12 December 2017
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Comprehensive framework to ensure foreign workers' well-being: Forum

Straits Times
11 Dec 2017

We are heartened by the concerns of Dr George Wong Seow Choon (Legislation needed to take care of foreign workers; Nov 29) and Mr Jeffrey Law Lee Beng (Do more to protect those who report errant employers; Nov 29).

We agree that our foreign workers deserve a safe and fair environment to live and work in.

This requires the Government, employers, accommodation providers, employment agencies and the foreign workers themselves to play their parts.

We have progressively strengthened our laws and policies governing the fair treatment of foreign workers.

In addition to a safe work environment, employers are required to provide their work permit holders with upkeep and acceptable accommodation.

Employment agencies owe a duty of care to the foreign workers whom they place, and are prohibited from overcharging.

Accommodation providers such as dormitory operators are also required to abide by standards on sanitation, space norms and amenities like Wi-Fi.

Coupled with a robust inspection regime, complaints on housing conditions have decreased from about 580 in 2014 to about 440 in the first 11 months of the year.

In the past five years, about 40 employment agencies have been prosecuted or issued with composition fines or warnings for overcharging.

Over the same period, about 160 employers have been prosecuted for salary non-payment, and 26 for providing substandard accommodation to their foreign workers.

Foreign workers must play their part too.

They have multiple channels to report employment issues, and should do so as early as possible.

Since the setting up of the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management in April, we have assisted more than 2,000 foreign workers to recover their unpaid salaries in full.

Foreign workers who are being sent home before their claims are settled can inform our immigration officers at the checkpoints, who will assist in referring them to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Foreign workers are informed of this right when they arrive here.

Action will also be taken against employers who attempt to send their workers home without settling all outstanding claims.

We work closely with non-governmental organisations like the Migrant Workers Centre to ensure that the well-being of foreign workers is not compromised during the claim period.

We also work with partner agencies to help take care of our foreign workers' social needs.

We have facilitated the setting up of dedicated foreign worker recreation centres, which provide alternative gathering spots and amenities for their use.

The MOM is committed to protecting the rights and interests of all workers.

Those with information on illegal recruitment and workplace practices can call MOM on 6438-5122 or e-mail mom_fmmd@mom.gov.sg

All information will be kept strictly confidential.

Kevin Teoh

Divisional Director

Foreign Manpower Management Division

Ministry of Manpower


In the past five years, about 40 employment agencies have been prosecuted or issued with composition fines or warnings for overcharging.

Over the same period, about 160 employers have been prosecuted for salary non-payment, and 26 for providing substandard accommodation to their foreign workers.

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Starbucks loses claim against dairy firm logo

Straits Times
01 Dec 2017
Lester Hio

Its argument that Morinaga Milk's logo looks too similar to its own is rejected by Ipos

A Japan-based dairy firm can register a trademark for its line of milk coffees after an opposing claim made by coffee giant Starbucks was thrown out by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos).

Morinaga Nyugyo Kabushiki Kaisha, better known as Morinaga Milk, filed a trademark registration for its Mt Rainier line of milk coffees and lattes for sale in Singapore in October 2013. The black-and-white circular logo, with the Mt Rainier branding over a silhouette of the mountain bearing the name in the US city of Seattle, came under contention.

Starbucks opposed the registration on the grounds that it looked too similar to its circular, green-and-white mermaid logo. It said the use of similar concentric circles was central to its brand recognition.

The Seattle-based coffee company also said Morinaga's logo made a "direct reference" to Seattle, which is strongly associated with the coffee and cafe culture and is known as Starbucks' birthplace, according to judgment documents.

Morinaga was represented by lawyer Lim Siau Wen, while Starbucks was represented by lawyers Melvin Pang and Nicholas Ong.

In judgment grounds released last week, Ipos intellectual property adjudicator Lorraine Tay found no similarities between the two logos.

The concentric circles are not distinctive identifiers of Starbucks, she said. "It is a very simple device which is reduced to being part of the background and cannot on any count be considered to be a dominant feature." The "outstanding and dominant features" of Starbucks' logo "are the word 'Starbucks' and the mermaid device", which are more visually distinctive and associated with the company.

She also dismissed Starbucks' arguments that Morinaga's use of Mt Rainier was intended to deceive the public into thinking the company's milk coffee came from Seattle.

The association of the mountain to Seattle is not a direct one, she said. Instead, she said the logo title served an informative function of naming the mountain on the logo, rather than to evoke an association with Seattle.

It is also unlikely that coffee drinkers here will make the connection so readily. "Even if Mt Rainier is an iconic symbol of Seattle, the evidence does not establish that the average Singaporean would make this link or connection with Mt Rainier," she said.

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Medical council promises speedier prosecution of errant doctors

Straits Times
24 Nov 2017
K.C. Vijayan

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has promised to reduce delays in prosecuting errant doctors, following criticism by the Court of Three Judges in a recent case.

The court had remarked on the "inordinate delay" in prosecuting gynaecologist Jen Shek Wei for professional misconduct.

The SMC ascribed the delay to a "confluence of various factors", including the time taken to probe the complaint and prosecute the case.

"The SMC... will continue to refine its processes to reduce delays," it said in response to queries from The Straits Times. It added that it had already taken some steps in this direction earlier this year.

Last week, the court dismissed Dr Jen's appeal against an SMC disciplinary tribunal which found him guilty of removing a patient's left ovary without her informed consent, and of advising her to remove a mass from her ovary without adequate evaluation or investigation of her condition in August 2010.

The disciplinary tribunal suspended Dr Jen for eight months and fined him $10,000 last year. On appeal, however, the court held that Dr Jen's suspension should have been doubled instead.

But the sentence was discounted in order to reflect the "inordinate delay" of three years it took for the SMC to issue the notice of inquiry in July 2015, and the total of about six years for the case to reach the appeal hearing from the date of the complaint in 2011.

The SMC told The Straits Times that a complaint against a doctor is first probed by a complaints committee (CC) comprising two senior doctors and a layman, who take up the case on a voluntary basis.

The investigations in Dr Jen's case, including interviewing witnesses and seeking expert views, took 15 months. Once the case was referred to the disciplinary tribunal, solicitors were engaged, and medical records reviewed, and the process took another 20 months.

The SMC said that some parts of this process could have been shortened, and it would try to ensure greater efficiency in future cases.

It added that the tribunal took around 18 months to hear the case over several tranches and come to a considered and reasoned decision.

The SMC said it "appreciates the need to expedite fair and just disposal of medical disciplinary cases while exercising due care and even-handedness".

"Some of the steps taken since early 2017 include improving the complaints process to help CCs address complaints more easily and providing stronger secretarial support to the CCs to expedite the investigation process." It said the effects of these new measures would take some time to kick in.

Dr Jen, 62, who has been in practice for 28 years, had faced two charges following a woman's complaint in 2011 that he had advised her to undergo surgery to remove a pelvic mass without carrying out further evaluation and investigation of her condition when further assessment was indicated.

In the operation to remove the mass on the ovary, he had instead removed her left ovary without her informed consent, which breached SMC guidelines. The patient, a 34-year-old finance manager, found out only when she saw another doctor.

Asked by The Straits Times about the six years taken to conclude the case, Dr Jen said: "Of course it has affected me, it is like a guillotine always hanging over my head."

The employees at his clinic are looking for new jobs as he will be suspended for eight months.

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Unjustified attacks do huge disservice to police: Minister

Straits Times
11 Dec 2017
Ng Huiwen

Unjustified attacks made against the police should be rebutted, as these do a huge disservice to the officers in blue who put their lives at risk to keep Singapore safe, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

"In many countries, unjustified attacks on police have eventually led to the weakening of law enforcement," he wrote in a Facebook post.

"We do not intend to let that happen in Singapore. And I believe that the vast majority of Singaporeans support our approach to maintaining law and order," he said.

In another post, Mr Shanmugam addressed online criticism of police tactics used during recent raids on illegal brothels near Rowell Road.

Speed and surprise are key elements during raids, and the police "cannot be expected to knock on the door, and wait for a response", Mr Shanmugam said.

"What do we expect - the gangsters (who might be present) will open the door, and politely admit to their actions? And even if gangsters are not present, we expect the women involved to be cooperative?" he added.

He explained that the police wear masks during such operations to hide their identities, as the syndicates behind these illegal brothels would retaliate, if they can.

He added that he had been quite puzzled by the criticism directed at the police, and "the deeply flawed, misplaced sympathies" for those in the vice trade.

Sharing further details of the case in his post, he said that there had been complaints about the sex workers in the area, with a syndicate seemingly in operation.

During the raid last Friday, more than 20 people - all foreigners - were arrested, including a 16-year-old male sex worker. One suspect injured himself while trying to escape.

Many of them were transgender sex workers, he said, adding that the police are concerned about human trafficking as well.

While the operations were ongoing, the police had noticed a woman filming a video, he added.

She later made a post online accusing the police of "wasting taxpayer money, terrorising women". The post has since been taken down.

In response, Mr Shanmugam said: "Would she prefer that police didn't do anything? (Would she) like the sex workers to continue soliciting for customers along the roads and bringing them into HDB estates among our families and children? What about the exploitation of underage youngsters?"

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Ex-MD of CSE-Transtel fined for insider trading

Straits Times
01 Dec 2017

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said yesterday it has taken action against Mr Tarek Abdel Tawab Mohamed Abdel Bary for insider trading in the shares of mainboard-listed CSE Global.

Mr Tarek Bary has admitted to contravening the Securities and Futures Act and will pay MAS a civil penalty of $423,000, after agreeing to settle the matter out of court. In addition, he is liable for $61,457.90 in legal costs and disbursements.

He has also given a voluntary undertaking not to be a company director or be involved in the management of a company for a period of two years with effect from Dec 18.

In August 2011, CSE Global reported a loss of $7 million in its second quarter. It stemmed from cost overruns linked to four projects undertaken by the engineering firm, including two projects in Saudi Arabia. Following the disclosure, the price of CSE shares fell by 13.9 per cent. Mr Tarek Bary was then managing director of CSE-Transtel, a wholly owned subsidiary of CSE Global.

On April 8, 2011, prior to CSE Global's announcement of its second-quarter results, he sold 500,000 CSE Global shares while in possession of non-public, price-sensitive information concerning cost overruns for the Saudi projects. It allowed him to avoid a $168,955 loss.

On March 1 this year, MAS took action in the courts against him for insider trading. On Monday, he agreed to settle the matter out of court.

MAS assistant managing director (capital markets) Lee Boon Ngiap said: "MAS does not tolerate any form of insider dealing... Listed companies are reminded to ensure that parties who have access to confidential and price-sensitive information are fully aware of their obligations under the law."

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Correcting misconceptions about meaning of 'offshore'

Business Times
24 Nov 2017
Tan Chong Huat and Benjamin Szeto

There is nothing wrong with offshore entities and investments in themselves. They have for years been used for purposes that are above board

In early November, a number of high-profile individuals were named in information released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Questions relating to transparency have been raised on their use of or connection with offshore structures or investments in the latest information breach labelled as the Paradise Papers. Following the Panama Papers debacle last year, the Paradise Papers have brought the legitimacy of "offshore" into focus again. This article seeks to dispel common misconceptions that all offshore structures or investments are intended for illegal activities.

First, we should be clear what "offshore" means. It is generally accepted that the term refers to a different country from where one is residing that offers a comparatively more advantageous tax regime. In many cases, various offshore jurisdictions impose very little or no tax on income and capital gains. There are some who abuse the system, but there are many who "go offshore" for bona fide purposes.

A narrative we often see is that offshore structures are for hiding secrets. We must distinguish between privacy and secrecy. Yes, to an extent, these structures provide confidentiality. Do note that privacy is maintained within a regulatory framework, which provides for sharing of information with tax authorities and relevant parties, for instance, law enforcement, on a need-to-know basis. With the implementation of the Common Reporting Standard and the United States' Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, financial information will be automatically reported to relevant tax authorities. Financial secrets will soon be a thing of the past.

LEGACY PLANNING

For many wealthy business owners in countries where organised or violent crime is prevalent, threat of extortion or kidnapping is more than an unpleasant fact of life. Offshore trusts and companies, with their advantage of privacy, can be used to own assets and operate businesses. This umbrella of anonymity shields the affluent from unwelcome scrutiny by criminals. Apart from violence, there is now the growing threat of identity theft too.

Trusts have existed for hundreds of years and are used for various objectives. One example is legacy planning, as they provide a convenient way of preserving and passing on wealth to future generations.

A popular use is to ensure family fortune is not dissipated by spendthrift heirs. Instead of bequeathing directly to kith and kin, assets are held, managed and distributed by professional trustees. This way, the patriarch can maintain wealth for multiple generations when profligate members are kept at bay.

Also consider forced heirship rules, which many countries such as those in the Middle East have. Simply put, these countries stipulate that part of a deceased's estate must be distributed to specified family members (typically dependants or descendants) regardless of their actual needs. Such rules ensure that this group of beneficiaries is adequately provided for. However, forced heirship restricts a testator's freedom; its rigidity prevents a testator from distributing his estate more equitably among beneficiaries who are more needy or vulnerable.

The trust is a legal solution. Assets transferred into an irrevocable trust are no longer part of one's estate and would not be subject to forced heirship. Under the trust, an offshore company is typically set up to hold the assets, which ensures that the assets are kept separate from other property the trustee may hold for other third parties.

Many investment vehicles, such as private equity funds and unit trusts, are established in offshore jurisdictions. For instance, Cayman Islands is popular because of its common-law framework and an established funds management infrastructure.

Many offshore territories have a regime with zero tax on the profits on such funds and allow these profits to be passed directly through to the investors. Without paying any corporate tax, these funds are able to provide higher returns. An investor is then taxed on the profits at its corporate or individual income tax rates. Because the offshore jurisdiction does not impose any tax and in the absence of any exemption, the investor does not enjoy any possible tax credit and would typically have to bear the full tax in its home country. This generally means the local tax authority benefits from more tax revenue. Hence, investors of offshore funds should not be automatically viewed as tax evaders.

In many cases involving the Paradise Papers and the Panama Papers, insinuations of tax evasion and other wrongdoing have been levelled against various public figures when none have been proven. The overseas press may well stay clear of outright defamation, but would it be right to cast aspersions on an individual's integrity simply because he is connected with an offshore trust or investment? With "clickbait" headlines, reputations can be irreparably damaged in the court of public opinion and perception.

A related point is the individual's reasonable expectation (and even a right in some cases) that his personal affairs are to be kept private. Surely the famous and wealthy do not have a duty to keep the public apprised of their financial dealings. If so, information from hacks should not be publicly disclosed, especially if there is no evidence of transgression.

RULE OF LAW

We should note how the Paradise Papers were obtained. Our Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act (CMCA) criminalises the illegal obtaining of personal information from computer systems. The CMCA is extraterritorial and applies to offences where data is located in Singapore at the material time or if the offence causes a significant risk of serious harm in Singapore. If a similar hack had occurred in Singapore or had involved financial information of parties in Singapore, it would likely be a criminal offence under the CMCA.

Yes, some misconduct, tax evasion and criminal activity may have been exposed. We cannot condone breaking the law. But we need to ask ourselves if these hacks and subsequent public disclosures are justified.

There is nothing wrong with offshore entities and investments in themselves. They have for years been used for purposes that are above board to meet genuine and justifiable needs. The problem is not with "offshore".

Instead, we should focus on errant service providers who turn a blind eye to, or are complicit in illicit activities. They should be subject to more stringent but calibrated regulatory oversight. A good example is the Monetary Authority of Singapore's detailed guidance, for example, to trust companies on measures to prevent money laundering.

The law-abiding should not be dragged under in a whirlpool of publicity. Existing defamation laws may be inadequate to protect reputations from being swamped by waves of "fake news" or suggestive press coverage. Care should be taken to balance public interest with the right to privacy. There should be measures to regulate reportage based on stolen information when no offences have been committed.

The rule of law should always prevail. Even in paradise, there is still a need for clear lines drawn in the sand.

  • The writers are managing partner & co-head of private wealth, and partner & deputy head, private wealth practice at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, respectively

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SGX to hike derivatives member fees as much as 10-fold from January

Business Times
11 Dec 2017
Cai Haoxiang

First revision in 15 years aligns fees to growth in membership value, says SGX spokeswoman

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) will drastically hike membership fees for derivatives trading members in 2018, in some cases as much as 10 times, The Business Times has learnt.

Membership fees for a proprietary trading member with direct market access to fast data feeds, for example, will go up from S$2,000 a year to S$25,000 a year from 2018. The new fees take effect on Jan 2.

The fee hikes, the first in 15 years, will affect a few hundred derivatives members, based on numbers provided by an SGX spokeswoman. They only affect derivatives members, not securities ones.

BT saw a circular on the changes which went out last week.

"In the past 15 years where SGX has allowed membership fees to remain unchanged, SGX's volume has grown more than five times with up to 60 new products," it said.

"SGX has also invested substantial resources in revamping its regulatory, technology and client servicing infrastructure," it said. "With these developments, SGX will be revising its membership fees with the aim to bringing it a level commensurate with the value that membership offers."

The surprise move has irked some small and mid-sized traders, though a number used the Hokkien phrase "bo bian", meaning there is nothing to be done about it. Some said they were not consulted about the change, and the message given by the hikes is that they are no longer needed.

"It is not about the money but there's a sense of being squeezed," said one trader, an industry veteran. He said SGX seems only interested in profits, at the expense of creating an ecosystem where smaller players can flourish. "I'm thinking of retiring soon. I wonder if there will be any local players left in 10 years' time," he said.

In the exchange's first quarter ended Sep 30, 2017, revenue was up 7 per cent to S$204 million from a year ago, while net profit was up 9 per cent to S$91 million. The numbers were the strongest in two years.

SGX's derivatives segment is a significant part of its business, comprising two-fifths of total revenue and a third of operating profit for that quarter.

However, an SGX insider who declined to be named said that membership fees at US rival CME Group can be much higher across different tiers.

The fee hike is more about recovering costs for the investments SGX has made in new trading technology, and differentiating its offerings, he said.

Numbers of individual trading members have dwindled through the years, and those surviving are those who are doing well. As for the rest, it does not make sense to charge them S$1,000 a year - understood to be the current rate - for a higher-end offering, he said. Meanwhile, memberships might not make sense for everybody, he said.

With the rise of electronic trading, the structure of the market has also changed. In old times, memberships came with trading discounts. But today, memberships are less relevant. Large volume players are wooed with rebates and incentives regardless, he said.

At a meeting of proprietary trading house owners on Friday afternoon attended by BT, a key issue discussed was whe-ther to switch to more powerful but expensive platform. Total platform costs dwarf the membership fee hikes.

Traders said they would pay the higher membership fees, given how there is still money to be made trading contracts like Nikkei and China A50 futures.

Another trader said that while SGX's move is "a bit high-handed", it is impractical to stop becoming a member. "Ai tan jia, bo bian," he said, using another Hokkien phrase which means that one has to work hard to earn money to eat. Most players try to arbitrage between exchanges, so they will still want to trade at SGX. So it makes sense to pay for a membership to get discounted clearing fees, he said.

At press time, BT was not able to conclusively compare SGX's membership costs and clearing fee structure relative to its rivals. SGX can offer lower clearing fees for some products, but API (application programming interface) fees can be higher, some say. APIs refer to an essential part of the trading infrastructure.

Mid-tier local traders, however, grumble that the cost structure at SGX might favour large players which trade significant volumes.

Asked about the fee hikes, an SGX spokeswoman said membership value has grown with the exchange's investments in the derivatives market. "With the alignment of fees to membership value, SGX remains cost competitive," she said.

She noted how membership offers discounts on clearing and connectivity fees, "which far exceed the annual fee for active traders".

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

Two accused in club membership scam convicted

Straits Times
01 Dec 2017
Elena Chong

1,341 people duped over 10 years; one admits to making false entries and the other to money laundering

Over a period of 10 years, a supervisor of Keppel Club's membership department duped 1,341 people into believing that they had paid for membership at the club, even issuing them with cards which allowed them use of the facilities.

In all, the buyers forked out a total of $37.5 million for club memberships from 2004 to 2014, which included transfer fees of $17 million. The amount was supposed to be paid to Keppel Club.

Yesterday, the supervisor, Nah Hak Chuah, and a club member, Ivy Cheo Soh Chin, both 67, were convicted over their roles in the membership scam.

Nah admitted to 30 of 1,280 charges of making false entry in the electronic membership database in the Club Management System (CMS), while Cheo admitted to 20 of 303 charges of money laundering.

The trial of alleged mastermind Setho Oi Lin, alias Setho Irene, 70, is scheduled to begin next Monday.

The senior executive had worked in the club for nearly 48 years, and rose through the ranks. During the material time, she was a personal assistant to the general manager, the person in charge of membership transfers, enrolments, resignations and queries.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ian Ernst Chai said the general manager of the club lodged a police report on Aug 13, 2014, stating that both Nah and Cheo had cheated people into buying club memberships from phantom members.

Instead of paying the club, these buyers were directed to pay the purchase prices and transfer fees to third parties who included, among others, Cheo, her daughter, mother and brother-in-law, who were never members of the club. Cheo is Setho's personal friend.

After the club stopped selling new memberships in 1996, anyone who wishes to become a member has to buy the membership from an existing member at a mutually agreed price.

The purchase price would include a fixed transfer fee of $12,840 and an account activation fee ranging from $300 to $530 across the years, both to be paid to Keppel Club.

The balance of the purchase price, after deductions to Keppel Club, would go to the existing member selling the membership.

As of August 2014, the club had 2,682 legitimate members.

DPP Chai told Principal District Judge Bala Reddy that Setho allegedly started selling fake club memberships from 2004.

She would source for interested buyers on her own or inform membership agents that she had Keppel Club memberships for sale.

These agents would then source for buyers and put them in touch with Setho who knew that in fact, none of the memberships would be transferred from existing ones.

Some time between June 1 and Aug 1 in 2014, Setho instructed Nah to create new membership accounts for 1,280 buyers in the club's CMS. These buyers had been duped into buying club memberships from phantom members.

Nah knew that the new membership accounts to be created were false but still did it, thus falsifying records belonging to his employer.

He used information in the membership application forms, which contained the buyers' information and phantom sellers' names.

After the cheques or cashier's orders had been deposited, Cheo helped Setho transfer $6.1 million and kept at least $151,500 as commission payments, between Feb 23, 2010 and July 31, 2014.

The case was adjourned to Jan 10 for mitigation and sentencing.

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

Fewer complaints about financial institutions in Singapore

Business Times
24 Nov 2017
Claire Huang

But banks and finance firms still lead in terms of having the highest number of complaints handled by Fidrec

Financial institutions (FIs) here can have a couple more reasons to feel cheery as consumers seem to have less grievances to air.

Data from the Financial Industry Disputes Resolution Centre Ltd (Fidrec) shows a 23 per cent slide in the number of complaints that it received to 893 between July 2016 and June 2017.

Still, leading the FIs with the most number of complaints handled by Fidrec are banks and finance companies (44 per cent). They were followed by life insurers (32 per cent), general insurers (19 per cent), capital markets services licensees (3 per cent), as well as financial advisers and insurance brokers (2 per cent).

For the 12 months, banks and finance companies recorded a 10 per cent fall in number of complaints handled year on year to 396; that of life insurers fell 33 per cent to 289; complaints about general insurers slid 23 per cent to 167; capital markets services licensees' slipped 4 per cent to 26; that of financial advisers; and that of insurance brokers dropped 63 per cent to 15 cases.

Similar to the previous financial year, more than half of the complaints handled were related to the FIs' practice and policies, 36 per cent were to do with market conduct, followed by service standards. For this financial year, there was no complaint that came under the category "others".

Consumers' grievances this time round, similar to the year-ago period, against banks and finance companies, life insurers, financial advisers and insurance brokers are largely centred on the provision of inappropriate advice, misrepresentation or disclosure issues.

For the banks, finance companies, life and general insurers as well as capital markets services licensees, disputes over liabilities also feature among the top complaints.

Over the one-year period, Fidrec received a total of 3,278 cases, 16 per cent fewer than a year ago.

Of this total number, 2,385 were inquiries and the other 893 were complaints.

Combined with the 480 complaints that were outstanding at the start of the financial year, Fidrec said that it handled 1,373 complaints in all. But of these, 331 complaints remain unresolved as yet.

Of the 1,042 complaints handled, 38 per cent were resolved within three months; 95 per cent were resolved within six months; and 99 per cent of the complaints resolved within nine months.

Out of the 1,042 complaints that were resolved, 683 were achieved through mediation, while 359 proceeded to adjudication. Awards were made in 26 out of the 359 adjudicated cases.

Separately, the financial mediator widened its net loss in FY2017 by 29 per cent to S$156,441, from a loss of S$121,044 a year ago, even as total income edged up.

Revenue for the year went up a touch by 5 per cent to S$3.6 million but this was offset by higher adjudicator fees, employee benefit expense, professional fees and administrative expenses. Total expenditures came to S$3.7 million, up 5.7 per cent year on year.

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ADV: How Can You Accurately Navigate Complex Cross-Border Matters?

Singapore Law Watch
11 Dec 2017
Thomson Reuters

Court gives nod to Marco Polo's debt revamp schemes

Business Times
01 Dec 2017
Tan Hwee Hwee

This extends the green light to the first O&M corporate restructuring calling for direct haircuts

Singapore's High Court on Thursday sanctioned two schemes of arrangement (SAs) filed by Marco Polo Marine and its key operating subsidiary, extending the green light to the first debt restructuring plan that calls for direct haircuts in the offshore and marine sector.

The Business Times (BT) understands that the court ruling has come after Marco Polo Marine won over support from its three key local lenders - DBS, OCBC and UOB - towards a plan tabling 69 per cent haircut on bank loans amounting to S$202 million.

UOB, as the largest bank lender answering for over S$90 million in loan value extended to Marco Polo, declined comment citing requirements of Singapore's Banking Act. DBS and OCBC did not respond to requests for comments.

But the financial market is abuzz with speculation that the three lenders may have decided to bite the bullet and take the prescribed write-offs because their exposures to Marco Polo are considered "manageable".

One banking source further suggested that backing Marco Polo's plan will not hurt the banks' bottom line if going by their claims, necessary provisions were already set aside for their loans to the sector.

The banks were also said to have been sold the proposition that Marco Polo has pulled off a feat no other troubled, listed O&M entity has managed so far - that is, pulling in nine investors who have pledged S$60 million new equity conditional among others on the success of its debt restructuring.

BT also understands that Marco Polo is considered within the financial circle as possibly a "test case" for certain bank lenders hoping to mirror the success New York-listed Tidewater achieved with its corporate work-out.

Marco Polo's plan anchored on severe haircuts for its creditors and massive equity dilution, which were also two key elements of Tidewater's debt restructuring exercise. In addition to the 69 per cent write-offs implied for its outstanding bank loans, Marco Polo has also pled for 71 per cent and 95 per cent debt forgiveness from its noteholders and for its contingent liabilities. Noteholders have already extended a majority vote in favour of supporting the plan and this paves the way for other scheme creditors to throw their hats into the ring.

Robson Lee, a partner with US law firm Gibson Dunn, said that further to the favourable noteholders' vote, what may have also helped to bring Marco Polo's bank lenders to the table was that the Singapore-listed group had to concurrently seek court protection in Indonesia against creditor claims with respect to its Batam-based subsidiary. He suggested that the Batam-based subsidiary's PKPU (Penundaan Kewajiban Pembayaran Utang) may have exerted pressure on the bank lenders to assist in expediting Marco Polo's debt restructuring process.

With its two SAs now sanctioned by the court, Marco Polo has moved on to convene an extraordinary general meeting on Dec 14 to seek shareholders' approval for issuing new securities to the nine investors, its creditors and as settlement of professional fees.

The company is proposing to issue 2.1 billion shares at 2.8 Singapore cents each to the nine new investors. A further one billion shares at 3.5 Singapore cents each will be placed with the company's creditors. Another 57.1 million shares at 3.5 Singapore cents apiece will be issued to RSM Corporate Advisory as consideration for professional fees. RSM is understood to have played an instrumental role in rounding up the S$60 million new equity deals with the nine investors.

For a start, the family of chief executive Sean Lee has already committed to diluting their controlling stake from 62 per cent to 6 per cent.

In exchange for the shareholders' support, the company is also proposing to issue 269.2 million free warrants on the basis of eight warrants for every 10 common shares held. Each warrant has an exercise price of 3.5 Singapore cents.

Commenting on the proposal at hand for the existing shareholders, UOB Kay Hian's analyst Foo Zhiwei said: "The deal is neither great nor overly bad ... but shareholders should be asking Marco Polo for a deliverable business plan, if any, and seek assurance that the management team would be up to the task."

Mr Sean Lee, in expressing his appreciation for the creditors' support so far, said: "I am grateful that the majority of stakeholders have decided to back our plan and allow the company to move forward with a strong balance sheet and comfortable working capital."

He added that he is looking forward to "a calmer journey" when the restructuring is completed and the nine investors have injected the fresh funds.

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SBH case: Mary Chia's costs add up to S$700,000

Business Times
23 Nov 2017

Mary Chia Holdings Limited announced on Wednesday that its wholly owned subsidiary, Mary Chia Beauty & Slimming Specialist Pte Ltd (MCBSS), will not be proceeding with a further appeal against the court's decision on its dismissal order.

The court had dismissed MCBSS's appeal to set aside the final award in favour of Slim Beauty House Co Ltd (SBH), which filed a lawsuit against MCBSS over a joint venture that turned sour.

Giving an update on the legal case, Mary Chai said MCBSS's solicitors shall proceed to release the arbitration sum to SBH's solicitors. MCBSS shall also proceed to pay S$12,500 and reasonable disbursements under the court's dismissal order to SBH.

MCBSS has incurred about S$100,000 in legal fees over the arbitration proceeding and the application to set aside the final award.

All these costs add up to S$700,000, which is expected to have a material impact on the group's consolidated net tangible assets per share and earnings per share for the financial year ending March 31, 2018.

The arbitration proceedings were initiated by SBH on Aug 19, 2016 against MCBSS in a dispute arising from the joint venture they entered into. SBH had wanted to claim S$4.81 million in damages.

But MCBSS did not believe the purported termination of the joint venture was justified and felt the claims against MCBSS for alleged breaches of the joint venture agreement had no merit.

But in July, MCBSS was ordered by the court to pay more than S$580,000 in damages and costs. The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) also ordered that MSB Beauty, the joint venture firm, be liquidated.

Mary Chia said it continues to operate its businesses as usual. It also pointed to a mandatory takeover offer by Suki Sushi in August, triggered by its acquisition of a 60.98 per cent stake in the group.

The offer at 11.1 Singapore cents per share closed on Oct 6. Suki Sushi, which now has a 93.18 per cent stake in the group, is controlled by Lee Boon Leng, the husband of Mary Chia Holdings' chief executive, Ho Yow Ping. Ms Ho is the daughter of Ms Chia.

Ms Ho has "given a personal undertaking to provide continuing financial support to the company and the group to meet its liabilities and its normal operating expenses to be incurred," the group reiterated.

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AGC sets out arguments for bringing case against Li Shengwu

Straits Times
09 Dec 2017
Seow Bei Yi

Putting Facebook settings to 'friends only' does not entitle him to claim privacy, it says

Mr Li Shengwu, 32, may have put his Facebook privacy settings on "friends only" when he published a post that allegedly attacked the independence of Singapore's judiciary, but this does not entitle him to claim privacy, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) has argued.

It made the point in written submissions filed in the High Court, for bringing contempt of court proceedings against Mr Li, the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The AGC said that as he chose the medium of publication, it should be taken that he was fully aware the post could be disseminated to a broader audience.

This could therefore "pose a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice", it added in documents obtained by The Straits Times yesterday.

The papers, filed in August, set out the arguments for the AGC moving forward with its case against Mr Li, the eldest son of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and a junior fellow at Harvard University in Massachusetts in the United States.

Documents also revealed he had been served court papers on Oct 17 at his work space at the university by a US-based legal services firm.

This was after "multiple unsuccessful attempts" made at Harvard University, and at his home in Cambridge. The US firm tried 11 times on seven different occasions between Oct 2 and Oct 14, but to no avail, according to the court documents.

On Monday, Mr Li's lawyers in Singapore said they needed time to address the "novel grounds" the AGC used to justify serving the papers out of its jurisdiction. They said they would be applying to set aside the court order that allowed the AGC to serve papers on their client in the US.

The case centres on a July 15 Facebook post in which Mr Li said "the Singapore Government is very litigious and has a pliant court system", and that foreign media had been cowed into self-censorship because of previous legal action.

Although the post was put to a "friends only" privacy setting, it was published by several websites and circulated on social media.

Mr Li previously said it was not his intent to attack the judiciary.

He also said he would not have given approval for his private post to be shared publicly and was, thus, not responsible for its "widespread and unauthorised publication".

The post was related to a family dispute over the fate of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's home at 38, Oxley Road. It spilled into the public sphere in June.

The AGC argued that for the case to proceed, it is not necessary to prove Mr Li intended to undermine public confidence, only that he intentionally published the post.

Mr Li subsequently changed parts of it, but the AGC said his amendment of the post to clarify its meaning showed he was aware the phrase "pliant court system" was open to being understood at face value.

The AGC added that "it is irrelevant whether the material was posted outside Singapore".

It said, "since it can be accessed in Singapore, its publication occurs in Singapore".

The next pre-trial conference is expected to take place on Jan 4.

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SGX aims to strike a balance in review of dual-class shares

Business Times
01 Dec 2017
Angela Tan

SGX RegCo chief says diverging views have been received, and will be studied

As a major capital market, Singapore cannot ignore the demands for a dual-class share structure, but this has to be weighed against the interests of investors, chief executive of SGX RegCo Tan Boon Gin said on Thursday.

He told The Business Times in an interview that the Singapore Exchange (SGX) has received wide-ranging feedback and suggestions on dual-class shares - a controversial structure which gives a small group of shareholders, typically owners and founders, greater voting power and rights disproportionate to the size of their shareholding.

"We have received a lot of feedback. We are still going through the feedback to see how we can strike the right balance. That's really where the crux is."

Mr Tan was speaking a day after reports that Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) announced its plans to accommodate a dual-class share structure and take applications under the new rules in the second half of next year.

He said the review of dual-class share structure was not about attracting more listings on SGX.

"Look at what CFE has been saying. They feel this is one of the things that may help Singapore companies make the transition, and we are trying to play our part.

"I don't really think we are looking at it purely from the point of attracting more listings. That has never been our starting point. Our starting point has been that Singapore is trying to move into a new economy. That's quite clear."

The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) pushed for the structure, which appeals to new-economy companies such as those in the information technology and biotech sectors, under a drive to ensure that Singapore maintains economic growth at a clip of 2 to 3 per cent.

The New York and Nasdaq bourses allow dual-class stocks to list.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), when asked about the status of Singapore's review of the idea, noted the diverse views on dual-class share structures.

Its spokesman said: "SGX, in consultation with MAS, is studying the feedback from the public consultation and will weigh all considerations carefully before coming to a decision on the matter in due course."

SGX should not lose sight on why there is a capital market here in the first place.

Mr Tan said: "We have a capital market because we want companies to raise funds to grow, to create jobs and allow the investing public to share in this growth. We must never lose sight of that. When it comes to companies, we want them to succeed.

"I do feel if certain companies require a certain corporate structure in order to succeed, I think that is an important factor that needs to be weighed up against the interests of investors. We would also want to broaden investors' choice."

Dual-class shares are favoured by company owners who want to raise funds without ceding control of business plans to the short-term demands of stock market investors. But it comes under fire from shareholder advocates, who argue that dual-class structures are directly at odds with the one-share-one-vote bedrock principle of shareholder democracy; the system also insulates management from challenges by other shareholders, these advocates say.

Mr Tan said investors ultimately make the final decision on whether to invest in a company or not. Many are already investing in the US markets, including dual-class shares stocks.

"The question is whether a balance can be struck that allows Singapore to have an exchange offering compelling products to both companies and investors, and which will complement and support technology-focused developments across the broader economy," he said.

In January 2016, Singapore paved the way for the SGX to permit listing of dual-class shares, by amending the Companies Act to allow Singapore public companies to issue classes of shares with different voting rights.

SGX's Listings Advisory Committee (LAC) said it was also in favour of dual-class share structures, subject to various corporate governance safeguards to mitigate the inherent risks they pose.

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Faster resolution in court helps families move forward: Forum

Straits Times
23 Nov 2017

We thank Mr Fabian Ng Yuan Sheng for his letter (Better to focus on reconciliation, healing in family courts; Nov 15).

Mr Ng has rightly pointed out the delicate needs of family disputes in the Family Justice Courts (FJC) involving parties whose relationships will often have to continue beyond the life of the case.

It is with this need in mind that the FJC was conceived and established in 2014 to introduce less adversarial and more child-centric approaches in family proceedings.

The FJC seeks to empower families to resolve their disputes early, with a sustainable outcome and an opportunity to recast their future to focus on healing and parenting their children.

Active judicial management and court processes have been refined to ensure that the animosity and hurt that exist in family cases are not aggravated.

The services and programmes available in the FJC include counselling and mediation, which encourage and assist parties to reach an amicable resolution of their disputes instead of proceeding with adjudication. In more complex cases, Child Representatives are called upon to ensure that the child's interests are protected.

We recognise that each dispute before the court is unique and solutions have to be holistic and sustainable.

While we have been able to resolve most divorce cases more quickly through better and more effective case management policies and processes, cases that may require more time are provided for.

Where a marriage has irretrievably broken down, parties and children benefit from sensitive and expeditious proceedings in the court to enable them to move forward in their lives.

To better support families in Singapore, the FJC works within a larger family justice system with our partners and, in particular, the Ministry of Social and Family Development to prevent escalation of the dispute as early as possible, and after court resolution, to support them in finding new pathways ahead.

Chia Wee Kiat
Registrar
Family Justice Courts

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CPIB commends 18 individuals for acts against corruption

Straits Times
09 Dec 2017
Ng Jun Sen

One would think it foolish to try bribing a police officer in a country ranked the seventh least corrupt place in the world.

But, under pressure and faced with incriminating evidence, some still try.

Just ask Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Patrick Chan Wai Hoong, 44, who was offered bribes while on duty in two separate incidents in 2016 and 2017. He rejected them on both occasions, and the suspects faced more severe penalties.

Said ASP Chan: "People do try all types of methods to get out of that situation they are in, and they do not necessarily offer cash. Some offer cigarettes, others offer sexual services.

"All officers, not just myself, will reject these gifts. We must have integrity to not take bribes, so that the public have confidence in our police force."

For his actions in turning down money and gifts, including an offer of $10,000, ASP Chan was commended by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) yesterday morning. A total of 18 individuals from the public and private sector received plaques for their stance against corruption.

Among them was Singapore Safety Driving Centre automotive tester, Goh King Seng, who was offered $500 by a Chinese national who performed badly in his driving test last year. The student driver was later jailed for three weeks for the attempted bribe.

The Esplanade's security executive, Peter Rennie Tee Keng Lye, received a plaque for rejecting repeated bribery attempts by a club director and two floor managers. He had responded to a fight outside the nightclub, Queen, and was told by the three staff not to report the incident.

The three were fined between $4,000 and $10,000 each.

The two cases involving ASP Chan occurred while he was recording police statements from two female suspects for vice-related activities.

He recalled: "In the 2016 incident, she was panicking because she thought I had evidence against her. But her mind was clear enough when she offered the $10,000."

The suspect was arrested for the act of bribery, even though ASP Chan was just conducting checks on her involvement in an unlicensed massage parlour case.

Both female suspects in the two incidents were later jailed for a month each for corruption.

CPIB director Wong Hong Kuan on Friday spoke about the need for Singapore to remain corruption-free.

He said: "Corruption is a fact of life but let us not make it our way of life. We have come a long way since 1950s when Singapore was plagued with corruption, moving from a third to a first world least corrupt nation.

"We should zealously guard what our forefathers had built over the last six decades and not let acts of greed ruin it."


WRIGGLING THEIR WAY OUT

People do try all types of methods to get out of that situation they are in, and they do not necessarily offer cash. Some offer cigarettes, others offer sexual services.

ASP PATRICK CHAN

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GLP's shareholders give green light for privatisation

Business Times
01 Dec 2017
Nisha Ramachandani

Global Logistic Properties' (GLP) shareholders voted in favour of Nesta Investment Holdings' privatisation bid, with the final day of trading of GLP's shares on the Singapore Exchange expected to be Jan 4.

Nesta - a vehicle owned by Hopu, Hillhouse Capital, SMG, Bank of China Group Investment and Vanke - is taking GLP private at S$3.38 per share, which will take place via a scheme of arrangement. GLP's chief executive Ming Z Mei is a director of Nesta. At S$3.38 per share, this values the company at approximately S$16 billion on an equity value basis.

Of the total number of shareholders present and voting in person or by proxy at the scheme meeting on Thursday, 96.02 per cent voted for the scheme; meanwhile, of the total number of shares voted by shareholders present and voting in person or by proxy, 99.96 per cent voted in favour.

Sovereign wealth fund GIC, which owns a 36.84 per cent stake in GLP, also voted for the scheme.

The scheme will thus be presented to the High Court of Singapore for approval; if the scheme is sanctioned by the Court, it is expected to become binding on Jan 10. The payment date for shareholders is Jan 19, 2018 and GLP is expected to be delisted shortly after.

Dr Seek Ngee Huat, chairman of GLP's board, said: "The result from (the) scheme meeting brings us one step closer to the privatisation of GLP. A key objective of the independent strategic review was to maximise value for all shareholders, and we are pleased that the proposal received overwhelming support from shareholders. (The) scheme meeting marks a significant milestone and we would like to thank all GLP shareholders for their support since the IPO seven years ago."

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Retail therapy at a click? You'll likely have to pay GST soon

Business Times
23 Nov 2017
Yasmine Yahya

Goods and services tax (GST) could soon be levied on e-commerce purchases, as the government looks to diversify its tax base and capture value from this fast-growing sector, tax specialists have said.

This could mean getting big e-commerce players to register for GST here if they sell to Singapore consumers, or getting consumers to pay tax on the goods and services they buy online.

The tax experts were reacting to comments by Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah, who told Bloomberg in an interview on Tuesday that e-commerce is likely to fall under Singapore's tax net soon.

She said: "You can imagine, 20 years from now, the way people purchase will be very different, and by that time, online platforms will be mainstays, so if that's not part of the tax regime, there's going to be a lot of holes there."

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had already said in the Budget earlier this year that the government was studying ways to tax e-commerce.

For now online purchases of goods and services under S$400 are not taxed in Singapore.

KPMG Singapore's head of tax Chiu Wu Hong said: "The S$400 GST exemption threshold could be reviewed for the purposes of capturing online shopping transactions.

"Digital services (for example, music downloads and e-books) rendered by foreign companies could be brought into the GST net by using a 'reverse-charge' mechanism, or by way of requiring merchants to register for GST if they provide to end-consumers in Singapore."

A reverse-charge mechanism requires the customer to account for the tax on supplies received from foreign suppliers.

PwC Singapore's Asia-Pacific indirect tax leader Koh Soo How noted, too, that the government has said the main intention of bringing online shopping within the tax regime is to make it a level playing field between local GST-registered retailers and overseas sellers.

"There are different collection models for imposing the GST on cross-border transactions. However, what most countries have settled on when taxing the digital economy is the vendor-collection model, which is seen to be most feasible in terms of practicality and costs."

Under such a model, the overseas vendor is required to register for GST to collect and account for GST on sales to consumers in the local country.

Yeo Kai Eng, a GST services partner at Ernst & Young Solutions, said this has been a common approach in several countries, which have also introduced simplified GST registration for overseas suppliers of digital services and low-value goods to make it less onerous on e-commerce players.

"The key for Singapore is not to rush into it," he said.

"Consultation with key stakeholders should be made to study the impact and effectiveness of any new measures to impose GST on overseas suppliers of digital services and low-value goods before they are introduced."

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Airbnb needs to respect S'pore laws: Forum

Straits Times
09 Dec 2017

Airbnb is engaging in double talk (Two Airbnb hosts charged over illegal home sharing in first case under new laws; ST Online, Dec 5).

On the one hand, it says it is working with the authorities to make short-term rentals work here.

On the other hand, it continues to allow its website to be used for activities that contravene Singapore's laws.

Singapore's rules on home sharing are clear.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is right to restrict the leasing of private residential properties to at least a three-month tenure - a concession from the previous six months.

A private residential property should not become a public, commercially driven hotel, where guests come and go on a daily basis.

Such a turnover is a major hassle for residents, including the added cost of security and maintenance, among others.

Properties for short-term rentals should be restricted to a new "hybrid" category of real estate.

Only the owners of these properties - not its tenants - can lease them on a short-term basis, and they should be taxed a "hybrid residential-commercial" rate to level the playing field with other hospitality players.

The URA must also come down hard on anyone, including industry players like Airbnb, who continues to lease out rooms and apartments at unapproved properties.

It is time for Airbnb to morph into a more socially aware and responsible organisation, and show respect for the laws of the countries that it operates in.

Toh Cheng Seong

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Apex court seeks enhanced sentencing powers to protect the young

Straits Times
30 Nov 2017
Selina Lum

The Court of Appeal has asked Parliament to give the courts enhanced powers to mete out tougher sentences in cases where the offender commits certain crimes against the vulnerable, especially children.

The apex court said this in written grounds released yesterday explaining why it had in July increased the jail term of a woman who had abused her four-year-old son so violently that he died .

Noraidah Mohd Yussof, 35, who had taken out her frustration on the boy because he could not recite the numbers 11 to 18 in Malay correctly, had her eight-year sentence raised to 14 1/2 years. The three judges said they would have given Noraidah an even harsher sentence for causing grievous hurt if they had the powers to do so.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who penned the judgment, said the courts show their condemnation by considering the victim's vulnerability an aggravating factor in sentencing. But this may not be sufficient.

"We therefore invite Parliament to consider affording the courts the power, when dealing with such offences, in particular those against children and young persons, to enhance the permitted punishment to 1 1/2 times the prescribed maximum penalty for certain offences."

The court noted that enacting legislation which identifies a certain class of criminal action as deserving of harsher punishment has been done before.

Parliament did so in 1998 in relation to several offences against foreign domestic workers. The offences included causing hurt or grievous hurt to, or wrongfully confining, such workers.

Similarly, enhanced penalties for racially or religiously aggravated offences were imposed in 2007.

The court also noted that the recent public consultation on a draft Vulnerable Adults Bill had proposed, among other things, inserting a new provision in the Penal Code for enhanced penalties of up to 1 1/2 times the permitted sentencing range for certain offences against vulnerable adults.

"This proposed change is entirely consistent with our call for the courts to be afforded the discretion to enhance sentences for certain offences against vulnerable victims, especially children and young persons," said the court.

In Noraidah's case, the abuse against her son lasted from March 2012 to August 2014.

In the final incident, she stepped on him and repeatedly pushed him to the ground, causing his head to hit the floor. She also grabbed him by the neck and lifted him off the floor while pushing him against a wall, before letting him fall.

Last year, the High Court sentenced her to eight years in jail after she pleaded guilty to two charges of causing grievous hurt and four charges of ill-treating a child.

Prosecutors appealed to the apex court for a heavier sentence.

In the judgment, the court, which also comprised appeal judges Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong, set out the sentencing approach to guide the courts for violent offences against children and young persons that lead to serious injury or death.

For grievous hurt leading to death, the indicative starting point should be a jail term of about eight years, it said. For grievous hurt causing multiple fractures, it should be a jail term of about 3 1/2 years.

For male offenders below the age of 50, 12 or more strokes of the cane may be warranted if their actions caused death.

In the case of non-fatal serious injury, between six and 12 strokes of the cane may be warranted, said the court.

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Myanmar duo guilty of bid to abduct man 'in illicit affair'

Straits Times
23 Nov 2017
Elena Chong

Court told they were hired by a businessman who suspected his wife of being unfaithful

A Myanmar businessman, who suspected his wife of having an affair with an engineer, hired two men to abduct his rival with a view to killing him, a district court heard.

Alleged mastermind Aung Aung, also known as Win Kyaw Kyaw Aung, 33, is a Singapore permanent resident. He has left Singapore and the police are seeking his arrest.

He recruited Zaw Min Hlaing, 40, and Phyo Min Naing, 34, to abduct Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet alias Thomson, 29, a Singapore permanent resident who was working here in 2015. Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet's whereabouts are currently unknown.

Aung Aung's plan was to have Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet abducted, and to take his house keys to search his home for evidence of the affair with his wife Sandi. Aung Aung also wanted to confine him to Aloha Changi chalet, to interrogate him on the affair and eventually have him killed, investigations showed.

However, the attempted abduction from a Pasir Ris multi-storey carpark on June 21, 2015, failed after Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet put up a fierce struggle and shouted for help.

Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet was tasered but refused to be subdued. When he called out to passers-by at the carpark to help him, Zaw Min Hlaing and Phyo Min Naing released him and fled, leaving their van parked next to the victim's car.

Zaw Min Hlaing and Phyo Min Naing, who had claimed trial and were tried for three days in August last year, yesterday pleaded guilty to their crimes.

Zaw Min Hlaing, who is a Singapore permanent resident, was convicted of seven charges - attempted abduction, possessing a foldable knife, having control of a stun gun and permitting another Myanmar national to drive on two occasions without a driving licence or insurance coverage.

Phyo Min Naing admitted to attempted abduction, having control of a stun gun and a pepper spray.

The court heard that in 2014, Aung Aung asked Zaw Min Hlaing to tail Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet and Sandi in a rental car, and provided him with GPS trackers for each of their cars.

In May 2015, Aung Aung instructed Zaw Min Hlaing to pick up Phyo Min Naing and another Myanmar national from the airport. He paid for their expenses and asked them to lease a room close to where Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet lived.

The men booked the Aloha Changi chalet for three days from June 21, 2015. They prepared their stun devices and parked their rental van next to Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet's car in the multi-storey carpark in Pasir Ris Street 71 on June 21.

When Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet turned up that evening, Zaw Min Hlaing and Phyo Min Naing grabbed him from behind and began pushing him towards the van. Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet called the police after the two men fled, following his escape.

Zaw Min Hlaing was arrested the next day when he returned to the rental company. He then led police to the chalet where Phyo Min Naing and another Myanmar national were arrested. Police seized, among other things, luggage, a meat mincer, a chainsaw, kitchen knives, two gas stoves, a cleaver, a chopping board and rubber boots.

To date, only Myanmar national Yae Wynnt Oaung, 33, an oil trader, has been dealt with in connection with the case. He was given six weeks' jail in December 2015 for 20 driving-related offences.

District Judge Tan Jen Tse adjourned the case to Friday for mitigation.

Deputy Public Prosecutors John Lu Zhuoren, Amanda Sum and Assistant Public Prosecutor Dillon Kok prosecuted the case. Zaw Min Hlaing and Phyo Min Naing are represented by Mr R.S. Bajwa and Mr S. Radakrishnan respectively.


Aung Aung's plan was to have Mr Aye Maung Maung Thet abducted, and to take his house keys to search his home for evidence of the affair with his wife Sandi. Aung Aung also wanted to confine him to Aloha Changi chalet, to interrogate him on the affair and eventually have him killed, investigations showed.

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Citizenship can be revoked even if person is not prosecuted or a convict, lawyers say

TODAY
08 Dec 2017
Alfred Chua

The Government has the power to strip a naturalised citizen of his citizenship, if it is satisfied that the person had engaged in activities harmful to public safety and order, even if he is not charged or convicted in court.

Lawyers and law academics raised this point while commenting on the case of former S-League player Gaye Alassane, 43, who was served a notice on “proposed deprivation of citizenship” on Thursday (Dec 7).

Pending any appeal, he would lose his citizenship for being “an active and trusted member” of an international match-fixing syndicate. Alassane, who was born in Mali, became a Singaporean in 2003.

The Home Affairs Ministry (MHA) said in a media statement that he is subjected to a Police Supervision Order. Those placed on this order have to observe curfews and travel restrictions, and report regularly to the police, among other measures. Flouting these restrictions could result in a jail term.

Lawyer Amolat Singh explained that a person does not need to be brought before court to have his citizenship revoked. In some cases, because the person is tied to a powerful syndicate, no witnesses or whistleblowers may come forward to offer evidence for the crimes, he added.

The MHA said that for Alassane’s case, “witnesses were afraid of testifying against (him) and his syndicate members in open court for fear of reprisal”.

Thus, an important factor is not so much whether or not the person was hauled to court, but if the activities are detrimental to public safety, peace or good order, lawyer Edmond Pereira said.

A naturalised citizen can also have citizenship withdrawn if it was obtained fraudulently or granted by mistake.

The MHA told TODAY that 1987 was the last time it took away the citizenship of a naturalised citizen because the person engaged in activities that went against “the interests of Singapore’s public safety, peace and good order”. He had committed various serious offences including drug trafficking, it said without identifying the person.

In 2013, then-Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament that 16 people had had their citizenship recalled for various reasons since 1987, under Articles 129 and 130 of the Constitution.

Singapore Management University’s law don Eugene Tan noted that such occurrences are uncommon, “because the consequences to the person concerned are severe — becoming stateless”.

In reviewing citizenship status, the MHA takes into consideration factors such as the nature and severity of the act, and whether the person’s activities have breached public peace, or affected Singapore’s essential services, or was prejudicial to national security or public order.

“Every case will be considered carefully before a decision is made,” its spokesperson added.

Once a decision is made to invalidate the citizenship, the person would be served a notice and has 21 days to file an appeal. He will remain a citizen throughout the appeal process, which will be referred to a Citizenship Committee of Inquiry.

If the appeal is denied, or if the person does not file an appeal within 21 days, he would lose citizenship and be rendered stateless.

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Apex court clears the air on reformative training

Straits Times
30 Nov 2017
Selina Lum

The Court of Appeal has clarified that reformative training is not a sentencing option for a probationer who has crossed the age of 21 when he is hauled back to court for breaching probation.

The ruling resolved conflicting court decisions on the applicable age to consider in determining whether such an offender is eligible for reformative training, a structured regime aimed at rehabilitating young offenders that can last between 18 months and three years.

In a written judgment released yesterday, the highest court in the land said it should be the offender's age on the day he was dealt with for breaching his probation.

Under the law, the court can order reformative training if the convicted person is aged 16 and above, but below 21 "on the day of his conviction".

The issue was raised to the apex court in May by a lawyer assigned to defend Muhammad Nur Abdullah, who was 19 when he was given three years' probation in 2013 for drug trafficking.

Muhammad Nur breached his probation order twice by committing a spate of new offences. By the time he was facing punishment for the second breach, he had turned 23. A district judge sentenced him to undergo reformative training. The prosecution appealed to the High Court, arguing that reformative training was not a sentencing option as Muhammad Nur was over 21 when he was sentenced for breaching his probation order.

The High Court agreed with the prosecution and sentenced him as an adult, imposing five years' jail and five strokes of the cane.

Muhammad Nur's lawyer, Mr Tan Hee Joek, then took the case to the Court of Appeal by way of a criminal reference, a rare procedure that can be invoked for cases that hinge on questions of law of public interest. Mr Tan argued that the relevant age was the age at the date of conviction and, therefore, his client was eligible for reformative training.

Although the prosecution had, in the past, sought sentences of reformative training in such circumstances, it changed its position after reviewing the relevant legislation. It eventually argued that reformative training could not be imposed in such circumstances.

In September, the apex court agreed with the prosecution's updated views.

Since the apex court's decision in September, the prosecution has taken remedial steps by applying to the High Court to revise the sentences of Noorsuriati Rasali and Muhammad Syukuri Hamdan, who were sentenced to reformative training on Dec 21 last year and Feb 13 this year respectively. Their sentences were quashed and substituted with jail terms for their respective offences after the prosecution conceded it had adopted a wrong position in law in their cases.

As the jail terms were backdated to their date of remand, they were expected to be released on the same day.

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Cromwell Reit relaunches IPO after makeover

Straits Times
23 Nov 2017
Lee Meixian

Polish retail properties removed from portfolio after investors raised concerns over their value

Its first attempt was aborted two months ago, but Cromwell Property Group is having another shot at listing its European real estate assets here.

The trust has undergone a makeover since it hit the brakes on its initial public offering (IPO) in September, a move it blamed on "market conditions".

"We honestly believe that this is a sharper, more concentrated offering that has shown strong investor interest to date," said Mr Philip Levinson, chief executive of the trust manager.

Part of the makeover included axing Polish retail properties from its proposed portfolio because investors were wary of their value.

Another notable difference this time around is the doubling in stakeholding by its Australia-listed sponsor Cromwell Property Group. This has gone from 12 per cent to 13 per cent, depending on the offer price used, to 35.8 per cent now.

It is likely a move to further inspire investor confidence.

That will soon be tested, since the Cromwell European Real Estate Investment Trust (Reit) lodged its revamped prospectus yesterday, confirming its offer of 428.5 million units to raise gross proceeds of €236 million (S$376 million) on the Singapore Exchange.

The public offering opened yesterday and closes at noon on Nov 28 with the units expected to start trading on the mainboard on Nov 30.

The trust's portfolio comprises 74 properties after excluding seven Polish retail assets.

Mr Levinson told a briefing yesterday that when the IPO was registered two months ago, it became clear that investors were not accustomed to less core European real estate markets, and a "portfolio of this complexity and of this size".

Cromwell Reit's assets were in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland at the time, and included a mix of fully and partially-owned freehold and leasehold properties with differing structures in different jurisdictions.

"So rather than push it through, we elected to take it off the market temporarily and review more concentrated investor feedback," said Mr Levinson.

One concern was over its Poland retail assets, so these were removed even though the firm believed in their merit.

He also noted the trust faced difficulty in raising capital - it earlier planned to raise at least €1.2 billion.

The offering now consists of an international placement of 392.2 million units to institutional investors, including some here, and an offering of 36.4 million units to the Singapore public at €0.55 per unit. This is at the bottom of the range in the first IPO attempt. The listing will raise total proceeds of €866 million.

"We are strong believers that scale is important to get regional and ultimately global Reit index inclusion," Mr Levinson said.

He believes the scaling down and having more cornerstone investors on board will help boost demand in the retail market. The trust counts Cerberus Singapore and Hillsboro Capital as cornerstone investors.

He said the trust's yield of 7.8 per cent is at a premium to the average 6 per cent yield of Singapore Reits, and is at a 300 to 330 basis points spread to European Reits. He added that the exceptionally high yield is not its way of compensating investors for the complex make-up of the portfolio.

The IPO proceeds will be used to acquire 60 properties in Denmark, France, Germany and the Netherlands from funds managed by Cromwell Property Group for third-party investors, and 14 Italian properties from independent third parties.

The portfolio has total appraised value of about €1.4 billion, with a focus on the office, light industrial and logistics sectors.

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Jail for man who broke into office with M. Ravi

Straits Times
08 Dec 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

Using a screwdriver, lawyer M. Ravi and his friend Lai Yew Thiam gained entry into the locked office of a law firm on multiple occasions.

Lai, who has been in and out of jail since 1978 for crimes including theft and drug offences, was sentenced to four weeks' jail yesterday after pleading guilty to two counts of housebreaking.

The 56-year-old admitted that he and Ravi had broken into the office of the Eugene Thuraisingam law firm at People's Park Centre in Upper Cross Street on June 23 and 27. A third count of breaking into the same firm on June 17 was taken into consideration during sentencing.

Ravi, 48, was barred from practising for two years on Oct 27 last year. Despite this, the firm employed the human rights activist, letting him work at its office. However, on June 8, his employment was terminated and he was told he had to vacate the premises by June 16. Court papers did not reveal the reason for Ravi's termination.

Ravi and Lai first broke into the office on June 17, and the firm's staff called the police, making clear the pair were not welcome. The lock was then changed. The pair went back five days later and tried to enter but failed.

Undeterred, they returned the next day at around noon. Using a screwdriver, Lai managed to unscrew the sides of the metal shutter to bypass the new lock. The police were alerted and the pair left "after some initial resistance", said Deputy Public Prosecutor Sarah Ong.

The pair returned to the law firm on June 27 and committed housebreaking yet again.

DPP Ong urged District Judge Brenda Tan to sentence Lai to at least four weeks' jail for each housebreaking charge.

Lai's lawyer Satwant Singh pleaded for his client to be jailed for a maximum of four weeks, adding: "His last brush with the law was in 2009 and since then, he has been rebuilding his life for the sake of his son." Lai works with his brother-in-law in their family business.

He is out on bail of $5,000 and has to surrender himself at the State Courts on Jan 15 to begin his sentence.

On Nov 27, Ravi pleaded guilty to one count each of housebreaking, assault and causing hurt by performing a rash act. He is out on $20,000 bail and will be back in court on Jan 5.

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Social workers can get powers to manage seniors' finances

Straits Times
30 Nov 2017
Toh Yong Chuan

MSF pilot project targets elderly folk who have lost ability to make decisions and do not have family support

Seniors without family support can soon turn to social workers to help manage their finances if they lose the ability to make decisions for themselves.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has introduced the Community Kin Service pilot project, where social workers with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) may apply to the Family Justice Courts for powers to manage the finances of seniors under their care. The courts will then approve regular payments for the seniors' healthcare needs and household expenses, with MSF backing such court applications.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said yesterday: "The Community Kin Service allows VWOs to help fill the role that a next of kin would typically play in supporting a senior."

The MSF said in a statement that the pilot project will cover seniors who are 60 and above, have no family support and show signs of a declining ability to make decisions for themselves.

Two VWOs - Touch Community Services and AMKFSC Community Services - have been chosen for the pilot that starts early next year.

The MSF was unable to say how many seniors could potentially benefit from the scheme.

Touch said about 350 of the 7,000 seniors under its care are gradually losing the ability to make decisions for themselves, while AMKFSC estimated that 100 of the 1,000 seniors under its care may have dementia.

Ms Julia Lee, senior director at Touch, said the new scheme is an extension of what the VWO's social workers are already doing to help the seniors under their care.

"The social workers now take care of the seniors' medical and social needs. Some of the seniors also turned to us for help in managing their finances," she said. "But currently we cannot do that because we are not authorised to do so."

Mr Ng Koon Sing, head of senior services at AMKFSC Community Services, said the process of applying for the court order needs to be simplified for VWOs.

"The MSF is talking to the courts on how the process (of court applications) can be more streamlined. Our objective is not to create more work," he said.

Minister Lee, who was speaking at the first Asian Family Conference held at Orchard Hotel, said the ministry will run the pilot for "a year or two" before deciding whether to expand it. "As a safeguard, VWOs must provide annual reports to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) to account for the use of funds," he added.

The OPG, which comes under the MSF, runs the Lasting Power of Attorney Scheme under the Mental Capacity Act, which lets people appoint a "donee" or "deputy" in advance to take care of legal decisions should they lose their mental ability to do so.


PROVIDING LEGAL AUTHORITY

The social workers now take care of the seniors' medical and social needs. Some of the seniors also turned to us for help in managing their finances. But currently we cannot do that because we are not authorised to do so.

MS JULIA LEE, senior director at Touch Community Services, on how the new scheme will help its social workers.


PLANS FOR STREAMLINING

The MSF is talking to the courts on how the process (of court applications) can be more streamlined. Our objective is not to create more work.

MR NG KOON SING, head of senior services at AMKFSC Community Services, on how the process needs to be simplified.

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Little action taken against flouting of data protection rules: Forum

Straits Times
23 Nov 2017

The breaches of the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA) may actually be worse on the ground than what Mr Mohan Varadarajalu described in his letter (Firms bypassing data protection rules?; Nov 18).

I can cite only anecdotal evidence to back my claim.

I lodged an official complaint with the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) against Aventis School of Management six months ago.

The PDPC's response was that the PDPA "requires organisations to seek individuals' consent to collect, use or disclose their personal data and inform them of the purposes... (and) to allow individuals to withdraw consent".

First, Aventis failed to seek my consent to use my personal data.

It obtained my e-mail address when I filled in a form on its website to download a free brochure. There was no indication on the intended usage of my personal data, so my implied consent was just for its collection or, at most, recording in the school's database.

That webpage has since been updated with only a tiny statement that submitting the form would constitute agreement to its "terms of use and privacy policy". But there is no link to any terms or policy.

Second, the school failed to inform me of the purpose of collecting the data, which was to subscribe me to its mailing list, thereby depriving me of the option of choosing what type of communication I wished to receive from it.

Third, it failed to allow me to withdraw consent, not only by ignoring my correspondence, but also by offering a bogus unsubscribe function - the e-mail senders simply kept changing, and finally even became external domains.

This leads to the last and most important point, that Aventis failed to seek my consent to disclose my personal data to third parties.

I explained all this to the PDPC. However, the PDPC downplayed it as nothing more than a request to unsubscribe, until I insisted that it take further action.

It has now been half a year since my complaint and the PDPC still has not informed me of the outcome as promised.

What hope is there for the public when the PDPC itself seems to neither support its Act nor believe in its own mission?

Terence Lim

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Analysts see a case for wealth tax, but dent to hub status a concern

Business Times
08 Dec 2017
Vivien Shiao

Whether it's capital gain, estate or higher property tax, side effects need to be studied

Taxes on privately held wealth could help address issues of widening inequality and contribute a significant sum to government coffers, but Singapore's reputation as a global wealth management hub might take a hit.

Analysts told The Business Times that it is a tricky tightrope to navigate, even as taxes could take on many forms, ranging from further property taxes to capital gains tax or even the reintroduction of estate tax, which was abolished in Singapore in 2008.

Singapore does not have capital gains tax, which refers to taxes levied on profits from the sale of an investment asset such as equities or bonds. Estate duties, also known as inheritance taxes, are collected from assets left behind after an individual's death.

The possibility of taxes on privately held wealth surfaced on Thursday at the official opening of the new premises of Nanyang Technological University's Wealth Management Institute at one-north.

In off-the-cuff remarks made before his speech at the event, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat recalled a question posed during The Straits Times Global Forum on Tuesday, where he was asked why government revenue has to be raised instead of touching government reserves.

He told the audience on Thursday that he had made the case on how Singapore's reserves were used in times of need such as the Global Financial Crisis as bank guarantees, which led to the continued stability of the Singapore dollar and economic growth.

Mr Heng joked: "I don't know if the person who asked the question was someone from the wealth management industry who thought that I was thinking of taxing wealth and trying to divert me from doing that. Unfortunately he had the opposite effect.

"I had a few people come up to me after that and said: 'Minister Heng, I'm convinced you don't touch sovereign wealth, but what about private wealth'?"

He did not elaborate any further, but it has invited speculation among tax specialists and economists that some form of taxes on private wealth could also be announced in the upcoming Singapore Budget 2018.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently said that it is " not a matter of whether, but a matter of when" taxes would have to be raised. The top contenders for a tax hike so far have been the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and e-commerce tax.

With Minister Heng's latest comments on Thursday, the door of possibilities has since widened.

Credit Suisse economist Michael Wan welcomed the idea of a wealth tax, saying: "My view is that higher wealth taxes should definitely be one of the options on the table, besides the oft-mentioned GST."

But analysts say it has to be weighed against a potential negative impact on Singapore's status as a major wealth management and financial hub.

"The concept of 'those who have more, should pay more' is easy to understand but hard to execute," said Goh Siow Hui, partner, Tax Services, Ernst & Young Solutions LLP.

For example, estate duty was abolished in 2008 as it did not achieve the objective of taxing the wealthy more, she added. According to then Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the estate duty affected the "middle and upper-middle-income estates disproportionately compared to wealthier ones".

Mizuho Bank economist Vishnu Varathan explained that this was partly because the truly wealthy would be able to set up trust structures that would avoid the estate duty. But he added that estate tax could be worth revisiting.

"Demographically, we are an ageing population. You see a lot more inheritance taking place as it's a function of our age profile. In addition, the value of the estate being bequeathed will also go up dramatically given that property prices have shot up in the last 20 years," he said.

This means that if estate duty is re-introduced today, it could potentially contribute 1.5-2 per cent of government operating revenue annually, up from an annual average of about 0.6 per cent between 2003-2007, Mr Varathan added.

Another form of tax on private wealth could be additional taxes on property, suggested analysts.

Credit Suisse's Mr Wan suggested that rates for property taxes could be raised and made "even more progressive" to further raise tax revenues. He sees changes in property taxes as the most likely wealth tax that could be announced for Budget 2018.

But with property cooling measures already in place since 2009, analysts are mixed about the need for more taxes in the area.

"We want to make sure we are actually posing a wealth tax, rather than a transaction tax. You don't want to over-penalise people," added Mr Varathan.

Another option that analysts put forth is the capital gains tax, which is common in other countries such as the US and Australia.

But according to them, this is the least compelling option as it could affect Singapore's competitive edge as a private wealth management capital by creating frictional costs in transactions and could even dissuade mergers and acquisitions.

EY's Ms Goh said: "The imposition of any tax that is solely targeted at the level of personal or private wealth could run counter-intuitive to the efforts that the Singapore government has put in place in the last decade, to develop Singapore into the premier hub for wealth management in Singapore, attracting foreign investors to work and live."

Even as the Singapore tax system aims to be a progressive one, analysts say that it should not get to the point where the wealthy get overly squeezed.

Mr Varathan quipped: "It's always tempting to say: There's so much wealth in Singapore, can we tax that? But we don't want a case of slaughtering the golden goose. The real thought behind is to make society more equitable, and not appear anti-wealth per se."

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

Those hired to manage seniors' affairs face stiffer rules

Straits Times
30 Nov 2017
Toh Yong Chuan

The professionals hired by seniors to manage their affairs when they lose the ability to take care of themselves will soon face stricter rules.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said yesterday that these paid professionals cannot be undischarged bankrupts, people convicted of serious crimes, or those who were involved in civil suits like breach of trust.

He added that his ministry, which is working on a registration scheme for these professionals, has decided to impose these new criteria "as an added layer of protection".

The paid professional scheme was announced by the ministry in December 2015 when it said it was seeking to amend the Mental Capacity Act. This would allow seniors without family or close friends to turn to paid professionals to act as their donees and deputies.

Parliament passed the amendments in March last year.

But while the law that paved the way for the scheme was passed nearly two years ago, Mr Lee said yesterday that the ministry is still working out its details, including the registration of professional deputies.

In response to queries on when the scheme would be ready, the ministry told The Straits Times last night that the certification course is an important component of the framework, to ensure potential professional deputies and donees are knowledgeable about their responsibilities and trained to carry them out in the seniors' best interests.

More details of the scheme will be given "in due course", it added.

In his speech, Mr Lee said his ministry is working with the Singapore University of Social Sciences to develop a training programme for such professionals. They cannot be related to the seniors and are likely to be lawyers, accountants, and healthcare and social service professionals, he added.

Toh Yong Chuan

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Russian magnate wants out of deal for $10.5m apartment at Capitol Singapore

Straits Times
22 Nov 2017
K.C. Vijayan

He says unit at Eden Residences Capitol is 'unfit' to live in; developer contests claims

Bought for $10.5 million, the 314 sq m apartment at the Eden Residences Capitol Singapore, opposite St Andrew's Cathedral, is one of the priciest units in the Singapore property scene.

But Russian magnate Sergey Vbornov, 59, the former chief of Russia's largest diamond producer, wants out from the 2013 deal for the unit.

Mr Vbornov, who holds dual citizenship of Russia and St Kitts-Nevis in the Caribbean, is suing vendor Capitol Residential Development in the High Court for the return of monies paid to date amounting to some $8.89 million in sale price, stamp duties costing $1.88 million and $6,857 in conveyancing fees.

The more than $10 million claim makes it one of the largest lawsuits over housing defects here. The case is also noteworthy as Mr Vbornov is seeking a full refund, instead of compensation to make repairs.

Mr Vbornov, who collected the keys to his apartment on Oct 31 last year, alleged in court documents that the unit is "unfit for habitation and does not comply with the promised luxury standard", nor did it live up to the idea of "paradise found", as allegedly marketed.

Capitol Residential Development, defended by lawyers from Allen & Gledhill, are contesting the claims - pointing out, among other things, that the unit was not sold under the agreement as a "luxurious apartment" and/or "paradise found".

Court documents also show that Mr Vbornov hired inspectors who reported "numerous defects".

The claim papers filed by his lawyers from Infinitus Law Corporation list some 20 pages outlining the purported defects such as "poor finishing" in the living area. He claims the "unit has not been constructed to a high standard or to a reasonable standard" and attempts to rectify the issues have failed, given the inherent nature of the defects.

He added he is unable to rent out the unit for up to $25,000 a month because of its alleged condition.

In its defence, Capitol counters that it carried out works to the unit between March and October last year to address his feedback on the alleged defects. He had inspected the unit in March last year and complained about the alleged defects then. It stressed the works were conducted out of goodwill and without admission of liability.

Capitol pointed out that since handing over the unit in October last year to the owner, it has been unable to access the unit to verify the alleged defects or carry out rectification works.

Capitol further denied that any part of the unit's construction was unacceptable in terms of "operation, longevity, appearance, construction, weather tightness, safety, present and potential failure and lifespan, as alleged".

A High Court pre-trial conference was held this month, and the case is expected to go to trial next year.

Mr Vbornov also worked for the Foreign Ministry of the former Soviet Union. He was president of partially state-owned diamond producer Alrosa from 2007 to 2009.

•Additional reporting by Toh Wen Li

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SGX proposes to fix weak spots in disclosure rules

Business Times
08 Dec 2017
Claire Huang

Singapore's bourse operator has zoomed in on the weak spots in disclosure requirements under listing rules and - in a move welcomed by observers - has proposed refinements to improve the transparency and accountability of companies.

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) on Thursday said it has suggested three areas to be tweaked: secondary fund-raising, interested-person transactions (IPTs), and significant transactions and loans.

Under secondary fund-raising, SGX has proposed that listed companies provide a more upfront and prominent report on the discount, ratio and other principal terms for rights issues. Companies are also required to put out a directors' statement on why the rights issue is in the best interest of the issuer and the basis for it.

They should further declare the use of proceeds and the intended use of any unutilised amount if a rights issue takes place within a year of another fund-raising, SGX suggested.

It also recommended that interested-person transactions (IPT) that are under S$100,000 no longer be exempted from announcements or a shareholder vote, and that greater clarity be offered on the nature of the relationship with the interested person. The bourse operator proposed that those covered by the IPT mandate - the relevant director, chief executive or controlling shareholder of the issuer - be identified.

SGX is also suggesting additional disclosures for loans that are not part of the issuer's "ordinary course of business".

If no valuation is done for an acquisition or disposal of assets that is a major transaction, it wants companies to explain why; the exception will be if the transaction involves shares.

SGX has also recommended that companies appoint a competent and independent valuer for significant asset disposals.

Tan Boon Gin, the chief executive of Singapore Exchange Regulation, said: "We are proposing to recalibrate the disclosure regime using a risk-based approach, following extensive engagements with investors, companies and other stakeholders. The additional disclosures we are proposing address key areas of concern of the market and the exchange."

The public are invited to offer feedback on the proposed listing rule changes by Jan 12. If the recommendations are accepted, SGX expects to implement the changes next year.

Corporate governance advocate Mak Yuen Teen, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, said he would like to see further refinements in how ratios are calculated when determining whether an IPT is disclosable or requires shareholders' approval.

"We are rather too reliant on NTA (net tangible assets) for instance, in calculating ratios. Also, I think our disclosures rules on acquisitions and realisations that are dependent on whether they are in the ordinary course of business or change the risk profile of the issuer are too subjective and could be circumvented."

Asked if further disclosures will be onerous on smaller listed companies, he said: "Smaller companies often face greater risk of abuse because it's easier to obtain substantial stakes to influence transactions in one's favour.

"There's also less institutional shareholders' presence and less analyst coverage in smaller companies to provide checks and balances."

Robson Lee, a partner with US law firm Gibson Dunn, noted that the new secondary fund-raising requirements are not unlike when an issuer first raises funds at an initial public offering (IPO). As for the IPT tweaks, he said the new rules will plug current gaps and enable non-interested shareholders to periodically vote on any proposed long term IPT, based on comprehensive public-disclosure rules, with reference to the periodic confirmations and recommendations of the audit committee.

Mr Lee added that all major acquisitions and disposals have potential financial or even business impact on the group. In most instances where a controlling shareholder proposes such a corporate action, the market has inadequate information on the value of such transactions, "which would be a done deal even if an extraordinary general meeting is required for the transaction", he noted.

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Man who held boy hostage found guilty of kidnapping

Straits Times
30 Nov 2017
Elena Chong

He locked 2-year-old in flat with him during a 17-hour stand-off with victim's mother, police

A man who held his girlfriend's two-year-old son hostage and engaged in a 17-hour stand-off with police was convicted yesterday of kidnapping the child, as well as three other charges.

Muhammad Iskandah Suhaimi, 40, admitted to taking the toddler from his mother without her consent, having a knuckleduster, and possessing and taking crystal methamphetamine or Ice the day after he took the child.

Neither his 33-year-old girlfriend nor her son can be named due to a gag order.

At about 4pm on Sept 27 last year, Iskandah - who had been living in the rental flat for about a year with the victim and his mother - told his girlfriend to buy cigarettes for him.

When she stepped out of the flat with her son, he suddenly grabbed the boy and locked the main gate, with the victim inside.

He ignored his girlfriend's requests to let the victim go. She was afraid as she had not been apart from her son before and usually did not leave him alone with Iskandah.

Iskandah rejected her pleas to release the boy and he challenged her to call the police. She then went to get her mother's help and returned to the flat with her.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Koh said Iskandah still refused to let the victim go and said he would only do so if his girlfriend agreed to enter the flat in exchange for the victim. The girlfriend and her mother both did not agree as Iskandah had a history of violence towards his girlfriend.

Police arrived at about 7pm, 15 minutes after they were alerted.

Iskandah's girlfriend told the police that he had taken Ice earlier that day.

She also said they were having relationship problems, that he had hit her before, and was known to carry a knuckleduster with him.

DPP Koh said Iskandah continued to demand that his girlfriend go into the house in exchange for the child's release.

Iskandah was aggressive, uncooperative, impatient and highly agitated at various points in his dealings with the police, the court heard.

During the stand-off, he was seen taking drugs in the flat.

At around noon - the day after the stand-off started - a team from the Special Operations Command forced its way into the flat by breaking a the window and removing the front gate when Iskandah went to the toilet. The victim was rescued and Iskandah was arrested.

He had thought that his girlfriend would call the police and report him for taking drugs if he allowed her to take the child with her.

DPP Koh said the stand-off lasted about 17 hours - from about 6.40pm on Sept 27 to about noon the next day.

District Judge Carol Ling adjourned the case to Feb 26 for sentencing.

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High Court lays out sentencing benchmarks for molesters of children below 14

TODAY
22 Nov 2017
Faris Mokhtar

SINGAPORE — Issuing sentencing benchmarks for aggravated outrage of modesty cases involving children below 14, a High Court judge imposed a heftier jail term on a convicted molester.

Arguing a “significant uplift is necessary” for such offences, Justice See Kee Oon said benchmarks will help achieve a measure of consistency across various cases, and would ensure the full sentencing spectrum allowing a maximum jail term of five years is utilised.

In judgment grounds made public on Tuesday (Nov 21), Justice See dismissed the appeal by a 45-year-old Singaporean man, who had molested his 13-year-old niece, to have his 21-month jail sentence reduced. The man and his niece, who is now 16, cannot be named due to a court order.

The judge increased the man’s jail term to 25 months, shorter than the 27 months that the prosecution had argued for in a cross-appeal. There was no change to the four strokes of the cane meted out in the man’s original sentence.

The man, who is married with no children, had invited his niece over to his house on the afternoon of Feb 10, 2014, on the pretext that it would be more conducive for her to do her schoolwork. Her parents had been engaged in a domestic dispute the day before.

After his wife had gone to work, the man, who was sitting next to the girl on the sofa in the living room, fondled the girl’s breasts and touched her private parts. She had objected, but complied out of fear.

The man was first sentenced by a District Judge in May after a five-day trial.

Justice See said that the court should first ascertain three categories of aggravating factors, with the first being the degree of sexual exploitation. This includes assessing how and where the victim was molested and the duration of the act. For instance, the offence is more aggravated if there is skin-to-skin contact.

Other categories relate to the circumstances of the offence — such as the use of force or violence or the abuse of a position of trust — and the harm caused to the victim.

After the gravity of the offence has been ascertained, the court should then place it within three bands to determine the appropriate punishment.

Under the first band, which would stipulate a jail term of less than a year, cases would be at the “lowest end of the spectrum of seriousness”, with at most one aggravating factor. The cases may involve a fleeting touch, for instance.

Cases in the second band would be those with two or more aggravating factors and “nearly always” entail caning. The lowest end of the band would see cases with absence of skin-to-skin contact with the victims’ private parts, while those at the higher spectrum would involve skin contact with the victim’s private parts or sexual organs.

Imprisonment of one to three years should be considered, with a suggested starting point of at least three strokes of the cane, said Justice See.

The third band would see a three- to five-year jail term meted out, with a suggested starting point of six strokes of the cane.

Based on the aggravating factors in the present case, Justice See noted that the man’s conduct fell within the middle to upper range of the second band, with a sentence of at least 24 months. The sexual exploitation lasted for a “substantial period” and there was a degree of premeditation, as well as abuse of a position of trust, he noted.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

American-Muslim preacher’s views not a threat to social harmony: Voices

TODAY
08 Dec 2017

As a Christian, I do not see how the views of American-Muslim preacher Yusuf Estes denigrate the Christian faith or “damage social harmony”, by claiming that it is “not part of Islam to celebrate other people’s holidays” or questioning the religious basis for Christmas. (“S’pore blocks American-Muslim preacher from entering to preach on Islamic-themed cruise”, Dec 2)

A Muslim is fully entitled to refrain from participating in religious festivities of other religions.

Article 16(3) of the Singapore Constitution guarantees that no person shall be required to receive instruction in or to take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion other than his own.

In a 1999 case, the Singapore Court of Appeal explained that this is meant to protect a person’s right to choose his own religion. For example, a Muslim cannot be “required to take part in” a Christian ceremony such as the Holy Communion.

Furthermore, Estes’ view that Christmas was ‘from the Solstice celebration, and had been going on for hundreds of years before the time of Jesus’, is neither new nor offensive.

It is a widely known among many scholars that Jesus Christ was not born on Dec 25 of 1 AD.

Historians and Christian scholars alike recognise that the ancient Roman Empire celebrated Saturnalia, a winter solstice festival, at or about the time of Dec 25 each year.

According to Sam Moorhead of the British Museum, after the Roman Empire embraced Christianity as its official religion, Saturnalia was incorporated as a Christian holy day.

While many Christians celebrate Christmas, there are also those who do not.

The discussion is an ongoing one, among Christians and non-Christians alike, as to the origins of Christmas or whether it is acceptable to “redeem” such ancient Roman festivals. This is a natural and reasonable exercise of freedom of speech and religion.

However, it is quite another thing for the Government to stifle the discussion by deeming certain perspectives as offensive or denigratory.

In order to promote respect for religious freedom and harmony, the right of every person to pursue religious truth and live in line with his conscience should be respected and upheld. Short of real threats to public order, health or morality, the Government should respect the right of every person to profess, practise and propagate his religion.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

New sentencing framework set out to protect police officers

TODAY
01 Dec 2017
Alfred Chua

Those who behave violently against police officers carrying out their duties can expect to face tougher punishment, according to a new sentencing framework set out by the High Court.

The framework will comprise three broad sentencing bands that range from a fine or a jail term of up to a year, to imprisonment of between three and seven years, depending on the severity of the offence.

Three High Court judges set out the framework after upping the jail sentence from one week to 10 weeks for a man who had slapped a policeman in April last year.

The prosecutors had appealed the jail sentence given to the man, Jeffrey Yeo Ek Boon, calling it “manifestly inadequate”. The High Court allowed the appeal and increased Yeo’s jail term in September.

“Police officers … frequently endanger their lives and risk their personal safety in the discharge of their duties to protect society by maintaining law and order,” Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang wrote in explaining the rationale behind the new framework, which was issued as part of the written judgement against Yeo released on Wednesday (Nov 29).

“While one could argue that danger is inherent in the work of the police on the ground, surely those who preserve law and order and protect society dutifully deserve to feel assured that they will be protected adequately by the law that they uphold.”

Punishment for an offender under the new framework would correspond to the extent and nature of injuries sustained by the police officer, as well as the manner and motivation of the suspect.

The first band, for instance, corresponds with cases where minor injuries are involved and the pain is momentary. An offender in this category may be fined, or jailed for up to a year.

“The majority of cases that have been prosecuted thus far fall into this category,” Justice Tay noted.

Offenders would only get away with a fine in “very exceptional” cases, such as when young offenders or those with mental disorders are involved, the judges added.

Cases that fall within the second band would include situations where the police officer suffered minor injuries from a suspect who was motivated to cause harm, or when the officer suffered serious injuries but the suspect’s culpability was low.

Jail sentences in this middle band would range from one to three years.

The third category, involving very serious and long-term injuries to a police officer, would see the offender face a jail term of between three and seven years, the maximum imprisonment sentence for those who cause hurt to deter a public servant from his duties.

“Such offences are generally intended to strike at the very heart of the police as an institution of law and order,” Justice Tay wrote.

In the case of Yeo, who had slapped a policeman after a night out drinking, the judges said his offences would fall into the lower end of the first category.

Police officers found the 26-year-old sprawled out on a grass patch near a canal along Bukit Timah Road on April 16, 2016. He became aggressive after the officers woke him.

Yeo muttered expletives, and then slapped one of the officers.

Commenting on the sentence given by the lower courts, the High Court judges agreed that it fell “far below the normal sentencing range”, despite the mitigating circumstances.

The new framework, Justice Tay wrote, must “reflect society’s opprobrium of such offences”.

In September, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam flagged the rising trend of Home Team uniformed officers being physically or verbally abused. There were 484 cases — or more than one a day — last year.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law Minister, pointed out that the problem had worsened, with the number of such cases rising more than 65 per cent between 2014 and last year.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

MAS seeks power to make competing banks open e-payment rails

Business Times
22 Nov 2017
Jamie Lee

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) proposed on Tuesday that the central bank be given powers to ensure interoperability for payment systems.

This would mean that MAS can force big banks here to open up their payment rails to competitors and third-party players to ensure that large payment systems are compatible with other payment systems.

The latest proposal was found in a new Payment Services Bill which was released on Tuesday for public consultation. The bill suggests the MAS would like to see a new payments regime replacing the existing one - and the new regime will regulate payment entities according to their activities and the ensuing risks.

The existing regulatory framework already provides MAS the power to mandate that a payment system operator gives third parties access to its system to offer services on "fair and reasonable commercial terms". MAS is now looking to import these powers into the new bill.

The central bank also wants the power to mandate any major payment institution to participate in a common platform for interoperability of major e-wallets. MAS further wants the power to mandate big payment players to adopt a common standard to make widely used payment acceptance methods interoperable. One such common standard is the upcoming standardised QR - or Quick Response - code.

Defining the lack of interoperability as a risk in the area of payments, MAS said in the consultation paper that the regulator needs to reduce fragmentation and enhance confidence in acceptance of e-payments.

"If key customer facing payment services do not interoperate, consumers will not have a simple and standardised experience, which is important to promote growth and development of the e-payments ecosystem." MAS said such powers will be imposed "only when the circumstances call" for it.

The central bank has proposed as well that companies offering virtual currency services should hold a payment licence, noting that virtual currencies pose anti-money laundering and terrorism financing risks.

The public consultation will run from Nov 21, 2017, to Jan 8, 2018.

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Singapore's ageing population a ticking 'time bomb'

Business Times
07 Dec 2017
Vivien Shiao

UOB economist expects GST hikes over 2 years to cope with resulting rise in govt spending and lower tax revenue, but OCBC economist says raising GST is not only option

Singapore's population will reach a critical juncture next year, as the number of people above 65 will equal those under 15 for the first time in history, UOB economist Francis Tan has said in a research note.

But even as the greying demographic exacts its toll on government spending, economists have different takes on how revenue can be raised to fund this spending.

In his report, Mr Tan warned that the situation is a ticking "demographic time bomb", with implications on costs, taxes, labour and productivity.

As it is, Singapore already has the oldest society among Asean's 10 member nations; the median age of its resident population is 40.5 years old. In contrast, the projected median age for Asean in 2020 is 29.8 years.

By 2030, the gap between the young and old in Singapore is expected to widen considerably; the percentage of seniors will rise to 27 per cent, and that of youths will fall to 10.8 per cent. This will put Singapore on a similar footing with current-day Japan, the oldest society in the world with 26.6 per cent of its population above 65 years old.

With increasingly heavy costs that come from an ageing population in areas such as healthcare and social services, Singapore's primary budget deficit will widen.

Mr Tan said: "Not only will the increase in spending widen the budget deficit, the slowdown in economic contribution as more of the population drops out of the labour force will also reduce tax revenue for the government, resulting in a double whammy."

To cope with that, the government will have to find more ways to increase revenue, he said, echoing the recent comment by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - that it is "not a matter of whether, but a matter of when" taxes would have to be raised.

Mr Tan said this is likely to come in the form of a revision to the Goods and Services Tax (GST); he expects two GST hikes over the next two years, to be announced in the 2018 Singapore Budget.

He is forecasting an increase of one percentage point to 8 per cent, likely to be implemented on April 1, and then perhaps another one percentage point hike exactly a year later. "Being in the middle of the electoral term, the GST hike is more likely to be implemented early, rather than near the end of the term."

He added that this year's higher economic growth is likely to push up wages next year, providing "some cushion" against consumption cutbacks due to a raised GST.

The GST, last raised in 2007, is the third biggest contributor to Singapore's budget after net investment returns and corporate income tax.

OCBC economist Selena Ling contends, however, that raising GST is not the only way for the government to boost fiscal revenue.

Asset taxes, stamp duties, customs and excise taxes, betting taxes and motor taxes are some alternative sources of such revenue, she said. It could even be a combination of GST and other sin taxes, she added.

As the population in Singapore gets older and richer, bringing back the estate tax is also another possibility. Ms Ling said this could contribute 1 to 3 per cent of revenue if needed.

"My point is that all options are on the table. We don't have to narrow ourselves and say it has to be GST, per se."

Taxing e-commerce transactions is yet another option to consider, and this is already being done around the world, she said, describing this route as the harvesting of "low-hanging fruit" to raise revenue without raising the quantum of GST.

The GST is a regressive tax, which means lower-income households would feel the pinch more.

Ms Ling acknowledges that government expenditure needs have risen rapidly, but differs from UOB's Mr Tan on the urgency of tax hikes to increase revenue.

She said: "I would hesitate to say that there's an immediate need to raise revenue next year. My concern would be the timing. If we are going to shift monetary policy from neutral to a slight appreciation stance, and if you raise taxes, you are tightening both the fiscal and monetary policy levers."

This is likely to exert additional pressure on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are still struggling to cope with economic restructuring and high costs, she said.

But if there is one thing economists agree on, it is that tax hikes are on the horizon.

Ms Ling said: "There is no smoke without a fire. The fact that the government has hinted quite strongly that there are some tax changes coming up means that they will probably announce something in the 2018 budget."

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Monk sued over A$240k 'study grant'

Straits Times
29 Nov 2017
Selina Lum

A Buddhist devotee told the High Court yesterday that he gave A$240,000 to a prominent monk in 2010 to pursue a doctoral degree but Venerable Guojun used part of the money to buy property in Australia instead.

Ven Guojun, the former abbot of Mahabodhi Monastery, bought a A$545,000 one-bedroom apartment in Sydney two months after businessman Lee Boon Teow made full payment of the "study grant". The property was sold in June this year for A$810,000 (S$828,000).

Mr Lee, who is also a trustee and a former management committee member of the monastery in Bukit Timah, has sued Ven Guojun for the return of the A$240,000.

"We trusted him because as a man (who has) renounced all worldly possessions, integrity forms the basic principle of his life. We gave him money for studies so he must use that money for that purpose," he said when cross-examined by Ven Guojun's lawyer, Mr Joseph Liow.

Mr Lee said he was unhappy with the monk for his "integrity issues".

"You can't be a monk in the day and a metrosexual at night," he said in Mandarin, in a reference to photographs taken last year of Ven Guojun in sports attire at the Marina Bay Sands hotel with a friend.

Mr Lee said he first handed over A$40,000 in cash to Ven Guojun, followed by a transfer of A$200,000 to the monk's bank account in Australia in April 2010.

He said he found out in June 2015 that Ven Guojun had bought an apartment in Sydney. The sale was completed in June 2010, shortly after the bank transfer.

From the bank statements provided by Ven Guojun, Mr Lee concluded that the monk had amassed a fortune of at least A$3 million by 2009. This figure was derived from calculations based on dividend payments credited into the account.

Ven Guojun acknowledges that he had received A$199,979 from Mr Lee but denies he had agreed to use the money solely for doctoral studies. He contends that it had been a gift for his own use, in a Buddhist practice known as "dana". He also contends that the money was given to thank him for blessing Mr Lee's construction business and for marriage counselling.

But Mr Lee counters that he was not facing any marital crisis; neither did his business "turn around" as a result of Ven Guojun's prayers.

The president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, Venerable Kwang Phing, is lined up to testify for Mr Lee on various issues.

This is the second of three legal disputes brought by Mr Lee against Ven Guojun. A defamation suit arising from a Buddhist sculpture was settled last month. Another defamation suit is pending.

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Playing by the same rules: Ship financing

Business Times
22 Nov 2017
David Hughes

Court move by Liberian Registry and International Chamber of Shipping clears up key point on enforceability of vessel mortgages

THIS column rarely delves far into the world of ship financing, largely because your columnist knows precious little about the topic, except that unwanted tonnage always seems to attract enough cash to keep upsetting the supply/demand balance.

However he does know that shipping is a global industry that only works well if everybody plays by the same rules, and that applies to the legal framework surrounding ship financing just as much as it does to, say, emission control or collision regulations.

So there has been some good news on this front. The Liberian Registry says that, in co-operation with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), it has succeeded in helping the holder of a Liberian mortgage to overturn a decision of the Brazilian courts which, if left uncontested, could have had serious adverse legal and economic consequences for the international shipping industry.

A Dutch company bought the FPSO (Floating, Production, Storage, and Offloading vessel) OSX-3 in March 2012 and following re-registration under the Liberian flag, the vessel was mortgaged in favour of Nordic Trustee ASA, a Norwegian entity acting as the security trustee and mortgagee of the vessel.

However, in an action before the lower court in Brazil, an unsecured third-party creditor, Banco BTG Pactual SA Cayman Branch, successfully challenged the status of the Liberian mortgage in Brazil on the grounds that the mortgage was not registered with the Admiralty Court of Brazil and that it was only filed with Liberia.

On Nov 16, the Superior Court of Justice in Brazil unanimously granted Nordic Trustee's special appeal and the amicus (friend of the court) motion filed jointly by the Liberian Registry and the ICS, of which the Liberian Shipowners' Council is a member, against this decision.

The motion sought to clarify and rescind the lower court ruling, on the grounds that it created uncertainty around the enforceability of mortgages for the majority of the world fleet - including those registered in major flag states such as the US, the Marshall Islands, China and Germany - when such vessels were trading in Brazil.

Liberia says it took "swift and decisive action following the decision of the lower court by filing the joint amicus motion to the main proceeding through its local counsel, Basch & Rameh.

Liberia successfully submitted that the decision of the lower court would have an adverse legal and economic impact on the shipping industry, that it overlooked international conventions and that it ignored international custom.

Hara Gisholt, vice-president, Business & Legal Affairs for the Liberian Registry says: "Recognising that the lower court decision could have been detrimental to international maritime trade, we decided to join as an amicus party early on. Although we were navigating uncharted waters, we knew this was the right decision."

Historic victory

Scott Bergeron, CEO of the Liberian Registry says: "This is an historic victory for ship financing, international commerce and the Liberian maritime programme."

So this was a shining example of the shipping industry pulling together and making sure the same rules apply everywhere, right? Well, up to a point.

The Liberian Registry folk are certainly happy that they won. They are far from happy about the attitude of other registries. They say: "Other ship registries, meanwhile, decided not to join the motion despite having major interests in Brazil and notwithstanding the possibility that their mortgages could be questioned and invalidated."

Their ire is understandable although probably many countries would find it difficult constitutionally to become involved in an action like that in a foreign court.

And of course that highlights the tension within the ship register sector which, by some, is seen as purely a commercial activity while many still hold the traditional view that flying a particular ensign is all to do with the sovereign rights of a country.

Nevertheless the Brazilian ruling provides welcome certainty to the international shipping community.

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Dennis Wee Realty hit with record S$66,000 fine

Business Times
07 Dec 2017
Rachel Mui

DWR also faces a 12-month ban for not warning investors of risks in overseas property purchases

Dennis Wee Realty (DWR) has been fined a record S$66,000 by the Council for Estate Agencies' (CEA) disciplinary committee for not highlighting to investors the risks involved in buying overseas properties.

DWR was also banned from transacting or marketing properties abroad for 12 months with effect from Nov 24, 2017.

The fine is the largest penalty meted out thus far to a property agency for failing to abide by regulations on the sale or marketing of properties abroad.

In a statement on Wednesday, the CEA said DWR is liable for "six charges of failing to provide a written advisory message to six sets of investors to draw their attention to the risks involved in purchasing foreign properties".

"Throughout the property marketing process, DWR's property agents did not provide the investors with a written advisory message stating that the investors must conduct due diligence. They did not highlight to the investors the risks that are involved for consumers buying foreign property, and that the transaction is subject to foreign laws and to any change in policies and rules in the UK," the CEA said.

In 2014, the investors had purchased 18 units in two hotel developments in the UK through DWR - the Ibis Budget Hotel located in Lymm and the Ibis Budget Hotel in Knutsford, Cheshire. A unit in the Lymm Project was sold for £94,500 (S$170,965), while a unit in the Knutsford Project was sold for £82,500.

Subsequently, they made full payments amounting £1.64 million to the UK developers - Hotel Options (Lymm) and Hotel Options (Knutsford).

When the developers entered into administration in 2015, investors did not receive the amounts they were promised as investment returns.

DWR's agents had previously told investors that they would obtain annual returns ranging from 8 to 12 per cent for the first three years following their purchase. After which, they would receive a capital uplift on the purchase price ranging from 9 to 20 per cent, with a guarantee by the developers to buy the property back from the investors at the end of the three years.

According to the CEA, the investors received monthly returns for periods ranging from one month to six months before payment ceased. To date, they have not been paid the remaining guaranteed annual monthly returns and the capital uplift on the purchase price as promised.

Between April and September 2014, DWR conducted seminars in Singapore to market and sell the two hotels. To entice members of the public to its seminar, DWR had made false representations in their advertisement such as "Meet the developer" and other claims, the CEA said. This was despite the fact that DWR knew these developers would not be present. Four of the six sets of investors had attended the seminars.

Given the complexities and risks involved with purchasing foreign properties, the CEA cautioned that consumers should exercise due diligence before entering into any agreement to buy properties abroad and not rely entirely on the advice from representatives of the foreign developer.

The CEA is a statutory board established in 2010 under the Estate Agents Act to regulate and promote the development of a professional and trusted real estate agency industry.

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Three firms fined over S$600,000 for rigging F1 bids

Business Times
29 Nov 2017
Nisha Ramachandi

Separately, two of the companies were found to have also rigged bids for a tender to supply services to a school

The Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) has fined three corporate entities more than S$600,000 for being involved in rigging the bids for a tender for the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix.

Contractor group Cyclect, which consists of Chemicrete Enterprises, Cyclect Electrical Engineering and Cyclect Holdings, received the heaviest penalty for its role in the bid-rigging.

HPH Engineering and Peak Top Engineering were also fined for infringing Section 34 of the Competition Act.

The CCS initiated investigations after it received a complaint in relation to possible collusion and/or bid-rigging for the F1 tender for providing electrical services, as well as a tender for asset-tagging services for international school GEMS World Academy.

On April 23, 2015, Cyclect Electrical won the three-year contract for the Singapore Grand Prix after colluding with HPH and Peak Top, which inflated their bids by 25 to 30 per cent above that of Cyclect Electrical's, the CCS said. Chemicrete, a unit of Cyclect Group, also put in a bid.

Cyclect Electrical's bid was also 10 to 20 per cent above the winning bid for the previous F1 tender spanning 2011-2014, which it also won. However, that increase could have been due to other factors, including labour costs, the CCS highlighted.

Meanwhile, for a separate tender seeking asset-tagging services for the GEMS World Academy campus in Yishun, Chemicrete won the contract on March 31, 2015 after seeking HPH's assistance to support it by submitting a higher quote, the CCS said.

GEMS received a total of three quotes, including quotes from Chemicrete and HPH. In this case, HPH's inflated bid was 50 per cent higher than Chemicrete's.

The CCS fined Cyclect Group S$559,297 for the F1 tender and S$12,000 for the GEMS tender. The fines took into account a discount for leniency after the group came forward to provide the CCS with information to help with its investigations.

The discount for leniency can be up to 50 per cent, said the CCS, without disclosing the exact figure.

HPH was hit with a penalty of S$28,128 for the F1 tender and S$5,000 for the GEMS tender; Peak Top will have to pay a penalty of S$21,693 for the F1 tender.

The firms have two months to file an appeal.

The investigations, which, among other things, included inspecting the premises of Chemicrete and Cyclect Holdings, yielded evidence such as documents from key personnel at the companies and representations from the Cyclect Group.

There was also a WhatsApp message from an executive director at HPH sent to Chemicrete's general manager on Dec 10, 2014, which read: "Bro, have you check with your md (managing director) on the Grand Prix tender. How he want to work together. Or he want me to submit a bogus price only. Please advise."

Toh Han Li, chief executive of the CCS, said: "Bid-rigging is one of the most harmful types of anti-competitive conduct as it distorts the competitive bidding process, preventing businesses from getting the best value for their tenders."

He suggested that bidders educate their employees through compliance programmes. In addition, tendering companies can try to open the tender to as many bidders as possible to minimise bid-rigging, such as through e-procurement or breaking up the tender into smaller parcels.

In a statement, managing director of Cyclect Group, Melvin Tan, said: "We have never intentionally worked against industry practices. We have cooperated to the best of our ability during the investigations.

"Hence, this decision came as a shock to us. We are currently reviewing the decisions with our legal advisors and will be keeping all our options open, including an appeal."

HPH and Peak Top did not respond to queries from The Business Times.

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25% payout for small firms owed for T4 works

Straits Times
21 Nov 2017
Seow Bei Yi

High Court approves payment scheme for contractor's 75 creditors owed over $12m

A group of subcontractors which have been owed payment for their work on Changi Airport's Terminal 4 (T4) are set to receive a 25 per cent payout after waiting for more than a year, The Straits Times understands.

The latest development came after the High Court approved a payout scheme last Wednesday for contractor Acesian Star's 75 creditors. According to documents seen by ST, they are said to be owed more than $12 million in total.

T4, which cost about $985 million to build, opened on Oct 31.

The court decision brought relief to creditors, including smaller subcontractors.

Many of the creditors had voted in favour of the scheme in August, which will see them each getting 25 per cent of what they have been owed from Acesian Partners, the sole shareholder of Acesian Star.

Some said they chose this option to "cut their losses".

One of them is Pro-Flex Engineering, which supplies and installs electrical works. Its director Raymond Lim said in a July affidavit obtained by ST that it was owed around $816,500, and that he did not wish to wait any longer.

Another company relieved at the outcome is See Ho, which specialises in air-conditioning systems. It is set to get back more than $760,000.

Its senior manager Beh Chiu Hock said: "This money is very important to smaller companies like ours. If we did not have reserves from over 30 years of business, we might have had to stop operations."

On how the long wait has hurt his firm, he said: "We had more than 200 staff about a year ago, but now we have reduced headcount to about 70."

Ms Yeak Ai Li, director of Yes Air-Cond Engrg, said one of her other companies was forced to stop operations.

"I'm relieved," she said, adding that she expects a payout of close to $19,000. "At least, we didn't complete the works only to leave without getting a single cent."

The payout scheme excludes Acesian Star's largest creditor, T4's main contractor Takenaka Corporation. Acesian Star has disputed the Japanese firm's claims which - according to a Singapore Exchange announcement it made in May - stand at about $27 million. The sum includes claims for back charges and liquidated damages.

According to court documents obtained by ST, Acesian said its works had not been delayed.

Instead, its judicial managers are claiming more than $31 million against Takenaka for T4's works. They referred the disputes to arbitration in September.

Last week's court decision is the latest in a series of developments on the dispute between Acesian Star and Takenaka Corporation, which smaller subcontractors said had impacted them.

With Acesian Star in judicial management, some firms found themselves unable to start enforcement proceedings to recover the money they are owed. The judicial managers pay off its debts as and when money becomes available.

Delays to payouts continued even as Acesian Partners earlier tendered $2.8 million for the proposed scheme. This money was to be held with the judicial managers until the scheme was approved.


PAYOUT VITAL

This money is very important to smaller companies like ours. If we did not have reserves from over 30 years of business, we might have had to stop operations.

MR BEH CHIU HOCK, senior manager of See Ho, which is set to get back more than $760,000.

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Court can't pre-empt SAF's action: Judge

Straits Times
06 Dec 2017
K.C. Vijayan

How an offender's career in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) would be affected should have no bearing on the sentence meted out, a judge has pointed out.

Justice Chan Seng Onn said this on the back of raising a motorist's $5,000 fine for punching a pedestrian to three weeks' jail on appeal. He found that the district court was "heavily influenced" by Lim Yee Hua's submission that a jail term would apparently have sounded the death knell for his SAF career.

"It would be unprincipled for the courts to pre-empt how the SAF might discipline its soldiers and attempt to influence that by imposing a more lenient court sentence just because the court takes the view that the soldier might be disciplined too severely by the SAF."

Justice Chan made clear "it is not the business of the courts to indirectly alleviate the consequences" of any SAF disciplinary action.

The judge's remarks supplement a ruling by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in a case earlier this year: The Chief Justice had rejected the argument that an offender should not receive punishment above a certain degree or of a certain type because he would lose his job or face disciplinary proceedings otherwise.

In the current case, Lim, 37, was fined a total $9,000 by a district judge in January for two charges.

He had caused hurt to Mr Basil Ho, 50, near Block 503B, Canberra Link in Sembawang on July 11, 2014.

Mr Ho was about to use the zebra crossing that evening when Lim's black Honda Airwave drove through, almost hitting him.

Upset, Mr Ho hit the top of the car as it passed him. He was later accosted by Lim, an army officer, at the block. He was punched by Lim when an argument ensued.

Mr Ho then went back to the zebra crossing - where Lim had left his car - to take down the car plate number to make a police report.

There, Lim confronted Mr Ho again, and, among other things, punched the back of his neck.

Lim was trying to thwart Mr Ho's bid to make a police report by preventing him from leaving the scene and intimidating him.

Lim was fined $4,000 for the first assault and $5,000 for the second charge. The prosecution appealed to the High Court, arguing that the sentences were inadequate.

Justice Chan affirmed the $4,000 fine for the first charge but allowed the prosecution's appeal on the second offence in judgment grounds last week. He ordered that Lim be refunded the $5,000 fine paid and be jailed for three weeks instead.

Justice Chan said Lim's bid to interfere with Mr Ho's attempt to lodge a police report by intimidating him and preventing him from leaving the scene was a significant aggravating factor for sentencing.

Lim, defended by lawyer Chentil Kumarasingam, said a jail term would increase the likelihood of a discharge from the SAF. This meant the loss of $108,000 in retirement benefits, for example. Prosecutors Mohamed Faizal and Dora Tay said the arguments had no merit.

Said Justice Chan: "Lim's arguments vis-a-vis both the setbacks to his career advancement that he has already endured and the nature of the disciplinary action that might be taken against him by the SAF ought not to have any bearing on my determination of the appropriate sentence."

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SMRT's legal options depend on staff contracts

Straits Times
29 Nov 2017
Adrian Lim

The legal actions which SMRT can take against two ex-employees linked to last month's MRT tunnel flooding depend on the terms of their contract. The rail operator can also sue for damages caused by negligence, although this will be a challenging course of action, said legal experts.

On Monday, SMRT said that it had found 13 staff responsible for failing to maintain an anti-flooding system, which led to the tunnel between Bishan and Braddell stations becoming flooded on Oct 7, causing a major service disruption. Some of the staff were found to have falsified maintenance records.

Eight were sacked, one was demoted, and disciplinary action, which SMRT did not specify, was taken against another two, it was revealed on Monday.

Vice-president Tay Tien Seng and senior manager Ivan Kok, who quit shortly after the flooding incident, were found to have not exercised sufficient supervision during the seven-month period when records were falsified. On Monday, SMRT said it "reserves its right to pursue legal action against them as may be appropriate".

Asked about the legal options open to SMRT, lawyer Wayne Ong told The Straits Times yesterday: "If there were duties that the employees should have carried out - as described in their contract - and the employees did not do so, then it could be a breach of the contract."

He said it did not matter that they had quit as they were contractually bound when the breaches occurred.

Mr S. Sundaram, partner for litigation and dispute resolution at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, said the employment contract may contain a term which allows SMRT to pursue legal recourse if the employees are found to be grossly negligent in performing their jobs.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said SMRT could sue for compensation for the damage to and the repair of ill-maintained equipment, if it can be proven that these were the "direct and foreseeable consequence of the staff members' deliberate dereliction of duties or wilful negligence".

But this is "an extreme and unlikely course of action, as it is challenging to succeed on this ground in court", and the probability of receiving damages, which may amount to millions, is very low, he added. Professor Tan said: "Ultimately, responsibility for the flooding lies solely with SMRT... The mere threat of and actual resort to legal action may also dramatically backfire, considering the negative public opinion and low staff morale."

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Sussing out weak links in cyber defence

Straits Times
21 Nov 2017

Public concerns have been raised about the powers the Cyber Security Agency will acquire under a Bill now in the works to help thwart digital threats. It would be a "misunderstanding" to see it as a Big Brother Bill as it doesn't give the agency "broad powers to oversee every computer in Singapore", according to its chief executive David Koh. The proposed powers are said to be linked to cyber security events and information sought would be largely technical in nature.

Under the Bill, the Commissioner of Cybersecurity - appointed by the relevant minister - is required to oversee and maintain the cyber security of computer systems in the city-state. The Commissioner is empowered to seek information related to such defences and to investigate cyber security incidents. In furtherance of the latter duty, the Commissioner would be able to access a computer, "search any data" available to it, and take a copy of any electronic record, among other powers. Such authority would override rules on banking secrecy and the confidentiality of information. Certain limits are also spelt out - for example, the owner of a computer system may appeal to the minister if it is designated as "critical information infrastructure", which carries a higher set of responsibilities.

Given the grave risks posed by hacking which could paralyse a nation, citizens ought to ponder choices like strong powers to stop attackers in their tracks, an agency's constrained authority to act, or some balance of the two. Tardy responses could produce a domino effect. Being interlinked, a breach in one area could affect even systems in remote spheres. Of course, it is the provision of essential services that is of greater concern - like phone and Internet connections, power and water supply, transport, banking and finance, and public security. Accordingly, the Bill empowers the minister to authorise or direct any person or organisation to take necessary steps to prevent a possible cyber meltdown.

Another utility of contemplating whether too little or too much power is being given to the authorities is that it might prompt people to examine their own attitudes towards data. Certain information is deemed precious, yet standards of data protection vary across different sectors. Thus there is merit in ensuring useful codes of practice and standards of performance are widely observed, as directed by the Commissioner.

The irony is that many who might shrink from architectures of surveillance, called the Panopticon by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, often think little of how corporations leverage their data to make money. Danger arises when they pay little attention to surveillance by hackers who are constantly probing networks to find weak links. Slackness on the part of organisations and users in effect cedes power over networks to subverters.

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

Duo charged over illegal home rental under new regulations

Straits Times
06 Dec 2017
Ng Jun Sen

Property agents allegedly used Airbnb to let out condo units for under six months

Two men were charged yesterday over their roles in providing illegal short-term stays to tenants.

This is the first use of new regulations against home sharing since they kicked in on May 15.

Property agents Terence Tan En Wei, 35, and Yao Songliang, 34, face four charges each for renting out their condominium units to others for under six months.

They are expected to plead guilty.

The Straits Times understands that the men had used popular home-sharing service Airbnb.

According to court documents, both men had allegedly worked together to rent out four units at D'Leedon condominium in Farrer Road for short-term stays without permission from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Under the Planning Act, the new rules make it illegal to rent out, sublet or share one's private residential property with others for under six months. Following a 2015 public consultation by the URA, the bar was lowered to under three months for private homes from June 30 this year. For Housing Board flats, the minimum stay is still six months.

However, Tan and Yao allegedly committed the offences before the three-month bar set in. Court documents were unclear as to whether they were owners, occupiers or acting as property agents for the units.

The amendment renders the provision of short-term stays for payment a form of development.

Under the Planning Act, those who carry out or allow the development of any residences without approval from the Government are liable to be fined up to $200,000. Repeat offenders face jail time of up to a year, on top of the $200,000 fine.

Those who are convicted but continue to rent out the unit can be fined up to $10,000 a day.

URA prosecutor Douglas Neo said that as this was the first mention of the cases for the two men, more time was needed for prosecutors to prepare for them.

The two men's cases will be heard again next month. Both were represented in court by Ms Wong Soo Chih of Ho Wong Law Practice.

HDB residents are also subject to stern penalties, such as fines and having their units repossessed, if they let out their flats or bedrooms on a short-term basis.

The URA is considering a new class of private homes where short-term rentals are allowed.

This means the Airbnb model may still thrive here, though few details about this upcoming class of housing have emerged so far.

There are around 8,700 Singapore listings on Airbnb now, playing host to more than 330,000 travellers over the past year.

A URA spokesman said the law is meant to safeguard the living environment of neighbouring residents. There were a total of 985 cases of unauthorised short-term accommodation in private homes in 2015 and last year, and about 750 from January this year to last month.

Not all cases end up in court - most offenders comply after they receive enforcement notices from the URA. But recalcitrant ones and those who blatantly disregard the regulations, even after URA action, face prosecution.

In response to queries from ST, a spokesman for Airbnb said its business has helped Singapore's economy, driving around $324 million of economic activity here last year.

"The current framework for home sharing in Singapore doesn't reflect how Singaporeans travel or use their homes today. The current framework also stands in contrast with Singapore's commitment to innovation," said the spokesman.

She said the company is helping locals to earn supplementary income, with the average host earning $4,700 a year.


Under the Planning Act, those who carry out or allow the development of any residences without approval from the Government are liable to be fined up to $200,000. Repeat offenders face jail time of up to a year, on top of the $200,000 fine.

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

 

Noble's balance sheet still unreliable: Iceberg

Business Times
29 Nov 2017
Andrea Soh

Commodity trader's recent contracts with Mkango Resources are also questionable, says research outfit; it calls for change of management in company

Iceberg Research issued another fresh attack on Noble Group on Tuesday, claiming that the commodity trader's balance sheet numbers are still unreliable, and that the contracts Noble recently signed with Mkango Resources are questionable.

In an open letter addressed to Noble's creditors, the research outfit maintained that Noble is overly-optimistic on the valuation of its remaining assets again, and that its liabilities have been "drastically undervalued".

The firm also does not have good traders who are able to manage risk, it added.

Pointing to Noble's collapse over the past two years, it said: "Equity holders have been almost wiped out and you are probably worried you will meet the same fate."

Noble declined to comment on these allegations. The group on Nov 15 said that it has started talks with its lenders to restructure almost US$4 billion in debt, confirming a development that had been widely anticipated by the market.

Bloomberg has reported that the group last week held talks in London with creditors including banks Societe Generale SA and ING Groep NV, and hedge funds Och Ziff Capital Management LLC and Davidson Kempner Capital Management LLC.

Noble reportedly proposed to exchange its current debt, including bonds and a revolving credit facility maturing in May next year, for new debt with later maturities, without any haircut. This would effectively extend the maturity for its debt due between 2018 and 2022, to 2021 and 2024.

The new debt would come in three forms: bonds supported by cash flows from Noble's Asian coal and iron ore business; an asset-backed bond secured against other physical assets; and a mandatory convertible bond.

Noble has asked all creditors to agree to a unified counter-proposal by early this week, so as to reach a deal before the end of the year, according to the same report.

Iceberg said: "This restructuring will not address any of the fundamental weaknesses that led to Noble's collapse."

It called instead for a change of management in the company. "Noble needs new senior managers, ideally coming from another commodity trading house. They will bring competent traders with them, with an old-fashioned mentality: a trader is paid to make money and responsibly manage risk."

The researcher also cast doubt on Mkango Resources, a rare-earth exploration firm in Malawi that Noble recently agreed to invest £14 million (S$25 million) in.

Mkango, which is listed in Canada, has a market capitalisation of only C$11 million (S$11.6 million), it noted.

"Financing and signing offtake/marketing agreements with companies that don't produce anything is typical of the way Noble has created fictitious profit for years," Iceberg said.

The researcher first attacked Noble Group in end-2015, claiming that the group inflated the value of assets and some contracts.

Noble has consistently denied these claims. Still, the firm has been unable to shake off doubts that persisted over the actual value of its assets, and has since shrunk to a shadow of its former self. It had a market value of S$195.1 million on Tuesday, compared to over US$10 billion at its peak in 2010.

The firm also announced after market close on Tuesday that it has sold off its 100 per cent interest in Onsburg Ltd to Wadash Enterprises for US$1. Noble had carried Onsburg at about US$0.03 million on its books.

The disposal marks the latest in a string of divestments at a loss for the group as it reshapes its business.

The stock fell for the seventh time in eight days, slipping 1.3 cents, or 8.1 per cent, on Tuesday to close at 14.7 Singapore cents.

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

Burglar-rapist gets 21 years' jail, 18 strokes

Straits Times
21 Nov 2017
Selina Lum

He was looking for places to burgle at about 5am when he saw an open window at a second-storey walk-up unit.

Muhammad Sutarno Nasir climbed up a pole that was connected to the ground, grabbed hold of the shophouse's laundry pole holders and lifted himself through the window.

After ransacking the living room, he went into a bedroom where he saw a woman sleeping on a mattress and decided to rape her.

Muhammad Sutarno tried to strangle the 27-year-old victim, and repeatedly punched her in the face when she shouted and struggled.

Fearing for her life, the woman, who lived with her 75-year-old grandmother, pretended to pass out while he raped her.

After the attack, Muhammad Sutarno took the handbags of the victim and her grandmother, and left through the door using the elderly woman's key.

Left without her phone, the victim sought help via Facebook, posting several pleas on her Facebook wall between 5.17am and 5.30am.

A friend responded two minutes after her last post and the police arrived at the scene at about 6am.

Muhammad Sutarno, who has previous convictions for drug offences and misappropriation of property, was arrested more than four hours after the attack on July 24 last year. He was found to have drug-taking utensils in his pocket.

Yesterday, Muhammad Sutarno, now 30, was sentenced to 21 years' jail and 18 strokes of the cane after he pleaded guilty to one count each of aggravated rape and housebreaking. He also pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge of heroin possession. Five other charges - two for housebreaking and three for drug offences - were taken into consideration.

In sentencing, Justice Chan Seng Onn told Muhammad Sutarno that words cannot fully express how much pain and suffering he had inflicted on the victim.

"You have wrecked her life," said the High Court judge.

Apart from bruises and abrasions on her face and neck, the violence left the woman with lesions in her brain, indicating acute bleeding, prosecutors told the court.

The court also heard that her fiance broke up with her because of the rape, reinforcing her thoughts that she is "unworthy of others".

The woman still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She sleeps with the light on and wakes up often to check for intruders. She keeps a pair of scissors beside her to defend herself. She also blames herself for moving into a separate bedroom from her grandmother.

The woman, her grandmother and the location of the attack cannot be named due to a gag order to protect the victim's identity.

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

Nam Cheong sweetens terms for US$336m debt restructuring

Business Times
06 Dec 2017
Tan Hwee Hwee

Nam Cheong on Tuesday publicly unveiled the revised terms for its debt restructuring, though these are still some way off from some noteholders' expectations.

The Singapore-listed offshore support vessel released its first proposed terms for the restructuring of US$336 million unsecured debt and note issuances in early September. Those terms have been improved upon and simplified in its revised proposal that was tabled with its scheme of arrangement filed with Singapore's High Court.

The revised proposal calls for 35 per cent of the unsecured debt, which are deemed non-sustainable, to be converted to equity at US$1 to 30 shares, compared to US$1 to 17 shares tabled in September.

It has also removed an immediate share conversion option initially proposed for the restructuring of the remaining US$220 million debt. Debt-holders now get to choose between two options for this sustainable portion, converting to a term loan facility to be repaid in stages from 2021 to 2024; or cashing out at a recovery rate of between 5 US cents and 20 US cents for every US$1 sustainable debt held.

But one retail noteholder Ong CP said the revised conversion ratio is still way off the mark from the expectations he and his fellow noteholders have shared at the informal noteholders meeting held in September.

He explained that the revised ratio implied a conversion share price of 3.3 US cents, which is three times the rights share subscription price.

Nam Cheong said the rights shares will be priced at 1.4 Singapore cents, or at 30 per cent discount on its last traded price of 2 Singapore cents before it entered into a trading suspension. The company had clarified that the rights issue to raise new money is offered to all existing shareholders - and not just to anchor shareholder, Tiong Su Kouk. Mr Tiong had pledged to pump another RM50 million new equity into the listed entity.

Mr Ong stressed that he and his fellow noteholders are seeking only for a fair deal and not objecting to swapping debt for equity. The Malaysian noteholder also said he got hold of the scheme document carrying the revised terms only last Friday. This leaves a tight window to respond by the stipulated Dec 14 deadline for submitting the voting instruction form if he so wishes to appoint a proxy for the scheme meeting on Jan 24.

The Business Times understands that the revised terms were presented to an Oct 27 court hearing during which the notes trustees and the informal steering committee for noteholders were also present.

The scheme document or explanatory note carrying the revised terms was sent on Nov 23 to the registered noteholders or mostly banks, which then forwarded it to the individual noteholders. Nam Cheong is also said to have lined up briefings with several groups of noteholders on Wednesday.

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

Industry gearing up for new rules on facade checks

Straits Times
29 Nov 2017
Ng Jun Sen

Building managers could be required to conduct regular full-scale visual and close-up inspections

Regular inspections of windows, cladding and other external building features are on the cards, as rules on how facades are maintained are being tightened after a series of mishaps.

Industry players told The Straits Times that they are now getting ready for a new legislative framework that will require full-scale visual inspections as well as close-up inspections of facades.

Visual inspections involve the use of binoculars or aerial drones from afar, while close-up inspections will require a qualified person to oversee inspection of facade issues.

The proposed rules were discussed at the Glasstech Asia and Fenestration Asia 2017 conferences held last week at Marina Bay Sands, and a course to certify "facade inspectors" - a class of qualified persons unheard of thus far in the industry - was recently started at the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Academy.

Currently, there is no legal requirement for building managers to inspect their building's envelope for flaws, defects and wear - a situation the managers said led to cases of buildings that have facades in dire need of repair or replacement.

In recent months, there have been a string of cases where cladding or other exterior features failed or fell off buildings.

When contacted, BCA confirmed it is reviewing the regulatory framework for the inspection of building facades to enhance public and building safety. It also acknowledged that it started a course in July to "raise knowledge and capability on facade inspection".

While the new legislation is yet to be announced, many building managers said they would welcome stricter regulation - too many owners and managers take short cuts because the rules hold owners liable only in the event of accidents, like when a panel falls on a passer-by.

Singapore Glass Association chairman Gan Geok Chua said nearly all recent cases of failing facades - falling glass panels or concrete features - could have been prevented had there been a proper inspection routine.

He added that some building managers or owners are desperate enough to take these risks because it costs money to frequently identify and resolve facade issues.

DP Architects technical director Mathieu Meur, who conducts the new BCA facade inspection course, agreed that the current practice leaves much to be desired: "The general attitude (today) is to wait for something to happen before calling in someone to inspect and fix the problem. The new regulations aim to correct this situation by making regular inspections of the facade compulsory."

Many warn, however, that inspections alone cannot be the silver bullet that fixes all facade problems. For example, in cases of fire performance of certain exterior cladding material, the only effective way to check them is through tests on samples taken from the building.

ST understands that the use of aluminium composite panels is being probed by the Singapore Civil Defence Force in the wake of a fire that killed a person at 30, Toh Guan Road earlier this year. The blaze reportedly spread across multiple floors via the building's external cladding.

Ultimately, industry experts said more people will need to be aware that a building's facade is not as sturdy as the building itself.

Said Singapore Safety Glass business development manager Gary Lee: "Facility managers don't even know there is a problem with the facade because they do not go check, but even if they do, they are not trained to identify issues when it is right in front of them... Buildings are supposed to last a long time... But facade material, even glass, can last for only a decade or so."


  • RECENT INCIDENTS INVOLVING FACADES

  • 2016: Cladding board falls at Circuit Road block 
    A cladding board made of calcium silicate fell off at Block 51, Circuit Road. An investigation by the Marine Parade Town Council later found a "loose connection of screws" in some of the claddings on the building.

    2016: Plaster slab falls at Hougang block
    A plaster slab got dislodged at Block 449, Hougang Avenue 10 and crashed to the ground. The Ang Mo Kio Town Council found out that the slab fell as it had deteriorated due to exposure to weather over time.

    2016: Sunshade gets dislodged at Tampines block 
    A concrete feature on the fourth floor of Block 201E, Tampines Street 23 got dislodged and landed on another sunshade below it. It was later found to have no reinforcement bars on one side. No one was hurt.

    2016: "Waterfall" at Cradels condo 
    A blocked drain at the Balestier condo's infinity pool led to the build-up of water, ultimately shattering some glass panels on the pool's facade. This created a sudden cascade of water onto the carpark below.

    2017: Aluminium panels fall at Indus Road block
    Two aluminium panels fell off the exterior of Block 77, Indus Road and hit the ground.

    2017: Concrete falls at Trivelis condo playground
    A piece of concrete fell 40 storeys from the roof of Trivelis condominium, a Design, Build and Sell Scheme project in Clementi, landing on a playground.

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

S'pore to raise taxes as govt spending increases

Straits Times
20 Nov 2017
Joanna Seow

PM highlights need to invest in economy, infrastructure and social safety nets

Singapore will be raising its taxes as government spending on investments and social services grows, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"(Finance Minister) Heng Swee Keat was right when he said raising taxes is not a matter of whether, but when," he said at the People's Action Party (PAP) convention.

PM Lee was referring to Mr Heng's remarks during his Budget speech earlier this year, where the minister outlined how spending on healthcare and infrastructure will rise rapidly, and spoke of the need for new taxes or higher tax rates.

He told some 2,000 party members that "well before that time comes, we have to plan ahead, explain to Singaporeans what the money is needed for, and how the money we earn and we spend will benefit everyone, young and old".

The spending on Singapore's economy, infrastructure and social safety nets is necessary, and is a vote of confidence in the country's future, said PM Lee, who is the PAP's secretary-general.

Just as older generations saved and invested, this generation must "plant trees in order that our sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters, will be able to enjoy the shade", he added.

Economists said a rise in the goods and services tax (GST) could be in the works. It was last raised in 2007 by two percentage points to 7 per cent.

UOB economist Francis Tan said it is the second-largest generator of government revenue, after corporate and personal income tax, so even a one-point increase will mean very large revenue increases.

As a broad-based tax, the GST is hard to evade and is collected from locals and foreigners, said Singapore University of Social Sciences economist Walter Theseira. He suggested cutting income tax exemptions as an alternative.

In terms of timing, Mr Tan said the Government is unlikely to raise taxes in the year before a general election, and hence may act soon.

"Mr Lee said we are nearly halfway through the term, so it would probably be announced in next year's Budget," he said, adding that the move would come on the back of stronger economic growth, which provides some leeway to implement the change.

Both he and Dr Theseira said a rise in taxes should be combined with measures like GST vouchers to help the lower-income group cope.

In his speech at Big Box in Jurong, PM Lee explained why a tax increase is needed.

First, the Government is investing in infrastructure, including in the country's rail and ports.

Second, it is helping workers and companies through economic restructuring.

For now, the economy is doing well. Growth this year may even exceed 3 per cent, better than the forecast of 2 per cent to 3 per cent, said PM Lee.

But to sustain this growth, workers must acquire the right skills and be matched to quality jobs. Companies must also adapt to compete globally, he said.

Finally, on the social side, annual spending on pre-schools will double to $1.7 billion by 2022.

At the same time, the population is ageing, creating greater demand for affordable healthcare.

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

SGX, stakeholders roll out new guide to prevent insider trading

Business Times
06 Dec 2017
Claire Huang

Collaborative effort lists recommendations and best practices

Singapore companies and their advisers are now better equipped to deter insider trading.

This, as the Singapore Exchange (SGX) and various stakeholders have launched a guide on the prevention of insider trading, listing out recommendations and best practices.

The guide - a culmination of collaboration between SGX and the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (Isca), the Law Society of Singapore and the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) - contains recommended principles and guidelines to help companies and their advisers retain control over the flow of confidential information.

It also suggests ways to strike a balance when it comes to restricting staff dealing in the company's securities and to create a culture of compliance, SGX on Tuesday said.

In particular, the guide touches on arrangements for ensuring confidential information generated and/or received stays confidential until it is reasonably expected to be disclosed under the relevant laws, regulations and the listing rules.

Other areas included in the guide are ways to minimise risks of accidental leakage of confidential information; characteristics of effective trading restrictions on dealings in securities; and how to promote strong awareness of the importance of appropriate handling and control of confidential information.

Examples are also given to illustrate how the principles and guidelines can be put into practice.

SGX said it is not meant to be prescriptive or exhaustive, and needs to be customised to each company's unique profile and circumstances.

Said Tan Boon Gin, CEO of Singapore Exchange Regulation (SGX RegCo): "Insider trading is hard to detect and prosecute as the leakage of inside information occurs covertly in private, off the exchange; the pre-emptive approach is we believe, the best way to deal with this risk. Our partnership with industry participants on this guide is similar to how we worked with member firms on the Trade Surveillance Handbook and Members' Surveillance Dashboard. We look forward to more collaborative efforts with the whole eco-system to take the fight against market misconduct further upstream."

Various stakeholders have also welcomed the move with the director of ABS, Ong-Ang Ai Boon, saying the guide will be invaluable in ensuring best practice standards, while Joyce Koh, executive director of SID pointed out that it will clarify grey zones and help firms avoid minefields.

Lee Fook Chiew, Isca's CEO, noted that the guide would enhance trust among stakeholders of the organisation, including the staff members. "By recognising and minimising the risk of accidental information leaks or misuse of confidential information, business leaders are better equipped to safeguard the interests of organisations and ensure their organisations meet statutory obligations."

Legal professions who deal with confidential material and advise clients on these matters will also find the recommendations useful, noted Adrian Chan, chairman of the Corporate Practice Committee of the Law Society of Singapore.

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

How to future-proof cyber security laws

Straits Times
29 Nov 2017
Benjamin Ang

When the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) asked for views in their Public Consultation Paper on the draft Cybersecurity Bill earlier this year, they received so much feedback that they extended the consultation period.

Much of this feedback was positive, including support from industry experts, cyber security professionals and academics, for the comprehensiveness of the Bill in dealing with protection of critical information infrastructure. CII refers to the provision of key services such as telecommunications, transport, healthcare, banking and energy.

Others, including regional law firms, raised concerns about the powers granted to the CSA to take information when responding to cyber breach incidents, which they feared would conflict with banking secrecy and data privacy requirements, and could in turn harm the competitiveness of businesses here.

The CSA has since taken pains to clarify that it intends to focus on technical information, not personal data. More significantly, the report on the public consultation states that CSA will appoint assistant commissioners for each sector, to take into account existing sector-specific requirements, including international ones.

The public consultation resulted in several other significant changes and clarification. The report clarified that only systems that have been officially designated as CIIs will be subject to the legal duties of compliance, thus excluding suppliers and third-party vendors.

The fact that a company has been officially designated as a CII will no longer be subject to the Official Secrets Act.

Finally, the proposed licensing regime for individuals and companies in the provision of cyber security services will be also modified to "allow the Bill to be more future-proof and to enable it to stay relevant even as cyber security services continue to evolve".

It is from this last development that we can draw useful lessons for policy development in this field. The public and private sectors are united in the desire for the law to be dynamic and evolve to meet the changing threats. This is in line with the global quest for "future-proof legislation" that can adapt to rapid developments in the scientific, technical and technological field.

One of the keys to future-proof legislation is to build in flexibility. For example, the report has recognised that it would be unwieldy to legislate a distinction between "investigative" and "non-investigative" types of licensable services. Future-proofing sometimes requires stepping away from the very natural tendency to try to define every possible scenario in detail, because new situations will emerge that defy prediction.

Instead, it can be more effective to be flexible and to review the landscape on a regular basis.

Most recently the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act was amended to respond to the further evolution of cybercrime. The amendments create new offences for obtaining stolen personal information, hacking tools and more - actions which were not significant at the time of the original legislation.

Legislation can be considered future-proof if it is proactive, provides legal clarity and certainty, and if citizens see it as legitimate, because of participation in bringing outcomes or solutions to collective problems.

Public consultation is, therefore, a good way to help make legislation future-proof, especially in fields like cyber security where the issues affect every aspect of society.

Consultation on legislation is not new: Ministries and statutory boards have a long history of informal consultation with experts and major stakeholders. Today, many agencies post their requests for public consultation on the Government's Reach portal.

One example is the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which has shared that despite its drawbacks - it lengthens the policymaking process and requires resources - public consultation improves the policymaking process by tapping practitioners' market knowledge to validate and refine policies, identifying implementation issues in advance, providing an avenue to explain and garner support for policies, and providing greater certainty for affected parties.

These are all benefits that are deeply relevant to cyber security policy. A healthy level of public-private partnership and participation by industry, civil society, experts, academics and business owners can provide the Government with the breadth and depth of up-to-date expertise that is required for policymaking in this field, especially in response to developments in international regulations, quantum computing, big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

For example, businesses here may accept the CSA's powers for incident response for now, because of a high level of trust in the authorities. However, if international regulations like the European Union's GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) impose more requirements on Singapore companies dealing with European customers, the private sector may then have to step forward to form an independent industry body for oversight and to safeguard businesses.

A successful public-private partnership will require the active participation of all parties. Since the report mentions further public consultation, it should follow the best practices of this round, which include allowing the public contributions to influence decisions, recognising and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, and communicating to participants how their input affected the decisions. It would be unrealistic to expect the authority to implement every input, but every input should be recognised, to encourage participation in future processes.

On the other hand, industry, civil society, experts, academics and business owners should continue to contribute frankly and vigorously to the discussion. The healthy dialogue that has arisen from this public consultation is a good start, and will be essential in the years to come as cyber security develops in ways we cannot imagine today.


  • Benjamin Ang is Senior Fellow/ Head of Cyber and Homeland Defence, Centre of Excellence for National Security, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

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Singapore's fintech dive now delves for proof beyond concept

Business Times
20 Nov 2017
Jamie Lee

MAS also plans to expand on an inter-bank payments pilot with the Bank of Canada to create a cross-border payments system between two countries that is powered by blockchain technology. The "killer app" is to go cross-border: MAS Director Ravi Menon

Fintech (financial technology) is starting to be plugged into Singapore for real economic value, as the city-state seizes technology such as blockchain and goes international with its fintech approach.

While fintech spans many applications, it makes most sense when it crosses borders, and Singapore is taking bold steps to have this trend realised beyond the hype that has bubbled up in the last two years.

Of the numerous announcements made by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) during the Singapore FinTech Festival, one of the most significant is the partnership between Singapore and Hong Kong to build a blockchain-powered trade network.

The latest global trade connectivity network (GTCN) could set new global standards for the trillion-dollar industry, with MAS already setting a roll-out target of early 2019.

To understand why this is a big deal, consider the ancient history of trade finance. The first letters of credit were said to have been carved on Babylonian clay tablets dated around 3000 BC. Fast forward to 2017, and the process of trade financing is still largely paper-based.

A shipment from Singapore to Jakarta takes about a day, but to send a document related to that very trade takes about a week, said Tan Kah Chye, founder of Tin Hill Capital and former vice-chairman of Barclays corporate banking, during one of the festival's panel sessions.

"Knowing your transaction is something banks need to manage every day of the year, and the quantity of paper and data does not help. What's important is in capturing the data that is contained in those pieces of paper," said Mr Tan.

"If we are able to capture the data significantly, I believe we will be able to manage the risks ... (but) without a strong regulatory push, I fear that adoption will not be moving at the pace that we would like."

Indeed, the paper-based nature of trade finance opens up the risk of fraud, as a 2014 case at Qingdao showed. At the world's sixth-largest port, traders were churning for loans from multiple banks using the same 400,000 tonnes of metals as collateral.

GTCN is an ace in hand for two top trading hubs in Asia, with Bernard Wee, head of MAS' financial markets development department and payments and technology solutions, noting that for fintech to be applied to trade finance, it has to be done on a cross-border basis. "The message is that when you work with one of us, you work with both of us," he told panel participants at the festival.

His Hong Kong counterpart, Li Shu-Pui, executive director (financial infrastructure) of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), said HKMA had spoken to many other central banks, but MAS was the only one that understood the direction of blockchain technology.

"These guys are ready," said Mr Li at the panel, adding that the two agencies have been in talks since the middle of this year. Both central bankers indicated China, Asean, and Japan as key trading markets they are targetting.

Banks that have, on their own, experimented with blockchain include DBS, Standard Chartered, HSBC and Bank of America, but MAS' Mr Wee said there is yet to be a test embedded into actual production.

There is widespread interest in blockchain technology, which uses a distributed ledger - shared among financial institutions and regulators - to digitise documents and potentially bring about significant savings for the industry and corporates.

At an investor matchmaking session organised during the Singapore FinTech Festival, the second-biggest area of interest for the pool of participating investors was on blockchain, ranking just after data analytics.

The event can be seen as a benchmark for global interest, given that it is now the world's largest fintech event, attracting some 30,000 participants this year from over 100 countries.

MAS also plans to expand on an inter-bank payments pilot with the Bank of Canada to create a cross-border payments system between two countries that is powered by blockchain technology. The "killer app" is to go cross-border, according to MAS managing director Ravi Menon.

As pioneers in applying blockchain technology, both MAS and HKMA are aware of the risks involved - and that they will have to figure out how how to coordinate regulations.

Still, Mr Menon said, it could take years before blockchain in global trade finance is widely applied - even if the experiments prove successful.

But the wheels have been set in motion and, as HKMA's Mr Li indicated, the showcase deal between Singapore and Hong Kong may set the standard for other jurisdictions to follow.

"The timeline has been announced; we cannot change it," he said. "We can only deliver it earlier."

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

Technology has put content pirates ahead of the curve, experts say

TODAY
06 Dec 2017
Valerie Koh

Technology advancements have put purveyors of piracy ahead of the curve, making it more difficult to tackle the issue, said intellectual property lawyers and experts.

Their comments came in the wake of Bloomberg’s report on Monday (Nov 4), in which the Asia-based Coalition Against Piracy called Singapore a haven for piracy of copyrighted programming by media companies such as Walt Disney and HBO.

Set-top boxes – used to stream movies, television shows or sports programmes – have, in the past, decoded encrypted broadcasts offered by Starhub. The sale and distribution of these decoders are illegal under the Broadcasting Act.

However, in the past three to five years, new technologies have allowed pirates to circumvent the law. The latest iteration makes use of apps to access copyrighted content.

“The technology now is different… the set-top boxes do not need to decrypt programming – they merely need to search for the content out there and then stream it. This gives the added advantage of on-demand viewing,” said Mr Bryan Tan, a partner at Pinsent Masons law firm.

Mr Roger Harvey, a regional director at digital platform security firm Irdeto, said pirates have been able to offer set-top boxes at low prices, adapting to new technologies and consumer demand with “speed, unhindered by rules and regulations”.

Advancements in technology, increasing broadband availability and the ease of buying these devices have fueled their popularity, he added.

“Although the devices themselves are not illegal in their own right, their open nature makes it simple for the pirates to exploit,” he said.

Pay-TV operators Starhub and Singtel said piracy and the popularity of illicit streaming devices are growing in Singapore.

“(It) is alarming and runs counter to Singapore’s ambitions to be a Smart Nation... we urge our government partners to work even closer with us to uphold the legal rights of content owners,” said a Starhub spokesperson.

Piracy and illicit streaming devices are tantamount to theft and present a “serious threat” to the creative industry, the spokesperson added.

Singtel’s spokesperson said: “It is a problem that requires urgent attention and concerted action from all parties in the ecosystem, including content owners, service providers, the public, as well as regulators and authorities.”

In the past, there have been attempts to clamp down on sellers – specifically, for set-top boxes working as decoders.

In May 2014, two men were charged under the Broadcasting Act for dealing in illegal set-top boxes. A total of 233 boxes were seized in a police raid, weeks after Singtel expressed displeasure over illegal set-top boxes allowing illegal access to English Premier League broadcasts, which both Singtel and Starhub shared.

However, the set-top boxes nowadays that use apps to stream content do not have decoders and are considered legal.

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) reaffirmed its stance that only such devices with decoding capabilities are illegal.

“Our position has not changed. The devices highlighted in (the 2014 incident) were designed to decode encrypted broadcast signals, allowing users full access to TV programmes without paying subscription fees. In such a scenario, copyright infringement is an issue as the devices were used in a manner that is illegal,” it told TODAY.

It also told Bloomberg that copyright infringement was “not so much” about a device or technology but, rather, the manner in which these were being used.

While consumers are encouraged to access content from authorised content providers, IPOS also highlighted a recent study by market researcher Sycamore, which pointed towards a lack of access to legitimate content as a reason for copyright infringement. It urged industry players to make more legitimate content available at “competitive prices”.

The Sycamore study, commissioned by industry group Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (Casbaa) found that two in five in Singapore actively access pirated content.

But Mr Neil Gane, general manager of the Casbaa Coalition Against Piracy, voiced concerns over the “overt sales” of set-top boxes in malls and IT fairs. This, he said, is rarely seen “in such volume” in other parts of the region.

“What are predominantly sold in Sim Lim Square and at Singapore’s many IT exhibitions are illicit streaming devices preloaded with piracy enabling applications. They are not ‘empty’ and therefore ‘legal’ boxes,” he said.

The courts in countries such as United Kingdom and United States have recognised the sale of these devices – preloaded with applications allowing for access to pirated content – as illegal, he added.

Amica Law director Jason Chan said apart from clamping down on pirates, industry players must also “provide a means for the public to turn their attention away from pirated content to legitimate content”.

“Even if you stop these boxes, something else will come up. Going after the boxes is only a limited solution. The pirates will come up with another way,” he said.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Interview with retired Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin - an illustrious 50-year journey in law

Lianhe Zaobao
28 Nov 2017
Poh Lay Hoon

This article was first published on 12 November 2017 in the Singapore Mandarin broadsheet, Lianhe Zaobao.
SLW commissioned a translation to give the legal community a view of legal reports from different Singapore news outlets.

After Singapore mobile networks ceased offering 2G services in March this year, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin brought his old Nokia phone to the mobile phone store and asked the salesman to simply give him "any 3G phone that can make calls".

"My daughter told me I needed an upgrade and she gave me the latest iPhone. I don't even know what model it is," he said with a laugh, as he took out his mobile phone and looked for the printed model number.

Justice Chao's hearty laugh was infectious; his sense of humour was immediately apparent to the journalist and photographer.

Justice Chao left the public service two months ago after an illustrious career of 50 years. Now retired, he is travelling the world, his cheerful nature intact.

He was born in Singapore in 1942 and celebrated his 75th birthday this year. The Supreme Court recently held a valedictory reference on his retirement and launched a new book - A Judge for the Ages - published for him. It was a sign of the great respect and affection he commands in the judiciary and the legal fraternity.

Justice Chao is fluently bilingual and one of the few judges who read Lianhe Zaobao every day. During court hearings, he would prompt and correct court interpreters when he felt there was a lack of precision in the interpreting, all the while taking care not to embarrass them.

Father's far-sightedness in sending him to two schools gave him strong grounding in Chinese and English

As a child, Justice Chao, with his two brothers and two sisters, lived in a small guesthouse along Bencoolen Street which his parents ran - San Wah Hotel.

His Hainanese father was both traditional and pragmatic; he placed great importance on Confucian ethics and Chinese culture but also understood the practical value of having a good command of the English language.

He thus decided that the young Justice Chao, who was naturally intelligent, and his second brother, Chau Sik Ting (who later became a doctor), should go to two schools simultaneously. They would attend Catholic High School (a Chinese school) at Queen Street in the morning and Anglo-Chinese School (an English school) at Coleman Street in the afternoon.

The interval between the end of classes at one school and the start of classes at the other was just 15 minutes. Once the closing bell rang at Catholic High, Justice Chao would immediately change to his Anglo-Chinese School uniform and rush to the second school for his afternoon session, panting from his five- to six-minute run.

After almost four years, he switched to St. Joseph's Institution, which was next to Catholic High, for his English-medium education. During Primary Six, the school moved to Moulmein Road and Justice Chao became known for always being late for classes. He finally had to give up attending the school after a few months.

It was Chao's father's far-sightedness that allowed Justice Chao to build a strong foundation in English over the first six years of his education. The decision to leave St. Joseph's Institution was also made by his father after weighing the pros and cons. He firmly believed that "it is more important to be educated in a Chinese-medium school for one can always make up for any deficiency in English later".

Enjoyed reading court news since young

Justice Chao has enjoyed reading the newspapers since he was a child, particularly the court news. Even at a young age, he would sometimes question the decisions made by the judges. It was this passion that made him decide that he wanted to study law when he was in his second year of junior middle school.

As his Chinese school diploma from Catholic High was not recognised in Britain, he took the Cambridge School Leaving Certificate and two ‘A’ Level subjects conducted by the UK Associated Examining Board as a private candidate while doing his second and third year of his middle high school. In September 1962, with financial support from his father, he left for University College, London, embarking on his dream of studying law.

Doubts that artificial intelligence can ever replace lawyers completely

With law graduates facing difficulties getting employed today, will justice Chao still encourage the young to study law?

He noted that the current market for lawyers should not be a factor when deciding whether to join the field of law. "Many things in life are unpredictable. There seems to be a weak demand for lawyers now, but three to five years down the road, there may be a surge in demand."

As for the growing debate over whether artificial intelligence (AI) will replace lawyers one day, he noted that technology can indeed help to make the lawyers work more smartly and efficiently, particularly in the field of legal research and documentation for the normal commercial transactions.

"I doubt lawyers can be replaced completely, even though we can foresee that new technology could lead to the use of artificial intelligence in law. "

Justice Chao noted that technology cannot negotiate, nor could it appreciate changes in cultural norms.

"I also doubt that technology can distinguish between difficult or fine factual situations in the application of established legal principles. There will be a need for lawyers and judges. I do not think that these functions of lawyers and judges can simply be replaced by machines. "

Two plus two may sometimes equal five

Justice Chao joined the Attorney-General's Chambers in 1967 and became a Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court in 1987. Subsequently, he was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court and then a Judge of Appeal of the Supreme Court. He is the only judge to have worked under four Chief Justices, penning more than 600 judgments over his long career.

Around 1988, he dealt with his first case involving the death penalty. That murder case remains clear in his memory: The foreigner who had committed murder had fled and his accomplice, who did not deal the fatal blow, was put on trial, and ultimately sentenced to death.

"As some evidence was lacking, I was worried about making a wrong judgment. At the time, such cases were heard by a two-judge bench. I was fortunate that the other judge was the late Supreme Court Justice T. S. Sinnathuray, as he was experienced and astute. "

Justice Chao had always found capital cases very trying.

"Sending someone to the gallows is like playing God; it is a difficult task, but you have to do it. The alternative is that you don't take the job," he said with candour.

Justice Chao was reappointed to the Court of Appeal an unprecedented five times after reaching the normal retirement age of 65.

As a Judge of Appeal, he had to deal with every kind of cases. Which were the issues that he found the most challenging to handle? He thought for a while before answering: "Intellectual Property, equity and land are more technical in nature and require more reading."

Careful to retain a sense of objectivity

This veteran of numerous court battles had to often remind himself to stay objective and "disregard what one would normally incline to think".

"One should not be too quick to judge because what you see and what you hear may only be prima facie. You need to let the parties involved explain their actions or words in order to get a complete understanding of the situation."

He noted that the responsibility of a judge is to probe further, to overcome prejudices and to understand that "even if a situation is unusual, there may be a possibility of it being true". Without constantly reminding oneself of this, there is the risk that one may yield to conventional thinking or act in a certain way.

"No system is faultless"

With regard to the Singapore judicial system, Justice Chao does not find any major problems because "no system is faultless".

"Two judges can hear the same case but come to different conclusions. That is why we have the appeal system, which provides a second chance. "

"We are not machines, where you enter the data and get an answer, like in mathematics, where two plus two always equals four. The reality is that, at times,  two plus two could be equal to five," he said with a laugh.

Impressions of major cases

Asked about cases that left a deep impression, Justice Chao mentioned that the recent case of Jabing Kho, a Sarawakian working in Singapore, was a difficult one.

In February 2008, Jabing joined a friend from his hometown to rob a foreign worker from China in Geylang. The victim, Cao Ruyin, later died of severe injuries after being savagely struck with a tree branch.

Jabing was sentenced to death and failed in his appeal. Subsequently, he was resentenced to life imprisonment due to a change in the law. The prosecution appealed, and the five-judge Court of Appeal later upheld the death sentence with a 3-2 majority.

Justice Chao said that all five judges agreed that the decision hinged on whether Jabing "exhibited a blatant disregard for human life when inflicting the blows".

"If it was just robbery, he would have fled after seeing the victim laying on the ground. Why did he use such savagery to cause the death of the victim?"

According to photographic evidence submitted, Cao's skull had been shattered into an indistinct mess and was a horrible sight. Justice Chao was one of the judges who upheld the death sentence.

Two groups of lawyers acting for the respondent subsequently filed a criminal motion and a civil application, seeking to overturn the death sentence, but both were ultimately dismissed.

Delivering the judgment in May last year, Justice Chao had stern words for the lawyers. He noted that the lawyers had filed a civil application for a criminal case. He reminded them that no court would allow applicants to indefinitely delay a case through constant and unceasing challenges. It was the first time that court reporters saw him "shows his impatience” in court.

Q&A

Unlike many interviewees, Justice Chao was open and forthcoming in answering the questions of the interviewer. The journalist had emailed close to 30 questions to him earlier, but he came for the interview empty-handed, smiling and composed.

Just as the interview started, he unexpectedly put on a reluctant expression, like a primary school student, and pointed to the questions the journalist had printed out, saying: "These are a bit tough."

"No problem, I'll give you some time to prepare your testimony," was the interviewer’s response. Justice Chao guffawed before proceeding to meticulously answer each question.  

Is there political interference in the work of the judiciary?

It is a common refrain in the foreign media that there is political interference in Singapore's judicial system.

To this, Justice Chao said, "I have been a judge for almost 30 years and I have never received a phone call from anyone, including founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, instructing me how I should rule in a case.”

“It was the same when I was Attorney General. No one, including my good friend, Professor S. Jayakumar (former Deputy Prime Minister and Law Minister), ever called me to tell me what to do."

“For example, the James Gomez incident was a sensitive one. Gomez had admitted that he had made a mistake. I was the Attorney-General then and I had scrutinised the camera footage. After discussions with my subordinates, we decided not to initiate action against him. I felt there was a likelihood of truth in what he said."

Note: In 2006, James Gomez, who was second assistant secretary-general of the Workers' Party, had accused the Elections Department of not processing his minority-race candidate's application form, which was required for him to run in the General Election. This led to a controversy.

The authorities released closed-circuit television footage that showed that he did not submit the application form. Gomez had apologised, and the leaders of the People's Action Party had called him a ‘liar’. After the elections, police investigations were conducted, and he was eventually issued with a stern warning.

The Queen's Counsel who slept in court

Justice Chao also recalled an unusual occurrence in a case he heard more than two decades ago. Both the plaintiff and defendant had hired Queen's Counsel but one of them appeared to have fallen asleep when the other side was submitting.

After observing for a while, Justice Chao confirmed that the lawyer had indeed been nodding off.

He humorously told the local lawyer assisting, “Your partner has gone to a different world."

The local lawyer later explained that the Queen's Counsel was suffering from a certain medical condition, which had caused the episode.

Family matters

Justice Chao's wife is a retired secondary school teacher and all three of their daughters are married. The eldest now lives in Los Angeles and Justice Chao and his wife fly there every year to see their only granddaughter.

How does he describe himself as a husband and father?

"The most difficult task is being asked to judge yourself!" was his reply in Mandarin. He confessed that he plays the role of the stern father while his wife is the loving mother.

Throughout his 28 years as a judge and 50 years in the judicial and legal circles, Justice Chao has won wide respect for his patience in court. Unless lawyers digress from the issues at hand, he never interjects, allowing the lawyers to present their cases to the best of their ability.

There is a saying that "a patient man is the result of painstaking training by a fierce wife". However, Justice Chao does not accept the above statement. Have you ever argued with your wife? Who wins most of the arguments? After all you should be better able to make your arguments? He laughed at these questions before saying that every family would have their arguments and would also have their own ways of resolving them. He declined to reveal who wins most of the arguments.

The "secret" of not going to the toilet

Marathon hearings at the Court of Appeal can last from 230pm to past 8pm but one seldom sees judges going to the toilet. Is this because they have mastered the art of endurance?

"The secret is to drink less water. More goes in, more comes out; less goes in, less comes out. That is the law of nature," Justice Chao answered with a laugh.

“The glasses of water in front of us are for sipping and not for drinking. "

A journalist's hope that Justice Chao will hold classes on writing judgments after retirement

Justice Chao firmly believes in the principle that "judgments are written with the man-in-the-street in mind and must not be arcane and difficult to understand". His judgments have always been clear and accessible.

A Court reporter has jokingly suggested that he holds classes on writing judgments after he retires to help other judges. This will certainly ease the "suffering" of court reporters.

Justice Chao, who is currently travelling in Peru, learning about ancient cultures and civilisations, should certainly consider this suggestion seriously.

On the international stage

Justice Chao has safeguarded and defended Singapore's interests on the international stage for two decades, making great contributions in this regard. Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam and former Deputy Prime Minister Professor S. Jayakumar had the highest praise for him at the ceremony marking his retirement.

In 1968, three years after the separation of Singapore from Malaysia, Justice Chao, who was just 25 at the time, attended a UN Conference on the Law of Treaties. At the meeting, he endorsed and reaffirmed the position uttered by the Malaysian representative that the Malaysia/Singapore water agreement "could not be terminated or suspended for any political reason" and placed that understanding on record.

Justice Chao also took part in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea negotiations between 1974 and 1982. In addition, together with former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong and ambassador-at-large Professor Tommy Koh, he was part of the team who successfully argued before the International Court of Justice at The Hague that Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore.

Justice Chao's primary school life was extremely busy, attending a medium school in the morning and an English medium school in the afternoon. Six years of shuttling between the schools had him build a solid foundation in both English and Chinese languages. This photograph was taken when Justice Chao was an 11-year-old student at Catholic High School. (Photograph Courtesy Of Justice Chao Hick Tin) 

Justice Chao (extreme right), Professor Tommy Koh  (second from right), an officer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ms Sharon Tan and the late Senior state counsel Sivakant Tiwari, attentted The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea held at Geneve in 1978. (Photograph Courtesy Of Justice Chao Hick Tin)

Source: Lianhe Zaobao © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Backbench with front-line impact

Straits Times
19 Nov 2017
Elgin Toh

From new hawker centres to holistic education, government parliamentary committees have played an often unsung role in shaping policies. But with a stronger opposition presence in Parliament, have they had their day? How can they be more relevant? Insight analyses the GPC state of play.

Back in 2011, the Government had a longstanding policy not to build new hawker centres. But when People's Action Party (PAP) MP Liang Eng Hwa joined the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Environment and Water Resources that year, he felt strongly that this should be reversed.

"Hawker centres are important because they help keep food prices affordable, preserve hawker culture and are a common space where Singaporeans from all walks of life can come under one roof to have a meal," he tells Insight.

He raised this issue during a GPC meeting and to then Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who was open to the suggestion.

"The minister was able to persuade the Cabinet of its merits, and the ministry announced the building of 10 new hawker centres later that year," he says.

"Ministers may not always acknowledge this in their speeches, but I have no doubt that inputs from GPC MPs have made a difference in many policies formulated," he adds.

What happened in Mr Liang's anecdote - a GPC pulling off a policy change - is more common than one might expect.

Speaking to Insight on the 30th anniversary of GPCs, current and former PAP MPs who have led these committees say there is no question that GPCs have had a positive impact on the political system - sometimes working in public, other times behind closed doors.

But they add that the effectiveness of GPCs can be uneven, and that changescan be made to the way they function to ensure they continue to remain relevant.

Insight analyses these issues.

HOW GPCs CAME ABOUT

GPCs are committees, each made up of six to 10 PAP backbench MPs.

There are currently 12 GPCs, each covering a policy domain, roughly mirroring the various ministries.

Mr Liang, for example, chairs the GPC for Finance and Trade and Industry. He also sits on the GPC for Environment and Water Resources.

The assigning of policy domains allows MPs to be more focused in carrying out their work.

They meet the relevant minister and ministry officials, and scrutinise legislation and policies. MPs become more informed because of the specialisation, which raises the standard of debate in Parliament.

"Some Bills can be very technical, and if you don't spend enough time in the area you are tagged to, you may not pick up the finer details," says Mr Zaqy Mohamad, who chairs the GPC for Communications and Information.

As MPs are on the ground a lot, they also channel feedback to the Government, and help explain government policies to voters. GPCs sometimes also act as a sounding board for ideas from ministries.

The political context of 1987 -the year GPCs were set up - was that the second generation of PAP Cabinet ministers had emerged and had begun to take charge of the affairs of government. They were setting the tone of the new leadership under Mr Goh Chok Tong, who was First Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister.

Mr Goh was inclined to a more consultative and participative way of governing. A number of institutions initiated by him after the 1984 General Election reflect this different style, including the Feedback Unit (gathering feedback from the public), the Institute of Policy Studies (engaging intellectuals on government policies) and GPCs.

In 1987, there was only one elected opposition MP in Parliament - Mr Chiam See Tong.

"Because of the lack of opposition in Parliament, and the population's desire to see some, Mr Goh came up with the idea that we should become some kind of internal opposition or proxy opposition," says Dr Aline Wong, who was among the first group of GPC chairmen, heading the health committee.

She was an MP from 1984 to 2001.

MPs state their GPC preference to the party, and the PAP leadership makes the final decision.

After GPCs are formed, they elect a chairman among themselves.

GPCs rely on resource panels, made up of experts in relevant fields who advise MPs in the GPCs on a voluntary basis.

Mr Chandra Das was MP from 1980 to 1997 and has chaired the GPC for Defence and Foreign Affairs, and that for Finance and Trade and Industry.

He says the resource panel, as well as ministry briefings, are vital to keeping MPs well briefed. The resource panel for his latter GPC included leaders in the world of business and banking, such as Mr Peter Seah and Mr Koh Boon Hwee, both of whom later served separate stints as chairman of DBS bank.

During the Committee of Supply debate every year in Parliament, where ministry budgets are scrutinised, each GPC would divvy up the topics among its members, "to ensure all key bases are covered", says Ms Denise Phua, who chairs the GPC for Education.

GPCs are also known to keep ministers informed of questions they are going to ask in advance.

"It was a kind of benign collusion," says Professor Hong Hai, an MP from 1988 to 1991, who was the first to suggest the idea of forming GPCs to Mr Goh during his PAP recruitment tea before the 1988 General Election.

Sometimes, this coordination happens across GPCs. Mr Das, who has served as coordinating chairman among GPCs, recalls a year when the GPC chairmen came together to allocate more time for questions to the Health Ministry, since there was greater public interest in health issues that year.

"Mr Yeo Cheow Tong was Acting Minister for Health. He joked that he nearly lost his job. But luckily, he performed well and was confirmed subsequently," says Mr Das.

HOW EFFECTIVE ARE GPCs?

One key factor that determines how effective GPCs are is the attitude of the minister towards the GPC covering the ministry, say MPs.

Mr Das says: "Some ministers are very forthcoming. The GPCs are given access to the information we need, and we work well with them. But some ministers treat GPCs as a nuisance, and GPC work becomes very perfunctory."

Ms Phua adds: "Some ministers and officials are more open than others. Some are more defensive and less open to share."

Another major issue is credibility.

From the beginning, Mr Goh knew that GPCs could not be effective if they were not seen by the public as being credible.

Mr Goh told the GPC chairmen in 1987 that "where they disagree with a certain policy, they can say so and argue their case".

In 1991, four opposition MPs were elected. This was a significant development, as the GPC system was premised on the fact that there was virtually no opposition in Parliament. Prof Hong says that after 1991, there was a mellowing of the GPCs because of the need for the PAP to close ranks.

Mr Das acknowledges a change in form, noting that while questions could still be asked in private, there was more internal discipline in public. "Why should I kick the ball into my own goal, or give the opposition ammunition to shoot at my own people?" he says.

But MPs today make the case that there is no holding back on their part. Ms Phua describes her meetings with ministers as "no holds barred". She has also not been told what not to say in public.

She adds: "It is not my style to speak against my conscience or to stop myself from voicing my genuine concerns for the system as a representative of the people."

Says Ms Lee Bee Wah, who chairs the GPC for Environment and Water Resources: "We are accountable to our residents - every five years at the ballot box, and weekly or even daily when we meet them. So we don't hold back from reflecting their concerns."

Whether these concerns are reflected behind closed doors or in Parliament, many GPC recommendations have led to policy changes.

Ms Phua cites the move towards a more holistic education as a change her GPC has been advocating for, and is now under way.

Mr Liang notes that doing away with means testing under the Pioneer Generation Package was strongly advocated by his GPC.

Mr Das recalls his GPC lobbied for an embassy in South Korea, arguing that the growing number of Singapore businesses there needed to be served. The embassy opened in 1989.

HOW SHOULD GPCs EVOLVE?

MPs and observers offer a number of suggestions on how GPCs can be enhanced.

Mr Inderjit Singh, who was an MP from 1997 to 2015 and chaired the GPC for Finance and Trade and Industry, argues that involving GPCs earlier in the legislative process would raise the impact of GPC work. Mr Liang and Ms Phua agree.

Ms Phua adds that this should apply not just to legislation, but also to policy formulation: "GPCs can be engaged more in developing policies at an earlier stage, for example, at fact-finding and framing phases, instead of waiting to get inputs downstream."

Ms Lee suggests allowing GPCs to specialise further. For example, within the GPC for National Development, some may want to look at issues related to the Housing Board, and others to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

To raise the profile of GPC work, it may be useful to take a collective stand as a GPC more often, says Dr Wong. At the moment, although GPCs coordinate internally by covering different issues, they tend to speak in Parliament as individual MPs and not as a GPC, she notes.

There is also scope for GPCs to engage with the public more by sourcing feedback more actively and publicly, adds Professor Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University.

"They can also engage ministries and statutory boards more publicly and publish their activities on an annual basis. This can be a positive development if the public becomes more aware of the GPC's purpose and how it can be an additional feedback channel," he says.

Prof Hong adds that there needs to be a greater willingness for PAP MPs to voice any disagreements with ministers in public. This is a valuable and informative opportunity to observe the public's reaction, he says.

Disagreements are also important for the credibility of MPs, and for the robustness of the party as a political institution, he says.

"A party can't be resilient if you do not have some internal contention of ideas.

"Having some public airing of that contention will actually strengthen the PAP. It will give the PAP a much better image," he says.

Should non-PAP MPs be included?

Should Government Parliamentary Committees eventually evolve to include not just MPs from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), but also MPs from other parties and Nominated MPs (NMPs) as well?

This question has existed since then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong set up the GPC system in 1987, as he raised it as a potential development for the future.

In a speech to civil servants in February 1987, just before GPCs formally began, he said: "GPCs are not similar to select committees, which include representation from all parties in Parliament. Whether they evolve into select committees will depend on our experience with them."

Thirty years on, there do not seem to be plans on the part of the Government to include non-PAP MPs. But there are voices calling for this to be considered at some point.

Institute of Policy Studies deputy director Gillian Koh says: "If we wish to look at ways to reform GPCs and make the idea of parliamentary committees more relevant to the times as well as our future challenges, then one change is to introduce committees that allow for cross-party participation.

"This will be another step in the maturation of our parliamentary and political system. We need to facilitate more avenues for detailed, deliberative, well-informed processes of giving input to the crafting of laws and public policy."

Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh, who served from 1997 to 2015, believes that Singapore's political system is ready for this step.

He says: "I think there is no harm involving opposition MPs and NMPs in the GPCs, like what is currently practised in many Parliaments. We can call them just PCs. Our system has matured enough to allow for greater debate 'offline' in addition to debate in Parliament."

Currently, the Workers' Party (WP) is the only opposition party in Parliament. It has nine seats, including six elected seats and three Non-Constituency MP seats.

Responding to questions from Insight on the WP's position on GPCs, assistant secretary-general Pritam Singh says non-ruling party MPs are, like PAP MPs, duly elected by the people and hence have the same responsibility to scrutinise legislation and executive action.

He adds: "Thus, briefings on governmental and legislative matters by civil servants or other relevant parties to MPs should be extended to MPs from both parties represented in Parliament. In this vein, the WP has called for bipartisan standing select committees for each ministry and a bipartisan standing public consultation select committee."

But not everyone sees cross-party committees as being necessarily a positive development. PAP MP Zaqy Mohamad, who is chairman of the GPC for communications and information, feels that with such a change, some useful elements of the present GPCs will inevitably be lost.

"The dynamics will change," he says. Because GPCs are made up of PAP MPs, there is a relationship of trust between GPCs and ministers, he notes. Ministers are hence prepared to share information at an earlier stage and to co-develop policies with GPCs, or to use the conversations with GPCs to do early sensing on upcoming changes.

But this function is likely to be lost in bipartisan committees because the role of such committees will primarily be one of checks and balances, and the relationship will become more adversarial in nature, he says.

"So there is no right or wrong answer. It depends on what you want the committees to do," he adds.

Elgin Toh


EARLY ENGAGEMENT

GPCs can be engaged more in developing policies at an earlier stage, for example, at fact-finding and framing phases, instead of waiting to get inputs downstream.''

MS DENISE PHUA, who chairs the GPC for Education, on how GPCs can be improved.

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S'pore's first bitcoin case heads for trial

Straits Times
06 Dec 2017
Grace Leong

Singapore's first legal dispute involving the cryptocurrency bitcoin is headed for trial in the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC).

At issue are trade proceeds, whose value has swelled from US$3.78 million (S$5.1 million) to potentially over US$30 million, thanks to bitcoin's meteoric surge past US$11,000 in recent days.

Electronic market maker B2C2 sued bitcoin exchange operator Quoine in May over trades that were allegedly wrongfully reversed, which resulted in the proceeds being deducted.

In a summary judgment hearing yesterday, B2C2 sought to recover 3,084.78582325 bitcoins from Quoine, alleging Quoine's breach of trust "deprived it of the opportunity to sell the proceeds on the date of their highest intermediate value".

But SICC International Judge Simon Thorley yesterday declined to grant summary judgment. The case was directed for trial, at which point it will be determined whether B2C2, if it prevails, is entitled to recover the bitcoins, or the value of the bitcoins taking into account any increase in value since the alleged breach, The Straits Times understands.

B2C2, represented by Mr Danny Ong of Rajah & Tann, said it had placed orders on Quoine's platform to sell ethereum - another cryptocurrency - for bitcoin at 10 bitcoins for one ethereum.

The orders were filled in a series of trades on April 19, resulting in B2C2 paying 309.2518 ethereum for 3,092.517116 bitcoins. The bitcoins were credited into B2C2's account that day. But the following day, the trades were reversed by Quoine and the proceeds allegedly "misappropriated" from the account without authorisation.

Quoine, which is incorporated here, told B2C2 that it was entitled to do so because the trades were "mostly trades with huge mark-up over fair global market price". It said the average market price that day was only about 0.03929075 bitcoin for one ethereum.

But the virtual currency market is at present unregulated in Singapore, and Quoine has not cited any statute or regulation that was violated, B2C2 said.

No dollar value for that amount of bitcoin was provided in the lawsuit but according to cryptocurrency exchange CoinDesk, the amount translated to US$3.78 million based on an exchange rate of US$1,226.94 for a bitcoin on April 19. But increased interest from institutional investors has resulted in bitcoin spiking through US$11,000 on Nov 29 for the first time, and surging more than 1,000 per cent this year.

Quoine, represented by Mr Paul Ong of Allen & Gledhill, claimed that B2C2 is "seeking to profit from a technical glitch". "The circumstances which led to each of the orders being placed at more than 100 times higher than the actual market price of ethereum/bitcoin as at April 19 is a highly material question which cannot be determined without a trial," Quoine argued.

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M. Ravi admits assaulting fellow lawyer

Straits Times
28 Nov 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

Rights activist also pleads guilty to causing hurt to another lawyer

Lawyer and human rights activist Ravi Madasamy, better known as M. Ravi, admitted in court yesterday that he had assaulted fellow lawyer and opposition politician Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss.

The 54-year-old fell to the ground when Ravi shoved her in the seventh-storey corridor of The Adelphi at around 11am on Aug 8. The attack left her with a bruised right hip.

Ravi pleaded guilty to a separate charge yesterday of causing hurt to a second lawyer, Mr Nakoorsha Abdul Kadir, 42, by performing a rash act at the same spot minutes later.

Ravi, who has been barred from practising for two years since October last year, also admitted to breaking into one of the offices of the Eugene Thuraisingam law firm on the fifth storey of People's Park Centre on June 27.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sarah Ong said the law firm employed Ravi late last year and he worked in its People's Park Centre office.

But his employment was terminated and he was informed through a hand-delivered letter that he had to vacate the premises by June 16. Court papers did not reveal the reason for his termination.

According to court documents, Ravi broke into the office with his friend, Lai Yew Thiam, 56, whose case is still pending. They broke into the office twice, on June 17 and June 22, and police were notified on both occasions.

The firm changed the locks and hired a contractor to secure its shutter with screws. Undeterred, the duo went to the office again on June 27, armed with a screwdriver. Lai used it to remove the screws and they entered the premises.

On Aug 8, Ravi went to the law firm's office at The Adelphi and demanded to be allowed to enter. He was accompanied by three other men working for an organisation, the Lawyers Alliance for Human Rights Asia, which he founded.

Ravi's party was not allowed to enter and, as the men walked away, confronted Mrs Chong-Aruldoss who works at the firm. DPP Ong said: "Ravi stopped Jeannette abruptly and began questioning her aggressively... When Jeannette tried to walk away, Ravi forcefully pushed her, charged towards her and pushed her again... While Jeannette was on the ground, Ravi kicked and flung Jeannette's belongings, which were scattered on the ground, and also threw a shoe in Jeannette's direction while mocking her for being 'drama'."

When her colleague, Mr Nakoorsha, stepped in, Ravi picked up Mrs Chong-Aruldoss' handbag and flung it at his face.

Yesterday, Ravi's defence lawyer, Mr Shashi Nathan, told District Judge Brenda Tan that his client is well known for "championing the constitutional and human rights of his clients". He also said Ravi was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006 and has been taking medication following his arrest this August. As he stood in the dock, Ravi told the court he was "mortified" by his own behaviour.

Judge Tan has called for a report to access his suitability for a mandatory treatment order, where offenders have to undergo treatment in lieu of jail time. Ravi is now out on $20,000 bail and will be back in court on Jan 5.

Four other charges, including two of committing public nuisance at the Sri Mariamman Temple earlier this year, will be taken into consideration during his sentencing.

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Xinmin Secondary students' NRIC numbers leaked online

Straits Times
19 Nov 2017
Irene Tham

The NRIC numbers of hundreds of students at Xinmin Secondary School were leaked in the second known data breach by a Ministry of Education (MOE) school since March 2015.

The information was posted this month on file-sharing website pastebin.com, but The Sunday Times understands that it has since been taken off the site and a police report has been made.

Xinmin Secondary's vice-principal Tan Kuo Cheang said the school was alerted to the data breach on Sept 28. It immediately contacted the website, asking for the information to be removed, and also filed a police report.

It then contacted its students to alert them of the leak and to share cyber security measures that they could take, such as avoiding using NRIC numbers as passwords.

When contacted, a spokesman for MOE said: "In line with government IT security policies, MOE has stepped up efforts to work with schools and ensure that their security measures continue to be effective.

"As investigations are ongoing, we are unable to share more."

In March 2015, the personal data of more than 1,900 pupils of Henry Park Primary School were exposed.

An Excel spreadsheet containing the children's particulars was mistakenly sent out to about 1,200 parents as part of an update about a school event. The file contained the names and birth certificate numbers of all 1,900 pupils in the school, and the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of their parents.

MOE schools such as Xinmin Secondary and Henry Park are exempted from the Personal Data Protection Act, fully enforced from July 2014.

The Act requires organisations to take "reasonable measures" to protect personal data in their possession.

Instead, MOE schools are governed by public sector rules which have not been made public.

Technology lawyer Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons MPillay said: "The Government said that its standards are more stringent than those that govern the private sector. But when a public incident like this happens, we can assess whether the first statement is true."

Lawyer Koh Chia Ling from law firm OC Queen Street said that the students have no recourse. "Even if they do, it might be difficult for them to show any loss suffered from negligence or breach of contract," he said.

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Shipper cleared of trademark infringement

Straits Times
05 Dec 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Freight forwarder not importer of fake goods, nor did it act in concert with importers: Court

The companies behind glitzy brand names such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry and Hermes have failed in their lawsuits against a Singapore freight forwarder involved in shipping fake goods from China via Singapore to Batam.

The goods could have fetched over $1 million.

In a landmark case, the High Court last month ruled that freight forwarder Megastar Shipping was not liable as it was not the importer nor did it act in concert with the importers under the Trade Marks Act (TMA).

"The fact that (Megastar) as freight forwarder... was required to submit or make declarations under Singapore Customs rules and regulations does not mean Megastar is to be treated as an importer or exporter for the purposes of the TMA," Justice George Wei wrote, in judgment grounds issued last month.

"This is so even though some of the Customs permits and declarations may name (Megastar) as the importer," he added.

The case goes back to April 2013, when Singapore Customs inspected two 40-foot containers, and seized nearly 31,000 items, including China-made bags, shoes, belts and other fashion accessories - all fakes.

They were shipped from two ports in China to Singapore for onward shipment to Batam in smaller vessels. The court heard that the goods could not be be shipped directly to Batam - the large container vessels could not enter Batam port because the water there was too shallow.

So, the goods had to be unloaded here, and the containers reshipped on smaller "feeder" vessels.

The trademark owners of the four brands, and Sanrio Company, which is behind the Hello Kitty line of goods, then sued Megastar for trademark infringement, alleging Megastar had imported the fakes here.

The five plaintiffs, represented by three sets of lawyers, including Mr M. Ravindran, Mr Dedar Singh Gill and Mr Andy Leck, argued that the only issue was, who should be liable as an "importer" under the TMA, and Megastar as the local consignee was the importer.

They added that it was "irrelevant" whether Megastar knew if the containers carried counterfeit goods, among other things.

Megastar, defended by lawyers Leonard Chia and Ng Liu Qing in all five suits, denied the claims and said that even if the fake goods had been imported into Singapore, Megastar was not involved in the shipment from China to Singapore, and so could not be the importer.

Megastar served as a "mere freight forwarder", having been notified in March 2013 by a third party in Batam about the incoming shipments to Singapore, and to arrange their transfer to Batam with the details of the vessel that it was given.

Justice Wei said although the fakes were not meant to be released into the Singapore market, they were deemed to be imported into Singapore based on the provisions of the TMA. He ruled that the importer was not Megastar but either the firm that shipped the goods from China or the third party in Batam.

He added that Megastar was not the would-be exporter from Singapore to Batam, and found that it did not share a "common design" with them to commit the infringement.

Justice Wei said Megastar was "engaged as a freight forwarder by the third party" for a limited purpose.

He dismissed the case and ordered costs to be paid to Megastar. The fakes have since been destroyed.

Said the judge: "There is no basis for the court to find that just because the goods were properly inspected and detained by Singapore Customs, Parliament must have intended there to be a local defendant against whom the intellectual property rights owner could claim and hold liable for the substantive act of infringement by importation."

Intellectual property law expert Martin Schweiger, who operates here and in Munich, lauded the court's decision that the freight forwarder is not at fault.

"This saves an entire industry in Singapore," he said.

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Move to curb sex crimes targeting kids, women online

Straits Times
28 Nov 2017
Seow Bei Yi

Singapore is considering new penalties to address sex crimes targeting women and children on the Internet, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam in a Facebook post yesterday.

He also said he hopes to reassess issues surrounding marital rape, which is currently an offence only under limited circumstances.

"We made some amendments in 2007. We will see if more can be done," he said. "I intend more changes to the law." He added that the existing punishment regime for sex offences is under review.

There will also be moves next year to "deal with" the way sexual assault survivors can be cross-examined, and how they can give evidence in court from a safe space, he said.

Mr Shanmugam's comments come as people around the world observe 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, starting last Saturday.

Each year, the police see an average of 150 rape cases and 1,200 to 1,300 cases of outrage of modesty.

Last year, about one in six cases - out of 338 in total that the Association of Women for Action and Research's Sexual Assault Care Centre dealt with - involved some form of technology to facilitate or exacerbate sexual violence or harassment.

The most common type was image-based sexual abuse, including revenge pornography and "sextortion" - attempts to extort or coerce using nude images.

Lawyers said the new penalties could help to recognise targeting women and children online as an aggravating factor for sex crimes.

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam said such offences could include sexual grooming over the Internet, or disseminating private and intimate photographs of women out of revenge. He added that judges could be given greater latitude to mete out heavier penalties when there are aggravating factors.

"These seem to be the new kinds of crimes that we are seeing," said lawyer Amolat Singh, who noted that the intended victim may also be unsuspecting.

"People cultivate friendships online, and the intended victim is lulled into a false sense of security," he said, adding that children's access to technology may contribute to a growing trend.

The moves next year that Mr Shanmugam alluded to follow the Law Ministry's proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act in July. These include gag orders the moment a police report is lodged and automatic closed-door hearings.

In April, then Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin also said a review of the law on marital rape was under way to ensure that married women have the same protection against violence as unmarried women.

The laws were last changed a decade ago to recognise marital rape under some circumstances, such as if divorce proceedings have begun. Until 2007, the concept of marital rape was not recognised here.

"In this day and age, marital rape ought to be recognised as wrong under any circumstances," said Mr Thuraisingam.

Mr Shanmugam's post is the latest in a series of updates this year, aimed at making it easier for women to report sex crimes.

In February, the Ministry of Home Affairs unveiled a centre to examine people reporting rape within 72 hours, to avoid the stress of being taken to a public hospital. In April, Mr Shanmugam said that those who commit sex crimes against minors could face harsher penalties in future.

Last year, the Ministry of Social and Family Development investigated 107 cases of sexual abuse involving children, up from 82 in 2015.

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New S'pore law practice told to clarify status

Straits Times
18 Nov 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Reports suggest it is 'annexe' of chambers group in UK: Ministry

A new law practice, with former attorney-general V.K. Rajah among its practitioners, has been given seven days by the Law Ministry to clarify media reports that suggest it is an "annexe" or " local brand" of a London-based law chambers group.

The ministry, in a letter on Thursday, also told Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) that its press release, articles and related statements have created the impression that it is part of Essex Court Chambers in London.

This is contrary to the representations it has made to the ministry, the letter added.

The ministry also issued a press statement on Thursday, saying the group is an association of Singapore-qualified lawyers.

It added: "The applicant lawyers had expressly confirmed to the Ministry of Law that Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) was separate and distinct from, and independent of, the English barristers' chambers, Essex Court Chambers in London."

But earlier, on Tuesday, when the group announced its establishment in Singapore, the London-based Essex Court Chambers also announced on its website that Mr Rajah, Mr Tham Lijing, Mr Colin Liew and Mr Calvin Liang "have become members of Essex Court Chambers, practising as full-time independent advocates".

They are understood to be the first Singaporean quartet to be admitted as members of a prominent law chambers group in the United Kingdom.

Under the English "chambers model", individual specialist lawyers who have their own practices come together to form an association under one roof, and they share overhead costs.

Besides being members of Essex Court Chambers, the Singapore lawyers have separately and independently set up a similar "chambers" model in Singapore - known as Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) - to practise here.

Their move led to media reports that "both surprised and concerned" the ministry.

It noted that the reports suggest Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) has been "set up", "opened" or "launched" by Essex Court Chambers.

For instance, international publication Global Arbitration Review had said that "Essex Court Chambers has launched a new practice group in Singapore" which includes Mr Rajah.

The ministry stressed it "has not approved any of this".

It also noted that two of the Singapore group's lawyers interviewed by Channel NewsAsia gave the impression that Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) is an annexe of Essex Court Chambers in London.

"This is again contrary to both the rules in Singapore and the confirmations given to the ministry."

The ministry pointed out that contrary to suggestions made, "barristers from Essex Court Chambers in England cannot practise Singapore law and cannot appear in Singapore's courts unless they have been given leave by the Singapore courts to do so or have been admitted to the Singapore Bar".

In response to the ministry's statement, Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) reiterated that it is separate and distinct from, and independent of, Essex Court Chambers in London.

It also told The Straits Times that the clarifications sought by the ministry "are being given and we are glad to have the opportunity to do so".

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Rifle association wins defamation suit

Straits Times
05 Dec 2017
Selina Lum

Key figure in local shooting scene told to pay $30,000 in damages for defamatory remarks

Mr Michael Vaz, a prominent figure in the local shooting scene, was ordered by the High Court yesterday to pay damages of $30,000 for defaming the Singapore Rifle Association (SRA).

The defamation suit arose over two statements made by Mr Vaz in his capacity as president of the Singapore Gun Club (SGC).

One was circulated via e-mail to club members and the other was published on the club's website and Facebook page.

Mr Vaz made the remarks following the closure of the National Shooting Centre in February last year after the police found licensing irregularities at the armouries of the SGC and the SRA - both tenants at the centre - and seized 77 firearms.

Mr Vaz is also president of the Singapore Shooting Association, the national authority for shooting.

In his statements, Mr Vaz insinuated that the SRA was to blame for the closure of the centre, as well as for proposed enhanced security requirements imposed by the police.

Yesterday, Judicial Commissioner Pang Khang Chau found that on reading Mr Vaz's statements, an ordinary person would infer that the centre was closed due to SRA's non-compliance with the police requirements and that the new rules and procedures were being implemented due to SRA's fault.

The judge said the statements were not justified as the centre had been closed to facilitate police investigations and the enhanced security requirements had been sought by the police long before the closure.

The judge rejected Mr Vaz's defence of qualified privilege, saying he could have limited himself to explaining the closure to SGC members without going into the details of SRA's breaches.

"The defendant had no duty to convey these to SGC members and SGC members had neither the duty nor the interest to receive such information," said the judge.

In terms of damages, the judge noted that the SRA, which has 155 years of history and boasts prominent members among its ranks, was a reputable organisation.

While SRA's reputation had "taken a hit somewhat" after the licensing irregularities were uncovered, Mr Vaz's statements had done further damage, he said.

He also took into account Mr Vaz's high standing in the shooting community, which means his remarks will be taken very seriously and cause more damage to SRA's reputation than if they had come from an average SGC member.

Mr Vaz was also ordered to pay legal costs to the SRA, which was represented by Drew & Napier lawyer Wendell Wong.

In a press statement, a spokesman for the SRA council said it felt vindicated by the decision.

The spokesman noted that Mr Vaz refused to take down the defamatory posts despite requests made by the SRA.

The court's finding that Mr Vaz had damaged SRA's reputation and the award of damages and legal costs to the SRA "will definitely help to close this chapter", said the spokesman.

Contacted for comment, Mr Vaz said: "The court has its view and I have my own view. I disagree with the court's view."

He added that he will wait for advice from his lawyers on whether to appeal.

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Mastermind behind DHL parcel scam gets 8 1/2 years' jail

Straits Times
28 Nov 2017
Elena Chong

The mastermind behind what is commonly referred to as the DHL parcel scam, involving a total of $983,000, was sentenced to 81/2 years' jail yesterday.

The scam involved fraudsters posing as employees of a courier company. They would call victims and accuse them of sending parcels containing illegal items.

Malaysian Teng Weng Liang, 26, was identified as the brains behind the operation that has seen several offenders jailed. He is the 10th person to be convicted.

When the victims denied sending such parcels, the telephone call would be transferred to someone pretending to be a police officer, who would tell them they had to cooperate with the authorities if they wanted to clear their names.

The victims would be tricked into disclosing their Internet banking details, thinking the "authorities'' needed to access their bank accounts to carry out investigations.

In some cases, the victims were directed to a fake police website to key in their personal particulars and details of their bank accounts.

In other cases, the victims would be persuaded to transfer the money themselves, or to share their Internet banking details including one-time PINs, which the fraudsters used to transfer money to bank accounts Teng and his countrymen controlled. He would then direct his runners to withdraw the money from the accounts.

Teng used four bank accounts to launder money, two of which were provided by men who were charged for their part in the scam.

The other two, a United Overseas Bank account belonging to Greatland Company and a DBS Bank account belonging to Thaithanawat Song, were obtained from an unknown person in Malaysia.

Teng's accomplices - Malaysians Ooi Lun Xiang, 23, Hiu Sheng Fatt, 22, and Tee Jia Yong, 23 - are now serving jail terms of six years, five years and 40 months respectively.

Victims fell prey to the scam either because they feared criminal prosecution or because they genuinely wanted to help law enforcement authorities.

Teng, who was also involved in secret society activities with a syndicate operating out of Taiwan, was convicted of 10 out of 54 charges under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.

The court heard that the police recovered at least $663,139.

Seeking a sentence of at least 8 1/2 years, Deputy Public Prosecutor Asoka Markandu said a stiff sentence would send a strong signal to foreign syndicates that money laundering would be severely dealt with.

In mitigation, Teng's lawyer, Mr Zaminder Singh Gill, said that by the time his client knew he was dealing with a syndicate, he was "too deep'' in it and unable to pull himself out.

Teng's sentence was backdated to Sept 3 last year. Under the law, he could have been fined up to $500,000 and jailed a maximum of 10 years for each charge.

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More arrested teens being given help, thanks to triage interviews

Straits Times
18 Nov 2017
Seow Bei Yi

In the first half of this year, about 50 per cent of young people arrested were assessed by social workers to see if they were more suited for social services, such as counselling, instead of prosecution.

For the whole of last year, the proportion of youth who went through this programme was about 40 per cent, according to figures The Straits Times obtained from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

Called the triage system, this programme benefits young people aged 19 and below who are arrested for minor offences such as shoplifting and fighting.

It allows the teens to be referred quickly to other social services if needed, and was rolled out at all police divisions last year. It is expected to run until 2020.

In response to queries from ST, MSF said there were 1,089 triage interviews last year.

This was about 40 per cent of the 2,788 young people arrested.

In the first half of this year, there were 686 triage interviews, forming about half of the 1,279 youth arrests.

Each young person referred to the triage attends an interview with his caregiver, said the MSF spokesman.

In one case, a secondary school boy arrested for a negligent act in April was found to have been deeply affected by his mother's death from cancer, and the triage interview revealed that he might have committed the offence out of grief. Instead of being charged, the 15-year-old was referred to his school counsellor, and let off with a warning.

The triage interview is one of several initiatives to guide and rehabilitate young people. Together with other programmes, these initiatives will soon be centralised under about 10 key organisations.

Other initiatives include the Guidance Programme, which diverts offenders of minor crimes towards counselling and rehabilitation.

In April, an Appropriate Adult scheme was rolled out in phases for those aged below 16 to be supported by independent volunteers during police interviews.

While experts say the triage system is a step in the right direction, as punitive measures such as jail are not long-term solutions, they added that more youth who are arrested should be going through triage interviews.

Mr Sunil Sudheesan, president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, said the triage is indicative of "a more enlightened" and less punitive approach taken by the police force now, with many young people who are arrested being hauled up for generally minor offences.

"There should be more openness to adopting such non-judicial measures to deal with youth offenders," he added.

"Jail seems straightforward, but it is not a long-term solution."

Singapore Children's Society chief executive Alfred Tan hopes more young people can go through the triage system, as it can help address complex cases' root problems, which could include substance abuse or gang involvement.

Of more than 7,000 young suspects arrested between 2011 and 2015, only 15 per cent were prosecuted in court.


MSF said there were 1,089 triage interviews last year. This was about 40 per cent of the 2,788 young people arrested. In the first half of this year, there were 686 triage interviews, forming about half of the 1,279 youth arrests.

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Mastermind of $38m Keppel Club scam pleads guilty

Straits Times
05 Dec 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

70-year-old former employee duped 1,341 people into paying for fake memberships over a decade

Over 10 years, Keppel Club employee Setho Oi Lin, also known as Setho Irene, would tell prospective buyers that there were club memberships available for transfer.

Instead of paying the club directly, the buyers would be instructed to make payment to third parties, including Setho's friend, and this accomplice's family members.

A supervisor at the membership department would enter these buyers' names into the database and issue them with membership cards.

In total, between June 1, 2004, and Aug 1, 2014, Setho duped 1,341 people into paying about $37.5 million for fake memberships.

Yesterday, Setho, 70, pleaded guilty to 60 counts of cheating.

Her two accomplices, membership department supervisor Nah Hak Chuah and club member Ivy Cheo Soh Chin, both 67, admitted to their roles in the scam on Nov 30.

According to the charges Setho pleaded guilty to, the buyers paid between $26,500 and $41,500 each.

The buyers were directed to pay the purchase prices and transfer fees to third parties, including Cheo, her daughter, mother and brother-in-law.

Cheo's three family members were not club members.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi said: "These buyers or their nominees were able to enter Keppel Club and make use of the club facilities as they were issued with membership cards and their details had been entered into the system.

"They did not realise what went on behind the scenes at the membership department."

Investigations revealed that Setho received at least $11 million from the cheating offences.

The court heard that besides the 60 counts of cheating, Setho has 3,121 other charges that will be considered during sentencing.

They are for an additional 1,281 counts of cheating, 1,339 counts of abetting false entries into the club's electronic membership database, and 501 counts of dealing with the benefits of her criminal conduct.

DPP Hon said Setho worked at Keppel Club for nearly 48 years from 1966.

Setho, who now moves around in a wheelchair, started off as a general clerk and was promoted through the ranks. She was a personal assistant to the general manager when she committed the offences.

The general manager oversaw membership matters.

He lodged a police report on Aug 13, 2014, stating that Setho had cheated new members of Keppel Club into buying club memberships from "phantom buyers" and directed them to pay the fees to third parties.

As of that month, the club had 2,682 legitimate members.

Setho is out on bail of $300,000 and will be back in court on Feb 9 next year. Nah admitted to 30 of 1,280 charges of making false entries in the club's electronic membership database.

Cheo pleaded guilty to 20 of 303 counts of money laundering.

The cases involving Nah and Cheo have been adjourned to next month.

Offenders convicted of cheating can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined for each charge.


  • About the case

  • Three people have pleaded guilty over their roles in a scam where 1,341 people were duped into paying about $37.5 million for fake memberships at the Keppel Club.

    They are the general manager's personal assistant Setho Oi Lin, also known as Setho Irene, 70; supervisor at the membership department Nah Hak Chuah, 67; and club member Ivy Cheo Soh Chin, also 67, who is Setho's friend.

    The offences took place from June 1, 2004, to Aug 1, 2014.

    The Business Times first reported the case in December 2014, stating that Keppel Club, which is more than a century old, had been "rocked by a recent shocking discovery of 'phantom' memberships".

    A well-placed source told The Straits Times then that a long-serving club employee - later found to be Setho - was suspected of having issued some 1,200 membership cards without crediting any of the transfer fees to the club.

    It was understood that she was sacked in October 2014.

    The trio were charged in court late last year.

    Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi said Keppel Club ceased the sale of new transferable memberships in 1989. It also stopped the sale of new non-transferable memberships in 1997.

    DPP Hon said: "Since then, anyone who wishes to become a Keppel Club member has to purchase the membership from an existing member... The purchase price includes a fixed transfer fee of $12,000, plus prevailing GST rate, and an account activation fee ranging from $300 to $530 across the years, both to be paid to Keppel Club."

    But the victims paid their fees to third parties instead.

    Investigations found that Setho, who was the mastermind, received at least $11 million of the proceeds from her cheating offences.

    Shaffiq Alkhatib

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Couple pleads guilty to torturing friend

Straits Times
28 Nov 2017
Selina Lum

Nearly every day for eight months, a 31-year-old woman physically abused a friend who lived with her, to "punish" her for lying and other purported misdeeds.

In March 2015, Tan Hui Zhen and her husband Pua Hak Chuan started using a 1kg roll of shrink wrap to assault the victim, a 26-year-old waitress with intellectual disabilities. They deliberately targeted her buttocks, where her injuries would be inconspicuous.

The beatings left blisters on Ms Annie Ee Yu Lian's buttocks - one about 8cm in diameter. The injuries were so serious that the couple used sanitary pads to dry the wounds and bandage them.

Ms Ee suffered her final beating on April 12, 2015.

By then, she was weak with multiple rib fractures, covered in bruises and blisters, short of breath and incontinent. But the couple, on seeing her lying in her own urine, accused her of urinating on the floor to get attention. While she lay slumped in a chair as they scolded her, they decided to punish her for her "bad attitude".

They repeatedly beat her with the shrink wrap, smashed a plastic dustbin on her, and left her on her mattress groaning.

The next morning, when they checked on her, she was lifeless.

Yesterday, Tan, now 33, and Pua, now 38, pleaded guilty to various charges for the extensive torture of Ms Ee, who died from multiple injuries in their four-room flat in Woodlands. An autopsy report showed that Ms Ee suffered fractures to seven vertebrae and 12 ribs.

The couple were initially charged with murder.

Tan pleaded guilty to two counts each of causing grievous hurt and causing grievous hurt with a weapon, while Pua pleaded guilty to one count of causing hurt and two counts of causing grievous hurt with a weapon.

Describing their acts as "an appalling case of abuse and cruelty", prosecutors are seeking 15 years' jail for Tan and 14 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane for Pua.

"Annie thought she had found a home and a family with the two accused. Unfortunately, they were not motivated by altruism," said Deputy Public Prosecutor April Phang.

The DPP said the couple exploited the victim and subjected her to eight months of psychological and physical torture. The couple's "use of gratuitous violence and senseless brutality" led to her "excruciating" death, said the DPP.

Tan was 17 and Ms Ee 13 when they first met in 2001. Tan was a sales assistant at a clothing shop that Ms Ee's mother frequented. They lost touch but rekindled their friendship in 2013.

Ms Ee, who became estranged from her family, moved into Tan and Pua's flat in late 2013 and was tasked to do the housework.

The couple did not charge her rent at first but then started collecting $150 a month, increasing this gradually to $550.

Tan started assaulting Ms Ee in August 2014 after she blamed the victim for a bedbug infestation. Tan slapped and whipped her, tried to strangle her, banged her head against a wall, and kicked and stepped on her.

Pua was the "standby slapper" who occasionally took over when Tan became tired.

Ms Ee suffered in silence as Tan punished her for misdeeds such as lying or taking too long in the shower.

After the couple realised that Ms Ee was "afraid" of being hit with the shrink wrap, they decided to assault her with it. Almost daily, the couple beat her with the roll of wrap, with the beating sessions going on for as long as two hours.

In the weeks before her death, the couple noticed that she was becoming weak and was panting for breath. Pua suggested they stop hitting her to allow her to recover before "starting anew".

But after a few days, Tan resumed hitting Ms Ee to punish her for breaking the rules.

On the morning before the fatal assault, Ms Ee cut her wrist with a pair of scissors but Tan took the tool away.

The couple then went out. Returning, they found her lying face down in a puddle of urine. When Tan scolded her, Ms Ee said she could not control her bladder.

As Tan mopped up the mess, Ms Ee changed into a clean top but did not put on any shorts as her buttocks were too swollen and painful.

That evening, the couple left the flat to buy food for her and returned to find her in her own urine again.

Angered, Tan decided to punish her for her "bad attitude".

Tan swung the shrink wrap against Ms Ee's back multiple times as the victim pleaded with her to stop. When told to return to her room, she lost her balance and fell to the floor.

Pua told the victim to "stop acting" before thrusting the shrink wrap at her abdomen.

He also smashed a dustbin down on her with such force that the plastic cracked.

The next morning, after discovering that she was dead, Pua tore off a layer of plastic from the shrink wrap and flushed it down the toilet to get rid of fingerprints.

Tan then called her own brother to say Ms Ee had committed suicide, and eventually called the police.

When the officers arrived, Tan said the victim was a clumsy person who would often injure herself. She also claimed that Ms Ee often jumped up and landed on her buttocks for no apparent reason.

The couple later admitted assaulting her.


After the couple realised that Ms Ee was "afraid" of being hit with the shrink wrap, they decided to assault her with it.

Almost daily, the couple beat her with the roll of wrap, with the beating sessions going on for as long as two hours.

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

 

Firms bypassing data protection rules?

Straits Times
18 Nov 2017

Ever since the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Act came into effect in 2012, there have been reports of some less established companies violating these protocols and being fined by the authorities.

Most Singaporeans like me have a goodwill assumption that larger, well-established local and multinational corporations have in place capable and expert inhouse counsels and processes that keep them compliant with handling consumer data.

However, a recent episode has eroded this presumption. Are organisations circumventing the PDP policies that are in place by exploiting "exemptions" in order to promote and market their products via text messages?

I was a customer of ANZ Bank which was acquired by DBS earlier this year. In my standing instructions with ANZ Bank, I had opted to receive all marketing information only via conventional mail or e-mails. I had also signed up with the Personal Data Protection Commission or PDPC - Do Not Call Registry to ensure my privacy was respected.

After the acquisition of ANZ Bank, my account was transferred and handled by DBS Treasures and suddenly, I started receiving text messages with marketing information. I lodged a complaint with PDPC and soon, I received an official letter from DBS explaining that these text messages were service-oriented in nature and not deemed as marketing messages. The letter also mentioned that the bank's systems would be updated with my preferred mode of communications and at my request, I would be transferred from being a DBS Treasures consumer to a normal banking consumer.

In less than a week, I again started receiving marketing text messages from DBS "designed exclusively for Treasures clients".

Once again, I approached the PDPC and they assured me that I would be permanently removed from the mailing list.

However, barely a week later, I received another text message (this time promoting the DBS Remittance services). I asked PDPC why I continued to get marketing messages via text despite the various interventions of myself and the PDPC. I was told that this was possible as there might be an exemption order in place since I still have a banking relationship with DBS. What is the purpose of the policy when clear instructions can be bypassed?

Mohan Varadarajalu

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

Li Shengwu's lawyers applying to set aside court order

Straits Times
05 Dec 2017
Seow Bei Yi and Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

The lawyers of Mr Li Shengwu will apply to set aside the court order allowing the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to serve papers on their client in the United States.

The AGC had earlier served papers for contempt of court against Mr Li, who is the eldest son of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

A pre-trial conference for the case was held at the High Court yesterday, attended by Senior Counsel Francis Ng for the AGC and Mr Li's counsel, Mr Abraham Vergis of Providence Law.

In a statement, Providence Law said it informed the court that it will make an application to set aside the ex parte - or one-sided - order that allowed the AGC to personally serve papers on Mr Li, 32, who is a junior fellow at Harvard University.

Noting that the court papers filed by the AGC exceeded 1,300 pages, the law firm said: "We explained we needed time to address the novel grounds which the AGC relied on to justify serving the papers out of jurisdiction."

The court directed that Mr Li file his application by Dec 22, and the next pre-trial conference is expected to take place on Jan 4.

When contacted, Mr Vergis declined further comment. The AGC did not reply to queries on the issue.

Lawyer Choo Zheng Xi said the case against Mr Li cannot proceed if the application to set aside the court order goes through. If so, the AGC could appeal against that decision to the Court of Appeal, or re-apply to court in a way that is procedurally correct, he said.

Mr Choo recalled that a similar appeal was made in the case of Mr Alex Au, whom he acted for when the socio-political blogger was accused of contempt of court in 2013.

"The judge, at first instance, did not give AGC permission to even start proceedings against Mr Au in relation to one statement of alleged contempt of court," Mr Choo said.

Mr Au was subsequently fined $8,000 for comments that undermined confidence in the judiciary.

Veteran lawyer Amolat Singh said: "By applying to set aside the order, what Mr Li's lawyers are saying is that the service (of papers) could have been improper or defective."

He noted that the court listens to only one party when an ex parte order is obtained.

"Now, Mr Li will be able to put forward his own reasons on why this service may have been defective," Mr Singh said, adding: "If they manage to set it aside, technically, the papers would not have been served to Mr Li yet."

Mr Li previously said he would not return to Singapore to face the contempt proceedings.

The case centres on a July 15 Facebook post in which Mr Li said "the Singapore Government is very litigious and has a pliant court system", and that foreign media had been cowed into self-censorship because of previous legal action.

The post was related to a family dispute over the fate of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's home at 38, Oxley Road that spilled into the public sphere in June.

The AGC called the post an "egregious and baseless attack" on the judiciary. It wrote to Mr Li to demand an apology, but he declined, saying his post was private.

Mr Li also contended that the post did not constitute contempt of court when read in context.

He added that he had amended it to remove any misunderstanding, but would not take it down.

Among other things, Mr Li said his criticism was directed not at the judiciary but at the Singapore Government's "aggressive use" of legal rules like defamation laws to constrain reporting by international media.

The AGC received permission from the court to initiate contempt of court proceedings in August.

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

PDPC investigating complaints against school

Straits Times
27 Nov 2017

The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) takes all alleged violations of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) very seriously and will look into all such feedback (Little action taken against flouting of data protection rules, by Mr Terence Lim; Nov 23).

We will not hesitate to take the necessary regulatory action if we ascertain that a breach had occurred.

Mr Lim first came to the PDPC in May to complain about receiving unsolicited marketing e-mails from Aventis School of Management (ASM).

The PDPC resolved Mr Lim's initial complaint immediately by taking up the issue with the ASM's data protection officer, and getting ASM to remove Mr Lim's e-mail address from its marketing mailing list.

Mr Lim then furnished the PDPC with more information about ASM's data collection practices which may have breached the PDPA.

The PDPC is currently investigating these additional complaints.

Contrary to Mr Lim's claim, our officers have been corresponding with him to keep him updated on the outcome of our investigations.

We seek his patience on the matter.

Evelyn Goh (Ms)

Director

Communications & Policy

Personal Data Protection Commission

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

Stop collection of mobile numbers too

Straits Times
18 Nov 2017

Our NRIC is used frivolously (Time to end overuse of the NRIC; Nov 16). Under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), personal data refers to data about an individual that will lead to his identification. As an NRIC number is unique, an individual can definitely be identified from it.

Another piece of data that is not treated with respect is our mobile number. This too is unique to an individual and again, we can be easily identified through it.

Together with the review on tighter rules on the use of NRIC, the PDPC should also look into the indiscriminate collection of mobile numbers, especially by security guards of condominiums.

They insist that we write down our mobile phone number on a visitor slip, which we are then forced to display prominently on our car dashboard. Since the unit number of the person we are visiting is already scribbled on the slip, why then do we still have to write down our cellphone numbers?

I urge the PDPC to include the collection of mobile numbers in their review on the use of NRIC.

Neo Seok Kian (Ms)

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

Maersk cements lead in container shipping

Business Times
05 Dec 2017
Jacqueline Woo

With the acquisition of Hamburg Sud, the combined entity now holds an 18% share of global capacity

Maersk Line's 3.7 billion euro (S$5.5 billion) acquisition of Hamburg Sud is propelling the container shipping giant - already the world's No. 1 carrier - further ahead of its competitors in the relentless race for market share.

And for Singapore, a bigger Maersk would only mean higher box volumes here, according to the company's chief commercial officer Vincent Clerc.

"Our strategy is to move away from being a conglomerate present in different industries to being a company focused on transportation and logistics," Mr Clerc said in an interview with The Business Times on Monday.

"With the acquisition of Hamburg Sud, we are really cementing our leadership position in container transportation, and we are building our presence in key markets like Latin America and Oceania, where Hamburg Sud has historically been strong."

Maersk ranks as the largest container shipping line worldwide with 646 vessels, while Hamburg Sud is the seventh largest, with 116 ships.

Together, they now hold an 18 per cent share of global capacity - up from Maersk's 15 per cent share prior to the acquisition - comprising 762 container vessels with a combined container capacity of about four million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

In comparison, Mediterranean Shipping Co, the world's No. 2 player, has a share of 14.6 per cent as at Dec 1, followed by CMA CGM at around 11.6 per cent, according to shipping data provider Alphaliner.

Maersk also expects to reap operational cost savings in the range of US$350 million to US$400 million annually for the first few years, starting 2019.

With the acquisition done, Maersk will now move to reflag most of Hamburg Sud's vessels, including some of the German-flagged ships, to either Denmark or Singapore.

This exercise will likely be completed over the coming months, said Mr Clerc, although the company has yet to decide on the exact number of vessels that will fly each flag.

Maersk has investments in Singapore totalling over US$12 billion, including 46 vessels and rigs under the Singapore flag.

"For a long time, we've built very deep relationships in Singapore, we've had a lot of activities here - it's a place that makes sense for us," said Mr Clerc.

"And as we integrate Hamburg Sud and continue to grow as a company, Singapore will benefit with an increase in numbers for the transshipment moves happening here," he added. All of Hamburg Sud's transshipment activities for South-east Asia will remain in Singapore, unchanged.

Already, Maersk's share of transshipment volumes through Singapore has grown significantly in recent years, even as the shipping line continues to utilise its dedicated berths at Malaysia's Tanjung Pelepas port. Singapore handled about 4.5 million TEUs of Maersk containers last year, up 69 per cent from the 2.7 million TEUs seen in 2013.

"Singapore has traditionally been one of the real pivot areas for trade and shipping, and South-east Asia is the area in Asia that is seeing the strongest growth right now. Obviously, Singapore is the natural transshipment hub for South-east Asia," noted Mr Clerc.

That said, Maersk's acquisition of Hamburg Sud will only have "a minor impact" on box traffic coming through Singapore since the German firm is a relatively small carrier in the South-east Asia region, said Tan Hua Joo, executive consultant of Alphaliner.

On the buyout, Mr Clerc said Maersk has chosen a "light- touch integration" approach, where it will maintain and run Hamburg Sud as a separate commercial entity, with no changes to the frontline.

"Hamburg Sud is a company that has a long and proud history, and it stands for a lot (in terms of business) in Latin America especially, and in Oceania. We think we can build on this brand (by) maintaining what makes Hamburg Sud different and preserving it, so the customers of Hamburg Sud can continue to get the services they've been used to getting from the company," he said.

Such an approach is poles apart from what Maersk had implemented with P&O Nedlloyd back in 2006, when it bought over the company. "We decided to integrate everything at that time, which meant a lot of changes for the customers at P&O back then, who had chosen P&O for a certain reason and ended up getting a Maersk service. It took some time for us to find the right formula to make that happen," Mr Clerc recalled.

"By taking this 'light-touch' approach with Hamburg Sud, we can preserve the two brands and create a better product overall for our customers."

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

Anthony Ler's hired killer seeks release

Straits Times
26 Nov 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A smiling mastermind who engineered his own wife's murder, Anthony Ler had coached a lanky bespectacled 15-year-old and twisted the boy's mind into killing his victim in 2001.

Sixteen years after he was detained at the President's pleasure, the teenage killer, now 31, has applied to President Halimah Yacob for clemency, and to be released. He is hoping to have his life back.

To be detained at the President's pleasure is to be jailed for an indefinite term, subject to a periodic review.

During the trial in 2001, the teenager, identified only as Z, was described by the presiding judge as "a rather simple-minded and mild-mannered boy ensnared haplessly way out of season in adult intrigue and machinations... He was no killer and had too much conscience and compassion".

Ler, on the other hand, was a master manipulator who wore a smile that never faded.

In his book, the late lawyer Subhas Anandan, who represented Ler, described him as a man who wore a constant smile, which in reality was a sneer.

Ler conjured up a series of stories to protect himself, and maintained throughout a trial which gripped Singapore that he never intended for the teenager to actually kill his wife, Ms Annie Leong. It was a joke gone wrong, he said.

But both were found guilty. Ler was sent to the gallows on Dec 13, 2002, and Z, who did not appeal against his sentence on his lawyer's advice, has been serving an indefinite jail term since.

His lawyer Peter Ong Lip Cheng, who submitted the petition for him, said the 31-year-old has done well while serving time, matured considerably and has been studying for a degree while in prison.

Speaking to The Sunday Times yesterday, he added that the application, which the Istana received on Nov 17, has been supported by counsellors, friends and others in contact with him during his term in prison. Z's identity was not publicised then as he was a juvenile when the crime was committed.

Mr Ong, speaking from Chongqing, China, where he is attending a course, said: "He has consistently shown remorse, maturity and understanding of what he has done. If given the chance, he would also be a standing and active testimony to youths of the consequences of crime, and share his personal story in redeeming himself."

Z knifed Ms Leong, a 30-year-old insurance agent, as instructed by Ler, her estranged husband. It happened on the fourth-floor lift landing of a Housing Board block in Hougang on May 14, 2001. She died later in hospital from multiple knife wounds to her neck and chest.

Investigations showed Ler had approached Z and his teenage friends, but of the lot, Z felt he had to prove himself to Ler.

Ler, a self-confessed gambler and womaniser, wanted to retain the HDB flat he and Ms Leong owned, and custody of their daughter, who was then four years old. She would be 20 now.

Then Judicial Commissioner Tay Yong Kwang, who heard the case, said during the trial that "Anthony Ler hatched the idea of killing his wife, taught Z how to do it cleanly, kept egging him on and finally practically forced him to commit the offence".

Z's admissions of "self-loathing and utter confusion after the murder" were accepted by the court.

In his statements to the police when confessing to the crime, Z had written: "How I wished that I had never known Anthony. I have let my parents down and all those people around me. I do not know how people would think of me. I feel very lost and confused."

Mr Ong said Z's remorse and desire to change have been borne out by his work in prison in the last 16 years. He has been a model inmate with no record of misbehaviour.

Among other things, he has studied diligently through to his A levels and encouraged others to study and improve themselves as well. He also maintained close ties with his family in letters which showed character growth, he added.

Mr Ong, who was one of two lawyers defending Z during the 2001 trial, said Z has evolved from being the naive and weak-minded boy then to a resilient young man today, eager to make amends for his wrongdoings.

He said a 2003 Singapore report to a United Nations committee of convicted persons below the age of 18 detained at the President's leasure showed they can be considered for release after serving about 13 years of imprisonment.

The cases are reviewed after every four years but after the 10th year, they are reviewed annually, he said.

"This appeal is timely but it is not merely about the time served so far, but also on the evidence of his growth, maturity and readiness to contribute to society."


  • Detained at the President's pleasure: What does it mean?

  • Anyone below 18 convicted of a capital charge, such as murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking, will be spared the gallows and instead detained at the President's pleasure.

    It is a legal term to mean the person will be jailed indefinitely.

    His conduct and progress will be reviewed periodically and when found suitable for release, a recommendation will be made to the President, who may then direct the release.

    The boy who killed Ms Annie Leong was just 15 years old when he committed the crime. As such, he was detained at the President's pleasure.

    Now, after spending 16 years in prison, the 31-year-old is appealing to President Halimah Yacob to be granted clemency and set free.

    Deputy Public Prosecutor Paul Quan Kaih Shiuh had in 2004 argued that jailing the boy for an indefinite period was a severe penalty in sharp contrast to the provision in the Children and Young Persons Act, which allows a judge to exercise discretion in deciding an appropriate sentence.

    Samantha Boh


  • About the case

  • The Anthony Ler trial in 2001 made headlines, not only because he hired a 15-year-old to kill his estranged wife Annie Leong, but also for the show he put on to hide his crime.

    Ms Leong, 30, was stabbed multiple times outside a lift on the fourth floor of the Housing Board block where she was living with her mother and daughter.

    At her wake, Ler sat down with a New Paper reporter and admitted to being a bad husband. He said that he had "fouled up" their marriage with an affair and his gambling. He said that his wife was an angel, while he was the devil.

    But Ler insisted that he was innocent.

    Two days after the interview, Ler, then 34, was arrested at his Pasir Ris home and it emerged that he had offered a secondary school student $100,000 to kill Ms Leong, and even coached him on how to stab her in the neck.

    Ler was sentenced to death, and hanged on Dec 13, 2002. The student, because of his age, was spared the death penalty and detained indefinitely at the President's pleasure.

    Samantha Boh

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

Police to push for forfeiture of cars used in illegal races

Straits Times
18 Nov 2017
Christopher Tan

Two cars confiscated and will be auctioned off; cases involving 4 other vehicles pending

The Traffic Police have confiscated two high-powered sports cars used in an illegal race - the first forfeiture of its kind here.

A Lamborghini Murcielago SV and a Nissan GT-R were involved in a race in Seletar Link in 2015.

The cars - with the Lamborghini costing around $1.6 million and the Nissan GT-R $600,000 when new - will soon be auctioned off, and the money will go to state coffers.

While forfeiture of vehicles used in illegal races is mandatory under the law, actual confiscation is rare because there is a strict definition of racing. For instance, there has to be a defined start and end point.

Hence, there were only five cases of illegal racing from 2014 to September this year. Others were classified under "dangerous driving", of which there were 232 cases in the same period.

Right now, illegal racing cases pertaining to four other vehicles - two BMWs and two Volkswagens - are pending, the police told The Straits Times yesterday during a visit to their vehicle pound off Airport Road.

The BMWs were found racing along Lim Chu Kang Road in July this year, clocking up to 177kmh, while the VWs were caught doing so along the same road last December.

"We will press for forfeitures," said Commander of Traffic Police Sam Tee. "Let this be a warning to errant motorists who wilfully disregard the safety of other road users.

"There must be a sense of law and order on the road."

Mr Tee said culprits are usually caught during regular enforcement operations. "We are also supported by the community. Many people have provided us with information and video footage."

Besides vehicle forfeiture, those found guilty of illegal racing face a fine of up to $2,000 and six months behind bars. For dangerous driving, the penalty is a fine of up to $3,000 and jail of up to 12 months.

Both groups of offenders also face suspension of their driving licences.

The law does not provide for forfeiture for cases of dangerous driving, but the vehicles are often seized and kept in the Traffic Police pound during the course of investigation and prosecution. This can last two years or more.

The Traffic Police said there are more than 800 vehicles at its pound, including buses, heavy trucks, several taxis, motorcycles and even bicycles.

All the drivers caught for illegal racing or dangerous driving in the past three years have been men in their 20s and 30s.

Most were caught in Lim Chu Kang Road and Seletar Link.

Automobile Association of Singapore chief executive Lee Wai Mun said there may be a case for reviewing the law to ensure it is effective and relevant. "Whether it is illegal racing or dangerous driving, the consequences for the public are the same," Mr Lee said.

Last December, then Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said penalties for traffic offences will be reviewed and stiffened to clamp down on irresponsible motorists. He said the Government "will seek to increase the penalties for offences that result in death or hurt to others".

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

Plans for more transparent Sibor seen benefiting borrowers

Business Times
05 Dec 2017
Siow Li Sen

Proposals to reform Sibor, the Singapore interbank offered rate used by banks to price consumer loans, should benefit borrowers as efforts get underway to make the benchmark setting process more transparent.

The two main proposals call for changes in the way Sibor is calculated and for the rarely-used 12-month Sibor rate to be scrapped.

Sibor, set daily by panel banks submitting the rate at which they can borrow Singapore dollars, is currently published in four tenors - the one-, three-, six- and 12-month tenors. The one- and three-month ones are most widely used, and account for more than nine in 10 contracts that use the Sibor benchmark.

The proposed changes are contained in a consultation paper jointly released on Monday by the ABS (Association of Banks in Singapore) Benchmarks Administration Co Pte Ltd and the Singapore Foreign Exchange Market Committee (SFEMC).

The consultation ends on Feb 5.

The panel's proposed primary change is to reference a broader set of banks' borrowing transactions beyond those in the interbank market.

Lam Kun Kin, co-chair of the SFEMC and the ABS-SFEMC industry working group on Sibor, noted that there has been a structural change in the sources of funding markets both in Singapore and globally.

"Interbank funding activity has declined significantly, and all banks have to tap corporate deposits and other wholesale funding, which qualify as acceptable liquidity in meeting the various Basel requirements."

Following the 2007/8 global financial crisis, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision tightened the rules aimed at strengthening banks by requiring them to raise their liquidity and lower their leverage.

"There is no available hard information, but this change (of tapping other funding sources) is very much apparent from the heavy competition for such deposits at quarter-end or year-end," said Mr Lam.

The underlying market for Sibor has extended from the interbank unsecured market to include other wholesale funding transactions - in particular, non-bank sources such as statutory boards, town councils, public-sector entities, insurers, fund managers and corporates.

Mr Lam said: "The proposal should be beneficial to consumers in terms of ensuring greater clarity and consistency among banks in contributing rates for Sibor computation and reducing the reliance on expert judgement which may differ from bank to bank."

Commenting on the proposals to reform Sibor, OCBC Bank's Head of Treasury Reseach & Strategy Selena Ling said: "There has been a fair bit of consultation within the industry, so it should not be too disruptive on the markets."

ABS Director Ong-Ang Ai Boon addded: "Based on back testing, the new Sibor does not differ too much from the current Sibor, and should not impact the man on the street." She said the panel banks in their expert judgement already consider the wholesale funding market.

The efforts to reform Sibor are in line with global developments for improving the robustness and integrity of financial benchmarks, adopted since 2014. Major interbank markets such as London and Europe are taking similar steps; Japan has already implemented a reformed Tokyo interbank offered rate (Tibor).

In 2013, the Monetary Authority of Singapore found that 20 banks here tried to rig key borrowing and currency rates. The authority did not fine the banks, but ordered them to set aside additional reserves for a year.

The reform on financial benchmark settings follows the global rate rigging scandal and UK and US authorities slapped fines of hundreds of millions of dollars on many banks.

"In terms of pricing of loans, there could be greater reliance on the shorter-dated Sibor rates and/or SOR going forward. The 12-month Sibor is rarely used anyway," said Ms Ling. The SOR is the swap-offer rate, the benchmark used for commercial loans.

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

Woman on drug-related capital charge gets rare discharge

Straits Times
26 Nov 2017
K.C. Vijayan

In a rare move, a woman facing a capital charge for allegedly importing drugs was freed on Thursday by a district court after having spent 13 months in a maximum security jail.

Ms Ting Swee Ling, 33, was issued with a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNATA) on the application of the prosecution which had reviewed her case. No reason was given in court.

Ms Ting, a Malaysian, was nabbed on Oct 26 last year at the Woodlands Checkpoint, when she was a pillion rider on a motorcycle on which two packets of a crystalline substance - containing more than 250g of pure methamphetamine or Ice - were found.

She was arrested together with motorcyclist Beh Chew Boo and both were charged with importing the drug, which on conviction carries a potential death penalty for any amount exceeding 250g. Beh is in remand and awaiting trial. He used to be her boyfriend.

Ms Ting's lawyer Peter Fernando made representations last month urging the prosecution to review the evidence and withdraw the case. Lawyers said that although a DNATA technically means she can still be re-arrested if there are new developments, in practice, the release is indefinite.

"I have not come across a case in my experience where an accused person issued with a DNATA is subsequently re-detained," said veteran lawyer Amolat Singh, who added that such a discharge can be made on various grounds.

After being freed in the evening, the first thing Ms Ting did was to head to Mr Fernando's office, with several siblings in tow.

She said: "I cannot thank him enough. My brothers are also here to thank him. They say if not for him, I will not be here now."

Ms Ting recalled that when she was first arrested last year, her mind went blank with disbelief.

She soon adapted to the prison routine, being lodged in a "special watch" cell with three other women aged 26, 27 and 41, all facing capital drug-related charges.

"But last week, I dreamt I was in a temple with my family and I found I had struck 4D numbers," she said.

Ms Ting added that she cried uncontrollably when she appeared in court on Thursday morning and was told by her lawyer Mr Fernando that she would be freed.

"I could not believe it and kept wondering if it was true. Very, very touching to see my family all in court waiting for me."

She shared one important lesson from her prison experience: "When I was outside, my friends were important and I was less close to my family. But in prison, I learnt that my family is more important than friends and I will stay much closer to my family from now on."

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

MinLaw asks S’pore legal practice to clarify links with UK barristers’ chambers

TODAY
17 Nov 2017
Kelly Ng

The Law Ministry (MinLaw) has taken issue with the connections drawn between a group of Singapore-qualified lawyers and an English barristers’ chambers based in London.

The ministry has instructed the Essex Court Chambers Duxton to clarify “misimpressions” that it is part of the Essex Court Chambers in London, how these misimpressions came about, and what it will do to correct them within seven days.

Former Attorney-General V K Rajah and lawyers Colin Liew, Calvin Liang and Tham Lijing formed the Singapore group practice, which is located along Duxton Hill in Tanjong Pagar.

MinLaw told TODAY: “The publicity surrounding Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore group practice) appears to have created the misimpression that approval was given to Essex Court Chambers in London to establish a related practice in Singapore. Essex Court Chambers in London, which is an English barristers’ chambers, is not permitted to set up a Singapore group practice.”

In a letter to the group on Thursday (Nov 16), MinLaw disputed reports by Singapore media outlets Channel NewsAsia and The Straits Times, as well as British magazine The Lawyer and legal journal Global Arbitration Review, which suggested that the Duxton outfit is affiliated to the English chambers.

“This is quite contrary to the representations made by the applicant Singapore law firms to the ministry,” MinLaw wrote.

It highlighted an interview that Mr Liang and Mr Liew did with Channel NewsAsia’s Singapore Tonight, where they allegedly “gave the impression” that Essex Court Chambers Duxton is an “annexe” of the English chambers.

The ministry also took issue with a statement published on the Singapore agency’s website on Tuesday, announcing the start of its group practice.

Queen’s Counsel David Foxton, head of chambers at Essex Court Chambers (London), was quoted extending his welcome to the four lawyers as “new members” to the English chambers.

While law firms here are typically organised as partnerships, where partners are joint owners and business directors of the legal operation, the chambers model itself as a group of independent barristers, each of whom is a self-employed sole practitioner.

‘SURPRISED AND CONCERNED’

In a media statement on Thursday, MinLaw said that it was “surprised and concerned” by reports suggesting that Essex Court Chambers Duxton has been “set up”, “opened” or “launched” by Essex Court Chambers, and that the Singapore group practice is an “annexe”, “new practice group” or the “local brand” of the English chambers.

“(MinLaw) has not approved any of this,” it said.

Under the Legal Profession Rules, a Singapore group practice can only be formed by local law firms coming together. A Singapore law practice can also form joint law ventures with a foreign law practice, but foreign practices are not allowed to set up a “Singapore branch” here.

MinLaw said: “Contrary to some suggestions which have been made, the (ministry’s) position is also that barristers from Essex Court Chambers in England cannot practise Singapore law and cannot appear in Singapore’s courts unless they have been given leave by the Singapore courts to do so or have been admitted to the Singapore Bar.”

It added that the lawyers at Essex Court Chambers Duxton had “expressly confirmed”, in their application to MinLaw, that it was “separate and distinct from, and independent of” Essex Court Chambers in London.

In response to TODAY’s queries, Essex Court Chambers Duxton said that the four lawyers who set up the Singapore group practice and are advocates admitted to the Singapore Bar, are the “only individuals who are members of the (practice)”.

“The (Singapore group practice) is not a ‘local brand’ of the members of Essex Court Chambers in London. Nothing in the press release issued on 14 November 2017 is in any way inconstant with this position. The release provides that the members of the (practice) act as independent advocates (or) advisors,” it said.

It also clarified that the well-known Essex Court Chambers is not a firm with partners or employees. Rather, it comprises “individual advocates, each of whom is a self-employed sole practitioner”.

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Causes week: Needy kids get help in learning to read

Straits Times
05 Dec 2017
Toh Wen Li

Ask 11-year-old Nur Elliana Elmie to tell you about her favourite book and she gets all excited.

"I really like those 'weird facts' books," said the Primary 5 pupil. "I learnt that in the past, dragonflies' wings were three times the width of a frisbee."

Elliana was the first pupil to benefit from literacy programme ReadAble, which was founded by three young lawyers in 2014.

At first, she had one-on-one sessions with a volunteer. These were held in her two-room Jalan Kukoh flat off Chin Swee Road, where she lives with her mother, housewife Ariyana Samuji, 36.

Mother and daughter helped to spread the word, and soon, as many as 12 children living in the area would gather at Elliana's home for reading sessions at once, even spilling over into the stairwell.

About two years ago, ReadAble found a new home at the Jalan Kukoh Residents' Committee Centre, where it now runs reading classes with elements of speech and drama for pupils aged two to 12 every Saturday.

It has benefited more than 60 children so far, and ReadAble has also installed bookshelves filled with books in the homes of at least six families. Sometimes it takes the children on trips to the museum and theatre.

Pupils come from the Chin Swee area, which has a large number of low-income families. Some of them receive mentoring from ReadAble's volunteers on weekdays too.

The children read from a set of graded books called Fitzroy Readers, which use the phonics method. Pupils are given books and worksheets that match their reading ability, rather than school level. The centre also has a community library with over 700 children's books.

Poet and Deputy Public Prosecutor Amanda Chong, 28, who co-founded the programme with lawyers Jonathan Muk, 28, and Michelle Yeo, 29, said there has been a marked improvement in many of these pupils' literacy and interpersonal skills. Some, as old as 11 at the time, could barely read when they joined the programme.

When The Straits Times visited ReadAble's centre in Jalan Kukoh last month, business owner and volunteer Rachel Kok, 29, was reading an illustrated book with Firaz, seven, and Yan Ting, eight, for the third time. "We don't see this as tuition," Ms Kok said, adding that beyond teaching the children to read, volunteers also try to "inculcate values" and become a regular figure in their pupils' lives.

ReadAble has about 40 volunteers at the moment, and a low pupil-teacher ratio, often with one to two children per volunteer.

Al-Adam Al-Sofli, five, did not know how to read when he came to the centre at the start of last year, and would cry a lot. His English has since improved, and he is more comfortable interacting with others.

His mother, receptionist Sharon Chong, 40, told The Straits Times in Mandarin: "He prefers speaking to me in English now... When he was smaller, he was scared of others, but now he is all right with strangers."

Madam Chong, a Malaysian whose husband lives in a nursing home, is the sole breadwinner in her family. She also takes private English lessons with ReadAble.

Mr Muk said he wants the programme to give the less privileged a leg-up.

"Many children here are street-smart and clearly quite intelligent, but they were failing at school.

"You don't choose where you were born," he added.

• To find out more, go to www.facebook.com/ReadAbleSG/

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

Fidrec's role in resolving cases

Straits Times
26 Nov 2017
Lorna Tan

It is never a pleasant experience when consumers are dissatisfied with their purchases. Consumer disputes are usually stressful and may turn ugly for both the buyer and seller.

Sometimes it is not clear who is at fault and when the issue cannot be settled directly with the provider, the buyer and/or seller may take the legal and more costly route.

The Financial Industry Disputes Resolution Centre (Fidrec) was set up in 2005 to provide an affordable alternative dispute resolution scheme that is independent and impartial. It adjudicates disputes between consumers and financial institutions, with a limit of up to $100,000 per claim for issues involving banks and insurers. There is no limit for mediated cases. Its services are available to all consumers who are individuals or sole proprietors.

There had been calls to Fidrec from the Consumers Association of Singapore and the public to disclose details of claims regularly to increase awareness on financial disputes. Here are some things you should know about Fidrec.

Q When can I go to Fidrec?

A Claims must be referred to Fidrec within six months of you receiving the final reply from the financial institution.

Q Do I have to pay a fee?

A Filing a complaint is free. You may lodge your complaint in person, by fax, post or e-mail. For queries, call Fidrec on 6327-8878.

Mediation is free. This is when a case manager takes your complaint up with the financial institution concerned. If he is unable to facilitate a resolution, you can proceed to adjudication, in which the case will be heard by a Fidrec adjudicator or a panel of adjudicators. There is an adjudication case fee of $53.50, payable by the consumer.

Q Should I accept the settlement offered by Fidrec's mediation?

A Weigh the pros and cons of a settlement offered at mediation. Mediation does have advantages, especially if your case may not be sufficiently strong, so do not be too quick to dismiss an offer.

Q What if I am not happy with Fidrec's ruling?

A The decision of the adjudicator or panel is final and binding on the financial institution, but not on you.

If you are unhappy with the decision, you are free to reject it and pursue your complaint through other avenues. This means that there is no disadvantage at all for you if you choose to lodge your complaint with the centre.

Q What is the Fidrec Non-Injury Motor Accident Scheme?

A This scheme helps consumers resolve non-injury motor accident disputes with insurers, in which the amount claimed is below $3,000. It covers claims by complainants against an insurance firm that is not their own insurer.

However, the dispute cap of $3,000 has been deemed too low by industry practitioners and the consumer watchdog because of increasing repair costs for cars.

Q How many complaints did Fidrec handle in its last financial year?

A There were 893 complaints handled between July 1 last year and June 30 this year, down 23 per cent from the previous year.

Most of the complaints, 396, were made against banks and finance firms. Life insurers attracted 289 complaints, general insurers were next with 167, while licensed financial advisers and insurance brokers got off lightly with only 41.

The bulk of the complaints, 517, were centred on an institution's practices and policies, including pricing and disputes on liability. There were 319 complaints involving market conduct issues such as inappropriate advice.

Fidrec resolved 1,042 complaints in the 12 months to June 30, including some lodged in previous years.

Mediation was used in 65.5 per cent of the cases and the rest went to adjudication. Awards were made in 26 out of the 359 adjudicated cases, while the rest were found to be without merit and ended up with no award to the consumers.

Lorna Tan



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

 

Work to strengthen, salvage marriages: Forum

Straits Times
17 Nov 2017

I share Mr Fabian Ng Yuan Sheng's concern about rushing divorces through the Family Justice Courts (FJC) (Better to focus on reconciliation, healing in family courts; Nov 15).

There are generally no winners in a divorce, and there are more victims than victors.

However, sometimes, divorce is the only way out, for example, in cases of physical, sexual and psychological abuse against spouses and/or children. There are also many cases where couples try to resolve their marital tensions on their own and over years, and then resort to counselling and divorce or separation at the end when there is no more hope to save the marriage.

In these cases, prolonging the agony of a strained marriage does more harm than good to all parties concerned. By the time it reaches the FJC, it is probably difficult to salvage a marriage, and better to engage in "discernment counselling", to help couples and children prepare for a new family life and dynamics.

There are many books and articles written on how to strengthen and save marriages. Yet divorce rates are generally on the rise globally. The probable reason is the changing values and perspectives of society when it comes to marriage and what people expect from the union.

In Singapore, maybe we need to do more in the area of compulsory premarital counselling, and even consider compulsory mid-marriage and late-marriage counselling. This is to help couples navigate the challenges of the various stages of matrimony. And these counselling programmes must keep up with the changing values of society.

Divorces tend to undermine the health of the family unit and hence, the fabric of society, and more must be done to strengthen and salvage relationships .

K. Kuharajahsingam

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

ADV: Choose to study law with Birmingham City University!

Singapore Law Watch
05 Dec 2017
Kaplan

Taxing questions

Straits Times
26 Nov 2017
Tham Yuen-C

It has been a week of speculation since the Prime Minister signalled that a tax hike is on the horizon, saying that such a move is inevitable given increased government spending. But not all are convinced. Insight examines the issues.

You would think it hard to find fault with cuddly pandas.

But the Singapore Zoo's Kai Kai and Jia Jia have become the target of some vitriol, ever since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last Sunday that taxes are set to rise as government spending grows.

The bears have been labelled a "waste of taxpayers' money" by some discussing the impending hike online - though erroneously, as taxpayers' funds were not used to bring them in from China. The pandas were sponsored by real estate company CapitaLand.

That Kai Kai and Jia Jia have become collateral damage in the debate on the tax hike speaks of how hairy the issue is.

The Government argues that a tax hike is a necessary move. Investments in infrastructure and social spending are costly, and the bill has to be footed somehow, said PM Lee at the People's Action Party convention. So raising taxes "is not a matter of whether, but a matter of when".

Already, government spending more than doubled between 2007 and last year, from $33 billion to $71 billion, and looks set to grow due to infrastructure needs, and also because the country takes care of both an ageing and aged populace.

But questions remain: Is the Government spending taxpayers' monies wisely? Must taxes be raised to foot the bill? And just how will this hike eventually happen?

Is the Government spending wisely?

Few quarrel with the Government's broad principle that it needs to spend on social services such as healthcare and education, ramping up infrastructure such as rail networks, and preparing Singaporeans for the future economy.

In fact, some economists and politicians believe that Singapore should spend more, such as on schemes to help reduce the rich-poor gap, and projects to improve transport infrastructure.

But some big-ticket items have come in for criticisms for wastefulness. Take the new, gleaming Changi Airport Terminal 4. Critics point out that the $45 million Budget Terminal was used for just six years before it was torn down in 2012. It was recently rebuilt as T4 to the tune of $985 million.

Asked about this by Insight, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah said the idea to have a terminal for budget carriers was first proposed when such airlines were becoming popular, but had to be changed "to keep up with current trends" as technology advanced.

Experts acknowledge that hindsight is perfect, but said that given the cost of mega infrastructure - infrastructure shot up from 15 per cent of government spending in 2007 to 22 per cent last year - policymakers have to be better in deciding which projects to embark on.

This is even as the Government grapples with the challenges of setting priorities as needs evolve: To build flats ahead of demand or just in time to meet demand? Build an underground road network for cars or pour the billions into public transport?

Another category of spending identified by PM Lee was on social services. Over the same period, it went up from about 35 per cent of expenditure to about 41 per cent.

Singapore actually spends relatively less on education, healthcare and welfare compared with other countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but the Government has said it gets bang for its buck. For example, government expenditure on health makes up just 2.1 per cent of gross domestic product here - compared with 6 per cent to 9 per cent in countries like Australia, Britain and France, but Singapore's healthcare system has consistently been ranked highly.

Still with the Budget running an operating deficit three years in a row, there are those like Nominated MP Randolph Tan who feel spending can and should be slashed in some areas.

"We should never rule out cutting down on social spending if it is necessary," said the Singapore University of Social Sciences economist, acknowledging that this would be an unpopular and difficult line to take for any government.

The self-professed fiscal conservative is also a supporter of means-testing as a way to limit spending.

"There will always be needs that the Government will have to step in to provide, but we should not cast the net so wide that it is spread out too thinly," he said.

So for instance, the Pioneer Generation Package, rolled out in 2014 and costing $8 billion, entitles anyone in the cohort - regardless of whether he has three properties or nothing to his name - to benefits such as healthcare subsidies.

An outreach programme linked to the package came under criticism by Straits Times reader Elsie Loo, who wrote to the paper's Forum page last Friday lamenting that taxpayers' money funnelled into the programme "could be better used elsewhere".

"The cost incurred will grow and will be huge considering the fast-growing number of seniors," she wrote, urging the authorities to consider mass briefings instead.

Asked about the package, Ms Indranee said it was conceived to thank the first generation of Singaporeans for their contributions, adding that it was "fitting that we recognise them".

Economist Tan Khee Giap from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) said that the Government also needs to think about the "exit mechanism" of schemes such as the Workfare Income Supplement, which tops up the income of low-wage workers. First announced in 2007, it was paying out at least $300 million a year for a start, and is expected to pay out $770 million this year.

At some point, the responsibility should fall on employers to train such workers and increase their pay, he added.

To put such comments in perspective, government spending makes up 18 per cent of GDP here, which is in line with Hong Kong and lower than OECD countries like South Korea (21 per cent) and Switzerland (33 per cent). Ms Indranee said all spending is approved only after many levels of internal checks, and is measured in terms of "the outcome and what that particular expenditure achieves".

The Government has also moved to rein in costs, such as by implementing a permanent 2 per cent downward adjustment to the budget caps of all ministries and organs of state from this April.

But those hoping that such moves will help to stave off tax hikes will be disappointed, since economists said these are not likely to push spending below current levels.

Rather, these are done to control the growth of spending, to guide Singapore onto a gentler trajectory as expenditure grows.

Why can't we use more of the reserves?

The next question then, is whether raising taxes is really the inevitable option.

Instead of making today's taxpayers fork out more, why not tap the reserves and their investment returns instead, some ask.

Currently, the net investment returns contribution (NIRC) framework allows the Government to spend half of the long-term investment returns generated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Temasek Holdings and GIC, the three entities tasked to manage and invest the reserves.

Some, such as Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin, call for more of the investment returns to be used.

After all, only 50 per cent can be used now, and there is room to tweak the formula, he said.

Dr Chua believes this can be done without eroding Singapore's savings, as long as enough of the investment returns are ploughed back for the principal sum to grow at the same rate as nominal GDP.

If the reserves are meant for a rainy day, is not the rainy season here, others wonder.

But even using up to 50 per cent of the returns is not uncontroversial. Before the NIRC was put in place in 2009, only half of the net investment income of the reserves - which excludes capital gains - could be drawn upon.

During earlier debates, the Government had warned of the slippery slope of touching more of the returns from investment, saying it could lead to endless demands to do more and spend more. Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, when he was prime minister, described the reserves as Singapore's golden goose. Killing the golden goose to get at its meat would be to the country's detriment, he said.

Others say the Government could also review the way it uses revenue from land sales, by allowing a portion of it to go towards funding big development projects such as Changi Airport's Terminal 5.

Under current laws, proceeds from land sales must be locked away as reserves, a unique feature of Singapore's Budget. But past reserves can be used to fund land-related projects such as land reclamation and land acquisition as this is seen as converting the reserves from financial assets to state land.

Dr Chua points out that Singapore's conservative system of budgeting means a Budget deficit here is not really considered one under the International Monetary Fund rules. If proceeds from land sales were included in the operating revenue, Singapore is deemed to run surpluses.

But those against the move to unlock the funds point to Hong Kong as a counter example. With land sales going directly towards the government's operating revenue, there is pressure for land to be priced higher - a hidden tax - to meet spending needs, and this has driven property prices in the special administrative region sky high.

LKYSPP's Professor Tan contends that "taking more money to spend without making more money is not very good". He argues that the question should not be about what proportion of returns on investing the reserves to spend, but how to aim for better profits.

"The big reserves we have built up are a blessing from the earlier generations. Without them, we will be crying now. We should think of whether GIC can generate better investment returns instead," he said.

GIC's 20-year annualised real rate of return was 3.7 per cent for the year ended March 31, down from the previous year's 4 per cent.

Ms Indranee said the funds play a key role in maintaining confidence in the Singapore dollar and acting as a buffer in the event of a crisis.

Though the full size of Singapore's financial reserves is never revealed for strategic reasons, it is estimated at more than $1 trillion.

"It would be easy to spend the reserves, because then you don't have to do anything right?" she said.

She added that it is a delicate balance that the Government is trying to strike in drawing the line at using 50 per cent of the projected returns on investment. "You use a portion of the expected returns, but you don't dip into your principal and do away with your nest egg," she said. "That, taken as a whole, actually reflects our value system which is resilience, hard work... It is also the story that each generation tries to hand over something to the next generation, each generation plans ahead for the future."

Others note that with the NIRC having tripled in the past 10 years, it already makes up a substantial proportion of revenue.

For the first time, the reserves component overtook corporate tax collections as the single largest contributor to government coffers last year. It made up 17.3 per cent of operating revenue - up from just 5.6 per cent in 2007, while corporate taxes, typically the biggest chunk, comprised 16.3 per cent.

Drawing more from it could result in a less diverse revenue stream, which may leave Singapore more susceptible to investment fluctuations, they said.

In the end, determining how much to use is more an art than a science, said Dr Chua. Ultimately, it is about balancing the needs of the current and future generations.

He is of the view that future generations of Singaporeans will probably be better educated and be in a better place to take care of themselves, compared with ageing baby boomers.

To him, some philosophical question are worth re-examining as Singapore's population continues to age: "How much reserves do we really need, and is it really necessary to have such a big sum? Which generation are we saving for?"

When will the tax hike be?

Since the tax hike is impending, when then might it kick in?

Ms Indranee said that the Government is still working on the "when".

But some of those reading the tea leaves are glimpsing a hint in comments by PM Lee, along with Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam who spoke on the matter in 2015. Both have said the Government has enough money for its current term, which will last until the end of the decade.

This has led some to speculate that while the announcement for the hike may be made by the next Budget, it will likely take effect only after the next general election.

This also gives the Government time to plan ahead "well before the time comes" and explain to Singaporeans what the money is needed for and how it will be spent to benefit everyone, as PM Lee said had to be done.

Those predicting a goods and services tax hike believe it could be announced first, with the increases staggered over a few years, as it was done in the past when GST was first introduced.

Mr Low Hwee Chua, regional managing partner for tax at Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia, said Singapore's GST at 7 per cent is still considered low, compared with the rates in Australia (10 per cent) and New Zealand (15 per cent), and has room to go up to a potential ceiling of about 10 per cent.

If this were so, the Government may need to give retailers and businesses a lead time of at least a year from the date of announcement to prepare. Even when it raised income taxes in the past, the Government announced it first and then implemented it later. This was the case when the most recent round of income tax increases was announced during the 2015 Budget, but implemented this year.

Some have ascribed political motives to the move, such as Workers' Party assistant secretary-general and Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh.

In a Facebook post, he linked the increase in taxes to the PAP's leadership transition.

"Raising taxes before a new PAP prime minister takes office would allow the new leader to start on a relatively 'clean slate', preserving his political capital," he said, adding that PM Lee had said he would hand over to the next generation of leaders after the next general election due by 2021.

If he is right, this would mean the tax hikes would have to be announced and take effect sooner rather than later, for the political sting to be taken out for the future government.

Ms Indranee disagrees with Mr Singh's "underlying suggestion that it is being done for purely political purposes", and reiterated that taxes are being raised because of increased spending. Declining to be drawn into discussing the timing, she said: "Both PM Lee and DPM Tharman have explained that we have enough revenue for the current term of government. The question is what you do going ahead."


FOCUS

There will always be needs that the Government will have to step in to provide, but we should not cast the net so wide that it is spread out too thinly.

NOMINATED MP RANDOLPH TAN, who feels government spending can and should be slashed in some areas.


FORWARD THINKING

You use a portion of the expected returns, but you don't dip into your principal and do away with your nest egg. That, taken as a whole, actually reflects our value system which is resilience, hard work... It is also the story that each generation tries to hand over something to the next generation, each generation plans ahead for the future.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR FINANCE AND LAW INDRANEE RAJAH, on the delicate balance that the Government is trying to strike in drawing the line at using 50 per cent of the projected returns on investment.

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

First six charged under Organised Crime Act

Straits Times
17 Nov 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

For several years, a group of Singaporeans allegedly ran an illegal gambling syndicate - including their own version of public lotteries - while staying one step ahead of the law.

Yesterday, they faced a new law aimed at fighting crime syndicates and became the first people to be charged under the Organised Crime Act (OCA).

The group of six, led by 53-year-old Seet Seo Boon, were among 49 people arrested last year in a crackdown on criminal syndicates. Some $25.5 million, believed to be proceeds from crime, has been seized from this group.

Yesterday, more details of their operations emerged after the authorities invoked the OCA, which gives enforcement agencies more powers to disrupt the activities of organised crime groups and seeks to stop them from getting a foothold in Singapore.

Seet, alone, is accused of receiving more than $17 million from illegal gaming activities.

He is said to have spent at least $1.2 million of this on the mortgage and down payments for 11 apartments in nine different condominiums - including The Tropica in Tampines and Urbana in River Valley Close.

In all, he faces 61 charges - including 38 for offences under the OCA, 19 of converting the benefits of criminal conduct and four of illegal gambling.

The group's main activity is said to have been illegal 4D and Toto. They were also involved in remote gambling - or punting over the phone and Internet.

Apart from Seet, five other group members - said to be runners and agents - were also charged.

Among them was See Chye Huat, 50, accused of handling almost $11.8 million worth of illegal gains between 2013 and last year. He was also allegedly involved in a conspiracy to provide a Singapore-based remote gambling service through two websites, www.asure6.net and www.888pool.net

Meanwhile, 55-year-old Or Poh Soon is said to have facilitated remote gambling and received illegal bets amounting to $3.7 million.

Lim Poi Hwa, 62, the only woman in the group, allegedly acted as an agent, receiving bets and helping manage the remote gambling operations.

The other members of the group who have been charged are Seah Ee Lam, 67, and Toh Hee Choye, 62. They, too, are accused of helping with illegal lottery and remote gambling operations.

The pre-trial conference for all six Singaporeans will be held on Nov 23.

If convicted, anyone who is a member of a locally linked organised criminal group can be jailed for up to five years and fined up to $100,000.

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

Jump in crimes committed via online channels

Straits Times
04 Dec 2017
Aw Cheng Wei

The amorphous cyberspace is sprouting more crimes these days, with police recording a jump in the number of crimes committed via online channels here.

The number of computer misuse and cyber security cases has shot up from 280 reports in 2015 to 758 last year, the police told The Straits Times.

In the first six months of this year, police received 366 reports, a 46.4 per cent rise from the 250 reported for the same period last year.

Syndicates and individuals operating online have been resorting to everything from unauthorised access to company servers to the hacking of Internet banking accounts.

One particular ruse, known as the DHL scam, was so rampant at one point that the real courier firm said it received 200 calls a day about it.

In the scam, syndicate members fooled victims into believing that they were involved in sending parcels containing illegal items.

In another type of scam, victims were directed to a fake police website to key in personal particulars and details of bank accounts.

Last Monday, the mastermind behind one syndicate - Malaysian Teng Weng Liang, 26 - was sentenced to 8 1/2 years' jail for his role in the scam which involved $983,000, the longest sentence to date involving the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act (CMCA).

Police figures from August show that between January and June this year, $22.1 million was lost to Internet love scams, almost double the $11.2 million at the half-year mark last year.

And e-mail impersonation scams in the same period accounted for $21.9 million lost, up from last year's $17.4 million.

Superintendent Soo Lai Choon, head of the police's technology crime investigation branch which investigates CMCA cases and helps units such as the Commercial Affairs Department, said: "As the (use of the) Internet becomes more and more prevalent, crime is increasingly being shifted online."

He cited prostitution, gambling and extortion as some types of crimes that have moved from the physical world to cyberspace.

The rise in cybercrimes is consistent with trends observed in other countries, Supt Soo noted, adding that the police set up the Cyber Crime Command, part of the Criminal Investigation Department, in 2015 to handle the expected jump in cases.

Impersonation scams among common cyber threats

Common cyberthreats here include ransomware, phishing and impersonation scams, he said. Ransomware infects unprotected computers and locks them down with a ransom note, while phishing involves a fake website designed to look like an official site to trick users into providing their credentials.

The Cyber Security Agency, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office, said in a September report that there were 19 reports of ransomware and 2,512 phishing Web addresses associated with Singapore last year.

Supt Soo attributed the jump in CMCA cases to an increase in police impersonation scams.

His unit is working with an alliance that was formed in February, with partners such as Internet service providers, banks and telecoms providers. He added: "We were able to stop some of the money transfers (in police impersonation scams)."

Supt Soo's team was also responsible for the conviction of Singapore's first dark Web-related crime last month.

The man had gone on a shopping spree after buying stolen credit and debit card details, PayPal log-in credentials and software to wipe his laptop's memory once he switched it off on the dark Web, a part of the Internet which requires special software to access. He was sentenced to three years' jail.

Supt Soo said: "Almost all transactions that happened in the dark Web are illegal... It is for people who want to hide their traces."


$22.1m

Amount lost to Internet love scams between January and June this year, almost double the $11.2 million at the half-year mark last year.

$21.9m

Sum lost to e-mail impersonation scams in the same period, up from last year's $17.4 million.

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

Early support for families of inmates

Straits Times
25 Nov 2017
Aw Cheng Wei

They can get help, queries answered at State Courts booth once court judgment is passed

An agency that helps former inmates and their family members cope with life after prison wants to offer its services to them earlier, once the courts have passed judgment.

Starting in January, as part of a six-month pilot, the Singapore After-Care Association (Saca) will set up a booth at the State Courts to answer questions from family members of those who will be jailed soon.

The State Courts and Saca said in a joint statement yesterday that the stability of inmates' homes plays a vital role in their reintegration into society upon their release.

Saca director Prem Kumar said its work with young children whose mothers are in prison highlighted the need to help and support affected families. He said: "It makes sense to reach out and offer help to these families at the point of sentencing rather than wait until the loved one is in prison."

Staffed by experienced volunteers, the booth, called family-connect @ State Courts, will run every Monday and Wednesday from 10am to 2pm. It is a stop for families who want to know the type of help they can receive, particularly at the State Courts, which handle about 99 per cent of Singapore's criminal caseload.

Volunteers will point families in the "right direction based on their specific needs", said Mr Kumar.

Examples include referrals to social agencies for those cash-strapped, support for schoolgoing children and legal help.

Mr Kumar added: "Some families only need someone to pour their hearts out to, and we will be there for them as well."

At a Saca event yesterday, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said family was one of the most critical aspects in helping former inmates reintegrate into society. He added that family-connect @ State Courts helps families to "weather through that time where somebody who may be the main breadwinner is going to be incarcerated".

For the pilot project, Mr Kumar's agency will train 25 volunteers.

At yesterday's event, Saca also launched a book series that aims to support children with family members in jail. It worked with final-year students from Nanyang Polytechnic to publish three books on how families can cope with the temporary loss of a family member. Among them is an illustrated storybook titled Alex Visits Daddy, where the narrator describes his struggles with his father's sudden imprisonment.

Translated into Chinese, Malay and Tamil, the books will be distributed at the family-connect @ State Courts booth, some schools and other agencies that work with inmates. Digital copies will be available on Saca's website at a later time.

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

Australian crash victim settles claim for $1.07m

Straits Times
17 Nov 2017
Selina Lum

An Australian man who initially sought damages of $6.7 million for a traffic accident in Orchard Road has settled the claim for $1.07 million.

Mr Jay Mitchell Smith, 31, who suffered serious head injuries in the accident, had claimed the amount for loss of future earnings and loss of earning capacity.

It was based on his contention that he would have gone on to earn "a very good salary" as a commercial pilot had it not been for the accident.

As Mr Smith had earlier accepted 30 per cent of the blame for the accident, he will receive $750,000, which is a 30 per cent reduction.

Mr Smith, then 25, was on holiday in Singapore on Aug 5, 2011, when he was hit by a car as he was crossing Orchard Road.

He was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where emergency surgery was carried out to remove a part of his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain caused by internal bleeding.

He underwent another operation in Sydney in July 2012, for titanium plates to be implanted to protect his brain.

Mr Smith sued the driver, Mr Abdul Rahim Mohd Akhbar, and the car owner, Resorts World Sentosa, in 2014.

In his lawsuit, Mr Smith said he continues to suffer from head sweats and severe headaches when the plates heat up during summer and contract during winter.

The most painful consequence, he said, was that his childhood dream of being a pilot had been dashed. He also lost his "fallback job" as a landscaper because he is unable to work outdoors.

In July last year, the defendants accepted 70 per cent liability, while Mr Smith accepted 30 per cent.

Most of the items he claimed, such as pain and suffering, medical expenses and pre-trial loss of earnings, were settled at mediation. He has received $231,841 so far.

However, mediation failed to resolve the deadlock over the sum payable for loss of future earnings and loss of earning capacity.

A hearing began last week for the High Court to determine the amount.

Based on a 100 per cent liability, Mr Smith sought $6.629 million for loss of future earnings and another $100,000 for the loss of earning capacity.

However, after four days of trial, both sides agreed to settle the claim on Wednesday.

Yesterday, the defendants' lawyer, Mr K. Anparasan of Withers KhattarWong, said: "This sum reflected the disadvantage the plaintiff will face in the labour market due to his permanent disabilities arising from his severe head injuries and the loss of chance to become a commercial airline pilot."

Mr Smith's lawyer, Ms Cecilia Lee Thomas of Bogaars & Din, said the settlement was reached after her client, his expert psychologist and two aviation experts took the stand to testify that he would definitely have obtained his pilot licence.

"The plaintiff wanted closure and did not want to inconvenience witnesses who would take the stand this week, such as the former chief pilot of Tigerair and current Scoot executives," she said.

"The plaintiff and his family wanted closure after seven long years to get to this stage."

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

Why didn't anyone come to Annie Ee's aid?

Straits Times
03 Dec 2017
Tan Tam Mei

The horror felt by members of the public at the abuse and death of Miss Annie Ee Yu Lian should be channelled into action, said Dr Sudha Nair, executive director of Pave, a charity that specialises in tackling interpersonal violence.

"As a community, we need to take a stand and not be a bystander to issues of interpersonal violence. Annie is dead, but there are many like Annie who are still out there needing our help... We cannot stand by and do nothing."

Court documents revealed that throughout the period of abuse by a couple she regarded as family, Miss Ee, 26, had come into contact with neighbours, colleagues and, on separate occasions, a clinic assistant and doctor. "Yet, no one did anything," said Dr Nair.

Organisations that handle interpersonal violence cases say there are challenges that prevent victims from seeking help or bystanders from reporting such cases.

Ms Cherylene Aw, a representative from Trans Family Services, said that often, victims fear the negative impact on relationships, and legal or criminal implications for the abusers.

"Victims who are vulnerable adults also lack knowledge and awareness of their rights and are often unable to perceive acts as abusive or detrimental to their well-being," she said.

Ms Aw said that potential whistle-blowers might also be uncertain about what constitutes abuse, and the lack of knowledge of help available might prevent them from making a report. Some also fear compromising their own safety, should they be identified.

Executive director of the Disabled People's Association, Dr Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills, said: "Culturally, we are not comfortable with being seen to pry into the lives of others and making judgment.

"(But) if we think the situation warrants intervention, then we should not be scared to speak up and alert the authorities," she said.

Besides raising awareness of the avenues for reporting abuse and rallying the community to dispel myths that abuse is a private matter, the organisations The Sunday Times spoke to said the much-anticipated Vulnerable Adults Bill is a step forward in protecting vulnerable individuals.

The Bill proposes enhanced powers of access for appointed professionals to investigate and intervene in cases of alleged abuse of vulnerable adults. Other pointers include protecting the identities of whistle-blowers, which will encourage more people to report suspected abuse cases, said Dr Nair.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) intends to introduce the Bill in Parliament early next year. According to past reports, the Bill's introduction has been delayed twice since it was first announced in 2015.

In response to The Sunday Times' queries, a ministry spokesman said: "The Vulnerable Adults Bill is a complex legislation. MSF is working out the implementation details to ensure that appropriate action can be taken swiftly. We want to ensure that the various processes and resources are in place for effective implementation of this Bill."

The MSF's Adult Protective Service, which handles cases of vulnerable adult abuse and neglect, has seen 40 reported cases involving people with diagnosed or suspected intellectual disabilities since the service began in May 2015.

Lawyer Terence Seah, a partner at Virtus Law, said the proposed Bill can prevent tragedies such as Miss Ee's case from happening in the future. "The Bill will allow the authorities to intervene before harm happens, and aims to prevent and protect," he said.

"Traditionally, the police only come in when a crime has been committed, so this will give the authorities powers to investigate when abuse is suspected. The legislation will also signal that such crimes against vulnerable persons are reprehensible."

HELPLINES

• Pave (Promoting Alternatives to Violence): 6555-0390

• Trans Safe Centre: 6449-9088

• Care Corner Project StART: 6476-1482

• Aware: 1800-777-5555

• NuLife Care & Counselling: 6300-8706


KEEPING A DISTANCE

Culturally, we are not comfortable with being seen to pry into the lives of others and making judgment.

DR MARISSA LEE MEDJERAL-MILLS, executive director of the Disabled People's Association, on why people may not want to report cases of abuse.

Tan Tam Mei

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

Law Ministry resolves issue with legal group

Straits Times
25 Nov 2017
K.C. Vijayan

The Law Ministry has accepted the explanation from a Singapore legal group over its links to an English barristers' chambers.

Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) comprises Senior Counsel V. K. Rajah, a former judge of appeal who stepped down in January this year as attorney-general, and three former justices' law clerks - Mr Tham Lijing, Mr Colin Liew and Mr Calvin Liang.

In a statement yesterday, the ministry said the matter has been resolved after Essex Court Duxton outlined the steps taken to correct misperceptions that it was part of the Essex Court Chambers (ECC) in London.

"Even though members of Essex Court Duxton are also members of ECC, Essex Court Duxton was not 'set up' or 'launched' by ECC; still less is Essex Court Duxton an 'annexe' or 'local brand' of ECC," the group said in its letter to the ministry.

It added that media reports suggesting that the Singapore group practice was set up by ECC were mistaken.

"Any communications that may have contributed to this were inadvertent," said the group in the letter, which was disclosed by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

Essex Court Duxton also explained that the Singapore practice is modelled on a traditional barristers' chambers, in which the members practise individually despite being members of a set of chambers.

It added that members are not partners in a firm, nor are they employees.

Essex Court Duxton said its future communications and publicity will ensure more clarity that it is "an independent Singapore group practice".

It added that it has written to all relevant media outlets to ask that corrections be made, and also that the press statement has been removed from the ECC website "so that it could be clarified in a manner that leaves no room for doubt".

Two days after Essex Court Duxton announced its launch here on Nov 14, MinLaw called for a clarification from the Singapore group, saying the group had given an impression that it is part of the English barristers' chambers based in London.

This was contrary to the representations received earlier from the Singapore group, and to the rules in Singapore, the ministry said.

Barristers from ECC cannot practise Singapore law and cannot appear in Singapore courts unless they have been given leave by the Singapore courts or have been admitted to the Singapore Bar.

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

Far-reaching Bill for cyber security 'not uncommon'

Straits Times
17 Nov 2017
Irene Tham

US, Europe, Japan, Australia, S. Korea have stringent reporting requirements: Experts

Singapore is not alone in proposing a far-reaching Bill to beef up cyber security, said experts, even as it wins the support of stakeholders following a recently concluded public consultation on the issue.

Concerns over the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) of Singapore's proposed far-reaching powers had surfaced during the consultation.

Firms must surrender any information requested when CSA investigates a suspected cyber attack, as its proposed Bill would take precedence over bank and privacy rules that prohibit data sharing.

Convinced that Singapore should not have it any other way, lawyer Gilbert Leong, senior partner at Dentons Rodyk & Davidson, said: "The far-reaching Bill is justifiable in the light of the potential damage from state-sponsored cyber espionage."

The CSA's powers, like those of the police, are calibrated and strictly meant to keep the lights on for essential services, Mr Leong said.

In announcing on Monday its decision to keep most of its proposed ideas in the Bill, CSA responded to public feedback received during the consultation, and said the designation of a computer as critical information infrastructure (CII) would no longer fall under the Official Secrets Act.

The proposed Bill, to be tabled for debate in Parliament next year, also mandates that owners of CII, such as those in the banking, telecoms and energy sectors, report security breaches and attacks "within hours".

Similar mandatory data breach reporting requirements have been in place in the United States, Europe, Japan, Australia and South Korea for years.

Mr Shlomo Kramer, founder and chief executive of Israeli cyber-security start-up Cato Networks, said Singapore is playing "catch-up" with these nations in this respect.

"Such regulation will move the needle in a positive way and make organisations feel accountable," said Mr Kramer.

He spoke to The Straits Times three weeks ago when he was in Singapore to meet local cyber-services resellers ViewQwest and Quann.

Checks and balances - which are included in the proposed Bill - prevent the abuse of disclosed information, Mr Kramer noted. For instance, CSA officers may be held criminally liable if they are found to have misused the information.

Mr Bryce Boland, chief technology officer for Asia-Pacific at cyber-security firm FireEye, said laws are generally stronger in countries with a high dependence on technology. Thus, the far-reaching aspects of Singapore's cyber-security Bill could be compared to similar laws in the US and Britain, he added.

Said lawyer Koh Chia Ling from law firm OC Queen Street: "The general global trend is that countries are enacting such laws and Singapore is essentially doing the same."

Mr Jack Ow, technology partner at law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, said Germany, the Czech Republic and China have similar cyber-security regimes.

Technology lawyer Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons MPillay said debates are ongoing in the US, just like they have taken place in Singapore, arising from an ever-growing tension between security and privacy.

Referring to preserving privacy in the US, he added: "All bets are off when it comes to fighting terror or a national security issue - no one will compromise."

Owners of CII said the Bill is necessary. A spokesman for telco Singtel said: "The risk of cyber-security breaches is growing, especially now as Singapore pursues its ambition to become a Smart Nation."

An M1 spokesman said: "It is important that the powers under the Bill are exercised reasonably."

Such reporting requirements are not new to the banking sector.

Mr Patrick Chew, OCBC Bank's head of operational risk management, said: "Under the Technology Risk Management Guidelines introduced in 2013, financial institutions in Singapore are already required to notify our regulator as soon as possible of any critical system failures arising from (technology) and cyber-security incidents."

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

It Changed My Life: 'We cannot just stand by the side'

Straits Times
03 Dec 2017
Wong Kim Hoh

A tough and poor childhood was the impetus for lawyer to start an initiative for youth to give back to society and help the less privileged

On Saturday, Satwant Singh will be setting off for a poor village called Ratokke in the Sangrur district of Punjab, India.

Going with him are about 20 young Singaporeans, aged between 18 and 21, from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

For three weeks, they will live among the villagers as they paint and renovate their run-down school. Among other things, they will be building a library and stocking it with 3,000 books, installing a water filtration system so that students can have clean water, and reconstructing the school's mouldy and dilapidated toilets.

They will also distribute stationery to students, and clothes and other necessities to poor villagers.

It's not Mr Singh's first such trip. The lawyer has been doing this every December for the past 14 years. The Ratokke village school will be the 17th school he has rebuilt and repaired with different teams of young volunteers.

Called Project Khwaish, it is an initiative he started and organised with the Young Sikh Association (YSA). Part of the funds come from the National Youth Council, with Mr Singh and his volunteers raising the rest.

"The volunteers are Chinese, Malays, Indians, Sikhs and Eurasians, Singaporeans. They live together, eat together, sleep on the floor together, learn to live as one entity. The common interest and goal is to do good," says Mr Singh, who is in his early 50s, adding that the focus is on schools because of his belief that education will give the poor a better shot at life.

He should know, because it was what forklifted him from his beginnings as a peon to a lawyer with his own firm.

The bearded Mr Singh is sitting in his shophouse office in Rifle Range Road. Blue is obviously a favourite colour since he's wearing a blue suit, blue tie, blue turban and an IWC Portuguese watch with a blue strap.

He was born in Johor, the fourth of eight children of a policeman-turned-driver and a housewife. When he was five, the family moved to Singapore where they lived for the next decade in a one-room flat in Whampoa.

Life was hard but he and his siblings, who had to sleep on the floor and share one toilet, were happy.

"There were eight of us so chicken was a luxury which we had once every two or three months. But on Sundays, my father would cook chapati, put sugar, make them into balls and feed them to us with Milo and that was joy, you know," he says, adding that the family could only afford to buy a TV when he was 15.

Although he did well at Griffiths Primary and Woodsville Secondary, he had to leave school after completing his O levels because his father couldn't afford to let him continue his studies.

"I was heartbroken. I remember I cried and cried and cried, I was so, so angry," he recalls.

His first job was as a peon for a textile company. After a month, his boss had him liaise with customers from Pakistan and India because he was streetsmart and conversant in Hindi and Punjabi.

"One year later, my boss opened a new shop in High Street Centre and asked me: 'Do you want to manage?' I said: 'No... I'm 17 years old, too young.' So he put a manager there but I ran the show, looked after the customers, did everything," he recalls.

That included stuffing tens of thousands of dollars in his pockets and depositing the cash at the bank.

"I'd walk all the way from High Street to the Indian Bank in Shenton Way, look around to make sure I wasn't being followed," says Mr Singh, who completed his A levels by attending night classes.

Financial problems at home prompted him to sign on with the Singapore Armed Forces after he completed his national service.

For nearly a decade, he was a physical training instructor (PTI) at the School of Basic Military Training. "A lot of men in Singapore were my recruits. They called me PTI Singh. I was a terror," he says with a grin.

He found the stint enjoyable but decided to call it a day in 1992 because of a back problem.

Life moved at a cyclonic pace over the next few years.

Professionally, he hit his stride, managing a clothing company.

"We were wholesalers. I managed to get into big department stores including Mustafa for my boss, selling by the container load. The salesmen all loved me, one of them was my former recruit," he says.

In the evenings, he attended classes for an external law degree from the University of London.

"It was jialat," he says, using the Hokkien phrase for hard or tiring.

To top it all, he got married during this period. His father had been bugging him as the eldest son to get married once he left the army.

Attempts to ward off his old man, who had picked him a bride from Punjab, came to nought. Things came to a head when his father was knocked down by a bus while riding his bicycle one day.

"My mother came to me crying, said it was critical, and asked me to fulfil his dying wish."

And so at 26, he found himself a married man.

"The minute I said yes, my father miraculously recovered. So all my friends said it was a hoax between the doctor, my father and my mother," he says with a guffaw.

Three months later, his wife became pregnant with their son Kevinjit, named after English footballer Kevin Keegan. Daughter Steffijit - named after German tennis player Steffi Graf - arrived two years later. Kevinjit, 24, is now a deejay, and Steffi, 22, is doing a degree in business management.

"Those were very difficult years. I went to work, went to school, came home, put my kids to sleep and studied until 3 or 4am before waking up at 7am," he says, adding that money was tight because he was still supporting his parents.

His life took a new turn after he was called to the Singapore bar and became a lawyer in March 1997.

He cut his legal teeth with Yeo Perumal Mohideen as a litigation lawyer; his clients were mainly foreign workers suing employers over wages and personal injury claims.

He tells stories of unscrupulous contractors forcibly packing off workers, sometimes with the help of security guards, back to India before they could seek legal recourse for their woes.

After nine months, Mr Singh joined another firm where he took on general litigation work for more than 10 years.

He struck out on his own and set up Satwant & Associates in 2010. He now has two offices, with about 15 staff including five lawyers.

Mr Singh's foray into community service started nearly 20 years ago when he became a volunteer at Meet The People sessions in Kolam Ayer.

It was a way of giving back.

"I came up through the very hard way, where nobody helped me. I was on my own and if I didn't survive, then just too bad.

"But I felt that if I could lend a helping hand, why not? We don't lose anything. If you can take the first step, you may make a big difference. Many of us want to help but don't know how or are shy."

The sessions, at which he would help handle requests from constituents, proved to be eye-opening in more ways than one.

He remembers a man, with five children, who owed the Housing Board $74,000 but refused to heed Mr Singh's advice to sell it and get a rental flat for a few years to rebuild his finances.

"I told him he shouldn't let HDB repossess the flat because he would lose money. He turned to me and said: 'How can you live in a one-room flat, Mr Singh? You know how difficult it is?'

"So I told him: 'Ten of us lived in a one-room flat with one toilet and survived for 10 years. So what is it that you want to tell me?' "

The man eventually did as Mr Singh advised.

Joining humanitarian charity Mercy Relief in 2003, he says, was also revealing and life changing.

Now the charity's vice-chairman, he has gone on many trips - Banda Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, Nepal after the 2015 earthquake - in which he witnessed carnage, destruction and human misery at close range. It reinforced in him the need "to do what we need to do to help our fellow humans".

"We need to go and help, we cannot just stand by the side," he says.

In 2003, Mr Sikh started the YSA with a few friends because they felt there was a lacuna in service organisations for Sikh youth.

Project Khwaish became their flagship programme; it takes its cue from Youth Expedition Project, a service-learning programme which sets out to nurture confident and socially-conscious young people.

It decided to do its community service projects in Punjab, because of its natural ties to the YSA as an organisation for Sikh youth.

Before each annual expedition, Mr Singh goes on reconnaissance trips, which he pays for out of his own pocket, to look for suitable schools in need of an upgrade. He then meets the teachers and village elders to firm up the project.

The volunteers come from different tertiary institutions and schools. Over three weeks, they do everything from building science labs and holding training sessions for teachers to setting up computer centres. They also hire local labourers to build walls and more complicated structures.

"By the time we leave, we give them a brand new school," says Mr Singh.

Volunteers are not allowed to stay in hotels and have to live, and eat, as the locals do.

"Only then will they appreciate life and what they have. They can't think: 'I go to the school, do a bit of work and save the world. That is never true... I always tell them just make a difference to one person. If you do, I say you've done your job, because that person will grow up and hopefully, he pays it forward."

Looking pleased, he says the volunteers benefit from the experience. "I've seen the impact. When the volunteers come back, they are better and they get involved in other community service work."

Asked how his life has changed because of what he does, Mr Singh says: "I appreciate life. I see people as people. And if they need help, I will give it if I can."

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

High Court to review maid abuse sentencing benchmarks

Straits Times
24 Nov 2017
Selina Lum

Should maid abusers who cane their employees or even burn them get higher sentences?

This is the issue a High Court panel of three judges that includes the Chief Justice will consider as it looks into the appeal of a couple convicted of caning and slapping their maid, and subjecting her to other humiliating "punishments".

This comes a year after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon signalled the need to review sentencing benchmarks "upwards" for maid abuse when an appropriate case came before the court.

He said the lower courts "might not have sufficiently taken into account the acute need for deterrence" and also not have appreciated the need to calibrate sentences across the full range of punishments laid down by Parliament.

Yesterday, such an appropriate case presented itself. Former regional IT manager Tay Wee Kiat and his wife Chia Yun Ling, sentenced to jail terms of 28 months and two months, respectively, for abusing their Indonesian maid, are appealing against the guilty verdict and their punishment. The prosecution has asked the court to increase the sentences for Tay, 39, and Chia, 41.

Among other things, Tay was found guilty of forcing Ms Fitriyah to stand on one leg on a stool while holding another stool in her hand. She had to maintain the position for half an hour, with a small plastic bottle shoved into her mouth. He had also hit the maid with three canes bundled together, and made her and another maid slap each other 10 times. Chia was found guilty of slapping and punching Ms Fitriyah.

They were charged with causing simple hurt to the maid, which carries a maximum of three years in jail. The couple are also on trial for abusing another maid, 28-year-old Myanmar national Moe Moe Than.

At the appeal hearing yesterday, the prosecution, represented by Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck, said it was timely to review current sentences to deter the abuse of maids. He said that even after penalties were increased by Parliament in 1998 - when it was decided that maid abusers would face 1.5 times the typical jail term for offences including causing hurt and causing grievous hurt - there were 24 cases of maid abuse involving simple assault last year. This is the highest since numbers dipped to 15 in 2013.

Mr Kwek proposed three sentencing categories, depending on the degree of harm and the level of culpability. Jail terms will start from three months for "one-off" cases with minor or no injury, like a single slap. It should be at least nine months in jail for offenders who use objects like a cane to cause visible injuries - the second category.

Abuse involving severe harm and culpability, including burning the victim, will fall under the most serious category, with jail terms of at least 18 months. Under this proposal, Tay should get 38 months in jail and Chia, three months.

The couple's lawyer Wee Pan Lee argued that they should be cleared of the charges, pointing out inconsistencies in the maid's testimony.

He also took issue with the prosecution over "shifting the goalposts" in several charges against Tay. For instance, one offence was originally said to have taken place between noon and 1pm on Oct 18, 2012. After Tay produced records to show he was at work, the timeframe was widened to between June and December 2012.

The court, which also includes Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Justice See Kee Oon, will give its decision at a later date.

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

Singapore has big role to ensure Asean stays relevant and competitive

Business Times
17 Nov 2017

The curtain has fallen on the Philippines' year-long chairmanship of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), and the ceremonial gavel was passed to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Manila this week, as the Republic gears up to helm the 10-member bloc in 2018.

It probably goes without saying that there is never an easy time to take the reins of the 50-year-old grouping, but Singapore - which last chaired Asean in 2007 - does have a particularly heavy load of responsibilities to handle.

On top of the dozens of meetings that Singapore will host through the year, Asean will hold special summits in Australia and India, celebrate 45 years of relations with Japan, and mark the 25th anniversary of the Asean Regional Forum.

There are also the so-called "legacy issues" that Singapore must contend with, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free-trade deal between Asean and its six key partners, and the highly sensitive South China Sea territorial dispute involving China and a number of Asean member states.

The RCEP negotiations have still not concluded after five years of talks, and there is pressure to provide the political momentum to reach an agreement on this massive trade pact that is seen as a China-led rival to the Trans-Pacific Partnership; the latter is now spearheaded by Japan, following the withdrawal of the United States earlier this year.

There was also significant progress on the South China Sea issue when China agreed, at the recent Asean Summit in Manila, to begin talks on the fine print of a code-of-conduct framework. Singapore will undoubtedly be in the spotlight over the next 12 months as it will carry on as the appointed country coordinator for Asean-China dialogue relations.

Then there are also newer issues on the agenda that Asean must address. When Mr Lee outlined Singapore's priorities for its chairmanship of Asean, he spoke of the need to tap new ways to manage and mine digital technologies, and arm Asean's 600-million strong population with the necessary skills and capabilities.

There is much potential when it comes to the digital economy. Many of the Asean economies are strong in technology adoption, in particular e-commerce and the building of smart cities. The latest figures show that Asean's digital economy is expected to grow by 500 per cent to about US$200 billion by 2025, and there is every incentive for countries to work together and leverage one another's strengths.

As things stand, Asean's combined gross domestic product is likely to reach US$8.1 trillion in 2030, up from the current US$2.5 trillion. This will make Asean the fourth-largest economy in the world. As the regional bloc enters the next half-century of its development, all the member states need to double down on efforts to ensure the grouping remains credible, relevant and competitive for the long haul.

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

Gynaecologist failed to carry out further evaluations

Straits Times
02 Dec 2017

We thank Dr Yik Keng Yeong for his letter (Defensive medicine is not the way to go; Nov 21).

Contrary to what the letter writer states, the Court of Three Judges upheld Dr Jen Shek Wei's conviction by the disciplinary tribunal of the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in respect of his decision to remove the patient's ovarian mass without informing her.

He also failed to carry out further evaluations and investigations of the patient's condition when these were required.

The SMC disagrees that the court's decision would encourage defensive medicine, as suggested by Dr Yik.

Defensive medicine implies needless medicine, for example, excessive investigations which are not useful.

It was far from a defensive practice in this patient's case.

The reasons why such evaluations and investigations were necessary include the patient's presentation, medical and fertility status, the important reference to the widely accepted risk of malignancy index and Dr Jen's prescribed medications for the patient's infertility, causing excessive response in her ovaries.

Furthermore, Dr Jen removed the mass without properly seeking the patient's consent and giving a proper explanation.

"Good clinical acumen" would necessitate further evaluations and investigations, as indicated in the patient's case, before advising and seeking the consent of the patient to remove the mass surgically, which Dr Jen failed to do.

Frances Kong (Ms)

Deputy Head, Corporate Communications

Singapore Medical Council

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High Court dismisses Ezion bondholder's originating summons

Business Times
24 Nov 2017
Ann Williams

Ezion Holdings, which had asked creditors for support to push back debt deadlines, said on Friday an originating summons taken out by a substantial bond holder has been dismissed by Singapore's High Court.

Bond holder Ravi Murarka who owns a substantial share of the liftboat operator's tranche of S$120 million bonds backed by DBS Bank, served Ezion a redemption notice in September, citing the bond clause that he can demand to be paid back in full "in the event that the shares of the issuer cease to be listed or traded".

Mr Murarka's case was the first time that any bond holder had filed a summons against a Singapore issuer to protect his rights as a bond holder.

He sought a court declaration that Ezion's shares had ceased to be traded on the Singapore Exchange, within the meaning of that clause, after Ezion suspended trading of its shares on Aug 14 this year to discuss a debt reorganisation plan with lenders. Its shares are still suspended.

Ezion had applied to the court to strike out the application on the grounds that the shares had not ceased to be listed or traded, and were only been suspended from trading.

In a pre-market SGX filing on Friday, Ezion said: "The board wishes to update that the Court has granted the company's striking-out application at today's court hearing. Accordingly, the originating summons against the company has been dismissed.

Last week, in a landslide vote, Ezion won bondholders' approval for its proposed refinancing of six series of notes and perpetual securities totalling S$575 million. The DBS-backed bonds were not part of the restructuring.

The successful refinancing of the S$575 million securities was key to unlocking a US$100 million working capital line from the group's senior lenders so that Ezion can mobilise its fleet for work.

Ezion chief executive Chew Thiam Keng said last month that 70 per cent of the company's bonds are held by private banking clients, and the rest with insurers and funds.

He said last week that Ezion still needs support from two other key stakeholder groups - bank lenders and shareholders.

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

ADV: A STEP closer to understanding Estate Planning

Singapore Law Watch
21 Nov 2017
Rockwills Institute

Why separate sentencing framework needed

Straits Times
02 Dec 2017
K.C. Vijayan

While the penalties for hurting public servants are already spelt out under Section 332 of the Penal Code, the state wanted a separate sentencing framework under the same law to deal with offences committed against the police and law enforcement officers.

The prosecution had made this argument in its appeal for a stiffer jail term for Jeffrey Yeo, calling the one-week term he was given for slapping a cop "nominal".

It cited a 2009 case and how a similar approach was used to deal with offences against public transport workers, under Section 323 of the Penal Code.

The three-judge court agreed but in its judgment, the court held that the three-category sentencing framework should be confined to Section 332 offences against police officers and "public servants performing duties akin to police duties". They would include Commercial Affairs Department officers, those serving in the Special Constabulary and auxiliary police officers who carry out police duties.

The court held that there would be an overreach if the framework was applied to all Home Team officers. "The impetus of the framework in the first place was to address the unique position of police officers," said Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang.

"Police officers and public servants performing duties akin to police duties form the most visible category of law enforcement officers in daily life, are easy for the public to identify and are the most likely group to be involved in Section 332 offences because of the nature of their work," he added.

Lawyers contacted said the framework would provide uniformity in sentencing but said a broader approach had to be considered as well.

Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Sunil Sudheesan said: "What is also needed is an in-depth study of the numbers, involving sociologists, psychologists and others, to see what deters such conduct. There needs to be better public education to curb such behaviour and to underline public outrage at such conduct."

In welcoming the new sentencing framework, a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) spokesman said: "Police officers and other Home Team officers face risks daily in the line of duty to keep Singaporeans safe and secure. MHA will not tolerate any physical or verbal abuse of our officers. We will work with the Attorney-General's Chambers to press for deterrent sentences for such cases."

K.C. Vijayan

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

Hoe Leong unveils debt restructuring plan

Business Times
24 Nov 2017
Jacqueline Woo

Heavy equipment maker Hoe Leong Corporation has unveiled more details on its plans to restructure some S$77 million in debts owed to creditors.

The mainboard-listed group said in a bourse filing on Thursday it has proposed a scheme of arrangement to certain bank creditors and its controlling shareholder, Hoe Leong Co. Hoe Leong owes about S$63 million to the banks, which were not named, and S$14 million to Hoe Leong Co.

Under the scheme, debts amounting to S$20.7 million will be restructured as vessel loans and spare part loans to be repaid by the group.

The remaining S$56.3 million in debts will be "extinguished" through the allotment, issuance and distribution of new ordinary shares, said Hoe Leong. The issue price of these shares will be calculated by referencing the volume weighted average share price traded in the immediate 22 trading days before the share distribution.

The loans totalling about S$14 million granted by Hoe Leong Co will similarly be converted into new shares. Hoe Leong Co will have the first right to purchase the new shares from the other scheme creditors following the share distribution.

Hoe Leong's proposed scheme is subject to a number of conditions being met, including the approval by a majority or three-fourths in value of each class of scheme creditors casting their votes, as well as consent from the Singapore Exchange and the group's shareholders on the issuance of the new scheme shares. The creditors have until Dec 4, 5pm, to submit their votes.

The scheme will also only come through if there are no orders for the company or its units to be wound up or put under receivership and other similar processes.

Hoe Leong said it has applied to the court to seek a moratorium on creditors taking such action against the company or its relevant subsidiaries until July 31 next year.

Last Friday, Hoe Leong announced it was served with a writ of summons issued by the lawyers of its creditor Malayan Banking Berhad for a sum of about S$394,700. The group is seeking legal advice on the suit.

Hoe Leong reported a net loss of S$1.8 million for the third quarter ended Sept 30, compared with a net loss of S$38.9 million in the same period a year ago. The improved performance came as revenue jumped 22.9 per cent to S$16.7 million - boosted by higher sales in the equipment and vessel chartering segments - while gross profit margins rose.

Shares of Hoe Leong finished 12.5 per cent or 0.6 Singapore cents lower at 4.2 Singapore cents on Thursday, after the announcement was made at noon.

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

Former A-G ties up with London firm to start self-employed legal practice

Straits Times
16 Nov 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Former attorney-general V.K. Rajah has linked up with leading English law firm Essex Court Chambers to set up a unique self-employed legal practice here that has roped in a quartet of outstanding legal talent.

Senior Counsel Rajah will be joined by renowned Queen's Counsel Toby Landau, now a practising Singapore lawyer, as well as three former Justices' Law Clerks: Mr Tham Lijing, Mr Colin Liew and Mr Calvin Liang. Justices' Law Clerks usually hold a first-class law degree.

London-based Essex Court Chambers (ECC), in a statement on Tuesday, said: "They will commence self-employed legal practice as members of Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice) from 19 Duxton Hill, Singapore."

ECC is a leading set of barristers' chambers specialising in commercial litigation, arbitration, public law and public international law. It is not a firm, nor are its members partners or employees. Instead, ECC is comprised of individual barristers, each of whom is a self-employed sole practitioner.

This "chambers model" of individual self-employed specialist lawyers boosts client choice in getting the best legal representation.

QC David Foxton, head of chambers at ECC, said the Duxton practice will add value to the dynamic legal sector in Singapore, and contribute to cementing the Republic's position as a global legal hub.

Mr Rajah, who served as a Supreme Court judge and Judge of Appeal before becoming A-G from 2014 to last year, said he wanted "to find a role that would embrace excellence and personal autonomy", after having left public service.

He added that ECC is a world-renowned set of independent advocates committed to excellence, whose members regularly receive instructions from law firms all over the world, and act for businesses, governments and international institutions.

He said: "Singapore's first pure chambers practice introduces a different concept of specialised legal services that will focus on advisory and advocacy work. This new platform will give Singapore and the region a wider choice in first-tier legal services, in both domestic litigation and international arbitration briefs. I look forward to this exciting venture."

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran yesterday said Mr Rajah continues "to make waves wherever he goes. This time, the waves are global. The unique specialist advocate practice pioneered by Essex Court Chambers Duxton is a bold and innovative law firm model for Singapore.

"VK's stature will add lustre to the brightness of some of Singapore's brightest in law, in this set up."


Mr Rajah, who served as a Supreme Court judge and Judge of Appeal before becoming attorney-general from 2014 to last year, said he wanted "to find a role that would embrace excellence and personal autonomy", after having left public service.

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

LawSoc disputes advocacy group’s ‘mischievous and defamatory’ online post

TODAY
01 Dec 2017
Kelly Ng

Advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) has removed a post on its website stating legal advice is "unnecessary" for workers with work injury compensation claims, following a forceful response from the Law Society of Singapore that branded parts of the article defamatory.

In the Nov 12 article titled "Injury Lawyers Ever Eager To Take Their Cut", TWC2 executive committee member Debbie Fordyce had included a list of 14 law firms most commonly engaged by workers that later appeared before TWC2. From 2014 to Aug this year, TWC2 helped more than 4,500 workers with injury claims – of this number, the vast majority had engaged a lawyer.

Ms Fordyce went on to describe how some lawyers or their assistants allegedly capitalised on foreign workers' ignorance to engage in unethical practices such as touting, taking up cases for which legal assistance is unnecessary, and doubling up as housing agents for workers denied support from their employers.

Unlike civil lawsuits, claims under the Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica) are a no-fault process. Ms Fordyce wrote that in TWC2's experience, most Wica claims do result in compensation for the victims and workers can get help with the claims from TWC2 or at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) at no extra cost.

In its work injury compensation guide for employees available online, MOM's advice is also that workers do not need a lawyer as the compensation amount is based on a fixed formula. The ministry has interpreters who can speak Bengali, Tamil, Mandarin and Malay to help workers, the guide stated.

Approached by TODAY, LawSoc president Gregory Vijayendran and its personal injury and property damage committee chairman Willy Tay took issue with TWC2's "naming and shaming" of law firms. The article unfairly suggested it was neither necessary nor advantageous for work-injury victims to engage lawyers, they said.

"To tabulate a list of law firms… and prominently display the same on their website is both mischievous and defamatory of the law firms concerned," said Mr Vijayendran and Mr Tay.

"TWC2's zeal for a worthy cause has regrettably not been matched with a sense of balance, fair play and circumspection on this occasion."

The society wrote to TWC2 asking for the list of law firms to be removed. TWC2 removed the entire post from its website on Wednesday night (Nov 29). Ms Fordyce said it apologised for any offence caused.

"Our objective is not to malign the legal profession, but when we notice continuous and deliberate exploitation of the vulnerability of migrant workers by groups purporting to represent their interests, we feel the need to speak out," she said.

Mr Vijayendran and Mr Tay said it previously advised TWC2 to help workers with ethical grievances to lodge complaints, and the group did so. A proper inquiry of genuine complaints would be undertaken, they said.

In the last five years, eight of 450 complaints against lawyers lodged with the LawSoc related to workplace injury claims, the society told TODAY. Half of these were dismissed on merits, one was withdrawn by the workers, and two resulted in warnings. The last is still pending.

One of the listed lawyers who responded to TODAY's queries said the volume of cases handled by the law firms listed by TWC2 show the firms have served injured workers well.

"It is fallacious and misleading to say that injured migrant workers are afraid to discharge their respective lawyers. (Each worker) is aware of his right of access to justice...and is sufficiently experienced and knowledgeable enough to decide which law practice to engage, and if necessary, change his legal representative," said Mr Joseph Chen.

Ms Fordyce said she stands by her point that legal assistance is unnecessary for the bulk of Wica claims.

"It is easy money for doing nothing...The work injury compensation system is (also) available to all Singaporeans… Do Singaporeans regularly use lawyers (for this)?" she questioned.

In her post, Ms Fordyce had said some lawyers "pressurise" their clients to withdraw claims filed under the Wica and seek compensation through a civil suit, which could yield a higher amount of damages.

"But the process is not transparent and workers fear, justifiably, that their lawyer will extract a larger but unknown portion of the amount," she wrote.

Lawyers are not allowed to tout or pay referral fees, said Mr Vijayendran and Mr Tay. "The few black sheep in this Bar will face the music in the usual way," they said.

They maintained lawyers play a "valuable and critical role in advising foreign workers of their rights and remedies".

The choice between a common law claim (a lawsuit) and a statutory compensation claim (a Wica claim) is an important decision for an injured worker to make, they said.

"The choice must be a legally informed one requiring the advice and assistance of a lawyer. Some lawyers even assist pro bono. Injured workers engaging lawyers to advise and act for them is natural, necessary and part and parcel of the normal practice of law," they said.

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