02 September 2014
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Former Seagate director’s acquittal in question as court clarifies graft Act

TODAY
02 Sep 2014

Law should cover more sophisticated, less traditional forms of corruption, it says

SINGAPORE — The fate of a former Seagate Technology director, whose graft conviction was overturned on appeal, is again in question.

This comes as the Court of Appeal clarified the interpretation of the Prevention of Corruption Act, following questions prosecutors raised about comments made by the High Court judge who had acquitted Mr Henry Teo Chu Ha.

In its grounds of decision released last week, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang wrote on behalf of the court: “It could hardly have been the purpose of the Act to exclude from its scope schemes which were no different from the more ‘traditional’ or blatant forms or methods of corruption — except that they were cleverer and more sophisticated as well as devious.”

He added: “On the contrary, in our view, it is even more important that the Act cover these last-mentioned forms of corruption as well, especially now that the world and the concomitant schemes of corruption have become more complex and sophisticated since the Act was first passed.”

Central to Mr Teo’s case were 20,000 shares of trucking company Biforst, for which he paid S$6,000 in 2004, before the firm won contracts with his then employer. The 65-year-old was convicted, sentenced to six months’ jail and ordered to pay a S$576,225 penalty — the amount he received in 11 dividend payouts between 2006 and 2010.

In acquitting Mr Teo last September, Justice Choo Han Teck noted that in cases where the alleged gratification consisted of shares an accused person had paid for, “it is for the prosecution to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the payment for the shares was a sham”.

Given that Justice Choo’s finding would be binding on future corruption cases, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) sought clarity on this point with the appellate court.

In its judgment, Justice Phang ruled that the fact Mr Teo had paid for the shares did not mean they were not gratification. Indeed, his payment was a “legal red herring”, he said.

First, Mr Teo would have been unable to buy Biforst’s shares in the open market as it is a private firm, which had been formed for the purpose of securing trucking contracts from Seagate through Mr Teo’s influence in the company, the judge noted.

Without the shares, he would not have been able to receive the “subsequent kickbacks which were camouflaged and sanitised through ... (taking) the form of his ‘share of profits’”, said Justice Phang.

 “At the end of the day, one has to look at the substance of the entire scheme and its context rather than only at the actual and more specific transaction involving payment for the shares themselves,” he said.

 “That it is not necessary for prosecutors to prove that the share transaction was a sham ... is also consistent with the broader spirit and policy behind the Act itself — which is to prevent corruption in its various forms, and all the more so with regard to deliberate and involved as well as sophisticated schemes.”

To require otherwise would be to “effectively undermine the pith and marrow of the Act itself by permitting it to be circumvented by sophisticated as well as disingenuous schemes”, he added.

A hearing has been fixed today for the AGC and Mr Teo’s lawyers will make submissions on Justice Choo’s decision to acquit Mr Teo.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

To view the judgment, click <here>.

Asean CIS framework launched

Business Times
26 Aug 2014
Anita Gabriel

Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand now have access to a cross-border 'funds passport'

THE plan to allow fund managers based in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand to carry out cross-border selling of mutual funds or unit trusts across the three markets made significant headway with the joint launch of a key framework by the securities markets regulators of the Asean countries on Monday.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the Securities Commission of Malaysia and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Thailand, joined hands to roll out the Asean Collective Investment Scheme (CIS) Framework - a milestone in Asean's efforts to develop a cross-border "funds passport" as part of its goal to build an integrated regional market.

"Fund managers based in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand can now offer CIS constituted and authorised in their home jurisdiction directly to retail investors in the other two Asean countries under a streamlined authorisation process," said MAS in a statement.

Under the new plan, retail investors will benefit from a wider choice of funds to invest in, while fund managers will have a direct and efficient route to offer their funds to retail investors in other Asean countries, said Lee Boon Ngiap, MAS assistant managing director of capital markets in a statement.

"We look forward to the participation of more Asean jurisdictions in this framework over the coming years."

To ensure that participating fund managers have the necessary experience and track record to manage retail funds under the new framework, a set of common standards has been established.

The qualifying fund manager needs to meet several conditions, which includes having a minimum five-year track record and having at least US$500 million of assets under management (AUM) globally.

The regulators have published a handbook to guide fund managers on the operational aspects of the framework, and to help them understand the different legislative requirements in each jurisdiction and procedures for the cross-border offering. MAS has also introduced new provisions in a new Chapter 10 on the code on CIS to implement the framework in Singapore.

Fund managers, who stand to benefit handsomely, welcomed the plan. It gives them access to a larger pool of funds and, given the greater economies of scale, lowers the cost of providing funds.

"We are very pleased to hear about this. It means that retail investors will have a wider range of offshore funds to choose from, and more importantly, they will benefit from cost savings as asset managers will no longer have to go through fund feeder structures," said Susan Soh, Schroders Singapore's country head.

The fund feeder structure was in fact an impediment for many fund managers. "In the past, the cost associated to a feeder fund may deter asset managers from launching such funds, thus reducing the focus to its domestic markets," said Goh Seng Kee, chief executive of Maybank Asset Management Singapore.

With the new scheme, this is no longer the case as funds can bypass the intermediary.

Could the lack of a common currency among the three nations prove to be a hurdle in terms of implementation?

"We don't think so as funds would typically provide multi-currency classes to cater for investors' needs," said Mr Goh.

The latest development is a boon for regional ambitions to deepen the capital markets and boost liquidity, more so for Singapore, which also has a foot in another passport scheme - the Asia Region Funds Passport (ARFP) involving Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and the Philippines, which is expected to be launched in 2016.

anitag@sph.com.sg

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Staying nimble, closing loopholes

Straits Times
19 Aug 2014
Yasmine Yahya

MAS' move to regulate alternative investments is a welcome start, but it needs to respond more quickly to the evolving world of innovative financial products

WHEN the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said last month it would start regulating two types of alternative investments, the move was praised by pundits and investors alike.

But in the same breath, some wondered why it had taken the regulator so long to embark on the initiative.

It has been years since thousands of Singaporeans lost money through these two categories of investments: collectively managed investment schemes and precious metal buyback schemes.

To those who have already been burnt, the current efforts of MAS are cold comfort. But for the sake of all other investors, these expanded regulatory powers are increasingly necessary.

Past experience has shown that no matter how many Singaporeans lose money through dubious deals, there are always more willing to bet their life savings on the next "sure thing".

It is also clear that the MAS will need to be more on the ball to keep up with the rapidly changing world of innovative investments, so it can ensure that consumers remain well-protected.

Closing the loopholes

THE new MAS rules will sew up some loopholes that have been exploited by investment brokers peddling everything from emus to gold.

One such loophole involves collectively managed investment schemes, including land banking. These will now be regulated like traditional collective investment schemes, such as hedge funds and mutual funds.

Traditional collective investment schemes involve investors pooling their funds to invest in an asset or a group of assets, while unregulated collectively managed investment schemes require each investor to buy his or her own direct stake in the asset, such as a small plot in a large tract of land.

These unregulated schemes will now be brought into the regulatory fold.

Among other things, operators of such schemes will have to invest in liquid assets - assets that can be easily bought and sold - if they want to attract money from retail investors.

This means operators of schemes peddling illiquid assets such as land banks or agricultural products would no longer be able to market their products to retail investors.

One worry is what will happen to investors who are already committed to such schemes. They might not be able to exit their investments easily, especially as the pool of potential investors will now shrink considerably.

But in the long term, more regulation is good as investors seem to be constantly taken in by such stratagems. Land banking scandals began surfacing here as early as 2009, yet this investment continued to grow in popularity.

In 2012, thousands of investors in Singapore were affected when land banking firm Profitable Plots' directors came under investigation for not delivering on promised payments.

Over the years, operators have become more canny. Now there are farming schemes, where investors pay to buy farm animals or birds such as emus and swiftlets. There are also agricultural schemes which allow investors to buy individual trees or other agri-products such as agarwood, timber or wine grapes.

The MAS' proposals would bring operators of these and similar schemes under the Securities and Futures Act, limiting their activities to institutional and savvier investors.

Curbing metal buybacks

ANOTHER loophole closed by the new MAS proposals involves metal buyback schemes.

These are essentially debt financing arrangements: Individual investors lend their money to these operators and accept gold as collateral. The investors thus take on a credit risk - the risk that the operator would not be able to pay up when the time comes.

While these are similar to other debt-financing arrangements using stocks or bonds as collateral, these schemes have escaped regulation because they use metals rather than capital market products.

Operators such as the now-defunct Genneva Gold sold investors gold at a discount to the market price with the promise to buy it back 30 or 90 days later.

The Gold Guarantee - now also bust - offered a scheme where investors bought gold at a premium and received monthly payouts, depending on the amount invested.

Under the new MAS proposals, metal buyback schemes will be regulated under the same rules as debt-financing arrangements involving stocks and bonds.

Again, it's about time.

More than 10,000 investors in Singapore lost their money in 2012 thanks to Genneva alone. As for The Gold Guarantee, company founder Lee Song Teck disappeared early last year after taking tens of thousands of dollars from investors.

Although the MAS plans to expand its oversight of buyback schemes only to those with precious metals for now, the move sends a strong signal that it will not always be so easy in future to exploit a loophole in the law.

Growing complexity

THESE signals, that the MAS will not turn a blind eye to investment scheme operators taking advantage of loopholes in the law, are crucial given that the MAS is likely to grapple with ever-more exotic investment products in time to come.

As memories of the 2008 financial crisis fade and interest rates remain low, more and more Singaporeans are looking beyond well-understood products such as stocks and unit trusts in search of higher investment returns.

In response, the MAS is looking into giving retail investors more options by making it easier for them to buy fixed income products directly.

But other institutions are responding to the demand for yield as well. Banks have started rolling out structured products onto the market again in recent months.

Lest anyone has forgotten, some structured products - such as Lehman minibonds and Morgan Stanley's Pinnacle Notes - went bust during the 2008 financial crisis, leaving thousands of Singaporean investors with losses.

Six years on, banks are reintroducing products such as structured deposits and structured notes, some advertising interest rate returns of over 10 per cent.

Financial advisers say they see many of their clients being tempted, especially those who were not burnt by such products before, or who are too young to remember the fallout from the crisis.

To be fair, the banks - some of whom had been accused of mis-selling structured products leading up to the crisis - say this time they are making sure to target only savvy investors when promoting these new products.

But unregulated players peddling their own exotic instruments to a market filled with investors hungry for returns might not have such compunction.

Even when the new rules are in place, it is likely that some investment scheme operators will be able to find a way around them. As it is, the MAS proposals already leave new loopholes open.

Take, for example, wine, jewellery or art investments. The MAS has said that since these are not capital market products, investment schemes involving them would still not come under the expanded regulations.

More unregulated schemes, using even more exotic underlying assets, are likely to pop up on the market soon.

One possibility is bitcoins. The MAS has said that it intends to regulate virtual currency intermediaries for money laundering and terrorist financing risks, but has repeatedly said it will not recognise virtual currencies as legal tender or as securities.

Singapore already has several bitcoin machines and exchanges. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine a day when bitcoin or some other virtual currency is used as an underlying asset for an investment scheme that would fall outside MAS regulations.

As Singaporeans become more affluent and seek better returns for their money, one hopes they will be more aware of the risks involved, especially with newer investments.

But the MAS should also be equally nimble, to keep up with an innovative and rapidly changing investment landscape.

yasminey@sph.com.sg

 

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

 

As memories of the 2008 financial crisis fade and interest rates remain low, more and more Singaporeans are looking beyond well-understood products such as stocks and unit trusts in search of higher investment returns. In response, the MAS is looking into giving retail investors more options by making it easier for them to buy fixed income products directly.

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

Elder sister wins fight over land

Straits Times
02 Sep 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Two sisters in their 80s locked horns over a piece of land in Joo Chiat worth over $2 million. And last week, the High Court awarded the property to elder sister Zulaikha Bee Abdul Kader.

The disagreement centred on a deed which their mother Fatimah Sultan made in 1971, declaring that she held the land on trust for Madam Zulaikha.

But younger sister Ummuhani Umma, and three other parties, argued that the trust was not valid because it had not been registered under the relevant Act, and that Madam Fatimah did not understand the document as she did not read or write English.

Justice Tan Siong Thye overruled these claims and held that Madam Zulaikha was the beneficial owner of two houses on the land. The deed was signed in the presence of Mr Ebrahim Marican Ismail Sahib, now 81, who testified that he had interpreted the contents to Madam Fatimah in Malay on two occasions before she gave her thumbprint.

It had also been executed in the presence of lawyer Jeanne Wu, another witness at the trial.

While noting that there were discrepancies in Mr Ebrahim's testimony, the judge pointed out that this did not mean he should take "the easy way out and jettison his entire testimony".

The court had to remain focused on the basic issue of whether Madam Fatimah understood the trust deed, said the judge.

There are three houses on the 688.7 sq m plot in Joo Chiat Place, and the spat involved two of them. The third is owned by Madam Zulaikha's brother-in- law Mohamed Abdul Kader.

The disputed land was bought by Madam Zulaikha's husband Mohamed Hidayatullah Sahib in 1963, but he sold it to his mother-in-law for $11,000.

Mr Sahib died in 1992 and Madam Fatimah four years later.

The land was held by Madam Fatimah's estate, which also disputed the claims of Madam Zulaikha, who was represented by Stamford Law lawyer Adrian Tan.

Justice Tan said that not recognising the deed would be to "allow the trustee a convenient escape to obligations which (she) clearly undertook to observe under the trust".

Dismissing claims that the 1971 deed was a "sham", Justice Tan also denied a call by defence counsel Rajan Nair to get Madam Zulaikha, who uses a wheelchair, to testify, as she was frail and suffering from dementia. Her son Mohamed Mohidin Habibullah was suing on her behalf.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Outcome of spat over ex-railway land expected in a few months: MFA

Business Times
25 Aug 2014
Lee U-Wen

Dispute arbitration hearings in London completed: report

[SINGAPORE] The arbitration process to settle a dispute between Singapore and Malaysia over development charges on certain parcels of former Malayan Railway land in Singapore has reached its final stage.

In response to queries from The Business Times, a spokesman from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) revealed that the decision of the arbitration tribunal was expected "in a few months".

This paves the way to potentially settle an outstanding issue in the Points of Agreement (POA) on whether Malaysia needs to pay Singapore a development charge on three parcels of land in Tanjong Pagar, Kranji and Woodlands.

This charge is a tax that is payable to the Singapore government to change the use of a land parcel. Singapore believes this tax must be paid, while Malaysia has argued otherwise.

The matter was eventually referred to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, after Singapore and Malaysia reached an arbitration agreement in 2012.

Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to accept the arbitration award as final and binding. They also agreed that the decision would not affect the implementation of the POA.

According to The Malaysian Insider, which quoted an Aug 22 report by The Edge Review, the closed-door arbitration hearings in London wrapped up earlier this month.

Sources told the weekly regional magazine that former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo testified for the Republic, while Malaysia was represented by former second finance minister Nor Mohamed Yackop.

"As the decision of the tribunal has yet to be released, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the case," said the Singapore MFA spokesman.

leeuwen@sph.com.sg

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Son must return portion of shares

Straits Times
19 Aug 2014
Selina Lum

Father will hold two-thirds as trustee for other children: Appeals Court

A 46-YEAR-OLD man who had won a High Court fight with his father in February for shares worth $1.8 million will now have to return two-thirds of them, after the Court of Appeal overturned the earlier judgment.

The shares were put in the name of Mr Andrew Tan but the appeals court yesterday found that his father, Mr Robert Tan, had always intended to give the assets to his three children equally, including the former.

The court - Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justice Quentin Loh - ordered the younger Mr Tan to transfer two-thirds of the shares to the older Mr Tan, who will hold the assets as trustee for his other two children.

Mr Andrew Tan will keep his one-third stake.

The spat has its roots in events going back 30 years.

Mr Robert Tan is one of nine children of the late Madam Yeo Siew Guat, who owned 950 shares in a family-owned company named Tai Sing Realty.

In 1981, Madam Yeo sold her shares to investment company Hock Ann Holdings.

In 1983, each of her nine children were issued shares in Hock Ann. However, in the case of Mr Robert Tan, he wanted to have his stake placed in the name of Andrew, then a 16-year-old student in England.

After Madam Yeo died in September 2009 at age 92, the siblings agreed to liquidate the trust and share the money in nine portions.

However, the youngest of the nine, Ms Joscelyn Tan, who is the trustee of the block of shares, could not distribute Mr Robert Tan's portion.

Ms Tan considered Mr Andrew Tan to be the legal owner, but Mr Robert Tan told her his portion should be given to him and not his son.

When father and son failed to settle the dispute, Ms Tan took the matter to court in 2012.

In February, the High Court ruled in favour of Mr Andrew Tan, holding that Mr Robert Tan had given his stake to his son as a gift. The older Tan, represented by Mr S. Magintharan and Mr James Liew, appealed.

Yesterday, the appeals court found that the evidence, including the testimony of one of the nine siblings, showed Mr Robert Tan had consistently indicated that he wanted his three children to benefit equally from the assets.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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

IP system 'needs backing of cross-border treaties'

Business Times
02 Sep 2014
Amit Roy Choudhury

A streamlined system will handle the boom in patents filed

WITH the economic centre of gravity moving to Asia, more innovation is happening in this part of the world. And as Asian companies and researchers innovate and create more intellectual property (IP), the number of patents being filed has exploded. This has put pressure on the global IP system, which has, until now, been geared to cater to a more manageable number of patents being filed in traditional centres of innovation like the Americas and Europe.

Francis Gurry, the Australian director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), shares some interesting statistics with The Business Times.

A look at the IP filings under the international patent system administered by WIPO shows that in 1994, Japan, China and South Korea accounted for 7.4 per cent of the total number of international patent applications.

Last year, they accounted for 38 per cent.

This leap has to be viewed in the context of another major development - that the number of patents filed worldwide shot through the roof over the last decade or so.

In 2012, global patent filings - both local and international ones filed with various patent offices around the world - grew at their strongest rate in nearly two decades. Altogether, 2.35 million applications were filed, in an indication of the increasing importance that companies and researchers are ascribing to their intangible assets.

Last year, WIPO itself registered a record 205,300 international patent applications. Singapore's share of that was 837 applications, up from 708 in the previous year - a nearly 20 per cent increase.

Dr Gurry notes that there is a need to streamline the global IP system in order to cope with the growing demand for IP rights. "A heavy backlog of some five million unprocessed patent applications worldwide - excluding data from China's IP office - mars the performance of the patent system."

WIPO's efforts in this regard are undertaken via the adoption of new multilateral treaties, such as the Patent Law Treaty (PLT), which came into force in 2005, and the facilitation of discussions under WIPO's auspices for the progressive development of the international patent system. The quality of patents is also being discussed, as is the provision of IT-based mechanisms for voluntary cooperation and further development of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) as a means for international cooperation.

The PCT provides patent protection internationally. By filing an international patent application under it, applicants simultaneously seek protection for an invention in 148 countries throughout the world.

Dr Gurry argues that the way forward is multilateralism: An enhanced IP system underpinned by multilateral treaties, such as those administered by WIPO.

"What we need is progress on current discussions at the international level in order to facilitate the near-term convergence of patent laws as well as multilateral cooperation, and eventually the adoption of legal instruments that reflect those achievements. We also need other forms of voluntary IT-based cooperation and further development of existing tools such as PCT."

The WIPO boss notes that the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) has been doing a good job. It has been very active in recruiting a range of technical experts for its patent search and examination unit.

"IPOS also ensures its examiners go through a structured training programme to ensure that they have the right skills to undertake the work. Having the right people, with access to the right training, are crucial ingredients in establishing an effective and reputable patent capability, so Singapore appears to be on the right track."

He also notes that Singapore is very active in working with its Asean neighbours in a number of different patent-related areas, including the Asean Patent Examination Cooperation, or ASPEC, which is the first regional patent work-sharing programme among Asean member states.

"ASPEC has the capacity to reduce complexity, achieve time savings and improve the quality of patent search and examination performed in Singapore and the Asean region, and it is pleasing that Singapore, as the lead country for this initiative, is working hard to make the patent system more effective," he says.

He adds that there is always room to help improve peoples' understanding of the real value of IP - that rights such as patents can deliver value to a business - and this is particularly the case among small and medium-sized enterprises.

"We are pleased that Singapore continues to undertake activities that raise awareness and understanding of the IP system within the Singapore business community."

There are "enormous opportunities" for companies, as well as for individuals, in engaging with the global IP system, he says. International commerce and new communications technologies are promoting increasing inter-connections among people from around the world, and opening up new markets.

"It's also important to note the massive investment that goes into the production of new knowledge which leads to innovation: More than US$1 trillion is being invested in research and development (R&D) annually around the world."

He believes that Singaporeans, living in a South-east Asian trade hub that has grown into a crossroads for the world, understand this as well as anyone.

"Singaporeans have always looked beyond their borders for business opportunities, and the global intellectual property system undergirds the framework that makes this possible," he points out.

The fundamental challenge is to achieve a shared understanding of the contribution and value of IP to economic, social and cultural development, he says. "This is not easy as a number of obstacles lie in the path, such as different competitive interests in an economy in which knowledge- and technology-intensive industries account for a 30 per cent (and growing) share of global economic output; asymmetries of wealth, opportunity and knowledge and the realities of a multilateral system that operates on consensus among disparate partners."

Technology is encroaching on every aspect of our lives, wherever one lives, and at some point, one will inevitably come up against the IP rights associated with its use. Broad debate on these issues is perfectly normal and very healthy, says Dr Gurry.

Referring to the recent series of high-profile patent wars in the mobile industry, he notes that there has always been disputes between competitors regarding the validity of patents and whether a patent is infringed or not.

"The recent disputes in the smartphone and tablet industry may be characterised by the fact that it involves more companies (each of the principal actors has different patent strategies at different levels of the value chain), more patents (due to more complex technologies) and more countries (due to globalisation).

"So the whole process of bringing products like these to the market involves more money and consumers, raising the stakes and prompting disputes."

However, Dr Gurry notes that not every dispute ends up in court. "The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre is a neutral, international and non-profit dispute resolution provider that offers time and cost-efficient alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options.

"WIPO mediation, arbitration, expedited arbitration and expert determination enable private parties to efficiently settle their domestic or cross-border IP and technology disputes out of court. The WIPO Centre also offers domain name dispute resolution services."

His key message: If the patent system cannot enable innovative patentees to defend their rights, while also permitting competitors to challenge the validity of patents, society as a whole may see less innovation and advancement.

amit@sph.com.sg

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MinLaw stats ensure students can make an informed choice: Voices

TODAY
25 Aug 2014

Mr Fong Wei Kurk’s letter, “An avoidable glut of lawyers?” (Aug 22), is based on some misperceptions.

The National University of Singapore takes in about 240 students annually for its Bachelor of Laws programme, while the Singapore Management University takes in 150 students. Almost all (97 per cent) local graduates have been securing training contracts.

Intake into the local law schools has grown only marginally over the years.

As part of its report last year, the 4th Committee on the Supply of Lawyers did not find a shortage in the overall number of lawyers.

It said there was a mismatch between supply and demand, specifically, a shortage of lawyers practising family and criminal law.

The SIM University Law School has been designed as a targeted way to address this need. It will attract mature students with experience in fields such as social work and law enforcement, and who display a keen interest in practising family or criminal law.

It will provide an alternative path for mid-career professionals wanting to study law, and those who may otherwise pursue a law degree overseas. The proposed intake will be small, ranging from 50 to 75 students.

As for overseas universities, the list of approved universities has not changed since 2006. Foreign firms and foreign-qualified lawyers, generally, can practise only the law of the foreign jurisdiction they are qualified from, and not Singapore law.

The Qualifying Foreign Law Practices (QFLP) scheme was started in 2008. This was recommended by a committee headed by Mr V K Rajah. Senior partners of major law firms were in the committee. They strongly recommended that QFLP licences be awarded, so as to grow the legal sector and make Singapore an attractive financial centre.

Firms under the scheme can practise permitted areas of Singapore law, but only through the employment of Singapore-qualified lawyers.

The first six firms awarded the licence in 2008 employ more than 100 Singapore lawyers now.

These and other measures seek to bring in work that may otherwise not come to Singapore, and thus create new opportunities for Singapore lawyers and local law firms. Arbitration is a good example of this.

Upcoming initiatives such as the establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Court will similarly create opportunities for Singapore lawyers and local law firms, as more cross-border work is expected to flow into Singapore.

The point that was originally made was that the number of Singaporean students studying law overseas has almost doubled to 1,500 within three years. That number represents 30 per cent of practising lawyers here.

Students who choose to pursue a law degree must carefully assess their prospects for getting training contracts in such a situation. They may well choose to read law but not to practise. The ministry was sharing the statistics to ensure that interested students have a clear view of all their options and are able to make an informed choice.

Praveen Randhawa

Director, Corporate Communications Division

Ministry of Law

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Appeal notice filed against rioter's sentence

Straits Times
19 Aug 2014
Hoe Pei Shan

THE Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) has filed the first notice of appeal against the sentence of one of the 15 men convicted so far for their roles in last December's Little India riot.

An AGC spokesman told The Straits Times the appeal notice was filed yesterday against the 25-month jail sentence of Indian national Samiyappan Sellathurai, who was convicted last week of rioting. Samiyappan, 42, admitted to removing a concrete slab from akerb with the help of others he had egged on, then smashing it, and hurling the pieces of concrete at police cars, emergency vehicles and public servants.

He later picked up a metal rack and rammed it repeatedly against a side wall of the Little India MRT station with three others, in apparent efforts to bring the wall down.

Assistant Public Prosecutor Dillon Kok had urged the court to mete out a jail term of 24 to 30 months and three strokes of the cane for his "brazen display of lawlessness" and role as an "instigator". But Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun sentenced him to 25 months in prison, without commenting on the lack of caning in his decision.

Defence counsel Rajan Supramaniam said then that the sentence was fair, and caning would have been "unduly harsh".

Both sides had up to two weeks after sentencing to make appeals, and the prosecution in this case chose to take up this option - the first time the AGC is fighting the sentencing in relation to the 15 riot convictions thus far. With the notice of appeal filed, Judge Ong would be informed and his grounds of decision with respect to the case would be sent to the AGC, which must then decide if it would proceed with the appeal.

A total of 25 men, all Indian nationals, were charged with rioting in Little India. Six have been convicted of rioting, with the toughest sentence being 33 months' jail and three strokes of the cane.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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MAS, SGX seek feedback on bond framework

Business Times
02 Sep 2014
Nisha Ramchandani

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) are seeking feedback on proposed changes that would give retail investors better access to bonds.

This comes amid rising retail interest in fixed income products such as plain vanilla corporate bonds. However, corporate issuers have typically turned to institutional and accredited investors, with only a small proportion of such bond issuances being allotted to retail investors.

Under the proposed bond "seasoning" framework as it is known, retail investors would be able to buy bonds that were initially offered to institutional and accredited investors once these bonds have been listed for six months.

Issuers would also be able to sell retail investors additional bonds in terms similar to the seasoned bonds without having to issue a prospectus. Presently, retail investors are only able to buy bonds in an offering if the issuer registers a prospectus with MAS.

The amount of new bonds that can be offered via a re-tap will be capped at 50 per cent of the initial offer size.

The new framework would also allow seasoned bonds in large denominations of at least S$200,000 to be re-denominated into smaller lot sizes and made available to retail investors through secondary trading.

Meanwhile, issuers who are able to satisfy certain requirements above the eligibility criteria can offer bonds to retail investors without a prospectus.

But safeguards will be put in place to protect retail investors if the proposed changes comes to pass.

SGX said that the framework would apply only to plain vanilla bonds with an initial minimum principal amount of S$300 million and a maximum tenure of 10 years. Issuers would have to meet criteria set by SGX - such as market capitalisation and credit rating, among others.

In addition, for offers which don't require the lodging of a prospectus, issuers would have to give retail investors critical information on the features and risks associated with the bonds.

"These proposals are part of MAS' overall efforts to improve retail access to simple investment products that give decent returns without too much risk," said MAS managing director Ravi Menon.

"Companies based in Singapore will have a larger pool of investors to tap into while retail investors can diversify further their wealth management portfolio," commented UOB Group's head of investment banking Ronny Chng. "These measures will also deepen the SGD debt capital market and make it more attractive for companies to raise funds in Singapore dollar."

The six-month window gives retail investors time to observe the performance of such eligible bonds before they can participate, noted OCBC Bank's head of capital markets Tan Kee Phong, who said the development is a positive one for the market.

MAS and SGX have issued consultation papers which are available on their respective websites. Interested parties can send their comments to SGX and to MAS by Sept 30.

nishar@sph.com.sg

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

CJ advises new lawyers to do criminal, family law

Straits Times
24 Aug 2014
Cheryl Faith Wee

More competition, fewer guarantees and less room for negotiation for lawyers entering legal practice now

Singapore's newest lawyers have been urged to begin their careers in family and criminal law to hone their skills, instead of heading straight for corporate law, which is getting more competitive than ever.

The legal community yesterday welcomed 430 newly appointed advocates and solicitors at this year's mass call to the Bar, up from 411 last year and 363 the year before.

The expansion in the number of lawyers means the newcomers will enter a market where the generous salary packages and multiple job offers their predecessors enjoyed will be harder to come by, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

This is also because other major legal centres around the world, such as New York and London, are cutting back in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, he added.

A week ago, Law Minister K. Shanmugam highlighted how Singapore could face a glut in supply of lawyers in the next three years as more aspiring lawyers pursue a law degree here and overseas.

During yesterday's ceremony at Nanyang Technological University, the Chief Justice said the legal industry is adjusting from one of "undersupply" - when there were more jobs than law graduates - to one where supply and demand are more balanced now, especially in commercial law.

"This means that you will not be running with the wind to your back," he told the new lawyers hoping to enter corporate and commercial practice. Instead, they can expect "more competition, fewer guarantees and less room for negotiation".

This is a trend that is happening not only in Singapore.

After a period of sustained growth in New York and London "in the later decades of the 20th century", the pace of recruitment there has slowed down.

Singapore, which benchmarks lawyers' salaries with those paid by New York and London firms, is no exception to these market forces, especially given how "we also compete in a South-east Asian market where starting salaries are generally lower".

Instead the Chief Justice challenged the new lawyers to take the plunge into family and criminal law - where there is a shortage - and cut their teeth there.

While he admitted that there may be a "good deal less glamour" in these areas of the law, there is no better place than community law for young lawyers to get into the thick of the action, said the Chief Justice.

New lawyers The Sunday Times spoke to said while the market may be getting tighter now, it is their juniors who will feel the pinch.

Mr Asik Ali Sadayan, 26, a Singapore Management University graduate, said: "My juniors have told me that it has become a lot harder to get training contracts. It was easier for my batch and we did not feel the competition as much."

Every year, about 400 local law graduates, along with a growing number of foreign-educated ones, apply for about 500 training contracts offered by law firms.

The six-month contract gives would-be lawyers the real world training they are required to complete before they are called to the Bar.

In his speech yesterday, Law Society of Singapore president Lok Vi Ming said his organisation is considering various initiatives to ensure that every graduate eligible for a training contract will get it.

Other new lawyers told The Sunday Times that they had their hearts set on corporate law, and would prefer to give back to society through pro-bono work - something the Chief Justice said was important for lawyers to be involved in.

Not only does such work keep lawyers connected to the community, it also helps them to avoid thinking that their worth is reflected by how much they bill and little else.

cherylw@sph.com.sg


Background Story

A changing reality

You may have seen some of your seniors graduate with multiple job offers and you might have heard about general salary packages, only to find the market somewhat less exuberant today than before.

CHIEF JUSTICE SUNDARESH MENON, addressing the newly minted lawyers at yesterday's mass call

Making it worthwhile

Pro bono is special tonic to all. It helps train our focus on the sustaining essence of our calling: It makes us look less at self, more at others; less at gain, more at service; less at our stress, more at our satisfaction. It makes what we do... all worthwhile.

Law Society president LOK VI MING, in his speech

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Foreign worker loses appeal against life sentence for murder

TODAY
19 Aug 2014
Amanda Lee

Sentence was the “minimum” punishment for his charge

SINGAPORE — A Bangladeshi construction worker, who was convicted of murder, had escaped the hangman’s noose — but he still wanted to appeal against the sentence, which will see him being locked away behind bars for life.

In making his appeal yesterday, Kamrul Hasan Abdul Quddus, 40, who was unrepresented, told the Court of Three Judges — Singapore’s final appeal court — that his family misses him.

However, the court, led by Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, dismissed Kamrul’s appeal, saying that his sentence could not be reduced as it was the “minimum” punishment for his charge.

Kamrul was convicted in 2010 of murdering his 25-year-old Indonesian girlfriend, Yulia Afriyanti, who worked here as a maid.

Yulia’s naked body was found in December 2007 in a cardboard box in a unit of the Viz@Holland  condominium, which was then under construction.

Last year, Kamrul was sentenced to life imprisonment and also ordered to receive 10 strokes of the cane.

Kamrul is the fourth convicted murderer to be given a life sentence, instead of the death penalty.

This follows changes to the law, which took effect last year, giving judges the discretion to impose either the death penalty or a life sentence for certain categories of murder.

leeguiping@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Woman jailed for tax evasion

Straits Times
02 Sep 2014

A former businesswoman has been jailed for 10 days and ordered to pay a penalty of $177,315 - three times the amount of tax evaded - after making false entries twice in her individual income tax returns.

Chua Guat, 59, was managing partner of a business in the wholesale trade of hardware when she under-reported her income in her 2005 and 2006 years of assessment (YA). She was sentenced last Friday after admitting to the two charges.

As the principal partner of the now-defunct Chuan Kok Trading Co, she was responsible for financial matters. She and her two partners Chua Tian Cho and Chua Kok Leong were entitled to share equally in the profits of the business.

The court heard that she deliberately left out some of the credit sales for YA2005 when she wrote the accounts in the partnership's 2004 sales book. She excluded from her handwritten accounts $483,091 in profit.

When she filed her income tax returns in April 2005, she falsely declared that her share of divisible profit was only $28,176. She under-reported $161,030 and was undercharged $29,396 for her taxes for YA2005.

Similarly for YA2006, she deliberately left out a sum of $481,950 in profit from credit sales made by the partnership in its 2005 sales book.

She falsely declared in her income tax return that her share of divisible profit was only $56,822. She omitted $160,650, which was her share of the profit. She was undercharged $29,709 in taxes.

Chua had to pay a total of $784,264 in back taxes and penalties for all the offences she committed, including those over goods and services tax, said the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) in a statement.

Her two partners also under-reported their share of income in their individual tax returns and had to pay Iras back taxes and penalties.

ELENA CHONG

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10 years in jail, now a lawyer

Straits Times
24 Aug 2014
Chang Ai-lien

Darren Tan, 35, is finally a full-fledged lawyer.

He reached that milestone yesterday when he was called to the Bar during a mass ceremony at Nanyang Technological University.

It was a far cry from his shaky start in life when drugs and gang activities led to over 10 years behind bars and 19 strokes of the cane.

"This is the culmination of what I've been working towards for the last 10 years," he told The Sunday Times. "It's like waking up from a dream and finding out your dream has become reality."

His life of crime began at the age of 14, and he was in and out of prison for offences that included robbery and drug trafficking.

It was only when he was 25 and behind bars for the third time that his transformation took place. He found God, and decided to make something of himself.

He resumed his studies with help from the prisons programme, re-learnt English, a language he had forgotten, and aced his A levels, scoring four As and a B, including an A1 for General Paper. He was still in prison when he applied for law school, and became the first student with a criminal past to be admitted to the National University of Singapore law school.

Now, he has a job waiting for him. He did so well during his six-month practice training at TSMP Law Corporation that the firm has given him a permanent position as a commercial litigation and dispute resolution lawyer.

The firm's joint managing director, Mr Thio Shen Yi, said that while he had initially decided to take a chance on Mr Tan, it had only been a six-month risk.

"He still had to earn his job. And he has," said Mr Thio. "He is sincere; he has street smarts, maturity and EQ. You can see his transformation through his actions, and this resonated with us because we're very much a firm that believes in giving back to the community.

"If I had ever thought there was any risk of the firm's reputation being besmirched, I would not have taken him on."

Said Mr Tan: "This is my first

real job. I enjoy what I'm doing and the bonus is I get paid for it. I'm learning new things every day."

He spends long hours at work, but tries to leave early every Monday. He and former inmate Kim Whye Kee, an artist, have set up an outreach initiative, Beacon of Life, based in Taman Jurong, to help at-risk boys and youths. On Monday and Saturday nights, they play football.

Mr Tan dined with Britain's Prince Edward in a 16th-century castle earlier this year, when he was invited there to speak about the National Youth Achievement Award which he has received, and how its programmes could benefit others.

Mr Thio is hoping to rope in Mr Tan to work on the Yellow Ribbon Project to help former prisoners, a scheme which his firm supports.

"He will be able to give us direct insight into where the need is greatest," he said.

The Singapore Academy of Law, which has supported the Yellow Ribbon Fund since 2011, is in talks with Mr Tan to be part of its upcoming corporate social responsibility programme, which aims to get more in the legal fraternity to join forces to help former offenders.

An only child, Mr Tan has a girlfriend and lives with his parents in a four-room flat in Jurong West.

With a steady pay cheque, he can finally help with family expenses and has promised to take his parents and godfather on a cruise.

His father, Mr Tan Chon Kiat, 67, who does not work, and mother, Madam Ong Ai Hock, 62, a production operator, could not be prouder.

Said Madam Ong: "I didn't think he would have these opportunities but he has changed his own future. I used to be very worried for him, but now I'm very happy.

"It goes to show that if you work hard, the past is the past."

Looking forward, her son said: "I have a mantra of sorts - 'Be good in what I do and do good with what I do'. I used to take drugs because there was a void in my heart and my life. Now, I have something to get hooked on apart from drugs. My life is a good enough substitute."

ailien@sph.com.sg

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Eratat unit forged 577m yuan bank statement: CBRC

Business Times
19 Aug 2014
Cai Haoxiang & Jamie Lee

Unit's representatives might have posed as staff of Agricultural Bank of China

THE trail of missing cash at mainboard-listed China fashion company Eratat Lifestyle has led to more concrete evidence of fraud.

The Fujian office of China's bank regulator China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) has found that an Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) bank document purportedly showing a cash balance of 577 million yuan (S$117 million) in an Eratat subsidiary bank account was forged by the subsidiary.

Even more egregiously, representatives of the subsidiary might have impersonated as ABC bank staff to reassure visiting independent auditors and company directors that everything was okay.

They apparently used the bank's Jinjiang Chendai Branch premises earlier this year, verifying the forged bank statement as true. They even informed the visitors that the Eratat subsidiary concerned was a good customer and did not have any loans with the bank.

Eratat's interim judicial manager Hamish Alexander Christie of restructuring specialist Borrelli Walsh disclosed the CBRC findings in an announcement on the Singapore Exchange yesterday. He is seeking legal advice and "preparing further enquiries of the CBRC and/or application for a review of this opinion of CBRC in Fujian by the state CBRC".

The news is likely to hit retail investors, who own about three quarters of the company. Eratat had a market valuation of almost S$50 million before trading was suspended in January.

A subsidiary of well-known Hong Kong finance company Sun Hung Kai and Co has also lent 134 million yuan to Eratat last June in a bond issue.

It was the failure of Eratat to make a coupon payment of 4.2 million yuan last December that triggered this chain of events.

Eratat former CEO Lin Jiancheng had assured directors and the bondholder that the payment was coming and that Eratat had cash balances of 640 million yuan as at Jan 24. But he was unable to satisfactorily explain why the payment could not be made, audit committee chairman Lim Yeow Hua said in end-January.

As a result, the audit committee called for a trading halt in Eratat shares on Jan 27 and suspended the CEO from his duties.

Auditors and directors then made an impromptu visit to ABC's branch in Jinjiang Chendai where they supposedly met ABC staff. They were subsequently stymied in their attempt to clarify inconsistencies on the purported Eratat subsidiary bank statement.

Eratat then approached ABC Bank's Beijing headquarters, which informed them that the Eratat subsidiary, HMW, only had a balance of 73,321.63 yuan (S$15,000) at end-2013.

ABC Beijing added that HMW also had bank borrowings of 34 million yuan as well as trade bills of 30 million yuan at end-2013.

In a May 30 announcement, Eratat said it lodged reports with CBRC and Singapore's Commercial Affairs Division. It was unable to raise funds to pay for a special audit. Interim CEO Ho Ker Chern, who was chief financial officer since 2007, also quit. The bondholder applied successfully to Singapore's High Court to appoint the interim judicial manager to manage Eratat's affairs to see if a better solution rather than a winding-up can be found.

For now, investors are left wondering how the investment community had got the company so wrong.

Eratat listed as a sports footwear company in 2008, reporting growing revenues and profits. But Eratat executive director Ye Sanzhi sold off his entire 6.77 per cent stake for S$4.44 million last August.

Last November, Eratat was awarded runner-up in the "Most Transparent Company Award 2013, Mainboard Small Caps Category", by the Securities Investors Association of Singapore. The same month, with the company trading at about nine cents a share, Voyage Research had an "increase exposure" call on the company with a target price of 28 cents a share.

Eratat shares last changed hands in January at 10 cents.

haoxiang@sph.com.sg

leejamie@sph.com.sg

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ADV: Mediation and Expert Determination for Maritime Shipping

Singapore Law Watch
02 Sep 2014
MOOGAS

Bacterium creator's patent opens legal can of worms

Straits Times
24 Aug 2014
Grace Chua

Critics argue that patenting of genetic material and higher forms of life should not be allowed

Throughout history, people have patented a range of unusual items, from light bulbs to lasers. But a bacterium?

A landmark 1972 case, in which a young General Electric researcher was eventually awarded the patent for an oil-eating bacterium, set a precedent for patenting other forms of life that are human-made or modified.

Four decades later, the creator of the genetically-modified bacterium will speak here on Wednesday at a conference by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos). It is about current trends in life sciences patents - and whether patentable biological inventions can treat or even prevent cancer.

In 1971, Dr Ananda Chakrabarty, then 33, was hired by General Electric's research centre in New York State to work on ways of turning cow manure into protein-rich animal feed, using bacteria to break down compounds in the manure. But he was also interested in getting bacteria to break down hydrocarbons, long carbon-and-hydrogen chains found in many organic substances such as petroleum.

Catastrophic oil spills such as the Torrey Canyon spill off the coast of the UK in 1967 caused severe environmental harm and were hard to clean up. So after hours and on weekends, Dr Chakrabarty would work on his hydrocarbon project, and by 1972, had cobbled together a bacterium whose genes produced enzymes that broke down oil.

"We applied for a patent because GE management thought that all useful and novel inventions should be patentable. Since GE was not a biological company, it did not take into consideration the fact that living things, like bacteria, could not be patented as living things were considered products of nature and therefore not patent eligible," Prof Chakrabarty said.

The company's lawyers argued that the bacterium, though alive, had been significantly altered through genetic engineering techniques to improve their oil-consuming characteristics.

The US Supreme Court agreed and granted Dr Chakrabarty a patent in 1981. But as the scientist had left GE by then, the firm did not try to market the bacterium.

However, the ruling gave a boost to the fast-developing fields of genetic engineering and other biotechnology - and opened up a legal and ethical can of worms.

On one hand, patents provide incentives for firms and scientists to carry out research and development, and their inventions can potentially help many people.

And Prof Chakrabarty, now at the University of Illinois, argues that stronger patent regimes can boost developing nations' economic growth. He founded Indian cancer-drug firm Amrita Therapeutics, whose goal, he said, "is not so much to make the drug affordable, but so effective that people worldwide will buy them, even at a high price, so that (Amrita) will make money and pay appropriate taxes to the Indian government".

On the other hand, not everyone agrees that something existing in nature, even if modified, can be patented.

"It is not clear how much modification is required to make something sufficiently different from its 'natural' state," said intellectual property law scholar Burton Ong of the National University of Singapore.

So the most sensible way out is to permit patents on processes or methods, such as testing for diseases, rather than asserting patent rights of the genes themselves, he said.

But what if the genetic material is hard to distinguish from the test used to find it?

Take for example the Myriad gene test. US firm Myriad Genetics developed tests for two gene variants which carry high risks of breast cancer. Until the US Supreme Court overturned its patent last year, the only test available for these gene variants was its proprietary US$4,000 (S$5,000) one.

Prof Chakrabarty disagreed with the ruling. While the genes themselves should not be patentable, he said, testing for those specific mutations is "not only novel but of great utility", and should be patentable.

There are more issues: If a patented drug is very expensive, how will low-income patients or those in poorer countries access it? What if biological samples are collected from developing countries, used by developed ones for drug or vaccine development, then sold back to those developing nations at a premium?

Even different regions have different patent regimes. For instance, in the US, anything made by man is patent eligible, making genetically modified foods, plants and animals patentable inventions, while the EU forbids patenting of higher forms of life under a public order or morality clause.

In any case, said Associate Professor Ong, patents are only one part of a legal framework.

"The patent grant itself does not give you positive rights to exploit your patented invention. For example, if you have a patent over a weapon, you might be prohibited by firearms control laws from selling or using your weapon."

So countries' biomedical ethics regulation plays a role in determining how patents are exploited, he said.

In Singapore, overall patent filings have risen by 20 per cent in the last decade, from 7,908 in 2003 to 9,722 in 2013. While Ipos did not give numbers for biotechnology-related patents, it said there was roughly a ten-fold increase in the number from 2001 to last year.

"This is a strategic industry sector that Singapore is focused on and intends to grow," a spokesman said.

Firms here typically apply also for patents in larger markets such as the US or Europe.

Prof Chakrabarty remains optimistic about patents' potential here as well as abroad.

"I... believe that certain intelligently designed bacterial proteins with both cancer therapeutic and cancer preventive activities can be further developed in Singapore in a way that will be very different than the currently used highly toxic chemotherapeutic drugs," he said.

"To quote US President Abraham Lincoln, the holder of a patent, 'the patent system provides the fuel of interest to the fire of genius'."

caiwj@sph.com.sg

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Kong lied to his followers, says Chew

Business Times
19 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

Kong denies knowing about alleged bid to muddy the trail of royalties to him

[SINGAPORE] The former investment manager of City Harvest Church charged yesterday that not only had church founder Kong Hee engineered the round-tripping of royalties gifted to him by staunch supporters, he had lied to his followers time and again.

Chew Eng Han, who is defending himself against 10 allegations of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts, yesterday questioned Kong on his claim that there was a $500,000 deficit in a multi-purpose bank account primarily set up by Xtron Production donors to support Kong and his singer-wife Sun Ho after they were taken off the church's payroll in late 2005.

The account was also for the purposes of financing the Crossover Project, aimed at evangelising through Ms Ho's secular music.

Pointing to court documents, Chew noted that there was a refund of $222,000 in royalties from Kong to church-linked firm, Attributes Private Limited (APL), for missionary materials sold from 2006 to 2008.

In an email to APL director Choong Kar Weng, accused Serina Wee explained that although Kong had legitimate reasons for receiving royalties from APL for the sale of the items, Kong had felt "it would look bad" if this disclosure came to light.

So Wee said another way would be arranged for to compensate Kong.

Chew argued that APL put $222,000 back into the church's accounts, with which the church bought Firna bonds. Bond proceeds of the same amount then went towards paying Kong back.

The founder, on the stand for the sixth day yesterday, denied having knowledge of this direct transfer of bond proceeds to him.

The court was also told that another portion of royalties was refunded to Kong from City Harvest Kuala Lumpur, which Kong described as blessings "out of their own free will".

Kong, Chew and four deputies are battling accusations of misusing church funds to boost Ms Ho's singing career. Four of six allegedly did so through "sham bond investments" in Xtron and Firna by round-tripping.

Chew had previously been singled out as the one who structured the bonds, but yesterday, he declared that he had "created a proper set of bonds, legally documented as well as can ever be", to which Kong agreed.

Chew asked Kong: "What matters in deciding whether the bond is a sham has to do with the intention of the user of the bond proceeds, do you agree?"

Kong agreed to this, but said that the intention, in this instance, was that of the directors of Xtron and Firna.

During the hearing, Chew also tried to show his state of mind that led him to believe the Crossover Project would succeed.

He alleged that Kong created a perception that Ms Ho was a huge success, when in reality, both she and Kong knew this was "not real", and that she did not succeed on merit, but only through the support of the church.

Chew pointed out, for example, that the church had spent some $21,000 on iTunes cards so as to buy Ms Ho's single, "Fancy Free".

Kong dismissed the argument, by saying that this practice was the norm and a common marketing strategy.

The trial continues.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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More Singaporeans making end-of-life preparations

Straits Times
01 Sep 2014
Janice Tai

Rise attributed to higher awareness of options, increasing ease of application

WHETHER it be instructing medics to turn off life support or relatives to make decisions if mental ability deteriorates, more Singaporeans are taking active steps to get their end-of-life papers in order.

More than 2,500 people applied for the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) from April last year to March this year.

Only 655 people did so in the same timeframe three years ago.

An LPA is a legal document that allows one's next of kin to make key decisions on their behalf should they lose the mental ability to do so.

Figures obtained from the Ministry of Health (MOH) also show that 1,800 people signed an Advance Medical Directive (AMD) - a form of "living will" - last year, up from 500 a decade ago.

An AMD aims to minimise suffering by indicating that people do not want their lives artificially prolonged should they become unconscious while terminally ill.

Figures from MOH show that as of the end of last year, over 18,700 people had made an AMD.

About 6,500 have made an LPA to date, according to the Office of the Public Guardian which maintains the LPA registry.

Those who work with the elderly or terminally ill attributed the rise to greater awareness of these documents, and increasing ease and affordability of applying for them.

More people are aware that they have these end-of-life options as a growing number of doctors are trained to administer them and are also encouraging their patients to plan early.

Professor Kua Ee Heok, senior consultant at National University Hospital, said he makes it a point to discuss the LPA with patients who are 65 and older.

Dr R. Akhileswaran, chief executive of HCA Hospice Care, said all its doctors, nurses and medical social workers are trained in advance care planning, with some doctors authorised to issue LPA certificates.

"This makes it easier for patients to discuss the AMD, LPA or other ways of advance care planning whenever they wish to and take the next steps," he said.

It is also cheaper and easier to apply for an LPA now.

From today, the $50 registration fee for the basic form for the LPA will be waived for two years.

Used by more than 97 per cent of applicants, this has also been simplified and cut from 15 pages to eight.

Health-care workers say it is a good sign that more are willing to make end-of-life preparations now because people are losing their mental faculties earlier.

In 2011, 44 per cent of those who lost their mental capacity and needed the court to step in to appoint deputies to make decisions on their behalf - as they did not make an LPA - were 71 years old and above.

This year, the percentage for those above 70 shrank to 36 per cent.

Meanwhile, those between 35 and 70 years old who suffered mental deterioration increased to 59 per cent, up from 49 per cent in 2011.

"It could be due to diseases such as stroke or vascular dementia of which studies have shown are increasingly striking younger people," said Prof Kua.

Retiree Hey Bong Koi, 66, saw the urgency of making an LPA after a stressful experience dealing with his parents' assets.

When his dad died in 2010, his mum was meant to be the executor of his will. She was, however, certified as unable to do so because she had dementia.

The lawyer suggested that Mr Hey replace his mum as executor, but he needed to be appointed as her deputy by the court first.

It took him two years to get that done, due to legal procedures and having to get the consent of relatives based overseas. During this time, many decisions - such as on bank accounts and insurance - came to a standstill.

He and his wife have since applied for an LPA and AMD.

"I am relieved that we have done it," he said.

"Though it requires you to think carefully about who to appoint, it will save one a lot of hassle and anxiety down the road."

jantai@sph.com.sg

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Drug courier's lawyer challenges caning sentence

Straits Times
23 Aug 2014
Selina Lum

Punishment is discriminatory and against S'pore Constitution, he argues in apex court

THE punishment of caning originated from "racist" attitudes, argued activist lawyer M. Ravi yesterday before the Court of Appeal.

He is seeking to challenge the legality of the punishment in Singapore in what is the latest chapter in the long-running case of Malaysian drug courier Yong Vui Kong, 25.

His death sentence was commuted to a life term and 15 strokes of the cane last year.

Yong is now fighting to quash the caning part of his sentence.

Yong's lawyer, Mr Ravi, produced a series of arguments to show that caning is against Singapore's Constitution, one of which was that it was based on discrimination.

He referred to legislative debates in 1872, when caning was instituted by the British colonial government to curb the problem of rioting by members of Chinese secret societies.

Citing a speech which referred to the rioters as "the riffraff and scum of China", Mr Ravi argued that such attitudes should no longer hold sway in modern-day Singapore.

However, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang noted that "Chinese" was used merely as a descriptive term.

Apart from purported racism, Mr Ravi said the fact that only men between the ages of 16 and 50 can be caned was another form of discrimination.

Stressing that he was not advocating for women to be caned, he argued that such a regime violates the Constitution, which guarantees that all persons are equal before the law.

Mr Ravi also argued that the way in which caning is carried out in the prisons here amounts to torture or inhuman punishment.

He suggested that caning was not in line with Singapore's international legal obligations as it had signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which prohibits torture and inhuman punishment.

He also argued that while its stated objective is to deter crime, there is a lack of evidence to show a link between caning and low crime rates.

The prosecution countered Mr Ravi's racism argument as baseless as caning was offence-specific and applied to all races.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Ng added that there were good reasons for the exemption of women and men above 50 and below 16.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tai Wei Shyong argued that the Constitution does not contain an express prohibition against torture and that treaties signed by Singapore do not automatically become domestic law. In any case, he argued, caning does not amount to torture.

DPP Tai also stressed that Yong was no victim but an "agent of destruction" to many in Singapore.

He was 19 in 2007 when he was arrested after making two drug deliveries. He was convicted of trafficking 47.27g of heroin in 2008 and given the then-mandatory death penalty.

After a string of bids to quash his death sentence, he was spared the gallows under new laws that allow couriers who helped the authorities to be jailed for life and caned instead.

The Court of Appeal will give its decision at a later date.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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ADV: Kaplan - Interested in the law industry?

Singapore Law Watch
16 Aug 2014

New SGX trading rules: What you need to know

Straits Times
31 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

Navigating odd lots and minimum trading prices

The fallout from last October's penny stock crash has been immense, with billions of dollars lost, bitter recriminations flying, lawsuits launched and, now, a range of regulations that will affect investors of every stripe.

The sweeping regulations proposed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) do not lack for ambition in their scope.

As well as aiming to make investing in blue chips more active and affordable, they are geared towards curbing excessive speculation and market manipulation, improving the quality of listings, boosting transparency, and levelling the playing field for small investors.

The fear among some observers is that the new rules could further sideline investors and dampen already-thin trading volumes.

But the immediate concern for retail investors is to work out how to navigate these measures, the first of which - reducing board lot sizes - takes effect from Jan 19 next year.

Board lot size reduction

  • What is this?

This move cuts the minimum purchase "lot" of SGX-listed securities from 1,000 to 100 units.

That means you will be able to buy just 100 DBS shares, for example, instead of having to purchase a minimum of 1,000, which is the case currently. For example, to invest in pricier blue chips like DBS, which closed at $17.92 last Friday, you would need to put up $17,920 to buy 1,000 DBS shares. But under the new rule, you can buy 100 shares for $1,792.

  • How does it benefit investors?

This will make blue chips and index component stocks more affordable and help investors build portfolios with a smaller capital outlay.

Young investors with typically smaller cash reserves will have a wider range of equities to choose from, while longstanding investors can diversify further into blue chips.

For example, an investor could easily build an equity portfolio by buying 100 DBS shares, 200 Keppel Corp shares, 100 Jardine C&C shares and 300 Global Logistics Properties shares - all for an investable amount of $10,000.

Mr Vasu Menon, vice-president of wealth management in Singapore at OCBC Bank, said the change will allow investors with odd lots (100 shares and above) to sell the stock in the regular market instead of what is called the odd-lot market, where prices are at a discount to the market value.

Lot sizes of less than 100 shares will still have to be transacted in the odd-lot market.

"My sense is that investors here have become more sophisticated over the last few years, especially after the global financial crisis, and the decision to buy a stock depends on an individual's assessment of a stock's fundamentals and not just about its affordability," he said.

Minimum trading price for mainboard shares

  • What is this?

Mainboard-listed firms will need to have a minimum trading price of 20 cents from March next year.

  • How does it benefit investors?

This rule is aimed at curbing speculation as low-priced securities may be more susceptible to market manipulation. This will help retail investors.

  • What should investors bear in mind?

In the short term, it may create uncertainty, as investors have to consider whether the stock may be consolidated to comply with the new rule.

Consolidation involves a firm reducing the number of its outstanding shares, which in turn boosts the price.

As a result, investors may become wary about investing in stocks below 20 cents or just above 20 cents, said Mr Menon.

To mitigate the impact of this rule, investors should keep in mind the possibility of a company undergoing share consolidation if its share price is below 20 cents, to avoid getting odd lots.

Otherwise, they may have to sell their odd lots in the odd-lot market, where prices tend to be below fair value and there is little liquidity, said remisier Alvin Yong.

For example, if you buy 50,000 shares at five cents apiece, and the firm does a share consolidation of 4:1 to get the value to the minimum trading price of 20 cents, you will be left with 12,500 shares.

Under the new rules, where the minimum lot size is now 100 instead of 1,000, there is no odd lot. But if you buy 51,000 shares of the same company at the five-cent price and it undergoes a share consolidation of 4:1, then your new shareholding will be 12,750. That leaves an odd lot of 50 shares.

If you already own shares in odd lots, you could buy more shares in the odd-lot market and round up the holding to a normal lot, Mr Yong said. Alternatively, you could sell the odd lots in the odd-lot market.

"Investors should take into consideration the likelihood of the company undergoing a share consolidation if the share price is below 20 cents. For instance, if the share price is 5.5 cents, then the share consolidation ratio will likely be 4:1. If it is 13 cents, then the ratio is likely to be 2:1," added Mr Yong.

Move to collateralised trading

  • What is this?

From mid-2016, when SGX launches its new Post-Trade System, investors will have to post at least 5 per cent collateral on unsettled positions by the end of a trading session. That means if you want to buy 1,000 DBS shares costing $18,310, you will have to put up $915.50 as collateral in cash, stock or bank guarantee.

This replaces the current rules which allow contra trading, where investors are permitted to buy shares without cash upfront and resell them within three days, pocketing the profit or paying up the loss rather than the full sum.

  • How does it benefit investors?

It lowers the trading loss risk to brokers, that is, when their clients default. It also forces What should investors bear in mind?

It may create more hassle for investors, who have to pre-fund their accounts (with cash, for example) to meet the requirement prior to trading, although this may not dampen retail participation if there is money to be made in the market, said Mr Alvin Tham, head of equity products, consumer banking group, at DBS Bank.

It is, however, possible for investors to use their stock portfolio as collateral. But that is contingent on them having already transferred shares to their broker under a nominee or subsidiary account.

"Plus, not every broker offers this service yet," Mr Yong, the remisier, said.

gleong@sph.com.sg

 

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

 

MEASURES TO STRENGTHEN MARKET

Goal: To curb the speculative nature of so-called "contra trading", a practice unique to Singapore and Malaysia.

This involves traders buying shares without cash upfront and reselling them within three days, pocketing the profit or paying up the loss rather than the full sum. Critics say this practice encourages highly speculative trading. About 31 per cent of the total trading value in the year to October 2013 came from contra trades.

  • From mid-2016, contra trading will be replaced by collateralised trading when SGX launches its new Post-Trade System. An investor will have to post at least 5 per cent collateral on unsettled positions by the end of a trading session. That means if an investor wants to buy 1,000 DBS shares costing $18,310, he will have to put up $915.50 as collateral in cash, stock or bank guarantee.
  • From March next year, mainboard-listed firms will need to have a minimum trading price of 20 cents. This will help to reduce the risk of excessive speculation and potential market manipulation as stocks can be traded at as low as 0.1 cent now. To allow for smooth implementation, there will be a 12-month transitional period. An estimated 200 firms may be affected.
  • The minimum lot size for trading will be cut from 1,000 shares to 100 shares from Jan 19 next year. This will make it easier for retail investors to buy pricier blue chips.

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

Motorist told to pay up for not alerting insurer promptly

Straits Times
23 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

She wasn't aware of need to report composition fine for traffic accident

SHE assumed she did not have to tell her car insurer that she had been offered a $200 composition fine for hitting a pedestrian, and had paid up.

But this ended up costing Ms Joanne Ho more than $54,000 after a court ruled she had to pay back her insurer, India International Insurance, for the compensation to the pedestrian and legal costs.

The district court ruling has made it clear that errant motorists who fail to promptly alert their insurers of composition fines offered in traffic accident cases may end up paying for the damages due to the victim.

The road accident involving Ms Ho, 44, occurred in November 2007 in Telok Blangah. The consultant notified the insurer of the accident a day after it happened. But it took her 18 months to notify the insurer that she had accepted the $200 composition fine offered by the Traffic Police.

She admitted she did not inform the insurer about the composition offer right away as she was under the impression it was not needed, because she had already alerted the firm about the accident.

But India International Insurance took Ms Ho to court, saying that her lapse repudiated its liability under the insurance contract and she should reimburse the firm for the $34,555 it paid the victim.

Ms Ho's lawyer Cosmas Gomez argued that it would have made a small difference to the insurer if she had informed the firm early of the composition offer. But District Judge Seah Chi-Ling disagreed.

He pointed out that the late disclosure denied the insurer "the opportunity to consider if early settlement" could have helped save on costs.

The judge also wrote in his decision grounds that Ms Ho was bound by the terms of the insurance contract, which entitled the insurer to repudiate liability and pass the buck to its client for her breach.

"Having paid (the victim) as required under the Motor Vehicles (Third Party Risks and Compensation) Act, the (insurers) were entitled to recover such sums" from Ms Ho under the relevant clause in the insurance policy, he added.

Ms Ho's appeal last October was rejected by the High Court. And last month, a court registrar's order set her bill payable to the insurer at about $54,000, which included legal costs and interest over four years since the suit started in 2010.

Lawyers noted this was the first time such a case - on whether an insurer can repudiate liability for the motorist's failure to inform it in timely fashion about being fined by police - has appeared before the courts.

Senior lawyer Niru Pillai, who is head of litigation at Global Law Alliance, said: "Non-notification is a breach that prejudices the rights of the insurer, who is obliged to pay the victim upfront."

Ms Ho hopes others can learn from her experience.

"I asked around and a lot of people did not seem to know that insurers can repudiate liability on this ground," she told The Straits Times yesterday.

"This is very unfortunate and has been stressful for me for many years. It's sad but I have to move on."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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

S'pore facing a glut of lawyers

Straits Times
17 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

Shanmugam urges law students to temper expectations or pursue other career choices

Over just four years up to March last year, the number of practising lawyers here leapt by nearly 25 per cent to more than 4,400.

Another 1,500 are expected to join them in the next three years. And there has been a sharp rise in those heading overseas to study law. In Britain alone, the number of Singapore law students more than doubled from 510 to 1,142 between 2010 and last year.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam dished out these numbers yesterday as he warned that Singapore could soon have more lawyers than jobs for them all.

He urged law students to temper career and salary expectations, and maybe even consider other jobs.

Speaking at the Criminal Justice Conference organised by the Singapore Management University (SMU) and National University of Singapore, which both have law schools, he said the number of lawyers is expected to grow by nearly a third in the next three years.

But "the market is not going to grow by 30 per cent", he said, pointing out that this year, nearly 650 graduates will compete for about 490 practice training contracts at law firms, to get the training they need before being admitted to the Singapore Bar.

"About 150 students will have difficulty getting a training contract, let alone employment after that," said Mr Shanmugam, who is a senior counsel himself. "The study of law provides an excellent training of the mind, so I don't want to be seen as discouraging people... but you have to have a realistic understanding of the market, the economy, the total structure."

While Singapore is trying to "grow the legal market" through initiatives such as the Singapore International Commercial Court to handle dispute resolution, students could go into fields like banking, business, public service and even politics with their law degrees, he suggested.

Rules governing training contracts could be changed to make it easier for more students to get them, "but there is a limit to how much the Government can intervene in the market", he said.

He added that those who do get jobs should be realistic about their salaries: "You see headlines that top lawyers make 'x' million dollars, but there is a huge difference between what the top two or three lawyers make, and what everyone else makes."

Lawyers and academics whom The Sunday Times spoke to admitted that future lawyers should be prepared to face a lot of competition from their peers in the marketplace.

SMU law lecturer Eugene Tan said "the days of law firms chasing law graduates are now over".

"Grades are helpful but students should also hone skills like writing and crafting legal arguments and research to improve their chances of being hired," he added.

Veteran lawyer Chia Boon Teck said law graduates could consider joining multinational companies with large legal departments. "If you want to join a law firm, study very very hard and aim to be among the top few graduates. Also, make as many friends who are lawyers as possible," he advised.

Ms Lynn Kan, who is starting her second year at SMU's post-graduate law programme, said some of her classmates are already considering taking on more internships to improve their prospects.

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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

S'pore Int'l Commercial Court will enhance options: CJ

Business Times
30 Aug 2014
Michelle Quah

SINGAPORE'S Chief Justice (CJ) says he hopes the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), which the city-state intends to establish to hear international commercial disputes, will be like the iPad - "The thing you didn't know you needed until you had it, and (then) you realise, how did I live without it?"

Far from being facetious, CJ Sundaresh Menon was laying out just how he sees such a court functioning within the Singapore legal space, and the benefits it will bring to the local and international community.

The CJ was speaking on Friday at the launch of Arbitration in Singapore: A Practical Guide, a publication intended to be an essential tool for legal professionals involved in international or domestic arbitration in Singapore. Mr Menon is the editor-in-chief of the guide, which is published by Sweet & Maxwell, a Thomson Reuters business.

While the book is on arbitration - a method of dispute resolution where parties refer their dispute to an unbiased third party or impartial tribunal designated by the disputing parties - Mr Menon said he wanted to take the opportunity to talk about one of the "most interesting things affecting the Singapore legal sector in recent months" - the SICC.

The SICC was an idea first floated by Mr Menon in January 2013, to reinforce Singapore's position as a centre for dispute resolution. This followed a trip he made to London in September 2012, where he learned more about its Commercial Court.

He saw the need for an international commercial court sited here, in view of the rapid growth in international trade in the last 50 years or so and the resulting increase in international trade and commercial disputes.

"We might not have the hallowed history of London but we have ringside seats to one of the most exciting areas of development anywhere on the planet (Asia), and a legal and judicial system that's widely known for its integrity," Mr Menon said.

He stressed that the SICC will stand apart from the very successful Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC). "The SICC would provide parties and transnational businesses with one more among a suite of viable options for the resolution of transnational commercial disputes."

Among its differences from the SIAC: the SICC will exist as a division of the High Court, while featuring international judges and admitting international counsel; the SICC's judges, to be selected by the CJ and not by the disputing parties, will not be arbitrators; unlike arbitration, the SICC will offer a right of appeal, allow third parties to join, and its proceedings are expected to move along faster.

Mr Menon said there was room for an SICC, even with a highly successful SIAC. "The caseload of the London Commercial Court was burgeoning alongside the strong and steady growth of the London arbitration market. This led me to the conclusion that arbitration and a commercial court are not competing players in a zero-sum game. There is room for both. What users are looking for is the priceless commodity of trust and they're willing to travel to find it."

A panel, featuring some of Singapore's best-known international arbitration lawyers, discussed what such a court would do for Singapore.

Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam, managing partner of Rodyk & Davidson, said the SICC will "both build on and extend the Singapore brand in the realm of dispute resolution and the perception of businessmen around Asia".

"What's in it for the profession? We hope to see more cases that are being resolved in Singapore one way or another and, therefore, have the opportunity to take part in those proceedings," Mr Jeyaretnam added.

Nish Shetty, a partner with Clifford Chance Asia, said having the right of appeal would be very attractive for clients, as would the ability for parties to choose their counsel - "counsel that may be familiar with the institutions that are in the dispute, counsel that may be familiar with cultural norms".

Picking up on Mr Shetty's point on choice of counsel was Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull, a director with Drew & Napier and the deputy chairman of the SIAC. "It presents an opportunity for the largest, most complex cases in the most dynamic region to be dealt with by the best team (of lawyers), without boundaries. That's good for Singapore lawyers because you get to be part of that team, (and) it's good for clients."

michquah@sph.com.sg

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

Local, global factors will force aspiring lawyers to change mindset: Voices

TODAY
23 Aug 2014

I refer to the report “Spike in overseas grads ‘the reason S’pore faces lawyer glut’” (Aug 21), and the letter “An avoidable glut of lawyers?” (Aug 22).

Apart from factors in the potential oversupply of lawyers mentioned by the Law Minister and Mr Fong Wei Kurk, three trends will impact the legal industry.

The first is the increasing use of dispute-prevention processes such as mediation, which is being promoted by the Singapore Mediation Centre and encouraged in the State Courts and the community.

This is positive, as it means that many disputes would be resolved at their early stages. Only a small percentage of cases will likely be fully ventilated and fought in open court.

The second trend, which is happening in the West, is that more in-house counsel and chief executives are under corporate governance pressure to manage legal risks.

They are expected to deliver good outcomes, reduce costs and enhance the corporation’s reputation.

It is good corporate governance that no disproportionate amount of resources is allocated to fight court battles when the disputes can be resolved by mediation, with lots of cost savings.

Many corporations would have their dispute prevention process to handle internal and external disputes. I think this will be an increasing corporate practice in Singapore as more in-house counsel and chief executives become aware of this new corporate governance.

The third trend is that information and communication technology is eroding traditional legal work. Some legal work is now being commoditised; document assembly systems and e-discovery will create cost-saving opportunities.

Other players will do a better and less costly job than those in the legal industry. Online dispute resolution, Internet-based global legal businesses, outsourcing and liberalised markets will reduce the work of lawyers.

Tomorrow’s lawyers, legal educators and policymakers should read Professor Richard Susskind’s book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction To Your Future, to get a different perspective on the issue of Singapore facing a lawyer glut.

Local and global factors will force aspiring lawyers to change their mindset in order to practise. I hope they take heed of his advice to plot the future.

Michael Yap Gim Chuan

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Divorces drag on as spouses slug it out

Straits Times
17 Aug 2014
Radha Basu

Lawyers welcome new judge-led process in court that aims to resolve conflicts in less adversarial way

A housewife wants a divorce but her husband pleads for a reconciliation. She agrees on condition that his parents, who live with them, move out. She claims that her in-laws are a constant source of friction.

The husband disagrees. And he lists his own set of demands: He will not pay a cent towards her upkeep, she must forsake all claims to the matrimonial flat they own jointly and she must start paying for half of the children's and household expenses, though she does not work.

She is also not to ask about his whereabouts if he returns late, and she cannot see her own family.

The judge granted the woman a divorce on the grounds of his unreasonable behaviour.

"Ironically, his demands exhibited his unreasonable behaviour to the court very well," said the woman's lawyer, Ms Ellen Lee.

Ridiculous demands by warring spouses can mire divorce proceedings in angst and anger and cause some cases to drag on for years, say lawyers, who welcome the new judge-led process of handling divorce cases.

The Family Justice Act, passed by Parliament this month, aims to help resolve family conflicts in a less adversarial manner, with judges focusing on relevant issues concerning the children, maintenance and division of assets.

Ms Lee, a family lawyer for 33 years and a Member of Parliament, said the new Act could help lower the chances of divorce being a "grievance-led process in court".

"Sometimes, it is difficult for lawyers to tell clients to cut to the chase as they feel they are denied justice," she said.

"They are far more likely to take the same advice from a judge, especially a judge who has the skills and training to show support and sympathy."

Family lawyer Anuradha Sharma has been involved in several cases where parties insist on making public irrelevant or sometimes deeply embarrassing details in court documents.

In one case, an aggrieved wife listed details of the sexual demands she said her husband made.

Ms Sharma, who represented the husband, said: "My client was mortified at the thought of 30 or more pages of intimate details being made public, especially since he had already agreed to the divorce."

Eventually, the woman took the judge's advice and agreed to not contest the divorce. "But by then, a lot of time and money had already been spent," said Ms Sharma.

In another case, a wife filed for divorce three years after her husband left her and went to live with his parents. Under Singapore laws, a couple can divorce if they have been separated for three years and both parties agree to end the marriage.

Although the man agreed to a divorce, the wife insisted on producing lengthy affidavits in court - complete with photographs from Facebook - to show that he had an affair during their separation.

"All she wanted was to make him admit to the affair in court, although according to him, it occurred well after their separation," said Ms Sharma. Once more, the case dragged on for a year.

"The new judge-led approach will hopefully cut this unnecessary acrimony in court," said the lawyer.

Among the trickiest and most time-consuming parts of any divorce hearing is the discussion over what is known in legal parlance as "ancillary matters" - which determine costs, custody, division of assets and maintenance issues.

Lawyers say some couples present documents that run into thousands of pages just to vent their pain, even though at this stage the court is no longer looking for the cause of the divorce.

Lawyer Yap Teong Liang, who has been handling divorce cases for 22 years, said: "Even at this stage, we have parties dredging up issues to highlight the terrible things they say their spouse did to them."

Others make difficult demands that test both memory and patience. Mr Yap and lawyer Amolat Singh have had clients whose wives asked for 60 or more documents - such as bank statements and credit card reports - to be produced that date back four years.

Mr Singh once represented a man whose wife filed 12 affidavits - running into 700 pages. The man immediately asked Mr Singh to do the same because he wished to respond to every allegation.

"Some of it was entirely irrelevant," said Mr Singh. "The wife, for instance, wanted the court to know that their adult son had been devastated when the father did not turn up for a parent-teacher meeting when he was in primary school."

The new Act will introduce a template for affidavits used in divorce cases, to zero in on relevant information only.

Mr Singh said: "We're hoping the affidavit templates will put parties in a straitjacket and weed out what is irrelevant."

Women are not the only ones capable of unreasonable behaviour in divorce cases. Lawyer Aye Cheng Shone recalled a case of a woman who was making provisions to buy over one of her estranged husband's flats. He did not live in the flat, but refused to allow her and their child to live in it while the sale process was being finalised. "The flat was vacant - he would allow friends to stay in it - but not his own child," said Ms Shone.

Mr Koh Tien Hua had a case in which the husband sought a reconciliation, but insisted that he should be allowed to continue seeing his mistress.

And Ms Gloria James has seen clients who have cleaned out joint accounts prior to a divorce, locked the spouse and children out of the house and tried to deny the estranged spouse access to the children. Some of the most bitter fights are over the children.

For many who have been bruised by divorce, the bitterness can take years to dissipate.

A 41-year-old mother of three told The Sunday Times she still finds it hard to forgive her ex-husband whose delaying tactics cost her a job.

She said he kept calling her for multiple mediation sessions. "At each session, he would just ask for more visitation rights, but the irony was that he was not seeing the children at all," she said.

A housewife during her marriage, she had started working but had to keep taking time off for court hearings.

"In the end, my boss just said I should concentrate on completing my divorce," she said. "And I lost that job at a time when I needed it most."

radhab@sph.com.sg

 

 

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

 

Open to judge's advice

"Sometimes, it is difficult for lawyers to tell clients to cut to the chase as they feel they are denied justice. They are far more likely to take the same advice from a judge, especially a judge who has the skills and training to show support and sympathy."

- MS ELLEN LEE, a family lawyer for 33 years and a Member of Parliament


Irrelevant details

"Some of it was entirely irrelevant. The wife, for instance, wanted the court to know that their adult son had been devastated when the father did not turn up for a parent-teacher meeting when he was in primary school."

- MR AMOLAT SINGH, a lawyer who represented a man whose wife filed 12 affidavits - running into 700 pages. The man asked Mr Singh to do the same.

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

Ngerng’s affidavit irrelevant, abuses process of court: PM Lee

TODAY
30 Aug 2014

SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has responded to an affidavit filed by blogger Roy Ngerng, arguing that parts of the affidavit are “inadmissible, irrelevant and/or an abuse of the process of the court”.

Mr Lee, who is suing Mr Ngerng over his posts alleging misappropriation of Central Provident Fund monies, had filed a court application for a summary judgment to wrap up the case without calling on both the plaintiff and defendant to appear at a hearing.

In his reply to the affidavit, Mr Lee said Mr Ngerng had dealt with matters that are not relevant to the issues in the application for the summary judgment.

The affidavit, which was filed on Aug 4, was also “designed to advance (Mr Ngerng’s) political agenda, and contains legal arguments, which have no place in an affidavit”.

 “I have also been advised by my solicitors and verily believe that I should not dignify (Mr Ngerng’s) abuse of the process of this court by responding to matters which are inadmissible and irrelevant to the application,” Mr Lee wrote in his response dated Aug 20, a copy of which was sent to the media by Mr Ngerng. “I will therefore confine this reply to one factual matter.”

Referring to the affidavit, he said Mr Ngerng had taken issue with the request to remove two articles he had written in 2012 and last year, as the articles did not mention Mr Lee.

 “But the defendant is well aware of the reason he was asked to remove the two posts,” Mr Lee said. “It was set out in my solicitors’ letter dated May 26, 2014, to the defendant’s solicitors.”

In a statement, Mr Ngerng said: “As stated earlier, I have asked my counsel to resist the application vigorously.”

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Third win for SMU law students at legal contest

Straits Times
23 Aug 2014
Ian Poh

A TEAM of law students from Singapore Management University (SMU) has won a prestigious legal contest.

The university, which set up its law school in 2007, beat 18 teams from Asian countries including China, Vietnam and the Philippines at the 16th Asia Cup moot court competition.

Held annually in Tokyo, the event simulates court proceedings and is organised by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japanese Society of International Law.

In beating Universitas Padjajaran from Bandung, Indonesia in the final round on Wednesday, SMU secured its third win in the competition in five attempts dating back to 2010.

Its team this year comprised Ms Bethel Chan, 25, Mr Jerald Soon, 24, Mr Tan Jun Hong, 23, Ms Eden Li, 22, and Ms Nicolette Oon, 21. All are in their second to fourth year of study.

Participants in a moot represent opposing sides in a hypothetical legal dispute. They make written and oral arguments to a panel of judges.

Preparations for the oral rounds of the competition were intensive.

These began in late July and included multiple practice rounds with alumni mooters.

This year's topic was international investment law.

The problem concerned the interpretation and application of a bilateral investment treaty, in relation to issues arising from a state's alleged mistreatment of investors.

The team members had to juggle their research and training with law firm internships.

None of the team had studied international law before the competition.

Mr Tan and Mr Soon also won prizes for being the best and third best oralist respectively in the competition.

Mr Tan said: "Grappling with a completely unfamiliar area of the law was challenging, but I'm glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone and that our team's hard work has paid off."

pohian@sph.com.sg

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

New family law aims to reduce angst: Indranee

Straits Times
17 Aug 2014
Radha Basu

Judges dealing with warring spouses will soon be able to help them focus on the key issues with less acrimony, anger and angst.

In cases where children are involved and a couple cannot resolve differences, they will have to go for counselling even before filing the writ for divorce.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah highlighted these two key initiatives under the new Family Justice Act when she spoke to The Sunday Times last week. The Act, which comes into force later this year, seeks to transform the way family conflicts are dealt with in court.

A lawyer herself, Ms Indranee co-chaired a committee of experts that put forward some recommendations which form the backbone of the Act. These include taking a judge-led approach in family cases rather than one dominated by duelling lawyers.

"The essential philosophy behind our recommendations is to save the marriage where possible, and where it is not possible and it goes to court, then you make the court process as less traumatic as possible," she said.

"An objective party must help spouses understand what are the real and underlying issues."

These objective parties will be counsellors who assist couples during the mandatory pre-divorce consultation sessions and, where cases do end up in court, the judge in the newly set-up specialist Family Justice Court.

It is necessary to have a specialist court that deals with family matters simply because you cannot approach a family case the way you would a normal commercial or criminal case, said Ms Indranee.

"Family cases are quite different in the sense that you are dealing with hurt, with anger, sometimes with pent-up frustration and a sense of loss and helplessness when the world around you breaks down. People will make decisions based on emotions."

This is why judges trained in the techniques of counselling and mediation would help parties focus on the issues at hand.

When she was in practice, she would see well-to-do couples fighting over $50. "It's not the quantity of the money, but the principle or the sense that if I give in to this, somehow I am losing and I don't want to lose," she said.

"The big tool this new Act has is the judge-led process to cut through all of this. That's why we really need a much more interventionist court."

Ms Indranee emphasised that the new law is not here to make divorce easier.

"You don't have to go through long legal documentation, but the general rule is that you must be married for three years before you can get a divorce, unless there are exceptional circumstances," she said. "That hasn't changed."

Radha Basu

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

Wee 'deceived brother about church business'

Straits Times
30 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

She hid information on church finances: Prosecution

FORMER Xtron accountant Serina Wee deceived her own brother to hide what was really happening between her firm and City Harvest Church.

After church member Roland Wee asked her where Xtron's money came from, his sister wrote to two church leaders to warn that others may also start asking similar questions.

"He can see from the business profile search that Xtron has $6,000,006 share capital. Where did the money come from? This is a question anyone looking at the accounts will ask," Wee said in the 2010 e-mail to the church's deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and its fund manager Chew Eng Han.

"I couldn't tell him that Xtron had taken a ($10.7 million) bank loan for the Riverwalk purchase and (the share capital) was what the bank wanted... so I just told him it was from the shareholders."

This e-mail, which was later forwarded to church founder Kong Hee by Tan, was revealed by the prosecution yesterday, as it tried to show how Wee and the others had deceived the church's board and executive members, or hid information from them, as part of a cover-up.

The four of them, along with two others, face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million of City Harvest's money to fund the music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, and to cover up the alleged misdeed.

Kong had told the church's executive members in 2008 that City Harvest would lend Xtron, a church-linked firm, $18.2 million so it could buy the Riverwalk property and rent it back to the church for meetings.

But Xtron had earlier already borrowed $13 million from the church to spend on furthering Ms Ho's music career.

When several of the accused realised that Xtron could not pay back the money in the two-year timeframe, they needed a way to change the loan's terms, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong.

So the accused allegedly came up with the $18.2 million Riverwalk deal, which was part of a revised loan agreement that subsumed the initial loan and gave Xtron 10 years to pay back everything.

The problem was that Xtron had spent most of it on Ms Ho's music and ended with only $8.5 million in new funds under the revised loan agreement.

That was not enough to buy the property.

So it took an additional bank loan of $10.7 million, even though church members were led to believe that the $18.2 million was enough for the property purchase, said Mr Ong.

"Looking at what Serina says (in her 2010 e-mail)... it appears that the bank loan had to remain a secret even 11/2 years after the Riverwalk purchase was first announced," he pointed out.

In a 2008 e-mail, Wee had also reminded several of her fellow defendants ahead of a meeting: "CHC cannot minute down anything about Xtron's bank loan as they are not supposed to be aware of this."

Kong yesterday admitted that the $10.7 million bank loan was not revealed to the church members. He also conceded that both the church's board and executive members were not told about a mortgage over the Riverwalk property which the bank had wanted as security for the loan.

He said he was not aware of the 2008 e-mail, which he did not receive, and could not comment on Wee's 2010 correspondence.

But the 50-year-old senior pastor added that "when it comes to the financing of Xtron, we would prefer to share as little as possible within the bounds of legality as advised by professionals".

If it was known that City Harvest was funding Ms Ho's secular music career, "it will affect her legitimacy", he explained.

The defence has consistently said Ms Ho's secular music was part of the church's Crossover Project to attract non-Christians to the church.

Kong also maintained that all of the church's loans to Xtron had been vetted by lawyers and auditors, who found nothing wrong.

The trial will resume on Sept 8 with Kong continuing to be cross-examined.

zengkun@sph.com.sg

 

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

 

KEEPING SECRETS

He can see from the business profile search that Xtron has $6,000,006 share capital. Where did the money come from? This is a question anyone looking at the accounts will ask. I couldn't tell him that Xtron had taken a ($10.7 million) bank loan for the Riverwalk purchase and (the share capital) was what the bank wanted... so I just told him it was from the shareholders.

- Former Xtron accountant Serina Wee, in a 2010 e-mail to City Harvest Church's deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and its fund manager Chew Eng Han

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Proposal for self-classification dropped by MDA

Straits Times
23 Aug 2014
Corrie Tan

It removes controversial scheme from list of planned amendments

THE Media Development Authority (MDA) is dropping a controversial scheme that would have allowed arts groups to give age-appropriate ratings to their own works in line with the authority's classification code.

This comes after arts groups strongly opposed the Arts Term Licensing Scheme when the MDA launched a public consultation exercise on May 12. Artists' network Arts Engage released a position paper detailing its objections on May 30, signed by at least 45 groups.

The MDA is now removing the scheme from its list of proposed amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act. Nor will it implement a pilot run of the scheme that had been planned for last month.

Instead, the MDA will continue to assess each production from its 80 active licensees, including arts groups and event organisers, and give them advisories or ratings.

Amendments to the Act, to be tabled in Parliament at an unspecified date, include licensing virtual performances the same way as a live event at the same location, and allowing the MDA to investigate arts entertainment breaches instead of subjecting organisers to police action.

On arts term licensing, Ms Koh Lin-Net, chief executive of MDA, said: "We appreciate the very useful dialogues we had with Arts Engage, where we identified areas where we could work even better together. However... we realised that it was not a matter of whether or not the scheme could have been better designed. Rather... there were fundamental differences in views which could not be resolved."

This was in spite of three meetings last month between the MDA, Arts Engage and representatives from arts groups. One difference, she said, was over the current "Not Allowed For All Ratings" category, effectively a ban, which arts groups disagree with. Artists also wanted to be given autonomy in their application of classification guidelines, and took issue with the penalties for "misclassification".

While the scheme would have substantially cut red tape, artists felt that appointing individuals from within the company to do the work of the MDA would prompt self-censorship.

They expressed concern over what they felt was inadequate consultation with artists on classification guidelines, suggesting that the authority delay the scheme's implementation and hold further public engagement.

In its closing statement, the MDA said "classification guidelines need to reflect the social sentiments of the wider community, which may at times run counter to the views of some arts groups". The current guidelines were launched in 2008 and refined last year.

In response, Arts Engage said in a press statement yesterday: "Given that arts groups are meant to be the key beneficiaries of the scheme, (it) should not just be implemented for the sake of administrative convenience, but also seek to protect the creative process and improve the environment for art-making in Singapore."

The MDA is planning to embark on a comprehensive survey - reviewing the standards for classification of arts content - with the results expected to be published in the first half of next year. The findings may influence how it adjusts its guidelines.

Former Arts Nominated MP Janice Koh called the process of engagement between the MDA and artists a "new normal". "It is probably the first time we've had such in-depth discussions on the topic of arts regulation."

She hoped the MDA would conduct a more focused survey of arts audiences and their expectations of ratings and advisories. Arts Engage also recommended that the MDA consider running a pilot of the Arts Term Licensing Scheme that accommodates its main concerns.

corriet@sph.com.sg

 

 

 

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

 

A NEW NORMAL

It is probably the first time we've had such in-depth discussions on the topic of arts regulation.

- Former Arts Nominated MP Janice Koh

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Property scam costs law firm $105,200

Straits Times
16 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Bogus agent tricks it into thinking 'she' is owner of Bishan bungalow

A SINGLE phone call ended up costing a law firm $105,200 after its conveyancing secretary told an interested buyer the sale of a $3.8 million house was legitimate.

But the property agent conducting the sale was a fraudster and the bungalow in Bishan was not on the market.

Based on the call to law firm Vision Law, prospective buyers Chu Said Thong, an oil trader, and his wife handed over $105,200 to the "agent" to confirm their interest. The cheat absconded with the money and the couple, represented by lawyer Adrian Tan, sued the firm, which was defended by Senior Counsel N. Streenivasan.

On Thursday, Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy ordered Vision Law to reimburse the cash as the firm had vouched, through its secretary Susan Chua, that it was acting for the owner of the property when that was not the case.

Mr Victor Tan, the "audacious identity thief" as described by the High Court, had written a note on a fake option and faxed it to the firm's conveyancing secretary.

In the note, he pretended to be Madam Lum Whye Hee, 89, the true owner of the unit in Jalan Berjaya. He instructed the law firm to act for "her" in the sale of the 5,600 sq ft property.

In September 2010, Mr Tan also advertised in the press that the house was for sale. Mr Chu and his wife, who had responded to the ad, went to look at the bungalow but did not go in because they intended to tear it down.

Mr Chu then called Ms Chua, who confirmed the law firm was acting for Madam Lum. Ms Chua had done a title search, which showed the name on the fake option matched that of the owner registered with the Singapore Land Authority.

It has since emerged that Mr Tan has cheated two other potential buyers using the same property as bait and is now on the run.

A police report was lodged.

The judge, however, dismissed the couple's further claims for fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation. Said Justice Vinodh: "The root cause of the (couple's) loss is Victor."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

More lawyers needed to help needy accused

TODAY
29 Aug 2014
Amanda Lee

Extended legal aid scheme will require twice the number of volunteers, says Law Society

SINGAPORE — Eight months after the Government announced it would directly fund legal aid to benefit 6,000 accused persons annually — or half of the total number of cases here in a year — the scale of the work expected of lawyers volunteering their time became clearer yesterday.

The expansion, which is targeted to be achieved within five years of its implementation, translates to a 15-fold jump in the current workload under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS). But the Law Society of Singapore thinks a pool of volunteer lawyers of twice the current size — 530 — will be able to handle it. This means each lawyer offering pro bono services under CLAS has to take on at least 11 cases a year.

In contrast, the 265 volunteer lawyers under CLAS handle about 400 cases a year, or fewer than two cases each annually.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, LawSoc president Lok Vi Ming set a three-year target to double its number of volunteer lawyers under CLAS.

To get more volunteer lawyers on board the scheme, LawSoc said honorariums — a nominal allowance, in other words — and training schemes would be provided.

Apart from full representation, “unbundled services” — such as doling out legal advice or rendering assistance outside court appearances, such as crafting a mitigation plea — would be provided, Mr Lok added.

Last December, when the Government announced that it would enhance CLAS with more funding, the scheme’s chairman Abraham Vergis pointed out that there were insufficient volunteer lawyers to “cope with the substantial number of needy and deserving cases ... that could have benefited from some form of legal representation”.

He added that it would be a challenge to get more lawyers to commit sufficient time to criminal legal aid work.

Yesterday, however, Mr Lok, who is a senior counsel, painted a different picture. He said: “We have not turned away anyone who needs legal assistance because we don’t have enough volunteers — we don’t have that situation.”

From Sept 1 last year to July 31, LawSoc received 1,713 aid applications, of which 451 cases were granted help.

Commenting on LawSoc’s plans, lawyers welcomed the move to extend legal aid. Mr Josephus Tan, who has received awards for the amount of time he commits to pro bono work, said the “utopia” would be a situation where every person charged in court is represented, regardless of his background or financial circumstances.

Asked to comment on the potential significant increase in the workload for volunteer lawyers under CLAS, Ms Rita Niranjan pointed out that whether lawyers could take up to 11 CLAS cases a year “depends on the nature of the cases”.

Those that go to trial tend to take more time, she said. “It doesn’t really matter (whether they are CLAS cases), these people really need help.”

However, lawyers wondered whether LawSoc’s plans to spur more lawyers to give their time would be effective. The issue of getting more lawyers to provide pro bono services has been hotly debated in recent years, with a recommendation by a high-powered committee to mandate a minimum number of voluntary hours widely opposed by the fraternity.

Mr Ramesh Tiwary felt the disbursement of honorariums would not encourage more lawyers to join the scheme. “The people who have been devoting their time to CLAS are doing it out of (sheer) passion and I don’t think the money will encourage anybody who has not previously taken up a CLAS case to take up (one),” he said.

Mr Choo Zheng Xi added that while honorariums would help defray costs, the majority of lawyers who are doing pro bono work “do it for the satisfaction of increasing access to justice”.

Asked whether making pro bono services a requirement would boost the number of volunteer lawyers available, lawyers noted that it would not serve the spirit of the law since the work rendered would not come from a dedication to help an accused person.

Said Mr Choo: “Pro bono should come from the heart ... you don’t want to be represented by a lawyer who doesn’t want to do your case.”


People with intellectual disabilities to get help dealing with police

By the first quarter of next year, trained professionals such as social workers will be allowed to accompany people with intellectual disabilities when their statements are being recorded at all six police land divisions.

This follows a successful pilot of what is known as the Appropriate Adult Scheme at Bedok Police Division from June to November last year. It was among the initiatives the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) announced would be expanded under its Justice for All project.

Separately, LawSoc aims to make legal knowledge more accessible to the public. For instance, it intends to step up engagement with the public through partnerships with the Community Development Councils.

It will also roll out a mobile legal clinic by next year targeted at helping local and foreign commercial sex workers.

In the schools, LawSoc will develop new topics for a project catered for schoolchildren, highlighting their rights and obligations under Singapore’s laws and informing them of the consequences of juvenile delinquency. Since its inception in July 2012, more than 15,000 students from 35 schools have taken part in the programme.

leeguiping@mediacorp.com.sg

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SGX delisting five GDRs for violating regulations

Business Times
23 Aug 2014
Malminderjit Singh

[Singapore] THE SGX yesterday announced that it is delisting five Global Depositary Receipts (GDRs) on Aug 28 for violating its listing regulations.

The regulator said that these companies were being delisted as they had not paid their annual listing fees for an extended period of time despite reminders, and were thus in breach of its listing rules.

Since the GDRs of these five companies - Accentia Technologies, Bombay Rayon Fashions, Confidence Petroleum India, Karuturi Global and Visesh Infotechnics - were not deposited with the SGX and it had no access to them, their respective banks have been informed of their delistment.

GDR holders of these companies should get in touch with the respective depository banks or the companies involved if they have any queries regarding the above, SGX advised.

GDRs are certificates representing an issuer's underlying shares, which are offered to and traded only by institutional and accredited investors. Listing of GDRs on SGX is a fast and cost-efficient method of accessing capital from a large pool of international funds.

GDRs on the SGX have predominantly been popular with Indian and South Korean companies. In a break from this tradition, Russian gas company Gazprom recently listed its GDR on the SGX.

msingh@sph.com.sg

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Law firm, property agent and seller all in the wrong

Straits Times
16 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Buyer misled into overpaying for shophouse

A BUSINESSMAN paid $900,000 for a shophouse, believing it had 62 years left on its lease. He later found out there were only 17 years remaining.

Mr Su Ah Tee, 67, will now be paid the difference by the seller, the property agent and the law firm that acted for Mr Su, after successfully suing them in the High Court.

The court found that the market value of the Kallang Bahru shophouse would have been $591,564 when Mr Su bought it in 2011, and three parties must share the price difference of $308,436 to be paid to him, plus around $9,000 in stamp duty.

Mr Su bought the shophouse from Mr William Cheng, an HDB coffee shop owner, in March 2011 after he was told by property agent Ng Sing that there were 62 years left on the lease and the property, with two tenants, was earning rental income of $3,800 a month. He bought the unit in the names of his wife Lye Yin and son Su Hong Quan, and completed the deal in June 2011.

The following month, he received an e-mail from law firm Allister Lim and Thrumurgan (ALT) informing him that the unit had a residual leasehold of only 17 years. Around the same time, he also found out that the two tenants were in fact sub-tenants, which meant he could not collect rent directly from them.

This sparked the professional negligence suit that he filed against ALT, which had been acting for him. The law firm pinned the blame on Mr Cheng and Mr Ng for misleading Mr Su and his family.

After a trial over several days last year, Justice Belinda Ang released a 108-page reserved judgmentthis week, which apportioned 50 per cent of the blame to the seller, 45 per cent to ALT, and 5 per cent to the property agent.

Justice Ang found that Mr Cheng had misled Mr Ng about the property's tenure.

"It was clear that the three misrepresentations had been made by Cheng with the intention for Su to act upon them, and Su had in fact relied on the misrepresentations," said Justice Ang.

She rejected Mr Cheng's argument that the conditions of the contract excluded liability for the misrepresentation. As a matter of public policy, a person cannot rely on a contract to exclude liability, said the judge.

ALT's professional duty also came under scrutiny. Its lawyer, Mr Allister Lim, argued among other things that the tenure was a commercial matter and it was not necessary for him, as a conveyancing lawyer, to explain to Mr Su "essentially matters of a commercial or economic nature".

The judge disagreed that the lease particulars were a commercial matter and fell beyond the lawyer's duty. She made it clear that tenure particulars are an "integral part of the property and go beyond a commercial decision to purchase the property".

In apportioning the damages, Justice Ang found the law firm had failed to inform Mr Su about the the remaining tenure, and explain the tenancy agreements and legal implications.

The judge further found that Mr Ng was negligent in not independently verifying the tenure of the property provided by Mr Cheng when he could have done so.

Justice Ang added: "Regrettably, through an unfortunate coincidence of events and sheer bad luck, the real position of the property's leasehold tenure was not appreciated before completion of the conveyancing transaction."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Businessman wanted out, loses $1.7 million deposit

Straits Times
29 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

His firm should have done more to secure approval of deal: Judge

A BUSINESSMAN who wanted out of a $16.8 million deal to buy a car showroom was ordered to forfeit his $1.68 million deposit instead.

Mr Cheong Sim Lam had argued that the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Housing Board (HDB) did not give the approval needed for the change in ownership.

But the High Court decided that he should have done more to convince the government bodies into saying "yes".

The case involved a swanky showroom unit in Leng Kee Road, which was sold by Pacific Motor Credit to Mr Cheong's company, The One Suites, in 2012.

But before HDB's consent to the transfer could take place, NEA's approval was needed to address any pollution control issues in relation to unit use.

HDB also sought a business plan from One Suites to discuss the proposed use of the site.

When the company sought NEA's approval to use the premises as a car showroom and motor workshop in August 2012, it was rejected.

NEA pointed out that the long-term land use for the area was residential.

But Pacific had appealed, and persuaded NEA to change its mind, noted Judicial Commissioner Edmund Leow.

One Suites, represented by lawyer Michael Palmer, argued this happened only after the date set to complete the sale.

And this allowed the company to rescind the contract and seek a refund of the $1.68 million deposit paid.

But the judge made clear One Suites had an implied duty to undertake all reasonable steps to help complete the deal.

If the authorities had already considered all possible arguments, and clearly said "no", then it would have to be reasonable not to attempt an appeal.

But this was not the case here, said the judge, in a decision earlier this month.

Instead, One Suites had lost interest in buying the property and was looking for a chance to rescind the contract.

The $1.68 million paid by One Suites was meant as a security deposit to ensure it abided by the contract.

As Mr Cheong's company had breached the contract, Pacific, which was defended by lawyer Albert Balasubramaniam, was entitled to keep the deposit, ruled the judge.

But he declined Pacific's counter-application to order One Suites to go through with the sale, ruling it was inappropriate for the court to use its discretion in the circumstances of the case.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Prosecution accuses Kong Hee of controlling all CHC-linked entities

Business Times
23 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

Minutes of Xtron meeting show Kong being listed as the firm's 'invisible' manager

[Singapore] THE founder of City Harvest Church had full control over not only the church but also church-linked entities, including Xtron Productions, the vehicle used to round-trip monies, said the prosecution.

Prosecutor Christopher Ong made the assertion as he grilled Kong Hee, 49, over several documents and e-mail correspondence between the latter and his team.

In particular, the court heard that in the minutes of an Xtron meeting in 2008, Kong was listed as the firm's "invisible" manager, while the church's chief operations officer Suraj was its "ghost" director.

Testifying for a tenth day, Kong said that he was not aware of the Xtron minutes and that as a senior pastor and church founder, he was an "invisible patron" to many organisations.

In 2007, the church invested S$13 million in Xtron bonds.

The prosecution's case is that Kong and five deputies misused millions of the church's building fund monies under the guise of "sham bond investments" made in Xtron and glassware manufacturer Firna, to boost the music career of singer Sun Ho. Four of the six face additional charges of round-tripping monies through the two firms to cover up the misuse.

To add on to his point, Mr Ong referred the court to an e-mail dated May 2, 2006, from American album producer Justin Herz who asked Kong to transfer additional funds to the US for the Crossover Project there. The project aimed to reach out to non-believers through Ms Ho's secular music.

Four minutes into receiving Mr Herz's request, Kong said that he would wire another US$250,000 by the next day.

Mr Ong then questioned the involvement of the Xtron directors, given that Kong has maintained that the directors were the final approvers of these matters.

"Where is the involvement of the Xtron directors? Your Honour, they were the signatories. If they don't sign, the money will not be sent," explained Kong.

Another point brought up by the prosecution - that accounting firm Advante - set up by co-accused Serina Wee, was part of Kong's plan to hide the fact that the six church leaders were channelling church monies through Xtron to fund the Crossover Project.

Wee had said in a July 2007 e-mail to co-accused Tan Ye Peng that she came up with the plan for a new accounting firm, Advante. She added that it would handle the accounts of church-linked entities including Xtron, Attributes Pte Ltd and Urban Entertainment Pte Ltd.

So Mr Ong put it to Kong that the set-up of Advante was "really intended to create separation" between the church and related entities, "as well as to create separation, even between those organisations".

But Kong disagreed. He said that the move was "to better service" some of those organisations. He dismissed Mr Ong's claim that there was something "sinister" and maintained that the bond investments were "legal and legitimate", that the bond proceeds were channelled into the Crossover Project and that the church benefited as a result.

chuangjy@sph.com.sg

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Aussie court dismisses Blumont lawsuit

Straits Times
16 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

Mining group does not need to honour deal to buy stake in minerals firm

AN AUSTRALIAN court has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Australia-listed minerals explorer Prospect Resources to get Blumont Group to honour a subscription agreement.

The Supreme Court in the state of New South Wales also awarded legal costs to the mainboard-listed mining group, its chairman-designate Alexander Molyneux and financial firm Pacific Advisers.

Blumont announced the outcome of the case in a statement to the Singapore Exchange yesterday.

Blumont, Mr Molyneux and Pacific are members of a consortium that declared their intention in July last year to buy 325 million new shares in Prospect at 1.2 Australian cents a share.

That worked out to A$3.9 million (S$4.5 million) and would have represented a 43.47 per cent stake in the enlarged share capital of the Australian firm.

Blumont had said then that it was leading the consortium, taking a 60 per cent stake in the deal, which is equivalent to buying 195 million new shares.

But it added that the deal was subject to Prospect successfully getting the paperwork done in its acquisition of two gold projects in the African nation of Zimbabwe.

Blumont then announced on Oct 31, last year, that it was terminating the agreement to subscribe for the new shares.

It said it did so as it believed that the Australian firm had not fulfilled the condition of getting paperwork done for the acquisition of the gold projects.

Prospect then sued the consortium, seeking a court order to require it to abide by the terms of the subscription agreement.

But Blumont maintained that the termination notice was valid and had said it would vigorously defend its position in the proceedings.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Books throw insight into SIAC rules

Business Times
29 Aug 2014
Michelle Quah

Timely boost to Spore as a centre for global arbitration

SINGAPORE'S concerted efforts to develop the country as a leading seat of international arbitration have paid off in many ways - most recently, through the publication of two books on the practice of international arbitration here.

The first is the Oxford University Press's (OUP) A Guide to the SIAC Arbitration Rules - a comprehensive commentary on the Singapore International Arbitration Centre's (SIAC) arbitration rules.

Among other things, it covers the history of the SIAC, and the life of an SIAC arbitration from its commencement through to the final award; it references Singaporean case-law and legislation, and it compares the centre's rules with those of other major arbitral institutions to provide an all-round view of SIAC arbitration.

A second book, titled Arbitration in Singapore: A Practical Guide - whose editor-in-chief is Singapore's Chief Justice, Sundaresh Menon - is due to be launched on Friday. This book is said to be an in-depth practitioner's guide to international or domestic arbitration in Singapore, and brings together the law and practice of arbitration in Singapore under and in connection with regulatory frameworks most commonly used.

The publication of two books on the subject is a clear indication that the SIAC, established in 1991, has arrived.

Asked to comment on this development, Singapore's Law Minister, K Shanmugam - who is instrumental in the efforts to raise Singapore's standing as a seat of international arbitration - said: "Singapore has become the leading Asian centre for arbitration, and one of the leading centres in the world. The SIAC, Singapore's flagship arbitral institution, handled a record 259 new cases worth S$6.06 billion in 2013, compared to 160 cases worth S$1.54 billion in 2009.

"The two books will be very helpful in explaining the law and practice of arbitration in Singapore and the SIAC's arbitration rules, including its unique features such as interim awards or orders that are issued by emergency arbitrators," Mr Shanmugam added.

Lucy Reed, Singapore partner and global head of international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and one of the authors of the OUP guide, told The Business Times: "SIAC is now one of the best and busiest arbitration institutions in the world - and the absence of a comprehensive users' guide was striking."

Ms Reed said the centre is well-placed to play a central role in South-east Asia's growth - the surge of interest from outside investors makes the presence of a world-class arbitration centre in the region an important prerequisite to doing business.

"Our hope is that the book is another step forward for Singapore's arbitration community and that it will raise awareness of SIAC throughout Asia and beyond," she said.

In his foreword to the OUP guide, Michael Pryles, SIAC's president, said: "It should not be thought that the book is a brief or terse annotation of the (SIAC) rules. It is much more than that. I am immediately struck by its comprehensive nature. Indeed some of the chapters are not devoted to the rules themselves but explore their background and related matters."

michquah@sph.com.sg

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Rajah & Tann forms regional alliance

Business Times
22 Aug 2014
Cai Yong

HOMEGROWN law firm Rajah & Tann yesterday announced the launch of Rajah & Tann (R&T) Asia, a new brand which unites eight law firms across South-east Asia. With the exception of Brunei and the Philippines, every other Asean nation is represented in the alliance.

Constituent firms remain independent, not least because of legal restrictions. However, R&T Asia aims to offer seamless service across the region.

Said Lee Eng Beng, chairman of R&T Asia's regional management council (RMC), a body comprising representatives from each of the eight firms, "We see ourselves . . . as introducing an option for clients who want the benefit of one team who can service their needs across the region."

This comes against the backdrop of the Asean Economic Community, set to come into effect next year. With the Trans Pacific Partnership and Singapore International Commercial Court in the works, Mr Lee expects greater activity in South-east Asia and correspondingly, greater demand for legal professionals, particularly those who can work across borders.

"We have full local law support in each of the jurisdictions," said Mr Lee. This stands in contrast to the "satellite offices" sometimes operated by international law firms, which are unable to provide clients with necessary support.

R&T Asia has already experienced some success as SEA's legal one-stop shop. Earlier this year, it had helped Italian coffee company Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group acquire the Singapore-based coffee chain Boncafe in a transaction that spanned four nations.

With a competitive bid situation at hand, time was of the essence. R&T Asia clinched the deal for its clients as its regional offices were able to work together effectively, said Mr Lee.

Going ahead, R&T Asia will work to increase integration of the eight firms. It will also explore new service lines that capitalise on their local expertise. This includes helping clients to develop compliance frameworks that work across the region's different regulatory regimes.

Singapore's law firms have been taking up bigger roles in SEA. Wong Partnership, for instance, last week announced its alliance with an Indonesian counterpart, having set up a Myanmar office only in June this year.

caiyong@sph.com.sg

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Getting deadbeat dads to pay up

Straits Times
16 Aug 2014
Hoe Pei Shan

Simpler, faster alimony process in the works, says Shanmugam

A FASTER, simple and more effective system to help former spouses get the maintenance owed to them is being planned, revealed Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

He did not provide details and said it "could take a year" before any changes are seen, as this is a complex issue. But he admitted that the current process for getting alimony defaulters to pay up is "not so easy".

"You need to take out a summons, you need to bring it to court, you got to say he didn't pay," Mr Shanmugam told Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao in an interview published yesterday.

"I'm trying to see whether it can be made even simpler... We are studying how we can make it more effective, faster and, at the end, we got to get the money for the person who's got the maintenance order."

Reviewing how maintenance orders are enforced is part of the "follow-through process" after the new Family Justice Act was passed early this month, said Mr Shanmugam. The landmark Act hopes to make divorce proceedings more streamlined and less expensive while putting the interests of children first.

Family lawyers who spoke to The Straits Times welcomed the news, saying a review of the alimony process is much needed because getting errant former husbands to pay up can be a long-drawn process, which sometimes ends with claimants empty-handed.

Currently, women have to go to court to enforce the maintenance order each time there is a default. This can take a toll, especially on those holding jobs, said family lawyer Rajan Chettiar. In some cases, the wife may even end up losing her job, he added.

Since 2009, the courts have received about 3,000 enforcement applications annually.

From 2008 to 2011, about half of those granted enforcement orders had to apply for at least another one within two years.

These multiple court visits could be done away with if there was an online filing system, said lawyer Malathi Das, who is also president of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations.

Another answer could be to set up a central administrative body for collection of maintenance payments, suggested Ms Jolene Tan, senior manager of programmes and communications at gender equality advocacy group Aware.

Locating defaulters who have moved abroad is another problem that needs tackling, added experts. Several also suggested introducing penalties for those who repeatedly pay late or default.

These could include restricting access to essential services, such as telephone or Internet services, and having to pay interest on maintenance arrears.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg


Streamlined divorce procedure

LAW Minister K. Shanmugam, in an interview with Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, explains how the new Family Justice Act, which streamlines the divorce process, came about:

"In a divorce, there are only two issues. How to split the assets and decide on the monthly maintenance, that's one... The second issue is who gets custody and the type of access to the children. That's it. But in the proceedings, the husband will claim that his wife poured pepper on him 10 years ago, and the wife would say he was watching pornography seven years ago. All this is irrelevant.

"But in the proceedings, they continue with all the arguments that they had in the marriage. The parties suffer because they can't move on, and the children suffer. And it's also very expensive. I said (to my ministry), let's decide what is it that we want. We want a process which is simple, and not so costly. No. 2, we want a process that protects the children. No. 3, we want something that gets to the issues quickly and deals with it effectively.

"This is a very different system - the judge takes the lead, and tells both lawyers and parties what are the issues he or she wants to cover. I'm hoping the proceedings get shortened, simplified, they become less costly and they are focused on the real issues only, and children get protected. It's actually revolutionary."

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Serial cheat's appeal turned down

Straits Times
29 Aug 2014
Ian Poh

A SERIAL cheat who fell back into his old ways four months out of a 10-year preventive detention stint has had his appeal against his latest sentence rejected.

Jason Kuppusamy Pannisilvam, 58, was given eight more years of the same punishment - which is usually imposed on hardened criminals considered a threat to society - after pleading guilty to his latest offences in May.

In January and February, he procured more than $3,000 by offering smartphones and home entertainment products to victims, and then making off with their money without giving them the goods.

He also stole $280 from a taxi driver.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon dismissed his appeal yesterday, saying Kuppusamy's criminal record - which stretches back to 1979 - meant the lower court had been "lenient" in imposing a shorter term the second time around.

"I cannot accede to your plea for a second chance given the clear (pattern) that emerges," the judge said.

He also considered a raft of past property-related and cheating offences, which have seen Kuppusamy given a range of punishments, including lengthy jail and corrective training stints.

The court heard that he also cheated victims of more than $18,000 in 2003.

When pleading guilty in May, Kuppusamy expressed remorse and promised not to reoffend. He said he committed the offences to relieve "financial problems", and to look after his family.

But District Judge Carrie Chan later said there was evidence that he fell into the category of "hardcore recidivist criminals" and "represented a continuing danger to the public".

"His main risk factor was his long history of offences and inability to manage his financial problems," Judge Chan said. "(His) situation did not support or admit the possibility for reform."

Preventive detention can involve between seven and 20 years in prison. Those who cheat victims out of their property can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

pohian@sph.com.sg

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Liposuction death: Family seeks $3.5m from docs, clinic

Straits Times
22 Aug 2014
Selina Lum

THE family of real estate firm boss Franklin Heng, who died after he was given too much anaesthesia during a liposuction procedure, is claiming at least $3.5 million from the two doctors and the clinic involved in the operation.

A five-day High Court hearing began yesterday to determine how much his mother, former wife and two children can get from the defendants in damages.

The doctors - Dr Jim Wong Meng Hang, 38, and Dr Zhu Xiu Chun, 51 - admitted liability for Mr Heng's death two years ago.

The chief executive of YTL Starhill Global Reit Management was 44 when he died in 2009 after the aesthetic procedure. A coroner's inquiry found he suffocated when his airway collapsed because of the heavy sedation.

One main item in the claim brought by Rockwills Trustee on behalf of Mr Heng's dependants is $1.1 million, the 20 per cent of the purchase price paid by Mr Heng for a Duchess Avenue property. This was forfeited when the deal was cancelled with his death.

Another major claim is for loss of dependency totalling $1.7 million. It includes the maintenance he paid to his ex-wife and children of $9,000 a month, $20,000 a year for their vacations and other expenses, and $1,200 a month for his mother.

The bone of contention is over the claim for the loss of inheritance and savings - technically the difference between Mr Heng's projected wealth had he not died and the net value of his estate at the time of his death.

The defendants, represented by Mr Christopher Chong and Dr Myint Soe respectively, sought to downplay the wealth he would have accumulated. They contend that he was not a savvy investor, that his primary bank account was in overdraft most of the time and that he gambled frequently.

But the plaintiff's lawyer, Ms Kuah Boon Theng, argued that he was a successful businessman who knew how to grow his wealth and had provided for his family even after the divorce.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Kong knows more than he's letting on: Chew

Business Times
16 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

THE former investment manager of City Harvest Church has charged that the founder of the church Kong Hee knew more about financing the church's project in evangelising through his singer-wife Sun Ho's music than he has let on.

Chew Eng Han, who is defending himself, pointed out while cross-examining Kong yesterday that Kong was the one negotiating the budget for Ms Ho's music album in the US, so he would have known the amount and the timing of the drawdown of the Xtron Productions bonds to which the church had subscribed.

The church had invested in Xtron, the firm that was handling the evangelisation drive, called the Crossover Project.

Kong agreed that he had approved the idea of using bonds to finance the project, but he said the church's management board was the ultimate decision-maker.

He later added that while he negotiated the budget for Ms Ho's album in the US, it was the Xtron directors who approved it.

Not letting up on his line of questioning, Chew said: "As the senior pastor of City Harvest Church, as a man of God, wouldn't it have been responsible and right for you to take responsibility as the key decision-maker for the financing of the Crossover Project?"

Kong then rebutted that finance was not his forte: "That is why I left it to financial experts and lawyers and auditors, as well as the management board, because in it, there are also people who are more well-versed than I am to make the decision."

Chew pointed out that the church founder did "understand how to draw down money and to apply it to the Crossover Project".

Kong later admitted that budgeting went hand in hand with financing.

Referring to an e-mail in May 2006, Chew charged that the idea of tapping into the church's fund to finance the Crossover Project had come from Kong and two other accused, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee.

Kong disagreed.

Chew then added that Tan was the one who mooted using the church's building fund for the project. Kong replied that he did not want to speculate as he was not a recipient of the e-mail.

During the hearing, the court was told that Kong did not want the Crossover Project to be openly and directly funded by the church, as he did not want his wife's success in music to be dismissed as one based purely on the support of the church. Chew told the court he deferred to Kong on this and kept it discreet.

Kong and his five deputies are fighting allegations that they misused the church's building fund to boost Ms Ho's music career. Four of the six are also accused of using "sham bond investments" and round-tripping the money to cover up the misuse.

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$2m to Xtron for 'legitimate services'

Straits Times
29 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

Pastor denies church money was slated to help music firm pay off loans

CITY Harvest founder Kong Hee insisted that there was nothing fishy about plans to pay Xtron $2 million of the church's money to fund, among other things, a promotion blitz for the American album of his wife, Ms Ho Sun Yeow.

But the prosecution suggested yesterday that this was just one of several schemes hatched by Kong and his deputies in a bid to use church funds to help the production firm pay its debts.

"We have, in fact, seen how... retainers would be adjusted, rental increased or expenses re-allocated to ensure that Xtron's cash flow was solved," Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong put it to Kong during cross-examination.

The senior pastor and five others face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million of church funds to boost Ms Ho's music career and to cover up the misdeed.

In 2007, the church agreed to a deal to buy $13 million of Xtron bonds to help finance her debut American album. Xtron had two years to repay the money, along with interest.

But in a 2009 e-mail, church finance manager Sharon Tan told Kong that the church would need to pay Xtron $401,000 more in retainer fees. This was to make up for a reduction in the rent City Harvest paid Xtron for a property.

"What Sharon is really describing is (the church) taking with the right hand but giving back with the left hand to Xtron, and that doesn't make commercial sense from CHC's point of view," said Mr Ong.

In an e-mail a year earlier, former Xtron accountant Serina Wee had also referred to the $2 million payment as one way to help Xtron if it could not recoup enough from Ms Ho's album sales.

Kong said yesterday the $2 million was part of "tentative provisions" to finance a slew of events to show the church's support for the album. But he said the payment would have been legitimate as the church would have got extra services from Xtron.

"During the run-up of the album launch all the way to the actual launch (in 2009), there would have been many, many events that the church would get into. It was much like what had happened in Asia for (Ms Ho's) Asian album launches," he said. The events included outreach concerts in the US and Asia, and "a lot of gospel events".

The money would have paid for the "real, legitimate and commercially viable" services needed to organise the events, said the 50-year-old.

He also again rejected the prosecution's allegation that he and his deputies were the ones who were secretly in control of Xtron, enabling them to rubber-stamp sham deals and illegally funnel church funds into Ms Ho's career.

Mr Ong yesterday pointed out that Kong, Tan, Wee and deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng were the ones involved in e-mail discussions about how Xtron could meet its loan obligations, even though none of them belonged on its management.

But Kong said he and the others were "partners working with Xtron's management" on the Crossover Project, a church project which used Ms Ho's secular music to evangelise. "Ultimately, the Xtron directors have to look at all the plans, and they have to authorise it on their end."

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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Judge rebukes pair in divorce dispute

Straits Times
22 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

2 1/2-year case 'a classic example' of how split should not be managed

IT LASTED 2 1/2 years, involved 47 affidavits, 21 pre-trial conferences, four summonses and four magistrates' complaints.

District Judge Regina Ow-Chang described the epic break-up of Singaporean IT consultant Rajat Sharma and his insurance executive wife Bhatara Shajia as "a classic example of how a matrimonial dispute should not be litigated".

Responding to her judgment grounds, lawyers have told The Straits Times that this case was one which could have been settled in a quarter of the time under the new Family Justice Act.

Enacted earlier this month, it seeks to replace the adversarial approach driven by duels between the parties with one led by a judge who controls the pace and direction of cases.

It requires affidavits to be filed according to standard templates and that cases do not overrun to vent latent animosities.

Unfortunately, the new Act came too late for Mr Sharma and Ms Bhatara.

The couple, in their mid-30s, married in India in 2007 but obtained an interim divorce judgment in Singapore just five years later. Legal hearings followed to deal with the matrimonial assets.

District Judge Ow-Chang, in grounds released last month, said the 21 pre-trial conferences were held because both parties - particularly the husband - did not comply with court directions in a sufficiently early manner.

Noting the main stake involved about $180,000 in value, she said time, costs and resources would have been saved had the duo "been less intractable and more amenable".

Ms Bhatara had sought a $150,000 lump sum as maintenance but her former husband argued that she should not get a cent.

The judge pared the sum down to $30,000 after hearing the evidence and also ordered that their Duxton Road home be transferred to the husband's name, with Ms Bhatara getting 25 per cent of the asset value - an estimated $180,000.

The judge noted that both parties had presented "diametrically opposite pictures" of their indirect contributions in a bid to get a bigger share of the flat.

The couple also fought over each other's jewellery before agreeing to return the items given to them by the other party's family.

The judge turned down the husband's bid for a court order to have the couple inspect a bank vault in India and verify its contents in relation to the jewellery.

Family lawyer Anuradha Sharma said that such a contentious case could have been settled within six to eight months had both parties settled through mediation.

"The new Act will also enable the court to control the key issues and cut the bitterness and acrimony that lead to protracted battles," she said.

The couple, who do not have any children, are appealing against the judgment.

Mr Sharma has hired lawyer Johnson Loo from Drew & Napier while Ms Bhatara will appear in person.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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No right to claim extra if 'forced' to resign: Court

Straits Times
15 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Judges reject appeal, say worker entitled only to what is in contract

WORKERS who say they are forced to quit after their employer makes life unbearable should not expect to get any extra compensation other than that guaranteed in their contracts.

This is the norm in typical cases of "constructive dismissal". And workers will have to show proof of actual loss stemming from the dismissal, such as mental or emotional duress, if they hope to get extra damages.

The top court in Singapore made this clear in dismissing former Robinsons employee Lawrence Wee's appeal against the High Court, which had rejected his claim for damages after he argued that he had been pushed out by his employer.

The 40-year-old had worked as assistant general manager of corporate sales and cards at retailer Robinson & Co (Singapore) for about six years.

Although he resigned in August 2012, he claimed it was a case of "constructive dismissal".

This is when an employer, instead of just sacking someone, makes working conditions difficult in order to force the worker to resign. Mr Wee alleged the company persecuted him because of his homosexuality.

He was paid four months' salary in lieu of notice plus cash for unconsumed leave. This was more than the two months' salary he was entitled to if he had been sacked under his contract.

But he sued, arguing that had he not been forced to resign, he could have continued to work there. He wanted compensation for his loss of future earnings, among other things.

Robinson successfully applied last year to strike out his claim before an assistant registrar, and then again in the High Court, which pointed out the flaw in Mr Wee's argument.

The court said his claim was "doomed to fail". Even if he had been "constructively dismissed", he would have been entitled to only two months of salary, based on his contract, and he had already received more. His allegation that he was treated poorly because he was gay was irrelevant.

Mr Wee, represented by lawyers Paul Tan and Choo Zheng Xi, appealed against the ruling.

This was dismissed in May, and the Appeals Court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and appeals judges Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang, released the grounds for its decision last week.

The court said Mr Wee did not show he had suffered any "continuing financial losses" such as finding it tougher to get a job because of the dismissal or "distinct injuries" arising from illness or mental or emotional distress.

"In truth, (Wee)'s claim was simply one for 'constructive dismissal' for which compensation for the loss suffered would, in this case, be confined to two months' salary in lieu of notice as stipulated in (his) employment contract," said CJ Menon.

He had "no legally sustainable basis to claim anything more than what he had already received", said the court.

Mr Wee was ordered to pay $20,000 in legal costs to Robinson.

Responding to The Straits Times, the company denied Mr Wee's allegations, and said it is against any form of discrimination.

"We are committed to the creation of an equal opportunity workplace and have, in 2009, signed the Employers' Pledge of Fair Employment Practices with tripartite partners, the Singapore Business Federation/Singapore National Employers Federation, the National Trades Union Congress and the Ministry of Manpower."

The company's lawyer, Mr Eusuff Ali, said the court's decision affirmed the current law governing the contractual obligations between an employer and an employee.

Lawyers said the judgment is significant for the court's ruling on the consequences of "constructive dismissal" - a concept that is new and developing here and abroad.

This case is understood to be the first Appeals Court decision on the measure of damages that could be claimed for "constructive dismissal".

Mr Choo, who represented Mr Wee, pointed out that the ruling did leave open the possibility of damages being claimed if "constructive dismissal" results in the person's future employment prospects being impaired.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

$2m cheating case: Ex-bank exec's jail term cut to 4 1/2 years

Straits Times
28 Aug 2014
Ian Poh

A FORMER bank relationship manager who cheated the daughter of late banker and philanthropist Khoo Teck Puat of $2 million had his six-year prison term cut to 4 1/2 years on appeal yesterday.

Bernard Lim Seng Soon had paid back the full amount to Madam Khoo Bee See, 79, whose father was once Singapore's wealthiest man.

The 39-year-old Lim had also pleaded guilty at an early stage of proceedings.

His lawyer, Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah, argued, among other things, that the district court had not given enough weight to both these mitigating factors when sentencing him in March. The lawyer pushed for a jail term of not more than four years.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Jeremy Yeo, however, said the restitution did not reduce the extent of Lim's guilt.

The offences tainted Singapore's standing as a financial hub, added the DPP.

Justice Chao Hick Tin allowed the appeal, but kept the jail time to more than four years.

In September 2010, Lim told one Rosie Cheong about a new investment product, which never existed.

Ms Cheong, unaware it was fake, passed the information to Madam Khoo, who later agreed to invest.

The money was paid into an account belonging to Lim's wife Jaime Ho Ai Lin, who was a private banking officer with RBS Coutts & Co.

Lim, who was working for Deutsche Bank then, withdrew various amounts to buy shares and pay off gambling debts and other loans.

In passing sentence, District Judge Salina Ishak had said that Lim had taken advantage of a procedural loophole at RBS, and had abused his position of trust and his three- year friendship with his client.

pohian@sph.com.sg

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Wanted: Public feedback on JobStreet acquisition

Straits Times
22 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

THE Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) is seeking public feedback on a move by the world's largest online jobs website to buy a Malaysian rival. Australia-based Seek, through its majority-owned unit Seek Asia Investments, plans to buy JobStreet for RM1.73 billion (S$683 million).

The CCS has called for feedback on terms proposed by Seek and Seek Asia to address concerns that the deal might stifle competition. The public can give feedback at www.ccs.gov.sg, under the section Public Register and Consultation. The deadline is Sept 5. The CCS will then decide on whether to accept the proposed terms and approve the deal, which involves Seek Asia acquiring 100 per cent of the Kuala Lumpur-based company.

The proposed terms include preventing Seek and Seek Asia from entering into exclusive agreements with the employer and recruiter customers. This is aimed at retaining the current practice of utilising more than one online recruitment advertising service platform by employers, recruiters and job seekers. Seek and Seek Asia would also have to keep the pricing of their services capped at current levels, subject to inflation, to address concerns that the merger could result in prices of online recruitment advertising services increasing.

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

Seek already owns 22 per cent of JobStreet, which runs recruitment portal JobStreet Singapore.

Both companies notified the CCS of the proposed merger - the first here involving online recruitment firms - on Feb 20 as it could have competition implications. Seek plans to combine JobStreet with JobsDB, its other majority-owned Asian online jobs business spanning Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

With the acquisition, Seek hopes to expand into Asian markets. JobStreet posts more than 150,000 advertisements a month and has a database of more than 11 million job seekers in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

GRACE LEONG

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Lawyers told us we were negligent: Kong Hee

Business Times
15 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

[SINGAPORE] "Shaken to the core" was how the founder of the City Harvest Church felt when he was told by lawyers in early June 2010 that he and his five deputies had been negligent and "had done wrong" in managing the church's finances.

Recounting yesterday that he had met up with the other accused and two lawyers a day after he recorded his first statement to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), Kong Hee, 49, said he had always consulted the lawyers and auditors on the church's plans, be it bond investments or the financing of his singer-wife Sun Ho's debut English album in the United States.

Taking the stand for the fourth day, he said: "I was shocked because I thought that all this while, we had relied on professionals to advise us; now one of the key professionals was saying we had done wrong."

The court also heard that the money spent on Ms Ho's US album went "down the drain" when she had to return to Singapore to assist with investigations into the alleged financial irregularities within the church.

In March 2009, she had to undergo operations for abdominal adhesions. This had already delayed the launch of her US album to Aug 17, 2010.

Kong said the US production team had big plans for her, scheduling her for a promotional tour in New York on June 15 and arranging for her to appear on TV series such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Gossip Girls; they had also tried to line up interviews for her with CNN and Vogue magazine to raise her profile. Kong said these plans were ruined after CAD summoned the singer back here to assist in the investigations.

Former Xtron Productions director Wahju Hanafi eventually had to "make good on the losses", said the pastor.

After Kong's counsel Edwin Tong wrapped up his questioning his client, Kong faced other lawyers.

Kenneth Tan, who represents accused John Lam, tried to make the point that it was Kong's vision to venture into the US music market to evangelise the church's message through Ms Ho's secular pop music (an effort called the Crossover Project), and that this was the reason behind his client's whole-hearted support of the singer's career.

Questioned by lawyer Paul Seah, counsel for accused Sharon Tan, Kong acknowleged that from the first bond subscription agreement made between the church and Xtron in 2007 until August 2008, Tan was uninvolved in the financing of the Crossover Project. Kong added that she was also not involved in the budgeting for the US album, nor did she come up with projections of how Xtron could fund it; she also had no part in the planning for the financing.

The church's former investment manager, Chew Eng Han tried to show the court that the amount of faith he had in the Crossover Project was dependent on what Kong shared about the spiritual aspect of it.

Chew, representing himself, will continue his questioning today.

The six church leaders face allegations that they misused the church's building fund to boost Ms Ho's music career and that they tried to hide the misuse via "sham bond investments" and by round-tripping the monies.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Tuition agency, boss fined for breaching 'Do Not Call' rules

Straits Times
28 Aug 2014
Ian Poh

A TUITION agency and its director have become the first offenders to be penalised under the "Do Not Call" rules which kicked in on Jan 2.

Star Zest Home Tuition and its sole director Law Han Wei, 35, sent messages advertising the services of its tutors to Singapore phone numbers on its database - even though the numbers were listed on the Do Not Call Registry.

Some of the numbers belonged to former students and members of the public who previously contacted Star Zest.

The rules ban firms from marketing to any number listed on the registry without first getting consent. More than 600,000 numbers are on the registry.

Yesterday, Law and the agency were each fined $39,000 - or $3,000 per charge - after pleading guilty to 13 of 37 offences committed between Jan 3 and 14, with the rest taken into consideration.

The court heard that Star Zest operated through its website and employed 12 people then, seven of whom were based in the Philippines.

Law would draft the telemarketing messages and compile a list of telephone numbers comprising former students of the agency, those who had called with queries and others on databases that had been bought from unidentified persons. He would authorise a staff member to send out the messages.

Between Jan 2 and April 2, the Personal Data Protection Commission received 364 valid complaints about the agency from people on the registry.

Pleading for leniency, Law said yesterday that he apologises to the commission and those who have complained. He said the messages were not sent as acts of mischief but, rather, to add value for students, and that Star Zest has since complied with the rules.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Yan Jiakang said the actions showed "blatant disregard" for users' expectations and undermined the registry's effectiveness.

She added: "This is a serious violation which infringes on the private space of individuals."

Anyone convicted under the Personal Data Protection Act could be fined up to $10,000 per charge.

pohian@sph.com.sg

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An avoidable glut of lawyers?: Voices

TODAY
22 Aug 2014

How things have changed in the 12 years since I qualified as a lawyer (“Spike in overseas grads ‘the reason S’pore faces lawyer glut’”; Aug 21).

“Law school” here no longer refers to only the National University of Singapore but also Singapore Management University (SMU), and a third is on the way with an emphasis on criminal and family law.

The NUS law school’s annual intake has increased from 150 to 250. The Fourth Committee on the Supply of Lawyers recommended just last year to increase SMU’s annual undergraduate law intake from 120 to 180 over three years.

The third law school is expected to take in 50 to 75 students yearly. Meanwhile, the number of approved overseas universities for studying law has increased from seven or eight in the United Kingdom to 35 from four countries.

Malaysian practitioners who fulfil certain requirements are permitted to practise here, and other foreign lawyers may now register to practise Singapore law if they possess certain qualifications and satisfy certain requirements.

The new Qualifying Foreign Law Practice licences granted to foreign law firms, for permitted areas of legal practice, has increased the number of law firms in Singapore.

Although the Law Minister attributed the possible glut to the number of Singaporeans studying overseas to be lawyers, the dramatic increase in the number of lawyers available locally comes from all the factors mentioned above.

With the increasing internationalisation of legal work and preference for arbitration over court litigation, law firms can and do hire foreign-qualified lawyers, sometimes at the expense of local-qualified ones.

While the opening up of Singapore’s legal market to accommodate more foreign firms may not affect the number of training contracts directly, the stiff competition within a small legal market would make it more difficult for local firms to get more work and, in turn, take on more trainees.

As a mentor in the NUS Law Alumni Mentorship Programme, I understand that current law students are concerned about the situation.

One wonders if such supply and demand fluctuation arises from somewhat short-sighted policymaking. That there is a potential glut of lawyers is difficult to comprehend, given that the Government accepted the recommendations last year to increase the number of lawyers.

Granted, the supply of lawyers must match the macro-economic environment, but what does one say to a generation of students who were lulled into the complacency of thinking that a career as a lawyer necessarily ensues from a law education?

Fong Wei Kurk

 

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Act cannot regulate social agenda of social enterprises: Forum

Straits Times
15 Aug 2014

IN HIS letter ("Amend Companies Act to regulate social enterprises"; Aug 7), Mr Loh Wai Poon cited an earlier letter ("Require social enterprises to be governed by law" by Reverse Co-operative chairman John Tan Yew How; Aug 1) calling for social enterprises to be governed by the Co-operative Societies Act, which he felt was not conducive for social enterprises to grow capital for business expansion and sustainability.

He suggested instead that social enterprises be legislated under the Companies Act.

The Companies Act provides the regulatory framework for setting up and operating a business using a company structure.

It is key to upholding Singapore's pro-business reputation and preserving our trusted, investor-friendly environment. It seeks to maintain a fair balance between the needs of business and those of shareholders, while seeking to offer sufficient flexibility for companies to thrive and compete.

A social enterprise has dual social and business goals.

It is worth noting that since 2004, the Companies Act no longer requires companies to state their objects or purpose. The Act thus does not restrict or specifically govern companies in terms of ensuring that their business activities stay within their stated purpose or object.

The Companies Act may therefore not be the most appropriate framework to ensure that social enterprises are held accountable and deliver on their social missions.

Ang Siok Hui (Ms)

Head, Corporate Communications Department

Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority

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Panel did not highlight shortage of lawyers: Ministry - Forum

Straits Times
28 Aug 2014

THE 4th Committee on the Supply of Lawyers, in its 2013 review, did not find a shortage in the overall number of lawyers ("Not easy to get law grads to enter other fields" by Miss Annia Hsu; Sunday).

Instead, it highlighted a mismatch between supply and demand; specifically, a shortage of family and criminal practitioners. The third law school was recommended as a targeted way to address this.

Many Singaporeans want to pursue a law degree. The third law school can help meet some of this demand, albeit in a very modest way, as it will enrol about 50 to 70 students per year, as otherwise the aspiring students will go overseas anyway. But the third law school will seek to get its students to specialise in areas such as family law and criminal law.

Miss Hsu suggested that the possible glut of lawyers can be dealt with by controlling the number of foreign lawyers. That is not correct. Foreign lawyers can practise only the law of the foreign jurisdiction they are qualified from; they cannot practise Singapore law.

Such foreign lawyers, practising foreign law, contribute to Singapore's role as a leading financial and business centre internationally, and the jobs that are created in those sectors.

The central issue is that within the last three years, the number of Singaporeans enrolling in overseas law schools has more than doubled to 1,500. This represents 30 per cent of the entire profession in Singapore.

The Ministry of Law has highlighted these figures so that students have a better understanding of the market to help them decide whether or not they wish to pursue a law degree.

Praveen Randhawa (Ms)

Press Secretary to Minister, Ministry of Law

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ADV: SIATP and LexisNexis Cordially Invites You…

Singapore Law Watch
22 Aug 2014
LexisNexis

Man gets 6 years' jail for CBT of $4m

Straits Times
15 Aug 2014
Elena Chong

A FORMER money changer convicted of two charges of misappropriating about $4 million entrusted by two customers was sentenced to six years' jail yesterday.

Fazal Mohamed N.M.A.R Mohamed Ebrahim, 52, was also fined $10,000 for carrying on a moneychanging business from March 2011 without a valid licence.

But he is appealing against the conviction and sentence. Fazal was convicted last Thursday of dishonestly misappropriating $3.7 million given by sales director Ng Hwee Boon, 50, and $269,483 by Ms Ng's friend, Ms Angeline Ong Hsiao Wei, 41, an account manager, in 2011.

Despite losing his money-changing business after the death of his father, a partner in Bismi Cosmetics Centre, Fazal, who was a partner, continued with the trade at The Arcade in Collyer Quay.

Ms Ng, who made a total of 21 investments, had testified she went to Fazal's shop in July 2010 to inquire about the pound which she was keen to invest in. But she agreed to buy euros instead after she was promised a return of 2.8 per cent on the investment sum, payable at the end of two weeks. Two weeks later, she collected her initial invested sum in Singapore dollars as well as the promised 2.8 per cent of the invested amount.

Over time, she invested more and more money with Fazal, who issued her an invoice for each investment. Upon maturity, Ms Ng would either withdraw a part of the returns and re-invest the rest of the money or re-invest the entire sum. Ms Ng introduced Fazal to Ms Ong who invested $100,000 in September 2010 and injected another $353,000 the following month.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Jasmin Kaur said the nett losses suffered by Ms Ng and Ms Ong were $2.5 million and $123,000 respectively. Urging the court to pass consecutive sentences on the criminal breach of trust charges, she said Fazal intentionally deceived the victims, and the offences involved a high degree of pre-meditation and planning.

elena@sph.com.sg

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PatSnap makes patent search easy

Straits Times
28 Aug 2014
Grace Chng

A LOCAL start-up has devised a system that lets people quickly search the database of hundreds of millions of patents granted worldwide.

PatSnap set out to disrupt the existing system that required people to plough through the data using legalese and technical terms as search words and phrases, a tedious and often confusing process.

The firm's online service, PatSnap Global Patent Database, allows searchers to use simple English terms when scouring the database.

PatSnap's search engine was launched in 2012, following a beta service that was introduced in 2010 to test the market. It is now used by about 500 organisations worldwide, including Nasa, Pepsi, IBM, smartphone firm Xiaomi, Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and local tertiary institutions. Around 80 per cent of its customers are from outside Singapore.

The firm, which was founded in 2007, is cash-flow positive and has raised about $6.7 million, including its latest round of capital raising which pulled in $4.5 million earlier this month.

The funding exercise was led by local venture capital firm Vertex Venture Holdings.

PatSnap co-founder Jeffrey Tiong, 30, said the fresh funds will be used for product development and marketing expansion.

Its search engine is the only one around that can represent patent searches visually in three-dimensional topographical maps.

A search can result in up to 50,000 patents being located. These can be "visualised" in a map to represent different clusters of technologies as well as different patent owners.

A smartphone patent search, for example, may come up with patent owners Apple, Google, Samsung, Xiaomi and mobile chip firm Qualcomm. Each can be represented by a diffent colour. The different technologies like microprocessors, imaging and user interface can be clustered together.

"This view allows users to quickly identify the relevant technology clusters without having to read through each patent," said Mr Tiong.

PatSnap processes millions of patents each week from all the different government patent data sources throughout the world. "We then clean up the data. For example, IBM can be registered in the patents as International Business Machines, IBM Pte Ltd or just IBM. So we standardise it all to IBM so that our search engine can look for everything under IBM."

PatSnap is focusing on the patent search market, which was worth about US$833 million in 2010, said Mr Tiong, a Malaysian who is now a Singapore permanent resident. He also wants to expand further to include business users like marketers, corporate development and business development executives and bankers and anyone tinkering with innovation.

"This is a faster growing market estimated to be at least seven to eight times larger than the traditional patent search market used by patent lawyers and patent engineers."

His dream is to make PatSnap like e-commerce giant Amazon.

While Amazon offers a platform for merchants to sell goods online, PatSnap wants to accelerate the rate of innovation and discovery for inventors, firms and research institutes.  "Every country is promoting a knowledge economy. For this to happen, there must be innovation. We want to accelerate innovation by hooking up inventors, investors and organisations together," he said.

"Maybe they can find technologies they can license or firms they can acquire. This accelerates the innovation process. My hope is that SMEs here can also use the service to look for patents they can license so as to grow faster."

Annual subscriptions for PatSnap's service starts from $5,000.

chngkeg@sph.com.sg

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Spike in overseas grads ‘the reason S’pore faces lawyer glut’

TODAY
21 Aug 2014
Teo Xuanwei

Shanmugam says it is his duty to flag outcome of oversupply; remarks not meant to dissuade people from entering profession

SINGAPORE — In the midst of confusion and alarm resulting from his warning that Singapore could face an oversupply of lawyers in the coming years, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam has set the record straight on the cause of a possible glut: The spurt in the number of Singaporeans studying to be lawyers overseas.

And his comments made at the Criminal Justice Conference on Saturday — asking aspiring lawyers to temper their expectations in terms of pay and job opportunities — were not intended to put people off pursuing law.

Rather, it was his “duty” to flag the consequences of this trend, he said.

Mr Shanmugam’s remarks have caused some anxiety among law undergraduates and the legal fraternity, as well as triggered public discussion on the issue.

Some questioned how there could be an oversupply after the recent moves — including the setting up of a third law school in Singapore — to produce more lawyers amid a growing legal services sector.

Others wondered whether the glut stemmed from the inflow of foreign firms and lawyers after several cycles of liberalisation since 2008.

In an exclusive interview with TODAY, Mr Shanmugam said yesterday that while Singaporean graduates returning from overseas law schools could be the ones bearing the brunt of a possible job crunch at local firms, those from universities here may not escape unscathed. “For those intending to go overseas, what they will take from (my message) is ‘The numbers are huge ... and I need to understand that I may or may not get a training contract immediately’.”

He added: “For those studying law in Singapore ... the likelihood of getting a training contract (upon acceptance by a law firm) is very high here because law firms value (local law degrees) a lot. But because of the law of supply and demand — the starting salaries and increments and so on, used to be very good for lawyers — they need to understand that the market may change based on laws of economics.”

‘UNDERSTAND THE MARKET’

The third law school — to be set up at SIM University — will focus on family and criminal law. Mr Shanmugam said those citing the school as a reason for a possible glut are using a red herring, with the same going for those who felt it could be a result of opening the doors to foreign law firms and lawyers.

“It’s not as if the (number of lawyers) will go down if we don’t have a third law school. It is offering an additional option for those who are going to go overseas, and in a way that fulfils our needs.”

Mr Shanmugam also noted that the inflow of foreign practitioners does not add to the competition, since the vast majority of the 1,182 currently registered here are precluded from practising Singapore law. Hence, they do not compete for training contracts, which are offered only by local law firms.

Instead, the glut could happen because more and more Singaporeans are studying law overseas, he explained. Although the number of recognised overseas universities has remained at 35 since 2006, the total number of Singaporeans reading law in the United Kingdom has more than doubled to 1,142 between 2010 and last year, based on the Ministry of Law’s (MinLaw) estimates.

In addition, there were 386 Singaporeans pursuing a law degree in Australian universities last year. The UK and Australia are the main sources of returning law graduates.

Pointing to this trend — driven by the greater affordability of overseas studies — Mr Shanmugam noted that the Government has no control over what people choose to study.

“But I can then tell people, ‘Look, by all means study law. But be careful and understand the market, and if you intend to just study law and then come back and do something else, and you are not going to be too concerned if you don’t get a training contract, fine,” he said. “But don’t assume that everyone will get a training contract because there is a limit to what the market can absorb. I can’t control what you study, but I think I have a duty to tell you what the market is like.”

Going by Nominal Value Added, the legal services sector has grown from S$1.5 billion in 2009 to an estimated S$2.1 billion last year.

But Mr Shanmugam added: “So I’m looking at the future and I’m telling people our economy is growing at 4 per cent, 3 per cent, 2.5 per cent, so you cannot expect the legal market to grow at 10, 15 per cent per year, whereas the number of students is growing at those kinds of rates.”

STRONG DEMAND FOR LOCAL LAW GRADS

Statistics from MinLaw showed that from 2010 to last year, the number of candidates passing the Bar examinations has been increasing. While the proportion of overseas graduates who passed the exam has hovered around an average of 28 per cent from 2011 to last year, it is expected to rocket to 41 per cent this year.

TODAY understands that there has been feedback from some overseas graduates who found it difficult to land training contracts.

The number of training contracts offered by law firms each year is determined by market forces. Mr Shanmugam said that MinLaw is studying “how we can relax the requirements in a way that more people can get training contracts”.

According to universities here, prospects are healthy for local law graduates. In response to TODAY’s queries, National University of Singapore’s law dean Simon Chesterman said it continues to see strong demand for its law graduates. Employment rates for the past two years have remained above 98 per cent.

“We have nevertheless resisted any suggestion that we should increase our intake above the current target of about 250 — in part to avoid saturating the market, but also because we prefer quality over quantity,” added Professor Chesterman.

The Singapore Management University also said that the overall employment rate of its first two cohorts of law graduates was 99 and 100 per cent, respectively. Its law dean, Professor Yeo Tiong Min, added: “Given the anticipated market situation, the Minister’s message on having realistic expectations is a very timely one.”

The total number of law graduates produced annually by NUS and SMU has increased marginally between 2011 and last year, from 334 to 369. The third law school is expected to take in 50 to 75 students yearly.

Source: Contact Singapore and Singapore Institute of Legal Education.

Video Exclusive interview with law minister K. Shanmugam.

xuanwei@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Greater clarity needed on legality of surrogacy in S’pore: Lawyers

TODAY
14 Aug 2014
Laura Elizabeth Philomin

With the subject giving rise to many issues, Govt is going slow on deciding whether to legalise

SINGAPORE — The recent surrogacy controversy in Thailand involving an Australian couple and their Down syndrome son has thrown the spotlight on international commercial surrogacy and its myriad legal, ethical and social issues, such as the enforceability of surrogacy contracts and parental responsibility for the child.

As in several other countries, the legality of surrogacy remains a grey area in Singapore. One agency here is known to provide surrogacy services — matching Singapore parents to overseas surrogate mothers — even though the Ministry of Health prohibits licensed healthcare institutions from providing assisted reproduction services to carry out surrogacy.

Yesterday, Thailand’s military government gave preliminary approval for a draft law to make commercial surrogacy a criminal offence, following a spate of dramatic surrogacy scandals in the past two weeks.

Family law practitioners whom TODAY spoke to felt there was a need for greater clarity, though they were divided over whether commercial surrogacy should be regulated, with some arguing that such a move would allow issues related to the matter to be handled openly.

Ms Ellen Lee, Member of Parliament (MP) for Sembawang GRC, said the Government is right to go slow on the subject, as it comes with a host of issues, such as the exploitation of surrogate mothers who come from poor backgrounds, the idea of “buying a child”, surrogacy for gay couples, to the potential backlash from various religious and social groups.

“The Government wants to tread very carefully and achieve a balance — in the sense that while we will not spearhead anything without knowing what the norms and trends will be ... we will also not actively legalise or outlaw it,” said Ms Lee, who is also a family law consultant at Ramdas & Wong.

Loopholes in the law make it unclear whether it is legal for Singaporean couples to conceive a child through surrogacy performed overseas and whether it is legal to run surrogacy agencies here, family lawyers said.

Amid the grey areas in the legal framework here, Mr Michael Ng has run his agency, Asian Surrogates, in Singapore since 2006 to serve not only domestic clients, but also those from around the region.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar said while Singapore might not be ready to promote surrogacy locally, the Government should look into laws that will safeguard and protect couples who are seeking surrogacy services overseas.

“We should have laws in place to protect not only the parents or couple, but also the child’s interest,” he said.

Mr Chettiar added that tackling the controversial issues surrounding surrogacy will require the cooperation of other countries to draft international agreements that can ensure the protection of surrogate mothers and the couples involved in the process, to prevent a repeat of the surrogacy scandal in Thailand, where a young surrogate mother had given birth to an Australian couple’s twins — a boy and a girl — in December. She said the couple took only the girl and left the boy with her after discovering that he had Down syndrome. The couple have since claimed that the Thai woman had demanded to keep the boy.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (Health), agreed that it might be worth considering some form of legislation on surrogacy.

 “The problem is that even if you don’t do it here, Singaporeans or people living in Singapore could do it overseas. The world is very small. So, are we doing right by forcing people to do this overseas when it might be better controlled if you allow it in your own country?” said Dr Chia, who is also an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

However, family lawyer Koh Tien Hua from Harry Elias Partnership questioned whether introducing regulations here will help, since the surrogacy process and surrogate mothers, who are the potential victims, are outside Singapore’s jurisdiction.

For Ms Devi Haridas of Sim Law Practice, surrogacy is a very personal and moral issue, and she is of the view that it should not be regulated. “My worry is, if it’s legalised, those who can give birth will take the shortcut and say, ‘Let someone else give birth for me’,” the lawyer said.

lauraphilomin@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Kong 'did not care' about recovering church loan

Straits Times
28 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

He allowed loan of money for wife's pop career but didn't track repayment: DPP

WHEN $300,000 was needed for, among other things, a party in the upmarket Hamptons area in New York to promote his wife's music career, City Harvest founder Kong Hee gave the go ahead.

But when it came to keeping tabs on how to repay the church loan that helped pay for it, Kong admitted in court yesterday that he lacked full knowledge.

He did not, for instance, realise Xtron Productions, which managed his wife Ho Yeow Sun's pop career, had just two years to repay the $13 million it borrowed from the church.

He also did not know that his deputy John Lam Leng Hung, the church's then investment committee chairman, failed to vet the loan to ensure the church's interests were protected.

All this showed how little Kong cared about how the church would get its money back, even as he was planning to spend it on his wife's singing career, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong said yesterday.

"Let me be clear," said Mr Ong. "You didn't care about having to repay (the money)."

Lam had called a meeting to assess if amending the loan's terms would enable the church to recover its money only almost a year after the loan was finalised, when auditors started asking questions, said Mr Ong.

He added that the meeting's minutes were then backdated to make it seem as if the due diligence was done before the auditors raised their concerns.

Mr Ong also argued Kong was in control of Xtron.

Kong said none of this was true, and that he trusted his deputies to do the right things.

He said: "I trust my team. I trust John and that he wouldn't do anything deceptive... I don't believe he would do anything to deceive the auditor."

Kong, Lam and four others face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million of church funds to boost Ms Ho's career, and then covering up the alleged misuse.

Kong said while he was only generally aware of the terms for the $13 million loan, he relied on others more involved in the transaction to alert him to any problems.

He denied he was in charge of Xtron, insisting its directors had the final say on the overall budget for Ms Ho's planned United States debut album, which the church loan had helped finance.

For his part, he said he had been careful in his budgeting of the album. Relying on projections that it would sell at least 1.5 million copies, he believed Xtron would eventually be able to repay the church. "At the end of the day, there was always recoverability intended, genuine recoverability that was projected by top professionals from America," Kong said.

Another key reason for his confidence, he said, was the guarantee given by long-time church member and Indonesian businessman Wahju Hanafi to underwrite losses from the church's Crossover Project, which used Ms Ho's secular music to evangelise.

Kong said Mr Hanafi gave him a verbal guarantee in 2002, and then put it in writing in 2010.

But Mr Ong argued that the verbal agreement was not included in the Xtron bond contract, or in the minutes of the meeting to discuss the loan. He also produced e-mail to show that Mr Hanafi himself faced financial trouble during the loan period.

But Kong said he was not concerned by this: Like "most millionaires I have met, (Mr Hanafi) is asset-rich and cash-poor... in my limited exposure to millionaires".

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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Law firms cheer prospect of a bigger talent pool

Straits Times
21 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

LAW firms here are cheering the prospect of more law graduates entering the market.

With a bigger talent pool, top firms here will get to pick and choose who they issue training contracts to, and eventually hire.

And the spillover will also benefit smaller firms, making it easier for them to attract law graduates, said WongPartnership joint managing partner Rachel Eng.

Her firm is one of Singapore's Big Four law firms, which include Drew & Napier, Rajah & Tann as well as Allen & Gledhill.

WongPartnership offers between 40 and 50 training contracts a year, and this will not change, Ms Eng said. "We do not see an impact for us, only a bigger pool to select from," she said, referring to Law Minister K. Shanmugam's speech at the Criminal Justice Conference organised by the Singapore Management University and National University of Singapore last week.

He pointed out that the number of lawyers is expected to grow by nearly a third in the next three years. But "the market is not going to grow by 30 per cent".

This means law students will face more competition among themselves and may have to broaden their options, said Ms Eng. "When there are more law students and they all need to train with firms, they will spread out and seek opportunities in the small firms as well. That is not necessarily a bad thing."

Providence Law Asia managing director Abraham Vergis, who runs a boutique law practice with six lawyers, agreed. He said "one happy consequence of this situation is that small and medium-sized law firms will have access to supply of young talent".

Smaller firms can also afford to offer lower starting salaries as they will not have to compete directly with bigger firms, who have to keep their wages high as they fight for the cream of the crop.

"What you will see is a widening range in starting salary between small firms on the one hand and large firms and foreign law firms on the other. Salaries will not fall across the board," said Mr Vergis. It is understood that starting salaries in big firms range between $5,800 and $7,000 while the "tolerance" for small firms is about $3,500 to $4,000.

Lawyer Mark Goh, who runs his own firm, said new entrants should lower expectations. "Twenty years ago, all I received from my pupil master was meal and transport allowance, but my goal was to qualify for practice and I saw this as an opportunity," he said.

The spike in lawyers could also mean more of them considering careers as in-house lawyers where a practising certificate is not required, said Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA) vice-president Neoh Sue Lynn.

"A larger talent pool means that there is now capacity for Singapore to fully develop into a hub for a full suite of legal services," added SCCA president Wong Taur-Jiun. "If we are really staring at a glut, then we should turn 'adversity' into opportunity."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Wife in break-up must honour mediation deal

Straits Times
14 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Appeals court overturns High Court ruling on division of assets

WHEN a couple splits up, husband and wife are the best people to decide who gets what, not a judge, says Singapore's apex court.

In a nod to using mediation to settle divorce cases, it has made it clear that agreements made during mediation cannot be thrown out without good reason.

Last month, the Court of Appeal overruled a wife's bid to set aside such an agreement, a decision in line with moves to do away with costly and lengthy court showdowns.

In this case, a couple in their late 60s decided to divorce after 35 years of marriage.

Following a day-long mediation session in 2011, senior lawyer Amolat Singh, who was the mediator, crafted the deal which the couple signed in front of their lawyers.

Wife Sita Kaur was to keep their $2.5 million apartment at City Towers in Bukit Timah and her jewellery, while husband Surindar Singh was to keep their unit in Pasir Panjang's Jalan Mat Jambol worth $3.5 million and other assets.

But Madam Kaur later changed her mind and took the case to the High Court last year, where the judge decided instead to evenly split the couple's assets worth $7.4 million.

Although the judge rejected Madam Kaur's claim that she was not bound by the mediation deal, he considered other factors in making his decision, including the long marriage and her significant contributions towards buying the properties.

But this judgment was overturned by the Court of Appeal. It ruled that the deal made during mediation should have been given "significant, if not conclusive" weight, saying it was arrived at "properly and fairly" with the benefit of legal advice.

Both parties were in a better position than the court to come up with a "just and equitable" negotiated settlement, which was preferable to a courtroom battle "which would resuscitate old complaints and acrimonious feelings", it said.

"The process also takes time and can be costly. Such solutions can be facilitated by mediation," wrote Justice Judith Prakash for the appeals court.

The case is understood to be the first where mediation has been backed by the highest court for enforcement, underscoring the value of the process in settling marital disputes, say lawyers.

The judgment comes in the wake of recent moves to reform the family justice system and reduce the need for court battles driven by emotional issues rather than legal ones.

Divorcing couples can currently settle matters such as the division of their matrimonial assets, maintenance payments and custody of their children through mediation, which is then translated into a court order on application. This could cut expenses by 75 to 90 per cent, compared with taking a divorce case to court.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar said based on his experience, about eight in 10 divorce cases are settled through mediation.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

IPOS new lab to help SMEs tap IP for growth

Business Times
27 Aug 2014
Chan Yi Wen

THE Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) on Tuesday launched a lab designed to help businesses - especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - tap intellectual property (IP) for growth.

The IP ValueLab aims to do this by advising companies on managing and monetizing IP, so that it sits at the core of their business expansion strategies.

On a broader level, the lab seeks to develop Singapore into a vibrant IP marketplace, one for IP transactions and management.

An enterprise-engagement arm of IPOS, the lab will also work with top valuation experts such as the Singapore Accountancy Commission to establish industry-wide valuation standards.

The chief executive of IPOS, Tan Yih San, said the lab will enable businesses to unlock the value of their intangible assets and ideas as their competitive edge, so their business grows through IP.

This is especially important for SMEs in the earlier stages of business expansion and innovation; they will thus be in a position to implement good IP strategies from the beginning.

For practitioners and academics, the lab will be a platform for research collaborations and provide thought leadership in IP valuation methodologies and best practices, Mr Tan said.

"This is a key pillar of our vision in supporting Singapore-based businesses and developing Singapore into an IP hub of Asia."

He commended corporations such as gaming hardware and software company Razer and global technology company Philips for their exemplary IP practices. Both firms operate in multiple global locations.

Razer's co-founder and chief executive officer Tan Min Liang, who used to be an IP lawyer, advised SMEs to view IP more as an asset rather than a right; IP should also be thought of in terms of collaborations through open source or cross-licensing rather than from a position of litigation, he said.

IP was so much at the front and centre of operations at Razer that one of its earliest hires was an IP practitioner.

"We felt that, right from the get-go, IP would be one of the core assets of the company," said Mr Tan.

At Philips, IP is incorporated into the company's strategy at the start of any research process, right after an idea is conceived, said its chief IP officer Brian Hinman. He added that IP enables him to communicate long-term business strategies more effectively with the chief executive officers from across Philip's business arms, because the long-term value of IP "shows up on the balance sheet".

The launch of the IP ValueLab coincided with IP Week @ SG, an event which has pulled in more than 1,000 business leaders and IP thought leaders from over 30 countries.

Minister of Law K Shanmugam, in his opening address, said that with the growth of Asean's economy will come greater demand for higher-end, sophisticated goods, of which IP will be a component. Examples of such goods include smartphones, digital services, industrial equipment - and even food products like milk powder fortified with health-enhancing supplements.

The economy of the Asean bloc is now seventh largest in the world, ahead of India's. The 10 members of Asean make up the third largest economy in Asia. "By 2021, on present trends, there could be more than two billion Asians qualifying as middle-class households," he said.

yiwenc@sph.com.sg

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

Law schools here not planning to cut enrolment

Straits Times
21 Aug 2014
Amelia Teng

UniSIM law school still set to open despite expected glut of lawyers

DESPITE an expected glut of lawyers in the next few years, the two law schools here will not be cutting enrolment.

Plans to open a third law school at SIM University (UniSIM) will also not be affected, said the Law Ministry (MinLaw) yesterday.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam's recent warning that Singapore could have too many lawyers, and that there could be too few jobs for them in the next few years, has become a hot talking point among undergraduates at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University (SMU).

He said last Saturday that the number of lawyers with practising certificates here has leapt by nearly 25 per cent over four years, to more than 4,400 as of March last year. About 1,500 are expected to join them in the next three years, he added.

NUS law dean Simon Chesterman told The Straits Times: "The comments... have inspired a lot of discussion among current law students, some of whom are anxious about their job prospects."

Still, there are no plans to change the 240 to 250 places NUS offers annually, he said, suggesting that any cut will simply push students to study law abroad. "It's important that Singaporeans get the chance to be trained for the profession here," he added.

Students admit it has become tougher to get training contracts.

Every year, about 400 local law graduates, including 150 from SMU, apply for about 500 training contracts offered by law firms. The six-month contracts give would-be lawyers the real world training required of them before they are called to the Bar.

Final-year NUS law student Lam Zhen Yu, 24, said: "Most of our seniors received contracts by the end of the third year in school. Now, some year-four students haven't secured contracts yet." Many send resumes to as many as 20 firms or go for several internships to increase their chances of being selected, he added. Some also worry about the extra competition when the law school at UniSIM opens.

But MinLaw noted that NUS and SMU graduates have "done well" in getting training contracts. Between 2009 and last year, nearly 94 per cent secured them compared with 70 per cent for returning overseas graduates.

The key issue, it said, was a mismatch between supply and demand. While there are more than enough corporate lawyers, there is a shortage of those practising family and criminal law. UniSIM's law school, with its community law focus, will help bridge this gap, MinLaw said yesterday.

New law graduates The Straits Times spoke to said many chose to work in corporate and commercial law not just because of the higher pay, but because they were not ready to handle the "emotional demands" of community law.

"You need to have some form of calling to deal with work involving families, divorce and crime," said a 25-year-old who graduated from SMU's law school this year.

"And the unfortunate fact is that, sometimes, they can't afford to pay you."

ateng@sph.com.sg

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WongPartnership expands alliances with Indonesia tie-up

Straits Times
14 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

LAW firm WongPartnership has forged another alliance ahead of an expected surge in advisory work once the Asean Economic Community comes into force at the end of next year.

Its link with Indonesia's Makes & Partners in Jakarta follows a tie-up last year with Malaysian law firm Foong & Partners and the opening of a Myanmar office in June.

The moves are part of WongPartnership's broader regional strategy in anticipation of further growth in cross-border trade once the economic community is established. They also signal growing demand for advisory services as investment interest in Indonesia grows, especially after Mr Joko Widodo's presidential poll win.

"For the last decade, we've been involved in deals where Indonesia has been an important component of cross-border transactions," Mr Ng Wai King, joint managing partner of WongPartnership LLP, told The Straits Times yesterday.

"Through the global financial crisis, Indonesia has been a beacon of stability due to its large domestic market and strong local economy. Investors have flocked to the country, and with the peaceful presidential election, we are seeing a resurgence of interest."

Mr Joko, who is widely known as Jokowi, is perceived to be more market-friendly and open to foreign investment than his presidential opponent - Prabowo Subianto.

His election victory has raised market optimism although investors are monitoring how successful he will be at pushing through reforms to accelerate infrastructure construction while phasing out fuel subsidies and balancing the interests of the people and business.

Mr Yozua Makes, the managing partner of Makes & Partners, said: "We hope that Mr Jokowi's track record of surmounting obstacles like political deadlocks and administrative logjams can be replicated across the country.

"He is known to be prag- matic, neutral and fair to all. This is how he has resolved land title issues, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to improving infrastructure" in Indonesia.

"Many investors are interested in Indonesia, and likewise, many Indonesian corporates are interested in expanding into the region, especially with the advent of the Asean Economic Community in 2015," he added.

The Indonesian firm specialises in mergers and acquisitions, capital markets, foreign investments, banking, restructuring and insolvency. It was the legal adviser in the initial public offering of First Reit, an Indonesian real estate investment trust now listed on the Singapore Exchange.

Prior to the alliance, WongPartnership has been working with Makes & Partners on transactions, including Aberdeen Asset Management Asia's proposed acquisition of a stake in PT NISP Asset Management.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Kong Hee knew reality of bonds: prosecution

Business Times
27 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

But he says he was not aware of Xtron cashflow projection

EVEN before City Harvest Church (CHC) entered into the S$13 million bond subscription agreement with events management firm Xtron Productions, the church founder and four of his deputies knew that there was no reasonable prospect of return, charged the prosecution.

On Tuesday, the court was shown an e-mail dated July 3, 2007 (sent about a month before the first drawdown of the S$13 million Xtron bonds), which was correspondence between three of the six accused: Chew Eng Han, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee.

The trio had discussed in a Xtron cashflow projection how the sale of 200,000 copies of singer Sun Ho's United States albums would bring in revenue of S$2.17 million. In the e-mail, Wee told Chew and Tan that this was "hardly enough to pay off the S$13 million" by 2009 and that it would take Xtron 10 years to redeem all the bonds from the church.

Church founder Kong Hee, 50, told the court that Wee, who came up with the projection, was being "ultra-conservative". He testified that he was not aware of the July projection and that he was not involved in that discussion.

Referring to a scenario planning dated May 9, 2007, Kong said it was the last scenario planning that his team shared with him before the Xtron bond subscription agreement was entered into in late July 2007.

The May projection, based on a 1.5 million album sale, showed that by about 2008 or 2009, Xtron would have a surplus of S$1.2 million after paying off a loan of about S$10 million.

Prosecutor Christopher Ong then grilled Kong on why Wee would suddenly do a projection that was 1.3 million copies less than the May 2007 estimates.

Kong said: "I don't know. She was probably being conservative, as advised by (American music producer) Justin Herz in November 2006, perhaps."

Referring to the statements of Chew, Tan and Wee to the authorities, Mr Ong noted that the trio stated that Kong was kept in the loop about their July 2007 projections.

But Kong said he could not recall being told of this by the three before the church entered into the first bond subscription agreement.

Citing two other e-mails sent by Wee in August and September 2007, Mr Ong pointed out that it was "odd" for Wee to have "such wildly fluctuating cashflows". He added that Wee said in her September e-mail that she was to present to Kong the July 2007 projections.

To this, Kong said: "Your Honour, this is a question that only Serina could answer."

The court also heard that the auditor of both Xtron and the church, Sim Guan Seng, was "never informed" of the July 2007 projection.

The founder agreed, but stressed that he was not involved in that.

Earlier in the day, Mr Ong also accused Kong of lying to the church's executive members in the latter's description of how AMAC Capital, owned by Chew, was chosen to be the church's fund manager.

Kong and five deputies are accused of misusing millions of the church's building fund monies to boost Ms Ho's career through "sham bond investments" in Xtron and glassware manufacturer Firna. Four of the six are also fighting allegations of round-tripping that the prosecution said was used to cover up the misuse.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Lawyer struck off rolls for embezzling legal fees

Straits Times
21 Aug 2014
Selina Lum

Application made by Law Society after convictions on 6 counts of CBT

A LAWYER with a long history of bipolar disorder was yesterday struck off the rolls for embezzling legal fees from her firm, with the Court of Three Judges advising her to seek medical help for her mental condition.

Counsel for Ms Selena Chiong Chin May, 42, had urged the court only to suspend her, noting that her jail term for criminal breach of trust (CBT) was cut from nine months to two days on appeal due to her condition.

But the court, which has the power to censure, fine, suspend or disbar lawyers for professional misconduct, noted she was still convicted of a dishonest offence.

It was not the first time that Ms Chiong, who was called to the Bar in 1995 after graduating among the top 20 in her class at the National University of Singapore, had appeared before the court. In 2005, she was suspended from practice for a year for not keeping proper accounts and allowing her non-lawyer husband to be a co-signatory of her firm's bank accounts.

In 2013, she was suspended for six months for failing to handle diligently a divorce case she had been hired to do in 2009.

In the current case, the Law Society applied for Ms Chiong to be struck off following her convictions on six counts of CBT.

Ms Chiong was sentenced to nine months' jail by a district court in August last year for embezzling $12,900 from fees paid by clients to the firm for legal services in 2010.

The sentence was slashed to two days' jail and a $12,000 fine in March by the High Court, which said her condition, characterised by mood swings, could have affected her judgment.

Ms Chiong, who has changed firms at least 30 times in her 15-year career, told four clients at her last firm, CH Chan & Co, that they could pay her directly, although she was not allowed to accept legal fees.

She pocketed the money for her own use instead of depositing it in the clients' account of the firm as required by law.

Yesterday, her lawyer, Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, argued that a suspension would suffice, noting that the High Court had accepted that her medical condition had clouded her judgment.

But Ms Mimi Oh, acting for the Law Society, argued that Ms Chiong's misconduct was unbefitting of a lawyer and warranted her disbarment, as is typical for cases involving dishonesty.

Ms Chiong, who remarried this year and has three children from her first marriage, suffered depression after the birth of her first child in 1996.

She was made bankrupt in 2011 and is jobless.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Xiaomi under probe over alleged privacy breach

Straits Times
14 Aug 2014
Irene Tham

Singapore watchdog investigating phone user's gripe over data disclosure

CHINA-BASED smartphone maker Xiaomi has slid into legal hot water in Singapore, amid growing regional concerns about its apparent lack of privacy protection.

A complaint has been filed by a phone user here, alleging that his personal data had been disclosed without consent.

He claimed he had received unsolicited calls from overseas after using his Xiaomi phone.

Singapore's privacy watchdog, the Personal Data Protection Commission, told The Straits Times it is investigating.

The charge followed an online report in Taiwan late last month that Xiaomi was silently collecting and storing user phone numbers and other device identifiers on the company's servers.

Finnish security specialist F-Secure confirmed the rumours after conducting its own independent test on a brand new RedMi 1S handset.

In a blog post last Thursday, F-Secure said it discovered that the telco name, phone identifier and phone number of the user were all sent to a server named api.account.xiaomi.com

The phone numbers of contacts added to the phone book and from SMS messages received were also sent to the server.

Such moves might run afoul of laws here, said lawyers.

"Even if the handset had come with terms of use - which allow for the collection of personal data by the handset manufacturer - users must still be allowed to withdraw their consent to the collection, use and disclosure of their personal data," said lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson.

Lawyer Rajesh Sreenivasan, a partner at Rajah & Tann, said some phone apps do collect personal data. "The difference is that users have the option to say 'yes' or 'no' to such collection."

In Singapore, the Personal Data Protection Act provides safeguards against the wrongful collection, use and disclosure of personal data for marketing.

It requires organisations to inform individuals of the purpose for collecting, using and disclosing personal data. They must also get a consumer's explicit consent before they can disclose personal information to a third party.

Xiaomi has been gaining popularity since it started selling phones here early this year.

According to estimates from market research firm IDC, Xiaomi phones accounted for 10 per cent to 20 per cent of all the smartphones shipped here in the second quarter of the year.

On a Google+ Web post on Sunday, Xiaomi vice-president of international operations Hugo Barra wrote a lengthy explanation. He acknowledged data was uploaded but "not kept for longer than necessary". It was needed for its cloud messaging service, which routes messages between two users over the Internet.

The firm also said it would no longer automatically activate phone users for cloud messaging.

A handset software update it rolled out on Sunday now makes cloud messaging an opt-in service - much like chat services WhatsApp and WeChat.

itham@sph.com.sg

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Ensuring better protection for migrant workers

Straits Times
27 Aug 2014
John Gee

LATER this year, Singapore seems certain to adopt a law that will provide severe penalties for trafficking people for sexual exploitation.

An anti-trafficking act is expected to recognise the need to protect the victims of this form of trafficking - including in those cases where they have broken laws while effectively under the control of those who exploit them.

The new law will also deal with labour trafficking in general. But questions have been raised about how effectively and comprehensively it would do so.

While the need for firm action against labour trafficking is widely recognised, translating this recognition into practical legal measures presents a challenge.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that it is difficult to draw a clear distinction between people who have been trafficked into labour exploitation and migrant workers in the worst conditions of employment.

Given that there are a million migrant workers in Singapore, even if only one in 50 faced such conditions, that would be 20,000 people.

If, besides being underpaid, overworked and mistreated, many of the 20,000 claim to be trafficked as well, the authorities would be presented with an additional headache. It would certainly not help Singapore's international image.

Why risk opening a can of worms by introducing a law that might encourage hundreds or even thousands of disgruntled workers to allege that they have been trafficked?

One source of confusion may be the "trafficking indicators" used by a number of international institutions and national law enforcement agencies.

Each indicator describes a sign that an immigration official or a police officer might recognise in an individual's experience or behaviour that could suggest he or she is a trafficked person.

Most of the indicators feature in the experiences of many migrant workers. The list of indicators produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, for example, says that people who have been trafficked into labour exploitation may "live in degraded, unsuitable places", "have no labour contract", "work excessively long hours", "depend on their employer for a number of services, including work, transportation and accommodation" as well as a variety of other conditions familiar to those who hear the complaints of migrant workers.

But it must be understood that indicators such as these are intended to serve as signals that further investigation is needed. They do not in themselves prove that a person has been trafficked.

Three fundamental characteristics qualify trafficking.

Trafficking involves first, the movement of a person from his or her normal place of residence.

Second, it requires the use of force, coercion, fraud, deception, abuse of power or exploitation of vulnerability.

Third, it is for the purpose of exploitation.

If any of these fundamental elements are absent, then trafficking cannot be said to have occurred, even though a worker has been subjected to a range of abuses.

But Singapore should not have to appeal to this standard in order to avoid groundless claims.

Instead, it can work to improve the conditions of migrant workers in general, and those in the worst situations in particular, so that conditions described as "trafficking indicators" are eliminated.

Some measures may be quite modest, such as introducing itemised payslips and payment into personal bank accounts for low-paid workers. These particular measures would help protect them against exploitation by employers who do not want to pay workers their salary in full.

It would enable them to see easily how their pay (regular, plus overtime, minus deductions) was calculated and whether the record is accurate, and check that the amount paid corresponded to that stated; it would assist in resolving any dispute, whether "in house" or with the intervention of the Ministry of Manpower.

Another measure would be to insist that the terms offered to a worker to persuade him to take a job in Singapore should not only be put into writing, but should also be binding upon an employer. And once the worker arrives in Singapore, the employer should be barred from inducing a worker to agree to inferior terms.

To control immigration, the Government wants to ensure that migrant workers return home and do not settle. This is why, through their permits, they are attached to a specific employer who would be made responsible for their repatriation.

However, a by-product of the system is that employers are given great potential coercive power, which the less scrupulous may use to make workers accept employment conditions inferior to those promised when they were recruited, and sometimes agree to terms that violate Singapore's own laws.

The system should therefore be revised to allow workers in possession of work permits to move to different employers more easily.

Making it easier for workers to stay on would also help retain workers with training and experience in Singapore so that they enhance its productivity rather than that of another country.

With changes such as these, Singapore could adopt a robust, comprehensive anti-trafficking law, confident that it would deliver protection to those needing it without fear of misuse.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The writer is immediate past president of migrant workers group TWC2.

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Xpress settles another case over alleged unpaid debt

Straits Times
21 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

PRINTING firm Xpress Holdings has settled the second of three lawsuits it has been contesting over $2.4 million in alleged unpaid debt.

Its chairman Fong Kah Kuen said on Tuesday it has settled a suit brought by Asean Finance Corp over a $734,287 claim. Asean Finance has agreed to discontinue its claim.

Last week, the firm reached a settlement with HSBC Institutional Trust Services (HSBCITS) to discontinue a winding-up application it filed last month against Xpress over $397,851 in alleged unpaid rental arrears.

Xpress told the Singapore Exchange last month that HSBCITS has "no standing to bring such an application", and has withdrawn injunction proceedings it had brought to fend off the winding-up application.

That leaves Xpress with one case to resolve, that with United Overseas Bank.

It said it is in "active negotiations" with UOB to settle the bank's claims against the company's subsidiary, Xpress Print, for $1.22 million in unpaid loans.

Mr Fong earlier said this followed the adjournment of the winding-up application by UOB, heard on Aug 1, for two months. Xpress said it was in discussions with the bank to restructure repayment terms.

"Going forward, the group will focus on providing a wider range of services for its clients and pursuing plans for business growth in Singapore and the region," Xpress said.

It has appointed Stone Forest Corporate Advisory as financial consultant to help broker a settlement with the creditors.

Shares of Xpress ended at 1.3 cents, down 7.1 per cent, or 0.1 cent yesterday, with 3.3 million shares changing hands.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Tardy disclosures by Xpress Holdings

Business Times
14 Aug 2014
R. Sivanithy

IN a letter to BT published on July 25, corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen raised important questions about the disclosures by printing firm Xpress Holdings.

Xpress was queried by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) on July 1 after 184 million of its shares traded that day - a sharp spike from the daily average of 3.7 million the week before, or the 1.05 million done a day earlier.

After the company replied that it did not know of any reasons for the unusual volume and confirmed compliance with the Listing Manual, SGX correctly issued a TWC or "Trade With Caution" notice.

For those unfamiliar with the TWC, it is the latest tool in SGX's signalling-cum-warning toolkit, and is issued only after companies reply to an SGX query that there are no previously undisclosed announcements that if they were announced would account for the unusual activity.

Three days later on July 4, Xpress announced that executive chairman KK Fong's deemed interest had fallen from 2.04 per cent to 0.84 per cent via the sale of 29.3 million shares at 2.1 cents each on July 2.

For the next 11 trading days, the Xpress share price held steady at around 2-2.2 cents. After a trading halt on July 22, an announcement was made on July 23 that several creditors had started legal proceedings against the company and its subsidiary Xpress Print for payment of a total of $2.4 million that included a disputed $400,000 in rent, and that a bank (later identified as UOB) had filed a winding-up application for Xpress Print because of $1.2 million owing.

In the July 23 announcement, the company also proposed a placement of 480 million new shares at 2.1 cents each to raise about $9.5 million to repay its creditors and for working capital, and said it had appointed financial consultant Stone Forest Corporate Advisory to help deal with its creditors.

At this point, Mr Mak in his letter to BT asked SGX to revisit the original July 1 reply to ensure the rules had been complied with, presumably because the large sale by the executive chairman came just three weeks before the announcement of legal/winding up action.

Since then and in response to a further SGX query dated July 25, the company on July 28 provided more information, including the dates it received notice of the legal action: July 3 for the rental matter, and July 8 for the others.

Two questions spring to mind immediately. First, why were these dates and details of the lawsuits disclosed only after SGX asked for more information? Second, if the company knew of legal action on July 3 and July 8, why was the market told only on July 23? The July 3 summons should have been announced on July 4 since that was a Friday, while the market should have been notified of the July 8 notices on July 9 since that was a Wednesday.

In its July 28 announcement, Xpress offered an explanation for the delay: it said since receiving the two sets of summons, it had been "actively engaging" various parties, namely the creditors with whom it discussed ways to repay the money due, the financial consultant Stone Forest on restructuring proposals, and those associated with the placement.

It remains to be seen if SGX finds this explanation sufficient for the delay, especially since Xpress also said Stone Forest was appointed only on July 22 - the day of the trading halt and only one day before the market was told of the legal claims.

It also remains to be seen if the placement will proceed or whether the two subscribers from China will walk away from the deal because, after trading resumed on July 23, the share price has plunged 0.6 cent or 29 per cent to 1.5 cents now.

Would the subscribers still be prepared to pay 2.1 cents, especially since Mr Fong has further reduced his deemed interest from 0.84 per cent to 0.4 per cent by selling 10.7 million shares on July 25 at 1.7 cents each?

All told, it has to be said that the disclosures by Xpress over the past six weeks raise more questions than answers.

sivan@sph.com.sg

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S'pore eDev's former unit fails to stop S$4.2m claim

Business Times
26 Aug 2014
Kenneth Lim

SINGAPORE eDevelopment's old business continues to cast a shadow on growth plans, with news on Monday that a former subsidiary failed to stop a S$4.2 million claim from a previous client.

Singapore eDevelopment, the property developer formerly known as the construction company CCM Group, said that an injunction by CCM Industrial Pte Ltd to contest the claim by Pan-Asia Logistics Investments has been set aside. Singapore eDevelopment is seeking legal advice.

CCM Industrial was disposed of on May 21 as part of Singapore eDevelopment's restructuring. But the former CCM Group, together with CCM Industrial and CCM Industrial managing director Liew Sen Keong, had all given indemnities as part of a performance bond related to a contract between CCM Industrial and Pan-Asia Logistics Investments.

The contract was for the building of a four-storey warehouse and office in Tuas.

In its results announcement for the half-year ended June 30, 2014, Singapore eDevelopment disclosed that it had contingent liabilities from corporate indemnities comprising S$12.3 million, including the performance bond amount related to the Tuas contract.

Shares of Singapore eDevelopment closed unchanged at 0.3 Singapore cent on Monday.

The news about CCM Industrial came a day before Singapore eDevelopment closes the books for a rights issue.

The company is issuing 12 rights shares at 0.3 Singapore cent each for every share held, and one bonus share for every rights share subscribed for. It hopes to raise between S$3.3 million and S$129.1 million in net proceeds to fund its new business growth in development and info-communications technology (ICT).

Singapore eDevelopment chief executive Chan Heng Fai said in a statement: "Singapore eDevelopment is transforming itself via international property development and ICT. The strong trading volume ex-rights underscores the interest in our recovery and growth strategy. We will continue to update the investing public on how we intend to execute this strategy and use of proceeds from the rights issue."

kenlim@sph.com.sg

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Prosecution: Kong Hee had the final say

Business Times
21 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

[SINGAPORE] City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee was the ultimate authority when it came to the financing of the Crossover Project through the various bond subscriptions made by the church from 2006 to 2008, alleged the prosecution, as it continued to grill the accused for a second day.

Prosecutor Christopher Ong charged that Kong, 49, had lied to authorities and in court, when the church leader was in reality the one who had the final say as to the church's initial bond subscription with Xtron Productions and another agreement with glassware manufacturer, Firna.

The bond suscriptions that the prosecution described as "sham", were meant to raise funds for the Crossover Project, which aimed to evangelise through singer Sun Ho's secular music.

Referring to co-accused John Lam's testimony, Mr Ong pointed out that Kong was singled out as the one who decided on how much and where the money was to come from when it came to the financing of the Crossover Project.

Kong replied that it was wrong to say his views superseded that of the Xtron directors.

"Your Honour, I think Mr Lam had too high an estimation of my authority and my ability to persuade the Xtron directors."

The court later heard from the prosecution that the statements taken by authorities of co-accused Serina Wee, Tan Ye Peng and Chew Eng Han, showed that Xtron directors were left out of decision-making processes.

Kong rejected this claim.

E-mail from accused Serina Wee to Kong dated August 2006 and May 2007 were raised in court and showed Wee giving updates on the cashflows of Xtron and the church.

This prompted Mr Ong to question the need for Wee to do so, when Kong was only in charge of budgeting for his wife, Ms Ho's album in the United States, for the US Crossover.

Kong explained that there was a need for him to know how much money Xtron would have so that he can proceed with negotiations with the Americans.

Throughout the trial, Kong stressed that the Xtron directors were the ones giving the ultimate approval for decisions prosposed by him or the team.

He has also maintained that he is not bond-savvy and that he left Chew and Tan to handle the technicalities of the bond transactions.

But the prosecution tried to prove otherwise, citing the content of an e-mail dated July 28, 2008, which detailed the flow of the church's building fund to buy Xtron and Firna bonds to finance the Crossover Project.

It also touched on the move by former Xtron director, Wahju Hanafi, to support the Crossover Project independently.

Kong and five deputies face allegations of misusing millions of church funds through sham bond investments, to boost the music career of Ms Ho. Four of the six also face charges of round-tripping the monies to cover up the misuse.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Help fund non-govt efforts to map haze

Straits Times
14 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

LAST week, Singapore passed a ground-breaking transboundary haze law designed to punish companies that cause fires overseas, leading to haze here.

The Bill received a unanimous vote from lawmakers. But they and other experts also expressed concern about the lack of information to identify errant companies, and noted the problems involved in enforcing penalties against companies with no presence or assets in Singapore.

While these difficulties are not insurmountable, they do underline the challenges ahead and the need for cooperation with regional non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to gather evidence on the ground.

Under the new law, Singapore can fine companies for fires on their land if the resultant haze affects Singapore. Haze in Singapore has been largely blamed on farmers in Indonesia - and some in Malaysia - using fires to clear land during the June-to-October dry season.

To identify errant firms, the authorities can overlay satellite images of fires and smoke over concession or licence maps showing which firms are in charge of land plots. They can also use weather information like wind direction and strength to gauge fires' starting points.

But foreign governments have been reluctant to share official concession maps.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan acknowledged the point last week, saying in Parliament: "Civil servants tend to be very protective of data, and they say, 'no, we cannot share official concession maps' or 'the maps are not ready'."

The law's provisions help Singapore to sidestep this issue by allowing prosecutors to rely on other, non-official maps deemed reliable by the Singapore authorities.

But such non-government maps are rare, and even those currently available are patchy.

Dr Balakrishnan has said, for instance, that there are maps put online by the non-government environmental group World Resources Institute (WRI).

The WRI's Global Forest Watch initiative gets most of its concession maps for Indonesia from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, which maintains these maps as a matter of public record. However, the maps are widely regarded as incomplete and out-of-date in many cases.

The WRI also sources maps from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a non-profit consortium of plantation firms, traders, retailers, green groups and others that promote palm oil supply from estates that do not harm wildlife or cut primary and high-conservation-value forests to expand.

After last year's record haze pollution in the region, when several palm oil firms were blamed for the fires, RSPO palm oil-growing members agreed to provide the RSPO with their concession maps by September this year.

But when asked, the RSPO said it did not have current data on the proportion of land its members hold, out of all of the palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. It said only that RSPO-certified plantations of members made up 13 per cent and 20 per cent of the total planted area in Indonesia and Malaysia respectively, based on public, 2012 land use data.

The members also have non-RSPO certified plantations.

In any case, data on plantation land may be of limited use. During the blazes in Indonesia's Riau province in February and March, fires on the two largest burned areas were started outside concessions, or on land occupied by small-scale operators within the concessions. This was the assessment of the Centre for International Forestry Research.

Without comprehensive maps, Singapore will find it difficult to identify the firms in charge of land where fires occur.

And even if companies are prosecuted, it may be difficult to enforce penalties against those with no presence or assets in Singapore, said Singapore Management University's associate professor of law Eugene Tan.

Officers or partners of companies accused under the law will be served notice in person when they enter Singapore. They can also be ordered to stay on the island to assist in investigations. Failure to comply could lead to fines and even jail.

To give the law more bite, Singapore should help fund the efforts of NGOs to come up with accurate concession maps.

According to Dr Balakrishnan, "there's this element called ground-truthing. What you really need is someone with a camera phone on the ground to say that, 'This is the fire and this is occurring here and I saw this person'."

He added: "Information gathering is sometimes best done through a non-government channel, so you don't invoke issues of sovereignty and other political sensitivities, but at the same time sufficient transparency and information is put into the hands of consumers."

Legislation is no silver bullet, and a "full menu of options" is needed, he added.

If nothing else, the law can have a deterrent effect if the threat of penalties can lead to good behaviour. That's because suspected firms' officers face fines or jail sentences when they come to Singapore, if the firms do not help with investigations.

Firms might thus want to make public maps of the concessions they hold, to pre-empt suspicion. "Companies that refuse to volunteer their maps are likely to come under greater scrutiny from the public and NGOs," reckoned the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

So far, fortunate weather has kept the haze away from Singapore during this dry season. But more than luck - and the new law - will be needed to keep the skies blue.

zengkun@sph.com.sg


Background Story

How the new law works against errant companies

SINGAPORE'S new transboundary haze law is meant to punish firms that cause fires overseas, leading to haze here.

Under the law, Singapore can fine companies for fires on their land if the resultant haze causes the Pollutant Standards Index here to rise to 101 or more for at least 24 hours. Air is unhealthy when the index crosses 100.

A company can be fined up to $100,000 for every day of such haze Singapore suffers as a result of its actions.

It can also be fined up to $50,000 for each day it did not comply if Singapore had served notice on it to carry out measures to prevent haze here. If convicted, the maximum combined penalty is $2 million.

Several presumptions in the law are designed to make prosecutors' work easier. Unless it is proven otherwise, if there is haze in Singapore and a land or forest fire in a foreign country at the same time, it is assumed that the fire caused the haze if weather data such as wind direction supports this.

Singapore can also rely on maps outside of official government sources to show a firm is responsible for a plot of land, unless the contrary is proven.

Firms can defend themselves by showing the haze in Singapore was caused solely by a grave natural disaster or act of war. They can also try to prove another person acted without their knowledge or consent, although this person cannot be their employee.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the new law is not meant to replace enforcement that should be taken by other countries. "It is to complement their investigative and enforcement efforts."

FENG ZENGKUN

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Angry Birds developer loses legal bid

Straits Times
26 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Snack maker's Angry Bite not similar to Rovio's trademarks, says registrar

THE developer of hit mobile game Angry Birds has lost a legal bid in Singapore to stop a Malaysian snack food firm from calling its chips "Angry Bite" here.

Kimanis Food Industries admitted being inspired by Finnish software developer Rovio Entertainment's franchise.

However, a trademark registrar ruled: "Being inspired per se does not amount to copying."

Ms Sandy Widjaja, principal assistant registrar of trademarks, said in judgment grounds released last week: "Being 'inspired' is simply the starting point. Not everything inspired by an existing work is necessarily objectionable."

She said that to decide otherwise "would be to give excessive protection" to owners of registered trademarks.

Noting it is common to have "lookalikes" in the marketplace, she made clear the issue would turn on the particular facts of each case weighed against the provisions of the Trade Marks Act.

Kimanis applied to protect its product name in April 2012, but Rovio launched a bid to block it several months later.

It argued that Angry Bite is similar to two marks which it had already registered here - one of which was the face of a bird and the other was the words "Angry Birds". Its lawyer, Ms Tasneem Haq, said there was a likelihood of confusion if Angry Bite was registered as a trademark.

Angry Birds was released in December 2009 as an iPhone game in Apple's App Store. Two years later, it had been downloaded more than 350 million times worldwide.

The company also has several licensees which produce snack food and food products under the Angry Birds brand range.

Kimanis was established in 1987 and produces 40 successful snack products. Its Angry Bite chips are currently sold in Singapore.

It argued through its lawyer, Mr Paul Teo, that the marks were not similar and countered that Rovio had not shown that its interests are likely to be damaged by the use of "Angry Bite".

Ms Widjaja said she was "hard pressed" to find similarity between the rival marks. She pointed out that Angry Bite was a composite made up of several elements that included the bird figure and words in a single trademark, whereas Angry Birds comprised two separate marks - the bird's face and the words "Angry Birds".

She added that Rovio had failed to show there was a reasonable likelihood of confusion and did not show its two marks were well-known to the public at large in Singapore, based on the evidence tendered.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Condo's beams 'part of common property'

Straits Times
20 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Owners not responsible for fixing beam defects: Court

A HIGH Court ruling has clarified that condo unit owners in Singapore are not responsible for repairing defects in structural beams above their properties.

Justice Tan Siong Thye criticised a condominium's management corporation (MC) of displaying a "nonchalant attitude" towards a couple by refusing to fix structural beams over their unit.

The management corporation of Highpoint in Mount Elizabeth took Madam Lee Siew Yuen and her husband Eng Chiet Shoong to the Strata Titles Board (STB) after the unit owners claimed they were not responsible for repairing cracks in the ceiling above their kitchen and bedroom toilet.

However, Justice Tan Siong Thye found in the couple's favour, after their lawyers argued that the beams are part of the common property.

The saga began in 2012 when their contractor discovered cracks in beams hidden in the false ceiling of the 41-year-old building, which could have been caused by water seepage.

The couple referred the problem to the MC, saying it should be responsible for repairing them.

The MC's lawyers - Josephine Choo and Emily Su from Wong Partnership - denied the beams were part of common property because they were located within the unit.

They added that the MC had discharged its duty to rectify the defects when it sent a circular to owners to check their ceilings for broken concrete and make good any defects.

Lee & Lee lawyers Toh Kok Seng and Yik Shu Ying countered for the couple that the affected beams fell within the meaning of common property under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act.

Justice Tan agreed and held that the MC was duty-bound to undertake the repairs on that ground.

He added that the unit did not include the beams when it was bought by the couple in 1993 as the beams served only to support the unit above it and were "shared by two units". Stressing that the occupants' safety is of "paramount importance", he found no evidence to suggest the couple had done anything to cause the defects.

Justice Tan noted that both parties agreed the case involved matters of public interest "as the outcome will have an impact on other units in the development and other condominiums in Singapore".

He also ticked off the MC for the manner of its appeal. "The (corporation) has criticised almost every aspect of the STB's deliberations, including its findings of fact," he said in the grounds, released last month. "It also alleged STB had misconducted the proceedings, regardless of whether or not it relates to a point of law. This is an abuse of the appeal process."

Chiding the management for taking "a nonchalant attitude towards such a serious matter", he added: " I would expect a responsible (MC) that is concerned for the lives and safety of its occupants at the development to urgently rectify the structural defects and then subsequently deal with the legal issues and ascertain who is to bear the cost of the repairs."

The High Court ordered the management to carry out the repairs promptly.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Tax changes will need to be a fine balancing act

Business Times
14 Aug 2014
Chung-Sim Siew Moon & Tan Ching Khee

Social spending requires more revenue without hurting Singapore's competitiveness

SINGAPORE'S population is greying. Could this be the catalyst for further tax tinkering?

It was reported in the press recently that the government is not ruling out fine-tuning Singapore's tax system over the next five years or tapping on the investment reserves to support increased spending on security and medical care for an ageing population.

In 2013, S$5.8 billion was forked out on healthcare. Healthcare spending could swell to S$12 billion by 2020. That would mean an increase of about 11 per cent per year over the next six years. Is this rise in spending manageable?

Revenue collection increased from S$29.1 billion in 2008 to S$41.4 billion in 2013, (see table) averaging an annual increase of 7 per cent over the six-year period. If this trend persists, there may be a shortfall in the coffers. Further, with a mid-term economic growth forecast of 3 per cent to 4 per cent, it would be even more challenging to boost tax revenue.

Singapore's corporate income tax rate stands at 17 per cent. Raising the corporate income tax rate would be detrimental to Singapore's competitiveness - it could lose its shine as a hub for multinational companies. Singapore's top personal income tax rate of 20 per cent has been maintained since the Year of Assessment (YA) 2007, despite calls to harmonise the three percentage point difference with the 17 per cent corporate tax rate.

The argument goes that high-income earners should shoulder a greater tax burden to fund social programmes such as healthcare spending, if the government wants to move towards a more progressive tax system. In 2012, individual taxpayers with a chargeable income of more than S$0.5 million earned around S$16 billion collectively. An increase of 1 per cent in the top personal income tax rate would add an estimated S$160 million in tax revenue. This makes up merely 0.4 per cent of the total tax revenue of S$41.4 billion collected in 2013. Clearly, the effectiveness of such an increase will need to be weighed against any negative impact in attracting high-income global talent.

Would an increase in the goods and services tax (GST) then be a better solution?

When the government increased the GST rate to 7 per cent in 2007, it also introduced a slew of measures such as the GST voucher to cushion the impact on lower-income families. After all, the GST is a broad-based, regressive tax system.

In 2011, the government had assured the public that the GST rate would not be increased for at least the next five years. Further, the government is committed to maintaining a fair and progressive tax system.

In 2013, the government collected S$9 billion in revenue from GST. A 1 per cent increase in the GST rate could increase tax revenue by about S$1.3 billion. On the surface, this may seem to be the most direct and effective way to increase tax revenue. In reality, a lot of groundwork needs to be done to implement any GST increase, especially in an environment where the income gap is an important consideration factor when shaping tax policy.

Still, having successfully charted a two-percentage point rise in the GST rate in 2007, the government can fall back on its experience to ensure a smooth rollout of any future GST increase, as well as address the concerns of lower-income families.

Beyond a hike in GST, can anything else be done?

Capital gains tax

Singapore does not have a capital gains tax regime. This has helped attract investors to set up investment holding companies and trusts to manage their regional or global investments.

Introducing a capital gains tax will affect not just corporate taxpayers but also individual taxpayers who realise a gain on the sale of their investments.

In 2012, the government introduced a new rule to give tax certainty to taxpayers - gains from the sale of ordinary shares would not be taxed if such shares have been held for more than two years and represent more than 20 per cent shareholding in the investee company. This rule is effective from June 2012 to May 2017. It is highly unlikely that the government will make a policy U-turn and introduce a capital gains tax in the next three years.

Donations

More than S$1 billion in donations is collected annually. Currently, every dollar of qualifying donation attracts 2.5 times worth of tax deduction. Based on the corporate tax rate of 17 per cent or the highest personal tax rate of 20 per cent, the potential tax revenue forgone from tax deductible donations could range from an estimated S$425 million to S$500 million.

Charity comes from the heart. If we assume that donors make donations on charitable grounds and not for the sole motivation of getting a tax deduction, then could removing the additional tax deduction for donations potentially further boost revenue collection or have an adverse effect on charitable giving?

A delicate balancing act

The government has made it clear that spending on social programmes has to increase, especially to provide for the low-income families and the needy. But this may not necessarily mean a renewed zeal in collecting taxes.

The "five-year no increase" promise will expire in two years. We may well see a GST rate hike in 2017 or after. However, simply increasing taxes to pay for social programmes will not be sufficient on its own, if this is to be done without hurting Singapore's competitiveness as a business and talent hub.

Indeed, tax policy is a fine balancing act between ensuring the generation of tax revenue to counter the costs of additional infrastructure; between tax incentive and tax base protection; and between spending today and squirreling away for a rainy day.

The writers are respectively partner and head of tax, and partner, tax services, at Ernst & Young Solutions LLP. The views expressed are their own

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Successful outcomes through mediation

Business Times
26 Aug 2014
Lim-Lum Kit-Wye

Parties seeking dispute resolution must have the right attitude and realistic expectations

THERE is no denying that disputes damage reputations and relationships, and waste time and money. Their efficient resolution is therefore an important aspect of business management.

Traditionally, disputes are resolved by direct negotiations between the parties themselves or, if negotiations are unsuccessful, by resorting to legal action in court or arbitration.

In recent years, however, mediation has been increasingly advocated as a means of dispute resolution. The Singapore courts have launched various initiatives to encourage it, and much has been written on it, listing its many advantages.

However, the mere existence of an infrastructure that supports mediation, even with active encouragement from the courts as well as government and non-government bodies, will not guarantee the success of mediation as an effective means of resolving disputes.

Whether mediation will bring about an outcome that serves the interests of disputing parties depends ultimately on the parties themselves.

The full benefits of mediation cannot be reaped unless both parties go into it with realistic expectations of what they can hope to gain from mediation, and what they stand to lose through persisting with the dispute. Mediation will also rarely be successful unless the parties involved adopt attitudes that are congenial to settlement rather than to dispute.

Expectations of parties

In order to have realistic expectations, parties to a dispute must understand what mediation is and what it is not.

Mediation is a process by which a neutral third party, the mediator, will assist the parties to negotiate a settlement that allows them to resolve the dispute without having to go through the costly battle of litigation or arbitration.

The aim of mediation is to end the dispute by focusing on finding a mutually acceptable solution that will bring about the most benefit to the parties. The function of the mediator is to assist the parties in their search for this solution. The mediator does not make a decision on the case, or hand down judgments to redress any wrongs.

Mediation is therefore not a process that lends itself well to the vindication of claims, or the meting out of punishment. On the one hand, parties who go into mediation expecting their claims to be proven right, or the opposing side to get their just desserts, will often come away dissatisfied with the outcome.

On the other hand, parties who seek an acceptable compromise on their initial positions will often find that they have succeeded in ending the dispute peaceably, having obtained what they really need, even if it may not be everything that they had demanded initially.

Alternatives to settlement

Unfortunately, even though compromise is key to mediation, parties sometimes find it difficult to budge from their initial demands sufficiently to achieve a settlement.

One reason for this is that parties tend to fixate on how far short the settlement proposal falls from what they were asking for initially.

Yet, what they fail to recognise is that their initial demands can be fulfilled only after incurring the cost of litigation or arbitration, and even then, winning the case is not guaranteed. Hence, the relevant question here is whether the prospect of a legal suit as an alternative to settlement is an attractive one.

This is where legal opinion should be sought. Unless one has had much experience with lawsuits, one is unlikely to be fully aware of the many, and often tricky, steps between asserting a claim and winning a case in court or arbitration. In the majority of cases, the possibility of losing is a very real one. Strong conviction in their claims frequently leads parties to underestimate the difficulty of proving these claims to the satisfaction of the court or arbitrator.

Aside from the possibility of losing a case, the attractiveness of litigation or arbitration as an alternative also depends on other factors.

These include the cost of legal fees, the amount of time spent preparing for the case and attending court or arbitration, the damage to business reputation, the near-impossibility of maintaining any form of business relations with the counterparty, and the counterparty's ability to pay if they lose the case.

Parties should seriously consider how well the alternatives would satisfy their most important interests before refusing a settlement.

If they evaluate settlement proposals by comparing them with the alternatives, rather than with initial demands, they will negotiate on a much more objective and relevant basis. This will greatly increase the chances of an outcome that is beneficial to all.

Attitude

The attitude parties adopt during the mediation process can determine its success. Mediation is not a debate and the objective is to settle the dispute, rather than to win an argument or score points off the other party.

Obviously, a hostile adversarial attitude will likely antagonise the counterparty and make him even more intractable.

Conversely, a party who shows willingness to listen to the other side of the story and to work together to find a compromise, will often find the courtesy returned. A little tact and understanding go a long way towards paving the road to a successful mediation outcome.

The beauty of mediation is that, unlike litigation or arbitration, it is not the judge or the arbitrator, but the disputing parties themselves who decide how the dispute is to be resolved.

Parties, however, need to proceed with the right expectation and attitude so that this power can be utilised to arrive at an outcome that satisfies their needs as much as possible.

The writer teaches Business Law and Negotiation and Dispute Resolution at NTU's Nanyang Business School. Her research interests are in contract law, tort law, negotiation and mediation.

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Organisations should avoid over-collecting personal data: Forum

Straits Times
20 Aug 2014

UNDER the Personal Data Protection Act, organisations such as mall and building management can collect the personal data of their customers as long as they have a legitimate legal or business purpose to do so, and have obtained their consent for the stated purposes, unless an exception applies ("Why show IC to claim free parking?" by Mr Chew Kai Seng, Aug 6; and "Surrendering ICs at buildings: Set guidelines to protect data" by Mr Francis Cheng, Forum Online, Aug 7).

Organisations should consider the specific circumstances when assessing whether it is reasonable to collect personal data. For example, some organisations may require visitors to provide their NRIC numbers before they are given entry into buildings, for security purposes.

Generally, organisations should avoid over-collecting personal data, including NRIC numbers, for business purposes. The practice described by Mr Chew (recording of NRIC details for free parking redemption) may appear to be an instance of over-collection of data, and we have contacted Mr Chew to follow up with the shopping mall concerned.

Organisations should consider whether there are alternative ways to address their requirements. For instance, for the purpose of free parking redemption, a shopping mall may wish to consider if collecting a customer's name or vehicle licence plate number would suffice.

Organisations should also review regularly if the personal data they collected should continue to be retained.

The Personal Data Protection Commission will work closely with the security and retail associations in Singapore to bring about better understanding of the requirements under the Act within these business communities, and will develop further guidelines to help them comply with the law.

Should individuals have concerns regarding the collection of their personal data by organisations, they can contact the Commission at info@pdpc.gov.sg

Evelyn Goh (Ms)

Director, Communications, Planning & Policy

Personal Data Protection Commission

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Credit bureaus to be licensed: MAS

Business Times
13 Aug 2014
Jamie Lee

Proposal: consumers rejected for loans be given a free copy of their credit report

CONSUMERS who have had their loan applications rejected may soon be able to obtain their credit reports free of charge to check that the data there is accurate. They may also be assured that credit bureaus will be more vigilant over the use and security of their credit data.

These are among the key implications behind proposed regulations governing credit bureaus, announced yesterday by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). These freshly proposed rules, to be implemented through a new Credit Bureau Act, are aimed at maintaining data confidentiality, security and integrity, the MAS said in a consultation paper.

It has proposed that the two credit bureaus in Singapore - Credit Bureau (Singapore) and DP Credit Bureau - be licensed, with each licence valid for five years.

To hold - and keep - those licences, the bureaus must tighten the management of their business and operational risks. This entails ensuring a comprehensive risk-management system and proper outsourcing arrangements, the MAS said. It added: "The licensing regime will enable MAS to improve the standards for fair credit reporting among licensed credit bureaus, and strengthen the protection of confidential credit data and consumers' rights in Singapore."

The MAS will hold the power to investigate and impose fines if the credit bureaus flout the rules.

The two bureaus will be given six months to meet the new requirements.

The MAS has also proposed that members of licensed credit bureaus, such as banks and finance firms, provide consumers with free copies of their credit report within a certain period of a credit application being approved or rejected. This is in line with international practices, it said.

Consumers who want to buy their credit reports dating back to a specific time frame would also be allowed to do so.

Lincoln Teo, the general manager of DP Credit Bureau, said that presently, consumers are unable to judge the integrity of their personal credit information because some financial institutions do not send their data to both credit bureaus. "DP Credit Bureau sincerely hopes that the licensing regime will bring about greater data parity, which will increase integrity and accuracy of the credit data. This will ensure robust credit assessments and a fair outcome for borrowers."

A spokesman from Credit Bureau Singapore said the bureau welcomed the proposed changes:

"The role of the credit bureau will become increasingly important now that new measures on unsecured credit have been introduced."

leejamie@sph.com.sg

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New paths for law grads

Straits Times
26 Aug 2014

DESPITE the Law Minister's friendly advice about a looming over-supply of lawyers, it is unlikely the profession's appeal will be diminished to any extent. A third law school targeted at mature students and with a strong focus on community law is to be started, while the National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University are not cutting admissions. This year, 15 applicants missed out for each law student NUS admitted.

Singaporeans studying in Commonwealth countries alone will notionally increase lawyer numbers by about a quarter over a degree cycle if all of them returned and trained for the Bar. The list of recognised foreign law schools, mainly in Britain, is under review.

There is heavy concentration in corporate legal work, as Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon have noted. Young lawyers gravitate to this speciality because of the earnings, but it ought to be said that attrition is also highest among lawyers in the first four to five years of practice. The latest number cited in a periodic review is a high 14 per cent. Corporate law, like external auditing, demands long hours for the lolly it doles out.

Community law, with its variant criminal and family law as well as some forms of civil litigation, could do with an infusion to align with the needs of a cosmopolitan society undergoing rapid transition in mores and an understanding of public law where it touches on rights and liberties.

Singapore's ratio of lawyers to population of under one per 1,000 people is actually thin compared with Hong Kong's. London's ratio is three times Singapore's, to cater to its hub status in finance and insurance.

The supply of legally trained manpower might be better appreciated in a broader milieu of Singapore's needs in two diverse forms: as a business and logistical centre with its attendant demand for high-end professional services of all kinds, and as a growing population of diverse nationalities and ethnicities increases the need for legal support in just about any conceivable situation.

Last year's periodic report of the Committee on the Supply of Lawyers was heavy in its emphasis on community law to address the imbalance in available legal expertise. A tough sell, though necessary. Criminal law for one thing requires an aptitude and a cut of mind rather more exacting than in other branches, except in constitutional law.

Yet there are career alternatives for those law graduates who do not wish to practise - such as in education, financial services, media and the government sector. If talent is spread more evenly across craft demarcations, notions of over-supply will be less worrying, both for individuals and the state.

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Kong was indifferent to church's losses: Chew

Business Times
20 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

Quizzed on church monies, Kong denies Chew's points

[SINGAPORE] The former fund manager of City Harvest church yesterday charged that church founder Kong Hee was "not that concerned about the church suffering losses", contrary to what Kong had previously claimed.

This allegation surfaced as Chew Eng Han, one of the accused who is defending himself, wrapped up his questioning of his former spiritual mentor; Chew, who said he could offer evidence to support his charge, took a line of questioning to back up his point.

In this widely watched trial, Kong, Chew and four others are fighting allegations that they misused the church's building fund to support Kong's singer-wife Sun Ho's secular music career; four of the six are also accused of covering up the misuse through "sham bond investments" via round-tripping.

Yesterday, Chew drew the court's attention to Ms Ho's unreleased debut English album, which had cost the church millions to produce, and asked Kong why he had not acted to minimise the church's losses.

Kong had admitted being unsure who owned the copyright to the songs in Ms Ho's album.

Chew shot back: "I asked you, could you have liquidated the copyrights and used the money to pay back whomever had borrowed the bulk of the losses, and your reply was 'Well, if the Xtron directors tell me to do it, then I will do it'."

Chew further pointed out that Kong had refused to let Ms Ho return to the US in 2011 to promote the album.

Kong, responding, said he had been trying to balance between church duties and the legal proceedings: "We had a crisis. We needed the co-founder (Ms Ho) to be back to calm the people, and Your Honour, I think that just because I don't agree with Eng Han, it doesn't mean that I don't love the church."

Chew, keeping up his attack, said that Kong could have put his own money into the Crossover Project instead of buying properties for personal use; he added that Kong made no donations to the church.

The Crossover Project, Kong's vision, was launched to spread the gospel through his wife's music.

The court also heard that Kong had allowed the use of S$3 million in church funds to pay for the purchase of his preaching materials, such as books by him and his recorded sermons.

Kong denied this.

Chew also asked about the S$2.1 million which Kong allowed the church to send to City Harvest Kuala Lumpur, supposedly for a building project there.

Kong also denied this, and claimed later that the KL church had "independently funded" him a "love gift" of the same amount.

Chew also accused Kong of defrauding church members who had donated money to a multi-purpose account "by hiding the royalties, salaries and the bonuses" from the spreadsheet showed to them, so that these donors would be spurred to give more money.

The multi-purpose account was primarily set up to support Kong and Ms Ho, who were taken off the church's payroll in 2005. To this, Kong replied: "I kept the royalties and salaries confidential because that is the way we do it in City Harvest Church; when it comes to salaries and bonuses of any staff, we keep it confidential. I didn't defraud the givers."

Two other arguments were made by Chew - that Kong intended for Xtron to hold a church event yearly instead of every other year to milk more from the church, and that Kong had wanted to acquire a property for the church regardless of the cost.

Kong rejected these claims by Chew.

The trial continues today, with the prosecution questioning Kong.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Penalties under transboundary haze law too low

Business Times
13 Aug 2014
Ng Yew-Kwang

IT is reassuring to see the Singapore government doing something about the transboundary haze problem. However, the maximum penalties provided are way too low.

As reported, the fines are up to S$100,000 a day - capped at a total of S$2 million - for causing unhealthy haze, defined as a Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) value of 101 or greater for 24 hours or more. Some people may think that S$100,000 a day is a big penalty. However, since the haze affects everyone in Singapore, that sum is less than two cents a day per person. This is well below one per cent (likely also less than 0.1 per cent) of any reasonable estimate of the costs of haze at an unhealthy level.

There are good grounds for increasing the maximum fines by at least 10 times. Though the Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has promised to stiffen the penalties further if necessary, it would be more effective to have higher figures right away to serve as a strong signal.

In addition, convicting the culprits responsible for transboundary haze is likely to be very difficult and costly. As the probabilities of conviction are low, the expected fines (fines multiplied by probabilities) are much lower than the maximum fines provided. This makes it much more important to provide for more adequate maximum fines.

The provision for insufficient fines is probably partly affected by the tendency to focus on the more tangible costs only. The costs of masks, increased hospital visits and even reduced tourist revenues are more visible and more objectively measurable and hence attract more attention.

However, the most important costs of unhealthy haze are the negative effects on the health of people affected. Confining to Singapore, these include everyone living here and tourists, not to mention those potential visitors who decide on a "second best preferred" location.

Such negative health effects are very difficult to quantify. Though further studies by health specialists and economists would be useful to give better estimates, we may tentatively use an educated guestimate of the willingness to pay to avoid the haze to give some perspective.

The absolute amount of the willingness to pay varies greatly between people of different income and wealth levels and preferences. The willingness to pay as a percentage of income varies much less.

It is not incorrect to suggest that, on average, a person is likely to prefer to lose at least up to 5 per cent of his or her daily income than to sustain 24 hours of unhealthy haze. This would give a lower limit of more than S$25 million per day for Singapore as a whole. This is more than 250 times the maximum daily fine and probably more than 2,500 times the expected maximum fine, taking the probability of conviction as not higher than 10 per cent.

Given the conservative estimate (biased towards the low side), the real costs to expected fines ratio is likely to be in the order of 10,000 to one. This makes the expected fine faced by the culprit only 0.01 per cent of the damages imposed!

Should we nominate the penalty under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to the Guinness Book of Records for being the most lenient punishment in the world?

The writer is Winsemius Professor in Economics at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

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Clarification of TDSR rules: Mailbag

Business Times
26 Aug 2014

HO Swee Huat suggested that borrowers who had purchased their properties before the introduction of the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) framework should not be subject to the TDSR threshold of 60 per cent when they refinance their housing loans ("Make rules on refinancing mortgages more flexible", Aug 12, 2014). We thank Mr Ho for the opportunity to clarify our rules.

The TDSR framework applies to the refinancing of existing property loans where the date of the refinancing is on or after June 29, 2013. This is to encourage borrowers to right-size their loans and thereby reduce their vulnerability to adverse economic conditions or changes in interest rates.

We recognise that some borrowers may face challenges in right-sizing their debt obligations in the short term. Therefore, MAS does not require banks to apply the 60 per cent TDSR threshold at refinancing if the borrower bought his residential property before the introduction of TDSR rules and occupies the property.

In addition, banks need not apply the 60 per cent threshold for an investment property bought before the introduction of the TDSR framework if the borrower applies for refinancing before June 30, 2017, and commits to a debt reduction plan.

The above exemptions will help borrowers to refinance their property loans and lower their borrowing costs.

Banks may, however, apply more stringent terms and conditions, depending on their credit assessment of the borrower.

The current low interest rate environment will not persist indefinitely. When interest rates rise, borrowers will face higher mortgage repayments. We encourage borrowers seeking to refinance their housing loans to exercise prudence and review their debt commitments with a view to lowering their overall debt burden.

Bey Mui Leng

Director (Communications)

Monetary Authority of Singapore

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Audit guidebook for listed firms gets update

Straits Times
20 Aug 2014
Yasmine Yahya

REGULATORS have issued an updated version of a guidebook that outlines best practices for audit committees of listed companies.

This is the second edition of the guidebook, which was first issued in October 2008 as a way to strengthen Singapore's corporate governance.

"Following the revision to the Code of Corporate Governance in May 2012 and numerous industry developments, it was timely to review the guidebook to ensure its continued relevance," said regulators from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) and the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

These three agencies established the Audit Committee Guidance Committee in 2008 to develop practical guidance for listed companies that eventually formed the basis of the book.

A working group comprising industry practitioners and stakeholders was formed last year to review it.

Besides covering the relevant changes in the regulations and guidelines, the group also refreshed the case studies in the book and introduced guidelines on new areas of concern to audit committees that were not covered previously.

"As accountability and audit become an increasingly critical component to the good governance of a company, the second edition of the guidebook aims to help audit committee members better understand their roles and responsibilities," said Mr Danny Teoh, the chairman of the work group.

KPMG Singapore managing partner Tham Sai Choy said this was a timely move.

"Since the guide was launched in 2008, the global financial crisis has raised expectations of corporate governance standards around the world.

"It is important that Singapore is keeping up. This latest edition of the guidebook contains updated references to relevant legislation, listing rules and the corporate governance code," he said.

The guidebook can be downloaded from the MAS, Acra and SGX websites.

YASMINE YAHYA

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Prosecution amends murder charge

Straits Times
13 Aug 2014
Elena Chong

Accused, who has been granted bail, now faces culpable homicide charge

A MURDER charge against a woman for causing the death of her 17-month-old son in the sea off East Coast Park has been amended to one of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Lim Ann Nee hugged friends and relatives who had turned up in court for her case yesterday after she was released on bail.

The 45-year-old, who is married to a Frenchman, has been in custody since November last year for the alleged murder of her son Emilien Lacroix. The toddler's body was found floating about 300m from Bedok Jetty while Lim was rescued by the Police Coast Guard in the waters off East Coast Park on Nov 25.

When Lim's case was mentioned yesterday, the prosecution tendered an amended charge. She was calm and composed when the charge was read to her.

Lim, whose case has been delisted from the High Court, is said to have caused the death of her son by carrying him into the sea off East Coast Park, and leaving him alone knowing that he was unable to swim.

The charge further states that the act was done when she knew that it was likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or such bodily injury as was likely to cause death.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Eugene Lee asked for a pre-trial conference date.

Lim's husband, who is a Singapore permanent resident, stood bail for her at $30,000.

The bespectacled and long-haired woman was smiling when she met members of her family and close friends, numbering about 20. She was also seen crying.

She was initially remanded at Complex Medical Centre in Changi for psychiatric assessment which went on for more than a month. Psychiatrists found her not of sound mind at the time of the alleged offence. She is now fit to plead.

Lim's lawyer Anand Nalachandran told The Straits Times he was glad that the murder charge - which carries either death or life imprisonment upon conviction - has been amended, and that his client has been offered bail.

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Sept 8.

The maximum penalty for culpable homicide is 10 years' jail, fine and caning. Men above 50 and women cannot be caned.

elena@sph.com.sg

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Six accused held key positions: prosecution - City Harvest trial

Business Times
26 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

This helped facilitate misuse of church's building fund money

SEVERAL of the key positions in City Harvest Church's management board, committees and in church-linked entity, Xtron Productions, were filled by founder Kong Hee and his five co-accused and this helped facilitate the misuse of the church's building fund monies, alleged the prosecution.

One of Kong's key defence points was that for proposals made to the church or to Xtron, the board members and Xtron directors were the ones who ultimately approved them.

In a move to refute this, prosecutor Christopher Ong on Monday pointed out that from 2006 to 2008, the six accused held positions either on the management board, investment committee or audit committee.

Together with fellow accused John Lam and Serina Wee, Chew Eng Han was in the church's finance committee from January to September 2006.

The finance committee, later renamed investment committee, was chaired by co-accused Tan Ye Peng, supported by Chew, Lam and Wee.

Then from July 2007, Lam took over from Tan Ye Peng, while co-accused Sharon Tan was the secretary.

The court was also told that in 2007, Lam, Sharon Tan and Tan Ye Peng were in the church's audit committee, which worked with auditors from Baker Tilly.

Kong, himself, was president of the church and a board member.

Pointing to an e-mail exchange sent in October 2007 between Lam, Wee and Chew, Mr Ong questioned the discussion on whether certain information should not be disclosed to two other members of the investment committee - Charlie Lay and Martin Ong.

Stating he was not included in the e-mail, Kong said he did not want to speculate.

Mr Ong also noted that Kong had nominated several people, including Lam and Chew to be directors of Xtron.

Kong explained that he nominated them as they understood the vision of the Crossover Project, which aimed to evangelise through singer Sun Ho's secular music.

Mr Ong also tried to poke holes in another of Kong's key defence - that the founder had obtained clearance of big and small matters from professionals like auditors and lawyers.

Previously, Kong testified that he always sought the advice of auditor Foong Daw Ching on church matters and that he referred his team to the auditor as well.

But Mr Ong charged that Kong and his co-accused chose to consult Mr Foong instead of the engagement partner, Joseph Toh, from as early as 2004 as they had ulterior motives.

"I put it to you that the real reason you directed Ye Peng to go to Brother Foong instead of Joseph, the auditor, is because your practice was to use Brother Foong to test out whether the things you were planning would be able to get past the annual audit at the end of the year," said Mr Ong.

Kong denied this. "We went to Brother Foong not because Brother Foong was a pushover or he was a softer accountant and we could test the waters, push him around. Brother Foong was the founder of TFW and Baker Tilly ... We went to Brother Foong because Brother Foong was the boss."

The six church leaders are fighting allegations that they misused millions of church funds to boost the career of Ms Ho, who is Kong's wife. They allegedly did so through sham bond investments in Xtron and Firna.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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

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Singapore Law Watch
20 Aug 2014

Kong Hee defends 'rigorous' oversight

Straits Times
13 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

He insists he did his best to ensure church funds would be returned

CITY Harvest Church founder Kong Hee insisted yesterday that he had done his best to make sure church funds borrowed to finance his wife Ho Yeow Sun's music career would be returned, and with interest.

This included replacing award-winning artist Wyclef Jean when he asked for too much money to guide the making of her debut American album.

Kong, along with five others, face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing about $50 million in church funds to boost Ms Ho's career, and then to cover up the deed.

City Harvest had indirectly financed Ms Ho's foray into the United States music scene by buying bonds issued by Xtron Productions, the company managing her career at the time.

The prosecution believes these and other bonds were shams to enable the misuse of church funds, and there was no "genuine consideration" among the defendants of whether the money could be returned.

When asked about this by his lawyer Edwin Tong, Kong said his "rigorous" oversight in the production of the album, part of a church-approved project to evangelise using Ms Ho's pop songs, was proof that that was not true.

"I did my level best to make sure that all of the money being put into the US album would come back," he told the court. "Why? Because the church had invested its building fund in Xtron and I wanted to be sure the church suffered no loss."

After an American pastor suggested to him that Ms Ho's music would appeal to Americans, Jean, a three-time Grammy award winner, was hired in 2006 to help her.

He suggested that Ms Ho scrap the songs that she had already recorded as they sounded "too white, Caucasian" for her, Kong said yesterday.

Instead, Jean suggested a fusion of Asian music and reggae. He had created a similar "Latino-reggae" sound for Colombian pop star Shakira, helping her break into the American market.

This led to Ms Ho's single, China Wine, which enjoyed some success on the dance charts. But the music video attracted criticism for being risque.

Kong revealed yesterday that Ms Ho was "uncomfortable" with the new direction as it did not match the image she wanted. Even though it worked for Shakira, he said, "we were concerned... because obviously, as Asians, we come from a more conservative background".

The partnership with Jean ended in 2008 over budget and profit-sharing disagreements, he said. The album, which was targeted for a June 2010 release date, never materialised. By then, investigations had begun into suspected financial irregularities at the church.

The Xtron bond money was eventually repaid and with interest, but the prosecution believes this was done through "round- tripping". This means several of the defendants allegedly misused church funds to make it seem that Xtron had paid back what it owed.

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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