26 June 2016
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Briton loses fight for his divorce to be heard in S'pore

Straits Times
24 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Aussie judge rules that it would be to his wife's advantage for case to be heard in Australia

A $1 million-earning Singapore-based chief executive has failed to convince an Australian court that the split with his estranged Australian wife should be heard in Singapore, not Melbourne.

The judge accepted the "unusual feature" of the couple and their three young children all living in Singapore to be the strongest argument of the husband, a Briton, but ruled that the wife was likely to get a better hearing in Australia as Singapore courts may not recognise pre-marriage contributions in the division of assets.

"The (Singapore) legislation is not that clear. The authority relied upon is so qualified that I could only conclude that a Singaporean court has a discretion but it would be inappropriate to speculate how that might be exercised," said Australian Family Court Justice Paul Cronin in judgment grounds released last month.

"On balance, I am satisfied that there is a juridical advantage to the wife in being able to litigate in Australia," he added.

The couple began co-habitating in Singapore in 2000 and continued doing so in China three years later following the man's career move. They had two children there before they married in 2006 and three years later, returned to Singapore after a promotion for the husband, who works in an international organisation.

They had a third child in 2009 and all three now attend school in Singapore. But the couple permanently split in January last year.

The 44-year-old Australian wife, who works part-time here, then applied for financial relief and a divorce in Australia. But the husband objected, arguing that Singapore was the appropriate forum to hear the case.

His lawyers said Melbourne was inappropriate as both parties would have to fly in and out of Singapore, among other things.

The judge did note that "Singapore is clearly the community where both parties live".

But the wife's lawyer countered that she had a juridical advantage in Australia in relation to her rights in the de facto relationship before they wed. Any claim she might have to a share in the husband's assets would be prejudiced in Singapore as it does not recognise de facto relationships, he added.

The husband's expert pointed to the Women's Charter in Singapore, which provides for pre-marriage assets to be considered, subject to conditions.

The judge commented that any such advantage might be questionable and ruled it was open to the Australian court to find that Australia provides an advantage to the wife in relation to the de facto issue with no disadvantage to the husband.

Both sides used opinions from Singapore family law experts for the case.

Drew & Napier director Veronica Joseph provided a perspective for the husband, while Rajah & Tann partner Kee Lay Lian represented the wife in providing an expert opinion on the Singapore case.

The wife's Australian lawyer argued she had no litigation funding in Singapore and cannot "participate easily", whereas in Australia, she could apply for interim funds.

But the husband said he was willing to help, given his much stronger financial position than the wife.

"I am more comforted by the knowledge that such an application can be quickly brought in Australia if the husband was not true to his word," said Justice Cronin.

He said there was no question that both parties can participate in the proceedings in either country "on an equal footing". The issue was whether "Australia is a clearly inappropriate forum", he added.

He dismissed the husband's application and ordered the case to be brought up next month for further action.

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Singapore targeting private firms linked to Indonesian fires, not national sovereignty

Straits Times
16 Jun 2016
Francis Chan

Ministry says use of transboundary haze law aimed at preventing recurrence of crisis

Singapore's move to go after companies linked to fires in Indonesia that led to last year's haze is not an issue of sovereignty or national dignity, said a Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) spokesman yesterday.

The ministry said its actions under the country's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) was aimed at deterring and prosecuting entities that are responsible for transboundary haze pollution.

"The THPA was drafted with advice from experts in international law and complies with international law," added the spokesman. "It is not directed at any individual nor company based on nationality."

MEWR was responding to comments in recent days by Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla as well as the country's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar about Singapore's decision to take court action against an Indonesian company director via the THPA.

Mr Kalla said that Singapore cannot take action against its citizens responsible for last year's forest fires, while Ms Siti accused the Republic of not exercising "mutual respect" by invoking the THPA.

She said the Asean agreement on transboundary haze pollution is a multilateral one, and not a bilateral pact between Singapore and Indonesia. As such, "Singapore cannot step further into Indonesia's legal domain", she added.

Ms Siti also said the THPA remains a "controversial" law that is still being debated among Asean officials from Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

That is why she feels that Singapore's action under the law against errant firms in her country is not a show of "mutual respect".

MEWR, however, said the key driver of the recurring transboundary haze is commercial. It said companies' blatant disregard for the environmental and social consequences of the haze, which affects millions of people in the region, should not go unchecked.

"The phenomenal amount of greenhouse gases also emitted during the burning of peatland will have a profound effect on climate change that the world is battling to slow," said the spokesman.

"This is therefore not an issue of sovereignty or national dignity."

The ministry emphasised that Singapore respects Indonesian sovereignty and it is for that very reason that Singapore has repeatedly requested local authorities to share information on companies suspected of illegal burning in Indonesia.

Fires burning on concession land owned by private companies are said to have caused the haze crisis which affected many countries in South-east Asia.

The smoke from fires last year sent air pollution to record levels, resulting in at least 19 deaths from haze-related illnesses and more than half a million Indonesians suffering from respiratory infections.

The World Bank estimates that the fires and haze caused at least US$16 billion (S$21.7 billion) in economic losses for Indonesia alone.

Indonesian officials, however, do not expect a repeat of the crisis this year, though that may be due more to favourable weather than progress in addressing the underlying causes of the blazes, reported Bloomberg News yesterday.

Satellite imagery detected about 730 hot spots so far this year, down from more than 2,900 in the first six months of last year, according to government data.

Mr Raffles Panjaitan, the Environment and Forestry Ministry official tasked with overseeing fire prevention, said integrated fire patrol teams have been deployed in villages where forest fires are an annual occurrence.

"Normally forest fires are quite rampant in February and March, but there are no fires in villages where patrols are deployed," he said.

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

MAS proposes regulatory sandbox for fintech experiments

Business Times
07 Jun 2016
Jamie Lee

It notes the speed at which fintech is evolving, and says existing regulatory approach can stifle process

[Singapore] THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) set out its approach towards fintech experiment on Monday, as it proposed a regulatory "sandbox" for trials by both start-ups and large financial companies in this area of innovation.

The strategy closely follows that of the UK, where the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in May launched a "sandbox" that allows businesses, big and small, to try out a new fintech service at a limited scale.

MAS pointed to the speed at which the fintech landscape is evolving, and that regulatory friction can slow down the innovation process.

"There may be circumstances where it is less clear whether a particular fintech solution complies with regulatory requirements or poses unacceptable risks. The uncertainty may stifle promising innovations, and may result in missed opportunities," MAS said in a media statement.

For example, a company at its early-growth stage may not have a track record for regulators to easily understand the risks behind its proposed business idea. The existing regulatory approach can cause a deadlock, and the firm may eventually drop the idea or develop it outside of Singapore, "where the regulatory environment is perceived to be more conducive", MAS said.

With a "sandbox", MAS will assess applications and relax specific regulatory requirements for the duration of the testing. Examples of such requirements include credit rating, minimum paid-up capital, track record, and fund solvency.

MAS will not compromise on requirements in areas such as confidentiality of customer information, as well as in anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism.

MAS said it seeks innovative ideas that benefit consumers or the industry, and that can be deployed in Singapore on a broader scale. Even while playing in the "sandbox", major foreseeable risks should have already been assessed and mitigated by the applicants. If the idea has failed, the applicants must also be able to execute an exit strategy.

"MAS recognises that failure is often a feature of such experiments and the purpose of the regulatory sandbox is to provide appropriate safeguards to contain the consequences of failure for customers rather than to prevent failure altogether."

MAS said it would try to inform applicants of potential suitability for a "sandbox" within 21 working days, and called on financial institutions and fintech firms to approach the regulator directly with ideas, as well.

It also sought comments on, among other things, how to address concerns over an unlevel playing field if an applicant has a fintech idea that can be implemented outside of a "sandbox", but is still unable to meet ordinary legal and regulatory requirements that its competitors would follow in the normal course of business.

MAS did not prescribe how long the "sandbox" testing should be. FCA said this so-dubbed "safe space" is typically valid for three to six months. FCA added that as a guide, the sample set of customers should be big enough to create "statistically relevant data", while balancing the risk to a large number of customers.

Lawrence Yong, CEO of MoolahSense, applauded the regulatory "sandbox" as an innovation in itself.

"It not only recognises the inevitable need to adapt, but also embraces the lean start-up approach to facilitate quick experimentation. The fact that the regulator and fintechs are open minded and speaking the same language is already a win," he said.

"Financial regulations are a web of complexities and a potential minefield to navigate. As technology changes the way of life and business, financial regulations need to keep up their relevance or risk encountering disruptions that destabilise the system," he added.

Rohith Murthy, co-founder of comparison site SingSaver.com.sg, said the "sandbox" approach will reduce the time and cost to get new ideas into the market, and allow firms to "fail fast", but noted challenges in analysing and measuring the success or failure of ideas and projects.

Banks welcomed the announcement, with UOB's head of group channels and digitalisation, Janet Young, calling it a "forward looking and strategic move for Singapore".

"It will catalyse the banking industry's ability to partner and benefit from these technological innovations within a well-defined space, without significant impact to the financial ecosystem," she said.

DBS's chief innovation officer, Neal Cross, said MAS's approach would allow banks to become more experimental, and fintechs to have a greater opportunity to get into the market with their offerings.

"This will only benefit customers. This initiative would also give regulators customer insights from the experiments that take place, which would help Singapore remain on the forefront of innovation," he said.

Pranav Seth, OCBC's head of e-business and business transformation, said: "We are excited about this as it will speed up the innovation process, and aligns with the vision to make Singapore a smart financial centre."

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

UBS hands over client's S'pore bank records to US taxman

Straits Times
24 Jun 2016

WASHINGTON • UBS Group has ended a legal fight with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), agreeing to hand over records on an American client's account in Singapore as the United States authorities seek to move beyond Switzerland in their fight against offshore tax evasion.

The case involves Mr Hsiaw Ching-Ye, a US citizen living in China who had a UBS account from 2001 to 2011. On Feb 23, the IRS filed a petition asking a federal judge in Miami to force UBS, the largest Swiss bank, to produce account records on Mr Hsiaw, Bloomberg reported.

The IRS said it needed the records to determine Mr Hsiaw's income tax liabilities from 2006 to 2011. After reaching an agreement, the bank handed over records on May 31 and June 10, the Department of Justice said on Tuesday in a court filing dismissing the petition.

"The Department of Justice and the IRS are committed to making sure that offshore tax evasion is detected and dealt with appropriately," said Acting Assistant Attorney- General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Department of Justice's Tax Division in a statement on Wednesday.

The US has focused largely on Switzerland since 2008 as it fights offshore tax evasion. More than 80 Swiss banks, including UBS and Credit Suisse Group, have agreed to pay a total of US$5 billion (S$6.7 billion) or so in penalties and fines.

"UBS confirms that it complied with the summons based on client consent in accordance with Singapore law," said UBS spokesman Marsha Askins.

IRS agents served a summons on UBS in 2013 for records of Mr Hsiaw's UBS account from 2001 to 2011. Mr Hsiaw transferred his account to Singapore in 2002, according to the Department of Justice. The bank said it could not produce the information as Singapore's bank secrecy laws prevent disclosure without permission from Mr Hsiaw, which he had not provided, according to a court filing.

"Singapore's laws and regulations do not prohibit sharing of information for investigations into possible tax offences," said a spokesman for the Monetary Authority of Singapore. "Banking information could be disclosed through client's consent or via Singapore mutual legal assistance."

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Clear agreement for Asean to tackle haze

Straits Times
16 Jun 2016
Koh Kheng Lian

Singapore's efforts to bring a director of an Indonesian company to court under its Transboundary Haze Pollution Act of 2014 has caused tensions between the two countries. Indonesia is reportedly embarrassed on grounds of a "derogation of sovereignty" and the blow dealt to its "national dignity" and "pride".

At the heart of Indonesia's unhappiness are the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention, by which countries do not become involved in each other's business or problems. And yet, the sovereignty principle is anachronistic if applied to the hilt in the context of cooperation between states to prevent, for example, environmental degradation.

I would like to propose an alternative approach to resolving the haze problem which entails a shift in thinking. It is an approach that would put into legal effect the wise counsel of Singapore's first foreign minister S. Rajaratnam, which he articulated back in 1967 at the first meeting to mark the establishment of Asean. He had said then: "It is necessary... if we are really to be successful in giving life to Asean to marry national thinking with regional thinking... That is a new way of thinking of our problems." His was a call to place national thinking (sovereignty) within the context of regional interests.

One way to do so is to frame the haze issue as one of "disaster management". Doing so would place it under the Asean Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (Aadmer) of 2005, which entered into force on Dec 24, 2009 after ratification by all 10 member states. Indonesia and the various countries affected by the regional haze are party to this agreement.

It is significant that while Indonesia readily ratified Aadmer, it took 12 years to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) of 2002. Why? One of the reasons was the perception that AATHP was aimed at blaming Indonesia for the forest fires. Hence, the defensive stance was to apply "sovereignty" to the hilt, and any assistance from Asean member states became an affront to its national pride. Far from any derogation of its sovereignty, Indonesia should take the opportunity to demonstrate that the sovereignty of all Asean member states - now an integrated community - can emerge intact and strengthened from working together to tackle the haze.

Aadmer was born out of the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster in which Indonesia was greatly devastated. Indonesia did not raise any issue of sovereignty when assistance was rendered by other countries, including Singapore. A reading of this agreement finds that the haze fits its definition of a "disaster" as "a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society causing widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses".

Few would dispute that the haze has caused widespread pollution to other Asean member states - Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and even Thailand - and has resulted in economic loss and ill effects on the health of their citizens.

Aadmer aims "to achieve substantial reduction of disaster losses in lives and in the social, economic and environmental assets of the Parties..."

It sets out in Article 4(a) how countries are to work together to achieve this aim, stating that they "shall cooperate in developing the implementing measures to reduce disaster losses..." This means that when it comes to the haze, Indonesia has a duty to cooperate. Article 4 also states that when a disaster is likely to cause possible impacts on other member states, the parties shall "respond promptly to a request for relevant information sought by a Member State or States that are or may be affected by such disasters, with a view to minimising the consequences".

Singapore has suffered great economic loss and health impact from Indonesia's transboundary haze pollution. Under Aadmer, Indonesia must ensure that it provides relevant information sought by Singapore to deal with the current investigation of the Indonesian director of the company in question.

At the same time, Aadmer also obliges parties to "promptly respond to a request for assistance by an affected Party". Both Singapore and Indonesia are affected parties and the agreement thus obliges them to respond to each other's requests for help. Aadmer goes further than AATHP, whose objective is limited to haze prevention and monitoring, and depends on individual states to operationalise it. Aadmer, on the other hand, takes a holistic approach in disaster risk reduction and puts in place effective mechanisms, covering disaster management before, during and after the disaster, as well as partnerships with the United Nations and the World Bank for international cooperation.

In meeting the challenge of regional haze pollution, Asean member states should forge ahead together in the spirit of an integrated community. Indeed, they already have a plan in place to do so mapped out in the Asean Political-Security Community Blueprint 2025, one of the documents agreed to when Asean formally became an integrated community on Dec 31 last year. The political-security blueprint calls for the use of non-traditional approaches and "enhanced cooperation", including joint task forces, joint partnerships and entry into territory to deal with disaster situations. Asean thus has the political and legal frameworks in place for regional cooperation to fight the haze. What member states must do now is put these words into action.

•The writer is Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Law; and Honorary Director, Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law, National University of Singapore.


The Asean Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response was born out of the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster in which Indonesia was greatly devastated. Indonesia did not raise any issue of sovereignty when assistance was rendered by other countries, including Singapore. A reading of this agreement finds that the haze fits its definition of a "disaster" as "a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society causing widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses".

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'Uberisation' of professional services brings challenges and opportunities

Business Times
07 Jun 2016

Law and accounting firms have to adapt and make use of technology early, not shun it until their fields are disrupted, says a panel of experts

DESPITE being relatively shielded from disruptive forces, law and accounting firms would do well to plan ahead for leaner times by being more flexible, collaborative and specialised, say members of a recent high-powered panel of experts. The challenge is to be more efficient as margins erode with the "Uberisation" of professional services, and when technology offers cheaper alternatives for corporate customers and consumers in future, they point out. The cautionary tale comes from a discussion panel on May 26, as part of the Canon Think Big Leadership Series jointly organised by The Business Times and Canon.

"I have no doubt that lawyers will continue to be relevant during our lifetimes and those of our children, and that many lawyers will continue to organise themselves in firms," said Professor Tan Cheng Han, Senior Counsel and Chairman of the Centre for Law and Business at the National University of Singapore.

"At the same time, we must acknowledge the strong forces that are likely to reshape and challenge present notions of legal practice and by extension the way many law firms operate today," he added.

With globalisation, Prof Tan said more law firms would partner with overseas counterparts. At the same time, revenues will likely come under pressure from both corporations and individuals, especially the well-off who have bargaining power, he noted.

Technology is yet another big reason for disruption, agreed all the panellists at the event. And this is set to change the way both law and accountancy firms function in the years ahead. For example, in the United States, websites such as Legalzoom are offering to draft customised wills and other legal documents for individuals at a fraction of the price a law firm asks for.

Typically, these disruptive online services would aim for the low-end of the spectrum to gain customers' trust and traction in the industry before they aim for other more lucrative businesses, said Ms Eliza Tan, Managing Director of LegisComm, a marketing consultancy for professional services firms.

Besides law firms, accounting practices also face the crunch as more small companies are exempt from auditing with a new regime last year, she added. "Many are expanding their consultancy services, as audit revenue shrinks."

All three speakers at the event point to opportunities for professional services firms that embrace the change, rather than deny it and postpone any effort to tackle the issue. Delay further and they might find themselves being "disrupted".

Lawyers and accountants could find a way to collaborate, said Ms Tan. With the combined expertise, they could offer a wider range of services to customers and be the go-to problem solvers for their clients, she added.

"Accountants and lawyers often work in silos and they were not much for collaboration in the past," she noted. "But now some law firms and accounting firms know they can work together and offer better services."

Competition could be the driver of this change. As professional services firms face a potential "Uberisation" or deregulation in their industries, they could find themselves in a more difficult position than before.

Prof Tan said if there was an "Uberised" model for legal services, then the bulk of what some lawyers do - transactional legal agreements and documents - could be offered by new competitors in the market.

"It is not difficult to foresee in the future that computer programmes will be so sophisticated that when provided with a set of facts it can produce a sound opinion or at least the most relevant precedents. In an 'uberised' model, law firms can again potentially be bypassed," he noted. The answer to the challenges posed is in being prepared and providing better value than what a basic "Uberised" model can offer, say the panellists. Professional services firms have to be deeper subject matter experts and better problem solvers. Mr Charles Loh, a Partner at PwC Consulting (Singapore), said one improvement he had seen at his firm was the sharing of knowledge among the different practices. Traditionally, the sector has been used to people working in silos, but if they can better share their expertise, then they can serve clients better, he added.

For example, despite not being short on talent and thought leadership at his firm, his company turned to technology to let people faster find the information they need to win a deal or solve a problem, he noted.

Indeed, problem solving is seen as the next important skill to acquire, as disruptions to the market force professional services firms to adapt and be more cost-efficient. "Lawyers need to be trusted advisers to their clients whether (they are) an MNC, an SME, or the small business person or individual," said Prof Tan.

"For example, an issue that has arisen may be symptomatic of a more fundamental problem that the lawyer can help to solve. Being a trusted adviser also involves helping the client to anticipate and therefore avoid problems in the future. 'Preventive lawyering' may be a growth area," he added.

"While much of this work as a trusted adviser will take place in the context of sophisticated clients with novel or unique issues or structures, firms can be trusted advisers to small businesses or individuals who because of a lack of sophistication may encounter legal problems," he argued.

He noted: "Or a firm can develop a suite or bundle of potential services that are useful to small businesses at a reasonable fee. To do this, they will have to spend a good deal more time investing in client relationships and knowing the client."

Ultimately, things could come down to making the best use of one's skill sets and data on hand to make the right decisions. Besides being compliant with local regulations, how can professional services firms take advantage of the uncertainty instead of worrying about it?

In an industry where information flow is rapid and unstructured, the challenge is making the best use of the data on hand, said Mr Vincent Low, Director and General Manager for Business Imaging Solutions at Canon Singapore.

Automation is also a smart way to save cost and increase productivity in a sector that sees a voluminous use of documentation. Mr Low mentioned that Canon's suite of business solutions covering print and document capture processes is able to support the entire document lifecycle and aid legal and accounting firms in their push for greater automation.


The Law Firm of the Future

"The extent to which there will be widespread disruption to law firms depends on the extent to which deregulation or 'uberisation' of legal services takes place. If the provision of legal services moves towards an 'uberised' model, law firms are likely to face increased competition. The competitors are likely to develop programmes that can, for example, produce agreements or legal documents for a wide variety of different situations that are reasonably standardised, which form the bulk of what transactional lawyers do today ... but I do not believe that an 'uberised' world of legal services is feasible in the near future because of regulatory concerns nor do I think the public is ready for such drastic dis-intermediation. This means there is a window of opportunity for law firms. Firms should work with companies developing such technology so that services can be provided at lower cost. This will help with the erosion of margins."

You can read the full text of this highly engaging and accomplished presentation by Prof Tan Cheng Han, Senior Counsel and Chairman of the Centre for Law and Business, National University of Singapore at http://www.canon.com.sg/thinkbig/


Facing the challenge

IMAGINE having a will drafted for a mere US$69 (S$95), instead of $3,000 or more at a law firm. That is possible in the United States with online legal services such as Legalzoom, which bypass traditional law firms to provide legal services to consumers.

Presenting that as an example of an industry-wide disruption, Ms Eliza Tan, Managing Director of LegisComm, said previous outsiders to the industry have been eyeing a slice of the pie, starting with the low-end jobs that smaller firms take on.

However, they could also ask serious questions of bigger firms, should customers choose to go with these new players in an "Uberised" market where such firms provide a better experience, she added.

While experts at the Think Big Leadership Series discussion believed that Singapore still has some ways to go before consumers would embrace such online services, they also warned that these disruptive entrants could one day cause professional services firms to worry about their bottom lines.

Diversification, according to Ms Tan, could be a way to not just survive the disruption but also emerge as a success from it. This meant going into areas that traditional law or accounting firms may not already be in, she noted.

For example, small accounting firms have expanded their consultancy services as audit revenue shrinks. Besides what they do traditionally, they have also provided financial advisory for mergers and acquisitions, managed cyber risk and even resold or provided cloud-based accounting services.

At the same time, law firms have provided compliance solutions, intellectual property asset advisory, strategic advisory and also invested in other companies dealing with communications, events and training.

One of the tips that Ms Tan offered is to improve the quality and speed of the professional advice offered, by having quicker access to research and improved collaboration with other partners.

It is important to invest in technology to be more efficient, she said, so one could stay in the competition despite the changing circumstances.

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Crimes like rape need 'strict approach'

Straits Times
24 Jun 2016
Lim Yan Liang

Justice system must support victims, says law minister, citing high-profile rape case in US

Singapore needs to take a strict approach when it comes to serious crimes like rape, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Writing on his Facebook page about a controversial sexual assault case in the United States, Mr Shanmugam said an effective criminal justice system in such cases must achieve three things.

It must not make it difficult for women to report the crimes and it must not put women through an unnecessary ordeal during investigations while interrogations in court have to be sensitive to the state of the victims, he said.

Thirdly, the punishment has to be in keeping with the gravity of the crime when guilt is proven, he added.

Mr Shanmugam was commenting on the case of ex-Stanford University student Brock Turner, 20, who was sentenced on June 2 to six months' jail for sexually assaulting an intoxicated and unconscious victim behind a dumpster after a campus party in January last year.

The sentence has sparked widespread outrage in the US among many who felt it was too lenient, and prompted calls and online petitions to remove the judge. It has also put the spotlight on rape at US college campuses.

Mr Shanmugam said the sentence of six months in a county jail and probation "borders on the absurd", given that the potential maximum punishment Turner faced was 14 years in a state prison.

County jails in the US are typically meant for detention during a trial and for people convicted of misdemeanours like shoplifting. State prisons are for convicts of more serious felony offences like robbery.

"Cases like this can diminish confidence in the system as a whole," said Mr Shanmugam.

He also drew attention to the victim's 7,000-word account of her travails, part of which she had read out in court on the day that Turner was sentenced.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "I read the young woman's account of what she had to go through in Court, being subjected to a highly offensive line of questions.

"It suggested a complete lack of remorse by Brock Turner. And his father's statement, that it was only '20 minutes of action' was something else altogether."

Besides a justice system that takes care not to put extra stress on victims of such crimes, Mr Shanmugam said more work needs to be done to make it easier for victims to come forward.

"In Singapore, we need to take a strict approach to these sorts of offences," he added.

"And we need to work at making it easier for people to report and undergo examination when they have been victims of sexual violence."

In Singapore, rape and sexual assault by penetration carry a penalty of up to 20 years' jail and a fine or caning.

On Wednesday, a man who pleaded guilty to raping a 12-year-old schoolgirl was jailed for 16� years and given 18 strokes of the cane.

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Court debates if judicial mercy should be invoked for dying convict

TODAY
15 Jun 2016
Valerie Koh

SINGAPORE — A district judge has slammed prosecutors for their “manifestly excessive” request of 10 years’ corrective training for a dying criminal, and urged them to consider judicial mercy as an option.

Lim Jit Kiat, 42, was convicted of forging a S$1.36 million cheque as payment for kinky sex acts, but was later diagnosed with end-stage renal failure, needing dialysis thrice a week. His defence lawyer argued that the life expectancy of such patients was about five years, and pleaded for judicial mercy to be exercised.

However, the prosecution, citing Lim’s history of convictions for theft, cheating and forgery over the past 20-odd years, wanted him locked up for a decade.

The unusual circumstances of the case were debated in court yesterday, with both prosecution and defence reaching an impasse on the sentence.

Lim’s latest brush with the law started when he posted an advertisement online on May 16, 2014, in search of males aged 18 to 45 to provide “special services” to male clients. The next day, a 28-year-old Chinese national responded to the ad. Lim, who had been diagnosed with sexual sadism disorder, then lied that he had a Korean client willing to pay S$1.2 million to carry out deviant sex acts with the man.

They met about three hours later in Geylang and checked into a hotel together, where Lim — masquerading as the Korean client — used three bamboo canes to hit the victim’s buttocks and burned him with cigarettes. The victim feigned enjoyment, and Lim raised the reward to S$1.36 million.

When the victim tried to cash the cheque the next day, a bank officer noticed that the signature did not match the bank’s records and a police report was lodged. It turned out that Lim had issued a cheque from his father’s cheque book.

In an earlier hearing, Lim pleaded guilty to forgery, while two other charges of theft and cheating were taken into consideration.

Yesterday, defence lawyer Timothy Ng argued that Lim was too ill to re-offend, and pleaded for judicial mercy to be invoked, where a court gives a more lenient sentence due to exceptional circumstances. He said that four weeks’ imprisonment would be appropriate.

In rebuttal, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Tan Zhongshan cited an Institute of Mental Health report stating that Lim was likely to re-offend. Lim had previously served a five-year jail term, and a 10-year corrective training sentence for cheating offences, among others. DPP Tan said: “Given that prisons are able to manage (Lim’s) medical condition, he doesn’t qualify for judicial mercy.”

However, District Judge Low Wee Ping said: “Even if the person is dying and the prison says it has the capacity to provide hospice care, it doesn’t deal with the issue of judicial mercy … It’s the pain and suffering of the illness, and you have to receive treatment.”

He added that a decade of corrective training was “manifestly excessive even without the issue of judicial mercy”.

Lim is out on bail, and the case will be heard again on June 30.

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Woman jailed 4 weeks for sham marriage

Straits Times
07 Jun 2016
Elena Chong

She was unhappy that her boyfriend broke up with her and wanted him back.

She decided to register a marriage using his name and wanted to change the name of her son's father on the birth certificate to his.

The woman, now 32 and a finance assistant, was then married but not living with her husband. She is not named as the courts have asked that her son not be identified.

She came to know her boyfriend and got into a relationship with him in 2010. During this time, she gave birth to a boy and her husband was stated as the boy's father in the birth certificate. She obtained a divorce the following year.

Some time in 2012, the boyfriend suspected the boy was not his, and broke up with her.

She then committed two offences of conspiracy with Mr Matthew Yeo Chia Loong. She admitted to abetting Mr Yeo, 32, to pose as her 31-year-old ex-boyfriend to deceive a licensed solemniser into signing the certificate of marriage on Oct 25, 2012.

She had also abetted him to falsely declare before a commissioner for oaths from the Re- gistry of Marriages that he was her former boyfriend to register the marriage.

Yesterday, she was jailed for four weeks for the two offences.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Chew Xin Ying said the accused went on with her plan to register the marriage between herself and her ex-boyfriend when she knew that he did not and would not consent to marrying her. She had obtained his identity card without his knowledge.

She then asked Mr Yeo to help her impersonate her ex-boyfriend, and he agreed.

Both went to the Registry Of Marriage (ROM) on Oct 25, 2012. Mr Yeo forged the signature of her ex-boyfriend and obtained the marriage certificate.

The woman and Mr Yeo then proceeded to Din Tai Fung at I12 Katong to meet the marriage solemniser. After the solemniser checked their identity card numbers, they said their vows, exchanged rings and signed on the certificate.

ROM has confirmed that a Family Court order has to be obtained to void the marriage as the man's identity was misused to register a marriage.

The ex-boyfriend reported her to the police on Nov 7, 2012 after the woman sent him a photo of the marriage certificate containing his and her names.

Defence lawyer Diana Ngiam said her client was suffering from acute stress after her boyfriend ended their relationship.

She said her client is very sorry. She could have been jailed for up to three years and fined on each charge.

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

By joining BEPS, Singapore enhances its reputation in the business community

Business Times
24 Jun 2016
Nicole Fung & Vivienne Junzhao Ong

ON JUNE 16 2016, Singapore announced that it is joining the inclusive framework for the global implementation of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project which was proposed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and endorsed by the G-20 in February 2016. The BEPS initiative began in the aftermath of austerity measures resulting from the recent global financial crisis. During that period, some sectors - including governments - started to look at the line between legitimate tax planning and aggressive avoidance, and the focus turned to the idea of corporations paying a fair share of taxes.

In response, OECD has led the charge with a comprehensive package of measures developed over two years to change national and international tax laws to close perceived loopholes, clarify financial reporting, and tighten rules on the taxation of certain activities (eg, in digital economies). Effective implementation of the BEPS package requires joint action from tax authorities worldwide; hence there is an invitation to interested countries and jurisdictions to put in place this BEPS implementation framework.

The announcement by Singapore's Ministry of Finance on June 16 reaffirms Singapore's position that it supports the OECD BEPS initiative. Indeed, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam reiterated that "Singapore is committed to working with the international community to counter artificial shifting of profits, and continues to welcome substantive economic activities. We will be actively involved with the OECD and G-20 in ensuring the consistent implementation of the BEPS standards across all jurisdictions, so as to ensure a level playing field".

Singapore has over the years successfully attracted multinational corporations (MNCs) to invest and bring technology, know-how and market access to the region. They are attracted to Singapore for its strong infrastructure, connectivity, adherence to international legal and tax principles, highly skilled workforce as well as its tax competitiveness.

The BEPS initiatives represent a change in the international tax landscape; by joining the framework and being part of the larger group, Singapore will be able to play a role in developing international standards to address the remaining BEPS issues on an equal footing with other members as well as review and monitor the implementation of the whole BEPS package.

This approach will have a two-way effect of enabling Singapore to provide input in areas of particular national importance to the international BEPS framework and to commit to incorporate internationally accepted principles into its local laws. In the eyes of the international business community, this will only enhance Singapore's competitiveness index. The BEPS initiatives can be seen as an opportunity for Singapore to reinvent itself to further enhance its competitiveness and attractiveness going forward.

BEPS concerns are chiefly around the artificial shifting of profits to locations with low tax and little or no economic activity. Singapore's competitiveness has always been linked to its location - as a city-state, it makes up for its limited domestic market by maximising the benefits of its strategic location in the region, with a fast growing middle class coupled with a highly skilled workforce and a tax-competitive landscape.

The BEPS project advocates the principle that the location of economic activity dictates the location of profits (and therefore taxation). This principle should continue to underpin the policies adopted by Singapore for its national development. Failure to do so will result in diminished competitiveness.

Due to Singapore's size and relatively high costs, economic activity centring on owning a customer base and manufacturing will not be its natural strength. Instead, with its highly educated workforce and knowledge-based economy, it will tend to focus on innovative economic activities which are highly valued - for example, the creation, management as well as ownership of intellectual property (IP). Research and development (R&D) by itself is not the best driver of profitable economic activity. It needs to be coupled with ownership of the IP itself. Singapore therefore needs to look at attracting not only the activity but also to keeping the ownership of the relevant IP created. Moving forward, Singapore should look to encouraging the transfer of ownership of IP related to the R&D or manufacturing activity to this country. Even where the IP is not related to any current activity, transfer of ownership of such IP to Singapore should still be encouraged as long as the company has other substantial activity in Singapore. The reason is that the mere ownership of IP will drive future decisions to locate the relevant activity into Singapore.

We should not be fearful that this will be seen as overly aggressive tax avoidance schemes. Where the company already has substantial activity in Singapore, IP onshoring is a commercial decision and how that IP is rewarded should still be dictated in accordance with internationally accepted tax principles.

If carefully managed, such IP ownership may be the precursor for Singapore to further anchor and develop economic spin-offs to derive a strong nexus of future economic growth in Singapore. From this perspective, our current tax regime on ownership of IP can be further enhanced to encourage companies to increase their economic activity and substance into Singapore in response to BEPS while maintaining a robust framework that is "BEPS-proof".

In conclusion, Singapore's commitment to the BEPS project under the inclusion framework will enhance and strengthen its reputation in the business community. Global MNCs look to many factors in determining the best location for their operations. Our highly skilled workforce, strong rule of law and coherence with international principles are valued by MNCs. Such commitment will make Singapore more attractive for MNCs as it is clear that Singapore embraces these international tax principles.

The writers are transfer pricing leader and senior tax manager at PwC Singapore respectively

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

S'porean denied pension in NZ for not using CPF first

Straits Times
15 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan

A 66-year-old Singaporean failed in his bid to get senior citizen pension benefits in New Zealand after a tribunal found he had not first used his Central Provident Fund (CPF) money, as advised.

The Social Security Appeal Authority was not convinced by his concerns of being traced by the Singapore authorities if he applied to withdraw his CPF money, as there could be "significant repercussions" for his two grown-up sons, who were liable for national service (NS).

"(He) was completely unable to explain what action the Singapore authorities might be able to take against him or his sons if they became aware of his residence in New Zealand," said the Social Security Appeal Authority of New Zealand in decision grounds released last month.

Superannuation benefits of about NZ$600 (S$570) are payable fortnightly to New Zealand citizens or permanent residents over 65 who have lived in the country for at least 10 years since they turned 20, five of which must be since they turned 50 years old, according to its website.

But the payout is modified according to conditions such as deductions from income earned elsewhere or abroad.

According to the decision grounds, the Singapore citizen, who is also a New Zealand citizen, was granted the benefit when he turned 65 in November 2014 but he disclosed in his application that he had lived in Singapore for 50 years.

He had worked in various jobs in Singapore before emigrating to New Zealand in 2000 with his wife and two sons, then aged eight and 10.

The Auckland-based man, who was granted citizenship in 2004, was told by New Zealand's Ministry of Social Development to apply to Singapore's CPF Board to withdraw funds from there.

He objected and failed to comply with the July 2015 deadline issued by the New Zealand ministry. A month later, his New Zealand Superannuation was suspended.

He initially claimed it was discriminatory to require people from countries that paid pensions, such as Singapore, to be required to apply for those pensions, which were then deducted from their entitlement to New Zealand Superannuation.

He pursued the case before the two-member appeal authority, arguing among other things that his two sons, now aged 25 and 23 years and having promising careers, could be affected if his whereabouts were known to the Singapore authorities through his CPF application.

The man, who was not named, suggested his sons might be forced to return to Singapore to do national service and be prosecuted as enlistment defaulters. Under Singapore laws, eligible persons who fail to register for national service may be fined up to $10,000 or jailed up to three years or both.

But the tribunal pointed out that the alleged offences under the Singapore Enlistment Act were not recognised as extraditable offences under New Zealand law and prosecution was, therefore, "remote".

"We are not satisfied that there is any real danger or disadvantage to either the appellant or his two sons if the appellant's whereabouts were to become known to the Singapore Government," wrote the Wellington-based appeal authority.

It added that the man, having worked variously in Singapore as an aircraft mechanic, hotel cashier and elsewhere had maintained CPF deposits from which he could apply to withdraw funds, since he was already past 62 years old, the minimum age for CPF withdrawal.

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

Fresh law grads feeling squeeze of weak economy and competition

TODAY
06 Jun 2016
Kelly Ng

Some companies have reportedly reduced starting salaries since May last year

SINGAPORE — Two years after a warning was issued that fresh law graduates could find that jobs are harder to come by, the scenario appears to be unravelling on the ground, compounded by the weak market conditions.

Firms have taken in a greater number of trainees, partially because the number of overseas graduates returning to Singapore to look for work has climbed, but the proportion of trainees retained has slid compared with previous years.

Those who have managed to clinch jobs say salary terms were poorer, continuing a trend reported among their seniors who graduated in 2014, according to the latest Joint Graduate Employment Survey released in March.

Due to the economic slowdown, several big- and mid-sized firms have reportedly reduced starting salaries by about S$500 since May last year.

Figures from the Law Ministry show that the annual number of returning law graduates had increased almost 50 per cent to 310 last year, up from around 210 in 2011. Taken together, the number of undergraduate law degrees awarded by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU) has hovered between 330 and 370 over the past five academic years.

Law Minister K Shanmugam had flagged in 2014 that a spike in Singaporeans studying to be lawyers overseas could lead to an oversupply, and warned those aspiring to the profession to temper career and salary expectations.

Those who did not get a place this year said supervisors had tried to “manage expectations at the outset”.

“We were told on the first day that the retention rate would be poor,” said a legal trainee who wanted to be known only as Shelley, who did not secure a job in the mid-sized firm he trained at.

Some who were retained in the firm — four out of eight who were offered training contracts — had to settle for less attractive offers, he said.

“Only those who were really needed were kept and, even then, at a lower salary and on a tentative basis ... The issue is that new work is drying up. The outlook for the rest of 2016 doesn’t look good,” Shelley added.

Another graduate who wanted to remain anonymous said the firm she trained at retained one-third (six out of 18) of the trainees. Retention at the firm, which has about 60 lawyers, was “much lower than previous years”, she said.

Competition will only intensify in coming years, because the “number who are giving it another shot will just keep increasing”, felt Mr Nicklaus Yap, who graduated from the NUS Faculty of Law. He added: “The ‘spectre’ of retention has become more real than in previous years because many senior lawyers have openly talked about the increased competition for positions in law firms and that young lawyers have to fight to remain competitive.”

Law firms that responded to TODAY’s queries acknowledged the need to be more “cautious” in hiring because of economic uncertainties.

TSMP Law Corporation joint managing director Stefanie Yuen Thio said her firm’s retention continues to be “high” even though the economic slowdown has “changed our hiring mindset a little”.

Another firm, Dentons Rodyk, said it had managed to retain more than three-quarters of its trainees despite offering a “record number” of 24 training contracts this year.

Several firms, including three of the Big Four — Allen & Gledhill, Rajah & Tann Asia, and WongPartnership — declined to comment.

While some trainees who were not retained said they are open to “alternative career paths”, such as in the civil service, legal start-ups and non-governmental organisations, most are still courting a career within the industry.

Said a graduate from SMU School of Law: “This has been my plan all along and it’s a bit hard to see beyond that, though the market is as bad as it is. Also, I feel it’d be a waste of my training not to stay in law at least for a while.”


Law students, graduates look outside sector for jobs

Singapore — Faced with a situation where jobs in the legal sector seem to be difficult to come by, some law students and graduates are now casting an eye on opportunities in other industries, including non-government organisations and the civil service.

Ms Amelia Chew, a third-year student at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Law, for instance, has spent her past three summer holidays pursuing internships outside the legal industry — an unconventional move for a law student.

“Conventional legal practice is just one of many options there are to enhance access to justice,” said Ms Chew, who is also pursuing a degree in Liberal Arts at the Yale-NUS College.

The firms she has interned at include consulting firm Conjunct Consulting; HealthServe, a non-profit organisation that works with migrant workers; and legal start-up DragonLaw.

Various push and pull factors are causing a “mindset shift” among fellow law students, said Ms Chew, citing difficulties in securing training contracts and the “prospect of burnout” in legal practice. “People are realising more possible paths outside the legal industry,” she said.

The mandatory pro bono scheme at NUS has also raised interest among students to render their legal expertise pro bono.

Fresh out of law school last year, Mr Zhong Xiaohan, 26, ventured into the start-up world. As a business development manager at DragonLaw, an online legal platform that helps clients build contracts without engaging a lawyer, Mr Zhong said his job allows him to pick up a wide range of skills and interact with colleagues from diverse fields, such as marketing and media.

“Half of our team is legally trained, and I find it helpful to interact with those from the non-legal fields, it broadens my perspective and helps me learn new sets of skills,” he said.

Walking the path less taken involves compromises, said Mr Zhong, who cited a lower remuneration and prestige among the “sacrifices” he had to make. “But the legal industry is changing across the world, with the growing use of technology. I’d want to be among the first people in the change rather than wait five to 10 years to catch up with it,” he said.

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Ex-PetroSaudi exec's lawyers quit

Straits Times
23 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan

The Singapore lawyers for Xavier Andre Justo, the Swiss national embroiled in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) saga, have dropped themselves from acting any further, potentially sinking the high-profile High Court suit in Singapore which he filed last year.

A court order issued on Monday by Assistant Registrar N. Ramasamy approved the application by law firm Damodara Hazra to cease acting for both Justo and his firm Justo Consulting in the suit against The Edge media group owner Tong Kooi Ong and two others.

The court order also allowed the lawyers to serve notice on Justo by dispatch to the Bangkok prison where he is held.

Justo, 48, who worked for PetroSaudi International (UK) as an IT manager until 2011, is serving a three-year jail term in Thailand for blackmailing his former employer.

He had sued Mr Tong and two others, demanding the return of two data storage drives said to contain information about global oil services firm PetroSaudi and its business partner 1MDB.

He had claimed to have handed over the two storage drives in Mr Tong's presence at a Fullerton Hotel meeting in February last year and alleged he was never paid the US$2 million (S$2.7 million) promised for them.

Mr Tong, defended by lawyers Doris Chia and Wong Wan Chee, had previously argued the claims showed no reasonable cause of action and should be struck off.

The court had also previously ordered Justo to place $50,000 into court as security for costs for the case to proceed.

In court papers filed to seek the discharge from representing Justo any further, lawyer Clement Ong explained that Justo's principal lawyers from Geneva-based law firm Lalive had told them they were no longer acting for Justo.

Lalive had appointed the Singapore lawyers to pursue Justo's case here, but since the former had dropped out, they (Singapore lawyers) would no longer be in a position to obtain further instructions on what to do in the case, he added.

Mr Ong explained that since Justo was in a Bangkok prison, taking instructions from him directly would be "inexpedient and not reasonably possible".

It is understood the withdrawal move without a lawyer replacement could mean the end of the Singapore court suit.

While Justo can continue to represent himself in the suit, the second plaintiff, which is Justo's company, would require counsel to represent its case under court rules.

Alternatively, lawyers for Mr Tong could apply to discontinue the suit if it remains inactive for more than a year or for other reasons.

A High Court case management conference is due next week.


Lawyer Clement Ong explains that since Justo is in a Bangkok prison, taking instructions from him directly would be "inexpedient and not reasonably possible". It is understood the withdrawal move without a lawyer replacement could mean the end of the Singapore court suit.

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

ADV: Kaplan - Obtain your Law qualification in 8 months

Singapore Law Watch
15 Jun 2016
Kaplan

Zhongxin director assisting CAD over possible SFA infringements

Business Times
06 Jun 2016
Jacquelyn Cheok

[Singapore] CATALIST-LISTED fruit juice manufacturer Zhongxin Fruit and Juice on Sunday said that its lead non-executive independent director Ngiam Zee Moey is being interviewed by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) of the Singapore Police Force.

Mr Ngiam had informed the company of this on Friday, citing "possible infringements" under Section 203(2) with Section 331 of the Securities and Futures Act (SFA, Chapter 289) of Singapore, for matters that took place from 2006 to 2009 when the company was then known as New Lakeside Holdings.

Section 203(2) states that an entity, trustee or person responsible for securities that are listed for quotation on a securities exchange "shall not intentionally, recklessly or negligently fail to notify the securities exchange" about information on specified events or matters as they occur or arise for the purpose of the securities exchange making that information available to a securities market operated by the securities exchange.

Such information, according to the SFA, is required to be disclosed by the securities exchange under the listing rules or any other requirement of the securities exchange.

Section 331, titled Corporate offenders and unincorporated associations, details how officers, partners or corporate bodies shall be liable for a corporate offence.

Zhongxin's board was informed that pending the outcome of the CAD investigation, Mr Ngiam has been released on bail. For the purposes of the investigation, he has surrendered his travel document, the company said in the announcement.

The board said it understood from Mr Ngiam that the CAD investigation is ongoing and he will cooperate fully with the CAD in the investigation.

Business and operations of the company are not affected in any way by the investigation and will continue as normal, said the company. Meanwhile, it will monitor the progress of the investigation and make further announcements where appropriate.

New Lakeside Holdings, which was renamed Zhongxin Fruit and Juice in March 2013, primarily produces concentrated apple juice for export to multinational F&B companies in the United States, European Union, South Africa, Canada, Japan and Australia.

The concentrated apple juice produced is used as an ingredient in packet juice drinks, soft drinks, cider, yoghurt and candies.

In 2014, Singapore Exchange reprimanded Zhongxin, its former director and former group chief financial officer for failing to disclose material, accurate information on a corporate guarantee which had turned into a liability and act in the interest of shareholders as a whole.

Zhongxin last traded at S$0.016 on May 25.

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

Judge: Yangon doctor's papers may not be fake

Straits Times
23 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan

No proof certs are fake although doc is not on Myanmar Medical Council list

A doctor from Myanmar has been cleared of producing fake medical certificates here.

District Judge Kamala Ponnampalam in judgment grounds released yesterday said the prosecution had not proven the two certificates were fraudulent documents.

She made clear that just because Dr Hnin Wai Hlaing was not on the Myanmar Medical Council's (MMC) registration list did not mean her certificates from Yangon were counterfeit.

She also noted that a key witness from the MMC had conceded it was difficult to say whether Dr Hnin's registration certificate was false because the MMC has many versions of the card.

The judge added that the defence had raised "reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of the MMC's manual register which the prosecution's witness had relied on to the exclusion of all else".

Dr Hnin, 40, had been charged with producing to the Singapore Medical Council two fake certificates of registration and good standing said to be issued by the MMC in order to satisfy practising requirements here.

A graduate from the University of Medicine 1 in Yangon, she worked as a doctor there before moving to Singapore in 2008. She worked at the National Cancer Centre here and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) from 2013.

SGH did a verification check with the MMC in 2014. It replied that it did not issue a registration certificate or a certificate of good standing to Dr Hnin. After a probe, SGH terminated her contract in November 2014.

In court, the prosecution's case rested on the strength of the MMC's manual records. The prosecution invited the court to infer that Dr Hnin's certificates were fraudulent because she was not on the MMC's register of doctors.

Dr Naing Win from the MMC testified that the registration number of Dr Hnin's certificate was assigned to another doctor who is still alive and concluded that Dr Hnin's registration certificate was not issued by the MMC.

In court, Dr Naing produced a photocopy of an extract from the MMC's manual register of doctors.

Dr Hnin's lawyer, Mr Peter Ong, pointed to several corrections made to the registration numbers with white fluid but Dr Naing was unable to explain why they were done or what was amended.

The judge found this "significant". Dr Naing was also unable to produce a true copy of the MMC's manual register for 2004 to 2006 as asked by the court, saying he was denied by the MMC and could only produce electronic records.

But the electronic records shed no light on the questions relating to the correction patches.

Mr Ong suggested, among other things, that Dr Hnin could have been given a wrong registration number or there had been an administrative lapse. Judge Ponnampalam agreed: "From Dr Naing Win's responses, it is evident that a mistake could have gone undetected until such a time like in this case, when circumstances prompt a search of the register."

The judge added there was no dispute that Dr Hnin graduated as a doctor and " had no reason not to register herself with the MMC or to subsequently produce fraudulent certificates." The prosecution is appealing against the decision.

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

MAS tightens the screws on money laundering

Business Times
14 Jun 2016
Jamie Lee

It sets up dedicated units to monitor money-laundering risks and to boost enforcement action

[Singapore] SOME three weeks after the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) ordered the shutdown of the BSI Bank for the worst case of gross misconduct to date, the regulator has publicly set out plans to create departments dedicated to fighting money laundering and to strengthen regulatory enforcement.

In doing so, the MAS is dialling up supervision over financial institutions and the potential illicit financing that these firms may engage in.

Ravi Menon, managing director of MAS, said in a statement: "As our financial centre grows in scale, sophistication and connectivity, so does the risk of criminal elements abusing our financial system.

"We will strengthen our supervision of financial institutions' controls to combat money laundering and illicit financing. And we will enhance our enforcement capability to deter poor controls or criminal behaviour in the industry. The MAS is resolved to ensure that Singapore remains a clean and trusted financial centre."

The changes, to take effect from August, will centralise existing regulatory work in these areas.

With its new anti-money laundering department, the MAS will streamline existing responsibilities for regulatory policies relating to money laundering and other illicit financing risks. A dedicated supervisory team would be formed to monitor these risks and carry out on-site supervision of how financial institutions manage these risks, bringing together functions now carried out by different departments in the MAS.

This follows the regulator's move last month to order BSI Bank to draw its shutters in Singapore, calling it the "worst case of control lapses and gross misconduct" ever seen in the Singapore financial sector. The bank has been embroiled in investigations into scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

It was the first time since 1984 that the MAS had ordered a bank to close, and followed at least three inspections of the Swiss private bank. The "more intrusive" third inspection in 2015 revealed multiple breaches of anti-money laundering regulations and "a pervasive pattern of non-compliance". The MAS also referred to the public prosecutor six members of BSI Bank's senior management and staff, for an assessment into whether they have committed criminal offences.

The MAS told The Business Times that in the last few years, it has been progressively intensifying its supervision of financial institutions' controls against money laundering and illicit financing; the latest move was a natural progression of such efforts.

An MAS spokeswoman said: "This was necessary in view of the strong growth of the financial sector, including the wealth-management business." She added that the MAS has also imposed higher penalties on financial institutions for lapses in their controls against illicit financial flows.

"The impetus for the setting up of the dedicated AML (anti-money laundering) department therefore predates the recent action against BSI Bank and the ongoing review of other financial institutions with respect to suspicious transactions and relationships. But these recent developments have indeed underscored the merits of bringing together supervisory resources from across the MAS to give a centralised focus on combating money laundering."

Shashi Nathan, a Withers KhattarWong partner in the criminal-litigation practice, said it is too early to know whether the MAS' move would lead to more intrusive supervision. But he suggested having dedicated departments would help it better handle the increasing complexities of transactions, which can be "mired in technicalities".

"The creation of a specialist department is a really good step for the country. It shows that Singapore takes AML seriously," he said. "Singapore is not the same place as it was 10 years ago. You've got two casinos, and the influx of high-net-worth individuals."

The MAS said it is not possible to prevent regulatory breaches and misconduct even with intrusive supervision. "A strong enforcement capability is necessary to conduct rigorous investigations of suspected violations and misdemeanours and to take swift actions to establish culpability and punish as appropriate the institutions or individuals who have breached MAS regulations."

The new department will be responsible for enforcement actions arising from breaches of MAS's banking, insurance and capital markets regulations and investigate capital markets misconduct offences with the Commercial Affairs Department.

Meanwhile, terrorism financing has also grown in sophistication. A late-2015 report by the Financial Action Task Force showed Al Qaeda in Iraq had used spreadsheets and standardised financial accounting reports to maintain a system of revenue sharing between sub-units.

But it is not as if terrorists need much money to inflict terror. The Charlie Hebdo attack was likely funded by 6,000 euros (S$9,180) in consumer loans (obtained with forged documents), proceeds from the sale of a used car and the sale of counterfeit goods, the report said.

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

For stronger oversight, SGX needs industry's partnership

Straits Times
06 Jun 2016
Tan Boon Gin

Singapore Exchange's (SGX's) regulatory oversight of companies occurs at two stages - the first is during admission, when companies seek to list on the exchange, while the second comprises the regulation of listed companies' continuing obligations.

We can improve on both fronts, but we cannot do it alone. We need to work together with industry at the listing and the post-listing stage.

INDUSTRY-WIDE EFFORTS TO ADMIT THE RIGHT COMPANIES FOR LISTING

The listings admission stage is the point at which SGX has, arguably, most control in its oversight of a company; this is when we consider a company's suitability to list. About 40 per cent of companies listed on SGX come from outside Singapore and so we often encounter listing applications from jurisdictions where their regulatory and legal development may differ from Singapore's. We may therefore tighten existing requirements for particular listings due to risks peculiar to the company or its jurisdiction.

Singapore operates a disclosure-based regime and so SGX does not judge a company's commercial merit. We will however, review the company's non-commercial risks in judging its suitability to list. Our assessment is based on the due diligence carried out by issue managers or full sponsors. Issue managers or full sponsors are wholly responsible for the due diligence carried out on the company, including the work done by professionals such as auditors and lawyers.

We therefore cannot make improvements alone; an initial public offering or reverse takeover involves many parties working together and each has an important role to play in the admission process. One example of a collective effort is the new initiative by the Association of Banks in Singapore to enhance guidelines for due diligence activities that its member banks carry out on all companies looking to list on SGX. Key changes in the guidelines include mandating additional queries into resignations of management, directors and controlling shareholders, and extending the scope of checks and enquiries beyond on-site visits to material assets and properties.

Developed with input from SGX and market participants such as auditors, lawyers, local and international banks, and corporate finance firms, the enhanced guidelines reflect the expertise and commitment of industry practitioners. They are also aligned with SGX's experience and expectations with regard to listing application submissions, and include matters which SGX deems important for companies to resolve at an early stage of the process.

On our part, based on the due diligence done by issue managers or full sponsors, we are prepared to reject a listing application should there be fundamental issues affecting suitability in terms of its business model, operations and governance, and the integrity of management and controlling shareholders.

The exchange will also not hesitate to impose certain conditions in order to mitigate potential risks. Take, for example, the "comply or explain" feature in the Code of Corporate Governance - in the event that we have concerns about a certain company, we may remove the option of explaining and, instead, mandate compliance with certain principles of the code as a listing condition.

Other recent regulatory improvements at the admission stage include the creation of the independent Listings Advisory Committee (LAC) comprising leading lawyers, bankers and auditors in October last year, and SGX's two-stage listings review process where deal-breaker matters are raised at the early stage of the review and have to be resolved before the process advances.

The LAC also helps address perceptions of self-regulatory organisation conflicts, or concerns SGX could compromise on regulatory standards to admit companies for commercial benefits.

Developments such as these enable industry professionals to work together with SGX as primary gatekeepers for the quality of listings. This will over the long run ensure the quality of listings in Singapore, and ultimately foster stronger trust in the market.

REGULATING CONTINUING OBLIGATIONS AFTER ADMISSION

In the regulation of companies post-listing, SGX has tightened some continuous obligations. Annual general meetings (AGMs) of all companies must now be held in Singapore unless the company operates in a jurisdiction which mandates that the AGM must be held in its home country. We have also introduced new conditions such as requiring the appointment of an independent financial adviser to review the reasonableness of an exit offer for voluntary de-listings.

With the listings disciplinary and appeals committees in operation, enforcement powers for rule breaches have been expanded to include fines and the "cold shoulder rule" where companies are denied access to the market for fund-raising.

The latest development on this front was the May 12 launch of a new half-yearly report which provides updates on companies whose shares have been suspended for 12 months or more. Shareholders have a right to know what is happening at these companies and this report was put together for this purpose. Central to the report is the provision of information from SGX's engagement with these companies and industry professionals such as judicial managers and liquidators.

Our engagements have sometimes been long-drawn in an effort to elicit one of two outcomes: resumption of share trading or the extraction of an exit cash offer for shareholders. SGX will allow de-listings without exit offers only after it has been firmly established that an exit offer is not possible.

The inaugural report - which showed that 11 of 20 companies are considering a share trading resumption - is a reminder that a share suspension does not always spell the end of a company. We intend to continue engaging with long-suspended companies to try and achieve the best outcome for shareholders.

The significance of this report lies not just in increasing transparency, but is another example of the industry working together with SGX. Shedding light on the financial situations of these long-suspended companies was made possible through the efforts of liquidators, judicial managers and other professionals.

By stepping up to take on the sometimes onerous investigations into the affairs of these companies, these professionals - like issue managers and professionals involved in the listings stage - contribute towards improving the regulation of listed companies.

SGX wants to extend further its work with industry to include listed companies themselves. We have commissioned a review of how mainboard companies have treated Code of Corporate Governance disclosures. The findings of the review will be made public on a statistical no-name basis. The report will also enable SGX to identify areas in which improvements are needed for individual companies. We will use the information to engage companies one-on-one to help them address any shortcomings they may have.

WORKING TOGETHER TO STRENGTHEN THE MARKET

By working together with SGX to raise their corporate governance standards, companies will make themselves less vulnerable to short selling attacks and corporate malfeasance. Similarly, by working together with SGX to conduct proper due diligence at the point of admission, market professionals ensure the information presented to us by companies is accurate and that the right companies are admitted to list. Even if companies are suspended, liquidators and judicial managers will work together with SGX to secure the best outcome for shareholders. With this partnership between industry and the exchange at every stage of a company's life-cycle, investors, market participants and industry will benefit from a more trusted and higher-quality market.

Tan Boon Gin is chief regulatory officer at the Singapore Exchange.

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

Companies need to act now against tax avoidance

Business Times
23 Jun 2016
Henry Syrett & Jerome Van Staden

It's too risky to take a "wait and see" approach to BEPS as Singapore formally joins hands with other governments to tackle tax avoidance

THE biggest evolution in tax is upon us - locally. Last week, Singapore announced that it would become a Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Associate and formally unite with other governments to implement a number of measures against tax avoidance.

Firstly, let's dispel a couple of misconceptions. For one, BEPS is more than just tax; its impact can influence decisions around almost any non-tax aspect of the business. Secondly, BEPS is not just of concern to large multinationals in the Group of Twenty (G-20) or Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries. It affects any company that has cross-border businesses and operations, regardless of size or country of origin.

Companies in Singapore are obviously not immune to international tax reforms given the openness of its economy. With the country committed to specifically implementing the OECD's BEPS standards on countering harmful tax practices, preventing treaty abuse, transfer pricing documentation, and enhancing dispute resolutions, companies need to prepare themselves for this new tax reality.

With increased transparency standards comes with a requirement for more comprehensive reporting. Companies can expect more queries and challenges on their structures and transactions from authorities in their home country and wherever they invest.

Governments will be able to raise more tailored and context-specific queries, as they perform analytics on the information that is collected. Consistency in the information that companies provide to the authorities is key, as any incongruence will prompt more controversy with the authorities, amid a higher level of inter-government information sharing.

There is also a risk that propriety tax information of companies may eventually be made public. For instance, the European Union is open to making data from country-by-country (CBC) report public, and the Australian Tax Office has stated it may share certain information about large taxpayer entities in Australia.

This means that companies, in addition to supporting a technical position to governments in accordance with law, will have to deal with public perception of whether their tax payments are "fair".

In Singapore, the government has assured taxpayers on the confidentiality of information in the CBC reports and that it will only exchange CBC reports with countries if certain relevant conditions are met.

The focus on substance will only get stronger and companies will, more than ever, need to demonstrate alignment of where tax is incurred to where their substantive economic activities are performed and value is created. Companies enjoying preferential tax rates in Singapore may come under scrutiny. If they are unable to justify the appropriate substance to enjoy the tax benefits given, the tax incentive could be withdrawn or the ruling made no longer applicable.

Therefore, companies should review the sustainability of existing tax incentives or rulings now, so as to avoid surprises where the preferential tax treatment is denied, resulting in a higher tax cost that erodes their earnings.

TREATY SHOPPING

Companies may also be challenged in accessing double tax treaties to minimise or eliminate withholding tax on cross-border payments.

Treaty shopping, which was frowned upon in the past, is definitely gone and exploiting low-tax and tax haven regimes for businesses will require substantiation. The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) has a tax shelter group, which is active in challenging structures, especially financial structures that involve the use of an entity in a treaty country to access the benefits on payments such as interest payments.

Tax residency may no longer be sufficient to provide guarantee that a company can obtain the tax treaty benefits. Authorities may argue that the sole purpose for a taxpayer to enter into the arrangement is to obtain the tax treaty benefits, and if so, the onus is on the taxpayer to defend otherwise.

Companies should therefore review the level of substance of their holding, operating and financing companies to determine the sustainability of their current holding, operating financing and structures now.

Some pertinent questions include: Is the initial design of your business and are your tax strategies in sync with how your operations have evolved? Have you maintained legal documentation of the business model and updated it to reflect the latest set of facts? Do you have robust internal control procedures to ensure tax compliance and manage tax risks?

Tax authorities may become increasingly aggressive in challenging the cross-border arrangements that multinationals enter into. This may result in more disputes and increase the risk of double taxation as countries take opposing views, notwithstanding the efforts of the OECD to improve dispute resolution in this area.

Depending on the extent of dispute, companies may need to involve the authorities in their countries to assist to resolve the issue on hand. They can also monitor how countries relevant to their company plan to implement different parts of the BEPS project and if possible, work with policymakers during this process.

Clearly, as the compliance and administrative burden increases with the heightened reporting obligations, companies will need to invest more resources in the tax function.

If we accept that BEPS have far-reaching implications for companies beyond tax, then any key business decision ought to be considered in light of the possible tax risks.

Therefore, the tax function must proactively partner (no longer work in silo or be reactive) with other functions, including human resource, supply chain, financial planning, mergers & acquisitions, legal and operations, to view their decisions through a "BEPS lens". The structure of the tax function definitely needs to change so as to better collaborate with other functions, if not already so.

Singapore's latest commitment towards anti-tax avoidance is welcome in that it offers much needed clarity and certainty for businesses. Perhaps the greatest certainty arising is that a "wait and see" approach to BEPS is not sufficient and risky. Proactive action is now needed.

The writers are respectively partner, transfer pricing services, and international director, international tax services, at Ernst & Young Solutions LLP. The views expressed are their own.

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

Agents of S'pore firms accused of paying $13m: Petrobras graft scandal

Straits Times
14 Jun 2016
Grace Leong

Keppel and SembMarine strongly deny involvement in corruption scheme

The corruption scandal engulfing Brazilian oil giant Petrobras has further embroiled both Keppel Corp and Sembcorp Marine, with allegations that US$9.5 million (S$13 million) in bribes were paid by agents of the two Singapore companies.

The money was allegedly paid to officials of Petrobras, its unit Sete Brasil and Brazil's Workers' Party to procure 12 contracts to build drillships.

United States court documents obtained by The Straits Times cited plea statements and testimony given to Brazilian authorities - in their probe, Operation Car Wash - by Pedro Jose Barusco Filho, a former Petrobras executive, on the scope and duration of Brazil's biggest corruption scheme at the national oil company.

In exchange for leniency, Barusco and two other former Petrobras officials also agreed to disgorge US$100 million in bribes they received.

Keppel and SembMarine have strongly denied allegations that they paid bribes. When asked last week, Keppel said it was unable to comment further at this stage. In an earlier statement, it said it "denies these baseless allegations and will vigorously defend the action".

SembMarine said it was unable to comment as legal proceedings are ongoing, nor was it able to comment on allegations connected with Barusco. "The group has a strict anti-bribery policy and does not condone any action that will result in the violation of any country's anti-corruption laws. It also does not, and will not, tolerate any improper business conduct," its spokesman said.

According to the lawsuit by fund manager EIG Management, Sete Brasil, a drilling rig charterer, was installed with "Petrobras cronies" to "perpetuate a corruption scheme that had already been in place" at Petrobras.

Sete solicited funds from EIG and other investors and used those funds to "generate contracts that in turn facilitated the payment of bribes and kickbacks by the shipyards".

The contract bidding process "was rigged from the start", EIG alleged in the suit, which named as defendants Petrobras and seven others, including Keppel and its unit Keppel Offshore and Marine, Sembcorp Industries, SembMarine and its unit Jurong Shipyard.

It alleged that the defendants, through agents, agreed to pay bribes and kickbacks, in exchange for contracts, to a former treasurer of the Workers' Party, two Petrobras officials and to executives of Sete Brasil, including Barusco, who was one of its most senior executives.

When the scheme was exposed in 2014, it led to the bankruptcy of Sete Brasil in April this year, and rendered EIG's investment of more than US$221 million "worthless", the suit said.

Barusco, in plea statements, named Zwi Skornicki, an agent of Keppel in Brazil, and Guilherme Esteves de Jesus, an agent of Jurong Aracruz shipyard, which is owned by Jurong Shipyard, for their involvement in the bribery.

According to Barusco, Skornicki allegedly paid at least US$4.5 million in bribes on behalf of Keppel's BrasFels shipyard for six contracts with Sete Brasil, while de Jesus allegedly paid at least US$5 million in bribes on behalf of Jurong Aracruz for six contracts.

In addition, Barusco allegedly negotiated an additional bribe for himself from both shipyards in the amount of 0.1 per cent of the contract value, court papers said.

Skornicki had been arrested for paying over US$10 million in bribes between 2003 and 2013, and another US$4.5 million between 2013 and 2014, while de Jesus had been arrested and charged last year with corruption, embezzlement and money laundering by Brazilian prosecutors. He is alleged to have passed at least US$8.2 million in bribes to Petrobras executives, the suit said.

Brazilian prosecutors are investigating the alleged involvement of Keppel, Keppel Offshore, SembIndustries, SembMarine and Jurong Shipyard, the suit added.

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

Yin Yang saga

Straits Times
05 Jun 2016
Toh Yong Chuan

 

Former China tour guide Yang Yin was convicted last week of 120 charges of falsifying receipts and company accounts, and duping the authorities into granting him permanent residency and his wife a long-term visit pass. Court papers named several people whom he came into contact with in Singapore - a former business partner, an accountant and a form writer. The Sunday Times tracks down two of them.

The form writer

It has been nearly five years since Mr Aik Nam San first met former China tour guide Yang Yin, but the form writer remembers the meeting vividly.

"He came to see me at around 11am to noon and I was very busy," said the 69-year-old. "When it came to his turn, the first thing he said was, 'Uncle, go for lunch first if you are hungry'.

"He was very polite. Other people would have said, 'Fill in my form first'," Mr Aik told The Sunday Times. "And the way he called me Uncle, dragging out the 'cle' - it was so seductive."

According to court papers, Yang sought Mr Aik's help on or before Sept 1, 2011 to fill in an application form for permanent residency (PR). It was his second try.

A year earlier, Yang had applied for PR through consultancy company Rikvin but the application was rejected by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

Speaking at his office in Kitchener Complex last week, Mr Aik said he was not aware of how Yang came to know of his form filling service.

At that time, he was renting space at the Jalan Besar Community Club for $500 a month where he ran a form filling service using a table and two chairs. "I spent about 40 minutes with him and charged him $30," said Mr Aik.

He recalled that Yang had all the proper paperwork, including a payslip. Besides the PR application form, Mr Aik also helped Yang fill in an annex to the form which the PR applicant's boss had to complete.

"He told me he was applying for PR and he was also the boss of the company, so I can help him fill up that part of the form," Mr Aik said.

In the PR application, Yang falsely declared that his company had a turnover of $75,080 in 2009 and $135,952 in 2010.

When asked if he suspected at that time the information Yang provided was fake, the veteran form writer of 14 years replied: "No."

After that PR application was submitted and approved, Mr Aik saw Yang two more times - in August 2013 when Yang sought his help again to apply for a long-term visit pass (LTVP) for his wife Weng Yandan, and a year later when the LTVP was up for renewal.

"I can't remember how much I charged him the second and third time," Mr Aik said. "It should be $30 each time. But I remember that he was always carrying a slingbag strapped across his shoulder."

Mr Aik was one of the 11 witnesses the prosecution had lined up last week when Yang's trial started.

"The ICA asked me to stand by," he said. But he was not called because Yang pleaded guilty to 120 charges.

Mr Aik's nondescript office has a sign that says he is a "former ICA form writer". He said: "I helped people fill in forms at ICA from 2002 to 2008. There were seven of us."

In 2008, the ICA stopped having form writers at its premises and Mr Aik moved to the Jalan Besar CC. He moved to a small office about the size of a parking space in Kitchener Complex last year.

Mr Aik was previously a civil servant at the Environment Ministry and an assistant manager at Sembcorp, before becoming a form writer in 2002. He helps mostly foreigners and locals who married foreign spouses with their forms. "They do not know how to fill in the forms because they are in English."

He gets about one or two clients a day and charges them about $30 each, but work is not regular.

Mr Aik was unable to estimate the number of forms he had filled in over the past 14 years. "Must be in the thousands," he said, adding that he hopes to retire in one or two years.

He has not followed the Yang Yin saga in the media, but he said he recognised him immediately after the news of the case broke in September 2014.

Toh Yong Chuan


The accountant

Former tour guide Yang Yin was a foreigner who knew Singapore "very well", said the accountant who was deceived into preparing financial statements for his sham firm.

He knew how the authorities worked and what documents would be needed for a company's financial statements, she said.

The receipts, which were falsified in order to make his company Young Music and Dance Studio seem legitimate, appeared genuine.

They also contained details such as the name of the person supposedly making payments to his firm, as well as the reasons for the payments.

"Everything was in order," said the accountant in her 30s, who spoke to The Sunday Times on condition of anonymity.

"Nothing was fishy. He had all the bills, receipts, his employment pass and even a company secretary."

Yang was convicted of three cheating charges last Tuesday for dishonestly inducing the accountant to prepare financial statements based on falsified receipts made to his sham company.

The prosecution added that such acts were likely to cause damage to her reputation as an accountant.

She has a Science degree in Applied Accounting from Oxford Brookes University and became a member of international accounting body Association of Chartered Certified Accountants in 2003.

She was one of the 11 witnesses the prosecution had lined up when the hearing for Yang's case started.

Yang first approached her to prepare financial statements in 2010. Her aunt knew the former tour guide, and referred her to him.

"When he first called me asking for help, I didn't agree immediately," she said, adding that she was not paid for helping him with the statements.

"I thought about it for at least two weeks before I agreed."

Between March 1, 2010 and May 24, 2011, Yang presented the accountant receipts which included payments made to his company for piano tuition, "sound tuition" and training classes to prepare for singing competitions.

There were also bank account statements and cash deposit slips, which showed deposits made into the company's account.

Subsequently, the accountant told Yang that she did not want to help him further but he insisted.

"I was doing him a favour but, subsequently, I told him that he should look for another firm," she said.

However, Yang went back to her saying that he could not find anyone else to help him and that his accounts were simple to do.

And so she agreed to help him again with financial statements for his company dated May 27, 2013 and Aug 18, 2014.

It was only at end-2014 that she came to know of the case after the immigration authorities approached her for more information on what had happened.

"I didn't read the newspapers and didn't know about him... After ICA (the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) approached me, I tried calling him but I couldn't locate him," she said.

In court papers, it was mentioned that had she known she had been deceived, the accountant would not have helped the 42-year-old.

Carolyn Khew


EVERYTHING LOOKED FINE

Everything was in order. Nothing was fishy. He had all the bills, receipts, his employment pass and even a company secretary.

THE ACCOUNTANT, who is in her 30s and agreed to speak to The Sunday Times on condition of anonymity.

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Uphold rights for contract staff

Straits Times
23 Jun 2016
Aw Cheng Wei

Bosses should extend paid leave to contract workers who have been with them for at least three months, said new guidelines released on Monday by the Manpower Ministry, labour movement and Singapore National Employers Federation.

With the number of people choosing or forced to work on a contract basis set to grow, the issue of benefits can only gain traction.

Currently, some workers are on three-month contracts with one-week breaks between them, and some employers take advantage of this by not offering them leave.

Depending on the arrangement, they may not get paid for the week that they do not work.

The guidelines say such contract workers should be entitled to leave days, if they did not take more than a month's break in between the minimum period of three months. Bosses should regard contracts renewed within a month as continuous.

It is a move that will benefit 11.3 per cent of the resident workforce, or 202,400 Singaporeans and permanent residents employed on term contracts, based on last year's figures.

If adhered to, the guidelines can help stamp out errant leave practices, said Mr Zainal Sapari, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

In a strongly worded Facebook post on Monday, Mr Zainal said that the guidelines can "close the loophole where fixed-term employees can be short-changed by unscrupulous employers who deliberately break their contracts to deny them of their statutory employment benefits".

He also suggested that the guidelines be legislated "if moral suasion is not achieved".

Besides leave benefits, the tripartite partners also said that it is a good practice for both employers and employees to keep to the notice period for early termination in the contract.

While the guidelines currently serve but a small part of the workforce, they are the first step - and just the first step - in granting better protection for the growing body of freelancers and contract workers in the economy.

Aw Cheng Wei

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

Ex-wife of alleged match-fixer lied to CPIB about laptops: Judge

Straits Times
14 Jun 2016
Amir Hussain

She told investigator she had left home without the devices, which she knew had incriminating evidence

After a two-day trial, the third wife of alleged match-fixing kingpin Dan Tan Seet Eng was yesterday found guilty of lying to an anti-graft investigator about two of his laptops, which she was trying to hide from the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

Guan Enmei, 41, had said during an interview at the bureau's office on June 6, 2013 that she had left her home with only a handbag and had not brought along a paper bag containing the laptops. But this was a lie.

District Judge Lee Poh Choo, in her brief grounds of decision, said Guan knew the laptops contained incriminating evidence and wanted to hide them from CPIB.

The judge also said Guan was not a credible witness and had lied while testifying in court.

"(Guan) projected herself as a meek housewife who was ignorant of her husband's activities and business. She claimed she did not know and she did not ask him anything.

"I did not believe her. She struck me as a savvy, knowledgeable and capable lady. Hence, I did not believe that she would docilely do whatever Dan Tan asked her to do without questioning what and why," said the judge.

During her trial last month, Guan had claimed ignorance of Tan's alleged involvement in international match-fixing in June 2013 until she was confronted with newspaper reports, whereupon she admitted she did know about the allegations against him.

The court heard that on June 6 that year, Tan was asked to report to CPIB's office in Lengkok Bahru. Before he left home, he told Guan to take two laptops from the study, place them in a bag and hand him the bag after he was released.

That afternoon, Guan was herself told to report to the bureau.

As her usual driver was unable to pick her up from her home, he arranged for another driver to do so.

When the driver arrived at her home, Guan placed a white Dior paper bag in the back seat before getting into the front passenger seat.

She phoned Tan's alleged accomplice, Eric Ding Si Yang, for advice about the two laptops in the bag while on the way to the bureau.

On arriving at CPIB's carpark, Guan met her usual driver and asked him to hold on to the bag for her until she came out of the building. He then waited with it at a nearby coffee shop, where it was later seized by graft investigators.

When questioned about the bag and laptops by a CPIB investigator, Guan insisted she did not know anything about them.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Jasmin Kaur asked for four to six months' jail, saying Guan's action was "akin to an attempt to obstruct the course of justice".

Defence lawyer Foo Cheow Ming said the false information Guan gave was relatively minor and had minimal impact, if any, on CPIB's investigations into Tan's alleged match-fixing activities.

He asked for a conditional discharge or a fine.

Guan is expected to be sentenced next Monday. She is out on $10,000 bail. The maximum penalty for giving false or misleading information to a CPIB investigator is a $10,000 fine and one year's jail.

Tan, described by Interpol as "the leader of the world's most notorious match-fixing syndicate", is being detained without trial under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act for the second time. Now 52, he was first arrested on Sept 16, 2013.

Guan was Tan's third wife. She divorced him in July last year.

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

Company fined S$200,000 for misleading customers about links to Acra

TODAY
04 Jun 2016
Kelly Ng

SINGAPORE — A private company that tricked businesses into subscribing to its services by sending out letters designed to look like they came from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority Singapore (Acra) was  fined S$200,000 on Friday (June 3).

Data Register, which offers domain registration and Web hosting services, had sent out nearly 140,000 letters in October and November 2013 claiming that companies that fail to provide information would have their details “deleted from the Singaporean Company Register database”.

Thinking that this was related to Acra’s records, 1,056 firms fell for the ruse, with each paying an annual subscription fee of S$490 to Data Register (formerly called Company Register).

On Friday, the court was told that Acra received an “unprecedented number of inquiries and complaints” in relation to Data Register between October 2013 and April this year. Acra also spent nearly S$60,000 engaging external vendors to attend to queries concerning Data Register, the court was told. “Many members of the public informed Acra that they had mistakenly assumed that Data Register was linked to Acra and that they were obliged to provide the requested information,” the prosecution said.

Not only did the letters did not provide sufficient information for recipients to ascertain who had issued them, they contained several features — such as an “ultimatum” set for companies to comply with requests — which misled many recipients into thinking they were from Acra, the prosecution added. The episode not only caused businesses which had unwittingly subscribed to Data Register’s services to be frustrated but also tarnished goodwill between Acra and the business community because the authority had become “indirectly associated with the confusion caused”.

Data Register was convicted last month of 500 counts of not stating its company name and registration number on business correspondence, a requirement under the Companies Act. Another 604 charges were taken into consideration in sentencing.

In February this year, Data Register offered a refund to subscribers who had signed up as a result of their correspondence in 2013 if they had not used any of Data Register’s services. Its home page also carries a note specifying that the company has no relation to Acra.

In sentencing the company on Friday, District Judge Jasvender Kaur said the incident caused public disquiet and led to a “wastage of public resources”. The judge also said deterrence and retribution were the foremost sentencing principles in this case.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Man who raped schoolgirl in 2002 caught 12 years later

Straits Times
23 Jun 2016
Seow Bei Yi

Malaysian was identified as rapist via DNA when he was caught for theft in 2014; he gets 16½ years' jail, 18 strokes

A man who raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl in 2002 was caught by chance when he was arrested and investigated for an unrelated theft in 2014.

Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to rape and was sentenced to 161/2 years in jail and 18 strokes of the cane.

The High Court heard that Malaysian carpenter Lee Ah Choy, now 37, has a wife and a 10-year-old son living in Johor Baru. They did not know about the offence, committed when he was 23 years old.

Lee was working in Singapore in 2002 and had seen the Secondary 1 girl, who is also Malaysian, several times during his morning jogs. He took an instant liking to her.

He would smile at her or greet her but she would ignore him and rebuff his advances.

But on Oct 18 that year, at about 6.40am, when she was on her way to school, he blocked her path, telling her not to go to school.

She walked away but he followed her and asked her to help hand some money to his "god-sister" living nearby.

When she tried to move away from him again, he pulled her to a nearby block of flats. He took her to the fourth floor and made her sit on a flight of stairs between the fourth and fifth floors.

When she started crying, he threatened to cut her with a paper cutter. She kicked and thrashed about as he restrained her in the fourth-floor corridor.

He molested her despite her struggles before raping her.

She made a police report after leaving the scene. Medical tests were done but her attacker's identity could not be established.

In 2014, Lee was arrested and investigated for theft and his DNA profile matched that of the rapist.

Besides rape, Lee also pleaded guilty to aggravated outrage of modesty and criminal intimidation.

A fourth charge of abduction was taken into consideration during sentencing.

His lawyer, Mr Richard Siaw Kin Yeow, said in mitigation: "His actions then were nothing more than a senseless and rash act, brought about by an ill-fated attraction to the victim and his immaturity."

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Shahla Iqbal, who asked for a severe deterrent sentence, said: "The rape of a child is a heinous crime."

She added that the victim had said in a statement that she felt humiliated, and was "shocked and disgusted at (Lee's) behaviour".

She dropped out of school, lost interest in studies at one point and had nightmares. She took lifts alone in the daytime again only a year after the incident and started going out with friends onlyafter she began working.

Said DPP Shahla: "It is necessary to send a clear message to all potential offenders that sexual assaults on children and young persons will not be tolerated."

Lee's jail term was backdated to Jan 23 last year, when he was remanded. For raping a minor under 14 years of age, he could have been jailed up to 20 years, and punished with at least 12 strokes of the cane.

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

S'pore can't take legal action against Indonesians over haze: Jakarta

Straits Times
14 Jun 2016
Arlina Arshad

Indonesia will not allow one of its citizens accused of causing forest fires last year to be "processed" under the laws of Singapore, said its Vice-President Jusuf Kalla.

"If there is an offence, Singapore can take action, but (the offence) occurred in Indonesia, that is the concern," he said on Sunday.

Mr Kalla was referring to Singapore's action against companies responsible for causing the forest fires in Indonesia that led to last year's transboundary haze crisis.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar yesterday echoed his sentiments in her response to questions from reporters after a climate change event in Jakarta.

She said the Asean agreement on transboundary haze pollution is a multilateral one, and not a bilateral pact between Singapore and Indonesia.

Thus, "Singapore cannot step further into Indonesia's legal domain", added Ms Siti.

She said Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) remains a "controversial" law that is still being debated among Asean officials from Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. That is why she feels that Singapore's action under the law against errant firms in her country is not a show of "mutual respect" to Indonesia.

"The basic principle of cooperation is that countries should respect each other's sovereignty," she said.

She added that Indonesia is not "keeping still" and has imposed sanctions on firms responsible for fires that led to the haze.

These latest comments come after Singapore's National Environment Agency said last month that it had obtained a court warrant against an Indonesian company director in line with the THPA.

This is after the director had failed to turn up for an interview despite being served a legal notice to explain his firm's measures to tackle fires on its concession land.

Ms Siti had said on May 14 that certain bilateral collaborations with Singapore will be terminated and others subjected to a review.

Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, however, said last week that it has renewed its haze assistance package to Indonesia, which it has been offering since 2005.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli has maintained that Singapore's action has the support of the international community. "We are not doing anything criminal nor wrong. We are just asking for the companies and the directors to own up and be accountable for what they've done."

Indonesia has yet to indicate its acceptance of Singapore's help, but Mr Kalla said his country will accept help if it is really needed and reminded its neighbours that tackling the forest fires is "not as easy as what our friends in Asean think".

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

Well known Two Oceans production house closing - leaving freelancers' fees 'unpaid'

Straits Times
04 Jun 2016
Adrian Lim

Two Oceans allegedly owes them thousands of dollars, contractors also left in the lurch

A well-known production house has given notice that it is closing down, leaving its freelancers and contractors up in arms over hundreds of thousands of dollars in allegedly unpaid fees.

The Two Oceans Film Company, which started in 1998 and specialises in television commercials, made an application with the courts last month to wind up its business.

According to Ms S. H. Ngoh, 39, a make-up artist who has worked with Two Oceans and is rallying together other freelancers to try and recover their unpaid fees, the firm owes a total of over $180,000 to some 30 of them.

She believes there are more out there, as she started gathering them only on Wednesday, through Facebook and word of mouth, when she heard the news of the company's impending closure.

These freelancers comprise casting directors, grips, wardrobe stylists and art direction assistants, some of whom say they have not been paid for work done as far back as two years ago.

Ms Ngoh said: "The $180,000 is what we know so far. I'm sure there are others out there."

She said she is owed $9,200.

Mr Jason Tan, 35 , a lighting grip, said he is owed about $3,000 for work done earlier this year.

"The work we do involves a lot of manual labour, dealing with electricity and height. It's really not fair if we do not get paid for it," he said.

A contractor, Bert Lighting House, has also come forward to say that Two Oceans owes it more than $170,000.

Lawyer Nicolas Tang, who is acting for Bert Lighting House, said a letter of demand was issued on May 6 to Two Oceans requesting the sum and they later found out that the company had made a court application to wind up.

Mr Tang, the managing director of Farallon Law Corporation, said it would be filing an objection to the application.

Two Oceans counts as its clients big companies such as Marigold and McDonald's, and in 1999, it snagged the top prize in the annual Asian Advertising Awards in Hong Kong.

When contacted by The Straits Times yesterday, the firm's owner and managing director Koh Say Chong declined comment, saying it was a court case. Mr Koh is also the director of another company called Salt Films.

Last night, close to 20 freelancers met at Bert Lighting House in Kaki Bukit to seek legal help from lawyer Samuel Seow, who has said he will act for them.

Ms Ngoh said: "We are going to try and get our money back. Hopefully this will bring more awareness to the plight of free- lancers in general, who are sometimes victims of irresponsible business practices."

• Additional reporting by Clement Yong

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

LVMH-backed Asia private equity fund sued by fired executive

Business Times
22 Jun 2016
Andrea Tan & Pooja Thakur Mahrotri

This Bloomberg article was first published on 22 June 2016 in the Singapore English broadsheet, The Business Times.
SLW obtained permission to reproduce the article to give the legal community a broader view of legal reports from various news syndicates.

[Singapore] An Asian private equity unit backed by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE is being sued by a former executive, who is claiming he was fired for revealing wrongdoing at the business.

Uday Mehra said in Singapore court documents that he had raised his concerns over alleged behavior at LVMH’s regional private equity fund, L Capital Asia Advisors, such as raising profit projections for an investment target to generate illegitimate gains in a separate fund. Mehra also alleges that L Capital’s head made an acquisition despite opposition from his investment team and without proper due diligence. Mehra claims that the firm conspired to fire him in a bid to “stifle the embarrassment” that would have been caused by a full and effective probe into his whistle-blowing.

L Capital, which denies Mehra’s claims, makes average investments of $30 million to $150 million in Asian lifestyle brands and has had other business quarrels play out in court, filings show. The co-founder of Jones the Grocer, a gourmet food retailer, sued an L Capital unit last year, claiming it discriminated against minorities. Last month, a businessman accused the fund and others of stealing his share of profits after selling a club formerly known as Ku De Ta, the 57th-floor bar at the top of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands hotel. L Capital is defending itself in both the lawsuits, which are ongoing.

‘X-Factor’

Mehra is seeking at least $37.5 million, which he claims is his entitled payout for the share of profits he would have earned at one of the funds if he hadn’t been terminated, according to a lawsuit filed in the Singapore High Court in March. Mehra, who said in court filings that he was described in fundraising documents as a “key resource” and as the fund’s “X-factor,” says he reported 11 deals from 2012 to 2014 that gave him serious cause for concern.

Mehra claims his concerns were ignored. Instead, he said he was sidelined from investment meetings and his working relationship with the unit’s head, Ravi Thakran, worsened. Reasons given for his firing, including not attending meetings in Singapore, were “excuses” and he was being punished for whistle-blowing, Mehra said in court papers.

“I felt extremely shocked and aggrieved as to the manner in which I was treated within L Capital Asia whilst attempting to uphold the interest of our investors and dispense my duties in a professional manner,” Mehra said through his lawyers at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP.

L Capital denied wrongdoing and said in its defense filed last month that it fired Mehra in June 2015 for misconduct and insubordination. The firm said that Mehra’s complaint was frivolous and that his concerns were independently reviewed and probed by LVMH. Mehra’s alleged whistle-blowing was a red herring and had nothing to do with his termination, L Capital said. The firm said Mehra failed to subscribe for his share of a profit pool and wasn’t entitled to it, according to court papers.

“L Capital takes a serious view of the allegations made by this former employee, whose employment was terminated in 2015. Our clients consider these allegations to be baseless, and intend to vigorously resist his claim in the Singapore Courts to the fullest extent,” said lawyer Alvin Yeo at WongPartnership LLP, who said he represented both L Capital and Thakran.

Mehra was fired for alleged breach of contract, trust and confidence, L Capital said in court documents. The executive misused confidential information and forwarded e-mails to his personal account, according to court papers.

“The L Capital Asia Group and the LVMH Group takes a serious view on governance issues,” according to the defense. “No wrongdoing was disclosed.”

The case is Uday Mehra v L Capital Asia Advisors, S242/2016. Singapore High Court.

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

Make firms which abuse personal information delete data: Forum

Straits Times
14 Jun 2016

Data is the new gold.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be widely understood yet.

In a recent case, a firm called Company Register, which subsequently changed its name to Data Register, was admonished and fined $200,000 ("Official-sounding letter turns out to be subscription scam"; June 4).

However, the fact remains that Data Register is now sitting on a database enhanced through the actions of not just the 1,056 businesses, but possibly all the 22,000 recipients of those misleading letters who logged on to the company's website as instructed.

As someone who deals in database analytics, I can state with certainty that such enhancements can be very valuable and last over an extended period.

The courts should consider ordering such firms that flout the law to delete all the information collected.

This would make unscrupulous managements think twice before dismissing fines as an acceptable "marketing cost" in their goal of building a gold mine of business and personal profiles.

Paul Jansen

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

ADV: Kaplan - Obtain a Business Law degree from a Triple-Crown accredited university!

Singapore Law Watch
04 Jun 2016
Kaplan

Man who impersonated dead man for CPF funds jailed

Straits Times
22 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan

A judge rebuked a scam's "lead actor", who was so "well-rehearsed" he fooled a Central Provident Fund (CPF) officer into thinking he was someone else - someone who was not only older, but also dead.

Wheelchair user Nordin Ibrahim, 44, was jailed six weeks after admitting to impersonating the late Mr Yacoob Ismail, aged 63.

Nordin's acting convinced the CPF officer to attest to "Mr Yacoob's" nomination of Nordin's accomplice - Sufian Alwe - as the beneficiary of about $52,000 in the dead man's account.

District Judge Eugene Teo, who rejected Nordin's plea for a fine instead of jail, said that while Mr Sufian was the director, Nordin was the "lead actor " who had "done a good job of the (deception)".

On Jan 18, 2013, Nordin went to the CPF Board Service Centre with Mr Sufian. He produced the passport of Mr Yacoob, who had died two days earlier in Johor Baru, where he had lived since 2012.

The duo, who had been close to the dead man, found the passport while cleaning out his unit and withheld it from Mr Yacoob's family. Mr Sufian hatched the plot and Nordin agreed to impersonate Mr Yacoob to get his CPF money.

When queried by the officer why he looked older in the passport photo, Nordin replied that he was ill when the photo was taken. He was also able to answer some questions about the dead man's background accurately.

Satisfied, the officer and another colleague signed on the nomination form as witnesses and processed the application.

About a month later, Nordin and Mr Sufian returned to the CPF office, where Mr Sufian asked about Mr Yacoob's nomination details.

The duty officer checked and found that Mr Yacoob had died on Jan 16, two days before the fake nomination was made, and the two men were arrested.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Eunice Lim asked for a jail term, saying there was legitimate public interest in ensuring that public institutions such as the CPF were protected by a suitably deterrent sentence. She pointed out that the offence was clearly premeditated.

Nordin's lawyer, Mr S.K. Kumar, said he played a "passive" role compared with Mr Sufian and was angry because he got nothing for looking after Mr Yacoob for about a year after his family abandoned him.

Mr Sufian, 38, had already pleaded guilty and was jailed for two months in 2013.

The judge debunked the "convenient assertion" that Mr Yacoob would have been happy to give them his CPF money. "After all, the dead are no longer here to tell any tales," he said in judgment grounds released yesterday.

He added: "The deceased may have been estranged from his family, and their relationship may even have been strained at that point, but that does not mean that he never intended to leave his estate to his own family.

"What these two offenders did - after disappointingly finding out that blood was truly thicker than water - was to substitute their own judgment for what they thought was the better thing to do."

The judge said he reduced Nordin's jail term slightly, taking into account co-offender Sufian had "greater culpability" and Nordin's "many ailments".

Nordin is appealing against the ruling.

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

ADV: Singapore Basic Compliance & Ethics Academy: Get Certified

Singapore Law Watch
14 Jun 2016
Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics

Boost for S'pore court decisions worldwide

Straits Times
03 Jun 2016
Ng Huiwen

The decisions of Singapore courts in civil and commercial matters will have greater enforceability worldwide, after the Republic yesterday ratified the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements.

"The ratification will bolster Singapore's position as a dispute-resolution hub in Asia," the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) said in a statement yesterday.

Singapore signed the Hague Convention on March 25 last year. Under this convention, if a Singapore court has been chosen to preside over a dispute, under what is known as an "exclusive choice of court agreement", the hearing must take place in Singapore.

This will strengthen the enforcement of agreements that have specified Singapore courts as their exclusive dispute-resolution forum, MinLaw said.

Choice of court agreements are clauses in cross-border business contracts, in which parties agree in advance about the court that they would like to resolve any legal disputes that may arise.

In addition, the court's judgment must be recognised and enforced by courts of all other parties bound by the convention.

It includes decisions of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), which heard its first case in November last year.

The convention will come into force for Singapore on Oct 1.

This follows the passing of the Choice of Court Agreements Act in Parliament in April, which paves the way for Singapore to be the first country to implement the obligations of the convention under a dedicated piece of legislation.

Currently 28 countries are party to the convention, including 27 of the 28 European Union states and Mexico. Denmark is the only EU member state which is not a party, while the United States and Ukraine have signed the convention, but have not yet ratified it.

Ms Thian Yee Sze, director- general of MinLaw's legal group, deposited the instrument of ratification at a special ceremony yesterday at a commission organised by the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

Ng Huiwen

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

More consumer protection laws in renovation industry needed: Voices

TODAY
22 Jun 2016

Media coverage of the Jover Chew cheating case at Sim Lim Square last year generated greater public awareness of the blatant practices of black sheep in the retail industry.

That the Ministry of Trade and Industry will soon be changing consumer laws to protect shoppers better is heartening news (“Consumers to get more protection under proposed changes to law”: May 16).

However, consumers need more protection not only in the retail industry but also in the renovation industry.

Stories abound about how rogue contractors collect large sums of money up front but leave projects uncompleted, provide shoddy workmanship or refuse to rectify defects even during the defects liability period. These contractors, like errant retailers, could shut down their company and re-open under a different name to avoid the unfavourable repercussions and their liabilities, leaving the homeowners out of pocket and with little recourse.

The public should be educated further on how to protect themselves and their homes from unfair practices and behaviour in this industry. I hope also that the Government will step up regulation of this industry.

Where something as dear as one’s home is concerned, the financial and mental stress is severe for anyone unfortunate enough to have encountered a rogue contractor.

Leong Kum Seng

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

33 cry foul over land buys in India

Straits Times
12 Jun 2016
OLIVIA HO

Villas and 100% returns turn out to be empty promises; 27 contracts lack ownership papers

They sank their savings into undeveloped land in India, drawn by visions of gleaming villas, upcoming infrastructure and returns of more than 100 per cent. That was between 2007 and 2011.

Now, the 33 Singaporean investors - who spent more than $780,000 - own land of questionable value, which is hard to sell.

They are crying foul at Singapore-registered KMGM International which sold them the land.

They claim it has not been developed and has hardly risen in value. They want to sell it back.

About 20 of them staged a walk-in on May 5 to confront KMGM director S. Gulam at the firm's Bukit Merah premises, demanding assurances that they could sell back their land.

He was not there, but assured them by telephone that he would meet them on May 16 .

But on May 13 they received letters saying that the matter would be handled through his lawyers at Advaitha Law Corporation.

Advaitha director G.B. Vasudeven told The Sunday Times that his client was ready to obtain valuations for each of the investors' land parcels, but declined to disclose any further course of action.

He added that he has written to the 33 to say that if they try to enter KMGM's offices again, they will be reported to the police as trespassers.

Twenty investors have since gone on to make police reports against KMGM.

The group of 33 had bought 45 plots of land, each a few thousand sq ft in size, in Chennai .

They are mostly in their 50s and 60s, and they said they trusted KMGM because it is a Singaporean firm and its directors, lawyer R. Kalamohan and Mr Gulam, a former journalist, are well-regarded members of the Indian community.

Retired navy officer Anandam Thomas, 62, bought two plots of land for about $41,470 in 2008.

"My father was from India, and I wanted a little piece of India for myself," he said.

After payment, he and the other buyers were flown to Chennai to see the land and receive their sale deeds.

Last year and in April this year, he went back on his own to check and found the land was still undeveloped and occupied by squatters.

He said that after his attempts to sell the land back to KMGM failed, he decided to gather fellow investors in the same situation.

Mr Gulam, 54, told The Sunday Times by telephone that he was not out to cheat anyone and meant to help the investors sell the land.

However, he said it was impossible to sell it at a profit right now because the Indian rupee had fallen drastically in the last few years and the property market was in a slump.

He said: "When you invest overseas, you must take a risk.

"If you buy a house now and the price goes down, can you tell the developer you want your money back?"

Mr Kalamohan, 68, who left KMGM in 2014, said: "There was nothing more to sell and I was of no use to the company, so I thought it was time to leave."

He added that there was nothing wrong with the investors' documents, which he had examined, and all the purchases were valid.

Of the 45 contracts among the group, 24 had a clause guaranteeing they could sell the land back to the company after three years "at the best prevailing market price".

However 27 contracts lacked a "patta", an Indian land ownership document.

New Delhi-based lawyer Alok Tewari, a senior partner with Indian law firm Kochhar & Co, said: "Legally it may be possible to sell the property without a patta."

He added, however, that sometimes the authorities may demand to see a patta to register a sale deed.

Property experts said overseas landbanking is fraught with risk.

Mr Alan Cheong, Singapore research head for real estate firm Savills, advised investors to check whether the country's legal framework is solid and can be enforced even by an overseas national, as well as the reputation of the property agency marketing the product.

Retired civil servant Manokaran Ramasamy, 64, and his late wife spent $129,510 on four plots of land in 2008.

His wife died from cancer in March. He said all he wanted was some form of closure from KMGM.

"Even in the pain of her last days, she would go back to them to ask about selling the land. I don't understand why they didn't entertain her," he said.

"I don't think they can honour the agreement. They owe it to us to fill in the blanks."

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

Enforcing investors' rights in FTAs

Business Times
03 Jun 2016
Chan Leng Sun & Thuy Nguyen

FREE trade agreements (FTAs) have been receiving considerable attention recently. Even as investors explore opportunities ushered in by the new trade pacts, it is essential that they understand what provisions exist in these agreements to protect their investments, and the potential recourse they have in the event of a breach to such protection.

We look here at how investors are protected under FTAs, using the Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement (Acia) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement as illustrations. The Acia is a key part of the Asean Economic Community blueprint, and took effect on March 29, 2012. It offers protection to eligible investors and investments in all business sectors. The TPP is a comprehensive trade agreement among 12 Pacific-Rim countries and protects investors of one TPP state in another TPP state.

Investor Protection

Companies investing abroad will look first to their contracts with their counterparts in the host country. Contract law typically provides for private remedies in the event of breach or non-performance by one party.

Sometimes, things happen within the host country that undermine the investment. Disruptive changes can be in the form of a sudden imposition of exorbitant tax, a change of law restricting certain industries, preferential treatment given to local competitors, or outright seizure of assets. The private contract might be of no avail because the investor will not be able to point to any particular breach of the contract.

FTAs often seek to protect the investor from such contingencies. Those protections that are commonly stipulated in treaties include:

• Compensation against expropriation

Expropriation can be direct, such as the forcible seizure of property or the nationalisation of an industry. It can also be indirect, for example, laws that substantially deprive the investor of the benefit of its investment. Measures restricting or revoking licences can amount to indirect expropriation. Both the TPP and Acia set conditions for expropriation and require the payment of adequate compensation.

Fair and equitable treatment

Broadly speaking, the host state must not act unreasonably, arbitrarily, or contrary to the legitimate expectations of the investor. Both the TPP and Acia require due process in any legal or administrative proceedings.

Full protection and security

This protection requires the exercise of police power to protect the investment from unlawful damage, whether by rogue officials or private persons. Both the TPP and Acia include this concept, albeit not in exactly the same language.

• Non-discrimination

Many treaties provide against discrimination of foreign investors. National treatment requires the host state to grant foreign investors, at the minimum, the same treatment that is given to its own investors. Most-favoured national treatment gives investors the right to treatment that is, at the minimum, as favourable as any given to investors of any third countries in like circumstances. The TPP and Acia have provisions for both national treatment and most-favoured nation treatment.

These are just common examples and there are numerous other provisions in the Acia and TPP inserted for the protection of covered investments and investors.

Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS)

Historically, public international law developed to regulate relations between states. FTAs, like any other treaty, may contain provisions for the settlement of disputes between states in their capacity as states. The TPP and Acia are no exception. In addition to that, modern FTAs will generally also permit investors to bring claims directly against the host state.

When an investor's rights are violated, it can seek redress in the normal way under its contract if it can identify a breach of a contractual duty by its counterpart. If the violation is inflicted at the governmental level, the investor may also have to look beyond the contract for remedies under an FTA

Under a private contract, the dispute is normally referred for determination by either a domestic court or to arbitration. In most international transactions, the contract will provide for arbitration under a set of institutional rules, such as the ICC (International Chamber of Commerce), the SIAC (Singapore International Arbitration Centre) or the SCC (Stockholm Chamber of Commerce).

Investor-state disputes can also be referred to commercial arbitration like any other commercial dispute, if both parties have agreed to do so. Many investment contracts and trade agreements also provide for arbitration under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. On May 27, 2016, SIAC launched its investment arbitration rules, and became the first commercial arbitral institution to have a set of rules designed for investment arbitration.

Apart from the options just mentioned, many investor-state disputes are determined in accordance with the dedicated ISDS regime of the ICSID Convention. The full name of the Convention is actually International Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States. This Convention established the ICSID, which stands for International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. The ICSID is part of the World Bank and is headquartered in Washington DC. An award administered by the ICSID is directly enforceable in any of its 161 member states.

The Acia and TPP demonstrate how trade agreements give a range of options for the settlement of investor-state disputes. Under the Acia, the parties should first try to settle an investment dispute by consultation and negotiation. If these fail, the investor has several options on where it might want to bring its claim. Its options include the courts of the host state, ICSID arbitration, arbitration under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules or arbitration in the Regional Centre for Arbitration in Kuala Lumpur (KLRCA) or, if both parties agree, to any other arbitral institution.

The TPP also requires the parties to attempt settlement through a process of consultation and negotiation. Similar to the Acia, if the dispute is not settled amicably, the claimant has options which include bringing a claim under the ICSID Convention, the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules or, if both parties agree, any other arbitral institution.

Occasionally, an event can give rise to both a private contractual claim as well as a claim against the host state under an FTA. In such cases, the investor has rights under the private contract which co-exist with its rights under an FTA. Invariably, there are commercial and practical considerations in coming to a decision on whether to proceed under the private contract or elevate the dispute to one against the state. A dispute with the host state is a multifaceted problem because it is linked to the legal, economic and political environment in which an investor operates. It often requires a multi-pronged approach to resolve the problem.

Chan Leng Sun is global head of international arbitration, Baker & McKenzie, and Thuy Nguyen is associate at Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow.

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

New guidelines on leave benefits, notice for contract staff

Business Times
21 Jun 2016
Lee U-Wen

[Singapore] MORE term contract employees could be eligible for leave benefits under new guidelines released on Monday by the tripartite partners Manpower Ministry (MOM), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

Term contract employees, who make up about one in nine people in Singapore's workforce, are those who are employed on fixed-term contracts that will terminate upon the expiry of a specific term unless it is renewed.

The different types of leave include annual, sick and childcare, according to the guidelines.

The five-page document, which can be found on the MOM's website, aims to provide more clarity for employers on the granting of leave benefits to term contract employees that it has a long-term working relationship with, as well as the notice period that employers should give before the contract expires.

Employers may hire someone on a term contract if the job is only available on a temporary or project basis. Some employees prefer to enter into contract work to meet their own need for flexibility in their work schedule.

Under current laws, employees on term contracts are entitled to statutory leave benefits under the Employment Act and the Child Development Co-Savings Act if they have worked a minimum of three consecutive months without a break in service. These include annual leaves, sick leaves, maternity leaves, paternity leaves, adoption leaves, childcare and extended childcare leaves.

However, some of these workers who have been with the same employer for a long time do not receive these benefits. This happens when they are hired on separate contracts that are each shorter than the minimum three-month service period, which are subsequently renewed with a break in between the contracts.

Based on figures from the MOM's 2015 labour force report, term contract employees form 11.3 per cent of Singapore's resident workforce, or about 202,400 people.

Under the new guidelines, employers are encouraged to treat contracts renewed within a month as continuous, and grant or accrue leave benefits based on the cumulative term of the contracts. This requirement would apply to contracts of 14 days or longer.

Employers could pro-rate annual leave, sick leave and childcare leave benefits based on the length of the term contract.

In the case of contracts that are renewed multiple times, the guidelines stated that it would be a "good practice" for both employer and employee to give "sufficient notice" before the contract's expiry on whether either party wishes to renew the contract.

This should be the same as the notice period required for early contract termination, or not less than a day's notice if the cumulative employment is less than 26 weeks.

SNEF executive director Koh Juan Kiat noted how employers value term contract employees for their "flexibility and contributions", adding that the guidelines would allow employers to offer term contracts that can better attract such workers.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari made the point that those on term contracts are as valuable as any other employee out there.

"The labour movement will work closely with our family of unions, associates, partners, social enterprises and related organisations, to ensure that employment practices are aligned with the guidelines," he said.

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

$2,225 a month claim for undergrad expenses 'inflated'

Straits Times
11 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Judge not convinced by woman's bid to hike ex-husband's payments for daughter

The monthly sum needed to maintain a law undergraduate has come under scrutiny in a divorced couple's court battle as a judge criticised claims for clothes, bags and pocket money as being too high.

At issue was how much the father should contribute to support his only daughter, a 20-year-old National University of Singapore (NUS) student who now lives with her mother.

The couple split 10 years ago and he has been paying $950 a month for his daughter's expenses since 2010.

But his former wife applied to court last year to increase the sum to $1,450, in addition to him paying all of their daughter's annual university fees.

District Judge Lo Wai Ping was not convinced and, in judgment grounds released yesterday, ordered the man's maintenance sum for his daughter to remain at $950 and reduced his contribution towards her $17,563 annual tertiary fees to a maximum of 75 per cent.

The judge noted that the father, who has since remarried, "has been struggling" since last October to pay his former wife $2,300 a month for their daughter, comprising $950 for living expenses and $1,350 for tertiary fees. He also pays his former wife $500 in monthly maintenance.

The judgment means he now pays a total of $2,550 to his former wife and their daughter - $250 less than he used to.

"The issue in this case is whether, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the monthly sum of $950 is still reasonable... now that the (daughter) is 20 years old and a law student," said Judge Lo.

She explained that the sum had to be seen in the context of the entire increased maintenance ordered due to the daughter's change in circumstances from college student to undergraduate, which amounted to a monthly average of $2,050, including $1,100 per month in tertiary fees.

None of the parties involved in the case has been named.

The mother, defended by lawyer Mimi Oh, had tabled various items such as food, transport and other allowances, and claimed that her daughter's current living expenses had soared to $2,225 a month.

The father said the expenses were "inflated and unreasonable".

He said the $950, when added to the mother's contribution, was "more than sufficient" for their daughter to live comfortably as a university student.

His lawyer Lim Poh Choo supplied data on the monthly expenses that an undergraduate may incur at NUS, Singapore Management University and Nanyang Technological University. Ms Lim argued these figures showed an undergraduate would need about $750 in monthly living expenses.

The judge found that some of the monthly expenses claimed by the mother for her daughter "were indeed inflated and exaggerated".

Among other things, the mother explained that her daughter needed $200 a month for clothes, shoes and handbags as she was required to wear office attire when giving presentations in school and attending court.

"Even so, there is no necessity to buy a new set every month for such school presentations or court attendances," said the judge, ruling that $50 a month for these items would suffice for an undergraduate.

The judge also found that the $600 sought for personal allowances was "too high", given that all the daughter's expenses had been covered separately under other items. She halved the sum payable to $300 a month.

This $300 would also suffice to cover the miscellaneous expenses of $230 a month billed for items such as toiletries and presents, she ruled.

Judge Lo further noted that the research presented by the father included food prices at the NUS Bukit Timah campus, and accepted that prices at campus canteens would be cheaper, reducing the $600 a month sought for food to $350 a month.

The father is currently a sole breadwinner who sends $2,000 monthly to his China-based wife and six-year-old child, in addition to what he now pays for his daughter and former wife.

Judge Lo added that the working mother is also obliged to maintain her daughter and is able to do so, given her monthly income of about $3,000.

Underlining that both parents can provide reasonable maintenance only as best as they could, the judge said "the daughter is not precluded from taking on her own part-time work to earn some extra money to indulge in the luxuries she wants".

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

First conviction for unlawful stalking

Straits Times
03 Jun 2016
Elena Chong

Man stalked 19-year-old student and uploaded nude photos of her on Facebook

A 26-year-old man stalked a teenager relentlessly, and repeatedly threatened to disseminate nude photos of her before later uploading them on her sports club's Facebook page.

Between April 2014 and November last year, Lai Zhi Heng repeatedly harassed the 19-year-old student through various means.

He threatened to release her nude photos to people she knew if she did not comply with his requests, sent her numerous harassing text messages, and followed her on numerous occasions.

On three occasions, he uploaded her nude photographs on Facebook and alleged that she was a prostitute. He also put up fliers with her name and nude photos at public places near her home.

Yesterday, the unemployed man became the first person to be convicted of unlawful stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).

He also admitted to a rash act in causing hurt to the girl's 23-year-old brother who had tried to stop him from leaving a carpark, and threatening to post her nude photos online if she did not follow him to his lawyer's office to provide a mitigation statement for him.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sheryl Janet George said the girl was in a romantic relationship with another man when she and Lai engaged in a very brief sexual relationship in 2013.

Although she rejected his romantic advances, Lai insisted on accompanying her to and from school every day.

When she refused to go out with him, he threatened to tell her parents about their sexual relationship. Out of fear, she went out with him on various occasions.

After some time, the girl broke up with her then boyfriend due to the continued harassment. She still refused to be Lai's girlfriend and his harassment became worse, said the DPP.

In late 2013, she told a lecturer about the harassment. Lai left school after arguing with the lecturer and started blaming the victim for "ruining his life''.

In April 2014, he sent her an obscene picture of himself and asked for one in exchange. When she ignored him, he threatened to go to her home and harass her. She then complied.

From then on, Lai started using the picture she had sent to further threaten her. He asked her for more nude photos or he would show the first one to her mother.

In all, she sent him 30 photos.

Subsequently, angry that she was avoiding him, he printed and put up fliers with her nude photos, and messages alleging she had "messed up his life'', on the walls of her housing block and in letter boxes.

When she tried to stop him, he forced her to write an "apology", stating "I promise not to rebel again" 200 times.

Lai was charged last November.

To avoid his continued harassment, she left the school and transferred to another in January.

Sometime that month, he approached her near her school and asked her to follow him to Regent Law at Peninsula Plaza to write a letter to plead for leniency on his behalf. When she refused, he threatened her.

Lai's lawyer Louis Joseph wanted a discount of what the prosecution has sought - at least 12 months' jail - because of his client's depression.

He also said he was appalled by Lai's behaviour and moved by the victim's impact statement.

District Judge Lim Keng Yeow will sentence Lai on June 17.

The maximum punishment for unlawful stalking under POHA is a $5,000 fine and 12 months' jail. For criminal intimidation, he could face 10 years' jail and a fine.

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

SGX launches 'comply or explain' rules

Straits Times
21 Jun 2016
Wong Wei Han

Listed companies will have to conduct annual review of their sustainability from 2018

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) yesterday officially laid out new requirements for listed companies to conduct an annual review of their sustainability - such as environmental or governance issues.

Market watchers largely welcomed the new rules - based on proposals tabled in January for public consultation - but some remain cautious over the learning curve and resources required by companies to prepare the reports.

The "comply or explain" sustainability reporting framework takes effect in 2018, for financial years ending on or after Dec 31 next year.

All listed companies must report - or explain their decision to not do so - within five months of the end of a financial year, but a grace period of up to 12 months will be given to the publishing of the first report.

A company will determine which environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are relevant enough to its business to address in the report, which will then list the company's policies and performance in this regard. The firm is also expected to outline its sustainability targets for the upcoming year.

These requirements are largely unchanged from the January proposals, which sought to enhance the previous framework that asked companies only to conduct sustainability reporting voluntarily.

Listed companies had shown "overwhelming support" for the latest initiative by the bourse, SGX special adviser and former chief regulatory officer Yeo Lian Sim said at a media briefing yesterday.

"Having more transparency in reporting speaks to the quality of management that recommends the company to investors," she said.

"There is increasing interest among investors in not just returns, but how returns are produced. The principles for responsible investment (PRI) cover some US$60 trillion (S$80.6 trillion) in assets under management… By making these reports, the companies are opening themselves to a wider market."

The PRI is a network supported by the United Nations to promote responsible investment globally.

Ms Yeo said the framework is flexible enough that firms are not hampered, but she stressed that investors must use their own judgment on what to take from the reports.

Around 160 listed companies already conduct corporate social responsibility reporting regularly, some including sustainability review.

Last month, the SGX launched four sustainability indices comprising 84 companies - including blue chips such as CapitaLand, Keppel Corp and Singapore Press Holdings - seen as good ESG performers.

Still, there are concerns that the requirements may pile burdens on companies amid the already difficult business environment.

A Catalist-listed healthcare firm chief executive, who declined to be named, said that "for some smaller companies or the ones that are trying to survive, I think this process can be quite a pain, if not irrelevant".

A property firm CEO said: "It's definitely a big burden on smaller companies that are already tight on resources. Complete compliance will require extensive preparation and it's not as easy as it may seem."

Mr Adrian Chan, Singapore Institute of Directors' former vice-chairman and a board member of five listed companies, agreed the learning curve may be challenging at first.

SGX will organise a series of workshops and meetings to prepare listed companies for the regime. Details will be announced later.

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Investors cry foul over builder's crowdfunding

Straits Times
11 Jun 2016
Lee Xin En

Some say construction firm has not paid them promised returns

A construction firm that claimed it was launching a crowdfunding effort has apparently not paid some of the investors the promised returns.

At least three investors have reported putting in between $50,000 and $100,000 each in the investment scheme, purportedly to help Soilwood finance projects.

Soilwood had claimed that banks were offering insufficient credit.

The firm is not related to the listed firm Soilbuild Group.

Soilwood, which records a Mr Daniel Leong as its director, claimed that it employed 90 staff and had completed projects, including Wisma Atria, Temasek Polytechnic and Paya Lebar MRT station.

One investor, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chan, told The Straits Times he was approached by a friend who worked for Noble Consulting Group, the company that marketed the scheme to investors.

Mr Chan, an engineer, said he attended an investment presentation, given by Noble Consulting Group director Nancy Tan to a room of about 20 people at a hotel in March 2014.

Going by documents he showed The Straits Times, investors could put in a minimum sum of $25,000 for a term of 18 months to receive a return of 4 per cent quarterly. They would receive their principal sums after 18 months.

Investors would receive a 5 per cent return for a $50,000 investment and a 6 per cent return if at least $100,000 was invested.

An investor putting in $50,000 could receive $2,500 a quarter, totalling $10,000 a year.

"I was convinced because it was a friend who introduced me to the project. I saw that there were ongoing, real projects and the payout was attractive," said Mr Chan, who invested $100,000 in September 2014.

He added: "The company said it had cashflow problems, so I thought 18 months seemed like a reasonable amount of time for them to deal with the problem."

He received three payouts totalling $7,500 from December 2014, but did not receive his payout in September last year.

He reported the case to the police that month.

A police spokesman said it was inappropriate to comment as investigations are ongoing.

Noble Consulting Group's Ms Tan declined comment when contacted by The Straits Times.The company said in an e-mail reply two weeks ago that it has made a police report and has been advised not to speak to the media.

Crowdfunding has grown in popularity in recent years, mainly fuelled by traditional lending sources tightening their criteria for borrowers since the global financial crisis.

Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), said it has received complaints from two investors who failed to receive their payouts in the Soilwood scheme.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said Soilwood and Noble Consulting Group are not licensed or regulated by the authorities.

On Wednesday, MAS set a new licensing regime for crowdfunding platforms, ruling that those which deal with debt and equity have to obtain a licence.

This means that firms and platforms which allow retail investors to contribute towards raising loans for small and medium-sized enterprises, and receive interest payments in return, must apply for a capital markets services licence. As they deal with retail investors, they must set aside a capital base of $500,000.

Case said investment matters do not come under its purview.

Mr Seah said: "In general, investors ought to be very careful and check on the legitimacy of such investment schemes and the relevant laws involved to seek redress, rather than just focusing on the potential returns."

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Peace at sea

Straits Times
03 Jun 2016
Tommy Koh

With the rule of law and political will, every dispute, including those in the South China Sea, can be resolved

In 2008, I received an award from the Rhodes Academy of Ocean Law and Policy and the Onassis Foundation. I was given the Onassis Distinguished Scholar Award for my contributions to peace at sea. In this essay, I wish to share some reflections on our quest for peace at sea.

It may be useful for us to begin by reminding ourselves of the importance of ocean space to humankind. Covering over 70 per cent of the surface of the earth, the sea is indispensable to shipping and international trade. It is a principal source of our food and fuel. It absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and serves as the blue lung of the planet. It is critical to the tourist industry. It is a favourite place for humans to seek rest, recreation and happiness.

Before the advent of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), there was a state of legal chaos at sea. Countries used to quarrel and, sometimes, even fight, over the breadth of the territorial sea, fishing rights, and so on. I remember that Iceland and the United Kingdom, for example, had fought a brief war over cod.

It took the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea nine arduous years of negotiations to arrive at a consensus on all the previously contentious issues, such as the breadths of the territorial sea and the contiguous zone, the limits of the continental shelf, as well as on some new concepts in international law, such as the exclusive economic zone, archipelagic state, transit passage, archipelagic sealanes passage and the common heritage of mankind.

In sum, Unclos is a comprehen- sive and authoritative statement of the modern law of the sea. This is why I have called it a Constitution for the world's oceans. The convention has 166 state parties and the European Union. Although the United States is not a party, it recognises the convention as customary international law. It seeks to conform to the convention and expects other countries to do the same.

Unclos promotes peace at sea in three ways. First, by establishing a new, fair and equitable world order for the oceans. Second, by promoting the rule of law. Third, by promoting the peaceful settlement of disputes. The convention has some unique features. It does not allow a state party to make reservations or exceptions. This has, however, not prevented some states from making declarations at the time of their signature, ratification or accession. To the extent that the declarations are not consistent with the convention, they have no legal value. The convention prevails over such declarations.

COMPULSORY DISPUTE SETTLEMENT

The convention has one other unique feature. Under Unclos, dispute settlement is compulsory and not optional and it is an integral part of the convention. When two or more countries have a dispute over the interpretation or application of the convention, they will attempt to resolve the dispute through negotiations. However, if the negotiations are unsuccessful, a party to the dispute may refer the dispute to conciliation, arbitration or adjudication. The convention gives to every state party a choice between arbitration, the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

If a state fails to make a choice, it is deemed to have chosen arbitration. Under Unclos, it is therefore unnecessary for State A to seek State B's consent before referring their dispute to arbitration, assuming that they have both chosen arbitration or are deemed to have done so.

Under Article 298 of the convention, disputes over sea boundaries and military activities are exempted from compulsory dispute settlement. Apart from these two exceptions, all other disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the convention are subject to compulsory dispute settlement. The bottom line is this: It is not permissible for a state which is a party to the convention to opt out of the system of compulsory dispute settlement.

What are the threats to peace at sea?

I can think of the following four threats to peace at sea:

• Piracy and other international crimes against shipping;

• Unfaithful interpretation and application of Unclos;

• Resorting to force or unilateral actions to enforce one's claims or interests instead of relying on the Unclos system of compulsory dispute settlement; and

• illegal fishing.

Piracy and the armed robbery of ships pose a serious threat to international shipping and to peace at sea. Until a few years ago, the biggest threat to international shipping was posed by Somali pirates. For example, in 2011, out of a total of 439 attacks against ships worldwide, 200 were by Somali pirates. Last year, out of 246 attacks against ships worldwide, none was perpetrated by Somali pirates.

Instead, the largest number of attacks, 108, took place in Indonesian waters. Over half of the attacks, 148, took place in South-east Asia. It is therefore incumbent upon Asean, especially Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia, to strengthen their efforts to combat piracy and other international crimes against shipping, in accordance with international law and Unclos. The current situation is a stain on the reputation of Asean.

Another threat to the rule of law is posed by the unfaithful interpretation and application of Unclos. There are many instances of states which have, whether deliberately or otherwise, interpreted and applied Unclos in an incorrect manner. They have made claims and asserted rights and jurisdictions which are not consistent with the convention. Examples include the drawing of straight baselines when it is not appropriate to do so. Other examples include the imposing of compulsory pilotage on ships in transit passage, making excessive claims for rocks and artificial islands, and coastal states claiming rights in the exclusive economic zone which they are not entitled to under the convention. There is a proliferation of excessive claims by coastal states. If this is not challenged, it will undermine the integrity of Unclos and give rise to disputes between states.

The third threat is posed by the behaviour of some states which seem to have rejected the Unclos system of compulsory dispute settlement in favour of acting unilaterally. In the case of maritime disputes, states are obliged to settle their disputes in accordance with international law, including Unclos.

Under Unclos, disputes could be resolved through negotiations, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication. Conciliation is a non-adversarial process and should be appealing to Asians. In addition, parties to a dispute may wish to put aside their competing sovereignty claims and enter into a win-win arrangement to jointly develop the resources in the disputed area and share in their benefits.

Malaysia and Thailand have a joint development in the Gulf of Thailand to extract natural gas from a disputed area, which has been very successful.

My point is that, given goodwill on both sides, there are many ways in which a dispute can be resolved or managed. What is unacceptable is for a country to use force to impose its will or to take unilateral actions to change the facts on the ground and to present the world with a fait accompli.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has repeatedly warned us that the world's fisheries are in a state of crisis. The crisis is caused by overfishing, by illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. It is also caused by the ineffectiveness of the regional fishery management organisations and by the use of destructive and unsustainable methods of fishing.

Subsidies for the fishing industry should be phased out because they have led to overcapacity. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) should consider requiring all commercial fishing vessels to be licensed and to carry transponders. Regional fishery management organisations should be established in all regions of the world, including the South China Sea, and they should be empowered to make their decisions by majority votes, if necessary. Certain highly destructive methods of fishing should be banned. The FAO's code of conduct for responsible fisheries should be strengthened. We should support the efforts of Indonesia to enforce its laws against illegal fishermen in its exclusive economic zone.

The quest for peace at sea is an achievable one, provided we are prepared to do the following three things.

First, we should all uphold the rule of law. This means abiding by international law, including Unclos and the IMO Conventions.

Second, we should agree to settle our differences peacefully and in accordance with recognised international diplomatic and legal processes.

Third, we need political will and a spirit of give and take. Without political will, nothing can be resolved. With political will, every problem, including the disputes in the South China Sea, can be resolved.

• The writer is former president of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea and chairman, governing board, Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore

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Ex-Harry's COO fined $40k over hiring scheme

Straits Times
21 Jun 2016
Amir Hussain

She hatched plan to get around work permit quota by falsely declaring salaries of foreign employees

Facing a manpower shortage, a former chief operating officer of a well-established bar and dining chain hatched a plan to hire foreign workers who were subject to a quota by pretending they were employment pass hires which are not subject to a quota.

In June 2012, Parmjit Kaur, 49, told employment agents for Harry's International to look for foreign workers, who would be offered a monthly pay of $3,100. However, these workers would have to return more than half of their salaries as "reimbursements" for transportation and meal expenses.

Kaur, who was also a Harry's director, wanted to bring the workers in on employment passes supposedly to circumvent the quota for work permit holders, who are lower-skilled and draw less salary.

Yesterday, Kaur was fined $40,000 after she pleaded guilty to five charges under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

She admitted to 15 other counts of the same charge and these were considered in sentencing.

A district court heard that Kaur had first asked an assistant human resource manager to declare in the company's employment pass applications that the foreign employees would be given a fixed monthly salary of $3,000.

This was, at the time, the minimum salary requirement for employment pass holders, who are foreign professionals, managers and executives. Approval was not granted for the applications, so Kaur instructed that a higher sum of $3,100 be declared.

Between April and September 2013, Harry's falsely declared to the Controller of Work Passes that 20 foreign workers would be hired as restaurant chefs de partie at a fixed salary of $3,100 each.

Employment passes were issued to 20 Indian nationals.

The workers' pay was credited into their bank accounts on the first day of every month, but they had to return $1,600 to Harry's finance department the next day.

Meals and transportation were provided for only some workers and, even when provided, did not add up to $1,600.

In October 2013, a Ministry of Manpower employment inspector discovered the offences after receiving a tip-off.

Kaur, who was charged in November last year, could have been fined $20,000 and jailed for two years on each charge.

Harry's International is wholly owned by F&B Asia Ventures. Kaur is no longer with the company.

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Taiwan woman held over suspected marriage fraud

Straits Times
11 Jun 2016
Seow Bei Yi

She married 72-year-old wealthy Singaporean in Taiwan 18 days before he died in hospital last year

His family did not think he would get married. But at the age of 72, when he was critically ill in Taiwan and just 18 days from his death, Mr Pua Ching Kiong mysteriously wed a Taiwanese woman on Feb 24 last year.

On Tuesday, the mystery took on a darker shade when his wife Huang Kuan-chen, 55, was detained in Taiwan and is under investigation for suspected fraud, reported Focus Taiwan News.

Her alleged accomplice Liu Wen-pin, 63, was also arrested.

Huang had married Mr Pua primarily to get at his NT$100 million (S$4.2 million) fortune, Taiwanese media reports said, quoting Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau.

His family members said he was coerced into the marriage.

Mr Pua was the owner of Pua Loong Trading Company, which sells Dragon Balm, a liniment for aches and pains.

He first met Huang at a religious event 30 years ago but they were only acquaintances back then. The two met again in 2014.

Mr Pua travelled to Taiwan in December that year, when an old friend invited him over to treat his diabetes, said his younger sister, who wished to be identified only as Madam Pua. She now manages the company.

Mr Pua was supposed to return to Singapore on Dec 25 but got hospitalised for 42 days instead.

The family met Huang for the first time in January last year. Mr Pua had a fall the following month and was not able to talk.

"It was very hard to communicate with him, because he was hard of hearing and blind in one eye. Through the phone it's worse, so we always communicated with Huang after my brother fell," she said.

Huang claimed more than NT$1 million from Mr Pua's family in Singapore, for his "medical bills".

On Feb 24 last year, Mr Pua sought emergency treatment at the hospital and was later taken to register his marriage with Huang, while he was in a wheelchair.

Mr Pua's nurse later admitted to the police that Huang guided Mr Pua's right hand as he signed the certificate.

She also said that Huang and Liu were a couple.

Madam Pua said her brother had not planned to marry.

The family rushed to Taiwan after he was hospitalised on March 2 last year. Days after his death on March 13, he was cremated.

But when the family members were given the medical receipts by senior staff from Mr Pua's company, they found discrepancies in the documents and suspected something was amiss.

They contacted the hospitals involved and their suspicions were confirmed. "We found the writing on the marriage certificate was very similar to Huang's, and suspected that it was not written by my brother. He usually didn't sign his name like that," said Madam Pua.

After Mr Pua died, Huang, as his widow, tried to lay claim to his assets. The family, in turn, filed a case against Huang in May last year and are waiting for the marriage to be annulled.

Madam Pua said Huang had projected "an angel's image".

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Basslink outage seen as force majeure covered by insurance

Business Times
03 Jun 2016
Tan Hwee Hwee

Keppel's comment follows EnergyQuest's estimate that it has cost Tasmania at least A$560m to date

[Singapore] KEPPEL Corporation has reiterated cable operator Basslink's belief that the outage of the only electricity interconnector between Tasmania and mainland Australia is a force majeure event and the fault is covered by insurance.

Responding to a request for comments on reports that Australia-based energy advisory firm EnergyQuest has estimated that the failure of the Basslink interconnector has cost Tasmania at least A$560 million (S$555.8 million) to date, a Keppel Corp spokesman said: "Based on current circumstances and subject to further professional advice and investigation, Basslink believes that the outage is a force majeure event and the fault is covered by insurance."

"The cause of the outage is currently being investigated and Basslink will make the necessary announcements when appropriate," the spokesman said, adding: "It is currently estimated that the link may resume operations around end June 2016, based on current estimates and allowing contingency for weather and other unforeseeable conditions."

Basslink, which is owned by Keppel Infrastructure Trust, has been regularly giving updates on the progress of the repair work.

In a May 31 update, Basslink said: "While Basslink advises that the return to service remains scheduled for the end of June, there is a possibility of an earlier return to service if weather conditions remain favourable."

The fault of the subsea power link happened on Dec 20 last year.

EnergyQuest chief executive officer Graeme Bethune said that Tasmania's average power price jumped over 350 per cent quarter-on-quarter to A$176.92 per megawatt hour (MWh). The A$560 million estimate has already factored in a 17.5 per cent increase in electricity prices on Australia's east coast. The Australian consultancy further asserted these estimates have yet to take into account the economic cost of lost production by the larger industrial gas users in Tasmania.

But the cost estimate has been disputed by Tasmania's Energy Minister Matthew Groom. He acknowledged to Australian media that "costs have been incurred in responding to the issue, but not of the magnitude (EnergyQuest) cited".

The energy minister also said that the government has not paid for the cable during its period of inaction, representing a saving of about A$40 million. He also flagged economic growth figures that contradict the basis of EnergyQuest's analysis.

Keppel Infrastructure Trust saw its Q1 net profit attributable to unitholders plunge to S$2,000 from S$2.66 million, "primarily as a result of Basslink not receiving facility fees due to the cable fault".

Units of the trust closed unchanged on Thursday at S$0.51.

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Ex-wife of alleged match-fixer gets two months' jail

Straits Times
21 Jun 2016
Amir Hussain

The third wife of alleged match-fixing kingpin Dan Tan Seet Eng was yesterday given two months' jail for lying to an anti-graft investigator about two of his laptops, which she was trying to hide from the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

But the prosecution, which had asked for four to six months' jail, applied for Guan Enmei's sentence to be deferred, pending an appeal for a stiffer prison term. District Judge Lee Poh Choo set bail at $20,000.

In her sentencing remarks, the judge said that lying to a law enforcement officer cannot be treated lightly - more so in this case, where Guan knew the enormity of the international match-fixing saga.

In an interview at the bureau's office on June 6, 2013, Guan lied that she had left home with only a handbag, and had not taken along a paper bag with the laptops.

After a two-day trial last month, Judge Lee found the 41-year-old guilty last week. The judge said Guan knew the laptops contained incriminating evidence.

The court had heard that Tan was asked to report to the CPIB office on June 6, 2013. Before he left home, he told Guan to take two laptops, place them in a bag and hand it back to him after he was released.

That afternoon, Guan was herself told to report to the bureau.

As her usual driver was unable to pick her up from home, he arranged for another driver to do so. When the driver arrived, Guan put a white Dior paper bag in the back seat before getting into the front passenger seat. She phoned Tan's alleged accomplice, Eric Ding Si Yang, for advice about the two laptops while on the way to the bureau.

On arriving at the CPIB carpark, Guan met her usual driver and asked him to hold on to the bag for her until she came out of the building. He then waited with it at a nearby coffee shop, where it was later seized by graft investigators.

When questioned about the bag and laptops by a CPIB investigator, Guan insisted she did not know anything about them.

The maximum penalty for giving false or misleading information to a CPIB investigator is a $10,000 fine and one year's jail.

Tan, described by Interpol as "the leader of the world's most notorious match-fixing syndicate", is being detained without trial under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act for the second time. Now 52, he was first arrested on Sept 16, 2013.

Guan was Tan's third wife. She divorced him in July last year.

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Go on a tour of the Supreme Court

Straits Times
11 Jun 2016
Ankita Varma

To commemorate the 10th year of the opening of the building, free guided tours will be held for visitors

If you have yet to see the inside of Singapore's highest court, the Court of Appeal, you can get a chancethis month during one of the Supreme Court's commemorative tours.

In celebration of 10 years since the Supreme Court premises was officially opened by former president S R Nathan onJan 7, 2006, 10 free guided tours will be held from next Tuesday to June 24, where visitors will learn about the design, architecture and history of the iconic building at 1 Supreme Court Lane.

Prior to its move, the Supreme Court was housed in what is today the National Gallery Singapore. Construction of the new 77,609 sq m building began in 2002. The first case was heard there in June 2005.

Compared to the imposing Corinthian and Ionic columns that fronted the old Supreme Court building, the new premises took on a much more modern and sleek form - with the extensive use of glass, marble and hard steel to symbolise the firmness and impartiality of justice.

In between viewing the beautiful rosa aurora marble-clad facade and the large skylights that represent the transparency and openness of the law, visitors on the 11/2-hourtour will get an insight into the thoughtful design details that were incorporated by British architecture firm Foster & Partners, which is behind the design of the building. Besides touring the Heritage Gallery and Viewing Gallery, visitors will get a chance to visit the Court of Appeal, the highest appellate court, which is housed symbolically at the apex of the Supreme Court.

Here, recent prominent cases, such as Kho Jabing's appeal against his death sentence for murder and Yong Vui Kong's appeal against his caning sentence for drug trafficking, were heard.

Interesting design elements to look out for include the large skylight above the Court of Appeal - a modern interpretation of the dome located at the National Gallery.

Visitors may browse through the Learning Court - an interactive space that explains the different facets of the judiciary and judicial process - in their own time.

Besides the Supreme Court, visitors will also be taken on a tour of the National Gallery, which opened in November last year. There, they will visit areas of the former Supreme Court such as Courtroom 1, the Chief Justice's Office and Chamber, the stately Rotunda and the remaining preserved holding cells. Each tour is limited to 25 people on a first-come, first-served basis.

Information about the tours can be found on the Supreme Court website at www.supremecourt.gov.sg

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S'pore making checks in relation to Panama Papers

Business Times
02 Jun 2016
Soon Weilun

[Singapore] THE supervisory authorities in Singapore is looking into whether there was actual wrong-doing by any individual or entity in Singapore in connection with the Panama Papers, the spokespersons for the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said on Wednesday in a joint response to media queries.

As part of this approach, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore is checking on the Singapore taxpayers identified in the Panama Papers for any non-compliance with Singapore tax laws.

The Panama Papers, a giant trove of documents on offshore vehicles recently released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, have sparked off a political storm worldwide. Iceland's then-prime minister resigned in April after his name emerged in the documents.

"The use of offshore vehicles, in and of itself, is not illegitimate. Being named in the Panama Papers is not itself evidence of wrong-doing or the basis for suspicion," the statement noted.

The MAS and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory (ACRA) have reminded banks and company service providers (CSPs) respectively of their duty to review their customer relationships periodically. Banks and CSPs have been asked to ascertain that their customers are using offshore vehicles strictly for legitimate purposes.

If there are any grounds for suspicion, they are required to file suspicious transaction reports and step up monitoring of these transactions or arrangements. MAS and ACRA are also conducting checks to ensure that the intermediaries under their supervision have acted in compliance with their anti-money laundering obligations, said the statement.

The Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office (STRO) under the Commercial Affairs Department has also reminded intermediaries that if they know or have reasonable grounds to suspect that any property is linked to criminal conduct, they are required by law to file a suspicious transaction report with the STRO. STRO will analyse the information and where it evaluates that an offence might have been committed, STRO will disseminate the information to the relevant authorities or law enforcement agencies in Singapore or overseas for further investigation.

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Lawyer who's all fired up about dispute resolution

Straits Times
20 Jun 2016
Wong Siew Ying

Clifford Chance partner with 22-year career in the field says he enjoys rigour of the work

It is hard to imagine a more dramatic start to a legal career.

Lawyer Nish Shetty was cast into the deep end straight away, dealing with the fallout from the spectacular collapse of Britain's oldest merchant bank Barings.

That baptism of fire propelled him into a 22-year career in the field of dispute resolution.

Two decades on, Mr Shetty, 45, still enjoys the rigour and the "adversarial aspect" of this work.

"I enjoy the argument, I enjoy putting forward my viewpoints, I enjoy the oral advocacy," said Mr Shetty, now a partner at multinational law firm Clifford Chance.

He joined the London-based outfit seven years ago and is its head of international arbitration and dispute resolutions in South-east Asia. Come August, his role will be expanded to cover the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr Shetty recalled how he faced a "steep learning curve" in the first few years of his career, starting with the shocking collapse of Barings.

"When it is your first case, everything feels overwhelming at some level but also terribly exciting because it is all new to you," he said.

"The fact that it was one of the largest insolvency cases in history affecting the Singapore market obviously gave it a certain aura, and that made it even more exciting."

In 1995, rogue trader Nick Leeson single-handedly brought down Barings. The Singapore-based derivatives trader racked up hundreds of millions of British pounds in losses, wiping out the once venerable 233- year-old bank.

Leeson served jail time here for his role in the collapse.

The company liquidating the failed bank subsequently sued two accounting firms in Singapore that had audited Barings' numbers here - Deloitte & Touche and Coopers & Lybrand - for failing in their auditing duties on several occasions.

Mr Shetty was then with law firm WongPartnership, which was acting for Coopers & Lybrand, now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Observing senior lawyers who led the case left him with two valuable lessons that he still applies today.

First, the ability to "cut through the noise" to get to the core of the issue and the decisions that need to be made, and second, the need to be succinct.

"You need to be able to articulate a point in as few words as possible because you are trying to convince a tribunal or a judge of something, and the longer you drone on, the less likely that person is going to pick up on what it is you are trying to say," he said.

Another high-profile case which the National University of Singapore graduate worked on was the petition to dislodge the management from debt-ridden Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) by two creditor banks - Deutsche Bank AG and BNP Paribas. The court battle on the judicial management application went on for eight months.

Mr Shetty was acting for the two banks, among a group of trade and bank creditors and export agencies that took APP Group to task after it defaulted on a staggering US$16.5 billion in debt in 2001.

"The good thing about doing dispute resolution is that each case is different... You may be helping a bank one day, a manufacturing unit another day, a construction company or an oil and gas contractor."

In his upcoming role as head of litigation and dispute resolution for Asia-Pacific, Mr Shetty will oversee markets including Hong Kong, mainland China, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia.

As Asia continues to play a key role in driving the global economy and with cross-border deals rising, he believes the demand for dispute resolution work will only grow. Singapore and Hong Kong, in particular, with reputations as dispute resolution centres in the region, will benefit.

He said: "Singapore is on the world map for dispute resolution, especially arbitration, and now with the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), we do expect more cases to come into Singapore."

The SICC, designed to deal with transnational commercial disputes, was launched in January last year as part of a wider plan to position Singapore as Asia's dispute resolution hub.

Mr Shetty said some of his early cases defined his career path, leading him to focus on arbitration and insolvency work, and one of his core client groups today comprises banks and financial services firms.

The financial services sector worldwide has come under greater scrutiny since the financial crisis in 2008, and Mr Shetty pointed out that another change that the industry ought to prepare for is how technology will disrupt the business.

Within the legal sector, he noted that the advent of technology has been a game changer.

"Today, sitting at your desk, you can get the latest information on judgment from anywhere in the world. You have very sophisticated software... When I first started practice, the newest technology was a fax machine," he quipped.

The work that used to be done by three associates - for example, poring over a large number of physical documents - can now be handled by one associate with the aid of a computer, or a third-party service provider.

He said many law firms are studying changes in technology and the potential impact on the legal industry. In particular, Clifford Chance is working with "various institutions in the technology world" to devise solutions that will boost efficiency.

"A good example would be storage solutions, and the ability to store data in the cloud. We are already looking at things like that - artificial intelligence to analyse repeated patterns in contracts, what is important and what is not," Mr Shetty added.

Despite the growing influence of technology, he believes computers and automated processes will not steal a march on humans when it comes to dispute resolution, which still requires human interaction and analysis. "When you are trying to assess if someone has complied with obligations, it is not algorithms that will make you understand that. You still need to physically examine the conduct of individuals, and I don't see that changing any time soon."

Mr Shetty is Clifford Chance's head of international arbitration and dispute resolutions in South-east Asia. Come August, his role will be expanded to cover the Asia-Pacific region. ST Photo: Marcus Tan


IMPORTANCE OF BEING SUCCINCT

You need to be able to articulate a point in as few words as possible because you are trying to convince a tribunal or a judge of something, and the longer you drone on, the less likely that person is going to pick up on what it is you are trying to say.

LAWYER NISH SHETTY

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Both administrator and executor are trustees

Straits Times
11 Jun 2016

Reader Albert Tan wrote to askST with questions about wills: "Firstly, what is the difference between an administrator and a trustee stated in a person's will?

"Does a trustee need to apply for a court's permit or approval to execute the content of the deceased's will?

"Finally, is there a time limit for a will to be executed when a person dies?"

Senior Law Correspondent K.C. Vijayan answers.

First, on the difference between an administrator and a trustee:

The administrator comes in when a deceased person has not left a will to deal with his assets.

A person has to apply to court to be the administrator of the estate of a deceased person who has not left a will.

Someone who has left a will would have named an executor in the document.

Both the administrator and the executor are trustees of the deceased's assets.

They will act to distribute the assets to beneficiaries and pay out expenses incurred in administration in accordance with the Probate & Administration Act and also the Trustees Act where applicable.

An executor's job is to ensure the estate left by a deceased person is properly accounted for, and distributed, in accordance with the explicit instructions of the deceased.

Where there is no will, the Intestate Succession Act provides for distribution of the deceased's assets.

A trustee's job is also to ensure that proceeds left to a particular person - who may be handicapped, mentally unwell or incapable of handling his affairs, et cetera - are properly managed and accounted for.

Second, on whether an executor needs the court's permission to deal with the content of the deceased's will:

An executor will have to apply to court to take out a probate to deal with the will. This is to ensure the will is affirmed as bona fide, and due authority is obtained to deal with the assets.

Finally, the time limit for the pro- per execution of a will. The courts expect a will to be executed within a "reasonable time" of a person's death.

For practical reasons, this would be within six months of the person's death. Beyond that, reasons will have to be furnished to the court for the delay.

The time factor is meant to avoid practical difficulties such as tracing the assets after death which, if left for too long, may dissipate.

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Court sets July 28 for pre-trial conference on ex-BSI banker

Business Times
02 Jun 2016
Anita Gabriel

[Singapore] THE Singapore state court has fixed July 28 for the criminal case disclosure conference (CCDC) in the case involving former BSI employee Yeo Jiawei, who has been charged with nine offences ranging from money laundering, cheating, forgery and obstruction of justice in an ongoing probe into 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

In court on Wednesday, Singapore chief prosecutor Tan Ken Hwee said that the CCDC was in relation to two charges filed against Yeo under Section 204A of the Penal Code for intentionally perverting the course of justice.

However, Yeo's lawyer, Nicklaus Tan of Harry Elias Partnership, submitted that the CCDC should proceed in relation to all the charges and not just the two supporting charges on the basis that it may be a "live issue between prosecution and defence".

Mr Nicklaus Tan also indicated that the defence hoped to have the trial in September if possible.

The CCDC is a formalised disclosure process where the prosecution and the defence reveal aspects of their cases and the evidence at the pre-trial stage to facilitate smoother trials.

Yeo, 33, has been described by prosecutors as having played a key role in the last three years in what is described as the "most complex" and "one of the largest money laundering cases ever" involving alleged illicit transactions and money flows in and out of Singapore.

He has been in custody since April 16 and was initially held in an isolated cell at the Police Cantonment Complex and since moved to Changi Prison and has been denied bail.

Yeo appeared in court in person on Wednesday where his wife and several family members were also present.

He is so far one of two and the only former BSI employee who has been charged in the ongoing probe by Singapore's Commercial Affairs Department into what is widely believed to be the 1MDB money trail. The other person, Kelvin Ang Wee Keng, who The Business Times understands was a former remisier at Maybank Kim Eng Securities, was charged for corruption on April 20. The pre-trial conference for Ang's case has been scheduled for June 30.

Last week, in a rare move, the Monetary Authority of Singapore ordered BSI Bank to shut down its operations here due to suspicious transactions and named six individuals, including Yeo, whom it said has been referred to the public prosecutor for criminal offence assessment.

Those named were former CEO Hans Peter Brunner, former deputy CEO Raj Sriram, wealth management services head, who has been suspended, Kevin Michael Swampillai, and senior private bankers Yak Yew Chee and Yvonne Seah Yew Foong.

After the court session, when asked by reporters if the five were required to remain in Singapore or could leave the country, Mr Tan Ken Hwee replied: "We will try to ensure that persons who can assist in investigations remain in Singapore. In suitable cases, this means that passports are surrendered to law enforcement agencies."

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Measured approach to crowdfunding

Straits Times
20 Jun 2016

Raising funds from a large number of people, generally through an online platform, offers start-ups a chance to push ahead despite the tightening of criteria by traditional lending sources following the global financial crisis. The new licensing regime for crowdfunding platforms, announced by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), acknowledges the utility of this form of raising capital. However, a balance has to be struck between facilitating the development of securities-based crowdfunding and ensuring that there are sufficient safeguards for investors. Complaints made by investors who failed to receive their payouts highlighted the need for action.

An MAS consultation paper released last year noted that securities-based crowdfunding could offer an alternative source of private financing for start-ups and small and medium enterprises. Market validation through successful crowdfunding campaigns might also create more funding opportunities for businesses. However, there are substantial investment risks. One is the loss of capital if SMEs without a track record and start-ups, which globally have a high failure rate, perform badly. Other risks include the lack of liquidity caused by the absence of a secondary market for trading in the securities, as well as outright fraud. In particular, the MAS had in mind retail investors who might not fully appreciate the risks inherent in securities-based crowdfunding investments, even if warnings of the downside are disclosed.

After a year-long consultation process since the release of its paper, MAS' solution is to require crowdfunding platforms that deal with debt and equity to obtain a licence to operate. Licensing will help give the sector the credibility that it needs in order to flourish. Thus, lending-based crowdfunding platforms, which allow retail investors to contribute towards the raising of loans for SMEs or start-ups and receive interest payments in return, will now have to apply for a capital markets services licence. Since they deal with retail investors, they will have to set aside a capital base of $500,000. The regulatory regime will ensure that only fit and proper persons are allowed to provide financial services. Also, it will require a licensee to comply with business conduct rules intended to protect the interests of investors, such as ensuring the segregation of customers' monies and the maintenance of a proper record of transactions.

However, platforms that wish to tap only accredited and institutional investors will now need to meet a base capital requirement of $50,000, down from $250,000 previously. This demarcation correctly makes a distinction between the interests of financially-savvy investors and the needs of ordinary people who wish to bet on innovations. While caveat emptor is the general rule, lax practices would undermine the nation's reputation as a financial centre of integrity.

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MNCs are tax residents, but not considered local entities: Forum

Straits Times
11 Jun 2016

There are separate laws governing charitable organisations and religious organisations, and businesses ("Greater clarity needed on what constitutes a foreign entity" by Mr Han Ming Guang; yesterday).

A branch of a foreign company that operates in Singapore is legally part of the foreign company and is not its own entity.

This is an important point since it means that the foreign company's head office bears the ultimate responsibility for any liabilities arising from the acts of commission or omission of the Singapore branch office.

The liabilities of a branch extend to its head office.

A branch having a registered office in Singapore means that its head office (foreign corporation) can be served with legal process in Singapore.

Also, the accounts of the head office must be lodged with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority and made available for public inspection.

Therefore, even though these foreign corporations are tax residents and are subject to Singapore's tax laws, they are not considered local entities.

Lance Kuan Weng Chi

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Paradise group found guilty of $640k gas fraud

Straits Times
02 Jun 2016
Amir Hussain

Restaurant chain tampered with gas meters at some of its outlets, allowing it to use the gas without paying a cent

After a 30-day trial, popular restaurant group Paradise was yesterday found guilty of 29 out of 33 charges of using about $640,000 worth of gas without paying a cent for it, and tampering with gas meters at some of its outlets here.

The Energy Market Authority, which regulates the gas industry, is asking for the maximum fine of $610,000 - $10,000 for each of 21 tampering charges it was convicted of, and $50,000 for each of eight dishonest consumption charges.

The statutory board's prosecuting counsel, Mr Amarjit Singh, said yesterday that when someone steals utilities, it ultimately leads to consumers having to pay more. In addition, tampering with gas mains could interrupt supplies, or lead to gas leaks and even deaths.

"In natural resource-scarce Singapore, theft of utilities, if undeterred, can adversely affect suppliers and consumers as the cost of stolen utilities will invariably have to be spread out, borne by and shared between the suppliers and consumers, resulting in losses to suppliers, and in consumers having to pay more.

"Offences involving illegal tapping of gas and tampering with gas meter installations or gas mains also have the potential of causing interruption to supplies and considerable inconvenience to other consumers ," said Mr Singh.

The prosecuting counsel added: "Tampering with gas meter installations also poses public safety concerns... If the gas meter installation was somehow badly mishandled in the tampering process, gas leakage or explosion may occur, leading to property damage, injuries and/or deaths. This is... no laughing matter."

Senior Counsel Engelin Teh will present the defence's view of an appropriate sentence before District Judge Ng Peng Hong on June 24.

Paradise's offences were committed between August 2011 and April 2012. Gas provider City Gas detected an abnormally low gas consumption at Taste Paradise in Ion shopping mall on March 23, 2012, which led to the unravelling of the massive-scale fraud.

Seals meant to secure the bypass valve of gas meters at Paradise outlets were missing. In some instances, the position of the valve was moved from "closed" to "open", allowing gas to flow without registering on the meters.

Eight restaurants dishonestly used gas diverted past the meter, which was not reflected in the monthly bill issued by City Gas. The total loss suffered by the gas supplier was $636,438.12.

In January 2014, Paradise, known for both its fine-dining and casual Chinese eateries, was charged with tampering with the gas meters at 24 of its outlets.

Of the 24, 13 were from Paradise Inn eateries, four came under Kung Fu Paradise, two were from Seafood Paradise outlets, and one each was from Paradise Group Holdings, Paradise Dynasty, Paradise Pavilion, Taste Paradise and Canton Paradise.

The award-winning chain was founded by restaurateur Eldwin Chua, who went from running a zhi char stall in Defu Lane to operating restaurants under various brands, with footprints in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and London.

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Foreign views and Speakers' Corner: MHA replies: Forum

Straits Times
20 Jun 2016

I refer to yesterday's commentaries by Opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong ("Grey areas in rule against 'foreign sponsorships' of Pink Dot") and editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang ("Will 'follow-the-money' formula work in changed landscape?").

We said in our statement of June 7 that we are reviewing the conditions for events at Speakers' Corner. As it is, foreigners are already not allowed to organise or speak at the location, which is reserved for Singaporeans to express their views. Why then should foreign entities be allowed to fund, sponsor or influence events at Speakers' Corner?

This has nothing to do with closing ourselves off from foreign views on social issues or hindering our ability to learn from others. There is no lack of opportunities or avenues for Singaporeans to learn from others. The Straits Times' pages, for instance, are full of features and op-eds from foreign sources; and its columnists are assiduous in informing us of our shortcomings and how we can learn from others.

But that does not mean we should allow foreigners or foreign entities to participate directly in our debates or actively shape how we make political, social or moral choices, including on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.

If the foreign entity wishes, say, to promote inclusiveness and diversity among its staff, as many do, the Government has no objection.

But if the foreign entity were to actively support, in the public sphere, a particular position on a socially divisive matter like LGBT rights, the Government must step in to object.

Our position has consistently been that the right to decide on sensitive social and political matters in Singapore should be reserved for Singaporeans. Where LGBT issues are concerned, we apply this principle equally to foreign entities that oppose the LGBT cause as well as to those that support the LGBT cause.

Singaporean supporters of the LGBT cause cannot applaud when the Government intervenes to prevent foreign anti-LGBT advocates from interfering in our domestic politics, and then protest when the Government intervenes to prevent foreign pro-LGBT advocates doing the same. The same goes for Singaporeans who oppose the LGBT cause.

Ms Chua observes correctly that Singaporeans "support a Government that ringfences our political system and domestic political contests from foreign interference".

They do so because they know this principle has been applied consistently over 50 years and that it has helped keep Singapore politics the sole preserve of Singaporeans.

The Government is committed to diversity and inclusiveness, and expects the same of businesses operating here, with respect to their employees.

However, advocating positions on Singapore laws and policies on socially divisive issues is an entirely different matter.

Lee May Lin (Ms)

Director, Information Planning and Strategy

Community Partnership and Communications Group

Ministry of Home Affairs

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Can a couple keep HDB flats bought before marriage?

Straits Times
11 Jun 2016

Reader C. N. Quek wrote in to askST about Housing Board flat ownership. "Presently, I have a four-room HDB flat under my name, which I got before I married my wife. My wife also has a four-room flat, which she got before she married me, under her name. Do we need to relinquish ownership of either flat or can we keep both flats under each party's name?" Housing reporter Yeo Sam Jo approached the HDB to find out.

A married couple cannot own two flats concurrently. As the HDB considers them to be one entity, the couple can jointly own only one flat as a family nucleus.

"If two parties each own an HDB flat prior to their marriage, they are required to relinquish ownership of one of the flats upon marriage," said the HDB.

This is in line with the public housing policy of allowing a family to own only one HDB flat at any one time.

The couple also cannot be listed as occupiers in an HDB flat other than the unit they own.

Residents in HDB flats who need information or clarification on lease and tenancy matters can approach any HDB branch.

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Developers' offers catch officials' attention

Straits Times
02 Jun 2016
Rennie Whang

Authorities step in to act when creative schemes to entice buyers cross the line

Developers have been getting creative with schemes to entice buyers back to a slow market but some of them are tripping up over the fine print of the regulations.

While they may appeal to cash-strapped buyers, some of the concepts at uncompleted projects are crossing the line, forcing the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to step in.

It has issued a warning letter to the developer of Gem Residences for two instances of non-compliance, a spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday.

Under a "specimen cheque scheme", the joint developers of the Toa Payoh project had offered potential buyers cheques of $7,500 or $10,000 to submit as expressions of interest. These amounts would be used to offset their booking fee.

The URA told them the practice would circumvent the requirement of a minimum 5 per cent booking fee to buy a home. The project had its VIP launch last Friday. Buyers were instead offered a direct discount or rebate of the same amount. Gem Residences sold about 55 per cent of units on its launch weekend.

In the second instance of non-compliance, the developers offered buyers triple-key apartments with a kitchen in each of the three sub-units. But this was not in keeping with the approved floor plan and the URA ordered that it keep to the original design.

"The URA previously approved the plan for a residential unit comprising three bedrooms and a kitchen. The floor plan that was submitted to us for these units did not reflect three separate kitchens or sub-units," the spokesman said.

There has also been a hitch at Lloyd Sixtyfive in River Valley, where the developer has been told by the Controller of Housing to hold off on offering a tenancy scheme, which it is reviewing.

Developer TG Developments had intended to launch an "experiential purchaser scheme" that would allow potential buyers to place a downpayment and then stay in the unit with the option of purchasing about two years later.

Some of the successful incentives have been at completed projects, where schemes have targeted price and loan curbs to take the sting out of the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR).

Such projects enjoy more flexibility as they have obtained the Certificate of Statutory Completion and individual titles have been issued, and so they no longer come under the Housing Developers Rules.

One popular concept has been the deferred payment scheme used at OUE Twin Peaks, which is proving successful because it defers obtaining the full home loan under current TDSR rules.

The TDSR determines how much an individual can borrow - total monthly debt payments, including home loans, cannot exceed 60 per cent of a home buyer's income.

About 60 per cent of these recent 140 purchases were made under the scheme, which allows buyers to put up 20 per cent of the total purchase price now and pay the rest two or three years later, by which point there could be changes to loan curbs. Developer OUE has sold about 140 units at the project since late March when the scheme was introduced along with another incentive offering a longer option-exercise date.

Units under the deferred payment scheme are priced just 5 per cent over other units, which is very reasonable, said Mr Dominic Lee, PropNex group district director, whose team has helped sell 75 units since late March. "Everyone knows it is a good time to buy property, but TDSR is an issue," he said.

Ardmore Three has also had some success since introducing a 15 per cent Additional Buyers' Stamp Duty (ABSD) rebate in April, on top of a 12 to 15 per cent direct discount for units.The project has sold more than 25 units since it introduced the ABSD assistance package, according to caveats.

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Ex-boss of Ku De Ta being sued for bankruptcy

Straits Times
19 Jun 2016
Danson Cheong

Lawyer takes him to court over his bounced cheque for $300k in a Lamborghini deal

Businessman Chris Au is being sued for bankruptcy after a cheque he issued on a deal involving his Lamborghini Aventador supercar bounced.

Mr Au, a permanent resident here and former chief executive of Ku De Ta nightclub at Marina Bay Sands, is being sued by family lawyer Wong Kai Yun over the $300,000 cheque he issued her in March.

The money was allegedly meant to reimburse Ms Wong for import-related taxes that she had paid on his behalf to bring the car into Singapore in 2013, according to the statement of claim that Ms Wong's lawyers have filed with the courts.

Since she received the cheque in March this year, Ms Wong has tried to cash it thrice, only to have it bounce all three times. She filed a writ of summons against Mr Au in April, and is moving to have him declared a bankrupt. She is represented by lawyer Chia Boon Teck.

Besides this legal battle, Mr Au is locked in another one in Hong Kong with his former business partners over proceeds of $100 million from the sale of Ku De Ta in 2014. Last month, he filed his own suit with the courts here claiming that they conspired to steal his rightful share of the club.

Earlier this month, the $5 million Spanish restaurant Catalunya - where he is CEO - closed four years after it opened to much fanfare at the Fullerton Pavilion.

His latest legal troubles began in 2013, when he told Ms Wong he could bring the car in at about $800,000 - lower than market price - and asked if she wanted to buy the car or co-own it with him, according to her statement of claim. In court documents, both parties acknowledge they were friends.

In her statement, Ms Wong said Mr Au asked her to pay for the car's COE and import taxes, "promising to repay (her) if she decided not to buy the car". The sum would amount to more than $330,000.

Ms Wong agreed, but in late 2013, she told Mr Au she did not want to buy the car, and asked for the money back. She said this led to an impasse, with Mr Au saying he was unable to pay because he was embroiled in the Ku De Ta suit, and had not been able to sell the car.

"The defendant (Mr Au) kept assuring the plaintiff (Ms Wong) that he would repay her the $330,000 the moment he managed to sell the car. Whenever the plaintiff asked for payment of the $330,000 and for an update on the sale of the car, the defendant would say that he had been unable to sell the car," said Ms Wong in her statement.

On March 29 this year, Ms Wong said she received a tip-off that Mr Au was about to sell the car the next day at a car dealership. She added that when she confronted him at the scene, he wrote her the cheque for $300,000, assuring her it would be honoured once he received the balance of the sale proceeds, which came up to $465,000. The amount the car was sold for is not known.

Even though the debt was $330,000, Ms Wong said she accepted the lower amount as she "did not want to jeopardise the defendant's issuance of a cheque altogether". Over the next five days, she tried thrice to cash the cheque, but was unsuccessful every time.

She filed a police report in April. A police spokesman said investigations are ongoing.

In his affidavit to the courts, Mr Au said he agreed to import the car only because Ms Wong agreed to co-own it with him and share the import and running costs. He also disputed that the $300,000 cheque he issued was to repay a loan, saying the duo had an agreement to sell the car for $1.2 million. The money was to be used to return each party's investment and any profits would be shared, he said.

He would not have issued a cheque if he had known it amounted to a "bill of exchange" with which Ms Wong could serve a statutory demand on him and "put him into bankruptcy". He said in his affidavit: "This was never a loan, there was never any loan agreement."

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Serve court papers - via Facebook

Straits Times
10 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Court okays use of electronic means beyond e-mail if defendant cannot be reached in person

Court papers can be served through Facebook, Skype or Internet message boards on defendants who cannot be reached in person, the High Court has ruled.

The first reported case of such a ruling here goes a step further from previous clearance to serve suits via e-mail with the court's approval.

It happened last month in the case of a professional online gamer who was unable to serve court papers on an Australia-based company director being sued for copyright breaches.

"If the cornerstone of substituted service is efficacy at bringing notice, then a court must be open to substituted service through electronic means other than e-mails," said High Court Assistant Registrar Zhuang Wenxiong in his judgment grounds.

Substituted service refers to a method of delivering a court document to a person other than in person, such as by publication in a newspaper, posting to an address or via e-mail as approved by the court or authorised by statute.

There did not appear to be any local authority on service through Skype, Facebook and an Internet message board, the assistant registrar noted in explaining his grounds.

The court spat centred on a virtual planet, Planet Arcadia, within an enormous multiplayer game, the Entropia Universe.

Mr David Ian Storey, a professional online gamer and freelance software developer had sued Planet Arkadia, a Singapore firm that develops computer games, its managing director David Dobson and a third company director.

He is alleging copyright breaches of his works that were used both promotionally or in-game without his permission. He also claims there was a breach of contract.

Mr Storey obtained the court's permission to serve the court papers abroad, but was unable to serve them on Mr Dobson personally at his last known address in Australia.

His lawyers, Andy Leck and Cheah Yew Kuin, then applied to the court for substituted service through e-mail, Skype, Facebook and an Internet message board.

They provided evidence that Mr Dobson operated a Skype account, a Facebook profile and an Internet message board administrator account, in addition to two e-mail accounts.

The Skype and message board accounts showed he was very recently online and the court accepted this as the required evidence for allowing substituted service.

Mr Zhuang said the fear that using such means of service may not be effective in bringing notice to the person to be served "should not be overblown".

He added that the risk of not receiving notice in substituted service can be curtailed by the court imposing certain requirements.

He said the Rules of Court provided for substituted service to be effected through electronic means and other countries - such as Australia, Britain and South Africa - allowed substituted service through electronic means other than e-mail.

He added: "I construe electronic means to include WhatsApp and other smartphone messaging plaforms linked to mobile phone numbers. "

Lawyers said the judgment grounds showed how the courts have moved on the use of electronic means for substituted service.

"The judgment is a practical one that takes into account technological developments," said lawyer Choo Zeng Xi.

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IP-backed loan to help shoe firm make strides

Straits Times
02 Jun 2016
SHERYL LEE

S'pore-owned brand MBT gets boost in IP protection fight, due to financing scheme

Shoes by Singapore-owned brand Masai Barefoot Technologies (MBT) are a big hit, thanks to an unusual curved design said to help body posture.

They are so popular that every day, on average, five pairs of cut-price counterfeit MBT shoes arrive on Germany's shores from unlicensed factories in China and Indonesia. Such intellectual property (IP) infringements have led Mr Andy Chaw, chief executive of Masai Group International, which owns the brand, to step up the firm's IP protection efforts.

Now, Masai will be able to fund these efforts through a loan collateralising the IP it owns.

In 2012, Mr Chaw bought bankrupt Swiss firm Masai Group International.

This week, DBS Bank approved the first-ever so-called IP-backed loan here to Masai, under the IP Financing Scheme.

The scheme by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) aims to help companies incorporated here tap patents they have been granted as collateral for loans for growth and expansion, which do not have to be IP-related. Ipos underwrites a portion of the default risk with the bank - and the bank will not own the company's patents if it defaults.

Around 25 per cent of Masai's seven-figure loan, approved after taking account of the valuation of its patents, will go into IP protection efforts. "It is a constant battle trying to defend our IP rights," said Mr Chaw.

The firm appointed brand protection company Pointer to sniff out and shut down websites selling counterfeit MBT products in January last year.

Every month, about 250 such websites are closed down. Mr Chaw is also looking into engaging investigators to "go after the factories that produce counterfeits directly".

Another 50 per cent of Masai's loan has been earmarked for research and development (R&D), and 15 per cent will be used on advertising to continue to build the brand, which is trademarked. The company will use the remaining 10 per cent for administrative fees involved in IP registration.

"We'll use the funds to protect and strengthen our IP by continuing to invest in R&D and filing new patents, which will drive growth," said Mr Chaw.

"We expect a 25 per cent growth in sales for MBT shoes annually, for the next three years, thanks to a new patent and new styles."

Two months back, the company launched a line of MBT shoes in the United States featuring new patented technology and more than 75 per cent of the goods have already been sold. "A Singapore company was able to come up with a new range of shoes and get great response from the US market because of its constant investment in R&D and IP," Mr Chaw added.

Ms Joyce Tee, DBS' group head of small and medium enterprise banking, said: "The patents acquired would essentially translate into future earnings.

"We want to help Masai Group monetise their intangible assets."

Ipos chief executive Daren Tang noted that "IP is not just about protection of legal rights; it is about using it to grow the business".

Ipos is increasing the range of IP asset classes available for collateralisation beyond granted patents, to include trademark and copyright, effective July 1. Creative industries including film and music are expected to benefit.

The scheme will also be extended for two years, to March 31, 2018.

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Online site charges $59.95 monthly for 'VIP' members

Straits Times
19 Jun 2016
Jalelah Abu Baker

Customer says she must log in and check a box each month to stop being charged

A $20 pair of shoes from an online site ended up costing swimming instructor Charmaine Cheong $240.

Ms Cheong, 29, bought the pair from myglamorous.sg in December for $19.95, after seeing its advertisements on Facebook and other sites.

But she realised three months later that $59.95 was being charged monthly to her debit card for being the shop's "VIP".

She contacted the site and was told that she had an option to log in every month and check a box that said "Skip this month" if she did not want to have her card charged.

"I don't think it should be done this way. It's very misleading," she said, adding that it was hard to remember to log in every month to do so.

Ms Cheong's complaint is not the first against the site. The Consumers Association of Singapore has received 10 complaints about Fashion Interactive, the company that runs the site, since it opened in November last year.

When she tried to cancel her account by e-mailing the site, this was not done and money was still deducted the next month. Her problem got solved only when her card expired in April. She did not get her money back but was told it could be used as credits to buy shoes.

She wrote about her experience on her Facebook page earlier this month to warn others about the site.

In response to queries from The Sunday Times, the site's founder, Mr Olivier Magaud, said a small portion of customers sometimes "misread" the service terms. "It comes unexpectedly as the terms of membership and pricing details are clearly stated in several locations on the website and along the purchase flow." He said they are on the first page all the way to the payment page where customers must agree to the terms of service by opting in. They are also stated in a confirmation e-mail and purchase receipts.

Ms Cheong's complaint is not the first against the site. The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has received 10 complaints about Fashion Interactive, the company that runs the site, since it opened in November last year, Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said. In one case, where a complaint was lodged formally, Case helped a customer get a full $240 refund for VIP fees.

Mr Seah said Fashion Interactive may have breached the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, under which using small print to conceal a fact from the consumer or to mislead a consumer as to a fact in such sales is an unfair practice.

In a similar case last year, Case investigated online site StreetDeal for the way it charged consumers a "hidden" premium membership fee.

Case received 201 complaints about StreetDeal's membership fees from January 2014 to October 2015. The site later did away with its default membership, and sent a letter of apology to those affected.

In the current case, Mr Seah said Case has met Fashion Interactive. "They have agreed to look into each complaint lodged with Case and work towards an amicable settlement," he said, advising customers of the site with unresolved disputes to file their complaints with Case.

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S'pore rifle group sues parent body

Straits Times
10 Jun 2016
Jonathon Wong & K.C. Vijayan

New twist in legal feud between SRA and S'pore Shooting Association

A legal feud between the Singapore Rifle Association (SRA) and the Singapore Shooting Association (SSA) has taken a new twist.

The SRA has filed a High Court suit against parent body SSA for alleged breaches of the constitution and for attempting to suspend its privileges.

With the SSA being a public institution, the SRA had to obtain the go-ahead to pursue the suit from Sport Singapore - the sector administrator assisting the Commissioner of Charities for charitable objectives to advance sports.

Last year, the SSA took the SRA to the High Court seeking to recover the SRA-managed armoury space at the National Shooting Centre (NSC) in Choa Chu Kang - where both parties are based - as it wanted to upgrade the premises. But the suit was dropped by the SSA last March as was an SRA counter-claim for alleged breach of agreement.

A month earlier, SportSG had closed the NSC following an arms audit by the Police Licensing & Regulatory Department at the armouries of the Singapore Gun Club and the SRA. Police seized a number of arms due to serious licensing irregularities and launched a probe into the matter.

SportSG, the national sports governing body, terminated the lease to the NSC issued to the SSA in February.

In the latest High Court suit, filed last month, the SRA, through its Drew & Napier lawyer Wendell Wong, alleges that the SSA e-mailed a proposed resolution to council members last December to suspend the SRA's privileges at the NSC for failing to comply with SSA directives and its move to evict the SRA.

The SRA claims among other things that the governing body acted outside its powers as the constitution does not provide for resolutions by circular and a physical meeting was not called.

It further alleges that the SSA breached natural justice rules and conspired to cause loss to the SRA.

The SSA, through its lawyers from Bih Li & Lee, in disputing the claims, argues that the constitution expressly or impliedly allows for circular resolutions to be passed without calling for a physical meeting.

It points out in court documents filed that the SSA never asserted that the circular resolution had been carried out to suspend the SRA's privileges. It affirms no suspensions were implemented at the NSC.

The SSA is the national authority for shooting. Apart from the SRA, its other members are the Singapore Gun Club, Safra Shooting Club, Safsa Shooting Club and the Home Team Sports and Recreation Association.

SSA president Michael Vaz Lorrain was unfazed by the suit. He said: "They're trying to rattle us before the next annual general meeting in September."

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Cache dragged into C&P's dispute with Schenker

Business Times
01 Jun 2016
Cai Haoxiang

[Singapore] WAREHOUSE owner Cache Logistics Trust has been dragged into a dispute between a master-lessee and its tenant at a megahub logistics property over lease renewal at a pre-agreed rental rate.

The property at 51 Alps Avenue was master-leased to C&P Land under a master lease agreement expiring on Aug 31, 2016.

ARA-CWT Trust Management (Cache), the trust manager of Cache, said that Schenker Singapore is the end-user occupying the property under a June 2005 lease agreement between Bax Global and C&P, which was subsequently novated to Schenker in November 2009. This anchor lease agreement also expires on Aug 31.

The property - Schenker Megahub - is the largest freight and logistics property located at the Airport Logistics Park of Singapore beside Changi Airport. It was valued at S$116.8 million at end-2015.

The crux of the spat is that Schenker, a German logistics company, wants to exercise its option to renew its anchor lease for another five years, at a rental rate pre-agreed between C&P and Schenker when the original anchor lease agreement was entered into on June 8, 2005. The pre-agreed rental rate is understood to be below the current market rental rate. But C&P said Schenker does not have a valid option to renew.

The manager of Cache said it has received a summons from Schenker seeking a declaration that the anchor lease agreement is binding upon itself and Cache trustee HSBC Institutional Trust Services (Singapore).

Schenker is also seeking an order that the trustee and the manager seek consent from national industrial landlord JTC Corporation on the anchor lease renewal, or alternatively an order that C&P, the trustee and the manager jointly seek consent from JTC for the lease renewal.

Cache said it "intends to vigorously defend itself in this action" on the basis that it is not a party to the anchor lease agreement, and the dispute is between C&P and Schenker.

Cache said it is prepared to renew C&P's master lease, but C&P has not responded on the renewal.

If C&P does not renew, or deliver vacant possession of the property after the lease expires at end-August, Cache plans to claim against C&P for double the amount of the rent payable under the master lease agreement for the period C&P is still holding on to the property after the lease expires, or damages arising from Schenker remaining on the property.

Property consultant Knight Frank has been appointed to value the property based on the rental in Schenker's renewal of its anchor lease.

If the court rules that Schenker's anchor lease is binding on Cache and Schenker has validly exercised its option to renew its lease, among other things, the pro forma net tangible asset value of Cache would be S$0.83 instead of S$0.88. Distribution per unit for the first quarter ended March 31 would have also dropped to 1.89 cents, from 2.039 cents.

Cache last traded at S$0.865 on Tuesday, up half a cent.

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Grey areas in rule against 'foreign sponsorship' of Pink Dot

Straits Times
19 Jun 2016
Chua Mui Hoong

On June 4, Hong Lim Park played host to the Pink Dot rally, an annual event to support the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

A few days after the event, on June 7, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued a statement that said: "The Government's general position has always been that foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves. LGBT issues are one such example.

"This is why under the rules governing the use of the Speakers' Corner, for events like the Pink Dot, foreigners are not allowed to organise or speak at the events, or participate in demonstrations."

The statement has drawn a flurry of criticism online and in mainstream media. I must confess it got me a bit puzzled too.

First, when is a foreign entity foreign, and when is it resident?


Participants at the eighth edition of Pink Dot at Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park on June 4. In a statement on foreign sponsorship of the event, the Government said "foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones". ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

This year, there were 18 corporate sponsors of Pink Dot. They included Google, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Twitter, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Local sponsors included PS.Cafe and Cavenagh Law.

Pink Dot's organisers have stated that its sponsors are all registered and incorporated in Singapore. As writer George Hwang put it pointedly in a commentary on The Online Citizen website: "You cannot consider MNCs' locally incorporated subsidiaries as 'Singaporean' for tax purposes and as alien for Speakers' Corner."

The issue of what is "foreign" when applied to Pink Dot sponsors is one grey area.

Another grey area is what constitutes "interference".

If sponsoring an event constitutes interference, then why do iconic summits organised by Singapore government agencies seek sponsorship from companies, including foreign ones? The World Cities Summit and Singapore Energy Summit, for example, both have foreign sponsors. In the cities summit, there is a discussion on whether culture matters in a city - a potentially sociopolitical issue.

The Singapore International Film Festival includes Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen as official time partner, and Marina Bay Sands, a subsidiary of Las Vegas Sands Corp, as present- ing sponsor. Movies too can feature "controversial social issues with political overtones" - as we know from the Government's periodic moves to ban the public screening of films such as Tan Pin Pin's To Singapore with Love.

Will the ban on foreign sponsorship be extended beyond the pro-gay Pink Dot event, to film and other cultural events and even conferences on socio-political themes? If not, why single out Pink Dot as an event that cannot get foreign sponsors?

Or perhaps the concern about Pink Dot is over law and order, given its rising popularity. Attendance rose from 2,500 in its first year in 2009 to 28,000 last year. Gay pride parades in Turkey and Russia, among others, have sparked riots, sometimes when anti-gay protesters clashed with gay pride marchers. Last week's horrific mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando highlights the potential for violence over this polarising issue. But if law and order were a concern, MHA should say so explicitly and offer solutions that make sense from a security point of view, not restrict foreign sponsors.

In making the arguments above, I am merely trying to sketch out the anomalies and contradictions that ensue when one tries to apply the rule that "foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones".

To be sure, the rule on no foreign interference in domestic politics is not a new one. I think most Singaporeans would support the line in the sand against foreign meddling drawn by this Govern- ment. I, for one, certainly do.

We want to evolve our political system at a pace we are comfortable with. We do not want, or need, foreign democracy activists or human rights groups - some with dubious sources of funding - to push our tiny, fragile and extremely beloved island-nation down paths we will find hard to turn back from.

What is unsettling about the MHA statement is its addition of the category of "controversial social issues with political tones" to the list of off-limits issues for foreigners. This definition is so widely written that it can become a trawler net to catch any issues that become embarrassing or inconvenient to the Government.

Already, activist group Aware has asked if its advocacy work - such as on workplace harassment, and support for single parents - will be affected by the rule.

Citing the latter issue, Aware executive director Corinna Lim wrote in The Straits Times' Forum page: "If a group objects to this and floods the Government with letters of complaint, would it become a 'controversial' social issue? Would any support we might have from foreign entities thus be deemed 'interference'?

"We are troubled by these potential implications of MHA's statement, which is ambiguous, leaves too much open to possibly arbitrary interpretation, and seems to go much further than previous pronouncements."

Ms Lim has a valid concern.

Singapore is at a transition point.

We have a Committee on the Future Economy to chart our economic blueprint. We are rethinking our school and training model, to integrate in-school and after-school learning better. We are concerned about the limits of our meritocracy system, and want to broaden our social safety net.

We should not close ourselves off, mentally or culturally, from the rich debates raging worldwide on many issues of social equity that have a bearing on the challenges we face. These range from income inequality to disruptive technologies and the impact these will have on jobs and incomes, to the equity of health systems, and to the continued relevance of our industrial-model education system.

Many of these issues can all justifiably be described as "controversial social issues with political overtones". What does keeping out foreign interference in these issues then mean? No foreign sponsors , even from local subsidiaries of foreign firms? No foreign academics allowed to speak at a conference on these issues? What is a "foreign academic" anyway? Does a foreign lecturer at a local university count?

There are many grey areas and questions arising from this loosely written rule against foreign interference in "controversial social issues with political overtones".

Keeping debate on difficult social issues entirely local hinders our ability to learn from the experiences of others. An open, inclusive attitude can help us better reach a national consensus on difficult issues.

As for LGBT issues, they are certainly contentious and emotionally charged because they deal with people's freedom to love without breaking the law, and some religions have clear teachings against homosexual practices. Debate on these issues will be fractious. They may even be "controversial social issues with political overtones". Pro- and anti-gay camps may want to tap foreign sponsors and foreign groups (such as churches, universities, organisations) to talk to Singaporeans about such issues.

To be sure, it makes for a messier socio-political environment.

But do LGBT issues fall under the category of domestic politics that is core to Singapore's interests and identity as a nation, and from which foreign participation and sponsorship of events should be banned? I do not think so.

Singaporeans are a nationalistic lot. We will support a government that ringfences our political system and domestic political contests from foreign interference.

But Singaporeans are also a probing, sceptical bunch.

If the Government wants to keep out foreigners from some debates and events, yet include them in others, we need more convincing on why, and how.

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Watchful eye on crowdfunding

Straits Times
10 Jun 2016
Yasmine Yahya

As crowdfunding exploded onto the Singapore scene in the past year or so, increasing numbers of investors have piled in, attracted by the potential of earning high returns for relatively low sums of capital.

Lending-based crowdfunding players have become popular among retail investors, who can contribute as little as $1,000 to a loan for a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) and get potential returns of close to 20 per cent over the next 12 months. These days, it is not unusual to hear of SMEs raising loans of more than $100,000 in under an hour, thanks to the power of the crowd.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore's move on Wednesday to bring such crowdfunding players into its licensing regime sends a strong signal that despite the relatively small capital outlays investors put in, this is an area that warrants the regulator's keen eye, especially as the financial technology scene is only going to grow bigger from here on.

Under the regime, crowdfunding firms that want to allow retail investors to participate on their platform must set aside a base capital of $500,000.

This applies to crowdfunding platforms that deal in offering securities, such as raising loans or selling shares, on behalf of other companies.

This sets a high barrier to entry, and as MAS noted, the licensing application process will help to ensure only "fit and proper persons" are allowed to provide financial services here.

The licence will also require the firm to comply with rules such as ensuring proper segregation of customer funds and record-keeping of transactions.

For investors, being able to check which operators are licensed serves as a quick and easy way of determining which ones have at least undergone the approval process and are playing by MAS' rules.

Another new rule, requiring operators to remind investors of the risks of participating in securities-based crowdfunding and getting investors to acknowledge these risks before putting in funds, will also ensure that cooler heads prevail, even as the crowdfunding scene picks up heat.

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Technics files for judicial management

Straits Times
01 Jun 2016
Rachel Boon

Offshore solution provider Technics Oil & Gas and a key subsidiary filed for judicial management yesterday, in a move that will hit minority shareholders hard.

The firm and its unit, Technics Offshore Engineering, announced through a filing on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) that they have each applied to the High Court of Singapore for the order.

The firm also asked for a trading halt yesterday, at seven cents per share.

They have nominated Mr Chia Soo Hien and Mr Leow Quek Shiong of audit firm BDO as the judicial managers to manage their affairs, business and property.

This is necessary for "the survival of the company and the said subsidiary", said the firm, and "a more advantageous realisation" of their assets than it would be winding up.

Earlier last month, Technics Oil & Gas said Technics Offshore Engineering had received two writs of summons, from former director Ting Tiong Ching and Hup Seng Offshore Engineering.

Mr Ting is seeking the repayment of loans of about $1.933 million, and interest accrued and legal costs from the unit.

Hup Seng Offshore Engineering, a firm controlled by Mr Ting's relatives, is demanding repayment of loans of $3 million plus interest and legal costs.

Technics Oil & Gas had previously said it has been advised that its subsidiary "has a good defence", and has engaged its legal counsel to "vigorously defend the action".

The firm has been caught up in legal woes recently. Last week, it was reported that landlord Soilbuild Reit called on an $11.8 million bank guarantee - about 18 months' rent for the second-year lease of Technics Oil & Gas' premises at 72, Loyang Way - and it failed to restrain the call.

The firm had also filed a writ of summons and injunction against the Reit, after legal action claiming rent and other charges, plus late interest payment up to May.

Last Friday, shares of Technics Oil & Gas slumped 17.6 per cent to seven cents, and earlier plunged to 5.8 cents in morning trade, which triggered a trading query from the SGX.

The firm replied that it was not aware of any other possible explanation for the trading.

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Bangladeshi paralysed in work accident gets $600k

Straits Times
18 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan

He suffered spinal injuries after forklift hit him and now needs nurse to help him daily

A Bangladeshi construction worker paralysed after a worksite accident was awarded about $600,000 in damages and costs by the High Court yesterday.

Mr Tarun Kumar Saha Manoj Kumar Saha, 32, suffered spinal injuries after he was knocked down from behind by a reversing forklift on Feb 3, 2013.

Deployed to do general renovation works at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, he was dealing with the driver of a crane, which was running, so he could not hear the vehicle reversing towards him.

Thrown a metre by the impact, he was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where he had surgery to stabilise his fractured spine and right ankle.

Mr Tarun also received psychiatric treatment at the hospital, underwent rehabilitation and and was discharged into a private nursing home some two months later.

Through his lawyer, Mr Pritam Singh Gill, he sued his employer, sub- contractor Choon Construction, and the main site contractor, Hup Yew Sen Construction, for negligence.

The defendants, whose lawyers were from United Legal Alliance, at first argued that Mr Tarun was partly, if not wholly, to blame. But in October last year, both contractors accepted 85 per cent liability, leaving the sums payable to be assessed.

After a two-day assessment hearing, which ended yesterday, Judicial Commissioner Valerie Thean ordered that Mr Tarun be paid $323,700 for pain, suffering and loss of future earnings and $225,721 to meet medical expenses, contingencies and costs of appliances and materials for continued care.

The judge awarded another $50,000 in legal costs.

For Mr Tarun, the compensation was small comfort.

"Got money, but cannot do anything," he told The Straits Times.

He came to Singapore in 2010, and moved up from construction worker to become an assistant to the site supervisor.

He was an active sportsman, and had plans to marry, but his fiancee left him when he became disabled.

Mr Tarun said when doctors first told him he was permanently paralysed, he was devastated. He thought of suicide.

An only son and sole breadwinner, he now lives with his parents, aged 75 and 70, in their village home some 300km from Dhaka.

He said: "My parents became depressed when they saw me in a wheelchair. I was still depressed but kept it to myself. I pretended to give them confidence as I knew if I showed them that I was sad, they could go into deep depression and become sick."

He needs a male nurse, who goes to the house daily to attend to him.

He left for Dhaka last night. "My village is not like Singapore. Not much a handicap can do or go to."

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Greater clarity needed on what constitutes a foreign entity: Forum

Straits Times
10 Jun 2016

As a general rule of thumb, only Singaporeans should be involved in domestic politics and only Singaporeans should determine the path that Singapore will take ("'Foreign entities should not fund Speakers' Corner events'"; Wednesday).

While it is easy to classify an individual who is a non-Singaporean and a non-permanent resident as a foreign entity, and thus should not be allowed to interfere in Singapore's politics, how do we classify multinational corporations that are based here and incorporated here?

According to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore's (Iras) definition, these corporations are tax residents and are subject to Singapore's tax laws.

This, in Iras' eyes, makes MNCs residents and not foreign entities. This would also suggest that it is not illegal for them to play a role in domestic issues that may include controversial social issues.

If MNCs that are incorporated and based in Singapore are considered foreign entities because of their links overseas, should non-governmental organisations, charities and religious bodies that are incorporated in Singapore, but are overseas chapters or maintain strong links overseas - such as Focus on the Family Singapore - be treated in a similar fashion?

Would their activities or sponsorships that interfere in Singapore politics and key domestic issues be curtailed and be made illegal?

The Ministry of Home Affairs needs to provide residents in Singapore greater clarification on what and who it considers to be a foreign entity.

It also needs to be even-handed in assessing not just corporations, but also NGOs, charities and even religious bodies, to determine whether or not they are foreign entities.

Han Ming Guang

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Former China tour guide convicted of 120 charges

Straits Times
01 Jun 2016
Carolyn Khew

The former China tour guide at the centre of a dispute over the assets of a wealthy widow was yesterday convicted of 120 charges, mainly for falsifying receipts to his company and immigration offences.

Yang Yin, 42, pleaded guilty after an interpreter read out the charges to him in Mandarin. With his head slightly bowed, he looked expressionless as all 120 charges were read out in court.

A total of 110 charges were for the falsification of receipts made to his company, Young Music and Dance Studio. The firm was formed so he could move here. The rest were for immigration and cheating offences, as well as for breaking Companies Act laws.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Tan asked the court yesterday for the rest of the 227 charges to be taken into consideration for sentencing.

Yang, who has been in remand since October 2014, will appear in court again at the end of this month for two criminal breach of trust charges brought against him.

The prosecution has alleged that he misappropriated $1.1 million from wealthy widow Chung Khin Chun, 89. The widow, who has no children, was diagnosed with dementia in 2014.

The mitigation and submissions for sentencing over the 120 charges have been adjourned to July 11, after Yang's lawyer made the request so that this would not prejudice the later hearing.

Carolyn Khew


Yang Yin weaved web of lies to secure S'pore PR: DPP

It was in 2009 when former China tour guide Yang Yin moved in to live with wealthy widow Chung Khin Chun that he wanted to obtain permanent residency and, ultimately, Singapore citizenship.

But this was not because he desired to look after Madam Chung, who had no children. He did so only to benefit himself and his family, Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Tan told the court yesterday.

"The accused told CAD (Commercial Affairs Department) that he did this because he desired to look after Madam Chung. This was not borne out by investigations," he said.

Yang, 42, yesterday pleaded guilty to a total of 120 charges, mostly of falsifying receipts made to his company. The other charges were for cheating, immigration offences and breaking Companies Act laws.

He admitted to falsifying 110 receipts amounting to $186,900 from October 2009 to July 2014. Another 227 charges would be taken into consideration for sentencing.

Yang met Madam Chung, now 89, in 2008 while acting as her private tour guide during a Beijing trip. A year later, he moved in to live with her in her Gerald Crescent bungalow here, which is worth an estimated $30 million.

To get an Employment Pass (EP) and permanent resident (PR) status, Yang set up Young Music and Dance Studio (YMDS) in 2009, with the help of Rikvin, a corporate service provider. The Chinese national was told he had to earn around $5,000 a month for a higher chance of getting PR status here.

As setting up the company required at least one director who is a resident in Singapore, he approached his acquaintance, Ms Brenda Yeo, a Singaporean who was musically trained. Yang lied and told her that he could liaise with music schools in China and bring students to Singapore for the business.

After months of not hearing from Yang, Ms Yeo decided she did not want to be part of the firm anymore. At Yang's request, Rikvin then arranged for Madam Chung to replace her as a director.

"The accused's plan all along was to create the false appearance that... (he) was earning a substantial income from YMDS, to support his application for an EP, and subsequently PR status in Singapore," said DPP Tan. "It was never his plan that YMDS would operate a real business. Neither Rikvin nor Brenda were aware of this at the time."

By lying to the authorities that he was working and drawing a monthly salary of $7,000 for being the firm's managing director, among other things, Yang managed to obtain his PR status in 2011. He built upon this to get a long-term visit pass for his wife Weng Yandan in October 2013.

"ICA (Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) has confirmed that the accused would not have been granted PR status if it had known that any of the abovementioned statements were false," said DPP Tan. If Yang had not been working or not earning any pay at the time, he would not even have satisfied the minimum eligibility criteria for an S Pass or EP, let alone for PR status, he added.

Yang also had plans to fraudulently obtain Singapore citizenship by making similar false statements to the immigration authorities.

He still faces two criminal breach of trust charges for allegedly misappropriating $1.1 million from Madam Chung. Yesterday, Yang's lawyer, Mr Wee Pan Lee, asked for sentencing to be pushed back until after the criminal breach of trust charges are heard this month. Deciding on the sentence before that may cause prejudice in the later hearing, he said.

Deputy Presiding Judge of the State Courts Jennifer Marie granted the application yesterday, and said the mitigation and submissions for sentencing will be heard on July 11.

Madam Hedy Mok, Madam Chung's niece, was at yesterday's hearing with a friend, but Madam Chung did not attend. Speaking to reporters after Yang was convicted, Madam Mok said: "Of course I'm happy. We'll see what happens later."

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Another crowdfunding scheme goes sour

Straits Times
18 Jun 2016
Lee Xin En

Four investors claim security firm owes them more than $400,000

Another crowdfunding scheme marketed by financial advisory firm Noble Consulting Group has failed to return promised payouts to investors.

At least four investors said they had invested more than $400,000 with Noble Consulting in loans to security services firm Glen Iris, fronted by Mr Richard Koh, former vice-president of the Security Association of Singapore. The scheme promised annual returns of up to 24 per cent to investors for lending the security firm fixed sums of money.

But four investors, who had invested between $25,000 and $250,000, said they failed to recover their principal or the promised returns after Glen Iris stopped payments in the middle of last year.

The investors contacted The Straits Times after the newspaper ran a story about several investors who had agreed to lend money to construction firm Soilwood through Noble Consulting Group.

Investors in Soilwood too did not receive the promised payouts or their principal sums. So far, eight investors have come out to say they have invested $1 million in Soilwood and did not get their money back.

According to documents shown to The Straits Times, investors in Glen Iris could put in a minimum sum of $25,000 to receive a return of 1.5 per cent monthly. They would receive their principal amount after 12 months. Investors would receive a 1.75 per cent monthly return for a $50,000 investment and a 2 per cent monthly return if at least $100,000 was invested.

One investor, who wanted to be known only as Mr Kwek, told The Straits Times he met Noble Consulting Group's director, Ms Nancy Tan, at a seminar at YMCA and found her accounting and projection methods to be professional.

"As an ex-banker dealing with SME loans, she seemed to have a lot of credibility, and I assumed that she had applied the same due diligence and standards of a bank," said Mr Kwek, who is an academic.

Convinced by her presentation, he said he agreed to lend Glen Iris $250,000 in March 2014. He received monthly payouts totalling $80,000 over 16 months, but did not get his payout in July last year.

Another investor, Mr George Baizanis, said he met Noble Consulting Group in September 2014, and had put in a total of $75,000 by March last year. "I was persuaded to invest because it's a security business so there is not much volatility," he said. Mr Baizanis, a Greek national who works in finance and has lived in Singapore for 10 years, said he was offered quarterly payouts, and received just one payout of $2,000 in March last year.

He added that after his payout for June did not materialise, Mr Koh met him and about nine other investors. It is unclear why Glen Iris stopped its payments, but Mr Baizanis said Mr Koh asked for an extension for the loan repayment.

Mr Baizanis was unconvinced by Mr Koh's explanations as he refused to sign a document for a loan repayment plan.

He also moved to sue Mr Koh for bankruptcy, which came into effect last December, while Glen Iris was wound up last October.

When The Straits Times visited Glen Iris' office in Paya Lebar, it was occupied by another company, which said it had been renting the space since last December.

Attempts to reach Mr Koh for comment were unsuccessful. When asked about the schemes, Noble Consulting Group replied in an e-mail: "It would be best if you speak to the representatives of the two companies, as I cannot speak for them why they missed their payments. I cannot comment (even if I want to) as investigations are ongoing."

The police also said it was inappropriate to comment as investigations are ongoing.

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MAS adjusts securities crowdfunding rules to facilitate retail access

Business Times
09 Jun 2016
Kenneth Lim

It closes a loophole that has enabled issuers to dodge publishing prospectuses, but will loosen the rules to open up access to retail investors

[Singapore] THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will modify proposed rules on securities crowdfunding to better accommodate retail participation, in a shift from earlier proposals that mostly focused on accredited and institutional investors.

Following a public consultation exercise, MAS has moved to close a loophole that allowed some crowdfunding platforms to use an exemption for promissory notes in order to reach retail investors - without the platform being licensed or the issuer having to publish a prospectus.

But existing rules will also be tweaked to make it easier for licensed securities crowdfunding platforms to tap the retail market, the financial markets regulator said on Wednesday.

There are estimated to be about 10 debt crowdfunding platforms in Singapore now; MoolahSense and Capital Match are examples of such platforms that help businesses borrow money from retail investors.

Some of those platforms are able to operate without capital market services licences because they make use of an exemption for promissory notes that are worth at least S$100,000, issued to a single issuer and which mature within a year.

The workaround used by some platforms is to consolidate funds from multiple smaller lenders into a single entity to cross that S$100,000 hurdle, and thus be exempted from the cost and trouble of putting out a prospectus.

But MAS said that the workaround goes against the intention of the rule, which was to reduce the burden on good-credit borrowers trying to meet short-term financing needs from sophisticated investors.

MAS will therefore seek a legislative amendment by the end of the year to remove the exemption for promissory notes. Crowdfunding platforms looking to continue helping companies to raise business loans from retail investors will thereafter have to be licensed by the MAS.

But while the licensing requirement will be added, platforms that hold a licence will find it less onerous to access retail.

To this end, MAS will streamline the rules under the small-offer exemption. Under these rules, which exempt offers of less than S$5 million from having to issue prospectuses, companies and intermediaries that now seek the exemption have to pre-qualify investors based on knowledge, experience, suitability and financial means tests to invest in securities crowdfunding.

Under the streamlined rules, investors will only need to demonstrate knowledge, experience or suitability; the "financial means" requirement will be dropped in favour of a beefed-up risk disclosure and assessment framework.

The small-offer exemption will, however, continue to prohibit cold-calling or unsolicited marketing to retail.

MAS also plans to go ahead with its proposal to lower the base capital and minimum operational risk requirements for securities crowdfunding platforms from S$250,000 to S$50,000. MAS will also remove a requirement for a S$100,000 security deposit.

The regulator has also clarified its restrictions on advertising, to make it clear that crowdfunding platforms can market their services - as long as they do not advertise specific deals that have yet to be completed.

MAS assistant managing director for capital markets Lee Boon Ngiap said in a statement: "Securities-based crowdfunding is a useful addition to our financing landscape.

"At the same time, securities crowdfunding can be quite risky. The measures we are implementing seek to strike the right balance between improving access to securities crowdfunding for start-ups and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and protecting investor interests."

One industry player said the licensing requirement could force some smaller players to call it quits, but noted that the lowered capital requirements could mitigate the impact of the changes on the industry.

But most market professionals welcomed the moves.

MoolahSense chief executive Lawrence Yong said his firm is already in the process of applying for a licence.

"The benefit of regulation puts in place some minimum standards and levels the playing field for operators. That works well for an orderly growth for the sector," he said.

He added that his firm used the promissory note exemption because it was the least-costly option for issuers, since there was no restriction on the number of investors or how much could be raised, and the crowdfunding platform did not face costs related to being licensed.

Once MoolahSense obtains its licence, it will advise issuers to either use the small-offer exemption, or in cases where the number of investors is not expected to exceed 50, to use exemptions for private placements, Mr Yong said.

FundedHere, an equity and lending platform, said the new rules will better align regulations with the intent of crowdfunding.

"This better reflects the true spirit and promise of crowdfunding," FundedHere chief executive Michael Tee said. "It will invigorate Singapore's startups as well as SMEs, and lead to greater participation in crowdfunding as a viable option to raise capital."

Janet Young, head of group channels and digitalisation at United Overseas Bank, which has a tie-up with Israeli platform OurCrowd, said the new rules brought clarity.

"The clearer regulation for securities-based crowdfunding platforms fosters a more conducive environment for the industry to progress and gain credibility among the broader investor community, while ensuring proper investor safeguards are in place."

Wong Partnership lawyer Rachel Eng said the rules could make it easier for existing licence holders to expand into the retail securities crowdfunding space.

"The banks or private banks already have all those risk disclosures and so on in place; they just have to extend down into these frameworks to operate in the retail space."

She said that, given retail interest in the space, it was better for regulators to address the issue rather than try to keep it away.

"If you don't open those classes to people here, water will find its level," she said. "They will go look online. You might as well put in front of them good potential assets and make sure they're aware of the risks."

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Ex-property agent jailed, fined $100k over bribery

Straits Times
01 Jun 2016
Elena Chong

A former property agent who gave a total of $100,000 in bribes to a senior manager of a development firm, to get priority access to a property launch, was sentenced to 12 weeks' jail and fined a total of $100,000 yesterday.

Goh Chan Chong, 40, was convicted in February of giving two sums of $50,000 to United Engineers Developments' then senior manager Suhaimi Amin for invitation cards to the launch of The Rochester in North Buona Vista in 2007.

Goh, now unemployed, is appealing against both conviction and sentence, and is on $45,000 bail. He has an outstanding third charge scheduled for a pre-trial conference.

Mr Suhaimi, 53, had been fined $60,000 after he admitted to one of two counts of corruptly receiving $50,000 from Goh. He repaid Goh in May 2008 even before he made a police report.

The court was told that Goh asked Mr Suhaimi for invitation cards. Besides giving him VIP cards, Mr Suhaimi added Goh's name and those of his associates to the VVIP guest list.

On July 16, 2007, Goh and his nine associates, including his mother, brothers, wife and mother-in-law, obtained options to purchase for 10 units. They later bought eight, six of which were sold at higher prices.

A few weeks later, to reward Mr Suhaimi, Goh gave him $50,000 at a roti prata shop. He later gave him another $50,000 at the same shop.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Kelvin Kow noted the large amount of criminal benefits - from $1.1 million to $1.69 million - realised, and the fact that Goh and his girlfriend still retain two units.

Goh, who was initially defended by Mr Peter Low, denied giving bribes to Mr Suhaimi. He suggested that Mr Suhaimi lied as he wanted to "exact revenge". But the prosecution argued that Mr Suhaimi had no reason to implicate himself.

Defence lawyer Raymond Lye, who took over Goh's case after conviction and mitigated on his behalf, urged District Judge Luke Tan to impose a fine while DPP Kow argued for five to six months' jail plus a $100,000 fine. The maximum penalty for corruption is a $100,000 fine and five years' jail.

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First person convicted of stalking gets 12 months' jail

Straits Times
18 Jun 2016
Elena Chong

Man hounded student, displayed her nude photos in public, online

Young people should be wary of "sexting" which can lead to an "avalanche of harm" far beyond what the sender can anticipate, a district judge said yesterday when sentencing a jobless man for unlawful stalking and two other offences.

District Judge Lim Keng Yeow said those who face harassment or threats to send sexual messages or images should seek legal advice or report to the authorities.

Lai Zhi Heng, 26, who became the first person here to be convicted of stalking, was sentenced to 12 months' jail.

He had pleaded guilty to the stalking charge, causing hurt by a rash act and criminal intimidation.

The judge said his victim, a 19-year-old student who cannot be named for legal reasons, eventually succumbed to Lai's threats and demands.

The court heard how for about a year from November 2014, Lai pressed her into a relationship with him and then harassed her with demands for nude photographs, which he later made public.

The victim said the ordeal gave her sleepless nights and even suicidal thoughts.

The judge said: "What seems innocent may easily prove to be profoundly damaging, for there are myriad motivations and methods for what is sexted to be abused."

When the girl gave in and acceded to his growing demands, it appeared to further warp Lai's sense of empowerment. He carried out even more grievous and harmful forms of harassment and abuse.

"The offender quite mercilessly took full advantage of what he obtained from her in order to punish her when she tried to distance herself from him," the judge said.

Lai printed fliers and posters of the nude photographs she had sent him. He put them into letter boxes and displayed them in public locations near her home.

He also uploaded the photographs onto the Facebook page of her school's student club, giving her personal details and stating that she was available for sexual services.

He said Lai's threats were not only "prolonged and unrelenting", but also "acute and vicious", aimed at keeping her trapped under his power and calculated to cause as much embarrassment and humiliation to her as possible.

He noted that his harassment flowed from an "obdurate and absorbing obsession" which had little to do with any affection he had for her.

"The facts showed that his fixation was driven by a consuming need to have power and control over her and also by his intense sense of grievance over perceived wrong against him by the victim," he said.

The judge added that Lai was a "prisoner of his own obsession".

"While his tendency may be to be engrossed with external causes of his predicament, it is this internal issue he needs to find courage to confront and deal with."

He hoped Lai would receive rehabilitative help in prison so that he would be able to let go of the past and rebuild his life.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sheryl Janet George had highlighted several aggravating factors in the case, such as the duration of the offence.

She said he had also threatened the girl earlier this year while out on bail for the offences.

The girl said in her victim impact statement that Lai followed her almost every day. Her mother had to stop work to accompany her to and from school as she was afraid to leave home alone.

"I feel traumatised because of him and I lost my friends after he posted my naked pictures in the school Internet pages," she stated. "I really want him to stop coming near me, my family, my house or my school. I just want him out of my life."

Urging the court to give his client a chance, lawyer T.M. Sinnadurai said Lai was remorseful and would not confront or see the victim any more.

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Trek 2000 appoints RSM as forensic accountants

Business Times
09 Jun 2016
Lee Meixian

[Singapore] THUMB-DRIVE maker Trek 2000 International has appointed RSM Corporate Advisory as forensic accountants to help in an independent review of certain interested party transactions (IPTs).

TSMP Law Corporation, which is doing the independent review, has highlighted to the Audit Committee (AC) that a full IPT inquiry would require a forensic accounting firm to review and analyse past transactions, Trek 2000 said on Wednesday. It also said that TSMP has presented some preliminary findings to the AC.

The AC has decided to expand the scope of the forensic accounting firm's engagement to include any suspicious transactions.

RSM will review the nature and circumstances of any interested/related party transactions, including the transactions which are the subject matter of Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) investigations.

The forensic accountants will also review the internal approval process, ascertain the number of transactions, the quantum involved, whether such transactions were conducted on normal commercial terms, and give its opinion on the financial impact to the group, as well as identify any lapses or internal control weakness, breaches of directors' duties or listing rules.

Meanwhile, "the board is currently actively engaging the business associates and stakeholders of the group to ensure business continuity," Trek 2000 said.

In April this year, the auditors of Trek 2000 lodged a report with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) related to documentation deficiencies.

These deficiencies had to do with some sale transactions between one of its subsidiaries and a customer. The total value of those transactions was about US$3.2 million.

Later in May, Trek 2000 said that its chief financial officer Gurcharan Singh was assisting the CAD in its investigations into a possible offence under the Penal Code. Mr Singh was interviewed by the CAD and asked to produce certain documents relating to the period 2011 to 2016.

On June 1, it added that chairman and CEO Henn Tan, president of regional sales Foo Kok Wah, and executive director Poo Teng Pin were also interviewed by the CAD in relation to its investigations.

Pending the investigation outcome, the four have been released on bail, the board said, adding that it understood that no formal charges had been laid against them.

Trek 2000 shares, in which trading is still suspended, last closed at S$0.186 on April 21.

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Maid gets 18 years' jail for killing employer

Straits Times
01 Jun 2016
Rachel Chia

She claims she was hit by boss and retaliated by attacking and drowning her in bungalow's pool

An Indonesian domestic helper who said she was hit by her employer retaliated by swinging the 69-year-old woman's head against a wall and then drowning her in the bungalow's swimming pool.

Indonesian Dewi Sukowati, 20, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 years' jail yesterday for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The court heard that at about 7.30am on March 19, 2014, Dewi - then 18 - had taken a glass of water on a tray to socialite and porcelain artist Nancy Gan Wan Geok at her home in Victoria Park Road. It was her sixth day at work.

According to the statement of facts of the case, Madam Gan was upset that the glass was served on the wrong type of tray. She then splashed the water on Dewi's face and threw the tray on the floor.

When Dewi bent down to pick up the tray, Madam Gan snatched it from her and hit her on the head with it.

She also scolded the teenager - whose age at the time of the arrest was reported as 23, the minimum age for foreign domestic workers to work in Singapore - and threatened to cut her salary to $200.

Dewi snapped, grabbing Madam Gan's hair and swinging her head against the wall with all her strength. The back of Madam Gan's head hit the wall and she lost consciousness, bleeding profusely from her wound.

Frightened, Dewi stayed where she was and spent 10 minutes collecting her thoughts.

She then placed her ear on Madam Gan's chest to check if she was still breathing, and heard a weak heartbeat.

Worried that Madam Gan would call the police if she woke up, Dewi decided to drown her employer. She dragged Madam Gan by the hair towards the swimming pool.

Along the way, she recalled Madam Gan's daily scoldings and felt angry again. She slammed Madam Gan's head on the edge of a ceramic-tiled step, causing more blood to flow out.

She then grabbed Madam Gan by her pyjamas and dragged her across more steps, causing the older woman's head to hit multiple steps on the way down.

On reaching the pool, Dewi pushed Madam Gan in face down.

She returned to Madam Gan's room and took a pair of her sandals, which she threw into the pool to create the impression that Madam Gan had committed suicide.

After cleaning all the blood in the house and changing into a fresh set of clothes, Dewi went to the neighbour's house to ring the doorbell. On the way, she met a dispatch rider riding past and asked him to help her, saying her employer was in the swimming pool. The man called the police.

Madam Gan, a mother of two who was formerly married to former Hong Kong Legislative Council politician Hilton Cheong-leen, was an accomplished pianist and a well-known porcelain painter who regularly donated her works to raise funds for charity.

The autopsy report certified the cause of her death as "drowning contributed by contused brain due to a fractured skull".

The pathologist also said the injuries "were sufficient" to cause death. If Madam Gan had not been thrown into the pool, she "would have died from her head injuries".

In the first of four psychiatric reports, dated May 2014, Dr Kenneth Koh from the Institute of Mental Health assessed Dewi to be "not of unsound mind at the time of the offence and fit to plead".

In a later report, in January last year, Dr Koh found that Dewi suffered from abnormality of the mind at the time of the offence, which "significantly impaired her judgment, impulse control and mental responsibility".

Then, in a report less than three months later, he diagnosed her with acute stress reaction, "which arose from a disease of mind". In his last report last month, he said she was likely to be free from any mental disorder, and that her psychiatric prognosis was good.

He said her "dangerousness" would be best assessed after observation over a few years.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Chee Min Ping said Dewi had committed the offence with deliberation and tried to cover her tracks.

For her offence, Dewi could have been jailed for life and fined.


The autopsy report certified the cause of Madam Gan's death as "drowning contributed by contused brain due to a fractured skull". The pathologist also said the injuries "were sufficient" to cause death. If Madam Gan had not been thrown into the pool, she "would have died from her head injuries".

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Other firms can 'learn from SingPost board reforms'

Straits Times
18 Jun 2016
Grace Leong

The board reforms initiated by Singapore Post following a special audit that found corporate governance lapses hold lessons for other companies, industry observers say.

They point in particular to the finding that directors should conduct regular self-assessment to ensure that a board does not get complacent.

SingPost sought the special audit last December after admitting to an "administrative oversight" in failing to disclose former lead independent director Keith Tay's interest in its 2014 acquisition of freight forwarder F.S. Mackenzie.

Mr Tay is chairman and a 34.5 per cent shareholder of Stirling Coleman, which arranged the deal on behalf of the seller of F.S. Mackenzie.

The SingPost saga has shown that perception is as important, if not more important, than the reality, when corporate governance is called into question, said Ms Joyce Koh, executive director of Singapore Institute of Directors.

The SingPost reforms that relate to conflicts of interest, a director's code of conduct and board renewal are among the most comprehensive seen, Ms Koh noted.

Some go beyond leading practices and directors on other boards may find them stringent. For example, directors need to get clearance before taking on other board positions and commitments, and for buying or selling company shares.

Capping board tenures at nine years, with six years being the target, is another stringent rule, Ms Koh said.

The reforms came ahead of the findings of a full corporate governance review under way. More reforms are expected after this.

Corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen, who was first to flag worrying practices at the firm, highlighted reforms, including a very comprehensive code of conduct and ethics that directors have to sign off on every year and for which there are no waivers.

"It is good practice for directors to have to seek pre-clearance before accepting other key appointments and before dealing in the securities of the company," he said.

Other areas for improvement include the evaluation and approval of mergers and acquisitions, and the approval of regulatory announcements, which Associate Professor Mak believes will be addressed when the full review is completed.

The company may need to review its internal audit function to ensure that it has a broad-enough mandate to cover board compliance issues, and ensure that the new policies are implemented effectively, he said.

"SingPost could consider embedding some of the key aspects of its code and conflict of interest policy into its articles of association to give them more teeth," Prof Mak added.

Of greater significance is the process of self-evaluation, TSMP Law joint managing director Stefanie Yuen Thio said.

"Many of the guidelines are simply statements of existing directors' duties, and do not set new boundaries. For this reason, I don't think its new internal code should inspire any knee-jerk reactions from other corporates," she added. "The lesson I would take away from this is that a board should never get complacent, and the directors should conduct regular self-assessment."

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VW driver found 80% liable for collision with Porsche

Straits Times
09 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Judge criticises driver's late call for witness, ruling move was out of proportion to the $20,000 claim involved

A jobless motorist was found to be 80 per cent responsible for a collision that caused $20,000 worth of damage to a Porsche - then was criticised by a judge for making an "inexplicable" late call for a witness.

Mr Justin Chia had been driving his Volkswagen Golf GTI in North Bridge Road outside the Supreme Court building in April 2014 when he collided with a Porsche Panamera.

Its driver, Mr Mohamed Rafin Kadimhad - the chief corporate officer of the Park Hotel Group - sued Mr Chia for the cost of repairs, which both parties agreed to set at $20,000.

However, when it came to liability, each man blamed the other for the lunch-time bump.

Mr Rafin, represented by lawyer Joan Lim, argued that Mr Chia's vehicle cut into his lane from a bus lane on the left. He braked but could not prevent the collision, which damaged the front left portion of his car and the rear right corner of Mr Chia's.

Mr Chia countered that Mr Rafin's Porsche hit the rear of his car as it slowed down behind a cab.

The judge found, among other things, that the damage pattern on Mr Chia's car was more consistent with Mr Rafin's version of the accident. After a half-day trial in which he considered other evidence, such as the resting places of the two cars, District Judge Chiah Kok Khun found Mr Chia was 80 per cent to blame. But he held that Mr Rafin also contributed 20 per cent to the accident as he ought to have kept a better lookout to avoid the run-in.

After both parties had made their closing submissions in the case and the judge was ready to deliver his decision, Mr Chia applied to call the security manager of the Supreme Court as a witness in relation to footage that had been caught by the building's CCTV cameras but had since been overwritten.

In judgment papers released yesterday, the judge explained why he refused the application by Mr Chia's lawyer, Mr Narayanan Ramasamy. He noted no reason was given as to why the proposed witness was not called earlier to give evidence in the 18 months from the accident date to the trial's end. He added that the security manager's evidence would have involved his official duties whereas this was a private dispute and there was no indication whether official clearance had been given for such security-sensitive information to be used in the case.

Judge Chiah explained that the application had to be seen in perspective. "In the context of a claim arising out of a minor road traffic accident and involving the sum of $20,000, from the perspective of proportionality, there is much to be said for the finality of proceedings.

"The answer that the plaintiff could be compensated by costs holds less water in small-value civil cases, where overall costs should be proportional to the value of the claim." He added that the "proportionality principle" meant the "time and effort expended on a case should be proportional to the value of the claim, the importance of the case and the complexity of issues".

Additional evidence would have been " secondary" and "plainly run counter to the sense of proportion", serving to protract the case.

He noted that in Australia and New Zealand, "the proportionality principle was gaining traction", while in Singapore it is enshrined in the rules of court that took effect in November 2014 - after this suit commenced.

The judge added: "Allowing the belated application would result in restarting the trial and recalling the witnesses on an adjourned date."

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Acra to roll out new training programme for corporate service providers

Business Times
01 Jun 2016
Melissa Tan

[Singapore] THE local corporate regulator has taken further steps to prevent financial crime in Singapore, in the wake of a massive data leak on offshore trusts from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca that has claimed political scalps in countries such as Iceland.

The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) will soon require corporate service providers (CSPs) in Singapore to undergo a new training programme aimed at reducing their vulnerability to "illicit activities such as money laundering and terrorism financing", it said in a press release on Tuesday.

Its move came about a year after it rolled out a strengthened regulatory framework for CSPs in line with recommendations issued by the Financial Action Task Force, a body that sets global standards to fight money laundering and terrorism financing.

Acra chief executive Kenneth Yap announced the initiative in a speech to more than 400 CSPs on Tuesday at the inaugural CSP Conference at the Raffles City Convention Centre, the authority said.

Mr Yap said in his speech that there was "mounting global concern" over the possible abuse of financial systems and services for tax evasion, money laundering and terrorism financing. He added that CSPs, "who service a significant proportion of corporate clients here, are very much the first line of defence in the fight against such illicit movements of money".

"Continuing education is vital to upholding standards of the industry, providing practical knowledge to filing agents on how to discharge their professional duties, as well as apprising them of latest developments in the sector," he added, according to Acra's statement.

Separately, Acra also said on Tuesday that it would soon issue its first set of "interpretations" of how specific legislative provisions are to be applied in practice, adding that this would "help to provide practical solutions for non-contentious issues facing lawyers and corporate service providers without the need to clarify the law through litigation in court".

"One such interpretation relates to the amalgamation of foreign companies which Acra has already facilitated on a case-by-case basis for three foreign companies that have since amalgamated successfully," it said.

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Fugitive who fled to US jailed for over 3 years

Straits Times
18 Jun 2016
Amir Hussain

Judge metes out stiff term to man who posed as lawyer there, calling him a 'hardened liar'

A fugitive who fled Singapore in 2003, two days before his appeal against a jail term for forgery, and then settled in the United States and practised law for seven years using a bogus name was yesterday jailed for more than three years.

In sentencing Ng Chong Lin to 40 months behind bars for crimes relating to his departure, District Judge Lee Poh Choo said she agreed absolutely with the prosecution's call for a stiff penalty.

"There is an abundance of aggravating factors and zero mitigating factors. (Ng) committed the offences solely for his selfish benefit. His conduct of the trial showed his utter lack of contrition. There was no trace of remorse, even today...

"(Ng) spun tale after tale... As seen in his trial, and today, he remained devious, dishonest and had no integrity," she said.

The US authorities caught Ng out in 2010, and he was jailed for four years for, among other things, aggravated identity theft in impersonating an attorney. His fingerprints, sent to Singapore in 2013, revealed his true identity, and he was deported in May last year.

Ng, now aged 44, represented himself in a three-day trial last month contesting two charges - applying for a passport in June 2003 under the name of Wee Pui Kee, and then producing the misleading document that bore his photo but another person's name to an airport immigration officer.

Ng pleaded guilty last week to a third charge of leaving the country as a bankrupt.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Gregory Gan said: "(Ng) is clearly an unrepentant offender... and a substantial sentence is necessary to precipitate introspection and self-examination of (his) conduct."

The DPP noted Ng was jailed for three years for cheating offences in 1995; and given a jail term of three years and three months in 2003 for forgery and charges related to a company in which he was a director.

In mitigation, Ng claimed to have successfully applied to leave Singapore while on bail in 2002, but "overlooked" doing so the following year.

This prompted Judge Lee to tell him: "During trial, you consistently held that you did not know (about the fake passport), but now, you say you 'overlooked'."

The judge, in finding Ng guilty of his charges last week, said he blatantly lied during his trial and called him " an inveterate liar".

Between 2006 and 2009, Ng practised immigration law in New York using the name and registration of a real attorney to file documents to the federal authorities on behalf of individuals in immigration matters.

He also claimed to have attended schools in New York when he applied for temporary residence in the US in 2007.

His appeal against his 2003 sentence will be heard at a later date.

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MAS: No bank here received US$3b in 1MDB funds

Straits Times
09 Jun 2016
Grace Leong

No bank in Singapore received US$3 billion (S$4 billion) from a Goldman Sachs-arranged bond issue for scandal-hit Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the Monetary Authority of Singapore has found.

MAS was refuting a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report alleging Goldman Sachs had wired the US$3 billion from the bond issue arranged in 2013 to a 1MDB-controlled account at the Singapore branch of small Swiss private bank BSI.

The WSJ report said Mr Kevin Wong, Goldman's lawyer and a partner with law firm Linklaters in Singapore, had sent a note to Goldman bankers alerting them the money was to be sent to a private bank. The report, citing unnamed sources, said Goldman had checked the credentials of BSI SA and found no reason not to send money there.

However, the WSJ yesterday issued a correction, stating the US$3 billion went to 1MDB's account with BSI in Switzerland rather than the Singapore branch.

An MAS spokesman said yesterday that "no bank in Singapore received the US$3 billion wire transfer from Goldman Sachs in relation to the bond issuance for 1MDB".

Goldman Sachs, BSI and Mr Wong all declined comment.

On May 24, MAS moved to shut down BSI Bank's operations here over anti-money laundering rule violations, as its Swiss parent faces criminal proceedings in Europe over money flows from 1MDB.

The US authorities are probing Goldman Sachs to see if it violated anti-money laundering laws for failing to flag a suspicious transaction as funds of that size would typically go to a large global bank, the WSJ said. Half the sale proceeds allegedly transferred by Goldman Sachs to the Swiss bank account disappeared, with some ending up in Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's bank account, the WSJ said.

But Datuk Seri Najib's press secretary disputed the report, saying WSJ's "false allegations against Malaysia have been proven to be lies yet again, this time by" MAS. "Despite the gravity of their allegations, the WSJ gave no evidence at all to support their claims," Datuk Seri Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad said.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department, as part of a broader probe into 1MDB, are looking into the role of Goldman Sachs. The investment bank made about US$593 million from three bond sales in 2012 and 2013 that raised US$6.5 billion for 1MDB, according to media reports. That's above what banks typically make from government deals.

Meanwhile, 1MDB defended its liquidity position, saying it is "strong", after Moody's Investors Service on Tuesday withdrew the rating on 1MDB Energy's 5.99 per cent US$1.75 billion debt "for its own business reasons".

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Lawyer apologises to court for 'baseless' allegations

Straits Times
31 May 2016
Ng Huiwen

Lawyer Alfred Dodwell issued a written letter of apology to the Supreme Court yesterday for "baseless" allegations he made against the court following the execution of murderer Kho Jabing.

He did so after the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) pointed out to him that certain allegations he had made were in contempt of court and entirely untrue, an AGC spokesman said.

On May 21, the managing director of law firm Dodwell & Co LLC had written on his personal Facebook page: "If we invoke the supreme law of the land, the courts should not wave it away to hurry towards execution.

"It's a pity that we have the DPP (deputy public prosecutor) saying so and the judges saying so."

He also wrote: "Same judge sitting on most of the hearing and a challenge to his own ruling is mounted and expecting a different result is never gonna happen."

A day before, Kho, a Malaysian, was executed for bludgeoning a foreign worker with a tree branch while robbing him in 2008.

Mr Dodwell was among three lawyers who had launched multiple last-minute appeals in a bid to delay Kho's execution.

On the morning of the execution, the apex court had heard arguments from Mr Dodwell and lawyer Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, who each filed a civil application against Kho's death sentence, which was a criminal matter.

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin called the lawyers' actions "an abuse of the process of the court".

In his letter to Supreme Court Registrar Vincent Hoong yesterday, Mr Dodwell said he accepted that the allegations made in his Facebook post were "completely baseless and misleading, and in contempt of court".

He added: "I also accept that the allegations did not constitute fair criticism, and have scandalised the court."

He withdrew the allegations and apologised "unreservedly" to Judges of Appeal Chao and Andrew Phang Boon Leong, as well as the other judges of the Supreme Court. The apology was made public on his Facebook page.

Contempt of court is a serious offence that undermines the administration of justice, said the AGC spokesman. "It is an even more serious transgression when it emanates from an officer of the court, a practising lawyer."

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Club member to pay $60k for defaming another

Straits Times
17 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Judge considers aggravating factors in awarding costs for libellous online posts

A Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) member was ordered to pay $60,000 in damages and costs by a district judge who found that he had defamed a fellow member in the club's online forum.

Mr Liew Leong Wan, a retiree using the pseudonym "zoro", had wrongly accused Mr Lai Chong Meng of sending a viral e-mail with an attachment of a private investigator's report detailing two SICC staff members' activities in a forum posting in 2013.

He issued a further posting on the same day which gave the appearance of it being Mr Lai's alleged viral e-mail.

Mr Lai, an engineer and SICC member since 1993, responded on the following day, denying that he had circulated the report, and asked Mr Liew to retract the allegation and apologise.

In reply, Mr Liew asked Mr Lai to disclose who had hired the private investigator and why Mr Lai had allegedly used the report.

The stand-off sparked the defamation suit. But before that, Mr Lai applied to the High Court in December 2013 to order SICC to unmask the identity of "zoro" for the case to be pursued against him.

Mr Lai, represented by WongPartnership lawyers Edwin Cheng and Yu Kang Hao, then sued Mr Liew in the State Courts in 2014, seeking damages, costs and a court order to stop Mr Liew from repeating the defamatory statements.

Mr Liew, defended by lawyers P. Suppiah and K. Elangovan, denied any defamatory sting in his postings and claimed qualified privilege and fair comment.

However, District Judge Loo Ngan Chor, who heard the case in April, rejected this, finding that Mr Liew was not expressing comments based on facts.

In oral judgment grounds issued two weeks ago, the judge said that it is "quite plain" Mr Liew's postings had libelled Mr Lai.

"In their natural and ordinary meaning, they objectively had the effect of lowering the estimation of Mr Lai that right-thinking persons would have," the judge said.

He said Mr Liew had relied "too readily" on something he claimed someone else had sent him without verifying that this was reliable enough to accuse Mr Lai of being responsible for the viral e-mail.

The judge, who noted both were members of a leading Singapore country club, said to incorrectly say Mr Lai posted the viral e-mail was "seriously demeaning of (Mr Lai) as a gentleman". The club had 7,800 principal members who were potential readers, he said.

He ordered Mr Liew to pay $30,000 in general damages and another $15,000 in aggravated damages.

He said Mr Liew did not check the facts even when asked to retract and apologise and maintained his stand till the end of the trial. "The aggravating factors must have continued to hurt the plaintiff almost as much as the first insults."

He ordered a further $15,000 to be paid in costs by Mr Liew, plus reasonable disbursements.

Mr Liew's lawyer, Mr Suppiah, is applying in the High Court today for permission to enable his client to appeal the case..


GENTLEMAN'S REPUTATION HURT

The parties are both members of this leading country club in Singapore. The plaintiff is an engineer by profession. To say of him, incorrectly, that he posted a viral e-mail of the two staff with a PI report attached... was, in my view, seriously demeaning of the plaintiff as a gentleman.

DISTRICT JUDGE LOO NGAN CHOR, on the effect Mr Liew's statements had on Mr Lai's standing

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

A nudge for S’poreans to counter racial prejudice: Minority representation in the Elected Presidency

TODAY
09 Jun 2016

Safeguards for minority representation in the Elected Presidency (EP) will not impede Singapore’s vision of being a society where race has no bearing on what one can achieve. Rather, having these provisions will further entrench in society the value of multiracialism and demonstrate a commitment to ensuring minority representation, even when it entails changing the existing system.

The President is a unifying force in our multiracial society. As such, minority representation in the presidency is crucial. It cannot be coincidental that Singapore’s first three presidents were racial minorities: President Yusof Ishak, a Malay; President Benjamin Sheares, a Eurasian; and President Devan Nair, an Indian. It was only after we had three minority presidents that President Wee Kim Wee, a Chinese, was sworn into office.

At that early juncture of our nation building, it was important to symbolically position the multiracial character of our society through the presidency. The successive minority presidents amplified, both locally and internationally through the many ceremonial duties that they discharged, the positive regard that a majority Chinese population accorded to minorities.

Overall, the diverse racial representation of presidents emphasised that there were individuals of different races who could embody the best virtues of Singapore. Their portraits, as such, were worth beholding.

With the establishment of the EP, the system has required that citizens, and not Parliament, choose a competent individual who can, among other things, safeguard the national reserves and ensure the integrity of top civil servants. It is understandable that citizens would want the freedom to choose an individual who they believe would best perform these tasks.

However, the vagaries of elections may not serve our national interest of ensuring continued minority representation in the presidency. Although minority representation has never been explicitly spelt out in the Constitution as a necessary aspect of the presidency, there has been a long historical precedent to this and popular expectation which cannot be ignored.

As such, in my proposal to the Constitutional Commission on the EP, I called for a safeguard to the system. I proposed that if a particular race has not been represented in the presidency for a substantially long period, there should be a restricted election for candidates of that particular race.

MERITS OF A RESTRICTED ELECTION

Why the need for this provision?

First, there is a much smaller probability that a minority candidate for the EP meets the criteria necessarily imposed by the Presidential Elections Committee, simply owing to the demographics of Singapore’s population. This will automatically mean there will be fewer minorities who can stand for a presidential election.

There is little wisdom in removing the eligibility qualifications, such as the candidate having held significant positions that gave them oversight of large amounts of finances. Such competencies are crucial for discharging the office of the Elected President.

Second, we must acknowledge the reality that voters might be race conscious, even if Singaporeans generally assert that we function according to the ideals of our pledge “regardless of race, language and religion”.

In parliamentary elections, there are different and significant identities that a minority candidate can take on beyond his race, most prominently his party affiliation.

Voters who might be uncomfortable with their elected representative being of a different racial group may still vote based on the programmes and policies that the representative’s party aim to deliver.

The presidential candidate, however, does not campaign extensively and is non-partisan. Under these contexts, there is the temptation for voters to consider the race of the candidate and potentially the associated stereotypes .

For instance, a minority-race President might be viewed as being more interested in issues faced by minorities or not have sufficient gravitas compared with a majority-race President.

Research on race in Singapore does show that while the ideology of multiracialism is widely accepted, we are not free from racial prejudice. I am afraid that few distinguished minorities would want to enter into a contest where they are unsure if their race would be a factor in voters’ decision-making process.

Lack of minority-race president raises issues

It would be a great loss to Singapore if one of our main constituent races does not become represented in the presidential office for a long time.

That raises numerous issues, such as why that community has no suitable qualified candidates or whether some groups are only unelectable based on current systems.

It can foster perceptions of exclusion among minority groups who may feel that nobody from their community is deemed deserving of such high national honour.

By extension, it can, albeit inaccurately, amplify that their race is not sufficiently respected within Singapore. Such an outcome is disconcerting to the fabric of any cohesive society, unless systems are refined.

I much prefer that we do not have to resort to such systems, and that Presidents from all the main racial groups can be elected through successive unrestricted elections because there are sufficient pools of esteemed individuals from all communities who are well regarded by Singaporeans.

However, I think that it is unwise for us as a multiracial society not to pre-empt this risk and make provisions for them, especially when it is evident that our current system has not been able to produce a Malay President for many years.

The merits of a restricted election, which will allow us to see a President from an unrepresented racial group, far outweigh the concerns that such action will showcase the fact that some groups have difficulty becoming elected.

The population is more likely to notice that we have not had a President from a particular background for many years compared with how he or she became President.

Restricted election as stop-gap measure

By the same token, I am not inclined towards mechanisms that will automatically guarantee that minorities be elected, which some have argued for.

Their suggestions are to have a rotation of Presidents by their racial groups or a team of Presidents akin to the Group Representation Constituency system, where there will be sufficient minority representation.

My hope is that if we have to use the provisions of a safeguard to ensure the representation of any racial group in the presidency, it will be used only once and as a stop-gap measure. A President that comes through this mechanism will hopefully display to Singaporeans the dignity and competence that he or she has, and by extension, other qualified members of his or her community.

This then will be the much needed reference point in future elections in which Singaporeans might be tempted to consider the racial background of a presidential candidate. This will provide the nudge for Singaporeans to seek ways individually and collectively to counter any remaining vestiges of racial prejudice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mathew Mathews is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore. He leads the work of the Society and Identity research cluster.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Ex-tour guide ready to plead guilty, but disputes facts of case

Straits Times
31 May 2016
Toh Yong Chuan & Carolyn Khew

Yang Yin ready to admit to duping the authorities into granting him permanent residency here

The former China tour guide at the centre of a dispute over the assets of a wealthy widow appeared in court yesterday, ready to admit to duping the authorities into granting him permanent residency here.

But before he pleads guilty, Yang Yin, 42, is disputing a sentence in the statement of facts, or the prosecution's written account of what happened. The sentence was not disclosed in court.

The dispute emerged yesterday on the first day of the trial of Yang, who is facing 347 charges related to immigration offences and falsification of receipts.

The court was adjourned twice yesterday for his lawyer Wee Pan Lee and the Attorney-General's Chambers to negotiate the statement of facts. "It looks like we are on track for pleading guilty," Mr Wee told Deputy Presiding Judge of the State Courts Jennifer Marie.

Yang was arrested in September 2014 and charged a month later with a slew of offences, mostly falsifying receipts made to his company, Young Dance and Music Studio, so he can stay in Singapore. Yang, who has been in remand since October 2014 after he was denied bail, also faces charges for cheating as well as breaking Companies Act laws.

His most serious offences, however, are two criminal breach of trust charges over allegedly misappropriating $1.1 million from wealthy widow Chung Khin Chun. These will be heard next month and in July.

The high-profile case was first reported in 2014 when Madam Hedy Mok, the niece of the widow, commenced a series of legal actions against Yang in the High Court.

Yang got to know the 89-year-old widow when he acted as her private tour guide during a trip to Beijing in 2008. In 2014, Madam Chung was diagnosed with dementia.

Yang appeared in court yesterday in a purple remand uniform and had neatly trimmed hair.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Tan said that if Mr Wee and Yang are not prepared to accept the statement of facts without qualification, then the case will have to go to trial.

The prosecution has lined up 11 witnesses if the case goes to trial. Five were present yesterday. The hearing continues today.


Ex-tour guide Yang Yin tries to approach widow and her niece in court

He has not been seen or heard in public for almost two years since he was locked away in Changi Prison.

When former China tour guide Yang Yin was led into the courtroom yesterday morning, he was wearing purple overalls with the label "prisoner" on his back.

His hair was neatly cropped and his hands and legs were in chains.

"He seemed to have lost weight," said Madam Chang Phie Chin, a family friend of widow Chung Khin Chun, 89, who was in court.

Yang, 42, was standing trial yesterday for allegedly duping the authorities into granting him permanent residency. He has also been charged with falsifying receipts and stealing $1.1 million from Madam Chung.

Madam Hedy Mok, the widow's niece, has also sued him for allegedly manipulating the widow to control her assets, estimated to be worth $40 million.

Yang looked tense as he was led into the courtroom through a side door. He scanned the room for familiar faces and in the barely filled public gallery, he spotted two - Madam Chung and Madam Mok.

He tried to make eye contact and shuffled towards them, but Madam Mok waved him off and court marshals led him away. It was the first time in nearly two years that Yang and Madam Chung had seen each other.

Yang stood solemnly in the dock as his lawyer Wee Pan Lee was rapped by Deputy Presiding Judge of the State Courts Jennifer Marie for being late. Mr Wee apologised for being late and said he had to go for another pre-trial conference in the morning.

Mr Wee said Yang was prepared to plead guilty, but the lawyer asked for a short break to study the statement of facts that the prosecution gave him less than two weeks ago.

But the judge wanted to hear from Yang directly that he was prepared to plead guilty.

A female court interpreter whispered the judge's instruction to Yang and replied in English on his behalf: "I confirm, your Honour."

When Yang returned to the court after a one-hour break, he saw Madam Chung and Madam Mok again.

He walked towards them but was pulled away by court marshals. Losing his composure, he shouted at them in Mandarin: "Reflect on what you have done!"

Madam Mok held the arm of her elderly aunt and waved Yang away. They left after the morning hearing and did not return for the afternoon session.

Before leaving, Madam Chung was asked how she felt about seeing Yang. "I don't feel anything. I don't know what to think," she said.

Meanwhile, the tussle between Yang and the widow over her will looks set to continue.

In 2010, Madam Chung made a will in which Yang stood to inherit everything. But in April last year, the courts recognised a new statutory will that Madam Mok made on behalf of her aunt, under which most of the assets would go to charity.

Yang appealed on grounds of a procedural failure as the judge had denied his lawyers the chance to cross-examine witnesses who gave evidence to support the application for the new will.

The appeal was dismissed last month but Yang made a court application to be allowed to appeal again. A closed-door hearing was held last Friday, with the names of the parties unusually redacted from the High Court's public hearing list.

When contacted, the lawyers for Yang and Madam Mok declined to comment.

The Straits Times understands that the application was unsuccessful but the law allows Yang a final shot to take the appeal to the Court of Appeal.

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

Singapore to roll out more stringent tax reporting rule

Straits Times
17 Jun 2016
Yasmine Yahya

It will take effect next year and applies to MNCs with turnover exceeding $1.125 billion, says finance ministry

Singapore will implement a new reporting rule for multinationals whose parent entities are based here, as part of its commitment to deepen its involvement in the international campaign against corporate tax avoidance.

The Ministry of Finance said yesterday that Country-by-Country Reporting (CbCR) will apply to Singapore-based multinationals whose group turnover exceed $1.125 billion.

The rule will take effect for the financial year beginning on or after Jan 1 next year. Companies will have to file the report by filling out a template developed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore within 12 months from the last day of their financial year.

The template will require the company to disclose data such as its profits, revenues and taxes paid in each country it has operations in.

Ernst & Young Solutions partner Henry Syrett said companies that meet the threshold should start thinking about how to fulfil this rule.

"We've had dry runs with some companies and our takeaway is that companies should not underestimate how hard it can be to put all this information together. And once they compile the information they should look out for data that might be seen as controversial to other tax authorities, and be prepared to explain their numbers."

The implementation of CbCR here comes as Singapore joins the inclusive framework for the global implementation of the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Project spearheaded by the OECD and Group of 20 economies (G-20).

Base erosion and profit shifting refer to the practice of companies channelling their profits into a jurisdiction where they have little economic activity in order to benefit from that location's tax rates, which may be lower than the rates levied in the places where their operations actually take place.

Last year, the OECD set out a blueprint known as the BEPS Project to clamp down on the practice, and Singapore expressed its agreement with the plan.

By joining the inclusive framework, Singapore will become a "BEPS Associate", and will work with other participating jurisdictions to develop the implementation and monitoring phase of the BEPS Project

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in a statement yesterday: "Singapore is committed to working with the international community to counter artificial shifting of profits, and continues to welcome substantive economic activities.

"We will be actively involved with the OECD and G-20 in ensuring the consistent implementation of the BEPS standards across all jurisdictions, so as to ensure a level playing field."

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

A speed bump towards our multiracial ideals: Minority representation in the Elected Presidency

TODAY
09 Jun 2016

Before 1991, Singapore’s President played a symbolic role as Head of State and was appointed by Parliament, with a distinct purpose of ensuring that the position was rotated among members from the key ethnic communities of Singapore. As he represented the nation in his ceremonial and diplomatic roles, he could also be claimed to be a representative of his ethnic group.

In 1991, the President was given reactive executive power to veto the use of past national reserves, key appointments to the Civil Service presented by the Government, power over corruption investigations, detentions under the Internal Security Act, and injunctions issued under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.

These custodial powers, which still stand today, demand that the President receive a political, electoral mandate. Candidates have to be pre-qualified, such that their past work record should suggest they have the wherewithal to make those judgments when needed. Merit and voter consent, and the sense of how the candidates represent what Singapore stands for, now trump ethnic representation.

In recent months, a Constitutional Commission has been tasked to consider how ethnic representation can return as a key consideration to the presidential election system.

It is clear from proposals submitted to the Commission and public hearings it hosted that several groups and representors have strong feelings about this. Some suggested that the contest allow for groups of two or three people that include a minority candidate. Winners would then take turns being President. One suggested that ballot papers be differentiated by colour according to the ethnic identity of voters, so that the support of minorities is considered in deciding the victor.

Our colleague Mathew Mathews has suggested a system where if a minority has not been elected over a span of time, and eligible minority candidates qualify to contest in the upcoming presidential election, then this should be a reserved election for the ethnic minorities. The question is whether such suggestions are a nudge towards Singapore’s multiracial ideal as symbolised by our President or a speed bump to it. Our argument is that it is the latter.

For the singular and high-level role of the President, it is divisive to institutionalise an ethnic qualification for candidates even when this is provided as a contingency clause, as Dr Mathew suggests. It risks suggesting that a community’s members are only good enough to be elected via a reserved election. The process intended to empower the community may have the opposite effect.

It hardens the notion that some ethnic communities require the handicap, a notion yet to be tested since there have been only two full-fledged elections for the presidency since the new system was introduced. There is simply no data to show that any racial group is incapable of presenting suitable candidates.

On the other hand, an Institute of Policy Studies survey conducted after the 2011 Presidential Election found that 85 per cent of 2,000 citizen respondents said they were confident a candidate of a minority community could be elected as President through the existing system. The lowest level of assent was from respondents of the “others” ethnic category compared with those of other ethnicity, but even then, 75 per cent agreed it was possible.

Taking the contingent provision necessitates limiting the potential field of candidates, blocking potentially other capable candidates not because they cannot perform the role of President, but because they are of the wrong ethnicity in the wrong year.

Merit or ethnic representation are not mutually exclusive, but in such a system, we will make a decision for one at the cost of the other, and invite controversy for a long time to come.

The suggestions of dispersing the custodial role to one other or several other team members via Vice-Presidents or presidential councils present other challenges too. It suggests that Singaporeans can and should continue to vote for leaders on ethnic lines, and what is already a residual role will become even more complex.

Bosnia-Herzegovina’s presidency, which is comparable with these suggestions, is considered one of the most complex in the world and is justified as a means to ensure representation of the key ethnic groups in a society that has endured nearly two decades of civil war. Our situation does not justify such extreme measures and complexity.

Rotating the power among team members of one or two others over a term of two or four years is also sub-optimal for the symbolic, ceremonial, diplomatic role of the President. Singaporeans and foreign friends will have to keep track of who is President and rebuild cultural and diplomatic capital with a new person ever so often. Also, who should go first: The majority team member or the minority one?

Adding an ethnic criterion gives impetus for the office to take an ethnic tone. What expectations would be placed on the winner of a reserved election if the mandate is owed to his ethnicity? Must that President give special attention to his community due to the belief that future presidents will not?

The solution to the issue at hand is for all ethnic communities to nurture talented individuals who can develop a national standing based on merit, public service and their multiracial sensibilities. They must assure their more outstanding, well-regarded members that they will not be considered self-promoting or power hungry, but that they will be honoured for their offer of public service as President.

Excessive caution can be detrimental, but so can undue eagerness. The journey towards a multiracial ideal may seem endless, but it is certainly an act of gravity-defying faith given a world ridden with sectarianism. We must not feed that divisiveness here.

While we have the safety net for ethnic representation in our powerful legislature through the Group Representation Constituency system, we should be cautious of speed bumps and even tempting shortcuts for the singular role of President that will lead us to more dangerous paths. The destination is worth hurrying to, but the process of getting there will determine if we even ever arrive.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Gillian Koh is Deputy Director (Research) and Tan Min-Wei is a Research Assistant at the Politics and Governance research cluster at the Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Do Keppel and SembMarine need to raise Sete Brasil provisions?

Business Times
31 May 2016
Tan Hwee Hwee

THE US$221 million lawsuit filed by US-based fund house EIG Investment in Washington is widely seen as the start of a series of litigation that companies in the US would be pursuing against Petrobras as they seek protection from the long arms of the Federal Corrupt Practices Act to recover their investments in Brazil.

Keppel Offshore and Marine and Sembcorp Marine - as the named yards in the now bankrupt Sete Brasil's rig building contracts - could inadvertently be drawn into the ensuing legal battles. This after EIG reportedly added Brazil's engineering conglomerate Odebrecht SA and a few other shipyards - including Keppel Corp and SembMarine - as defendants in its suit. Sete Brasil is the rig-owning arm of Petrobras.

EIG was said to have alleged in its filing that Petrobras, along with the other named parties, misled the investment firm to invest over US$221 million of equity in Sete Brasil and that "through a series of misrepresentations and omissions directed at EIG, Petrobas fraudulently procured the funds' investment..."

Market watchers view the addition of defendants by EIG as a move to seek all possible means to recover its investment in Sete Brasil.

Along with mounting legal costs relating to Sete Brasil litigation, the latest development has renewed market talk on whether the two yard groups have made adequate provisions for their contracts with the troubled Brazilian rig owner. Observers are also not ruling out the possibility of the yards being named in more lawsuits from US-based investors in similar shoes as EIG.

In statements issued to The Business Times, Keppel and SembMarine said they have not been served claims relating to EIG's lawsuit.

Keppel and SembMarine may also be running up legal costs going after Sete Brasil and its seven subsidiaries responsible for placing the US$10 billion rig building orders with the two yard groups.

Suppliers such as Keppel and SembMarine are usually second in line after employees in staking claims over the assets of an entity being liquidated although this may be subject to the jurisdiction and the actual terms of the said contracts, IHS Principal Researcher Ang Ding Li said.

Lawsuits aside, the two yard groups may also seek redress from renegotiating for some rigs to be delivered to Brazil with a new chief executive Pedro Parente at Petrobras.

But analysts argued the chances are that Petrobras is unlikely to honour the terms of the combined US$10 billion in value of contracts Sete Brasil and its subsidiaries had signed with Keppel and SembMarine for the delivery of 13 ultra deep-water (UDW) rigs.

Mr Parente will have to align himself with Brazil's interim president Michel Temer, who is standing in for his now suspended predecessor Dilma Rousseff. The anti-corruption probe that strangled Sete Brasil's finances had been politically engineered to impeach Ms Rouseff's government. This being so, the incoming Brazilian administration will not like to be seen as endorsing what Ms Rouseff has done. Mr Parente and Mr Temer would therefore need strong justification to approve Sete Brasil's contracts, Maybank Kim Eng opined.

These would not be forthcoming considering the depressed state of the offshore drilling market. Icarus Consultants' Ian Craven believes Petrobras will at most take six of the 13 UDW rigs and even so, the Brazilian national oil company will want to cut the term charters from the 15-year tenure promised to Sete Brasil.

"Petrobras will surely want to lower the charter rates ... from the contracted US$530,000, (considering) a recent transaction saw rigs similar to the Sete Brasil units contracted at US$195,000," Mr Craven said. This would not bode well for Keppel or SembMarine given any new entity taking the place of Sete Brasil may seek heavy discounts in order to take delivery of any of the UDW rigs.

Keppel and SembMarine may wish to turn to the resale market if suitable terms cannot be agreed on for the Sete Brasil's UDW rigs. But the two yard groups would be hard pressed to go down this road given the latest transacted price for a UDW rig was US$65 million for a five-year-old Schahin drillship, the Cerrado, which was sold to a business interest of Greek owner George Economou. Some may argue that the Cerrado sale that was pegged to one-tenth of its rig-building price is a one-off deal that can hardly apply as a benchmark for distressed sales of UDW assets.

Yet, the completed Sete Brasil UDW rigs will have to join an extending queue of distressed drilling floaters that are up for sale. Mr Craven named seven UDW rigs, including Keppel's Can Do! Drillship, that are in the resale market. Six of these seven rigs that are either completed or in advanced stages of construction, are being built to more advanced technical specifications compared to the Sete Brasil units, the consultant said.

Citing data from analysts, he also flags the possibility of more UDW rigs joining the resale market, with 19 more units being built without contracts on hand. This is not least taking into consideration a build-up in the supply glut in the UDW segment as deep-water drilling activity slowed to a crawl. Mr Craven estimated 44 competitive UDW rigs are warm-stacked, 28 are cold-stacked and seven that are contracted are on standby instead of working in the field.

But Mr Ang from IHS argued that the resale option may still appeal to the yards so long as they can cover the total cost incurred so far in constructing the rigs. The biggest cost components of a rig building contract are manpower and equipment, which make up more than 70 per cent of the newbuild cost, according to Mr Ang.

Before Keppel and SembMarine can offer the Sete Brasil rigs for resale, the rig building contracts have to be terminated by either or both sides in order for the two yards to legally take ownership over the UDW rigs, one industry veteran said.

BT understands that the terms of a typical rig building contract would also call for the yards to refund some, if not all, downpayments from their clients especially on rigs that have not commenced construction.

According to a January 2016 Nomura analyst report, Keppel may have received US$1.4 billion and SembMarine another US$1.89 billion for the Sete UDW rigs that are under construction as of the end of 2014. A separately published interview with Keppel's group chief executive Loh Chin Hua confirmed Keppel has received 10 per cent in downpayments for three Sete Brasil rigs that are not in advanced stages of construction.

Keppel and SembMarine had announced provisions of S$230 million and S$329 million respectively for the Sete Brasil rig building contracts. Each of the two yard groups has two to three UDW rigs that are at least 60 per cent completed, according to Nomura in January this year.

Keppel had said at the time of making the Sete Brasil provision in Q4 FY15 that "it was made after (assessing) the situation including the construction progress, the amounts received, what is outstanding and the amounts (owed) to the vendors".

At its Q1 FY16 results briefing prior to Sete Brasil's bankruptcy announcement, Keppel further added: "We will continue to monitor the situation. For now, the provision remains adequate."

Whether Keppel and SembMarine would make further provisions for their respective Sete Brasil contracts remains to be seen. The second-quarter results briefings could probably shed more light on this matter.

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

SingPost unveils new code of conduct for directors

Straits Times
17 Jun 2016

Move comes in the wake of special audit which revealed corporate governance lapses

Singapore Post yesterday unveiled a code of business conduct and ethics for its board of directors in the wake of a special audit that found corporate governance lapses at the firm.

The company said it had also established new policies governing directors' conflicts of interest, and board renewal and tenure. The code and policies are intended to strengthen the corporate governance foundation of the company.

Mr Simon Israel, SingPost chairman, said: "The new code represents our commitment as directors of SingPost to the highest standard of business conduct and personal integrity. It is about substance over form and respect for the spirit of the code. The code sets the tone and will help frame the board's discussion of the recommendations from the corporate governance review."

SingPost has seen a succession of resignations, including that of former chief executive Wolfgang Baier in December. Chairman Lim Ho Kee stepped down in April.

Drew & Napier and PricewaterhouseCoopers were appointed by SingPost to carry out a special audit after it emerged that board member Keith Tay was a shareholder and chairman of the financial adviser to three freight forwarders the postal services provider bought in 2013, 2014 and last year.

In their summary report, the auditors found that Mr Tay, who has since stepped down, was "arguably in breach of section 156(1) of the Companies Act" for not declaring his interest in the 2013 acquisition of Famous Holdings "as soon as practicable".

Last month, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority said it was probing possible Companies Act breaches by SingPost.

In its statement to the Singapore Exchange, SingPost said that ensuring compliance with the code will be the responsibility of the Nominations and Corporate Governance Committee.

Formerly the Nominations Committee, the terms of reference of this committee have been amended to include the oversight, development and review of SingPost's corporate governance practices.

The firm's Code of Business Conduct and Ethics will serve to guide directors on areas of ethical risk and sets a framework for an environment where integrity and accountability are paramount, SingPost said.

It contains enhanced directives on identifying and disclosing conflicts of interest; maintaining confidentiality; compliance with laws, rules and regulations; fair dealing; and setting a framework for reporting illegal and unethical behaviour.

Suspected violations of the code are to be reported promptly to the chairman of the board and the chairman of the Nominations and Corporate Governance Committee. These will be investigated and appropriate action will be taken in the event of a violation of the code.

The policy on directors' conflicts of interest sets out principles to guide directors in instances of actual or potential conflict of interest.

The policy serves to foster a culture of honesty and accountability; focus the board and its directors on areas of ethical risk; and provide guidance to directors to help them recognise and deal with ethical issues, SingPost said.

The Securities Investors Association of Singapore (Sias) welcomed SingPost's willingness to strengthen its corporate governance foundation.

"No amount of rules and policies can ensure an incident-free environment in a company, but what is expected would be an honest and transparent approach by the board and senior management in dealing with the default, should it happen," said Sias president and chief executive David Gerald.

"That the board and the senior management will always do what is right for the company and its shareholders must be the assurance for all concerned," he added.

SingPost shares yesterday ended one cent lower at $1.55.

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

Speakers' Corner: Exemption terms to be reviewed

Straits Times
09 Jun 2016
Yuen Sin & Tiffany Fumiko Tay

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday that it will be reviewing the exemption conditions for Speakers' Corner "to make it clear that foreign entities should not fund, sponsor, support or influence such events" held there, among other "further steps" that will be taken.

However, no action will be taken against the foreign corporate sponsors and event organisers of this year's Pink Dot event in relation to foreign corporate sponsorships, the MHA said yesterday.

The ministry had earlier said it will "take steps to make it clear that foreign entities should not fund, support or influence" events held at Speakers' Corner, like the annual Pink Dot event last Saturday. When asked what constituted a foreign entity, it declined to comment.

Now into its eighth year, the annual Pink Dot rally calls for the freedom to love regardless of sexual orientation. This year's event attracted 18 sponsors, twice as many as last year's. They included multinational corporations such as Google, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Apple, Facebook, Bloomberg and BP.

The MHA reiterated yesterday that "the Speakers' Corner is meant for Singaporeans to speak and demonstrate without a permit, if certain exemption conditions are met".

"These include no participation by foreigners. As had been stated in our earlier statement, this restriction applies, for example, to both events which are organised to support the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) cause, as well as to events which are organised to oppose that cause."

Contacted about the MHA's earlier statement, Goldman Sachs said it is reviewing it.

A Pink Dot spokesman said on Tuesday that the event has seen support from Singaporeans from all walks of life, including "a significant portion of its corporate citizens".

"Our corporate sponsors that have supported us over the years are all registered and incorporated in Singapore," said the spokesman.

In pushing for greater visibility for the LGBT community, "we have done all we can to ensure Pink Dot SG stays within the law", he said.

Attendance at Pink Dot rose from 2,500 in its first year in 2009 to 28,000 last year.

Yuen Sin

Tiffany Fumiko Tay

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Separate roles of regulator, operator of stock exchange: Forum

Straits Times
31 May 2016

Mr Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan's letter ("List of ailing firms not enough to protect shareholders"; May 23) brings back the old concern of many market commentators that the role of the regulator and the operator of the stock exchange should be separate.

This is an obvious conflict of interest that the Singapore Exchange (SGX) cannot resolve.

The fact that this proposal has not been adopted after so many years tells me that the authority might have some difficulty in implementing it.

So, I suggest a compromise - that the listing committee be formed by independent members who hold no fear or favour for the profitability of SGX. This committee should be refreshed for every initial public offering. Members appointed should have experience in the field of the company holding the IPO.

Mr Loh also observed that "of the 20 firms that have been suspended from trading, more than half are China-based".

This implies that in addition to industry knowledge, the independent appointees need to have knowledge and experience of the local market where the companies are based.

I have not invested in any S-chip because of my work experience in China and India. These markets are very different, and the businessmen there have a very different mentality from those in Singapore.

We cannot adequately protect our retail investors if we continue the current procedures that invite problems even before the company is listed.

If the regulator has problems getting qualified independent appointees for the committee, I suggest that it looks to the many retired professionals, managers, executives and technicians, who have years of experience behind them and who lost any potential conflict of interest after retiring from active involvement in business.

Geoffrey Kung

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Ex-lawyer guilty of practising while disbarred

Straits Times
16 Jun 2016
Elena Chong

He had been struck off rolls in 2012 after complaints, but gave legal advice to Chinese nationals the following year

A former lawyer who holds the dubious record of having the most complaints filed against him was convicted yesterday of providing legal advice to some Chinese nationals when he was not authorised to do so.

Leonard Loo Peng Chee threw in the towel after 24 days of his court hearing. He had contested charges of acting as an advocate and solicitor, abetting in a conspiracy with a man to solicit clients on his behalf, and abetting a Chinese national to intentionally obstruct the course of justice.

The 45-year-old had had 15 years of experience when he was struck off the rolls in 2012 by the Court of Three Judges for professional misconduct.

The Law Society had received 14 complaints from his clients and the courts, covering at least 86 instances of misconduct, including dishonesty. The litany of complaints against him included his being ill-prepared to argue his cases, being late for court hearings or not showing up, and not complying with court directions.

Earlier this week, Loo indicated his wish to plead guilty. Yesterday, he admitted to four charges under the Legal Profession Act (LPA).

Even though he was not authorised to provide legal advice by then, in November 2013, he provided legal advice and prepared legal representations to the authorities for Ms Zhao Kejing, 24, Ms Luo Guangzhen, 24, and Ms Luo Chunyan, 26, and legal advice to Ms Xie Xin Xin, 27. Three other charges, including another under the LPA, will be taken into consideration when he is sentenced later.

Loo ran a business called Qilin Immigration and Manpower Services Bureau to carry out labour contracting services in immigration, visa, manpower and employment matters.

A district court heard that Ms Zhao was arrested for vice-related activities on Nov 20, 2013, and was referred to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) for repatriation. Her landlord gave her Loo's contact number and said Loo was a lawyer who could help her.

The next day, when Loo met Ms Zhao at a bar in Balestier, her friend asked if he was a lawyer but he did not reply.

He then asked about Ms Zhao's case. She told him she hoped he could help her get her passport back from the authorities without a ban on her return to Singapore.

Loo said he could help her file an appeal, which would cost $800.

After Ms Zhao had engaged Loo, he met her at the Police Cantonment Complex and showed her the appeal letter, which she signed and submitted .

They went to ICA to apply for an extension of her special pass. There, he asked her for $800, but she had only $400 with her. She gave it to him. She paid another $200 later, when he asked for the balance of his fees.

Loo also gave legal advice and drafted letters for Ms Luo Guangzhen and Ms Luo Chunyan, who were arrested for vice-related activities on Nov 19, 2013.

The duo's friend, Ms Xie, who went along to meet Loo, sought his advice on how to get her social visit pass extended. Loo said he would write to the ICA but told her it was unlikely that she would get a one-month extension.

She paid him $800, but later got the money back when she decided not to engage him.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Anandan Bala and Quek Jing Feng sought an adjournment to make written submissions on sentencing.

District Judge Jasvender Kaur adjourned the case to Aug 12.

The maximum penalty is a $25,000 fine and six months' jail for each charge.

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Traffic Police clerk pleads guilty to graft

Straits Times
09 Jun 2016
Amir Hussain

She gave accident victims' contact details to law firm in exchange for money

A clerk working at the Traffic Police investigation branch provided the contact details of 23 accident victims to an executive at a law firm in exchange for cash, a court heard on Tuesday.

Over two years, Khatijah A. Manap got at least $2,500 from Gulzar Raja Singh Sandhu - about $200 for each contact who eventually engaged his firm, Clifford Law.

On Tuesday, Khatijah, 61, pleaded guilty to three graft charges and five charges of wrongful communication of information under the Official Secrets Act.

She admitted to five other corruption charges and 18 other wrongful communication charges. These will be considered when she is sentenced at a later date.

A district court heard that Khatijah was employed as a corporate support officer in charge of recording the movement of Traffic Police investigation papers.

In 2008, she got into a traffic accident and was referred to Raja by a relative of hers. He, in turn, introduced her to his daughter, Ms Viviene Sandhu, a lawyer at Clifford Law.

Khatijah told Raja that she was working in the Traffic Police investigation branch.

She also saw him a few times at work, when he went there to buy official copies of traffic reports.

In 2010, after she had received the payout for her accident claim, she was approached by Raja at the Traffic Police headquarters.

He asked her to work with him. A few days later, she agreed.

Her offences came to light when a man who had been involved in an accident in early 2013 called the Traffic Police hotline to ask about the status of investigations into the crash.

He was connected to Khatijah's office line and left his particulars for a call-back.

Shortly after, he got a call from an "Azizah" claiming to be from Clifford Law. She advised him to consult Ms Sandhu if he wished to seek compensation and said she could arrange a meeting with a paralegal called Raja.

The man previously had got a call from "Azizah" about seeking compensation after he lodged a report in early 2012 for an accident in which he was involved.

So after the call from "Azizah" in 2013, the man called Khatijah to ask her why she had disclosed his number to an outsider. She told him she was "Azizah".

He then reported the matter.


Over two years, Khatijah A. Manap got at least $2,500 from Gulzar Raja Singh Sandhu - about $200 for each contact who eventually engaged his firm Clifford Law.

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Nike manager colluded with design firm to cheat company

Straits Times
31 May 2016
Elena Chong

A Nike manager arranged with the owner of a design and installation services firm called D3 - which was doing work for Nike - to inflate her claims from the sports goods maker.

This was to cover unauthorised personal expenses incurred by her and two colleagues at Nike.

Between 2012 and 2014, Joanne Cheong Sook Yin submitted 154 inflated invoices from D3 to Nike, which then paid out $77,546 more than it should have.

She has made full restitution.

Yesterday, the 36-year-old was jailed for five months after admitting to 22 charges of using inflated D3 invoices to deceive Nike. Another 132 charges were considered.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew said that since 2011, Nike had been engaging D3 to attach three external temporary workers to Nike to work on its projects.

D3 could make reimbursement claims from Nike for expenses incurred by the three workers in the course of their work at Nike, as well as for their salaries.

D3 would submit the claims and invoices to Cheong, who would then submit them to the finance department.

Cheong was aware then that Nike's employees were not allowed to make claims through D3.

Some time in 2012, she decided to make illegitimate claims from Nike, for herself and two colleagues, through inflated D3 invoices.

These reimbursements would cover personal expenses that did not relate to work.

After collating receipts for the expenses incurred by herself and two colleagues, she gave them to D3's owner, Ms Anne Gan Chai Bee.

Ms Gan would inflate the firm's invoices by including the amounts in the receipts from Cheong and her two colleagues.

After Nike disbursed the funds to D3, money would be given Cheong and her colleagues.

The offences were uncovered after the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau received a tip-off from someone who heard from one of Cheong's two Nike colleagues that Cheong had a dubious arrangement with Ms Gan.

Cheong, represented by Mr S. Balamurugan, could have been fined up to $100,000 and jailed for up to five years for each charge.

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Rifle group sues gun club president for defamation

Straits Times
16 Jun 2016
K.C. Vijayan & Jonathan Wong

SRA seeks damages for remarks over closure of shooting centre

The Singapore Rifle Association (SRA) is suing Mr Michael Vaz, a prominent figure in the local shooting scene, for alleged defamation, seeking damages for remarks made after the National Shooting Centre was closed following a police probe earlier this year.

In court papers filed on Tuesday, the rifle association said Mr Vaz, as president of the Singapore Gun Club (SGC), had issued two statements via e-mail and its website to club members in March which alleged that the association was to blame for the centre's closure, among other things.

SRA said the website announcement could have been accessed online by many users. The defamatory words were republished through a download link for a document posted in March on a public Facebook group, which remained accessible.

Mr Vaz is also president of the Singapore Shooting Association (SSA), the national authority for shooting.

His lawyers from Bih Li & Lee have given notice to defend against the suit.

Yesterday, Mr Vaz said: "I am contesting because I carried out my duty towards SGC members as president and I find it unconscionable that SRA should interfere with SGC affairs."

He claimed the closure of the shooting centre had caused "mass confusion" among members. "I carried out my duty as president and merely presented the facts as I saw them to give SGC members comfort that all was in order."

The suit against Mr Vaz follows another High Court suit filed by the rifle association last month against SSA for allegedly breaching the Constitution and attempting to suspend the rifle association's privileges - claims denied by SSA.

In February, SportSG - the national sports governing body - had closed the shooting centre following an arms audit by the Police Licensing & Regulatory Department at the armouries of the SGC and the SRA. The police seized a number of arms due to serious licensing irregularities and launched a probe. The shooting centre is still closed.

The High Court suit by SRA seeks damages, an injunction and costs from Mr Vaz. It follows his rejection of a demand letter issued last week by SRA's Drew & Napier lawyer Wendell Wong.

Mr Vaz, through lawyer Anthony Lee, countered that the statements referred to were "fair comment".

The fallout comes just ahead of the SGC's annual general meeting (AGM) tomorrow, where Mr Vaz is expected to face a challenge to his post as president.

He believes the suit was filed at this time to boost SRA-linked candidates running for key SGC posts. "My view is that if the members of SGC feel the person challenging me for president can do a better job, so be it," he said.

It is understood that there are SGC members who are concurrently SRA members and vice versa. An SRA spokesman said it is not involved in the AGM and that "the case is about due process".

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'True friend' of the court dies suddenly

Straits Times
08 Jun 2016
Elena Chong & Felicia Choo

Colleagues said he was "fit as a fiddle", and planning a trip to Kuala Lumpur for his father's memorial service. The sudden death yesterday of criminal lawyer Louis Joseph, 61, a familiar face in the State Courts, shocked them.

His wife said he became unwell close to midnight after he had gone to bed and was taken to hospital, where it was said he suffered a heart attack.

Ms Sylvia Khoo, 62, said her husband had been taking medication for diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Mr Joseph's colleague, Mr Mathew Kurian, managing partner of Regent Law, informed the court of his death yesterday as he applied for a sentencing matter handled by Mr Joseph to be adjourned.

District Judge Mathew Joseph said that he was deeply shocked and saddened.

"Louis Joseph has been a good friend of the court. He has displayed exemplary professionalism in the conduct of his cases before this court, and I have nothing but the highest regard for him," he said.

He said the court had lost a "true friend'' who was fearless in promoting the interests of his clients, while also according due respect to the court and the prosecution. "We will miss him dearly," said the judge.

Mr Joseph had appeared often in court, in particular the community court, acting for young offenders.

The Malaysian lawyer was called to the Singapore Bar in 1990. He held several jobs after that, teaching at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, working as in-house counsel in London, and for Senior Counsel Harry Elias before joining Regent Law four years ago as an associate.

At Regent Law, he handled most of its criminal matters, the most recent being the conviction of a man for unlawful stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act.

"We have lost a good friend and his departure has left a vacuum in our lives," said Mr Kurian.

Lawyers expressed shock at his unexpected death and described him as a gentleman who was always willing to help someone.

Mr Ramesh Tiwary, a sole proprietor, said Mr Joseph "always had a smile for people'' while Mr Kalidass Murugaiyan of Trident Law recalled how his friend would oblige by mentioning cases on his behalf when he was engaged in other court matters.

Aside from his wife, Mr Joseph leaves behind a daughter, Maria.

Ms Joseph, 28, a museum professional, said he was an excellent father who was always around.

"My dad wanted me to do what I like and I was interested in art, history and heritage," she said.

Ms Khoo said he was a devoted husband who loved to cook. She said they had been looking forward to the break in Malaysia because he had been working quite hard.

A wake is being held for Mr Joseph at St Teresa's Church in Kampong Bahru. His funeral is on Friday.

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Making decisions as a board: minimising circular resolutions

Business Times
30 May 2016
Ng Wai King

No reason why a board can't meet, even urgently, to discuss a vital issue

GIVEN the push to enhance corporate governance standards, non-executive directors are spending more time than ever to better understand the issues that affect the company's business. Indeed, they are generally expected to attend board meetings at least every quarter, sometimes every two months. This is in addition to their commitment to committee meetings. Collectively, this adds up to a significant amount of time and resources, especially if the company is actively engaged in corporate transactions.

In this context, to expect directors to meet on every decision is not reasonable, especially where it is administrative in nature. For instance, where the board may have already discussed and formed a preliminary view on a decision pending confirmation of certain facts by management, a further meeting may be unnecessary if the subsequent information addresses the earlier concerns and does not change the preliminary view.

For this reason, the practice of using written resolutions occurs in almost all publicly listed or private companies.

However, for several reasons outlined below, it is nevertheless important that they be used sparingly and only if it is absolutely appropriate - such as for routine matters that cannot wait till the next board meeting, or matters that the board is already aware of, and it is merely a case of getting the final formal approval for, say, annual accounts.

More to the point, the Code of Corporate Governance requires the board to meet regularly and as warranted by particular circumstances, while the SID's Statement of Good Practice No 7 on "the roles, duties and responsibilities of the independent director" encourages independent directors to regularly attend board meetings.

The case against written resolutions

The concerns about circular written resolutions occupy several dimensions.

For starters, it is incontrovertible that corporate governance standards can be maintained only if directors come together regularly. If physical attendance is not possible, particularly where the matter is sudden and urgent and many directors are not available, many companies now permit the use of telephone or video conferencing.

Secondly, there is a very real risk that the written resolution "disguises" issues about which management wants to avoid discussion or scrutiny. For that reason, directors should never shy away from asking for a board meeting or, at the very least, a briefing paper whenever they are faced with a circular resolution that they feel deserves closer consideration or more detailed deliberation. In fact, good practice requires the circular resolution be accompanied with detailed background information and that the resolution be tabled for noting at the very next board meeting.

The third point to make is that there may be circumstances where the board should reconvene if, in the absence of important missing information, it cannot reach an informed decision. A subsequent board meeting enables directors to voice their supporting or dissenting views for the benefit of other board members. Such robust discussion, which can never take place through the mere circulation of written resolutions, lends itself to better corporate governance at the board level.

The mechanics of signing off on a written resolution

Above all, the board needs to understand why and when it will allow a decision to be made by written resolution, instead of having a prior, full and frank discussion of the issues.

In this regard, some companies require all directors to sign off on a written resolution before it takes effect. Others may only require a simple majority of directors, while some older companies stipulate that only directors who are present in Singapore are eligible to sign off.

And sometimes, where there is a joint venture, the decision-making process through written resolutions is particularly restrictive to ensure that no one shareholder takes advantage of the process simply by reason of having more nominated directors on the board.

From a practical perspective, the board should refrain from acting on a circular resolution (even though the requisite number of signatures have been obtained) until all directors have responded one way or another. This allows a dissenting director to raise questions or objections that may cause directors who have already voted to change their minds, or at least pose their own questions. If the matter is urgent, management should indicate the deadline by which it requires a response, while providing enough time to allow directors to mull over the issue. If necessary, management should speak to individual directors to talk through the resolution.

Closing the circle

It is important to stress that circular written resolutions are not "bad" necessarily - only that they should not be a regular (let alone routine) practice. They can never replace the need for a forum where views are shared, knowledgeably debated and deliberated before a decision is reached. Indeed, with increasingly sophisticated telephone and video conferencing facilities, there is little excuse why a board cannot meet, even on an urgent basis, to discuss an issue.

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

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Man jailed over $3.2m used-car scam

Straits Times
16 Jun 2016
Amir Hussain

Dealer's de facto boss gets seven years' jail for cheating 71 buyers, 14 sellers, 4 finance firms

From a Lexus GS300 and a Porsche Boxster to a Geely CK and a Chery QQ, a range of cars paid for by 50 buyers between January 2013 and February last year were repossessed by finance companies.

Unbeknown to the buyers, the second-hand cars had not been registered under their names.

Used-car dealer Cars Today had been running a scam and defaulted on the repayment of loans, which it had taken to buy the cars.

In all, the company cheated 71 buyers, 14 sellers and four finance companies out of a total of $3.16 million in money and cars.

The buyers and sellers lost at least $1.42 million in total.

Yesterday, the company's de facto boss Poh Chee Tiong, 62, an undischarged bankrupt, was jailed for seven years.

He had earlier pleaded guilty to 33 out of 168 charges, most of which were for cheating.

He admitted to the remaining 135 charges and these were considered in sentencing.

District Judge Salina Ishak, in her brief grounds of decision, said: "(Poh) had caused significant monetary harm and great inconvenience to his victims."

She noted, among other things, that there were 89 victims - buyers, sellers and finance companies - and the offences were committed over a long period.

"(Poh) had planned a systematic and elaborate scam to cheat the customers and creditors of Cars Today; (he) committed the offences for personal benefit as he wanted to expand Cars Today's operation and fleet of cars," added the judge.

The court heard that Poh was the sole owner of used-car dealer Car Kingdom between 2007 and 2009, but he was made bankrupt in 2009.

In July 2011, he told his wife Liew Foong Lin, 46, to register Cars Today in her name. Poh solely managed the company.

To get loans to buy cars, Poh would enter into flooring agreements with finance companies.

Under each such agreement, Cars Today would transfer the registered ownership of a car it bought to its financier, so that the finance company would have the right to repossess the car if the dealer defaulted on its loan repayment terms.

When the used-car dealer bought a car on credit, it was supposed to inform the finance company of the price at which it bought the car, and sell the car and repay the loan as soon as possible, lest more interest accrue.

But Poh wanted to expand Cars Today's business and fleet of cars, and also increase its cash flow.

So, unknown to its buyers, it did not transfer the ownership of cars to them after they had paid for and collected the vehicles.

In some cases, Cars Today would buy a car and sell it, and thereafter apply for a loan under a flooring agreement. It would thus get a loan and transfer the car's ownership to the finance company, instead of the buyer who had already collected it.

Cars Today also forged documents to mark up the purchase price of cars, deceiving its financiers into giving out larger loans as a result.

Poh even roped in his son, Poh Ee, 28, then a manager at Cars Today, to do this. Between December 2013 and December 2014, Poh Ee made changes to 18 copies of sales and purchase agreements that sellers had signed, marking up prices at which the cars were bought.

Sellers, meanwhile, were cheated into delivering their vehicles to Cars Today, thinking the company would settle their outstanding car loans. But Cars Today did not.

After delivering their cars, some sellers still had to pay road tax and insurance premiums because they were still listed as their cars' registered owners.

Poh's wife and son have been fined $3,000 and $15,000 respectively for their crimes.

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Fugitive who posed as lawyer in US found guilty

Straits Times
08 Jun 2016
Amir Hussain

Sentenced to jail in 2003 for forgery, he used bogus identity to get passport, leave S'pore

After fleeing Singapore two days before his appeal against a jail term for forgery in 2003, a 31-year-old man settled in the United States and practised law for seven years using a bogus name.

The US authorities caught out Ng Chong Lin in 2010, and he was jailed for 48 months for, among other things, aggravated identity theft in impersonating an attorney.

His fingerprints, which were sent to Singapore in 2013, revealed his true identity, and he was deportedin May last year.

Yesterday, Ng, now 44, was found guilty for offences relating to his departure.

He had represented himself in a three-day trial last month on two charges - applying for a passport in June 2003 under the name of Wee Pui Kee, and then producing the misleading document which bore his photo, but another person's name, to an immigration officer at Changi Airport.

District Judge Lee Poh Choo, in her brief grounds of decision yesterday, said Ng had blatantly lied during his trial and changed his story when confronted with evidence.

"I find the accused's account to be a diverting tale suitable for social entertainment," said the judge. "His story was fraught with inconsistencies and devoid of logic. The accused was not credible at all. He was an inveterate liar."

During his trial, Ng said he remained in the US because he was stranded with a wrong passport.

He claimed that throughout the various stages of his departure - when he applied for the passport, collected it, bought his plane ticket, during check-in and going through immigration at the airport and boarding the plane - he did not notice the name and particulars on the passport were not his.

He said he realised the error only after he arrived in the US and was filling in the immigration form.

He said that it was in the course of his legal work, under the name of Daveng Wee, that he realised the US authorities could help him return to Singapore.

He contacted them and reported to them for voluntary repatriation last May, he said.

But the judge said that since Ng's passport, valid for six more years, was being held by the police back in 2003, he must have known that he would not be issued with another one.

She also noted that one of Ng's bail conditions was that he was not to leave Singapore.

"(Ng) said he was stranded in the United States for 12 years, during which it never crossed his mind to seek assistance from the Singapore Embassy. During this period, he attended courses, married and earned a good income," she said.

She added: "Clearly, he had no intention to return to Singapore."

Ng yesterday also pleaded guilty to a third charge of leaving the country as a bankrupt. He will be sentenced at a later date.

Between 2006 and 2009, Ng practised immigration law in New York using the name and registration of a real attorney to file documents to federal authorities on behalf of individuals in immigration matters.

He also claimed to have attended schools in New York when he applied for temporary residence in the US in 2007.

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Reviewing the elected presidency: Yes to minority provision but how?

Straits Times
29 May 2016
Charissa Yong

At all four public hearings by the Constitutional Commission that is reviewing aspects of the elected presidency, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon repeatedly asked one question.

Phrased in different ways but no less pointed each time, its essence was: Is it all right for there not to be a minority president for a very long time?

CJ Menon, who chairs the commission, directed this question, more than once, to law experts, academics and law students who were discussing how to ensure minorities are represented in the office of the President.

Minority-race representation is one of the three areas being reviewed by the Constitutional Commission, and the topic most hotly discussed at the four public hearings.

Consensus was rare and there were no easy answers. While most speakers broadly agreed on the need for minorities to be represented, they were deeply divided on how to achieve it.

Some preferred a system where certain elections were reserved for candidates of specified races, while others preferred candidates to run in multiracial teams.

But many were disturbed by what they saw as a form of affirmative action, although others accepted it as a necessary price to pay.

Two broad categories of proposals on how to ensure minority representation emerged.

The first was to occasionally restrict presidential polls to minority candidates, while the second was to have presidential candidates run in teams, with at least one candidate per team being of a minority race.

The Sunday Times examines the merits and downsides to the proposals raised at the hearings, as well as the concerns raised then.

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION OR NOT?

The fact is that Singapore has not had a Malay president - or even a Malay candidate for president - since the elected presidency was set up in 1991. Its only Malay president, the late Mr Yusof Ishak, was appointed to the office after Independence.

Singapore, from 1999 to 2011, had an Indian president, Mr S R Nathan, who was elected unopposed in 1999 and 2005.

In 2011, all four candidates in the presidential election were Chinese.

The relative scarcity of presidents and candidates from minority communities is a problem, agreed most.

Referring to how portraits of Singapore's president are displayed in public buildings, Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews told one of the hearings: "If you grow up and all these pictures on the wall are not your ethnic group, there is a perception that people who look like me will never be there."

That is not a good position for Singapore to be in, he added.

Arguing for the necessity of an institutional fix, Dr Mathews said that society is not race-blind, although that might change in time.

He cited an IPS survey he helmed in 2013, which showed that about 18 per cent of the 2,000 Chinese respondents said they were not comfortable with a Malay or Indian boss.

This was in contrast to about 7 per cent of Chinese respondents who were not comfortable with a Malay or Indian colleague.

This suggested that Singaporeans are not race-blind, a pattern mirrored in the findings of a 2007 Nanyang Technological University report that in the political sphere, Indians were consistently preferred over Malays for the positions of MP, Prime Minister and President.

But several individuals at the hearings were adamant that tweaking the elected presidency was not the solution, arguing that doing so was tantamount to affirmative action.

This went against the principle of meritocracy, as much a pillar of Singapore as multiracialism, they said.

Moreover, giving minority candidates a boost risked undermining those who get into office that way.

IPS deputy director of research Gillian Koh explained: "The moment you institute this, you are saying certain communities cannot make it and they require certain help."

The winner of an election reserved for a minority community might be regarded as a token representative and lack gravitas and political legitimacy, she and IPS research assistant Tan Min-Wei added.

But Dr Mathews disagreed, arguing that an individual could prove these perceptions wrong once in office, if he performed well.

Weighing in on the concerns, former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan said that any change to the elected presidency to ensure minority representation would necessarily involve affirmative action of some sort.

"I think the very fact that we're looking for some special way in which minorities can be represented or can become president already is an admission that we need to have something special," he said.

A CASE FOR CLOSED ELECTIONS

The first category of proposals raised the idea of closed, or reserved, elections.

Under this system, if there has been no president from a particular minority group for a number of terms, the next election will be reserved for candidates of that group.

This was the broad idea behind Dr Mathews' proposal, and an element of Mr Dhanabalan's as well.

A key feature of this system is that it would have "a natural sunset", said CJ Menon, noting that the provision for a closed election would not be invoked if a minority president is elected in an open election.

"If society develops along certain lines (and) we become less and less aware of race, then you won't need to invoke the provision," he said.

The advantage, posited CJ Menon, was that such a system allowed Singapore to continue striving to become race-neutral, while ensuring that the races would be represented at least periodically in the office.

"You allow the system to wind its way towards a situation where the goal, at the end of the day, is race neutrality," said CJ Menon, wondering aloud if it was the "least obtrusive" way of doing so.

Seen in this light, having a closed election as a last resort would function as a failsafe or "safeguard", as Dr Mathews put it.

Some objected to the idea of ringfencing voters' choice this way.

Political science academic Loke Hoe Yeong said that if the Government designates that an office be contested only by candidates of a certain ethnicity, "it could be perceived as being very undemocratic".

Human rights group Maruah said in its submission that introducing racial criteria for the presidency runs against the principle of treating all Singaporeans equally "regardless of race, language or religion", as laid out in the National Pledge.

JOINT TICKET SYSTEM

Others preferred instead a Group Representation Constituency (GRC)-style process for the presidential elections, where two or three members - with at least one minority member - run for the office as a team.

The winning candidates could rotate the seat of President between themselves, with their teammates serving as vice-president or on the Council of Presidential Advisers in between.

Such a joint ticket system was proposed by Mr Dhanabalan, who suggested two-man teams for every third presidential election, and by others including Eurasian Association president Benett Theseira.

One advantage is that Singaporeans are already familiar with the GRC system, albeit for parliamentary elections.

But Professor Chan Heng Chee, a member of the commission, asked whether this system would leave a minority candidate open to the criticism that he was there on the coat-tails of the majority candidate.

Mr Dhanabalan replied that any GRC arrangement could not escape such criticisms, but thought that closed elections went too far.

A QUESTION OF PALATABILITY

Which proposal the commission decides to recommend could come down to a question of palatability, and Singapore might even see a mix of elements of both.

Members of the commission noted that both proposals could be seen as restricted elections in essence, with CJ Menon remarking: "It's really a question of palatability, isn't it? Because in substance, it comes down to the same thing."

But if that is the case, the sunset clause system seems more appealing. For one thing, it acknowledges the importance of representation in the office of the presidency.

It also avoids any possible upheaval that might result from having a rotating team of presidents with terms shorter than the standard six years, as would be the case for a GRC-style system.

Most importantly, it would be a failsafe instead of a normal state of affairs.

The irony of such a system would be that it would be created with the hope that it would never have to be used. And if the clause never kicked in, that would be a success.


AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

I think the very fact that we're looking for some special way in which minorities can be represented or can become president already is an admission that we need to have something special.

FORMER CABINET MINISTER S. DHANABALAN


To emphasise political or financial acumen?

When the first presidential election was held in 1993, enabled by changes to the law in the preceding years, concerns were raised about the stringent qualifications required for candidates.

Spelt out in the Constitution was that aspirants must have held, for at least three years, key positions in the public or private sectors. Members of Parliament had wondered then if this would narrow the field too much.

Twenty-three years and three elected presidents later, the same concern has again cropped up as a Constitutional Commission considers if the eligibility criteria should be updated.

At the four public hearings held on the review, opinions were split about doing so. But there was a consensus among both camps - that whatever changes made should not lead to too few people qualifying.

JOB SCREENING

Article 19 of the Constitution lists the various qualifications a president must have.

It states, among other things, that a candidate must be a person of integrity, good character and reputation.

If he is from the public sector, he must also have served in key positions, such as as a minister, chief justice or permanent secretary.

And if he is from the private sector, he must have held, for at least three years, the post of chairman or chief executive officer at a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million.

Taken together, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in January when calling for the review, the eligibility criteria are meant as a proxy for determining if a candidate has the experience and competence required for the job.

The president's tasks include protecting Singapore's national reserves and the integrity of the public service, and acting as a check on the Government in its investigating and detaining of people.

The criteria, the Government had said in 1990, amounted to a job screening of sorts. Regular job applicants are subject to similar screening, so what more a person aiming for the highest office in the land, it said.

And as the complexities of the job have increased, the criteria are due for an update.

Over the years, the national reserves that the president safeguards have grown, said PM Lee. Central Provident Fund savings alone, which make up a part of the reserves, stood at $275 billion last year. In 1990, they were $41 billion.

But a small number of those who spoke at the hearing begged to differ.

They argued that it is political acumen, and not financial judgment, that a president must possess to do his job well, as he is merely empowered to say yes or no to items like the Government's Budget and use of the national reserves.

In such "binary decisions", said constitutional expert Kevin Tan, what matters more is whether a person has the stomach to go against the whole government machinery.

Qualifications that focus on measuring a person's financial knowledge thus do not have to be set so high, he said.

Some others, like rights group Maruah and the Association of Women for Action and Research, felt such criteria should be dropped altogether.

THE $100 MILLION QUESTION

Those in favour of tightening private-sector requirements suggested raising the company paid-up capital threshold to ensure that aspiring candidates have the right experience.

If they have run large and complex companies, they would likely be more adept at dealing with complex financial decisions, they said.

Most did not suggest a specific threshold, but several pegged it at $500 million.

Lawyer Ranvir Kumar Singh arrived at the number using as a benchmark, Singtel, which he deemed a large enough company. The telco's paid-up capital value had gone up five times since the elected presidency was implemented in 1991, he said.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the higher threshold would capture the top 0.2 per cent of firms here - the same proportion captured in 1991, when the threshold of $100 million was set.

Executive chairman of listed Raffles Medical Group Loo Choon Yong suggested it should be $500 million in shareholders' funds or net tangible assets instead, since these measurements more accurately reflect a company's actual financial strength.

He also suggested that only those running publicly listed companies should be considered, as these are subject to scrutiny by regulators and the public.

However, others said that whether a candidate has the right experience cannot be determined just by looking at the size of the companies he has run.

To get at the substance of his corporate role, factors such as annual revenue and number of employees should also be taken into account, said former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan, who is a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers and the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.

When the experience was acquired also counts, said Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) deputy director of research Gillian Koh and IPS researcher Tan Min-Wei.

To qualify, candidates should have held their posts within the past 10 years, to ensure that their skills, knowledge and experience are still relevant, they said.

SMALLER POOL

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan and Eurasian Association president Benett Theseira warned against shrinking the pool of eligible candidates too much, especially for minority race groups.

Commission members noted that the pool had grown since the 1990s.

If a presidential election were called now, the head honchos of at least 2,145 firms could potentially qualify to run. During the first presidential election in 1993, there were only about 100 such firms which met the $100 million threshold. (These CEOs and chairmen would of course have to pass muster in other ways, too).

So just how big should the pool be?

None at the hearing had a ready answer when asked by Chief Justice Menon, who chairs the commission.

If the threshold were raised to a paid-up capital of $500 million, 503 out of a total of 294,700 companies here would be captured, statistics from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority show.

How this would affect minority-race candidates, though, is uncertain. But if Singapore's racial make-up is any indication - Chinese made up 76.2 per cent, Malays 15 per cent, Indians 7.4 per cent and other races 1.4 per cent of the population in June last year - there could be more than 100 potential candidates from the minority races.

LASTING CRITERIA

But while is it important to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of suitable candidates, the size of the pool should not be the determining factor in setting the eligibility criteria, said Chief Justice Menon.

"You can't set the criteria by looking at the individuals and say I think at this level we will have so many suitable candidates...

"If the view is that the criteria should be updated, then surely we shouldn't resist doing so for the sake of minorities," he said.

He added that the paramount consideration for whatever eligibility criteria should be to ensure that candidates have the experience and competence needed to fulfil the president's duties.

To satisfy these requirements, substituting the fixed paid-up threshold with a mathematical formula to calculate the threshold may be the way to go. The absolute number can then be worked out each time a presidential election is due.

This would help the eligibility criteria keep pace with the scale and complexity of the job, said Dr Koh who suggested it.

It would perhaps also satisfy an aim of the commission: to draft a constitutional provision that can withstand the test of time.

Tham Yuen-C


A stronger council of advisers?

If there is one area of the elected presidency that law experts seem hesitant to tinker with, it is the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).

At the four public hearings last month and this month, proposals on how to ensure minority representation or review the criteria for presidential hopefuls came fast and furious.

But there were far fewer ideas on how to strengthen the CPA, one of the three tasks of the Constitutional Commission set out by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in January.

Those that were floated fell into two broad categories:

First, raise the bar for members of the CPA - an uncontroversial suggestion, seen mostly as a formality.

Second, increase the number of matters on which the president must consult the CPA.

But here, experts and the commission were uncertain about whether - and how - to beef up the powers of the CPA in situations where they disagree with the president.

KEEPING THE CPA SEPARATE

The commission was keen to keep the CPA as a separate body from the president so that this independent body could continue to advise, and act as a second goalkeeper.

The CPA has six full members.

Of these, two are appointed by the president at his discretion, two are nominated by the Prime Minister, one by the Chief Justice, and the last by the chairman of the Public Service Commission.

Lawyer Ronald Wong wanted two of the six CPA members to be elected by Singaporeans. The six would then get together and vote for one of them to be the president.

Law firm intern Brian Chang proposed a two-person presidential ticket in which one candidate would have to be of a minority race, adding that the second candidate could be a co-president or vice-president and serve as CPA chairman.

But the commission was concerned that blurring the lines between both institutions would weaken the CPA's ability to act as a check on the president, if needed.

DBS Group Holdings chairman Peter Seah said: "Will it not dilute the independence of the CPA if the head of the CPA runs on the same ticket as the president?"

This concern for independence recalled PM Lee's speech in January, when he said it was important for Singapore's political system to continue to be protected by a team rather than a single person.

Together, the president and the council play the roles of "a goalkeeper together with a team of defenders", he added then.

BALANCE OF POWER

But what happens when the CPA and the president are not on the same page?

PM Lee had also asked if the CPA's advice should count for more than it does now when the president makes decisions.

One possibility he mooted was for Parliament to be given the power in more situations to override the president, if he goes against the council's recommendations.

Now, the president must consult the CPA before exercising some discretionary powers, like before he approves proposed drawdowns on past financial reserves.

If the CPA disagrees with the president's decision in these cases, Parliament has the ability to override it if at least two-thirds of elected MPs vote to do so.

But in other cases, the president can choose whether or not to consult the CPA. In these cases, the president's word is final even if he decides not to accept the CPA's advice.

The Eurasian Association suggested that the scope of matters on which the president must consult the CPA could be widened.

But mandatory consultation is one thing; overriding the president once his mind is made up is another.

Several at the public hearings were very wary of giving more weight to the CPA's recommendations by allowing Parliament to override the president.

They pointed out that the CPA is an unelected body, unlike the president, who has a direct mandate from Singaporeans.

"It would make our governance system unstable if the CPA is the real power behind the Istana," said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan in his submission.

The Workers' Party, which was not at the hearings, said in its written submission to the commission that the Government's suggestion to expand the powers of the CPA "may add another layer of gridlock" to the political system.

Instead, speakers at the public hearings favoured strengthening the CPA by raising the eligibility criteria for its members.

They pointed out that the minimum eligibility criteria for CPA members, as spelled out in Article 37(D) of the Constitution, are fairly basic and even less strict than that for the president.

They have to be Singapore citizens and reside here, as well as be at least 35 years old.

Others also suggested that the Constitution detail specific skills that these members should possess, such as financial expertise.

Speakers noted that the CPA's members, to date, have been more than qualified to carry out their duties, even as they wanted the stricter criteria written into the law.

This principle of "better safe than sorry" is a good one to keep in mind, as the commission considers how to accommodate the possibility of differences arising between the president and his council.

"We have been fortunate so far," Associate Professor Eugene Tan said, referring to the quality of the CPA. "But we shouldn't leave it to chance."


PRESIDENT MUST RETAIN POWER

It would make our governance system unstable if the CPA is the real power behind the Istana.

SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY LAW DON EUGENE TAN, on the suggestion for Parliament to be given the power in more situations to override the president if he goes against the CPA's advice.

Charissa Yong


Some would scrap system altogether

While the Constitutional Commission's review parameters have three specific aspects - eligibility criteria, the role of presidential advisers, and providing for minority races - a fourth, left-of-field suggestion was also raised.

At the public hearings held by the commission, some played the devil's advocate and said the elected presidency should be scrapped altogether. Some suggested returning to the original system of having a nominated president, and radically changing the election procedure.

The ideas surfaced even though Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had made it clear that such proposals would not be on the table.

Announcing the impending review at the opening of Parliament in January, he said: "The President must remain an elected office. If the President is not elected, he will lack the mandate to wield his custodial powers."

SEPARATE ROLES

However, this did not stop Raffles Medical Group executive chairman Loo Choon Yong from saying, at one of the hearings, that the president should not be expected to shoulder the dual tasks of being both a ceremonial head as well as guardian of Singapore's reserves.

As he put it, it is unrealistic to expect one person to be a unifying force as the symbolic head of state, and play what is essentially a divisive role if he has to stand up to the government in his role of custodian of the national reserves.

"You want this guy to be the nice guy, unifier, and then you want him to have what it takes to tell a roguish prime minister, 'Hey, leave our assets alone.' I think these (requirements) call for different chemistries," Dr Loo said.

To resolve this contradiction, both roles should be separated, he said, advocating a return to the pre-1991 system when the president was elected by Parliament, but with a twist.

Under his proposal, Parliament would elect the president, and a separate Council For Review would be set up to safeguard Singapore's reserves, with the chairman of the council elected by voters.

In this scenario, the president's role would largely be ceremonial and administrative - similar to the monarch in Britain, whose executive powers are limited by the Constitution. He would focus on receiving foreign diplomats, gracing important functions, and signing laws into effect.

MINORITY REPRESENTATION

Returning to the old system would also allow Parliament to balance the responsibilities of the elected presidency with the need to ensure that Singapore has a minority president from time to time, said constitutional law expert Kevin Tan.

To him, it was "no accident" that Singapore's first president was Mr Yusof Ishak, a Malay. He was followed by Eurasian Benjamin Sheares, then an Indian president, Mr C. V. Devan Nair, and after that, a Chinese president, Mr Wee Kim Wee. An elected system would not be able to guarantee this important aspect of the presidency, he said.

POLITICAL PROCESS, NON-POLITICAL ROLE

Making the presidency an elected office also introduced politics into the mix, said lawyer Rey Foo.

Several people at the hearing said the elected president is selected through a political process, even if the office itself is meant to be non-political and non-partisan. To win the election, candidates would have to campaign for votes, make speeches and promote themselves.

Of course, not all the presidential elections have been contested. Of the four polls held since 1993, two were uncontested. But the last presidential election in 2011 was so politicised that some candidates made unrealistic promises to gain traction with voters, several people said.

Out of the four candidates, two made spending promises outside the president's powers. They pledged to press for an allowance for the elderly, and to channel funds to schools and hospitals if they were to approve spending from the reserves, for instance.

This confused voters, especially some who seemed to believe that the president had the power to provide checks and balance on all government matters, said Dr Loo.

To avoid this, in-house legal officer Edwin Yeo proposed a "hybrid system", combining aspects of appointing and electing a president.

He suggested that a presidential council could be set up to identify one candidate, in consultation with the prime minister. After the candidate is approved by Parliament, Singaporeans would vote for him by casting "yes" or "no" ballots. This avoids the divisiveness of pitting candidates against one another, he said.

NO TURNING BACK?

Then again, several commission members wondered if Singaporeans today could accept a return to the old way of having Parliament elect a president.

"We are in the world of participation now. Individuals want to participate and they want to have a say," said Professor Chan Heng Chee, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Commission members also said that an elected president derived his "moral authority" from the people's mandate, and would be seen as independent.

On the other hand, some might argue that since Parliament comprises elected representatives, there is an embedded mandate in getting the House to choose a president.

Dr Tan said "just because someone is nominated and not elected does not deprive him of his independence", adding that people appointed to key roles would typically act accordingly.

For Dr Loo, the review is an opportune time to consider the adoption of a simpler system.

He said that given the 46 amendments to the Constitution over the last 25 years that reduced the President's custodial powers, the constant recalibrations showed that "combining these two jobs into one is not the best (move)". His parting shot: "Do it courageously."


CONTRADICTORY DEMANDS

You want this guy to be the nice guy, unifier, and then you want him to have what it takes to tell a roguish prime minister, 'Hey, leave our assets alone.' I think these (requirements) call for different chemistries.

RAFFLES MEDICAL GROUP EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN LOO CHOON YONG, on what's expected of an elected president.

Tham Yuen-C

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

Closed vote not the only way to ensure minority EP

TODAY
16 Jun 2016
Eugene K B Tan

How to ensure that minorities can be periodically elected, if we have not had a minority President for some time, is probably the most controversial term of reference for the high-powered Constitutional Commission chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

The intent and outcome of having a minority President, especially one exercising custodial powers, is laudable. It is a powerful statement of our multiracialism for a Chinese-majority country to elect a non-Chinese as head of state. But how we go about doing so is crucial.

To use race as a pre-qualifying condition to contest in a restricted election is to effect affirmative action. Dr Mathew Mathews argued in TODAY last week that such an election method would be a “nudge” to be used only as a last resort when “a particular race has not been represented in the presidency for a substantially long period”.

But this strikes at the heart of our meritocracy. Further, given the President’s custodial powers, the electoral system must enable all who are qualified to contest. It also perpetuates the belief that the majority of Chinese-Singaporeans discriminate against non-Chinese Singaporeans, even for the august office of the head of the state.

We would not ask for the position of Prime Minister or Chief Justice to be rotated among the races. If a minority gets a leg-up to the highest office, questions will arise as to his political authority, legitimacy, and standing — compromising the minority President’s ability to properly and faithfully execute constitutional, community and ceremonial duties.

His mandate and moral authority to say no to the Government would be weakened. We should not have the President handicapped by the “but for” question: Would he be the President but for the closed contest?

Ultimately, a restricted election would undermine the presidency as a symbol of national unity.

In making the presidency an elected one, a significant trade-off is that the office could no longer be rotated among the different races as it was in the past. This is a circle that probably cannot be squared. Merit must come ahead of race if the presidency is to command authority, authenticity and respect.

The term of reference also presupposes that only minorities can be a symbol of multiracialism, undermining the essence of our multiracialism.

President Wee Kim Wee, a Peranakan Chinese, was much beloved and respected by all Singaporeans, demonstrating that being from the majority race is not a barrier to being a symbol of multiracialism. Similarly, our first President, Yusof Ishak, played a critical role in restoring trust and confidence among the races in the aftermath of the 1964 race riots, one of the most tumultuous periods in Singapore’s modern history.

It was what President Yusof Ishak did and not his ethnicity that enabled him to transform the office of the head of state into a symbol of our multiracialism. In a sense, he initiated an invented tradition, an important one, no doubt. What was common among our ceremonial presidents (the others being Benjamin Sheares and Devan Nair) was their being active and exemplary practitioners and promoters of multiracialism. They infused into the presidency the spirit and soul of multiracialism in Singapore.

I do recognise the abiding importance of multiracialism in the raison d’etre of the presidency and to safeguard it as a respected institution of multiracialism. In my submission to the Constitutional Commission, I proposed that for a presidential candidate to be elected, the individual must secure the most number of votes among all the candidates and poll a threshold minimum proportion of votes (for example, between 30 to 40 per cent) from the minority races (individually or collectively).

This can be done through an alternative preferential system where voters rank the candidates in order of preference. Each voter has one vote, but rather than mark an X, he indicates a “1” for his first choice candidate, a “2” for his second choice, a “3” for his third choice and so on. The candidate with the least first preferences is eliminated first, and the votes are allocated to the other candidates according to the second-preference choices indicated on the ballot papers for that eliminated candidate. This process continues until one candidate meets the requisite thresholds and is elected.

This will maintain the current electoral system of the simple plurality election and candidates contesting individually, but require candidates to secure as many second preferences. In turn, they need to unequivocally demonstrate that they have the credentials to be a symbol of multiracialism by appealing to all races.

Multiracialism becomes a key component of the candidate’s overall merit that voters have to consider and assess. A candidate will need to win substantial, if not majority of, support from all component racial groups in Singapore in order to be elected. This approach is sustainable, authentic and meaningful.

This mode of election prevents the presidential election from being premised on race. A restricted election will invariably bring race into the election, unnecessarily politicising the office of the Elected Presidency.

It may also give rise to the belief that a minority group has a legal right for one of its own to be elected President.

Furthermore, voters might decide that there is no necessity or urgency to vote for an electable minority candidate since the system will provide for a minority President in regular intervals if one is not elected.

It has been tritely repeated that Singaporeans tend to vote along racial lines. However, without empirical evidence, we run the risk of perpetuating this alleged voting behaviour as a fact.

To be sure, race, religion and language remain fault lines in our society. But we must not pander to these centrifugal forces. Instead, we should endeavour to rise above our prejudices, stereotypes and weaknesses. The electoral system can and should a play a part in this regard.

If Singaporeans do vote along racial lines, then the appropriate response is to work on getting Singaporeans to shed that behaviour so that minority candidates can compete on an even footing with ethnic Chinese candidates. To give in to racial discrimination would be an indictment of our multiracialism. Efforts should also be made to encourage suitably-qualified minorities to step forward and seriously consider running for the presidency.

No amount of constitutional tinkering or engineering can remove a racial or even a racist mindset and disposition in electoral behaviour. Rather, we need to design an election process in which candidates and the electorate alike consider how their electoral behaviour and their votes would be in the individual and collective self-interest, thus entrenching multiracialism.

This way, we can safeguard the presidency as a true symbol of national unity and ensure our multiracialism is sustainable, rather than one that is artificially supported and imposed by constitutional fiat.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eugene K B Tan is associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law.

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