in West Africa, shipping lines and traders are tweaking their contracts to protect themselves if the disease puts crews at risk of infection or prevents vessels calling at affected ports.

Ebola has not yet forced ports to close, but uncertainties about the spread of the virus are adding to legal and financial concerns for those involved in shipping oil, cocoa and minerals from the region. Iron ore miners have already been hit by logistics problems exacerbated by the Ebola outbreak.

"Ebola clauses have now become a very common phenomenon,"said a senior freight manager with a leading commodities trader."It is to protect the safety of the crew and also the earnings of owners."

Shipping lines active in West Africa, such as oil tanker firm Stena Weco, have written clauses into their contracts requiring charterers to nominate alternative safe discharge ports if Ebola means they cannot call at the intended port, according to a contract seen by Reuters.

Global trade house Trafigura said it also had inserted Ebola clauses, although it declined to give details.

With the Ebola outbreak - that has killed nearly 5,000 people since March, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - still evolving, companies are concerned that any disruption it does cause would not be covered by standard contracts.

"It may be unclear whether contracts as currently drafted address the rights and obligations of parties in this unique and constantly evolving situation," said Jonathan Moss of law firm DWF. "Parties may disagree as to whether the adverse consequences of Ebola fit within force majeure or other provisions in contracts." A force majeure frees a company from contractual deliveries due to actions beyond its control.

Among the stipulations in the various Ebola clauses being adopted by shipowners are requirements for firms chartering their ships to find alternative ports if there is risk to the crew, to keep protective equipment on board, pay for medical expenses that crew members may incur, as well as other unforeseen costs including possible fines and delivery delays.

"Exactly how a situation will look like if the ship is ordered to a place where the crew will be in danger is yet to be seen, but we will not take any risks to crews going there if we ever come to such a situation," said Stena Weco's managing director Erik Hanell.

The International Maritime Organisation has urged against any general ban on international travel or trade due to Ebola. "The movement of ships, including the handling of cargo and goods, to and from the affected areas, should continue as normal, in order to reduce the isolation and economic hardship of the affected countries," the IMO's Andy Winbow said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated that message on Monday, saying: "I have been urging all major international airlines and major shipping service lines to continue their normal trade and movement and transportations." But ports across the globe have tightened entry procedures for ships that have sailed from West Africa. Some have halted entry altogether in some instances.

Malta stopped a cargo vessel that was travelling from Guinea to Ukraine from entering its harbour for a medical emergency in September due to fears the sick person on board could have been infected with Ebola. Last month, Mexico and Belize refused to allow the Carnival Magic cruise ship to dock, over Ebola concerns.

The restrictions have so far been limited, but that has not stopped some shipping companies altering their strategies to cut the possible risks from Ebola.

Ong Choo Kiat, president of U-Ming Marine Transport , one of Taiwan's largest shipping companies, said it was excluding calls to countries affected by the disease.

Precious Shipping, one of Thailand's largest dry cargo owners, states in its new charters that its ships are not to trade to Ebola infected countries, managing director Khalid Hashim said. REUTERS

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S377A ruling contradicts Govt position on equality: Voices

TODAY
17 Nov 2014

The Court of Appeal’s recent ruling upholding Section 377A of the Penal Code as constitutional affects primarily the gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer community. However, it also has interesting implications for gender equality, as its reasoning throws into doubt Singapore’s compliance with its international legal obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

In 2011, in response to a question from the United Nations’ CEDAW Committee, the Government stated that the Singapore Constitution guarantees equality “regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity”. The Government maintained that this protection was present even though Article 12 of the Constitution, which gives a guarantee of equality, makes no explicit reference to these grounds.

The judgment by the Court of Appeal contradicts the Government’s position and makes clear that the Constitution, in its present form, forbids the state from engaging in discrimination only in relation to the specific grounds listed explicitly in Article 12(2) — that is, “religion, race, descent or place of birth”.

The Court emphasises that additional grounds can only be added by Parliament, not by statutory construction through the Courts. As such, it is a definitive statement that Article 12(2) does not currently prevent state discrimination on the grounds of sex or gender.

This invalidates the Government’s previous reliance on the Constitution in responding to the CEDAW Committee and raises serious doubt as to whether the state is in compliance with its legal obligations.

In order to maintain our standing as a nation that honours its international commitments, we call upon Parliament to explicitly amend Article 12 in order to afford equal protection before the law, regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Goh Li Sian

Research and Advocacy Coordinator of the

Association of Women for Action and Research

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Costs must not hinder SMC's role to protect public: Gan

Straits Times
11 Nov 2014
Salma Khalik

FINANCIAL considerations, such as the funds to hire the right lawyers, should not hinder the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) from carrying out its duty of regulating the medical profession, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

The SMC must carry out its public duty to ensure that patients' interests are protected.

The minister said this in a written answer to questions from Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam in Parliament last week.

"If (the SMC) fails to pursue such cases (because of) financial considerations, there will be a loss of confidence in its ability to safeguard the interests of patients and in the integrity of the medical profession," Mr Gan said.

He gave the assurance that the SMC "will continue to ensure that the legal fees of the law firms engaged are reasonable and commensurate with the work done".

Mr Giam's question was: How many doctors found guilty by the professional watchdog of wrongdoing and who had to pay the SMC for the cost of hearing have had their bills reduced following court taxation?

Taxation in this case refers to getting the High Court to arbitrate a bill when there is a dispute following a disciplinary hearing.

A doctor convicted in a disciplinary hearing usually has to bear the cost incurred by the SMC. If a doctor is cleared, each side bears its own cost.

The minister also gave details on cases of medical bills that were disputed between 2011 and last year.

The SMC concluded a total of 44 disciplinary hearings in those three years. Six doctors were cleared of the charges.

In the rest of the cases, six bills were disputed and the taxation process was completed.

The disputed bills were reduced by a total of $926,000. Some of the remaining 32 bills are still being negotiated or are awaiting outcome of appeals, said Mr Gan.

One of the cases under negotiation is the more than $2 million in costs that the SMC billed Dr Susan Lim.

The High Court reduced the amount to under $700,000, but the SMC is appealing against the huge cut.

Dr Lim had been found guilty of overcharging her Brunei royal patient and both she and the SMC had employed senior counsels as their lawyers in the disciplinary hearing.

The costs involved in the case were further raised by the appeals made to the High Court.

Mr Gan also noted that in the six cases where taxation took place, the SMC recovered between 37 per cent and 78 per cent of the bills presented to the doctors.

He explained that taxation determines the proportion of the costs incurred by the winning party that the losing party has to bear, adding: "It must not be confused with whether the legal fees incurred were reasonable."

He said there is usually a "considerable difference" between what the losing party eventually pays and the costs incurred by the winning party.

Mr Gan also pointed out that "invariably, the legal expertise required and the costs of the disciplinary process increase with the complexity of the cases".

salma@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/ST.Salma

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Constitution should be based on idea of civil association, not consensus: Voices

TODAY
06 Nov 2014

In his letter “Constitutional changes must reflect public consensus” (Nov 3), Mr Han Junwei introduces two potentially pernicious ideas.

One is that the Constitution should reflect public consensus; the other is that constitutional protection of gender identity and sexual orientation should be approached as a matter of morality.

The Constitution is not merely the highest law of the land, but the foundational text establishing the state’s parameters and defining the contours of citizenship.

It coheres the very notion of a Singapore state and the Singaporean citizen, which is too important to be left to the vagaries of public consensus.

Rather than being buffeted by the majority’s decision of the day, the Constitution should be anchored in the principle of free and equal citizenship, an idea best encapsulated by what philosopher Michael Oakeshott termed a civil association.

He contrasts this with the enterprise association, which comprises people related to a specified common purpose or interest. Its rules are said to be instrumental, in that they merely help to bring about the realisation of such a purpose.

In contrast, people in a civil association are free to choose their own purposes, although such pursuits are circumscribed by non-instrumental civil law, which applies equally to everyone and seeks merely to maintain this mode of association and each person’s freedom.

Although Oakeshott conceded that most states are a modal mix of the two associations, it seems worthwhile to frame our conversations about the Constitution around the idea of a civil association, rather than nebulous allusions to the people’s will or consensus.

Mr Han additionally tries to define the issue of constitutional protection as one revolving round the “moral legitimacy of homosexuality”.

In doing so, he effectively reduces the state to a moral enterprise and the Constitution to a mere instrument for the enforcement of his sectarian moral standards.

He forgets his own warning about not reducing law to politics, and has instead relegated both law and politics to instruments of sectarian morality.

Lastly, he chides the use of terms such as minority, fundamental rights and discrimination for the discussion on whether gender identity and sexual orientation should be afforded constitutional protection.

This is a curious criticism.

The Constitution is a textual documentation of the rights and freedoms of citizenship. How else should constitutional discourse proceed other than around these concepts?

Khairulanwar Zaini

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Insurance battle over unusual death

Straits Times
16 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Sister of co-owner of popular popiah shop, who died in 2012, sues AIA for $1.2m payout

The unusual death of a co-owner of a popular Joo Chiat popiah shop has led to a $1.2 million insurance battle in the High Court between his family and AIA Singapore.

The sister of Mr Quek Kiat Siong, who died two years ago, is suing the insurance giant to make it pay out on two personal accident policies. But AIA argues that Mr Quek did not injure his body in any accident, so the policies did not apply.

Mr Quek helped run the Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Popiah & Kueh Pie Tie - a family business started by his father in 1938 on the same premises.

In July 2012, he was admitted to Mount Elizabeth Hospital for a month-long treatment for back pain. He was also treated by a psychiatrist for anxiety, depression and insomnia. He was prescribed 14 drugs by different doctors.

On Aug 4, 2012, he was found unconscious by a tenant at his Everitt Road house and rushed to Changi General Hospital. He died on the same day aged 50.

His sister, Victoria, who is helping to administer his estate, is claiming that his death was an accident caused by drug intoxication from the medication, according to court papers filed through her lawyer Melanie Ho.

AIA first rejected the claims last year after the death was ruled a suicide by a coroner. The insurance policies have a clause that excludes suicides. But the following month, AIA said it was no longer relying on this point, but on the fact that the policies were accident ones.

This meant the insured had to sustain bodily injury in an accident before the sum assured is payable. In Mr Quek's case, there was no evidence of such an injury, said AIA.

Defended by lawyer Lim Tong Chuan, the company declined comment, citing the ongoing court case. It said in a statement: "We are committed to claims payout in accordance with the terms and conditions of the policy contract."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Remand for ex-tour guide as court mulls over challenge to bail

Straits Times
11 Nov 2014
Carolyn Khew

FORMER China tour guide Yang Yin has been remanded while the High Court deliberates over a challenge filed by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to reverse his bail order.

The AGC reiterated in court yesterday that Yang should not be granted bail, arguing that the earlier decision by District Judge Eddy Tham had disregarded the 40-year-old as a high flight risk, among other things.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon will decide whether to overturn the bail order today.

Last Friday, the prosecution had applied to the High Court to challenge Judge Tham's decision a day earlier to grant the Chinese national bail of $150,000.

Yang, who has been detained since Oct 31, has yet to post bail, even though arrangements have been made to remit the money over to a Singaporean bailor.

During the hearing yesterday, Deputy Chief Prosecutor Tan Ken Hwee said the bail order granted was "palpably wrong", and asked that the accused be remanded pending trial.

Presenting his arguments to Chief Justice Menon, Mr Tan pointed out that Judge Tham failed to recognise there would be no "pull" of bail in this case as the bail money would be coming from Yang's family in China, and not the surety in Singapore.

He also argued that in Yang's case, the sum of $500,000 that had been transferred from 87- year-old widow Chung Khin Chun's account to Yang's parents showed he had the means to abscond. It is not in every case that the prosecution objects to bail for non-bailable offences allegedly committed by non-Singaporeans, Mr Tan added.

Listening to both sides of the argument, the Chief Justice acknowledged there would be "no water off a surety's back" if the source of bail money did not come from the bailor himself.

Addressing this, Yang's lawyer, Mr Wee Pan Lee, suggested that the order be modified such that the bailor put in an additional sum of money so there would be an incentive for him or her to ensure that Yang would not abscond. He said it would have been "foolhardy" for Yang to cut his losses by absconding.

This is the latest development in the legal tussle between Yang and the niece of wealthy widow Madam Chung over her estimated $40 million assets.

Yang faces 331 charges for falsification of receipts worth about $450,000 made to his company, Young Dance and Music Studio.

The prosecution had earlier urged the court to put the bail at $800,000, with four sureties. Yesterday, Mr Tan said the bail, if granted, should be more than $600,000.

Meanwhile, the widow's sister, Madam Doris Chung, assisted in police investigations at the Police Cantonment Complex yesterday. She was accompanied by her daughter, 60-year-old Madam Hedy Mok.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

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New court to be set up to hear cross-border commercial cases

Straits Times
05 Nov 2014
K.C. Vijayan & Lim Yi Han

Another change to legal landscape is single body to regulate all law firms

SIGNIFICANT changes to Singapore's legal landscape were passed by Parliament yesterday, allowing the setting up of a court to deal with international cases, and a new body to regulate all law firms - both local and foreign - here.

Traditional law firm structures are also set to change after non-lawyer employees were allowed to become partners, directors or shareholders.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the setting up of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) will allow the country to draw on the significant opportunities in cross-border deals and disputes arising from the region's tremendous economic growth.

The SICC, which will hear international commercial disputes, complements existing arbitration services and an upcoming international mediation centre, allowing Singapore to provide a full suite of dispute resolution options.

"Parties involved in cross-border disputes rely on the courts in London or New York, if they do not want to arbitrate... There is presently no equivalent default court in Asia. Our intention is to become that default court. No other country provides this option. We want to be the first, and we want to succeed," said the minister.

He added that the new court will bank on Singapore's outstanding "brand name" for good governance, low corruption and efficiency, its highly regarded judiciary and high-quality legal services.

"Our neutrality is also an important factor which will help," he said.

Both sides of the House lauded the SICC's advent. Describing the move as "bold and creative", MP Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said "the SICC represents a new way of thinking about international dispute resolution".

Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) added the SICC and the appointment of international judges have "the potential of making Singapore a key centre for legal work in Asia".

Mr Shanmugam also provided details of the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority - under the Ministry of Law - which will regulate all law firms.

Before, the Attorney-General's Chambers dealt with foreign firms while the Law Society handled matters relating to local ones.

This "integrated licensing system" will make it more convenient for law firms to set up offices in Singapore by "streamlining processes" and will ensure that there is a more coherent and consistent regulatory approach, he said.

Changes to the Legal Profession Act also provide for the setting up of "Legal Disciplinary Practices" which allow non-lawyer employees to become partners, directors or shareholders.

But such firms will only be allowed to offer legal services for now, unlike other alternative models which allow them to offer other services such as accountancy.

A Professional Conduct Council to oversee the issue of professional conduct rules for both Singapore-qualified and foreign-qualified lawyers practising law here will also be set up.

WP MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) noted that this "makes rather drastic changes in the way the legal profession is organised and regulated" and that it eroded the Law Society's role. But Mr Shanmugam said the move is necessary "for us to adapt, anticipate, and keep ahead of changes and have a certain logical framework".

Overall, the changes to the Legal Profession Act will modernise and streamline the regulatory framework for lawyers and law practices. These amendments seek to "maintain high professional standards in the legal industry", he said.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

limyihan@sph.com.sg


What's special about the SICC

IT IS an international court with specialist jurists hearing international commercial disputes.
Disputes it will hear include those governed by foreign law and in which the parties have agreed to use the SICC, or the case has been transferred from the High Court.
It will complement existing arbitration services and broaden the suite of dispute resolution options to attract regional and international parties to settle their disputes here.
Singapore lawyers and law firms will have more opportunities to tap Asia's growth, as the SICC brings "offshore work" here.
It is the first in Asia to help businesses involved in cross-border disputes.

LIM YI HAN

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'Second chance' lawyer gets a second chance

Straits Times
16 Nov 2014
Lim Yi Han

Subhas Anandan, who doesn't reject hopeless cases, survives heart and kidney failure

The man who believes in giving others a second chance now has his own.

Less than a year ago, doctors handed veteran criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan the death sentence. After he was diagnosed with heart and kidney failure, they told his family to take him home and arrange for palliative care.

But his family refused.

Now, the tenacious 66-year-old is back in action, even though he has to be hooked up to a dialysis machine thrice a week, for four hours each time.

The pain and fatigue make him grit his teeth.

But this does not stop him from narrating his musings to his wife of 27 years, Vimala, albeit in a softer tone than he uses in courtrooms.

The housewife, 56, logs down her husband's thoughts and anecdotes - all material for his second book, titled It's Easy To Cry.

It is expected to be on shelves next year, more than six years after his first book, The Best I Could, in which he explored his most famous cases and his own prison experience after being suspected of being a secret society member.

His second book delves into his fight to survive and his experience in hospital.

The road to recovery has not been easy, he admits.

"I know I've done a lot of bad things, but I think my good things outweighed the bad, and why is God doing this to me?" he asks.

"Dialysis can be quite tiring and depressing sometimes, realising that this machine is keeping you alive. But you must have the mental capacity to overcome this sort of feeling... If you let it get worse and worse, that will finish you off."

Mr Subhas, now nearly 20kg slimmer at 65kg, is no stranger to illness. He has had three heart attacks since 1978, lost one kidney to cancer in 2001, suffered diabetes and blocked intestines, no thanks to excessive drinking and smoking - at his worst, he smoked more than three packets of cigarettes a day.

He quit smoking in 1997, after his third heart attack, and seldom drinks now.

After what he has gone through, he says his only regret is not having spent enough time with his family - something he is trying to make up for now. He is also trying to reconnect with old friends he has lost touch with.

He speaks to The Sunday Times from his Raffles Place office in law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, where he is a senior partner.

Previously he was a senior consultant at KhattarWong and Harry Elias Partnership. His own law firms were MPD Nair and Company, and Subhas Anandan Advocate and Solicitor.

Work, he says, has helped him stave off depression.

And it was his wife, who initially demanded that he retire, who got him back in action.

"When I was in the ICU really fighting for my life, I told my wife that I would spend more time with the family. She said, promise me you will not go to court and you will retire. I said, okay, I promise."

But for a man who has spent more than four decades in court, it did not take long before lazy afternoons in front of the television became a drag.

"How much TV can you watch? How many walks can my wife take me on, in a wheelchair to Marina Bay or Botanic Gardens?" he asks.

Seeing the "lost and faraway look" on his face, his wife relented. "She said, 'I release you from that promise, but you must promise you look after your health, when you are tired, you will stop,'" he recalls.

That was in May.

Since then, he has been back at the office and in court, although he has reduced his workload by a fifth. He, however, remains as feisty as ever.

In his first trial after returning, the judges at the Court of Appeal told him he could deliver his arguments sitting down. He kept on standing.

"The day when I have to sit down and argue a case in front of the highest tribunal in Singapore, I think that's the day to stop going to court," he says.

He was called to the Bar in 1971 after graduating from the then University of Singapore, and since then has taken on more than 2,500 cases and earned himself a reputation for never rejecting cases, whatever the crime.

He defended Anthony Ler, who hired a teenager to kill his wife in 2001; Took Leng How, a vegetable packer who befriended eight-year- old girl Huang Na, then killed her in 2004; and Leong Siew Chor, who chopped up a woman he killed in the Kallang body parts case.

Another client was ex-stewardess Constance Chee, who abducted her ex-lover's four-year-old daughter and caused her death after a fall from a flat in 2004.

Says Mr Subhas, who is president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore: "However heinous your offence is, I think you deserve a proper defence, especially in capital cases... Why should anybody say that he is guilty when the court has not found him guilty yet?"

His belief in second chances and pro-bono work saw a fund named after him last month - the Yellow Ribbon Fund Subhas Anandan Star Bursary Award. It will provide former convicts financial help to sponsor their studies.

He is slowly passing the baton to his nephew Sunil Sudheesan, 35, and another criminal lawyer at the firm, 27-year-old Diana Ngiam.

Mr Sunil says that being the nephew of Singapore's best-known criminal lawyer has its advantages. Clients are never in short supply, for one thing.

"I'm happy describing myself as the bag carrier," says Mr Sunil, whose father is one of Mr Subhas' four siblings.

When Mr Subhas is asked if he sees his nephew as his successor, he replies: "I hope so. And I hope that my son will join Sunil in years to come."

His son Sujesh, 24, is a second-year law student at the University of Nottingham in England. "Whether he's going to do criminal law, it doesn't really matter... Let him take his own path.

"Anybody can become a good lawyer if you work hard. But I want my son to be a good human being, not chasing after money all the time, and to show compassion to people less fortunate. I would have rather people say he's a good man than he's a good lawyer."

Having come from a kampung in Sembawang where his family moved to after his father retired as a clerk in the British Royal Navy, Mr Subhas has seen how circumstances can force people to turn to crime.

And while criminal law is not the most lucrative line of legal work, since many clients cannot afford a lawyer, he says receiving the gratitude of those he represents is enough. Some of them, like Ler, even offered him their organs.

"I may not have made so much money, but I think the goodwill I got, even the richest lawyer in Singapore will not have."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

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