01 October 2016
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High Court dismisses application by Lee Kuan Yew's estate over transcripts

Straits Times
30 Sep 2016
Lim Yan Liang

Court agrees with Govt that Mr Lee's right to grant permission for access, copies and use was personal to him

The High Court yesterday dismissed an application by the estate of Mr Lee Kuan Yew against the Government.

The estate's executors, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, had claimed that it was entitled to use and have copies of the oral history transcripts of the late Mr Lee done in the early 1980s, as it held the copyright after Mr Lee's death on March 23 last year.

But the court agreed with the Government that Mr Lee Kuan Yew's right to grant permission for access, copies and use was personal to him, and it was not his intention for his estate to have free use or custody of the transcripts.

In his judgment, Justice Tay Yong Kwang noted that Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in drafting an agreement on the transcripts over 30 years ago, emphasised the political sensitivity of the material and the need to safeguard their confidentiality.

He added that the transcripts were protected under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and the estate could not grant access, copies or use of them without government authorisation.

The transcripts were part of a government oral history project in the early 1980s, and contained accounts of affairs of state as observed and experienced by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Due to the political sensitivity of its contents, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the Government put in place a "two key" system - where he would retain the copyright, while the Government would have physical custody of the tape recordings and transcripts - to control its usage.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew signed an agreement with the Cabinet Secretary and the Director of Archives in 1983 with specific terms governing the transcripts' use and administration.

The agreement said the transcripts would be kept in the Cabinet Secretary's custody until 2000 or five years after Mr Lee's death, whichever is later, after which the Government may hand the transcripts to the Director of Archives.

During this moratorium period, no person should have access to, supply copies or be able to use the transcripts without Mr Lee Kuan Yew's express written permission. He himself retained all copyright in the transcripts during this period, after which copyright would vest in the Government.

In agreeing with the Government, Justice Tay said extracts of parliamentary debates during the period showed that Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not give the interviews as a private individual, but as prime minister.

"In my view, the excerpts above support the Government's position that the transcripts were not created as a personal enterprise by LKY to record his observations for his own benefit," he said.

"Instead, they were one of a series of similar recordings that were created as part of the Government's project to document the history of Singapore, then a city-state with shallow historical roots."

Correspondence between Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the then Cabinet Secretary and then Attorney-General, and the fact that the resulting agreement was signed by three parties, also support the Government's claim that the transcripts dealt with politically sensitive matters and come within the purview of the Official Secrets Act, said Justice Tay.

He dismissed the estate's argument that the transcripts did not come under the OSA as there was no reference to it in the interview agreement.

"The OSA as a statute operates by law and needs no explicit reference," he said.

As such, the estate does hold the copyright to the transcripts, "but only for the purpose of ensuring the Government's compliance with the terms" of the agreement Mr Lee had signed regarding the interviews, which were conducted between July 8, 1981 and July 5, 1982.

The terms of the agreement also meant the Government had committed a technical breach when it allowed Mr Lee Hsien Yang to view the transcripts in late May last year, said Justice Tay, as only Mr Lee Kuan Yew could have provided the written permission this required.

But he said the breach was minor, and accepted it was done because of a request by the late Mr Lee's estate.

The transcripts were at the late Mr Lee's Oxley Road home when he died, but a family member, thinking they were official documents, handed them over to Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong without the knowledge or consent of the estate.

The estate became aware of them when told by the family member there was an acknowledgement of receipt from the Cabinet Secretary.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang asked to see the transcripts, and the Government agreed on condition that he did so at the Home Affairs Ministry and sign an undertaking on secrecy before viewing them.

Mr Lee agreed, but after looking through the transcripts, realised they were not marked "Secret".

He and his sister filed the court application last September, as executors of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's estate, to clarify the agreement their father made in early 1983 over the use of these interviews.

Justice Tay noted that there was no record of the circumstances under which the transcripts were transferred from the Cabinet Secretary to Mr Lee before his death.

But he said the fact that the transcripts were specified to be kept by the Cabinet Secretary "indicates that the interview agreement was not the usual copyright agreement".


Statement from estate of LKY

Rajah & Tann, solicitors for the Lee Kuan Yew estate, yesterday issued this statement on the High Court judgment.

The estate of Lee Kuan Yew welcomes the High Court's decision that the estate has the copyright to the tape recordings and transcripts of the late Mr Lee's interviews. This resolves a key point on which the Government disagreed with the estate. The estate also awaits the Government's compliance with the court's direction to inform the estate within two weeks whether the late Mr Lee had given his express written permission to anyone for access to, supply of copies or use of the tape recordings and transcripts.

The estate is reviewing the court's ruling that the copyright vested in the estate is limited to ensuring the Government's compliance with the interview agreement, and does not include a right to use or make copies of the tape recordings and transcripts.

The estate believes that such an interpretation of the interview agreement runs contrary to the context, language and purpose of the interview agreement, and is considering an appeal against this ruling.

The estate is also considering seeking leave to appeal against the court's decision to expunge parts of affidavits and documents filed for the purpose of the hearing.


What the executors sought

As executors to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's estate, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang applied to the High Court last September to clarify an agreement their father made in early 1983.

The agreement was over the control and use of oral interviews the late Mr Lee had given to the Government's then Oral History Department in 1981 and 1982.

In their filings, they sought to have the court declare that all rights to the interview transcripts belong to the estate following Mr Lee's death, as is stated under copyright law.

They argued that the wording of the agreement meant that Mr Lee did not intend for the copyright to be limited such that it did not transfer to his estate following his death.

The executors also claimed that the agreement meant that the copyright is retained by the maker, in this case Mr Lee Kuan Yew, even if the transcripts were created as part of a government project.

The executors added that the Official Secrets Act (OSA) was irrelevant to the case, which they claimed was contractual in nature and was about competing interpretations of the agreement.

They argued that the agreement governed the copyright and use of the transcripts and did not make reference to the OSA and that, in any case, the OSA cannot modify the contract terms set out in the agreement, among other things.

Therefore, the executors asked the court to declare that the estate is entitled to use and have copies of the transcript, and that no access to or use by anyone of the transcripts can be granted without the estate's permission.

The executors also asked the court to declare that the Cabinet Secretary, as custodian of the transcripts, has a duty to inform the estate of any requests following Mr Lee's death to access or use them, and if it has granted any such requests without the permission of Mr Lee's estate.


What the Government said

Transcripts of interviews that Mr Lee Kuan Yew gave in the early 1980s were part of an oral history project to record the observations of Singapore's first prime minister, the Government said.

The political sensitivity of the transcripts, which contain the "personal and unvarnished accounts of important events and affairs of state in Singapore's history", meant that it was Mr Lee's intention that there be a five-year moratorium following his death before they are used, it added.

To achieve this, Mr Lee and the Government put in place a "two key" system that split copyright ownership and physical possession of the transcripts via an agreement, with the Cabinet Secretary as custodian to the documents.

This, the Government said, was because Mr Lee sought to safeguard the confidentiality of the transcripts, so that they could not easily be used or exploited by either the copyright holder or the Government.

It added that the agreement is worded such that Mr Lee himself retained all copyright in the transcripts for the moratorium period, after which the copyright will pass to the Government.

The Government also countered the estate's view that the Official Secrets Act (OSA) was not relevant to the case, saying it mattered as it affects how the agreement is interpreted contractually.

Also, the OSA applies to the transcripts due to Mr Lee's position, and did not require explicit reference.

In documents it submitted to the court, including excerpts of parliamentary debate and Mr Lee's correspondence as the agreement was being drawn, the Government argued that the transcripts were part of a government project and done in his capacity as prime minister, not a personal enterprise by Mr Lee to record his memoirs for his own benefit.

The politically sensitive nature of the transcripts was also reinforced by this evidence, the Government added.


What the court found

The High Court largely agreed with the Government's interpretation of the agreement and ruled that, while Mr Lee Kuan Yew's estate has the copyright to the interview transcripts, it is only for the purpose of ensuring that the Government complies with the terms of the agreement.

It also ruled that the Official Secrets Act (OSA) is relevant and applicable in this case.

In dismissing the estate's application, Justice Tay Yong Kwang said Mr Lee's right to grant permission to access, copy and use the transcripts was personal to him, and it was not Mr Lee's intention for his estate to have free use or custody of them.

"Based on a plain reading of the Interview Agreement, I agree with the plaintiffs' interpretation... that the LKY estate inherited the copyright to the transcripts for the five-year period after LKY's death," said Justice Tay.

"However, this copyright is a limited one," he said.

Justice Tay noted that the transcripts come within the category of protected information covered by the OSA, thus restricting anyone in possession or control of them from dealing with them without the Government's authorisation.

"The Interview Agreement cannot be interpreted based solely on contractual principles applicable to a normal copyright assignment," he said.

That the agreement stipulated the transcripts be kept in the custody of the Cabinet Secretary and was signed by three parties also lends support to the Government's claim that the documents dealt with politically sensitive matters, he added.

However, Justice Tay said it would be proper for the Government to inform lawyers for Mr Lee Kuan Yew's estate if he had given written permission to anyone to access the transcripts.

And if such permission had been given, the Government should provide evidence to the estate.

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

Lee Wei Ling and another v Attorney-General [2016] SGHC 207

Splitting over parenting

Straits Times
25 Sep 2016
Venessa Lee

Different parenting styles can place a strain on marriage, say divorce lawyers

Co-sleeping, the practice of having infants and toddlers sleep with their parents, is said to impart a sense of security to the young ones.

Its disadvantages, say detractors, include an increased risk of suffocation for babies and, for adults, a dampener on spousal intimacy.

In some cases, unhappy spouses even take the matter to their lawyers.

Mr Lim Chong Boon, head of family law practice at PKWA Law, says co-sleeping is a major area of parental conflict in divorce cases he has handled.

One client, for example, told him that having his eight-year-old child in the matrimonial bed strained his relationship with his wife.

Mr Lim says one parent tends to push for co-sleeping, while the other prefers the child to learn to sleep alone.

However, the lawyer, who has handled divorce cases for 27 years, says that "generally, different parenting styles per se don't result in divorce in Singapore".

"Something else was already wrong with the marriage."

The high-profile divorce of movie stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie was announced on Tuesday amid allegations of clashing parenting styles, among other points of conflict.

The actress, 41, filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences and is seeking physical custody of their six children.

News reports have claimed that Jolie, who is allegedly upset with Pitt over his parenting, has no fixed bedtimes and believes in freedom of expression for the children. Pitt, 52, is reportedly the disciplinarian.

Ms Gloria James, head lawyer at Gloria James-Civetta & Co, says parenting differences "might not look serious, but are important to the client".

She has worked on a divorce case where the father overrode instructions from the mother, allowing their child to go to the cinema without first doing homework.

She estimates that her firm sees an average of 30 new divorce cases each month, close to 60 per cent of which involve parenting differences.

One such case showed how pain from parenting clashes can run deep, even when the children have grown up.

Ms James, who has practised family and divorce law for 20 years, recounts a case in which a son returned home from work with Chinese New Year goodies, which he left on a table. His father assumed the goodies were meant to be eaten and took some. The son, who has a brother, said his father was "like a dog, sniffing for food", she recalls.

The mother did not reprimand the son and the father felt she had not disciplined and instilled respect in their son. The incident was mentioned in the divorce papers.

In the experience of Ms Hoon Shu Mei, of law firm WongPartnership, "children are often used as pawns in the proceedings" of acrimonious divorces.

"Most of the time, the reason for the marriage breaking down lies with the parents themselves. If they can't get along, it will affect their parenting," the lawyer says.

Adultery or "unreasonable behaviour" is usually cited in acrimonious divorces, rather than parenting issues, she adds.

Ms Hoon has come across parenting differences in divorce cases that "could be perceived as petty", such as parents disagreeing about what co-curricular activities their children should take part in, or which tuition centre they should go to.

Before a marriage breaks down, common areas of parental conflict include discipline, for example, when one parent wields the cane and the other prefers not to, as well as situations where one parent is more harsh and the other more permissive, says Ms Monica Christine Fernando, a marriage and family counsellor at Reach Counselling.

"If one parent strictly follows his or her parenting style and that is the only style allowed, with no space for compromise, that can cause friction and lead to marital breakdown," she adds.

Ms Hoon thinks parenting differences could become more prominent in divorce cases in the future.

She says: "Parents are now more aware of different parenting styles and have a view as to how they should parent."


Working through differences

Here are some tips on how to reconcile different parenting styles.

Ms Theresa Bung, principal therapist at the non-profit Family Life Society, says:

• If the couple have different parenting approaches, they need to improve their communication to work on their differences.

• Set aside a time to talk, away from the children, and not when experiencing stress at work. Be mindful of the tone of voice and choice of words.

• When deciding what is best for a child, listen to his views as well, once he is mature enough to express them.

• Establish consistent parenting, for example, in terms of how much allowance a child gets. This is because if dad says one thing and mum another, he may be confused and anxious as he does not know which parent to please.

Ms Sarah Chua, parenting specialist at Focus on the Family Singapore, says:

• Gather different objective perspectives on parenting by joining a parent support group, attending parenting workshops together and befriending parents who have children of a similar age.

• Do not be afraid to seek help from a family counsellor. Couples who learn to work through their differences will have a stronger relationship. The best way to love your children is to love your spouse.

• Conflicts over parenting can be reduced when couples understand why they parent the way they do. For example, one spouse may insist on having dinner as a family because that was his experience growing up. The other spouse may not find it important as on-the-go meals were the norm as a child. Agree to disagree where necessary, though it is important to agree on the values you want to instil in your children.

Venessa Lee

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Businessman fined for fighting man suspected of affair with wife

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
K. C. Vijayan

A district judge fined a businessman instead of jailing him for a bruising fight with a man alleged to be having an affair with his wife.

The prosecution, which is appealing against the sentence, had urged that Tommy Koh Leng Theng, 36, be jailed for at least three weeks for his "relentless" blows that continued even after Mr Ho Wei Siong, 42, was on the ground.

"But there were factors that mitigated against the seriousness of Mr Koh's actions", including his "emotional response to seeing Mr Ho, who he perceived was responsible for the breakdown of his marriage", said District Judge Adam Nakhoda.

Mr Ho was also "insolent" when asked if he had had an affair with Koh's wife, responding: "What if I have, what can you do?" This led to Koh overreacting, he added in judgment grounds released last week.

Koh had pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace when he fought with Mr Ho at Lorong 27A, Geylang on June 11, 2014.

Koh also agreed to an additional charge being taken into account during sentencing, which involved fighting with another man who had made advances on his wife in 2012.

The district judge agreed with Deputy Public Prosecutor Sarah Shi that since Koh had previously resorted to fighting to settle differences, he had to be specifically deterred from doing so in future.

In pressing for a jail term, DPP Shi pointed to the serious injuries Mr Ho suffered, among other things, saying he had bruises, abrasions and stitches on his left eyelid.

Lawyer Anil Singh, in defending Koh, argued that the incident was not premeditated, with Koh emotionally unstable because of his marriage breaking down.

He added that Mr Ho had used a plastic chair to hit Koh when the latter tried to punch him, after which the fight began.

Mr Ho, who was given six days' medical leave, had been issued a stern warning by the police for his part, noted the judge.

The district judge acknowledged the aggravating factors but ruled the "threshold" to merit a jail term had not been crossed, given the facts and circumstances of the case.

"I considered that imposing the maximum fine of $5,000 would be sufficient to meet the needs of specific deterrence," he said.

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Countries should work together on family justice: CJ

Straits Times
30 Sep 2016
Seow Bei Yi

Family disputes with cross-border elements raise "complex issues... which countries will have to resolve", Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said yesterday.

He also announced a pilot scheme launching towards the end of the year that will see trained parenting coordinators help divorcing parents and aim to reduce conflict between them and their children.

From next week, parties with contested property disputes over $3 million in value will attend private rather than court mediation, he added.

The Chief Justice was speaking at the Supreme Court for the opening of the two-day International Family Law Conference, which brings together experts from the legal, psychological and social science sectors.

Highlighting that Singapore's "significant rise in transnational marriages" has been accompanied by a corresponding rise in family disputes, he stressed that the guiding principle in child-related proceedings is the child's welfare.

Divorce cases involving at least one party of a different nationality rose from 31 per cent of cases filed in 2011 to 40 per cent last year.

A Family Justice Courts spokesman said, on average, only 7 per cent of divorce cases involve two foreigners. More than 6,100 divorce writs have been filed a year, on average, between 2011 and last year.

While the Child Abduction Convention resolves an aspect of cross-border disputes, with signatory states obliged to ensure a child is returned promptly to where he usually lives, there are many other issues which countries have to resolve, said the Chief Justice.

This may be done either through other conventions, or agreed communities of practice. "This is why sustained international conversation on family justice is crucial," he said.

Noting that a working group of the council of Asean Chief Justices met this week, he said that their work will "facilitate greater interaction and dialogue on family matters among judiciaries in the region".

Citing the success of the 1980 Hague Convention, he added that "international cooperation can ensure that parents are able to obtain real relief".

Most Asean countries have not entered the Hague Convention, meant to offer protection from cross-border child abductions.

An International Advisory Council met for the first time on Wednesday as well to share perspectives on developments in family law. Its members are from countries including Australia and the United States.

The Chief Justice added: "We will continue to draw on the expertise of the council to build on, and implement, some of these ideas."

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

Review rules to help expats during divorce: Forum

Straits Times
25 Sep 2016

I was sad to read about the method some expatriates used to gain an unfair advantage in their custody battles for their children in divorce cases ("More expat spouses left in lurch in divorce cases"; last Sunday).

I applaud the various parties that are fighting for the rights of the vulnerable spouses.

With globalisation, we will see more expats working in Singapore.

As the number of divorce cases rises, it is time to review the rules and regulations to protect children in divorce cases and to level the battlefield for both parties.

The main issue is the cancellation of a spouse's Dependant's Pass.

I hope the authorities can review the expat's right of cancellation in such cases, especially when children are involved.

Alternatively, a special visa or visitor pass could be granted until the court case is over.

The authorities should make it easier for the affected spouse and the children to be together by, for instance, allowing special arrangements for the rental of accommodation, and study arrangements.

Leong Kok Seng

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Ex-principal fired from public service

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Jeremy Koh

Koh lied about his affair with a school vendor and was sentenced to four weeks' jail in January

A former River Valley High School (RVHS) principal, who was sentenced to four weeks' jail in January after lying about an extramarital affair with a school vendor to whom he awarded contracts, has been dismissed from public service.

Koh Yong Chiah, who was 61 when sentenced to jail, was once one of Singapore's "super principals".

A notice posted yesterday in the online edition of the Government Gazette said that Koh, a Senior Education Officer Superscale G, had been dismissed from the public service with effect from Sept 14.

On Nov 24, 2005, the father of two gave false information to an officer from the Ministry of Education (MOE), asserting that he was not having an affair with school service provider Ivy Loke Wai Lin.

Koh was then principal of Jurong Junior College (JJC), a post he held from 2003 until 2009, when he became principal of RVHS.

Koh and Ms Loke, who was 55 as of January this year, met in 2000 while he was the principal of the former Chinese High School (CHS). Their first sexual encounter was during a CHS community service trip to Lijiang, China, in 2001. Both were married.

Between May and November 2005, in his capacity as the final approving authority for contracts at JJC, Koh awarded six contracts worth $162,491 to Ms Loke's firm, Education Architects 21 (EA 21).

He did not disclose the nature of his relationship with Ms Loke to the quotation approval panel.

Between 2005 and 2012, he approved $3.4 million worth of contracts to EA 21 and Education Incorporation, another of Ms Loke's firms.

Dubbed one of the "super principals" when he was appointed cluster superintendent in 1999, Koh was, at one point in his career with the education service, overseeing 11 schools in the south zone.

The Nanyang University graduate began his teaching career at Catholic High School in 1981, eventually becoming Kranji Secondary's principal. He made the news in 1999 when he was named principal of CHS.

When the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau started investigating him in 2012, he was redeployed to the MOE to assist in curriculum development.

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Next year's cyber security bill an important piece of essential legislation

Business Times
30 Sep 2016

SINGAPORE has taken several steps to strengthen cyber security, both in terms of operational readiness as well as legislation, these past few years. Operationally, the setting-up of the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) as the apex body to formulate national cyber strategy is the most important step. And in legislation, the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) ensures the privacy of personal data in Singapore. Also, the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act helps to check local cyber crime.

The nature of cyber attacks is changing constantly, so the response mechanism needs to evolve along with it. For example, statistics show Singaporeans have lost as much as S$15 million to various scams to date this year. This is just the number reported to the authorities, so the actual figure could be much higher. Some of this money represents victims' lifetime savings. Another new form of attack is ransomware; attackers take over a computer (and, in some cases, company servers) and encrypt all the data. The computer is released only on payment of "ransom money", usually in an online transaction. To date, there have officially been 19 cases reported in Singapore. Again, experts feel the actual number is much higher because many victims choose to pay up or remain silent; the experts point to the global incidence rate of ransomware, which is much higher. It is well known that Singaporean companies have had their security systems compromised. Research by data storage technology vendor EMC showed that 28 per cent of local organisations have lost data in the last year as the result of a security breach, and that the average cost of data loss for these organisations amounted to more than US$1.3 million.

Another major area of concern is cyber attacks on critical infrastructure. Much of today's infrastructure (like power plants) is digitally controlled and hence susceptible to attack. While good cyber defence is a must, there's an added dimension to this: the government needs to know as soon as possible of such attacks to ensure that similar incidents do not occur. Sharing information is an important cyber security tool as it ensures that all possible resources are brought in to tackle a cyber attack in order to neutralise it.

In Singapore, the reporting channel of attacks on companies, including critical infrastructure, is still not centralised. A particular company would report to the sector regulator: for example, in the case of the power sector, to the Energy Market Authority (EMA); and to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) for the banking sector. In some cases, reporting could be delayed due to reasons like the fear of a fine, or the desire to avoid adverse publicity which could hit the company's share price. This is one of the areas that the new Cyber Security Bill (that is expected to be tabled in Parliament in mid-2017) will address. Various new measures like making it mandatory to report as soon as such an incident occurs and providing safe-harbour clauses to companies for such reporting are being considered. Once this bill is passed into law, it will - along with the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act and the PDPA - give Singapore a comprehensive legislative framework to tackle the cyber threat. This will enable CSA and other government bodies to concentrate on the operational readiness aspect of tackling the issue and not worry about the legislative framework.

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SPH seeks winding up of ad agency

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

The agency, Adcom, failed to pay a $1m judgment after being sued by the publisher

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), which publishes The Straits Times, has applied to wind up an advertising agency, Adcom, following the latter's failure to pay a $1 million judgment ordered by the High Court two months ago.

The move by SPH came after Adcom, which had been given 21 days to pay the judgment debt, failed to do so by the Aug 29 deadline. SPH sued Adcom in March this year after the agency failed to pay about $1 million in advertising fees.

Adcom, set up in 1974, is owned by well-known entrepreneur Adam Khoo and his father Vince Khoo.

In its claim, the publisher contended that the agency had breached an agreement signed by both parties in January 1999, in which SPH agreed to publish advertisements on behalf of Adcom.

Under the written agreement, Adcom, as the advertiser, must make payment no later than 45 days after the date of SPH's invoice for the advertising services.

If any sum remains unpaid after the expiry of the 45 days, all sums owed to SPH become immediately due and payable by Adcom, the agreement states.

The agreement also states that Adcom has to fully indemnify SPH for any liabilities, losses and expenses incurred as a result of any breach of contract by the agency.

Between October 2015 and February this year, SPH issued various invoices to Adcom for advertisements it had published on behalf of the agency. However, Adcom did not pay these sums, totalling $1,005,546.43.

After it was sued by SPH, Adcom filed a counter suit. It contended that SPH had orally agreed not to strictly enforce the terms of the 1999 agreement. Adcom asserted that SPH had breached this alleged oral agreement. It also claimed SPH had contacted clients of Adcom and induced them to breach their contracts with the agency.

On May 31, SPH applied for summary judgment to be granted for its claim for $1 million. This was not opposed by Adcom at the hearing of the application on July 21.

After summary judgment was granted in favour of SPH, Adcom discontinued its counterclaim on Aug 8. On the same day, SPH issued a statutory demand to Adcom to pay the judgment sum as well as interest and legal costs. But no payment was made.

On Sept 13, SPH filed a winding up application against Adcom, on the basis of the agency's inability to pay its debts under the Companies Act.

The winding up application is scheduled to be heard on Oct 7.

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Feedback wanted on tweaks to charities' code of governance

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Priscilla Goy

Charity Council proposes changes to improve transparency and accountability

Charities should disclose information on their board members - including their attendance at board meetings, their pay and when they were appointed.

They should also declare the pay packet for each of their three highest-paid staff, if the person's pay exceeds $100,000 a year.

These guidelines - some of which already apply to larger charities - will be extended to cover almost all charities, under proposed changes to the code of governance for the charity sector.

  • Proposed changes

  • Disclosure of board members' names, board appointments and dates of appointment

    NOW: This is required by law, for charities with annual receipts or expenditure of $500,000 and above.

    NEW: This is a guideline in the new basic tier, that is, for charities with annual receipts of over $50,000 and all Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs).

    Disclosure of number of board meetings in the year, and attendance of each board member

    NOW: No such guideline.

    NEW: Guideline in basic tier.

    Disclosure of board members' pay in annual report

    Generally, board members should not be paid for their services on the board. If they are, the pay and benefits should be declared in the annual report.

    NOW: This guideline applies only to charities with annual receipts of above $10 million and IPCs with annual receipts of above $200,000.

    NEW: Guideline in basic tier.

    Disclosure of pay of each of charity's three highest-paid staff, if this exceeds $100,000 a year

    NOW: This is a guideline for large charities with annual receipts of above $10 million, and IPCs with annual receipts of above $200,000.

    NEW: Guideline in basic tier. Total annual pay also includes any pay received in a charity's subsidiaries. The charity should also disclose if any of the three top-paid staff serves on the board.

    Maximum term limit of 10 years for at least two-thirds of the board members

    NOW: No such guideline.

    NEW: Guideline for large charities with annual receipts of above $10 million, and IPCs with annual receipts of above $500,000.

Small charities with annual receipts or total expenditure of less than $50,000 will be exempt from these, as well as from submitting online checklists that evaluate their governance.

Such charities usually have fewer staff and more resource constraints, and find it tougher to meet the guidelines. They make up about 10 per cent of the more than 2,000 charities in Singapore.

The Charity Council is asking the public for feedback on the proposed changes, and the consultation paper can be read online from today.

The council promotes good governance in the sector and advises the Commissioner of Charities on regulatory issues. The code of governance is a best practices guide for charities to improve their transparency and public accountability.

It was introduced in 2007, and refined once in 2010. The latest refined code is expected to be launched early next year.

The council said yesterday that it started on the latest refinement in August last year, "to enhance the code's relevance and clarity, taking into consideration developments in other jurisdictions and increased global focus on good governance, transparency and accountability to enable informed giving decisions".

The guidelines are tiered, depending on the charity's financial size and status as an Institution of a Public Character (IPC).

In giving the rationale for extending some guidelines to mid-sized charities, the council said: "Charities are public-interest entities and receive tax exemption on their income. Therefore, there is a greater need for transparency and accountability to the public for all charities to whom the code applies."

It also noted that key decisions are made at board meetings and it wants to encourage regular attendance at the meetings, even if this is done via teleconferencing.

Mr Delane Lim, who is not paid as an executive director and board member of the Character and Leadership Academy, said he does not mind having to disclose more information, noting that safeguards and transparency are important. His charity, which conducts youth outreach programmes, had an annual income of about $70,000 in the financial year ending in April last year.

"There will probably be more paperwork, and we don't have many staff to do that, but I think it's okay as long as the process is seamless and convenient," he said.

"If the authorities start asking for many supporting documents like Central Provident Fund statements, or insist that attendance at every board meeting is very high, then that may be quite ridiculous."

Other proposed changes include introducing a maximum term of 10 consecutive years for at least two-thirds of the charity's board members. This is generally for larger charities.

The council originally proposed to have this guideline apply to all board members, to encourage renewal and introduction of "fresh ideas". But it decided to allow more flexibility after receiving feedback from dialogues with charities.

Mr Gerard Ee, who chairs the council, told The Straits Times: "For a religious charity where the founder sits on the board, the charity may not want the founder to step down from the board after 10 years."

The council also recommended that larger charities set in place whistle-blowing policies and risk-management processes.

• The public has until Oct 18 to send feedback on the proposed changes to charity_council_sec@mccy.gov.sg

• The consultation paper is available at www.charities.gov.sg and www.reach.gov.sg

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

Filling gap in community law

Straits Times
30 Sep 2016
Amelia Teng

Young and fresh faces will not fill the classrooms at Singapore's third and newest law school at the SIM University (UniSIM) next year.

Instead, most of the 60 students - about 80 per cent of them - will have an average work experience of 11 years. They vary from law enforcement officers and paralegals to court registrars, teachers and social workers.

The private university announced this week that it took in 27 applicants for its Bachelor of Laws course and 33 for its Juris Doctor course, which is for people with first degrees.

The study of law at UniSIM will not be quite the same as that at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University, (SMU) which cater mainly to fresh school-leavers.

Some people have raised concerns that the new school will add to a glut of new law graduates caused by more students pursuing law degrees abroad, but actually, its aim is to fill a shortage of criminal and family lawyers in the legal industry.

Fresh law graduates from NUS, SMU and overseas universities generally do not choose to join this field for reasons including remuneration that does not compare as well with corporate law. According to the Ministry of Law, there are about 1,600 criminal and family lawyers here as of 2014, compared with 3,600 corporate and commercial lawyers.

Senior lawyers noted that it requires a certain grit and maturity to last in community law, which can be emotionally taxing. The third law school's students have thus been carefully chosen through a selection process that included an interview, a British law school admissions test and submission of a resume.

The students with prior work experience come with insights from their own sectors and are familiar with the demands of dealing with different groups of people in need. It is hoped that with these life experiences, they would be more prepared to handle the demands of family and criminal law, and have a genuine passion for it. Filling the growing gap of good practitioners in these fields will ultimately benefit society at large, with the average Singaporean enjoying better access to legal help.

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Feuding neighbours: Noise, littering among complaints handled by tribunals

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016
Seow Bei Yi

Most common complaints are noise, littering, interfering with movable items

A woman complained about the din made by her neighbours downstairs when they sang karaoke.

They hit back by leaving their main door and windows open, and hurling vulgarities at the woman and her family. Early this year, the woman filed a claim with the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT) - one of almost 80 made from October last year, when it opened, to July 31.

The tribunals, which are given powers to resolve disputes between neighbours under the Community Disputes Resolution Act passed last year, received more than 930 inquiries in the same period.

These statistics were revealed yesterday by the State Courts, which oversees the tribunals, in conjunction with its first seminar on resolving community disputes. Some 300 people from government agencies and community groups attended the event.

As in the case of the woman and her karaoke-singing neighbours, nearly 70 per cent of the cases included complaints about excessive noise.

Other pet peeves are littering and interfering with movable property, each forming about a quarter of the cases. There may be more than one cause of dispute for each claim.

In the case of the woman, an order was issued to the other family to close all windows and doors completely when using the karaoke machine. They were not to use the machine when her children were having examinations, if told of the exam periods.

Both parties were also not to stare at each other or make abusive comments and sounds if they met.

Before the tribunals were introduced, people turned to the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) if they could not settle disputes on their own or even with the help of grassroots leaders. But there is little the authorities can do if the neighbours do not want to make up. Some do not even turn up. The no-show rate at the CMC was about 60 per cent.

The tribunals, which have jurisdiction on claims of up to $20,000, has more teeth. For unresolved disputes, the judge may order a hearing, in which he can make certain orders, like getting a neighbour to pay damages or apologise.

Still, while the tribunals do not conduct mediation, a State Courts spokesman said parties are "strongly encouraged" to go for mediation voluntarily before filing a claim.

Those who inquire with the tribunals will be referred to a free consultation to understand court processes and consider alternatives to resolution. Even when a claim has been filed, parties may be ordered to go through mediation.

MPs told The Straits Times that spats between residents are common.

Said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin: "There are often several sides to an issue, and it does take time to find solutions. Sometimes, we are not able to achieve a positive outcome."

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad added: "Mediation has a certain weakness to it. You can't force parties to attend it."

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah said: "It is neither practical nor desirable for most disputes to go to the CDRT. I hope most cases can continue to be resolved with compromise and consideration, with the grassroots leaders' help."

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Singaporean nabbed for drug trafficking in Bali

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

A Singaporean working illegally as a deejay has been arrested for drug trafficking on the popular Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Officials said Muhammad Faliq Nordin, 32, was nabbed during a sting operation on Sept 10, after he picked up two packages at a post office in Denpasar, Bali's capital.

The packages, which arrived separately from the Netherlands on Aug 29 and Sept 9, contained a total of 100.2g of methamphetamine, better known by its street name, crystal meth, and 30.3g of cocaine.

The drugs have an estimated street value of 225 million rupiah (S$23,300), according to Mr Syarif Hidayat, who heads the Customs and excise office for Bali, Nusa Tenggara Barat and Nusa Tenggara Timur.

"The illicit drugs were hidden in ceramic cups and filled over with candle," he said.

Bali police director for narcotics Franky Parapet said Faliq confessed that he was going to deliver the packages to a friend identified as Kubo Raum, a British national.

"The suspect went to the post office carrying a proxy letter signed by Kubo Raum to pick up the package, he was also carrying Kubo Raum's passport," said Mr Franky, adding that the police are now searching for the Briton.

Bali provincial police spokesman Anak Agung Made Sudana said Faliq is the first Singaporean to be arrested on the island for drug trafficking.

Faliq has been living in Bali for the last four to six months on a tourist visa and had worked as a deejay, said Mr Franky. He had also deejayed in the Philippines and Thailand recently.

Mr Franky said initial investigations indicated that Faliq was operating as a "drug courier" even though the Singaporean claimed that he did not know what was in the packages. He claimed he was collecting them as a favour for Kubo, whom he befriended two to three months ago.

Indonesian law differentiates between a drug user, courier and dealer, with the latter typically receiving the maximum death sentence if found guilty.

The amount of drugs seized during Faliq's arrest does not carry the death sentence but, if found guilty, he could be jailed for life.

Indonesia has a tough anti-drugs policy and the Joko Widodo government has stepped up executions of drug convicts, including several foreigners, in recent years.

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Yang Yin gets 26 months' jail for lies, schemes to be S'pore PR

Straits Times
30 Sep 2016
Carolyn Khew

Ex-tour guide will also be sentenced today for misappropriating $1.1m from elderly widow

For faking and lying his way to Singapore permanent residency, former China tour guide Yang Yin was sentenced to two years and two months in jail yesterday - a punishment that the judge said should deter other foreigners from trying to stay here under false pretences.

Today, things could get worse for the 42-year-old.

He is expected to be sentenced for misappropriating $1.1 million from an elderly widow - for which the prosecution has asked for a jail term of 10 to 12 years.

With a troubled expression on his face, Yang stood in the dock hearing Deputy Presiding Judge of the State Courts Jennifer Marie list how he schemed his way to becoming a permanent resident.

Yang deceived the authorities, including the Ministry of Manpower and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, by using false documentation, including fake monthly payslips and financial statements to create the impression that his sham company, Young Music and Dance Studio, was a thriving one.

More seriously, he also lied to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) that he was running a profitable business and earning a salary so it would grant him permanent resident status, and his wife, a long-term visit pass.

In all, the prosecution proceeded with 120 out of 347 charges - most of which involved the falsification of receipts. The rest were taken into consideration for sentencing.

"This sentence adequately sends a strong signal to deter like-minded offenders - that foreigners who gain entry to or remain under false pretences in Singapore should not be allowed to get off with a slap on their wrists," said the judge.

While Yang was a first-time offender with no previous criminal record, his offences were committed over an extended period of time.

"The offences committed by the accused were, without a doubt, premeditated and carefully planned," added Judge Marie.

Since Yang first made the news in 2014, when widow Chung Khin Chun's niece made him leave her aunt's house, pictures of him at grassroots activities had also surfaced online.

His business card listed him as the director of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and executive director of the Singapore Chinese Immigrants Association. He was none of those. Yang also faked his degree, which he claimed was from the University of Financial Trade Beijing.

Yang's lawyer, Mr Irving Choh, asked the court to take into account how Yang is the sole breadwinner for his aged parents, wife and children aged three and eight. But Judge Marie accorded "little weight" to that submission.

"The hardship that will befall the accused's family as a result of his sentence is really a natural result of the accused committing an offence," she added.

When asked, Mr Choh said his client would not be appealing against yesterday's sentence.

The ICA told The Straits Times that those who provide false information in their applications will be dealt with firmly.

Any PR who has been convicted of an offence will also have his status reviewed by the ICA.


STRONG DETERRENT

This sentence adequately sends a strong signal to deter like-minded offenders - that foreigners who gain entry to or remain under false pretences in Singapore should not be allowed to get off with a slap on their wrists.

DEPUTY PRESIDING JUDGE OF THE STATE COURTS JENNIFER MARIE


A plan to get work pass and PR status

In 2009, Yang Yin set up Young Music and Dance Studio. The address of the company was that of the Gerald Crescent bungalow where he had been living with wealthy widow Chung Khin Chun.

The house belonged to her.

On paper, the company seemed to be successful, with more than $450,000 in revenue. But the truth was that the payments that the company received had all been fake.

For instance, from October 2009 to July 2014, the former tour guide falsified 110 receipts for piano tuition, singing classes and even paintings, amounting to $186,900.

He had set up the sham company in order to secure an employment pass, and later obtained permanent resident status in 2011. He was planning to apply for Singapore citizenship eventually.

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

222 apply for protection against harassment

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016
Seow Bei Yi

Most people who lodged complaints under the Protection from Harassment Act say they suffered harassment, alarm or distress, with a number citing fear, provocation of violence or even unlawful stalking.

From November 2014 - when the Act was enacted - to July this year, there have been 222 applications for protection orders. Of these, 76 were granted and 83 withdrawn at the pretrial stage. This could be due to lack of evidence or both parties reaching a settlement. No details were given for the rest of the applications.

Of nine non-publication orders filed - for someone to stop publishing an offending statement - three were withdrawn and two granted.

A State Courts spokesman said counselling and mediation are often used in cases and applications may be withdrawn, sometimes with a settlement agreement. In other cases, both parties may agree on the terms of a protection order.

In the same period, 1,233 Magistrate's Complaints, which involve criminal cases, were filed under the Act.

Ms Jolene Tan, head of advocacy and research at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), said: "Many people whom we deal with have a better understanding of harassment because of the Act." They are mainly from Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre.

But Ms Tan said there is little take-up for Protection Orders as the paperwork can be "very complex" and costly, starting from around $125.

For a Magistrate's Complaint, the paperwork is less daunting, she added.

Seow Bei Yi

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Limit working hours for lawyers called to the Bar: Voices

TODAY
19 Sep 2016

I refer to The Big Read article “As supply of lawyers lurches from shortage to glut, spotlight falls on policies” (Sept 10).

The Chief Justice’s suggestion of the paralegal route for fresh graduates has potential consequences, not to mention the concerns of those pursuing a law diploma.

As a member of the legal fraternity, I would argue that another way to address the oversupply of lawyers is to limit, by statute, the working hours per week for lawyers called to the Bar.

This would crystallise the aspiration to a better work-life balance, drive up productivity, and generate higher demand for lawyers.

Obviously, there are other economic considerations: Proponents of free-market principles would frown upon tampering with market forces, and owners of legal practices would argue that this would increase costs and make legal services less competitive.

Most people may agree that the invisible hand of the market should be balanced by the visible hands of good governance and regulation to prevent market failure.

As with other businesses, legal practices are exposed to the risk of regulations and would be wise to price in such risks, whether during the recruitment of lawyers or the provision of legal services.

Long working hours are a factor in the mid-career attrition rate; it follows that a statutory limit on working hours is a straightforward fix to stop the haemorrhage of experienced practitioners.

I also think that a minor tweak to the qualification process — extending the training contract period — would serve as another remedy.

The current process for local law graduates consists of five months of studying for the Bar examinations and a six-month practice training period, whereas the process is longer for overseas law graduates.

The qualification period in Singapore is shorter than in England and Australia. In England, qualified solicitors must have first completed the legal practice course, similar to our Bar examinations, and then a two-year training contract.

In New South Wales, Australia, a barrister must have undertaken 12 months of training. Notably, however, law degrees in England and Australia can be completed in three years, compared with four years in Singapore.

Regulating the supply of qualified legal professionals is not an easy task; if the market is saturated, and we prefer not to do a U-turn on overseas graduates, we should focus on fine-tuning the process where the supply meets demand.

Ambition is indeed no substitute for ability as Singapore continues its efforts to establish itself as the legal hub of the region. And plainly, this potential glut is, in fact, an opportunity if it is managed properly.

 

Ju Xiaoyong

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved 

Online betting to be introduced in next 2 months

Straits Times
30 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong & Melissa Lin

Singapore Pools and Turf Club allowed to run remote gambling platforms, but must have safeguards in place

Online betting will be introduced in Singapore over the next two months after lottery operators Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club were given the go-ahead to run online betting platforms.

The two operators will be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act, which outlaws online and phone gambling, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday, confirming a recent Straits Times report that had flagged this.

But the operators have to put in place safeguards, such as allowing only those above 21 to open accounts and requiring players to set daily limits on how much they want to spend on online gambling.

Singapore Pools will launch its online betting services on Oct 25 and the Turf Club will launch its new Web and mobile platform on Nov 15.

Punters can place bets only for 4D, Toto, football, F1 and horse-racing. Casino-style games or poker will not be allowed.

The exemptions will last for three years and the operators can apply for their renewal.

Since the Act came into force in February last year, several hundred websites offering remote gambling services have been blocked. More than 120 people have been arrested for remote gambling offences.

The Act was passed into law in late 2014 following intense debate spanning the political spectrum, and the move to grant the exemptions once again reignited concerns that this will make online betting more accessible and lead to an increase in gambling addictions.

Said Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher De Souza: "If, by providing the exemptions, more Singaporeans are attracted to online gambling and this in turn increases gambling addiction cases, then I would be highly concerned.

"But if the number of online gambling addiction cases goes down as a result of having this regulated regime, it will be a significant advantage. The converse result would be immensely unfortunate - especially for family members."

On Tuesday, the Workers' Party said the exemptions will make "virtual betting outlets available in almost every home and mobile device".

Gambling help groups have said the young - known to be technology-savvy - are most at risk.

The MHA said the global remote gambling market is worth about US$40 billion (S$54.5 billion) and growing at a rate of about 6 per cent to 8 per cent annually.

It added that it is not "straightforward to eradicate remote gambling totally". Its spokesman said: "A complete ban would only serve to drive remote gambling underground, making it harder to detect, and exacerbate the associated law and order, and social concerns."

So while the exemptions will be granted, this "tightly controlled valve" will come with "stringent operating conditions".

Operators have to "keep their management and operations of the remote gambling services free from criminal influence, ensure integrity of their operations and implement social safeguards and responsible gambling measures".

Some of the safeguards include the self-exclusion option and checks to ensure those opening accounts do not have casino exclusion orders.

Operators also have to put in place systems and controls to prevent money laundering and counter the financing of terrorism.

If the conditions are breached, the operators could be fined up to $1 million and have their exemption status revoked.

Mr Chris Eaton of the International Centre for Sport Security said that by legalising online sport betting, Singapore is preventing organised crime from taking root in sports.

"Singapore is making the right choice in legalising online sport betting... sport betting fraud funds match-fixing worldwide," he said.

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Need for holistic reform in consumer protection: Forum

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016

The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) (Amendment) Bill tabled in Parliament, unfortunately, does not seem to address the lingering problem of retailer insolvency where there have been prepayments made by customers ("New law gives shoppers more protection against errant retailers"; Sept 14).

The recent cases of businesses suddenly winding up or disappearing are merely the latest in a string of such cases where consumers have been left in a quandary.

According to the Consumers Association of Singapore, the number of complaints due to sudden business closures has shot up and was expected to reach 500 by the end of last year.

Perhaps we should look at the recommendations made by Britain's Law Commission in its report, Consumer Prepayments On Retailer Insolvency, presented to the British Parliament on July 13. There were five key areas highlighted for reform:

• Regulating savings schemes which pose a particular risk to vulnerable consumers
• Introducing a general power for the government to require prepayment protection in sectors which pose a particular risk to consumers
• Giving consumers more information about obtaining a refund through their debit or credit card issuer
• Making a limited change to the insolvency hierarchy, to give preference to the most vulnerable category of prepaying consumers
• Making changes to the rules on when consumers acquire ownership of goods

A holistic reform package such as the above should be similarly considered for Singapore, and the authorities should address consumer concerns head-on. Any piecemeal reform may make matters worse.

David Chang Cheok Weng

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Singapore companies take wait-and-see approach

Straits Times
19 Sep 2016
Lee Xin En

With little idea of how Britain's new relationship with the European Union will look, businesses in Singapore are taking a wait-and-see approach, even as they make preparations to amend legal agreements.

For now, the main impact on Singapore companies with a presence in Britain has been limited to the sterling's depreciation - and for some, this has been a silver lining.

Local property developer Oxley Holdings, which is developing the Royal Wharf waterfront project in London, said that while the sterling's fall will affect profits, it has also prompted increased inquiries from overseas buyers since Brexit.

As of the end of last month, 88 per cent of about 3,400 units at the Royal Wharf had been sold, it said. It plans to double marketing efforts in the Middle East and Asia.

City Developments (CDL), which has 22 hotels in Britain through its London-listed unit Millennium & Copthorne Hotels (M&C), said the impact of the currency fall is seen when the British operations are consolidated into Singapore dollars in the accounts of M&C's parent, CDL.

Despite perceptions that a weaker sterling will make Britain more attractive to travellers, the firm has yet to see evidence of this. CDL executive chairman Kwek Beng Leng said that raising rates would be difficult, but added that he expects a boost in domestic British tourism, which would benefit M&C.

"During this period of economic uncertainty, our strategy is to ensure that costs are controlled. This is a very important factor," he said.

For conglomerate Sembcorp, which provides utilities to chemical and other manufacturing firms, the weaker sterling has been a boon.

"We haven't seen any fall in demand from our customers in Britain thus far. In some cases, some are even increasing production to take advantage of the weaker pound," a spokesman said by e-mail.

Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chief Ho Meng Kit said for its members with business in Britain, things are back to "near normal".

He noted that as Singapore firms operating in Britain are largely in the services and hospitality sectors, Brexit would be "less impactful" for them than firms using Britain as a manufacturing hub to Europe.

Lawyers here said that clients are making preparations, although nothing has been executed.

Ms Sophie Mathur, a Singapore-based partner at Linklaters, said that while firms here were not feeling the impact on a day-to-day basis, companies and investment managers were looking at areas such as data-sharing rules.

"Under Singapore's Personal Data Protection Act, you can export data to a country with an equivalent regime, or take steps to ensure that data is treated as it would be here," she said. "The EU is generally seen as the gold standard for data protection laws. It is not yet clear if the new United Kingdom rules will be an equivalent regime.

"Singapore firms will have to assess the extent to which the regime there is equivalent to Singapore's, and whether they are allowed to transfer data there without taking additional steps."

The latest available figures from the Department of Statistics show that Singapore's foreign direct investment in the UK amounted to $41.6 billion in 2014.

Meanwhile, investment managers might have agreements with clients to buy EU funds, which would have implications for how the agreements would pan out from a "definitional point of view", Ms Mathur added. "We are poised to start amending those agreements but, as of now, we can't."

Ms Lee Suet-Fern, senior director of Morgan Lewis Stamford's Singapore office, said companies were looking at dispute resolution provisions in their contracts.

"With respect to new contracts, where possible, many Singapore corporates active in Europe are now more keen to push to use Singapore law and Singapore dispute resolution, for familiarity and clarity. Counter-parties are becoming more receptive to this."

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Who should bear the cost of tax transparency?

Business Times
30 Sep 2016
Liam Collins & Vivienne Ong

THE Ministry of Finance (MOF) announced in June that Singapore is committed to implementing a new global financial disclosure regime: country-by-country reporting (CbCR).

CbCR is one of the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) recommendations made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and is being adopted widely across the world. Essentially, under CbCR, large multinational groups will be required to report key financial information on a country-by-country basis to the revenue authority in the home jurisdiction of their parent company.

So, many major Singapore-headquartered groups will be required to prepare and present this information to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) shortly. Major foreign- owned groups with operations in Singapore are unlikely in most cases to have to lodge such a report with IRAS, but they are likely (depending on the location in which their parent company is tax resident) to lodge such information with an offshore revenue authority, including information about their Singapore operations.

The CbCR information provided will not typically be made public, but may be shared between revenue authorities in certain circumstances. A core principle of the regime is that revenue authorities are to use the information for risk assessment purposes, not rely on it to levy tax. Such information will provide key information on a multinational corporation's global profit allocation against where its economic value-added activities are carried out. This will give tax authorities globally in-depth access to each group's global tax profile (which includes key information such as accounting profit, tax paid, number of employees per jurisdiction, etc), and allow them to form a view on whether there are risks embedded in the group's tax profile that warrant further review.

The CbCR regime is rapidly becoming a reality for MNCs and the debate is no longer whether it is a good idea or not, but rather on how the very significant challenges of collating such information can be most effectively resolved. In addition, many are concerned that increasingly aggressive revenue authorities in various countries will use the information without considering the relevant context and perhaps overstep the intended objective of CbCR - which is to provide a means for revenue authorities to conduct a risk assessment, not to unilaterally raise tax assessments and hold multinationals to ransom. This is not a concern for most MNCs in the context of the IRAS, but may be a concern in the context of some foreign revenue authorities.

Some take the view that in light of significant publicity over the tax arrangements of multinational groups, it is for those groups to better explain their tax policies and how those policies translate to taxes paid across their value chain. The transparency to revenue authorities provided by CbCR may encourage taxpayers to consider taxes on a more strategic and holistic level, and take into account the perspectives of a range of stakeholders. Some industries and certain groups already publicly release information very similar to that mandated by CbCR. They do so by providing context to accompany the raw financial information to explain their operations and the reasons for the global tax profiles that they have. This allows stakeholders to make better informed judgements over the reasonableness of those positions and, more often than not, outliers in their tax data can be very easily and satisfactorily explained.

MORE IN-DEPTH VIEW

Some are already taking a proactive step around their tax functions and, having accepted that all this additional information needs to now be collated and reported, it is often only a relatively minor extra step to take to run data analytics over the information to get a far more in-depth view of their tax profile. This allows small issues to be identified before they become material, and helps senior management appreciate some of the complex tax sensitivities that arise - particularly as new laws are being introduced globally on a regular basis, long-agreed understandings of how tax laws work are being challenged, and high-profile and significant tax assessments are being reported publicly (for example, the EU state aid cases).

The details of how Singapore will implement CbCR are expected to be released shortly. Experience overseas confirms that collecting all the necessary CbCR information in the format required is often not straightforward, particularly when considering the different accounting standards that apply across a multinational group, and questions over whether a "bottom up" or "top down" approach are raised. There are a myriad of other complexities that must be faced, and no doubt a balance will need to be struck between the need for sufficient and appropriate information to be provided against providing clear and consistent rules which can be implemented across multiple jurisdictions.

The global tax system is evolving to address perceived gaps that some MNCs may have used to reduce their effective tax rates. Often, those multinational corporations will very appropriately point out that they have fully complied with the law, and if the law is too generous, it is up to governments to change it. As part of this process, attempts are being made to tailor the global tax system for a globalised digitised economy. One of the key tenets of the updated system is increased transparency, and CbCR is just one symptom of that tenet. It will be an expensive and difficult symptom with which MNCs must deal, and the significant cost of compliance will likely be ultimately borne by consumers. Of course, expensive and difficult symptoms of the new world order of tax are familiar to many - just ask anyone around the world who has had to deal with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) or the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) recently.

  • Liam Collins is a tax partner and the head of global structuring at PwC Singapore. Vivienne Ong is a tax director in the global structuring team of PwC Singapore

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Case partners CDCs to hold free talks on consumer rights

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016
Melissa Lin

How to handle door-to-door salesmen, what to look out for before making prepayments and how to lodge complaints against errant retailers.

These topics and others will be addressed during a series of free talks by Singapore's consumer watchdog, to educate consumers on their rights.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) will hold at least 10 talks a year over the next three years, under a Memorandum of Understanding signed yesterday with the Community Development Councils (CDCs). This is their first such partnership.

South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling said the agreement is timely as it comes a week after the Government passed a law to strengthen measures against errant retailers.

It allows Case to tap the network of the five CDCs and reach as many residents as possible, particularly the elderly, housewives and young students who are "very often the soft targets of errant retailers", said Ms Low, who is also Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Trade and Industry.

Last year, Case received 22,319 complaints, a 9.7 per cent fall from 2014. But the number of filed cases - where the consumer authorises Case to handle the dispute - rose 45.3 per cent to 2,006.

The talks will cover the changes to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, and other consumer laws such as the "lemon law".

They will also be customised to the needs of residents. For example, in the South West District, where new flats have just been built, the talks will focus on what to look out for when engaging a renovation contractor.

Case officers will be on hand to offer advice to residents and explain how they can lodge a complaint if they have an unresolved dispute with a retailer.

Case president Lim Biow Chuan said consumer education remains the cornerstone of consumer protection in Singapore.

"Although consumer protection laws and regulatory actions help to protect consumers' interests, it is consumers themselves who hold the main responsibility to be aware of their own rights," said Mr Lim, who is also MP for Mountbatten.

The first talk was held at Jurong Spring Community Centre yesterday. Housewife Alice Wong, 74, who attended the talk, said: "I learnt that I should find out more about a company before buying any package from it."

Those interested in the talks - which are about two hours long and in English and Mandarin, for now - can contact their respective CDCs.


Case seeks review of arbitration clause

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) yesterday flagged another issue faced by consumers: A clause in the contract between a business and a consumer that requires both parties to go for arbitration in the event of a dispute.

This clause is sometimes buried in a contract's terms and conditions, which consumers usually do not read thoroughly.

"If there is an arbitration clause, you can't go to the Small Claims Tribunal," said Case president Lim Biow Chuan.

Case has asked the Ministry of Trade and Industry to consider making this clause invalid in cases where it may be unfair.

Melissa Lin

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More expat spouses left in lurch in divorce cases

Straits Times
18 Sep 2016
Amelia Teng

Ending a marriage is never easy, especially in a foreign country, and this is the case for a growing group of expatriate spouses here.

While dealing with divorce, some find themselves stripped of their Dependant's Pass (DP) and are forced to leave the country or fight a lengthy legal battle. They can even be forced to leave behind young children.

Under the law, a parent cannot leave Singapore with his or her children without the consent of the other parent, even if they are legally divorced. Those who do so can be hauled back to Singapore on charges of child abduction.

Once the DP is cancelled, he or she is given a social visit pass or tourist visa to stay in Singapore, which could be 30 to 90 days. He or she is not allowed to work during this period.

This method of "getting rid" of expat spouses is becoming more common, according to lawyers.

When an expat moves here, his or her company sponsors the Employment Pass (EP). The employer of the expat, who is typically male, then sponsors his wife and children as dependants on his pass, which he can ask to cancel any time.

Ms Catherine Rose Yates, a British permanent resident who set up a support group for expats going through a divorce, said she has come across 11 such cases.

"The spouse with the EP is legally entitled to request to cancel the DPs of his family members and, in these cases, by cancelling only the mother's DP, he is trying to separate her from the child," she said.

"He is hoping that she would have to leave the country. That puts him in a better position in a custody battle for the children."

Ms Christina Karl, managing director of Berry Appleman & Leiden Asia Pacific, an immigration consultancy firm, said: "Cancellation is immediate once the employer makes the request. It is not the individual who cancels the DP, but his or her employer as it is the sponsor."

Ms Yates said the support group has grown from five to six members in December 2014 to more than 250 now.

"Almost every day, there is a new post on the group's Facebook page asking for advice about these visa situations. It works both ways, but it tends to be the women who are more vulnerable," she added.

Kate (not her real name), a 26-year-old from Kazakhstan, was told via letters from her husband's lawyers earlier this month that her DP had been cancelled and she could stay in Singapore only on a social visit pass until Oct 5. She was also told she had been taken off the tenancy agreement of their rented condominiumunit and had to leave within the same time period.

Her French husband, a tennis coach who holds an EP, had filed for divorce just a day before, after moving out of their place in July.

She is still staying there with their son, who is nearly two years old. She lost her monthly pay of $1,800 as a spa receptionist last month when her contract ended and is not able to work now.

"If I take my baby home with me, I am denying him access to his father, but why is it also not seen the other way round?" she asked. She has since managed to engage pro bono lawyers to try to get her DP back until the divorce is finalised.

Lawyers said that, in these cases, the working spouse has not done anything illegal. Ms Aishah Winter, associate director at Consilium Law Corp, said: "While probably not desirable, the husband may be within his legal rights in cancelling the DP for the partner and retaining it for his child. The visa status of children is usually pegged to the husband's (or working parent's) employment status in Singapore and will not usually have to change upon a divorce."

Ms Poonam Mirchandani, partner at Mirchandani & Partners, which specialises in international family law, said current rules and regulations allow the spouse holding the EP to, in a way, "play God".

She has seen a 25 per cent rise in the number of expats filing for divorce here in the last two years.

"If there is an ongoing court case, and the children are in Singapore, my firm has seen instances where ICA has given the spouse a long-term visit pass," she said, referring to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

She added: "A trailing wife, whose marriage has broken down and whose husband behaves unconscionably, will find herself in a desperate position.

"Not only is her continued stay here dependent on the whims of her husband supporting her DP application, but he could also cut her off financially and deprive her of access to their home and children. As a foreigner, she is also not entitled to any legal aid."

Mrs Franca Ciambella, managing director of Consilium Law Corp, said her firm has seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of expat inquiries for divorce and separation this year. Many face complications in their visa situations.

Her firm tries to work with both parties or the opposing party's lawyer to maintain the wife's visa status in the interim.

"If that is not possible, (we ask) for a more reasonable timeline in the wife's ability to stay... All of this is dependent on the clients themselves and their willingness not to allow their emotions to affect their decisions, which could cause disruption in the lives of their children."

Ms Wong Kai Yun, co-managing partner of Chia Wong LLP, has seen spouses whose DPs were cancelled, give up and leave Singapore. Such a situation is what the husband is usually counting on.

Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta said that about half of the spouses in expat divorce cases she saw last year threatened to cancel the DP.

"After receiving my letter, they usually take steps to reinstate the DP at least until the divorce is finalised and, in some cases, until the partner can get a relevant pass to work here," she added. "Usually, the stubborn ones will go to court."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Manpower said that a person may also apply for a work pass on his or her own merit, adding: "Approval will be subject to the relevant eligibility criteria being met."

Ms Mirchandani feels that the courts should more readily allow trailing spouses to relocate with their children, if they can show that they have no means of staying here.

Ms Yates said: "It could be easier if there was some sort of visa to allow the women caught in such situations to get back on their feet.

"They would like to work and not be completely dependent on their ex-husbands, but they need some support to get the right passes so they can be with their children."

CORNERED

A trailing wife, whose marriage has broken down and whose husband behaves unconscionably, will find herself in a desperate position. Not only is her continued stay here dependent on the whims of her husband supporting her DP application, but he could also cut her off financially and deprive her of access to their home and children. As a foreigner, she is also not entitled to any legal aid.

MS POONAM MIRCHANDANI, partner at Mirchandani & Partners, which specialises in international family law.

 


 

Staying in Singapore on visit pass

For nearly every month since January last year, Alicia (not her real name) has been heading to Malaysia by plane or bus, and returning shortly after. All for the sake of her five-year-old daughter. Following her divorce in 2014, her Dependant's Pass (DP) expired in January last year, and she has been on a visit pass, which has to be renewed for her to stay in Singapore.

"ICA (Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) gives me eight to 30 days of extension, if any, depending on the reasons I have, like a date for a court case," said the 35-year-old, whose daughter is on a DP here and attends pre-school.

The court had awarded joint custody of the girl to both parents, and care and control to Alicia, which means she is responsible for the girl's daily care.

But being on a visit pass means she cannot work and has trouble renting a home.

She stayed at a friend's place for a year for free, before moving in May to a room in another friend's home in Bukit Batok with her daughter, paying $800 a month in rent.

Her applications to change her daughter's DP to a Student's Pass - for foreigners studying here - had been rejected three times. If her daughter had a Student's Pass, Alicia could apply for a Long-Term Visit Pass to accompany her as a guardian.

"I have my daughter here and I have the care and control, but it's clearly not enough for me to extend the visa to a long-term one," she said.

Alicia, who declined to reveal her nationality for privacy reasons, alleged that her former husband - an American who is a banker on an Employment Pass - had started cheating on her in 2011. He now sees their daughter nine days a month and pays $2,000 monthly for child support. "It's so difficult to plan anything because I don't know when I will be kicked out of the country," said Alicia. She found a lawyer in May - who charges her a small fee of $300 a month - to help with legal proceedings.

"I'm still looking for a job offer but it's very difficult, especially when companies are employing only locals or permanent residents. "I'm scared I'll lose my daughter - she's my everything. I would be glad to go back to my home country and start life all over again, but I also don't want to separate her from her father. "So I'm totally stuck."

 

 Amelia Teng

 

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

 

Petition in British Virgin Islands, Bermuda to wind up Pard units

Straits Times
30 Sep 2016
Marissa Lee

Pacific Andes Resources Development's total indebtedness is about US$280m

Creditors of Pacific Andes Resources Development (Pard) are gunning for the beleaguered fish seller in Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands.

The moves come after a Singapore court ruled on Monday that a stay of execution by Pard's creditors is confined to Singapore.

Lawyers for Maybank and Bank of America went into action immediately after the ruling.

Maybank filed a petition in the Bermuda Supreme Court to wind up Pard that same day, Pard said in a statement to the Singapore Exchange yesterday. The petition is scheduled for hearing on Oct 14.

Concurrently, Maybank has filed an ex parte summons in the Bermuda Court to appoint joint provisional liquidators for Pard. That hearing is scheduled for today.

Also on Monday, Bank of America applied to wind up and appoint liquidators for two Pard units, Pacific Andes Enterprises and Parkmond Group, which trade seafood and are incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. These applications in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of the British Virgin Islands will be heard on Nov 7.

Pard's total indebtedness, both contingent and primary, is about US$280 million (S$382 million). The Straits Times understands that Maybank is claiming more than US$60 million. Bank of America is claiming close to US$15 million from the two units.

The Straits Times reported on Tuesday that a Singapore court had extended the moratorium for proceedings against Pard to Oct 12. Pard had filed for protection under the Singapore Companies Act in July, after struggling to pay creditors last year and defaulting on $200 million, 8.5 per cent bonds in January.

But the ruling paved the way for creditors to pursue Pard outside of Singapore as the moratorium is limited to Singapore. Neither does the stay apply to three other Pard units that lacked strong enough connections to Singapore.

Pard's moratorium can be extended further to Jan 13 next year if the firm holds a meeting to vote on a restructuring plan and appoints a chief restructuring officer, though Pard did not mention this in its statement yesterday.

Pard had previously fought off another chief restructuring officer it had agreed to appoint. Creditors have alleged that it has been shielding its units from investigations into certain suspicious transactions.

Since then, Pard's independent directors have engaged RSM Corporate Advisory to undertake a forensic review of the allegations.

A draft report is to be put out this month, though a Pard spokesman declined to comment further yesterday.

Trading in shares of both Pard and associate company China Fishery has been halted since November last year, after they said they were being investigated for possible breaches of the securities law.

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Too much personal data required for fitness initiative: Forum

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016

My office recently asked all staff to sign up for the National Steps Challenge, organised by the Health Promotion Board (HPB).

Applicants would be issued a fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit device.

However, when I was signing up for the programme, I was alarmed at the amount of personal information required: full name, identity card number, height, weight, age, gender, and home address.

If the programme is basically to encourage Singaporeans to be active, why is all this information needed and what might it be used for?

Due to data privacy concerns, I did not sign up for the programme.

While the National Steps Challenge has good intentions, the HPB should clarify certain issues.

Although applicants receive the fitness tracker for free, who actually owns the device and the data on it? If it is the HPB, how would it use this data?

With the Personal Data Protection Act in place, public agencies have a greater responsibility in ensuring that personal data is not misused or compromised.

Databases can be compromised by hackers and errant employees, and government bodies should share personal data only on a need-to-know basis.

In the Government's Smart Nation push and greater use of technology, personal data and privacy should, all the more, be protected.

Lynne Tan Sok Hiang (Ms)

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1 in 5 complaints against docs due to poor communication

Straits Times
18 Sep 2016
Linette Lai

Complaints against doctors have been creeping up over the past decade - about one in five that the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) finished investigating last year boiled down to poor communication between doctor and patient, says Dr Tan Chi Chiu.

In updating the council's guidelines on medical ethics, he hopes to reverse the trend - giving patients a better idea of what to expect from treatment by making sure that doctors go through all the important issues with them.

"In the complaints that the Complaints Committee has received, many of them have to do with either poor communication or a misunderstanding of the ethical obligations," said Dr Tan, a gastroenterologist in private practice who chaired the working committee reviewing the guidelines.

When people complain after procedures go wrong, for example, investigations often throw up a similar issue: Patients felt they were not told enough to make an informed decision.

"Sometimes, what is discovered is that the consent-taking was not a thorough process," Dr Tan explained. "Information which ought to have been given - regarding the potential for side effects, adverse outcomes, risks and so on - was not clearly explained."

The SMC received 141 complaints last year - its lowest in six years, although the figure has generally been on an upward trend.

Its updated ethical code and guidelines were announced on Wednesday. This is the first time that these guidelines have been revised since 2002.

Unlike the old set of rules, the new guidelines are more specific on the dos and don'ts. They include detailed advice on issues such as complementary medicine, caring for minors and the appropriate charging of doctors' fees.

This was intentional, said Dr Tan, as the environment that medical professionals work in is an increasingly complex one.

"We believe that doctors can be better educated and guided on their ethical obligations if guidelines are comprehensive, rather than general and vague," he said.

The new guidelines also address issues such as fees and appropriate advertising - a necessary addition, said Dr Tan, in an era where medical services have become more commercialised.

Rather than listing the fees which doctors should charge - a measure that was scrapped in 2010 when the Competition Commission of Singapore ruled that doing so was anti-competitive - the guidelines specify the principles doctors should abide by when making commercial decisions.

For example, fees must be "fair and reasonable and commensurate with the work actually done", while advertising must not "exploit patients' vulnerabilities, fears or lack of knowledge".

Cardiologist Kenneth Ng, who is from the Novena Heart Centre, said that the guidelines help doctors to "know where the boundaries are, so that we operate within the allowed confines".

Meanwhile, general practitioner Yik Keng Yeong said that he makes sure he and his patients are on the same page by explaining the potential effects of treatment.

"For example, if you're doing a little operation to remove a lump, you've got to forewarn the patient that it might cause a scar," said Dr Yik, who carries out small surgical procedures under local anaesthetic. "You must let them know these things and manage their expectations."

Added Dr Chua Jun Jin of JJ Chua Rejuvenative Cosmetic and Laser Surgery: "To me as a practising physician, the most important principle that I follow is to do everything we can in the interests of our patients."

 

  • Updated guide for doctors

  • What's new in the Singapore Medical Council's (SMC) updated ethical guidelines for doctors:

    •Sections on telemedicine and end-of-life care, which have become more prominent in recent years. Doctors practising telemedicine, for instance, are reminded that they must try to provide the same quality of care as they would in person.

    •A section on complementary and alternative medicine. Doctors must practise only the forms that are approved by the SMC, and must not mislead patients as to the appropriateness and expected benefits.

    •An expanded section on caring for vulnerable patients who may not be able to make informed decisions, such as minors and people with diminished mental capacities.

    •More specific instructions on how doctors should charge patients, including their ethical obligations to be transparent and charge "reasonable fees" that are commensurate with the work done.

    •Detailed guidelines on the way doctors advertise their services. These include advertising in a way that does not exploit patients' insecurities, fears or lack of knowledge.

    •Guidelines on the appropriate use of social media, such as not initiating social media relationships with patients, and making sure that the things they choose to make public do not bring the medical profession into disrepute.

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Women can be guilty of sexual penetration of minors: Apex court

Straits Times
29 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

A woman can be just as guilty as a man for the crime of sexual penetration of a minor, the Court of Appeal made clear yesterday as it overturned the acquittal of a transgender who lives as a man.

The previous judge had ruled that Zunika Ahmad, 40, because of the way the law was worded, could not be guilty of the crime when she used a sex aid on a 13-year-old, despite her pleading guilty to six counts of sexual penetration of a minor.

But the prosecution appealed. Yesterday, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, along with Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang, ruled that he had erred.

"Section 376A(1)(b) is gender-neutral and is capable of applying to a female offender," said Chief Justice Menon.

Diagnosed with gender dysphoria, Zunika speaks, dresses and behaves like a man. She was so convincing that her two wives did not know their "husband" was a woman until her sexual abuse of a girl who lived in the neighbourhood came to light.

The girl and her siblings, who were abandoned by their mother, had started going to Zunika's flat in 2011 to hang out with her "daughter".

In January 2012, Zunika kissed the victim on the cheek. Between March 2012 and December 2013, she had regular consensual sex with the girl using a sex aid. Zunika put a stop to the affair in December 2013. Three months later, the girl told her family about the acts after a quarrel with Zunika. A police report was made.

The prosecution had sought eight years' jail, arguing that Zunika had abused the trust put in her by the girl's father, who allowed his daughter to hang out at the accused's flat.

But in an unexpected twist, Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu, sitting in the High Court, rejected Zunika's plea of guilt on the six counts of sexual penetration and acquitted her in April. He set eight months' jail for another sexual exploitation charge.

Section 376A(1)(b) states that "any person (A) who sexually penetrates, with a part of A's body (other than A's penis) or anything else", a person under the age of 16 is guilty of an offence.

The judge decided that the law was worded in such a way that only a person with a penis can be found guilty of the offence, and said it was better for Parliament to amend the law to make it clear a woman can be found guilty as well.

It led the Association of Women for Action and Research to question the seeming inconsistency between the intention of policymakers and the way the provision was interpreted. The victim, now 18, also said she was saddened that Zunika was acquitted of nearly every charge.

Yesterday, Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck argued the phrase "other than A's penis" can be read to mean that the provision applies to all cases of sexual penetration except penile penetration. It can also be interpreted as "other than A's penis, if any", he said.

He stressed that Parliament had clearly intended it to protect minors against sexual penetration, regardless of the sex of the offender.

The prosecutor said Justice Kan's "untenable" interpretation has negative ramifications for other similarly worded provisions in the Penal Code, which runs contrary to the legislative intent for such offences to be gender-neutral.

Mr Kwek said another provision under the same section of the law referred to acts of penetration "against his or her spouse". This was textual evidence that the offence applies to both men and women, he added.

Zunika's lawyer, Mr Lum Guo Rong, supported Justice Kan's interpretation. He questioned the need to include the phrase "other than A's penis" if the provision was intended to be gender-neutral.

But the apex court agreed with Mr Kwek. It said it was clear from the literal meaning of section 376A(1)(b) that it was gender-neutral, especially when read in the context of other provisions governing sexual penetration of a minor under the age of 16 in the Penal Code. The court said it will issue detailed written reasons at a later date.

Zunika is expected to be sentenced on Oct 10.

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Woman gets $56k but must pay $35k in costs

Straits Times
23 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Damages awarded are less than the settlement offer she rejected

A woman who sued for $4.82 million over injuries from a fall but got $56,000 instead stands to see her proceeds shrink as the apex court has ordered her to pay $35,000 in costs.

This is because the damages won by Briton Pamela Mykytowych in court fell short of the hotel's offer to settle before the case went to court.

Under the rules, if a suing party declines a sum offered in settlement and persists in the court case but fails to get a higher sum, then she or he will have to bear the costs of the party sued. The amount that the hotel offered was not disclosed.

Mrs Mykytowych, 52, had sued VIP Hotel, near Newton MRT station, for damages after she slipped on a puddle of water in the reception area and fractured her left kneecap and hurt her ankle in May 2011.

While she recovered fully from the injuries, she said she continued to suffer intense pain after developing a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Her claim list included loss of earnings and future medical treatment.

The former car rally driver was awarded $9,000 by the High Court last year. She appealed to the apex court, or Court of Appeal, through her lawyer Salim Ibrahim. The court increased her award to $56,605 in July this year but ordered her to pay costs last month.

The appeal court comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin had found that her disability as a result of CRPS was not as serious as she claimed, yet not as insignificant as what the High Court judge had found. The court awarded her $30,000 for pain and suffering from CRPS while the High Court gave her nothing.

The appeal court rejected the £622,080 (S$1.1 million) she sought for a full-time domestic helper, but accepted she could do with occasional help. It awarded $20,000 for the services of a domestic helper for about eight hours a month for the next 10 years at an hourly rate of £10 she suggested.

Overall, the court awarded her $113,211. Based on her 50 per cent liability for the mishap, the final sum due to her was $56,605.

On top of the $35,000, the appeal court last month ordered Mrs Mykytowych to pay costs to the hotel from the date of the offer to settle on July 16, 2013 to that of the High Court decision on May 19 last year.

She was in turn awarded legal costs for the case from the date she filed the suit in 2011 to the date the offer to settle was made in 2013.

But the costs that the hotel was ordered to pay her would be based on costs in the State Courts, not the High Court, because the sum she won in the High Court was below $250,000. These sums are to be computed.

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Has the bar been set too high?

Straits Times
18 Sep 2016
Chong Zi Liang

Has the bar for potential presidential candidates been raised too high, inadvertently excluding individuals who have what it takes to be the head of state?

Nominated MP Azmoon Ahmad raised this question at last Friday's panel discussion, when he zeroed in on two key amendments to the eligibility criteria suggested by the Constitutional Commission and accepted by the Government.

When the changes kick in, private-sector candidates must have had experience running large, complex companies that have a minimum of $500 million in shareholders' equity - a change from the current requirement of $100 million in paid-up capital.

Also, only the most senior executive in such a company will qualify.

But Mr Azmoon argued that the $500 million figure was not an exact measure of a person's capabilities, and someone helming a company of a lower value may well have better leadership skills.

"I know of top executives, those that lead smaller companies, and they are good leaders and their products are, what I call, low-value products and they will never make the $500 million mark," he said.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam acknowledged that the $500 million figure is a "proxy" for finding individuals with the necessary financial competence. But he highlighted that the same could be said of the criterion, no matter what figure it is set at.

  • The $500m question: What they said

  • AZMOON AHMAD: I know of top executives, those that lead smaller companies, and they are good leaders and their products are what I call low- value products and they will never make the $500 million mark. K. SHANMUGAM: I understand. But how do we devise a system that doesn't look at individuals but can work for the future?

    AZMOON: Precisely, that's what I'm trying to point out - this $500 million is still a proxy, it is not a true measure. SHANMUGAM: Yes, it's a proxy.

    AZMOON: Yes, so if it's not a true measure, it's just a proxy and that proxy became...

    SHANMUGAM: I don't say it's not a true measure, I say it's a proxy.

    AZMOON: Okay, a proxy may become a stumbling block, a filtration where it's not real. That's my worry. Can we couch it a bit different?

    SHANMUGAM: Right. Well, you have the deliberative track which Gillian Koh pointed, even if you haven't run a company of size of $500 million, but if you can persuade the Presidential Elections Committee that you have this kind of qualities and you have run a smaller company but your company made all these sorts of advances and changes and it's demonstrative of your ability, if you can persuade the PEC that you have comparable experience, then you can still succeed.

That is why the commission compared the financial figures today with those of 1991, when the elected presidency was introduced, to get a sense of how the eligibility criteria should be revised to better reflect the present economic landscape.

"There is no ideal way of choosing the best person, but if you want to look for markers and proxies, this is what the commission has come up with," he said.

And even if an applicant's company does not meet the $500 million mark, the rules include what Mr Shanmugam called a "deliberative track" that allows the vetting body, the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC), some leeway on who qualifies to stand for election.

"If you can persuade the PEC that you have this kind of qualities and you have run a smaller company but your company made all these sorts of advances and changes and it's demonstrative of your ability, if you can persuade the PEC that you have comparable experience, then you can still succeed," he said.

Later, Mr Azmoon asked if it was necessary to restrict qualification to only the top executive position in a firm. A chief financial officer - not as high a rank as chief executive - could actually be the best person to look into the numbers when safeguarding the national reserves, he said.

But Institute of Policy Studies deputy director Gillian Koh pointed out the commission's rationale was that only the most senior decision-maker in a company will have the required expertise and experience.

Mr Shanmugam added that if more executive positions could qualify, the PEC would "be hard-pressed to decide what exactly your executive role was, how significant your role was in the context of the success of the company".

"The commission's view was 'let's be quite clean and neat about it - you show that you are responsible for the company and that it was profitable, that you managed it and for a period'," he said.

Meanwhile, National University of Singapore assistant professor of law Cheah Wui Ling suggested that the PEC's decision on who qualifies to stand for president could be subject to judicial review.

But Mr Shanmugam said the realities of operating such a system would make it too complex and unworkable.

"Let's say a candidate challenges and meanwhile elections are held and someone else is elected, the court ruling may come 18 months down the road. I think judicial review in such cases is not the best or most practical solution," he said.

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S'pore lawyers and legal firms recognised

Straits Times
29 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Rising star Paul Tan bested two senior counsel and other international law practitioners to become the Disputes Star of the Year for Singapore at a law awards event on Tuesday.

The 36-year-old partner at Rajah & Tann was cited at the Hong Kong event for successfully arguing a $150 million case before the Singapore International Commercial Court and winning a hat-trick of court injunctions to protect his clients' interests in major projects abroad.

The Asialaw Asia-Pacific Dispute Resolution Awards 2016, hosted by Hong Kong-based research house Asialaw, identifies and celebrates some of the leading lawyers in the region, country by country, across a dozen law practice areas such as insolvency, arbitration and shipping.

Asialaw's editorial staff chose the winners and nominees after extensive research earlier this year, which included market feedback.

Mr Tan said yesterday he was indebted to his mentors' generosity and colleagues' commitment.

"The award is a reflection of the extraordinary international disputes practice at Rajah & Tann, which, with its extensive regional footprint, has given me the platform to cultivate my own practice."

He added: "It is also a tribute to all the right moves that Singapore has taken to position itself as a disputes hub for Asia."

Said deputy managing partner Rebecca Chew of the firm, which was also voted Best Domestic Arbitration Firm of the Year in Singapore: "Paul exemplifies the calibre of lawyers we groom and develop."

In other categories, three law firms - Tanner De Witt, Tan Kok Quan Partnership and Allen & Gledhill - were co-winners for Matter of the Year.

Drew & Napier retained its supremacy as National Law Firm of the Year - Singapore for the second year running.

Its win underlines a string of accolades bagged over time by Drew & Napier's disputes resolution practice that includes heavyweights Davinder Singh, Jimmy Yim, Hri Kumar Nair and Cavinder Bull, all of whom are senior counsel.

Its more than 100-strong team acts for clients such as government agencies and officials, Fortune 500 companies and high-net-worth individuals.

Drew & Napier's chief executive, Mr Singh, yesterday credited the achievement to the firm's "first-rate lawyers and staff, who are simply excellent".

"We also owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all our clients. We will always cherish their support."

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Ex-NUS High student sues eight years after orientation injury

Straits Times
23 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Ex-NUS High student claims she was hit in head during activity, sues school and two former schoolmates

Eight years ago, when she was 12, Miss Edith Enright was hit in the head by two schoolmates during an orientation activity, she alleges.

Now aged 21, the Harvard undergraduate is suing them and the National University of Singapore (NUS) High School of Mathematics and Science for the injury which she claims affected her balance, and still causes migraines and giddiness, and has left her sensitive to certain smells and lights.

She could have sued earlier through a legal representative such as her parents. But the law also allows Miss Enright, an American, to wait till she reaches the age of majority, which is 21 here, and sue in her own name within three years.

Senior lawyer Niru Pillai said: "They do this for a variety of reasons, such as to better gauge how the effects of the injury manifest itself over time and also to spare the possible anguish and trauma of a minor having to face court litigation."

It was the third day of school in 2008 when Miss Enright and the other two NUS High students were involved in an orientation activity known as "Wet-the-Flag", together with about 160 other students.

In the activity, the students of each class had to construct a "fort" using metre-length wooden poles, and then place a flag on top. Part of the challenge, which took place on the school track, was for rival groups to wet the others' flag by throwing water balloons. Poles were also used to deflect the water balloons.

Miss Enright claims that the two defendants struck the side of her head with a pole during the activity.

The injury, she said, kept her away from classes for three months. When she returned to class, she could do so only on a part- time basis, and took her examinations on a modified schedule.

Miss Enright, then a proficient athlete and competitive ice-skater, also claims she partly lost her ability to balance. In the year that followed the incident, she had to consult several specialists, was repeatedly hospitalised and suffered post- concussion syndrome and insomnia, her lawyer Subramaniam Pillai said in court papers filed.

Since the incident, she also has had to rely on special schooling arrangements, including at her current place of learning, Harvard University. These include attending fewer classes, unique arrangements for exams, and special accommodation which keeps her away from flashing and coloured lights.

All three defendants deny her claims.

One of the former NUS High students said he was 12 then, and had no choice but to take part in the orientation games as he had just enrolled in the school.

According to the papers filed by his lawyers, Ms Choo Yean Lin and Mr Lee Chow Soon, he remembers holding on to a yellow pole with his classmate to deflect the balloons, and had no intention of hitting the plaintiff.

His classmate said he was also unaware that either he or his classmate had hit Miss Enright until he heard a shout. Even then, he was unsure if it was directed at them. He alleged that she was also to blame for failing to keep a safe distance.

The school, defended by Dentons Rodyk & Davidson lawyers Loh Jen Wei and Nerissa Tan, made clear that the activity was closely supervised by student leaders and teachers.

Miss Enright's class mentor, Ms Joon Ng, had ordered both defendants to stop and the event was terminated immediately as the students had breached the rules by stepping out of the "fort".

The school added that Miss Enright contributed to the injury by failing to keep a safe distance from the other two students.

A High Court pre-trial conference was held last week.


Miss Enright's class mentor, Ms Joon Ng, had ordered both defendants to stop and the event was terminated immediately as the students had breached the rules by stepping out of the "fort". The school added that Miss Enright contributed to the injury by failing to keep a safe distance from the other two students.

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Shareholder move to oust SBI Offshore CEO stalls

Business Times
17 Sep 2016
Anita Gabriel

FRIDAY's meeting for SBI Offshore shareholders to vote on a board shake-up that was triggered by a major shareholder's "mutiny" against the chief executive officer came through like an edgy day-time chat show and after two highly-charged hours, ended up being adjourned.

The hashtag #nofilter came to mind as all nine directors, led by chairman Mirzan Mahathir, huddled at one side of a table at the far end of a small, packed room, facing no less than 70 shareholders including many proxy shareholders and former employees and for the most part of the entire two hours, endured a litany of hard-hitting questions and incensed remarks.

The most vociferous bunch who were visibly vexed by the company's loss-making status and were eager to oust CEO Chan Lai Thong from the board were parties friendly to Tan Woo Thian. Mr Tan, SBI Offshore's founder and largest shareholder, together with two other requisitioning shareholders, Hui Choon Ho and Ong Nai Pew, are seeking shareholders' approval to instal four new directors and oust Mr Chan from the board.

The four prospective directors are Mr Hui, Dr Ong, Lau Yoke Mun and Geoffrey Yeoh Seng Huat.

After a lengthy crossfire, raised voices and finger-pointing between the board and parties friendly to Mr Tan, it was suggested by some minority shareholders - they were possibly the lone voice of reason from the floor - that the meeting be adjourned until there was more clarity on the investigations into Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) findings and the outcome of the report lodged by the company with the Commercial Affairs Department on Thursday. Based on a show of hands, the meeting was adjourned.

"Shareholders were right in seeking more information from the investigation currently in progress before deciding on the suitability of the proposed candidates," said David Gerald, president and chief executive of the Securities Investors Association (Singapore).

In an announcement to the Singapore Exchange, SBI Offshore said that the board would make further announcements on the progress of such investigations, and also give notice for the reconvening of the EGM at an appropriate time.

The session started out on a civil note with a shareholder expressing "shock" over the PwC findings that were publicly released a week ago and had unearthed two sets of agreements, each on the purchase and subsequent sale of a 35 per cent stake in China-incorporated Jiangyin Neptune Marine Appliance Co (NPT).

Based on the PwC report, the agreements which contained discrepancies in terms of dates and pricing from the company's official disclosures involving the NPT transactions allegedly bore the signatures of Mr Hui (for the NPT purchase) and Mr Tan (subsequent NPT sale).

"We don't have all the facts and CAD's investigations could take two to three months . . . we believe that certain fiduciary duties of (past) directors were compromised," said Ling Yew Kong, one of four newly-appointed independent directors (IDs), all of whom make up a special investigation committee that was just formed to lead the investigations into the matter.

The absence of the company's Catalist sponsor, Prime Partners Corporate Finance, at the meeting was noted after one shareholder deemed that their presence would have been helpful to clarify shareholder questions arising from the PwC report.

SBI Offshore's appointment of the four IDs drew scrutiny with one shareholder saying that it was a "slap on the face" for the existing IDs who if they were truly independent, should have been tasked with that mandate of leading the probe instead of upsizing the board and incurring higher cost for the company.

To that, Basil Chan, the company's lead ID, replied: "We wanted to dispel the perception (of not being independent) as we have been involved over the last two months (looking into) the various allegations. Perception doesn't mean we are not independent. This was an exceptional situation."

Jen Shek Voon, a former independent non-executive director of SBI Offshore who resigned last year and shareholder who was seated next to Mr Tan throughout the EGM, stood up and interrupted Mr Mirzan mid-speech - he would do this several more times during the session, drawing rebuke from others - and with a thundering voice suggested that perhaps the board (Mr Mirzan, the non-independent chairman included) should resign since it is not deemed independent, hence was not protecting shareholder interest.

"We have heard enough about PwC (report). This whole report is a red herring. This has nothing to do with the resolution for John Chan (Lai Thong) to be removed," he remarked, asking how much was paid to PwC for the review, to which Dr Ong later claimed had cost the company S$600,000.

From hereon, the animosity in the room cranked up. Mr Tan said: "I'm the founder. He (Mr Chan) was my good friend for 30 years. The company is losing money but he travels business class. I'm very unhappy about all this. Are you listening, Mr Chairman?"

At which point Mr Chan stood up in a huff: "Don't tell half-truths to justify my removal."

Amid the unnerving exchange, Mr Mirzan, who stayed remarkably calm, unflinchingly so despite the jibes levelled at him by some shareholders, called on Mr Hui to provide his side of the story.

"We are very sad because as shareholders, we haven't received a single cent of dividend in the last four years from the company. Because of that, I would like to remove the CEO to restore the company to profitability," said Mr Hui

However, Mr Mirzan - 11.6 per cent shareholder of SBI Offshore and eldest son of Malaysia's former premier, Mahathir Mohamad - and Mr Chan pointed out that Mr Tan was the CEO of the company up until March this year.

For now, the plans by the requisitioning shareholders to shake down the board and force the CEO out have been stymied by the release of the PwC report which rightly so, has turned minority shareholders wary.

One man seemed visibly dispirited by that outcome. When approached by The Business Times after the meeting, Mr Tan said: "I am very disappointed."

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Surgeon jailed for contempt of court

Straits Times
29 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

A surgeon, who disobeyed court orders to pay the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) about $500,000 in legal costs, was yesterday jailed for a week for contempt of court.

Pang Ah San, 58, a general surgeon in private practice, was allowed to start serving the sentence next Monday to give him time to make arrangements for his patients and the care of his mother, who has dementia.

The legal fees arose from two sets of disciplinary proceedings, in which Pang was found guilty of breaching ethical guidelines which state that doctors are not to offer remedies that are not generally accepted by the profession, except in approved clinical trials.

Between 2007 and 2009, he performed a procedure known as percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, in which a tube is inserted into the stomach of patients who cannot swallow, on at least four elderly patients. He used an experimental tube he had invented and for which he had taken out a patent.

In 2012, he was fined $10,000 for using the tube on an 84-year-old patient. In a second probe in 2014, he was suspended for six months and fined $10,000 for using the same device on three other patients.

For both sets of proceedings, he was ordered to pay the SMC's costs, totalling about $490,000. With interest, the sum is now over $538,000.

The SMC, represented by lawyer Chang Man Phing, took various steps to enforce the cost orders, including initiating bankruptcy proceedings. This application was dismissed after Pang showed he had $1 million in the bank. The money was later withdrawn.

On Sept 13, the SMC launched contempt proceedings against Pang for disobeying court orders.

Yesterday, Pang told the court that he was "constrained as an impecunious debtor". When Ms Chang pointed out that he had $1 million in the bank, Pang clarified: "My constraint is not in terms of money." He did not elaborate further.

After sentencing Pang, Justice Choo Han Teck told the surgeon that he faces a longer jail term if he is hauled back to court for disobeying the court orders.

In a press statement, the SMC said it views Pang's breaches of the court orders very seriously.

"It is important that SMC... sends a signal to the medical profession that errant medical practitioners cannot disregard the authority of the disciplinary committee / disciplinary tribunal and the court."

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

Wrong FY figures used, so company's penalty for price-fixing is cut

Business Times
23 Sep 2016
Claire Huang

Competition watchdog's error means penalty payable falls from S$7.6m to S$4.8m following appeal

[Singapore] FOR the first time, a financial penalty imposed by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) has been reduced on appeal, following a mistake in the interpretation of its rules.

Japanese firm Nachi-Fujikoshi Corporation and three other Japanese ball-bearing manufacturers were fined in May 2014 for engaging in cartel activities to fix prices.

The competition watchdog had then imposed a penalty of close to S$7.6 million.

Following an appeal, the Competition Appeal Board (CAB) found in January that the amount should have been 37 per cent lower, or close to S$4.8 million, as CCS had used the incorrect turnover figures.

Under CCS' guidelines, the penalty calculation is based on the infringing party's turnover in the relevant markets in the "last business year" or "the one preceding the date on which the decision of the CCS is taken".

The CAB said the watchdog should have based the company's penalty on turnover from the most recent financial year before the final infringement decision - not the financial year before the proposed infringement decision.

Law firm WongPartnership, which represented Nachi, said in a statement that the infringement decision was issued in May 2014, so the firm's most recent business year would have been FY2013.

The CCS had applied turnover figures from the firm's FY2012 instead, the law firm said.

When approached, CCS explained that Nachi's turnover for the financial year ending Sept 30, 2013 had not been provided to CCS before Dec 16, 2013 - the day the proposed infringement decision was issued.

In Jan 2014, Nachi made written representations to CCS; two months later, it furnished its turnover figures for FY2013, but did not state that these turnover figures should have been used for calculating the penalty.

The issue was raised only at the point of appeal, after it received the final infringement decision and penalty amount from CCS in May 2014.

CCS said: "Notably, Nachi had asked for a much larger reduction in penalties, relying on three grounds of appeal. The CAB found in CCS' favour on two out of the three grounds:

CAB said that CCS had properly exercised its discretion in determining the starting percentage to be used in calibrating the financial penalties, given the seriousness of price-fixing. CAB also found CCS to have been correct as well in factoring in the impact of this infringement on the relevant market in Singapore, in light of Nachi's market share, said the competition watchdog.

It added that the CAB's decision on this issue is significant because re-export sales make up a large part of Singapore's total export sales; in 2015, it was about 51 per cent.

Said CCS: "With Singapore being a small, open and export-oriented economy, CCS regards the CAB's decision on this issue as recognising the need to prevent and deter anti-competitive behaviour that has an impact on competition between businesses within Singapore, to ensure our markets for exports remain competitive."

After a round of public consultations between Sept 25 and Nov 27 last year, the watchdog in June sought public feedback on proposed changes to its guidelines on financial penalties and enforcement for breaches of competition regulations. CCS said the proposed review would bring its practices in line with that of the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The proposals follow submissions by WongPartnership and the International Bar Association's Antitrust Committee last November.

Ameera Ashraf, head of the law firm's competition and regulatory practice, noted that the proposed tweaks to the calculation of penalties will provide "far more certainty to parties under investigation".

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Jason Hldgs employee, ex-employee interviewed by CAD

Business Times
17 Sep 2016
Tan Hwee Hwee

TROUBLED timber flooring specialist Jason Holdings said on Friday the Commercial Affairs Department of Singapore (CAD) had called in two employees either currently or previously on the payroll of its principal operating unit for an ongoing investigation.

New Sze Wei, an employee of Jason Parquet Specialist (Singapore) Pte Ltd (JPSS), and Amy Chan Mei Lin, a former employee of JPSS, were interviewed by the CAD in relation to its investigations on Aug 30 and Sept 9, respectively.

The CAD is conducting an investigation into a possible offence under the penal code.

Jason Holdings previously clarified on Aug 7 that the CAD was investigating the company's director, Jason Sim Chon Ang, for the possible offence and not JPSS.

Mr Sim was interviewed by the CAD on Aug 1 and ordered to produce documents and information from 2008 to 2016. His travel documents were impounded on Aug 2.

Separately, Jason Holdings said on Friday that the company had received a letter of demand dated Aug 30 from KPMG for payment of the sum of about S$41,000, in respect of tax invoices issued for services rendered and disbursements incurred. The letter stated that KPMG may commence legal proceedings if payment of such sum is not made. The deadline for payment as stipulated in the letter has lapsed on Sept 9.

The company's board of directors are of the view that the claim will have a material adverse impact, inter alia, on its financial position, the financial performance, business and operations.

Shareholders of the company and potential investors are advised to exercise caution when dealing in the shares of the company, it said.

The listed company posted in June a S$13.8 million net loss for FY15 compared to S$215,000 net profit in its restated 2014 results. Revenue fell to S$23.2 million in 2015 from S$40 million in 2014 on a slump in the construction sector.

Shares in Jason Holdings, which are suspended, last traded at S$0.062.

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Rickmers note holders join forces to get payment

Straits Times
29 Sep 2016
Marissa Lee

Over 50 note holders who together hold $26m worth want principal plus interest back

More trouble has struck financially-embattled container ship operator Rickmers Maritime, which wants bond holders to accept payouts far less than they invested.

Now a group of retirees, businessmen and others who have each sunk $250,000 or more into the bonds issued by the trust are demanding to get their principal back in full, with interest, immediately.

They are trying to do this by exercising a so-called "acceleration" clause in the bond contract.

Rickmers, a trust, has already said it will not be able to pay $4.2 million worth of coupons due November, unless note holders agreed to lose more of their principal.

It got off on the wrong foot with note holders at a meeting two weeks ago, when Mr Soeren Andersen, chief executive of Rickmers Trust Management, urged note holders to swap their $100 million principal for $28 million perpetual bonds, convertible into 20 per cent of units in the trust.

Note holders balked at the 60 per cent haircut even as Rickmers units continued to slide to an all-time low of 3.8 cents on Monday. Rickmers said the swap would allow it to access a $260.2 million bank facility.

A week later, Rickmers revised its offer, proposing a swap of the $100 million principal for $40 million due November 2023, and exchanging the rest for 60 per cent of the trust, after issuing 1.32 billion new units. The $100 million 8.45 per cent notes had been due next May.

Many note holders remained unpersuaded, as there would still be no cash on the table for them.

Retiree Jeremy Tan, 77, who bought $2.25 million of notes, said: "Many issuers such as AusGroup and Marco Polo Marine are restructuring but Rickmers has proposed the worst deal."

More than 50 note holders who together hold $26 million of Rickmers notes have signed an acceleration notice, delivered to trustee DB International Trust yesterday.

The trustee must verify the identities of the note holders and check that their combined holdings cross the 25 per cent threshold before passing the notice on to Rickmers.

The notices could prompt creditor banks to file claims over the trust to protect their own interests.

Many note holders The Straits Times spoke to said they are prepared for the worst. A businessman, who preferred to be known as Mr Kok, said: "I hope not to lose my principal, but we must show a position."

Steel businessman Ong C. T. said he was prepared to forego $250,000. "I'm holding bonds of six or seven other oil and gas issuers. I want them to think twice before they try to bulldoze note holders."

Once fragmented, the note holders started to coalesce after a meeting called by Rickmers two weeks ago. They then scrambled to find one another via social media.

They have provisionally engaged consultant Deloitte, whom they hope can find common ground with Rickmers' adviser, PwC, to figure out a workable plan.

Mr Kok added: "We need to have an independent adviser for us to have a clear understanding of the financial situation of the company."

Rickmers Trust Management said in a statement yesterday evening that it had not received any notice from the notes trustee that the notes are immediately due and payable.


BREAKDOWN OF TRUST

Many issuers such as AusGroup and Marco Polo Marine are restructuring, but Rickmers has proposed the worst deal.

RETIREE JEREMY TAN, 77, who bought $2.25 million of Rickmers notes

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S’pore Medical Association renews call for managed-care firms to be regulated

TODAY
23 Sep 2016
Neo Chai Chin

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Medical Association (SMA) has reiterated its call for companies handling medical claims for insurers and doctors to be regulated for the good of the public, amid growing concern among doctors over “unfair” practices of such firms.

The SMA represents the majority of doctors here. Speaking to TODAY, SMA president Wong Tien Hua suggested that the authorities consider new laws or amending current laws to regulate these companies, which are called managed-care companies or third-party administrators (TPAs).

TPAs usually offer companies and insurers a panel of doctors, and doctors can join these panels to potentially reach a larger pool of patients.

But doctors are concerned over TPAs charging them fees computed as a percentage — typically 8 to 25 per cent — of what they charge a patient for their services, which is akin to a sales commission, even though the TPA might not have done any work related to the care of the patient. Some TPAs also impose caps on the fees that doctors can charge patients.

When the issue came up in Parliament last week, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong gave no indication that his ministry would regulate TPAs, but said the Health Ministry is working with medical professional bodies and associations to raise doctors’ awareness of appropriate arrangements with TPAs.

Releasing its latest ethical code for doctors that same week, the Singapore Medical Council, which regulates doctors, said that fees charged by TPAs “must not be based primarily on the services (doctors) provide or the fees (doctors) collect”.

Responding to queries, Dr Wong Tien Hua, who wrote about the issue in SMA’s August newsletter, said the association remains of the opinion that TPAs should be regulated as healthcare entities, to ensure better standards and improve transparency.

A possible preliminary step is for TPAs to form a body for voluntary self-regulation and to promote ethical standards within the industry, he said. The body could then engage actively with stakeholders including the Life Insurance Association (LIA) and professional bodies.

Doctors told TODAY that care for patients is compromised when doctors have to keep fees too low. For instance, caps on medication could mean doctors being able to prescribe only three days’ worth of antibiotics when a proper course would be five days’ worth.

In addition, when senior specialists decide to end their contracts with the TPAs, patients could end up being referred to remaining specialists on the panel who are not in the best position to handle the cases. For instance, someone with acute appendicitis may be referred to a surgeon who does not normally deal with abdominal diseases.

Dr Wong Nan-Yaw, a colorectal surgeon in private practice, agreed that TPAs should be regulated. “My experience with the TPAs as a specialist is that the fees dictated by the TPAs to my anaesthetist colleagues are so low that in an emergency, I’ve got great difficulty getting an anaesthetist who’s willing to (take up the case),” he said. “That compromises patient care.”

TPAs should disclose how much of each dollar they receive is retained by them, and how much goes into services for the patient, he said. They should also be open and transparent about the specialists still remaining on their panel and their sub-specialty, and patients should have a right to choose the specialist who can provide the best standard of care, he added.

TPAs have billed their services as a solution to managing healthcare costs. Mr Michael Tan, co-founder of Fullerton Health — a TPA — previously told The Business Times that the fees that they levy help cover operating costs such as setting up an IT system and running of a 24/7 call centre for patients and panel doctors, among others.

Dr Wong Tien Hua said the SMA is currently holding talks with the LIA, the Consumers Association of Singapore, the Ministry of Health and the Monetary Authority of Singapore to see how healthcare costs can be controlled.

The Health Ministry would also work with the LIA to remind Integrated Shield insurers to ensure their appointed TPAs have no conflict of interest and disclose to policyholders any financial arrangements they have with the doctor.

When contacted, the LIA — whose members include AIA, Aviva, NTUC Income, Great Eastern, AXA and Prudential — did not say what disclosures would be made to policyholders. It also did not say what it considered to be a conflict of interest. LIA executive director Pauline Lim, however, said its member companies that work with TPAs should ensure no conflict of interest that will compromise policyholders’ interest. LIA does not condone practices that add another layer and further escalate healthcare costs in Singapore, she said.

TPAs have been part of the healthcare landscape for many years. But their involvement in Integrated Shield plans of individual policyholders in the past year, restrictions imposed on the amounts doctors can bill policyholders, and unfair contract terms imposed by some TPAs, have triggered an uproar over what doctors call unfair practices, TODAY reported in June.

The SMC said fees paid to TPAs should reflect actual work done in handling and processing the patients, and doctors must not pay fees that are so high as to constitute “fee splitting” or which render them unable to provide the required standard of care.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Timing of reserved election to be made known by October

Straits Times
17 Sep 2016
Rachel Au-Yong

Whether next year's presidential election is one reserved for candidates from the Malay community will depend on addressing several legal issues.

But these will be sorted out and a decision made by the time amendments to the Constitution are tabled in Parliament next month, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday. Reserved elections are among proposed constitutional changes accepted by the Government this week.

"Ultimately, it's for Parliament to decide," he said at a Straits Times Roundtable discussion on the Gov- ernment's White Paper reviewing aspects of the elected presidency.

On Thursday, the Government accepted a review panel's idea of a "hiatus-triggered framework" to ensure minorities become president from time to time. Under this model, an election is reserved for a race if no one from that group has been president for five continuous terms.

Yesterday, panellist and Institute of Policy Studies deputy director Gillian Koh asked if the clock for such a provision will start from 1991, when the elected presidency scheme was introduced through amendments to the Constitution, or 1993, when Mr Ong Teng Cheong was the first president voted in by the people.

If it starts from 1991, the next presidential race - which must be held by next August - must be reserved for Malay candidates. There has not been a Malay president since Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970. But if it starts from 1993, there must be one more open election before a reserved one kicks in in 2023.

Mr Shanmugam replied that there were legal issues to sort out before giving a definitive answer. He did not elaborate, but said earlier this month that the Government was asking the Attorney-General for advice on aspects of the panel's proposals to ensure representation of all major races in the office of the president.

Observers say one issue is defining who counts as an elected president: while Mr Ong was the first popularly elected president, his predecessor Wee Kim Wee, although chosen by Parliament, was the first to exercise discretionary powers due to a special provision inserted into the Constitution when the elected presidency scheme was introduced in 1991. Mr Wee was president from 1985 to 1993.

Another is ensuring that the provision complies with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Singapore signed last year and is expected to ratify next year.

But he added: "Certainly, by the time the Bill is tabled in Parliament in October, we'll be in a position to say where the clock starts."

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Prosecution seeks 2-1/2 to 3 years' jail for accused: Yang Yin trial

Straits Times
29 Sep 2016
Carolyn Khew

Call for deterrent sentence for former China tour guide, who committed fraud to get PR

Permanent resident (PR) status is given only to people who contribute to Singapore but former China tour guide Yang Yin, who duped the authorities into granting him the status, did no work at all.

"Throughout his entire stay in Singapore, both before and after obtaining SPR (Singapore PR) status, the accused determinedly did no work whatsoever, made no significant economic contributions to Singapore," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Tan yesterday.

"Instead, he has directed his considerable energies towards committing offences involving dishonesty and fraud on government agencies and individuals, and by so doing necessitated the expenditure of further state resources to investigate, prosecute and punish his crimes."

DPP Tan pressed for a deterrent sentence of 2 1/2 to three years' jail for Yang, who had pleaded guilty in May to 120 charges.

He said Yang, 42, who has been in the news since 2014 for allegedly misappropriating the money of wealthy widow Chung Khin Chun, was the opposite of what a PR should be - a qualified, hard-working and productive individual.

DPP Tan said the case warranted a deterrent sentence as it has caused "palpable public disquiet".

"The present offences threaten Singaporeans' faith that our immigration policies are fair and that there are robust procedures and checks in place to safeguard against such fraud," he added.

In May, Yang had pleaded guilty to 110 charges for the falsification of receipts made to his company, Young Music and Dance Studio. The remaining were for immigration and cheating offences, as well as for breaking Companies Act laws. The rest of the 227 charges were taken into consideration.

Deputy Presiding Judge of the State Courts Jennifer Marie said yesterday that the sentencing for these charges will take place today.

Separately, Yang has pleaded guilty to misappropriating $1.1 million from Madam Chung whom he came here to live with in 2009.

He claimed he wanted to stay in Singapore to look after the childless widow, but the prosecution said he wanted to obtain PR status to benefit himself and his family instead.

During his stay here from 2009 to 2014, Yang duped five public institutions by falsifying financial statements and lying about his income, for example. He falsified receipts to create the appearance that his firm was a profitable business with revenues totalling more than $450,000.

Using documents that showed his company revenues and pay figures, he applied successfully for an Employment Pass and got his PR status in 2011 before deceiving the authorities into granting his wife a long- term visit pass. Had he not been caught, he would have tried to get citizenship, the prosecution said.

"This is a foreign national who spent almost his entire five years in Singapore either offending or preparing to offend," said DPP Tan.

"Although this epic tale is nearly at its conclusion, at this final chapter, we still see a lack of remorse, a lack of any genuine remorse on the part of the accused," he added.

Yang's lawyer, Mr Irving Choh, asked that the Chinese national be given one to two years' jail for his offences as he has a wife, young children and aged parents to support.

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SGX queried over salaries, tech spending at AGM

Straits Times
23 Sep 2016
Wong Wei

Investors concerned exchange may not be on the right track as markets slow down

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) fielded a string of queries at its annual general meeting (AGM) yesterday with investors voicing concerns over salaries and the recent trading disruption.

Around 700 shareholders attended the AGM at the Star Theatre yesterday which lasted for about three hours. Due to a slew of questions, voting on the first resolution did not start for over an hour into the meeting.

Long-time shareholder Mano Sabnani questioned the level of pay for chief executive Loh Boon Chye, given a difficult year.

The SGX recorded a full-year net profit of $349.02 million, a shade above the $348.61 million a year earlier.

Mr Loh, who became CEO in July last year, is getting a remuneration package of $3.2 million. Mr Sabnani suggested the salaries paid to top executives be reduced.

"If you want to incentivise your executives properly, and if the market is not doing well, maybe you want to make them feel the pain a bit and work harder to improve," he said, drawing applause from shareholders.

Chairman Chew Choon Seng responded: "We have to have a competitive compensation structure, comparable to financial institutions in Singapore, in order to attract the right people... and retain them."

Mr Chew, who retired from the board and as chairman at the end of the AGM, added that the exchange's performance was partly affected by market forces beyond its control. Board director Kwa Chong Seng will be the next chairman.

In his opening remarks, Mr Loh said that SGX had to grapple with interest rate changes, slower global growth and volatile commodity prices during the year.

Nonetheless, he said, the SGX has further cemented its position as a multi-asset class exchange, pointing to the launch of an over-the- counter bond trading platform in December.

"In the derivatives business, we launched the MSCI China Free Index contracts and the first offshore India Nifty sector futures," he noted, saying that the SGX is looking to add South Korea's equity index into its futures platform that already covers indices in China, India, Japan and Taiwan.

But not all investors were convinced that the SGX is on the right track. One shareholder challenged the management to "think outside the box" to incentivise companies to list on the SGX.

He also pressed the SGX on the 2013 penny stock saga: "Three years have passed, which is a long time, and there is still no resolution in sight."

Chief regulatory officer Tan Boon Gin pointed to court proceedings in January where the prosecution had said that charges would be brought by the end of this year.

Another shareholder questioned whether the spending on technology, which rose 10.3 per cent to $127.85 million in the last financial year, has been effective, given the recent trading disruption in July.

Mr Loh said the outage was prolonged due to the longer-than-expected time needed for broker firms to reconcile the market data and that the backup system was actually functioning properly.

Other issues raised yesterday also included the impact of the implementation of the minimum trading price (MTP).

An investor asked: "Out of the many AGMs I have attended, I have not found one company that said (the MTP) is a right move. Are you out of tune with the listed companies?"

Mr Loh pointed to the recent proposed refinements to the MTP scheme, adding that the SGX is open to feedback.

All resolutions were passed yesterday.

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I was brainwashed by Kong, says former CHC fund manager

Straits Times
17 Sep 2016
DANSON CHEONG,NG HUIWEN

He had been brainwashed into thinking pop singer Ho Yeow Sun would be "a megastar" like American singer Whitney Houston as her husband, City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee, had regularly played up her success.

That was why he had thought the church investments in the financial bonds he had structured to fund her music career were genuine and profitable, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 57, told the High Court yesterday.

He was one of six church leaders convicted last October of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds used to fund the Crossover Project. Another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

Appealing against his conviction and sentence, Chew, who faces six years in jail, said Kong told church leaders Ms Ho would be more successful than pop stars such as Taiwanese singer Jay Chou and girl group S.H.E., and even tipped her to be the "next Whitney Houston".

Citing an e-mail in which Kong said they had "a singing diva" in their midst, Chew said: "If she was touted to be the next Whitney Houston, how would she not be a profitable commercial vehicle for us?"

Justice Chan Seng Onn, part of the three-judge panel hearing the appeals, asked Chew: "So you were brainwashed?"

Chew replied: "Yes, I was."

He said if what he did was considered part of a criminal conspiracy, it would have been "the worst thought-out conspiracy ever".

"It looks that way to me too," said Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, to laughter in the courtroom.

Chew also took issue with the decision of the lower court, which had ruled that using the CHC building fund for the Crossover Project was a "wrong use" of the money and, hence, the funds were misappropriated. The building fund could be used for only building-related matters or investment.

But Chew said even if the Cross- over was a "wrong use" of church funds, spending the money on it cannot be considered misappropriation as it was a "church mission".

"No one has deprived the church of the benefit of using the money... As long as the money is applied to the owner's benefit, it is not misappropriation," said Chew.

Meanwhile, lawyer Paul Seah, who argued for the appeal of former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan, said Tan was "kept out of the loop in key discussions", and pulled in only when she was needed "to provide facts and figures".

He did not concede that spending the money on the Crossover Project was a "wrong use" and said that even if it were, "wanting to do something wrong or unauthorised is not the same as wanting to cause wrongful loss".

He said that if the building funds were used instead to hold a Christian rally here - paying for overseas speakers, the rental of the National Stadium and other logistics - it would have been seen as a "wrong use", but the church would have benefited from the thousands converted to Christianity.

Tan, 40, the fourth CHC leader to present her case, faces 21 months in jail, the lightest sentence of the six. Kong and former CHC finance committee member John Lam had argued their appeals on Thursday.

On Monday, the final two CHC leaders - deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and former church accountant Serina Wee - will present their appeals.

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

Major shareholders must play part in governance

Business Times
29 Sep 2016
Melissa Tan

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore's call for better board diversity and disclosures earlier this week is relevant and timely as the local market prepares itself to embrace new structures such as dual-class shares that will test the quality of local corporate governance.

The suggestion from investor lobby group Securities Investors' Association (Singapore) to institute regulation requiring boards to have a formal independent review of long-time independent directors and publicise the review findings is also a well-intentioned one.

It is no doubt important to maintain focus on the independence of long-serving directors and on keeping the Code of Corporate Governance up to date. But those alone cannot level the playing field for minorities if the role of one particularly crucial group in corporate governance is glossed over: that of the company's major shareholders, and especially the ones who have board seats.

No matter how many board director guidelines regulators come up with, it will probably not make much of a tangible difference for minorities and other smaller stakeholders if the big shareholders do not play their part in upholding responsible stewardship.

Long-serving independent directors at listed companies can only have stayed in those roles for more than the Code's recommended nine years under the auspices of shareholders who continue to vote these directors in year after year.

A recent study The Business Times did using data from Handshakes and publicly available sources found several instances of independent chairmen who have been on the board longer than the nine years. Those listed companies included Hotel Properties Limited; Delfi; ComfortDelGro and Ascott Residence Trust which happen to have the same chairman; SATS; Singapore Airlines; Keppel Reit; CapitaLand Retail China Trust; Frasers Centrepoint Trust; Frasers Commercial Trust; Gallant Venture; and United Engineers.

Most if not all of these firms are prominent, reputable homegrown names, which may go some way towards providing reassurance about the quality of their corporate governance.

But there are still risks. As the case of Singapore Post's recently exposed slew of corporate governance issues has amply demonstrated, a good reputation may not be much of a safeguard against board-level lapses.

In fact, the director at the centre of SingPost's corporate governance problems was its then lead independent director Keith Tay who had been on the board for much longer than nine years prior to his departure earlier this year. The lapses also occurred under the watch of its then independent chairman Lim Ho Kee, who had been on the board for just as long as Mr Tay.

Of course, no causal relationship has been established between long board tenures and corporate governance lapses. There also may or may not be any significant correlation. It is theoretically possible for an independent director to remain independent regardless of the length of his or her board tenure.

Without a fly-on-the-wall view of what goes on at board meetings, on or off the official record, it is difficult for minority shareholders and other external observers to evaluate whether independent directors may be losing their independence or whether directors are not carrying out their duties in accordance with the spirit and the letter of the Code of Corporate Governance.

Luckily, a few substantial shareholders do have this access. They have the privilege of board representation, and are also able to wield their power as shareholders at the company's annual general meetings (AGMs) to help shape the board.

If these fortunate few sense that certain independent directors may be losing their independence, for instance, or are otherwise not performing their duties as independent directors to a satisfactory level, these major shareholders can simply not vote to re-elect them at the next AGM. Given AGM attendance levels in Singapore, it is likely that the outcome of board resolutions can turn on the vote of major shareholders.

Even if the major shareholders were to vote against the re-election of a certain director but the outcome was that he or she was re-elected, at least they would be able to leave the AGM knowing that they had done their best as responsible stewards.

In hypothetical situations where errant directors err alone and do a superb job of covering their tracks, leaving the rest of the board in the dark too, then the major shareholders naturally cannot be blamed for not knowing about it. For other cases, however, these major shareholders are going to be the stakeholders best placed to nip any corporate governance issues in the bud.

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

A very extravagant way to spread gospel, says judge: City Harvest trial

Straits Times
22 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong

It could have used ads or concerts, instead of spending $24m on Ho's music career, he says

There are cheaper ways to evangelise than the $24 million that City Harvest Church (CHC) spent on Ms Ho Yeow Sun's pop music career.

The church could have bought television or newspaper advertisements. Or it could have organised Korean pop concerts, with CHC senior pastor Kong Hee preaching afterwards.

Instead the way it went about spreading its gospel was "very extravagant", said Justice Chan Seng Onn in the High Court yesterday.

Justice Chan is one of three judges hearing the appeal of the six CHC leaders convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to promote Ms Ho's career in a mission known as the Crossover Project. Yesterday was the close of the five-day hearing, and a judgment will be delivered at a later, as yet unknown, date.

Of the many ways to evangelise, Justice Chan said: "It can be through Sun Ho singing, (or) it could be engaging, at a much cheaper cost, maybe K-pop (singers) and Kong Hee can come to the concert and then preach."

He spoke as the prosecution was presenting its arguments. It wants longer sentences for all six CHC leaders, who face terms of between 21 months and eight years. It is asking for terms of between five and 12 years instead.

The six CHC leaders are appealing against their conviction and sentences.

In October last year, the lower court found the CHC leaders had ploughed $24 million from CHC's building fund into bogus bonds used to fund the music career of Ms Ho, who is Kong's wife. Another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

Justice Chan asked if members had supported the means in which the Crossover was carried out.

They did, said deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Christopher Ong, but "what they didn't know was how much the means was costing and they didn't know who was paying for that cost".

Later, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin also asked if the CHC leaders had been carrying out what they thought was a church purpose - "only they took the wrong route or the wrong means".

But DPP Ong said it was more important for the court to ask if church members supported the Crossover because they were not given the full facts about it.

Offering an analogy, he said: "If I were to offer you a Ferrari and I tell you that it is free of charge, you might well take it because, why not, it's free.

"If I tell you that I'm going to give you a Ferrari but use your money to pay for it, you may not be so supportive of the idea of my giving you a Ferrari."

He also told the court the six had not shown remorse - which ordinarily would be a mitigating factor.

"Restitution amounts to saying 'I am sorry', and this is not something we have heard from the offenders in this case," he said.

During the five-day hearing, lawyers for the five CHC leaders, and former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, who is representing himself, delivered impassioned arguments - often before a courtroom packed with over 50 people.

They stressed that the bonds used to fund the Crossover were genuine investments. Furthermore, the Crossover, which aimed to create "a megastar" in Ms Ho - who would attract non-Christians who could be preached to at her concerts - was a project that was supported by the church, said the lawyers.

At the close of yesterday's hearing, Justice Chao adjourned the case to give the judges time to go through the trial's voluminous record.

No date for a judgment was given by Justice Chao, who said: "This is something we need to give special consideration to... we can only promise you a judgment ASAP."


FREE FERRARI, BUT WHO'S PAYING?

If I were to offer you a Ferrari and I tell you that it is free of charge, you might well take it because, why not, it's free. If I tell you that I'm going to give you a Ferrari but use your money to pay for it, you may not be so supportive of the idea of my giving you a Ferrari.

DEPUTY PUBLIC PROSECUTOR CHRISTOPHER ONG, saying church members supported the Crossover Project because they were not given the full facts.

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

S'pore Academy of Law moving to Adelphi

Straits Times
17 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

With the sleazy massage joints banished earlier this year, The Adelphi in Coleman Street is set to burnish its owners' list with new intellectual heft - the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL).

The Academy is buying 8,751 sq ft of office space on the eighth floor of the premises for some $20.7 million. The space is equivalent in size to almost eight five-room Housing Board flats.

Located in the heart of the civic district, The Adelphi is bordered by the National Gallery, the Supreme Court building and St Andrew's Cathedral. Constructed in 1991, the 10-storey building with a basement has offices on six floors.

SAL - which is headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and whose membership of over 10,000 from the legal fraternity includes the Attorney-General and the Bench - is the promotion and development agency for Singapore's legal industry.

The Academy announced yesterday on its website that it expects to complete the deal by December and move its office and administrative outfit in the new financial year.

The purchase will enable SAL to convert a part of its current rented space in the Supreme Court into training rooms and meeting facilities to better accommodate its programmes and services.

The Chief Justice who gave a "heads-up" about the "exciting changes" during the Academy's annual appreciation dinner last month, said its work had expanded over the years and will continue to grow.

It is also looking at ways to better serve the needs of different segments of the legal community.

The purchase was made after a thorough review of available properties, and was approved by the SAL senate on the recommendation of the executive board.

The Chief Justice added that the purchase would diversify part of SAL's investment assets into real estate at a time of volatility in other investment markets.

"The move will enable the Academy to house its operational units at its own premises instead of paying rent to the Supreme Court," he said.

Real estate consultant Nicholas Mak said weightage in selecting the site would have been based on industry need. Being located next to the Supreme Court, The Adelphi would be convenient for lawyers.

The property was in the news earlier in the week when The Straits Times reported that the massage parlours in its basement were gone following an extensive police raid at the strata-titled building over six days in June.

The police said at least 13 illegal massage establishments had been closed down.

Following the raid, The Adelphi's tenancy mix now consists mainly of offices as well as audio-visual and beauty care stores. New cafes have also started moving in.

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

Brokerages to get more SGX data on possible market rigging

Business Times
29 Sep 2016
Jamie Lee

Quarterly reports, beginning with the first one this week, will cover alerts triggered by suspicious trading activity

[Singapore] THE Singapore Exchange (SGX) will push out more data linked to possible market rigging to brokerages in a bid to lift surveillance standards, it said on Wednesday.

From this week, SGX will break down details of alerts on suspicious trading activity triggered from activity at brokerages, and send that report to each broking house. The alerts will be taken from SGX's real-time surveillance system.

Each brokerage that is an SGX member will receive a set of data - known as the Surveillance Dashboard - that is specific to alerts from its house only. But brokerages will also get their ranking against peers in the same industry based on the number of alerts from the firm. US authorities have also sent similar reports to US brokerages, BT understands.

The alerts are to do with three forms of market rigging: spoofing, layering and "marking the close".

On average, SGX gets three alerts a day for these three activities, Tan Boon Gin, SGX chief regulatory officer, told The Business Times in an interview. The bourse has also referred 20 cases of market manipulation to the Monetary Authority of Singapore between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, up from 13 in the prior 12 months.

In rigging a market, errant persons usually create fake orders to distort the true demand and supply in the market - that is, to create a false market.

With spoofing, an errant trader submits a genuine order on one side of the order book, and then sends large number of fake orders on the other side of the book. For example, if his true intention is to buy shares, he would send large fake "sell" orders to mislead the market to think there is extreme selling pressure.

This pushes the price down as genuine "sell" orders from other market players are put in, which allows him to execute his genuine "buy" order at a lower price. He then cancels the fake "sell" orders.

With layering, an errant trader will layer fake orders, rather than sending a whole chunk of fictitious trades through. To be clear, layering of genuine trades can also be done for legitimate reasons, such as for market making, SGX noted.

In the third case, traders can be asked to fix the closing price of a security. The closing price is regularly used to measure an instrument's price performance, so a "mark the close" fix gives a false impression the security is more or less valued than what the market thinks it is worth.

These are explained in a new trade surveillance handbook that SGX has also launched to boost industry education on such errant practices.

SGX's Mr Tan said the insights would allow market participants to better spot and analyse patterns of potential market manipulation, noting that these techniques are not specific to high frequency trading. As it is, brokerages are also supposed to have proper controls in place to spot market rigging.

Armed with more information, brokerages can query remisiers or clients on suspicious activities, and halt trading if necessary, he added. The report details the date and time when the alerts are triggered, the counter which triggered the alert, and the dealer involved.

Brokerages have information on clients and dealers that can tease out possible motives, or explain a client's fishy behaviour. "For example, if the member has been making margin calls, and the activity is in shares that are the collateral for the margin account, then the member may be further alerted," said Mr Tan.

Esmond Choo, senior executive director at UOB Kay Hian, said the moves would be positive in ensuring integrity in the market. But as more investigations are still needed to determine wrongdoing, dealers will have to "tread carefully" to keep themselves on the right side of the law.

"Greater caution exercise by this segment of the market could negatively impact the current already low trading volumes," he added.

Lim Kok Ann, chairman of the Securities Association of Singapore, said that the members are supportive of this collaborative approach to boost the quality of the Singapore marketplace. "Investors will only participate in a market which has a level playing field, and is secure and efficient," he added.

The first Dashboard will be released to brokerages this week and will cover alerts generated from April to August 2016. Subsequent Dashboards will be released on a quarterly basis from January 2017.

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

Woman, 85, and slimming centre settle lawsuit

Straits Times
22 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

An 85-year-old woman has settled her lawsuit against a slimming centre in which she sought a full refund and damages over a $400,000 weight-loss package.

Madam Gan Siew Hong , who has diabetes and other health problems, visited the Ngee Ann City branch of London Weight Management in July 2013 with her husband and her son after seeing its TV commercial touting a weight-loss trial session for $18. The family, who live in an HDB flat, eventually paid about $400,000 for weight-loss treatments and products.

In a lawsuit filed in the High Court on Aug 3 this year seeking compensation of close to $450,000, Madam Gan alleged that the treatments not only failed to improve her health, but also caused her to suffer diarrhoea, a skin rash and pus discharge. She claimed that the centre pressured her family into signing up for a six-year package.

In its defence filed on Aug 31, London denied this but said it was willing to refund the unused portion of the package amounting to $43,408 out of goodwill. The centre said Madam Gan's family declared only that she had diabetes and that it is not liable for injuries resulting from non-disclosure of medical history.

The centre also said it had advised her to seek medical advice on the suitability of its treatments and products.

In a joint statement to The Straits Times yesterday, Madam Gan and London Weight Management said: "We... have amicably resolved all claims and any claims and/or demands between the parties."

Both parties "further unconditionally withdraw all allegations against each other", said the statement, sent by Madam Gan's lawyers from Lim & Bangras. Financial details of the settlement are not known.

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

Related headlines

Woman, 85, sues slimming centre over $400k treatment, ST, 07 Sep

After historic process, participants take stock of EP panel’s proposals

TODAY
17 Sep 2016

For only the second time in Singapore’s history, a Constitutional Commission was appointed in February. Its task was to review specific aspects of the Elected Presidency (EP).

Half a century ago, a similar commission was set up as a newborn nation sought to find its way forward: In 1965, a Constitutional Commission comprising 11 members and headed by then-Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin was appointed in December — four months after Singapore attained independence, and amid communal tensions.

The commission was asked to propose ways for the rights and interests of minorities to be safeguarded in the Constitution. Public hearings were held, with the views culminating in a report submitted in August 1966. The recommendations paved the way for the setting up of the Presidential Council in 1970 — later renamed the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.

Fast forward to today, and a nine-member commission, headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, was tasked with studying the eligibility criteria for prospective candidates for the Presidential Election, safeguarding minority representation in the presidency, and the framework governing the exercise of the President’s powers.

The commission’s report was submitted last month, after six months of deliberations involving public hearings and written submissions from the public.

In all, the commission received more than 100 submissions. A total of 19 groups and individuals who had contributed written submissions — including former Cabinet Minister S Dhanabalan, academics, lawyers, professionals, law students and representatives from non-governmental organisations — gave their views on the proposed changes to the Elected Presidency at four public hearings, which were held in April and May.

On Thursday, the Government released its White Paper to set out its proposed changes to the EP and its responses to the commission’s wide-ranging recommendations. The Bill to effect the necessary legislative changes will be introduced in Parliament next month and the House will debate it in November.

TODAY spoke to the people who had presented their views at the public hearings, to get their thoughts on the commission’s proposals — what caught their eye, what they agreed or disagreed with — and their contributions to a historic process.

MR TAN MIN-WEI, RESEARCH ASSISTANT IN THE POLITICS AND GOVERNANCE CLUSTER AT THE INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES

“I was personally surprised that the commission chose to venture outside the terms of reference in regard to removing the Elected Presidency altogether. My expectation when working with (IPS deputy director) Dr Gillian Koh on our submission is that the commission would chose to stay within the set terms of reference laid out by the Prime Minister.

The introduction of the reserved election is problematic. Part of the issue with it isn’t the reserved election itself — it is too early to say how that will work out — the issue is that we’re still uncertain as to what the nature of the problem is.

We have had four elections and seven candidates, of which one was a minority. We have not had a Malay or Eurasian candidate. So the most important question is, why not?

The reserved election appears to solve a problem downstream from this — that is, what happens when minority candidates can qualify, run for office, and cannot be elected for racial reasons. I cannot say that this is not a problem that does not need fixing; all I can say is that there are many other elements to the system that need to be addressed before addressing concerns about how the electorate votes.

Unless what the commission is suggesting or the Government in taking up the “reserved election” idea is that it is because Malays and Eurasians do not believe they have a chance that they do not even try. This, then, is an assumption that Chinese voters vote only on the basis of race — yet another deeply troubling hypothesis or assumption that will need to be dissected.”

DR MATHEW MATHEWS, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW AT THE INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES

“It was certainly meaningful to be able to suggest changes to the important institution ... I was among those who defended the need to have provisions for minority representation, which I knew would be contentious. But rather than doing something akin to a Group Representation Constituency system or one where the Elected President (EP) would be rotated among those of the main ethnic communities in Singapore, I suggested a mechanism of safeguards that would kick in only if we are not able to ensure that all of our groups would be represented from time to time. I am hopeful that, over time, an unrestricted election will be able to produce minority EPs.”

ASSOC PROF EUGENE TAN, SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW

“The commission took great care to explain how it arrived at its recommendations. It was a thorough, comprehensive and compelling report.

(The surprising suggestion was) to return to the former system of having an appointed President … There was no indication during the hearings that the Commission was actively considering (this). The suggestion is also almost a non-starter, given the Government’s steadfast position that the President must be elected in order to provide the President with the democratic mandate and moral authority to stand up to the Government.

While I understand the commission’s rationale and reasoning for its proposal for reserved elections, I remain uncomfortable with it as it is a form of affirmative action. To be fair, conceptualised as it is, the reserved election holds promise as a safeguard … But I hope we will never have to resort to a reserved election.

It is worth recalling that our ceremonial Presidents did not become symbols of our multiracialism by virtue of their being minorities. It was what President Yusof Ishak did through his actions, utilising the “soft power” of the office of the President, that enabled him to transform the head of state office into a symbol of our multiracialism … The late President Wee Kim Wee, a Peranakan Chinese, was much beloved and respected by all Singaporeans, demonstrating that being from the majority race is not a barrier to a symbol of multiracialism.

It was a privilege and honour to be part of this important and path-finding review process. This is, after all, only the second constitutional commission in our history, with the first half a century ago! For me, it was also a rare opportunity to encourage my Constitutional Law class students to be part of the review process ... I believe that the experience brought constitutional law alive for the students, and demonstrated how they can play a role in the review process.”

ASST PROF JACK LEE, SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW

“I generally remain unconvinced that it is necessary to introduce a system of reserved elections to ensure that candidates from specified minority communities will be elected as President from time to time. I feel we should give more credit to voters to be able to pick candidates for their abilities, not their ethnicity … Moreover, we risk reinforcing the misconception that minorities are not capable of being elected on their own merit. More should be done to encourage members of minority communities to put themselves up for election under the current system, rather than rushing into having reserved elections.

I feel it is not a good idea for the financial criterion for presidential candidates to be raised beyond what is necessary to take inflation into account, or that we insist that only the head of an organisation is qualified. I fear that these more-stringent criteria will make it more difficult to find suitably qualified minority candidates. The criteria should be pitched at a level to ensure that candidates have adequate experience handling financial matters. They need not be “financial wizards”, especially since the Council of Presidential Advisers exists to assist the President in carrying out his or her constitutional duties.

The part of the commission’s report that I found most surprising was the suggestion — which was actually outside the commission’s terms of reference — that perhaps it would be a good idea to separate the ceremonial and custodial roles of the President ... I agree (with the commission) that this might solve many of the issues that (it) was asked to look into.”

MR MOK ZI CONG, PART OF A GROUP OF SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY LAW STUDENTS WHO MADE ORAL SUBMISSIONS

“We agree with the proposals by the commission to regulate the campaign methods and to prevent misinformation by candidates running for the office. In discharging his or her custodial functions, the Elected President may only react to proposals by Parliament, and has no power to introduce proposals of his or her own. It is key that Singaporeans, in choosing their President, are aware of his unique role, and the recommendations by the commission go well towards this.

We disagree with the commission’s decision not to express any views on transitional arrangements for the revised eligibility criteria. While it is true that when the amendments take effect is a matter for Parliament to decide … we felt that there was value in the commission making its views known, with the aim of upholding the integrity of the office of the Elected President.

Our most meaningful contribution would be our submission that there should be a requirement for the President to publicly publish his reasons for vetoing the drawing down on the reserves. The commission agreed with our suggestion, and its ultimate recommendation went even further than what we had originally proposed. Such a requirement will go towards transparency and accountability, and further public debate about the exercise of the President’s powers.”

(Note: In its White Paper published on Thursday, the Government said it has not taken up the commission’s proposal to publish the President’s opinion on all decisions where he exercises his veto. This should not be done where appointment or fiscal matters are concerned. Instead, it could apply to just Supply Bills, Supplementary Supply Bills and Final Supply Bills, which are Bills that involve expenditure.)

MS GRACE TEO, PART OF A GROUP OF NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE LAW STUDENTS WHO MADE ORAL SUBMISSIONS

“Changes to the Constitution must be made with a lot of care and precision, and so we appreciate the lengths the commission has gone through to deliberate and arrive upon balanced recommendations.

In particular, we are heartened by the “light-touch” approach employed by the commission in recommending a provision to ensure minority representation in the office. We would just bring up two potentially problematic scenarios with that particular recommendation: The increased possibility of a “walkover” election in reserved elections, and the possibility of candidates who may be “twice-barred” by the stringent conditions for eligibility — once by race, the second time by the date of his leadership experience.

This experience as a whole has elevated national conversation to a new level for us. It is very exciting to think that young Singaporeans can participate on so high a level, armed with what they see for Singapore’s future, and it was even more exciting to be a part of that.

One of the more tangible ways in which our proposals have been acknowledged is in the recognition that the Elected President, as a unifying symbol, should possess the ability to represent diverse interests. During the public hearings, we submitted that … what is significant is not just the candidate’s race, but that this individual is able to represent the diverse interests of Singaporeans.

We recommended that this criterion be recognised … Section (E) of the sample certificate of eligibility application form (proposed by the commission) requires candidates to provide other relevant information that would be relevant for consideration by the Presidential Elections Committee, and it is stated that this would include ‘community activities or initiatives demonstrating your engagement with ethnic groups other than your own’.”

MR RONALD WONG, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR AT CONVENANT CHAMBERS LLC

“The suggestion ... for a return to a President appointed by Parliament rather than elected, and to leave the custodial functions to a council of experts ... was surprising because it went beyond the terms of reference and was a radical bold suggestion.

I agree with the proposals, which went beyond the terms of reference about considering an appointed President that does not have custodial powers, and assuming the Presidential office is still by election, setting rules on election campaigns — what can be said or not about the Presidential role — and educating the public on the Presidential office. But I think for that to happen, the Government needs to, itself, be clear (on) what exactly the Presidential Election campaigns are or should be about. Surely it’s got to be about character and integrity, in addition to technical expertise.

The raising of eligibility criteria for private-sector candidates is not concomitant with a greater scrutiny of public-sector candidates.

The commission says, for public-sector candidates, not all the public offices can endow the candidates with all the skills for a Presidential role. That’s true. It is also true of the private-sector candidate. But if we expect to raise the private-sector candidate eligibility criteria with respect to the (requirement of having helmed a company with) S$500 million in shareholders’ equity, why is there no comparison for the public office? It is just as easy to set a criteria along those lines.

Whether people agree or disagree on the commission’s proposals, the Government’s intent and decisions on the topic, the fact is that not many people in the world get to participate in such a national institution-building deliberative democracy process like that. So this privilege, which is available to all Singapore citizens, is a heavy one.”

MS JOLENE TAN, HEAD OF ADVOCACY AND RESEARCH AT THE ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN FOR ACTION & RESEARCH

“We are glad that the commission agrees with us that there is an inherent tension between the custodial and representative roles of the office (the first key point of our submission). The design of the office is inherently flawed, lending weight to the call to split the functions and revert to an appointed office.

In our view, the general trend in the recommendations is to arbitrarily narrow the eligibility criteria further, undermining the democratic mandate of the office and making it appear even more exclusionary and even elitist, rather than representative.

We wholeheartedly agree that minority representation matters … But we question whether limiting who people can vote for is the way to address this.

We disagree with the proposal to tighten the corporate criteria further, which makes the office more exclusionary, and may also tend to limit further the pool of potential woman and minority-race candidates.

We also continue to disagree that the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) should be able to disqualify candidates based on “integrity and character”. What the PEC disapproves, the electorate may accept. The people should not be prevented by … unelected individuals (sitting on the PEC) from making this assessment. One of the most important features of any candidate is their track record of public service and contribution, and as far as possible, all potential candidates should be free to present that to — and be assessed by — the electorate.

We greatly appreciate the detailed and publicly documented review process. In our view, more legal and policy changes should be subject to thorough public deliberation, not necessarily through a commission, but with a similar spirit of consultation and transparency.

We believe we have reinforced the commission’s recognition that the custodial and representative functions of the role sit together uneasily, and we hope that we have generally pushed for greater clarity and nuance in thinking around the office. But we are disappointed that no concrete suggestions have been made to improve the representation of women in the presidential process — for instance, through requiring or even urging more women’s appointments to the Council of Presidential Advisers.”

MR NGIAM SHIH TUNG, MARUAH MEMBER

“The commission appears to view the President as primarily a technocrat and is proposing to convert the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) into a super Public Service Commission (PSC) that shortlists candidates with “technical competence and expertise” for the custodial functions of the job.

Several portions of the report are contradictory, which perhaps reflects the fundamental tension between the different roles which the President is called upon to play (and which the commission acknowledges). With regard to reserved elections, the commission is proposing a solution that might be activated only once in 30 years, yet the Elected Presidency itself has been in existence for only 25 years. It is not clear that this is even a problem now, and the “solution” may very well turn out to be a land-mine that blows up on a future Singapore many years from now.

(One proposal that Maruah disagreed with was) having elections reserved for members of specific races. This goes against our principles of racial equality and may easily turn out to be more divisive than unifying. (Another is) raising the financial criteria, which will have the effect of narrowing the pool of eligible candidates. Maruah is of the view that financial experience is not a relevant criterion for Presidential candidates.

Considering that the commission did not cite Maruah even once in its report, I don’t think we had much influence in their thinking. However ... our participation did serve as an indicator that there are divergent views in Singapore on the qualifications that a President has to have.”

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Still hazy over insurance for private-hire rides: Forum

Straits Times
29 Sep 2016

There needs to be more clarity on the issue of insurance to cover passengers of private-hire cars in the event of an accident.

Tuesday's report on the death of a passenger in such a car ("Teenager in private-hire car dies after crash on SLE") had Mr Derek Teo, chief executive of the General Insurance Association of Singapore, saying that unless the vehicle owner had purchased cover to include the use of the vehicle for "hire and reward" - to ferry passengers in return for a fare - the insurer is not liable for injury to passengers.

However, in the same report, Mr K. Anparasan, partner at Withers KhattarWong, said there is also a Motor Vehicles (Third-Party Risks and Compensation) Act which affords protection to injured victims in such scenarios.

Could the authorities clear the air on this matter?

Benny Tan Cheng Kiat

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

Court approves extradition of two suspects in S’pore accused of cheating US Navy

TODAY
22 Sep 2016
Valerie Koh

SINGAPORE — Two former employees of a Singapore-based defence contracting firm look set to be extradited to the United States, where they are wanted for their roles in a high-profile bribery scandal surrounding the US Navy.

This comes after a State Court judge on Wednesday (Sept 21) gave the green light for the extradition of Neil Peterson and Raja Maslindah Raja Shamsad, who were respectively vice-president (global operations) and general manager (Singapore, Australia and the Pacific Isles) at Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).

The two will be remanded in prison until Law Minister K Shanmugam issues a warrant for their surrender to the US.

There will be a 15-day period before they are surrendered, and they have the option of reviewing the court’s decision.

Over in the US, they have been accused of cheating the navy of more than US$30 million (more than S$41 million) in an elaborate scheme involving fraudulent invoices, contract bid-rigging, and fictitious port authorities with inflated port tariffs that they invented.

In written submissions tendered during the court hearing on Wednesday, Deputy Senior State Counsel Luke Tang said that evidence exists to prove the case, including forged documents, business records and email correspondence agreeing to cheat the US Navy.

The court first heard from the Law Minister about the extradition request from the US on July 19 this year, and issued an apprehension warrant for the pair the following week.

During a Sept 7 hearing, Peterson’s lawyers Hamidul Haq and Thong Chee Kun, and Maslindah’s lawyer Anand Nalachandran, said that their clients would cooperate with the authorities on the extradition.

GDMA — owned by Malaysian businessman Leonard Glenn Francis — is a multinational firm headquartered in Singapore, with offices around the region. For more than 25 years, it managed bids for marine husbandry services during the US Navy’s port visits.

Peterson, 38, a permanent resident here, faces six charges of conspiring to defraud, using electronic or wire communication to obtain money and property fraudulently, and submitting false claims to the US government.

Maslindah, a 43-year-old Singaporean, has been slapped with seven similar charges.

Around June 2011, the US Navy struck a deal with GDMA for three regional contracts: the company would provide exclusive husbanding services for US ships and submarines at ports in South-east Asia, Australia and the Pacific Isles, and East Asia.

Before arriving at each port, a US Navy ship would send GDMA a list of supplies and services required. An invoice would be submitted and the ship would then issue a cheque in payment.

However, instead of submitting competitive quotes for these supplies and services, GDMA allegedly fabricated quotations, such that the firm appeared as the lowest bidder. It would then inflate the charges that would be submitted to the US Navy.

Among other things, Peterson allegedly created a shell company and submitted an inflated quotation for tug boats in 2012. A lower-cost quotation from a competitor was deliberately kept out of sight, and the US Navy ended up accepting the shell company’s quotation.

Francis — better known as Fat Leonard within the business circuit — admitted in January last year to his role in the scandal, where he provided navy officials with prostitutes, hotel stays and cash in exchange for contracts and tip-offs. He informed investigators about the roles Peterson and Maslindah played in the conspiracy.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

City Harvest appeal: Former CHC finance manager was kept out of plans on alleged conspiracy, says lawyer

TODAY
17 Sep 2016
Kelly Ng

City Harvest Church’s former finance manager Sharon Tan was only a “mouthpiece” who had “limited understanding” of the alleged conspiracy to misappropriate the mega-church’s funds, or to falsify its accounts, argued defence lawyer Paul Seah on Friday (Sept 16), as he sought to overturn her conviction. 

He stressed that Tan — who was last year sentenced to 21 months’ jail for three counts of criminal breach of trust and four accounts falsification charges — was not involved in the church’s decision to invest in the bonds at the centre of the conspiracy. Her involvement came about after she took over as the church’s finance manager from January 2008. Tan, now 40, had her “entire life built around the church”, said Mr Seah, adding that CHC was the only church she had attended since she became a Christian when she was 15. 

“CHC is the bedrock of her life … She wholeheartedly embraced its mission and vision, including the Crossover Project. Everything she did over the years … was done with the purest of motives in what she thought to be in CHC’s best interests,” he said.

Tan had been working in the church’s accounts department since January 2000 and also met her husband in CHC. “CHC was not merely Ms Tan’s workplace, but was also (her) church and spiritual bedrock, a place where she was taught to believe, and to trust, in both her faith and in her leaders,” said Mr Seah in written submissions presented earlier to the court. 

“The trial judge himself had found that she had no intent to cause harm to the church.”

Tan, church founder Kong Hee, his former second-in-command Tan Ye Peng, former church board member John Lam, former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, and former church finance manager Serina Wee, were found guilty of the unauthorised use of S$24 million in church building funds for the music career of Kong’s wife Ho Yeow Sun, and “round-tripping” another S$26.6 million to cover up the first sum. All are appealing against their convictions.

Mr Seah argued that unlike her five co-accused who either held top leadership positions or sat on CHC’s board at some point, Tan held a low position in the church’s hierarchy and merely “followed instructions”. 

Even when senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and the church’s then-fund manager Chew Eng Han were devising plans to redeem the bonds, Tan was largely left out of the meetings and was only roped in occasionally to “provide facts and figures”. 

“Sharon Tan shows absolutely no understanding of the plans, she doesn’t know how it works … Sharon was merely a mouthpiece, reporting certain things,” said Mr Seah. 

And at each step of this process, Tan showed “eagerness” for the plans to be given the green light by the professionals, and was assured as such, said Mr Seah. “The trial judge erred in tarring Sharon with the same brush as the other co-accused.”

He also questioned if the prosecution had “proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused persons’ alleged wrong use of funds was driven by a “desire to cause a loss” to the church. “If their chief desire was to the advantage of the church, then the criminal breach of trust charges should fail,” he said.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved 

ADV: Singapore Mediation Centre - Adjudication Conference, 25 Oct 2016

Singapore Law Watch
29 Sep 2016
Singapore Mediation Centre

Short-selling: when is regulatory action warranted?

Business Times
22 Sep 2016
R. Sivanithy

HOW should regulators deal with short-selling attacks, if at all? It's not an easy question to answer. There is hardly ever any clamour for regulatory intervention when strong "buy" reports with sky-high target prices send stocks shooting up. But there are always calls for gatekeepers to take action when a short-seller swoops into the market with a sell that (a) uses inflammatory language to make sensational claims about the target being worth much less than the current market; (b) causes worry and panic; and (c) is usually aimed at a high-priced stock that everyone thought was financially solid.

The reason for this disparity in the way buys and sells are perceived is, of course, purely emotional - rising prices are comforting because of their wealth enhancement, while crashing prices bring dismay, wealth destruction and, inevitably, calls for justice to be served.

In Singapore, regulators have not acted in the admittedly small number of sensational short-selling cases encountered by the local market over the past few years. This could be because although short-sellers are viewed by some quarters as market pariahs, there is reason to view them as part of the market's ecosystem. If so, then they have every right to voice their opinions as anyone else.

Over in Hong Kong too, there has not been any regulatory intervention - until now. Last month, short-seller Andrew Left of Citron Research was found guilty by Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission's Market Misconduct Tribunal of publishing a "false and misleading" report on developer China Evergrande Group.

"The SFC investigation found Left made a profit of about HK$1.7 million by shorting 4.1 million Evergrande shares before issuing a scathing report on the company on June 21, 2012," said South China Morning Post on Aug 26. "Shares in Evergrande slumped 19.6 per cent following the release of the report before closing the day down 11.4 per cent, against a 1.3 per cent drop in the benchmark Hang Seng Index."

According to news reports, the maximum penalty for such misconduct is a ban from trading Hong Kong's stocks for up to five years and a fine equal to the profit made.

However, as noted earlier, there is a school of thought that short-sellers have a valid place in today's market - either as whistle-blowers, price stabilisers or playing a role in exposing accounting shenanigans. On this premise, governance and freedom of speech advocates have leapt to Mr Left's defence, arguing that the tribunal failed to differentiate an honestly held but incorrect opinion on one hand, and a statement of fact on the other.

Should the HK authorities have bothered? Maybe or maybe not, but without full knowledge of the issues, nuances of the case and the deliberations by the tribunal who presumably were fully aware of the flak it would draw with a guilty verdict, it would be difficult to draw firm conclusions.

One thing we do know for sure though - officialdom always finds itself in "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations. Ignoring the case would have brought criticism from those who think short-sellers are squalid bottom-feeders who should all be flogged and hung out to dry; taking action brought as it did the complaints described earlier from those who think it was important not to obstruct a diversity of views in the market.

If, however, a short-seller acts in bad faith by spreading untruths and knows that he or she is doing so, and if there is a significant market impact as a result of those untruths, then maybe a case can be made for the authorities to step in. The difficulty, however, would be proving recklessness and intent to make a profit from others' misery and fear.

Note also that in a presumably efficient and sophisticated market, any resulting stock price weakness upon release of an untruthful report should not last too long. After a knee-jerk sell-off, a rebound should quickly ensue - there is, after all, a lot of truth to the saying that fundamentals will always assert themselves. Moreover, if a short-seller gets it wrong, or fails to cover the position in time, his or her loss can be very painful since share price rises are in theory unlimited.

When that happens, even regulators are relegated to the role of observers as it is the market that takes over as the ultimate disciplinarian.

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

City Harvest appeal: ‘Church money meant for a mission cannot be counted as wrong use’

TODAY
17 Sep 2016
Amanda Lee

In trying to appeal against his conviction and sentence, a former church leader asked if using the church building fund for a missionary purpose is considered “wrong use” or “dishonest misappropriation”, and if it then meant that there was wrongful loss.

Chew Eng Han, 55, who used to be the fund manager at City Harvest Church (CHC), put forth these questions in his written submissions in the High Court on Friday (Sept 16).

His appeal is being heard by a three-judge panel. Last year, he was found guilty on six counts of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsifying the church’s accounts, and was sentenced to six years’ jail.

Chew, who is unrepresented, said that the prosecution’s case during the trial pointed to the church’s building fund as a restricted fund that could be used only for building-related expenses or for investment. In the “Crossover Project” — fashioned to push the pop music career of founder-pastor Kong Hee’s wife, Ms Sun Ho — the use of this fund was not an investment, the prosecution had argued, so the money was used for an unauthorised purpose that constitutes “wrong use” of the fund, which is tantamount to dishonest misappropriation.

Chew said that the trial judge had adopted the prosecution’s core argument above and “gravely erred in ruling that there was dishonest misappropriation”, basing it on a flawed definition of the word “misappropriate”, which was tied to “wrong use”. 

During the three-hour hearing on Friday, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin questioned whether the church had something to hide regarding the use of the church fund. “It definitely looked like it was some secret project, because it was a secret project,” Chew replied.

Asked by Justice Woo Bih Li on why the building fund had to be invested in music production company Xtron instead of going directly into the Crossover Project, Chew said that the church wanted a “holding company” that could be used as a “special purpose vehicle” through which it directs the money to projects like the Crossover, and to bid for a property in 2009. 

Chew and his family had donated S$1 million to the church, and he was told in 2008 that Ms Ho’s English album was to be delayed for another year. Kong said then that the project was going to get bigger, they would make money from concerts and merchandise, and Ms Ho’s album launch would be a success. 

“I believed that she was going to be a superstar,” Chew told the court. “Whatever Kong Hee tells us, we believe. We never thought it was a sham.”

Chew pointed to an email Kong wrote in 2005 after he announced to the church that his wife secured a US$5 million (more than S$8 million) contract. He said that church members should be “super proud” of Ms Ho because there was a “singing diva” in their church. Kong also said that his wife was going to be the “next Whitney Houston”.

“If (Ms Ho was to be the) next Whitney Houston, how (can it) not be a profitable vehicle for us?” Chew said. 

Justice Chan Seng Onn asked Chew: “So you were brainwashed?” Chew replied: “Yes. I was.” 

The court was also told that the church bought unsold stocks of Ms Ho’s albums. “If this were a conspiracy, it is the worst-thought-out conspiracy ever,” Chew said.

It looks that way to me, too,” Judge of Appeal Chao said, prompting laughter from the packed public gallery. 

The appeal hearing will continue on Monday with the church’s former second-in-command Tan Ye Peng and former finance manager Serina Wee.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved 

Singapore investors win appeal in NZ property dispute

Straits Times
28 Sep 2016
Rennie Whang

Court rules they are entitled to return of deposits, not liable for damages after deal goes sour

Losing money in a foreign real estate investment gone bad is every property investor's nightmare.

But for dozens of Singapore and Malaysian investors who faced large losses and a legal quagmire after investing in a planned mega project in New Zealand, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The Court of Appeal of New Zealand ruled earlier this month that the investors are entitled to the return of their NZ$10 million (S$9.9 million) in deposits, and do not have to fork out the NZ$36 million in damages sought as part of a counterclaim.

This overturns an earlier decision by the High Court of New Zealand.

"Finally, we won the case... We really learnt from this experience," said an investor, a Mr Tok, who paid about 15 per cent of a NZ$1.085 million townhouse. "I was so trusting with the marketing agent and didn't read in detail when it came to the sale and purchase agreement. But in reality, there can be many loopholes in legal interpretation, and similarity in legal system does not guarantee that everything operates as it does in Singapore."

The 109 investors had bought into the failed NZ$2 billion Kawarau Falls development - planned as an integrated world-class village resort with three five-star hotels, a four-plus-star hotel, and three serviced apartment buildings. It was a three-stage development on the shores of Lake Wakatipu near Queenstown. From 2006 to 2009, the investors agreed to buy off-plan units in two buildings in Stage 1.

But the global financial crisis hit and the developer was placed into receivership. Stage 1 was later completed by the receivers but progress on Stages 2 and 3 were stalled.

In 2011, the investors were served settlement notices for their purchases by a company which had been assigned the vendor's rights. But none settled, alleging breach of contract.

The company then cancelled all the sale and purchase agreements. When the investors sought a court order for the return of their deposits, the company counterclaimed for damages for loss of bargain.

In the end, the Court of Appeal ruled that the vendors' obligation to complete Stages 2 and 3 should be treated as an essential term of the sale and purchase agreements.

"We consider it unlikely a purchaser would have proceeded to purchase a unit in a stand-alone building in the absence of an obligation to complete the overall development," the court said.

The vendors' breach of this essential term amounted to a repudiation which the investors "were entitled to accept... and cancel the sale and purchase agreements as they did".

The investors were also awarded 75 per cent of their legal costs. The sum is still being worked out.

Only 71 of the original 109 investors saw the case to the end. A number had previously settled to pay a portion of damages.

While an appeal can still be made to New Zealand's highest Supreme Court, the decision by the Court of Appeal is important as New Zealand is a capital importing nation which depends on foreign investment, including into property, said Mr Phil Creagh of Anderson Creagh Lai, who represents some investors.

One investor, who wanted to be known only as Ms Fan, in her 40s, said: "It was supposed to be a simple investment. We really couldn't accept the fact that just because the developer had financial difficulties, we had to pay in full and (not get what we agreed on) in return."


LESSON LEARNT

I was so trusting with the marketing agent, and didn't read in detail when it came to the sales and purchase agreement. But in reality, there can be many loopholes in legal interpretation...

MR TOK, who paid about 15 per cent of a NZ$1.085 million townhouse.

COMPLETION EXPECTED

We consider it unlikely a purchaser would have proceeded to purchase a unit in a stand-alone building in the absence of an obligation to complete the overall development.

THE COURT OF APPEAL, on the vendors' obligation to complete Stages 2 and 3

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

Former tour guide to be sentenced next Friday

Straits Times
22 Sep 2016
Carolyn Khew

Prosecution calls for 10-12 years' jail for CBT but defence says three years would suffice

A former China tour guide who pleaded guilty to misappropriating $1.1 million from an elderly Singaporean widow is expected to be sentenced next Friday.

At the close of yesterday's hearing, Principal District Judge Bala Reddy said he needed time to consider the sentencing after both the prosecution and Yang Yin's lawyer made further submissions.

Last month, Yang, 42, pleaded guilty to two charges of criminal breach of trust (CBT) for misappropriating $500,000 and $600,000 from Madam Chung Khin Chun in 2010 and 2012, respectively. The 89-year-old was diagnosed with dementia in April 2014.

Yesterday, deputy public prosecutor Sanjiv Vaswani said 10-12 years' imprisonment for Yang was a fair sentence, taking into account his conduct at trial and the need to send a "strong deterrent signal".

"This case brings to the forefront of public consciousness the potential vulnerability of such individuals, and aptly illustrates the difficulty of detecting and deterring financial crime perpetuated against these victims," said DPP Vaswani.

"A resounding signal is necessary to indicate a zero-tolerance position towards any predators of the vulnerable elderly."

Moreover, in this case, large sums of money were involved. Previous cases, he said, showed a correlation between the amount misappropriated and the sentence imposed.

During the hearing, Yang rocked back and forth in the dock while the submissions were read out to him in Mandarin by an interpreter.

A medical report showing the Chinese national had suffered acute stress disorder last month should be taken as a mitigating factor, said his lawyer, Mr Irving Choh.

He reiterated that a sentence of three years would suffice and urged the judge not to depart from the "normal sentencing" for criminal breach of trust cases.

"This is really just a case, nothing extraordinary," said Mr Choh.

"His scheme, in hindsight is quite foolish, Sir. I am sorry to say that... but... he has pleaded guilty."

As for Yang's conduct at trial, the court had not found his behaviour to be in contempt of proceedings or scandalous, added Mr Choh.

In May, Yang pleaded guilty to 120 other charges, mostly of falsifying receipts made to his company.

The other charges involved cheating, immigration offences and breaking Companies Act laws.

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

High Court stays all action against Hanjin

Straits Times
16 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

The High Court has temporarily frozen all Singapore proceedings against troubled South Korean industry giant Hanjin Shipping and its Singapore subsidiaries, pending a full hearing for all parties here on whether the freeze should continue until next January.

Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah approved the interim stay order last week sought by Hanjin's president and chief executive, Mr Suk Tai Soo, who is the company's custodian in its court-mandated rehabilitation proceedings in Seoul.

The interim orders, which recognise the rehabilitation proceedings in Seoul designed to protect the firm against bankruptcy, also restrain any enforcement action against any of its assets here, among other things.

"The imperative for orderly rehabilitation and restructuring of a company running a global business across jurisdictions, and the need to ensure that the company's assets could be marshalled and collected for such effort, both provided sufficiently strong grounds for the exercise of the inherent powers of the court to grant the restraint and stay orders," said the judge in brief decision grounds released yesterday.

The difficulties of debt-ridden Hanjin, the ninth-largest container-shipping firm in the world, have led to serious disruptions in goods transport globally.

Hanjin filed for rehabilitation proceedings to the Korean Bankruptcy Court in Seoul last month, preserving its assets.

A Seoul district court on Sept 1 approved the rehabilitation process, entailing a plan expected to take about four months to complete for a court review. Hence, Mr Suk's application here seeks the stay order to remain till Jan 25 next year.

Mr Suk's lawyers, Mr Sim Chong and Ms Yap Hao Jin, argued that the application for restraint and stay orders here mirrored similar moves across the world "to prevent piecemeal and haphazard resolution of the company's difficulties".

They added that the application underscored the global scope of the rehabilitation, in which all creditors, including Singaporean interests, would participate. Among other things, Hanjin's 112 employees based here risk job loss without the rehabilitation, said Hanjin.

The judge found the proposed steps in the rehabilitation proceedings to be fair to Hanjin's foreign creditors and ruled that court assistance to the proceedings be extended to prevent the arrest of Hanjin ships, except for the Hanjin Rome, which was earlier arrested on the application of creditors.

The judge, who noted that British and United States courts had recognised the South Korean rehabilitation proceedings, said he was satisfied "that the Korean rehabilitation orders should be recognised and assistance rendered".

A High Court case management conference for all parties was held yesterday.

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

Allen & Gledhill sets up public policy practice

Straits Times
28 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

A law firm has become the first in Singapore to set up a public policy practice to advise clients on issues such as regulatory changes, government affairs management and commercial initiatives.

Allen & Gledhill's unit, launched last week, is co-headed by the firm's chief economist Elsa Chen, a competition law specialist featured in a 2016 global list of elite women in the field, and law partner Adrian Ang, who was previously an assistant director at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

In the US, public policy units in some major law firms help to shape decisions in matters of government law and regulation. Last month, global law firm Pinsent Masons launched a public policy unit in Britain to advise on the impact of the country's vote to leave the European Union.

A&G's managing partner Lee Kim Shin said shifts in the regulatory and legislative landscape can have significant impact on businesses and commercial imperatives. "Through effective public policy engagement, clients can better respond to, and participate in, the regulatory landscape to align commercial and business prerogatives with public policy needs.

"The practice integrates our firm's depth of expertise in public policy, applicable laws and regulations, competition and economic trends, and draws on Allen & Gledhill's deep industry experience... in key business centres throughout South-east Asia."

Ms Chen said the unit was set up to respond to the parallel trends of "co-creating value" with governments through collaboration, and the increasing impact of public policy intervention on how business is conducted. "It is not a one-off reaction to any one regulatory or legislative development, but a sustained observation of how public policy, domestic and international, impacts on business value in all sectors."

Mr Ang said new technologies have brought about increasing disruptions which "shake up the status quo in the form of new entrants to existing markets, with novel ways of doing business, and may have deep-reaching impact on existing businesses".

"Our new practice group is well placed to assist our clients in understanding the policy issues and legal ramifications surrounding the disruptions and to utilise such knowledge to their advantage."

Singapore Corporate Counsel Association vice-president Dharmendra Yadav said the move "will create opportunities in areas traditionally outside the remit of lawyers... It is the right signal for the profession because good lawyering must... involve an appreciation of the policy imperatives driving legislation".

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

SBIO: corporate governance at the edge

Business Times
22 Sep 2016
Mak Yuen Teen

SBI Offshore (SBIO) and its boardroom tussle challenge the boundaries of good corporate governance and raise important questions about independence, competencies and attributes of directors, and difficulties that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often face in putting together a skilled and diverse board, as well as the role of sponsors in contributing to good governance of Catalist companies.

Before the recent appointment of new directors, SBIO had a five-member board - a little small (as the board itself acknowledged) but not unusual for an SME. Its small board size was helped by having only one executive director (the CEO) and only one major shareholder with a seat on the board (the non-executive chairman), allowing it to still have a majority of independent directors. Among its four non-executive directors, three have backgrounds in accounting, finance and insurance, while the other is a lawyer. What appeared to be lacking among the non-executive directors was any significant prior experience in the business that the company was in or was attempting to diversify into.

It may be difficult for SMEs like SBIO to attract good independent directors at reasonable fee levels. In FY2015, the total fees paid to SBIO's non-executive directors was S$126,000, or an average of S$31,500 per director. This is probably about 15-25 per cent of the average for the larger listed government-linked companies (GLCs). Yet, the job of an SME director can be more demanding than for a GLC director. For SMEs, the potential pool of good independent directors may be rather small, and they often end up with directors who lack the desired skills, experience, commitment, and other personal attributes.

THE FOUR PROPOSED DIRECTORS

The three requisitioning shareholders proposed the appointment of four directors. Two of them - Hui Choon Ho and Lau Yoke Mun - were to assume executive director positions. As a former executive chairman and CEO of the company, Mr Hui would bring relevant industry and senior management experience.

He could have been a suitable replacement for current CEO Chan Lai Thong or otherwise added something to the board - from the skills and experience standpoint. The board was not questioning the relevance of his skills and experience, but his alleged interference in the operations of the company as a shareholder and his alleged involvement in two contradictory acquisition agreements which had potentially serious implications.

In this regard, I was rather shocked that Jen Shek Voon, former audit committee (AC) chairman of SBIO - an experienced AC chairman and former senior partner of a Big Four firm - was quoted as saying: "We have heard enough about PwC (its report). This whole report is a red herring." ("Shareholder move to oust SBI Offshore CEO stalls", BT, Sept 17).

In the case of Mr Lau, he is said to have over 30 years of experience in finance and accounting, although he also has some general management and other experience, and had a short stint in the company as an employee and service provider, where his responsibilities included finance, business development, and corporate matters. He does not have any experience as a listed company director. The value he adds to the board from a skills and experience viewpoint is less clear to me. In his case, the board has concerns about his conduct and performance as a former employee and service provider.

As for the other two proposed directors - Ong Nai Pew and Geoffrey Yeoh Seng Huat - the board felt that they would bring relevant experience. Dr Ong was considered to have "relevant experience, skills and expertise in the area of investment strategy planning and economics research", while Mr Yeoh had "relevant experience, skills and expertise in the area of project financing, and could contribute to the diversity of the skills and expertise required of the board in view of the recent diversification into the solar energy business". The board deemed them to be independent.

Given that Dr Ong owns 5.7 per cent of the total issued shares, he is "technically" independent from a shareholding perspective, based on the 10 per cent shareholding threshold set out in the Code of Corporate Governance 2012. The fact that Dr Ong and Mr Yeoh have been proposed by Mr Hui and Tan Woo Thian - who own 11.7 per cent and 13.8 per cent respectively - also does not necessarily mean that they are not independent as the Code deems a director to be prima facie non-independent under such circumstances only if there is a direct association between the nominated director and the "10 per cent shareholder". However, in practice, it is often difficult to establish whether there is a "direct association".

A more thorough assessment of the independence of Dr Ong and Mr Yeoh should consider relationships between them and Mr Hui and Mr Tan - and whether they are independent in character and judgement. However, most companies here make only rudimentary assessments of director independence.

Independence aside, if Dr Ong and Mr Yeoh are appointed, the board may still lack sufficient diversity in competencies, as these two directors would add mostly finance-related expertise and experience.

The day before the EGM, the company appointed four new directors, increasing the number of directors to nine. They are: James Kho Chung Wah, Lawrence Kwan Hon Kay, Ling Yew Kong, and Mark Edward Pawley. Mr Kho and Mr Pawley have a finance and investment-related background, and Mr Kwan has a corporate secretarial background. Mr Pawley does not have prior experience as a listed company director.

Mr Kho and Mr Pawley's background looks similar to that of several of the current directors and those proposed by the requisitioning shareholders. Mr Ling's background is described as "strategic advice and chart new directions" for the various companies that he has been involved with over the last few years. He is executive director and CEO at China Sky and also became executive chairman at Anwell Technologies in 2015 when it went into judicial management. He has also been executive chairman at Firstlink Investments Corporation since 2005 and still retains the position after the company was delisted at the directive of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) in 2011. In total, he holds 23 directorships, although mostly in private companies. In Mr Ling's case, my main concern is his ability to commit time.

Basil Chan - who joined the board last year and who was the audit committee chairman and lead independent director - has since resigned, bringing the board size back down to eight directors.

Under normal circumstances, a board appointing new directors just before an EGM called by shareholders to appoint and remove directors may be seen as a blatant attempt to frustrate shareholders' right to change the board. It is certainly not a blueprint for companies facing shareholder revolt. However, I can understand why the SBIO board did it, especially given the questions surrounding two of the proposed directors. Further, shareholders proposing to appoint or remove directors may be acting in their own interest rather than that of the company's, and shareholders do not owe fiduciary duties to the company, unlike directors.

Nevertheless, given the speed with which the four new directors were parachuted into the company, the newly constituted board may not be fit for purpose.

Rule 226 of the Catalist Rulebook sets out certain responsibilities of sponsors. Rule 226(1) states that "a sponsor taking on sponsorship of an existing issuer must . . . investigate and consider the suitability of each director and proposed director of the issuer and consider the efficacy of the board as a whole for the company's needs . . .". It appears that this rule applies to a continuing sponsor when it first takes on the sponsorship of an existing issuer. Rule 226(2) states that a sponsor, in undertaking continuing activities for an issuer, must "advise its issuer on the suitability of directors arising from proposed changes in the issuer's board of directors". This clearly is an ongoing responsibility of a sponsor and would be expected of SBIO's sponsor, Prime Partners Corporate Finance (PPCF).

ASSESSING DIRECTOR SUITABILITY

As mentioned in my earlier commentary ("Stand taken by SBI Offshore sponsor highly disappointing", BT, Sept 14), I do not agree with how the sponsor handled the proposed appointment of the two directors which the board had concerns about. However, this case raises wider issues as to whether sponsors are really equipped to fulfil their responsibilities, including advising on the suitability of directors. Do sponsors like PPCF have internal guidelines and policies for assessing the suitability of a director? To what extent do they assess the suitability of each director based on their character, competencies and ability to commit time?

At the EGM, a number of shareholders present in person or by proxy expressed that the EGM resolutions should be considered and voted upon only after shareholders are presented with clear outcomes of the investigations arising from the PwC report and the report to the Commercial Affairs Department. The shareholders present then voted on the adjournment of the EGM.

Catalist Rule 730(A)(2) states that all resolutions at general meetings shall be voted by poll. Under the Companies Act, shareholders can demand a poll and any provision in a company's articles excluding this right shall be void. However, there are two exceptions: the appointment of the chairman of the meeting, and the adjournment of the meeting. SBIO relied on its articles to vote to adjourn the meeting based on a show of hands.

Was it fair that the adjournment of the meeting was voted based on a show of hands, even though it is in accordance with SBIO's articles? No and yes. No because, in general, shareholder decisions should be based on one-share-one-vote. However, arguably yes in this case because there is a pending investigation relating to one of the proposed directors and the sponsor had asked the board to seek further professional opinion or legal advice for two of the directors. More generally, one can argue a case for decisions to be based on number of shareholders, rather than number of votes, where there is a real risk of minority shareholder interests being trampled over by dominant shareholders.

However, like the appointment of the four directors before the EGM, what happened at SBIO's EGM could be abused by unreasonable minority shareholders trying to disrupt meetings and thwart shareholders who own much larger stakes.

Unfortunately, in SBIO's case, ideal governance is off the table and we have to make do with pragmatic governance.

The writer is an associate professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, where he teaches corporate governance and ethics.

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

Govt makes two key modifications to eligibility proposals

Business Times
16 Sep 2016
Kelly Tay

THE government has wholly accepted the Constitutional Commission's recommendation to ensure representation of all races in the presidency, it said in a 49-page White Paper released on Thursday evening.

It has also agreed to update the eligibility criteria for applicants - albeit with certain modifications that depart from the Commission's proposals.

Two key differences in eligibility requirements have to do with how long one must have served in a qualifying office, and how recent that experience must have been. For one, the government is opting to retain the existing eligibility criteria of three years, instead of the doubled duration of six years as recommended by the panel.

And while the government agrees that a currency requirement should be instituted - essentially a "look back" period to ensure that the applicant's leadership experience is relatively current - it thinks the length of time should be extended to 20 years, instead of the proposed 15.

"In the government's view, as long as an applicant's qualifying tenure falls wholly or partly within 20 years of the relevant presidential election, his experience may be considered suitably current," said the White Paper.

This is also a departure from the Commission's recommendation, which said the entire period of the applicant's qualifying tenure should fall within the 15 year window.

Speaking to the media after the release of the White Paper, Law Minister K Shanmugam said that the Commission's original recommendations would have reduced the pool of potential candidates too drastically.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "What (the Commission's proposal) means in practice is that if you call it a certificate of validity, it expires in nine years effectively. He's got to have six years of experience (and) within nine years he should stand for the presidency. We think that might narrow down the field too much, might be too drastic."

This is especially since the 15-year look back period is a significant change from the current position, where no such currency requirement exists. As such, Mr Shanmugam said the government prefers to take a "slightly more cautious" approach.

"We think we maybe start at 20 years, and we decided that instead of six years, keep it to three. Let's see how it works," he added.

Other eligibility criteria, particularly those applicable to private-sector applicants, were accepted. This means future presidential hopefuls must have held the most senior executive position in a Singapore-incorporated company, with shareholders' equity of at least S$500 million. This new threshold - to be periodically reviewed - marks an increase from the current criterion, where candidates must head companies with a paid-up capital of S$100 million or more.

The applicant's company must also have been profitable through his entire period of office, and there must not have been an insolvency process within three years of him ceasing to hold office.

In addition, the government agreed with the Commission's view that while experience in leading a publicly-listed company would be valuable, such a requirement need not be introduced right now. "The issue can be revisited later, after we have seen how the other modifications to the eligibility criteria have operated in practice," said the White Paper.

As for the public sector track, the Commission had proposed to remove the Accountant-General and Auditor-General from the list of public-sector offices that would automatically qualify a person for a presidential contest. It cited how these officeholders arguably play an ancillary and comparatively narrow role in the delivery of public goods and services.

While the government thanked the panel for "rais(ing) valid points", it said that it would like to consider this recommendation more carefully, and will retain the existing position for now. It added, however, that it will reconsider whether the two offices should be removed at a future point in time.

As for the idea to reserve elections for a racial group if it had not been represented for five terms to ensure multi-racial representation, the government wholly accepted the Commission's recommendations.

In its White Paper, the government noted that the "'hiatus-triggered' safeguard mechanism" has the benefit of being race-neutral, in that it guarantees the representation of all racial groups in the presidency.

Said the White Paper: "Practically, it is most unlikely that a five-term hiatus will ever arise vis-a-vis the Chinese community, which constitutes a significant majority of our population. But the approach is significant at a symbolic level, as it underscores the importance of ensuring that all races are represented in the presidency."

It also noted that multi-racial representation in presidential offices is not unique to Singapore, citing Switzerland, Canada, and New Zealand as examples.

With regard to the role and composition of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), the government generally agreed with the Commission's recommendations.

This includes the proposal to increase the number of CPA members from six to eight, and the suggestion that the president be obliged to consult the CPA before exercising all of his custodial powers over the reserves.

This also applies to all his powers pertaining to key public-service appointments. (Currently, the president has a duty to consult the CPA before exercising only some, not all, these powers.)

But in the matter of overturning a presidential veto by a parliamentary override, the government disagreed with the call for a more calibrated approach - one that tiers the Parliament majority required for an override, against the level of support from the CPA. The government said it prefers to retain the present arrangement, where the override mechanism continues to adopt a binary approach, depending on whether the president's veto is supported by a simple majority of the CPA.

Said the White Paper: "The calibrated approach may unintentionally emphasise or even politicise how individual members of the Council, particularly its chairman, have voted, instead of the collective judgment of the Council as a whole. The analogy is with the Cabinet, where ministers may have different views on issues, but take collective responsibility for the decisions of the Cabinet to which they belong, and do not differ publicly from these decisions."

The government reiterated its view that the president should be elected, not appointed, and that a custodial, elected president remains "the most workable and effective solution for Singapore for the present".

It added that it will study the Commission's proposals to improve the rules on campaign methods and preventing misinformation, and decide on the necessary changes later.

Mr Shanmugam noted that there were other recommendations of the commission under study; those will not form part of the Bill and will be taken up later.

The release of the White Paper comes after the Constitutional Commission published its report on Sept 7. Following community dialogues and engagement sessions, the Bill to amend the Constitution will be tabled and debated in Parliament this year.

 


 

Entrenchment provisions to be revised, says government

FOR a Constitution to be workable, it must remain a living document over time - one that continually evolves and keeps pace with changing conditions, said the Singapore government on Thursday in a White Paper.

For this reason, the government will revise entrenchment provisions related to the elected presidency - but bring changes into force only after some time. This would allow an assessment of how the institution works over time, so that further refinements can be made if necessary.

The government was responding to the Constitutional Commission's report, which had flagged how provisions entrenching the president's discretionary powers are still not in force - despite entering into law more than two decades ago.

Entrenchment refers to specific mechanisms that safeguard potential curtailment or circumvention of the president's discretionary powers. It grants the president, for example, an effective veto over any proposed amendment of certain core provisions, which can only be overridden by Parliament if it acts with the support of two-thirds of the electorate voting at a national referendum.

Parliament had earlier suspended the entry into force of these entrenching provisions, so that constitutional amendments could be made to fine-tune the elected presidency - without the potential hurdle of having to convene a national referendum each time.

Noting that these provisions should not be suspended indefinitely, the Commission said in its report: "After 25 years, the government should decide whether to bring these provisions into force or repeal them in whole or in part. This, too, is ultimately a matter for political judgment."

In response, the government said it intends to introduce a recalibrated entrenchment framework - one that "aims for a workable balance between preserving the adaptability of the Constitution to changing circumstances, and providing the stability through a sufficiently rigid Constitution".

Law Minister K Shanmugam added: "We think we need to redraft the entrenchment provisions in a way that will be difficult to amend, but not impossible."

The new framework comprises two tiers: the first applies to the elected presidency as an institution; and the second, the president's core custodial functions relating to financial reserves and key appointments (see flow chart).

Provisions that do not relate to these core areas will be subject to the normal constitutional amendment process - where a two-thirds Parliamentary majority vote must be met, before any amendment can be made.

The revised framework will also accord "appropriate weight" to the advice and recommendations of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA). This is in contrast to the current entrenchment framework, which does not accord any constitutional or legal weight to the advice of the CPA.

The government noted in its White Paper: "The next question is when the entrenchment provisions should come into operation. The government has explained previously that it is best to let some time pass, see how the institution works over time, before entrenching.

"The fact that there are good reasons for revising the entrenchment provisions now shows that it was wise to have not entrenched them. Likewise, the question of when to bring into force the revised entrenchment provisions should be considered some period after the upcoming set of amendments have been in operation."

 

 

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

 

PwC looking to boost legal services here

Straits Times
28 Sep 2016
Grace Leong

The legal arm of Big Four accounting firm PwC is intensifying its global push and setting up a Singapore base, hiring two senior partners from global law firms Ashurst and Norton Rose Fulbright.

The Straits Times understands this move is in line with the Committee on the Future Economy's drive to develop strategies to position Singapore's key legal and accounting service sectors for the future.

"Asia's continued growth and advancements in technology present both opportunities as well as challenges for the sector. There are also inherent synergies between legal and accounting services which can be better harnessed," Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah had said earlier.

When asked about its plans in Singapore, PwC declined comment. But the firm confirmed that it has hired former Ashurst Singapore corporate partner Keith McGuire and former Norton Rose Fulbright real estate funds partner Natalie Breen. Global legal services leader Leon Flavell was relocated from London to Singapore in mid April.

The Singapore Accountancy Commission declined to comment, saying that "a lot of details regarding PwC's move are not firmed up yet".

Accounting firms are again making forays into the legal business after a brief halt with the failure of Arthur Andersen in 2002, following a major accounting scandal over United States energy firm Enron.

"There is a global trend towards multi-disciplinary practices, where clients can get accounting, restructuring and tax advisory services from one service provider," said TSMP Law's joint managing director Stefanie Yuen Thio.

"But I think a big driver for this is that margins for professional services are being squeezed... so professional firms need to find new revenue streams."

Another Big Four firm, Deloitte, may move similarly. Mr Low Hwee Chua, regional managing partner of Deloitte South-east Asia's tax and legal department, told The Straits Times that launching its own law firm is under consideration.

PwC had said its vision is to become a global legal services network, focusing on corporate reorganisation, labour law, mergers and acquisitions, and tax litigation. Its legal arm, PwC Legal, a member of the PwC network of firms, has lawyers in more than 85 countries. In Singapore, PwC tied up with Camford Law two years ago.

Similarly, another Big Four firm, Ernst & Young has tied up with local law firm PK Wong & Associates, in a move to grow its presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

The hope is that a "one-stop shop" offering will attract clients and result in lower costs, Ms Thio said.

It makes sense for accounting firms to build a more targeted practice in areas complementary to their work, such as large restructurings across many jurisdictions. These areas tend to come under the scrutiny of an accounting and legally trained team, she said.

But industry observers flag challenges in the marriage, including how accounting firms will manage potential conflicts of interest with their other service offerings.

The auditing function, for instance, requires an element of independence. If accounting firms now add legal services to their suite of offerings, this may result in another area of conflict. Also, they may want to avoid active litigation as not many clients would want to use an accounting firm that has sued them.

Still, this development poses yet more competition to the legal sector. "Law firms that provide services that are ancillary to accounting functions may find someone is nibbling at their lunch. We lawyers need to up our game," Ms Thio said.

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

ADV: Singapore Mediation Centre - Adjudication Conference, Oct 25 2016

Singapore Law Watch
22 Sep 2016
Singapore Mediation Centre

City Harvest appeal: Kong Hee acted in good faith, says lawyer

Straits Times
16 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong, Ng Huiwen

Even if City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee had put church funds to the wrong use, he did so in good faith and there was never any dishonesty behind it.

Moreover, he did not obtain a single cent for his own gain.

That was the case put forth yesterday by Kong's lawyer, Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, in arguing for overturning the pastor's three convictions for "dishonestly misappropriating" church money.

He also called Kong's eight-year jail sentence excessive.

Kong, 52, and five other CHC leaders at the centre of a long-running high-profile financial scandal involving $50 million in church funds are in the High Court for what could be the final stage of the legal process.

The prosecution, on its part, is asking for longer deterrent sentences.

In October last year, the six were convicted of misappropriating church funds to fuel the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds - money that was in fact used to fund the Crossover Project. Another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

Yesterday, in front of a packed public gallery of about 50 mostly church supporters, Kong and John Lam, 48, a former CHC finance committee member, presented their cases. The panel comprises Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.

Addressing the court, Mr Tong said the lower court had wrongly conflated the "wrong use" of CHC's building fund with having a dishonest intention."The intention to put the funds to wrongful use is not the same as the intention to cause wrongful loss," said Mr Tong, adding that "dishonesty" is defined in the Penal Code as having the intention to cause wrongful gain to one person, or wrongful loss to another.

He said in this case, the bond proceeds were applied "in good faith" to CHC's advantage, going towards a project that had "almost the entirety of the church supporting it".

Mr Tong also reiterated Kong's defence that he had "almost religiously" consulted lawyers and auditors about the bond transactions.

"As far as Kong Hee is concerned, he does not have a shred of paper that said his colleagues were not to give anything but the true facts to the lawyers or auditors," he said.

The six CHC leaders arrived in good spirits yesterday. All of them - except former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, who is representing himself and was seated with the defence lawyers - were smiling and laughing in the dock before proceedings began.

Lam's lawyer, Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan, reiterated his client's defence that he had only limited involvement and knowledge in the bond transactions, agreeing at one point with Justice Woo, who had asked if Lam was an "innocent pawn" being used by the others. Lam faces three years in jail.

"We are saying John Lam was being used to facilitate the plan without knowing the full picture," said Mr Tan.

There was a moment of levity just before the morning session ended, when prosecutors requested a break for the transcriber, after Mr Tan spoke for 21/2 hours. Justice Chao quipped: "We can keep quiet and say silent prayers."

The appeal continues today, with Chew and former finance manager Sharon Tan presenting their cases.

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

Law, finance sectors divided over impact of AI

Straits Times
28 Sep 2016
Rupali Karekar

Some see it as tool that takes over mundane tasks; others see it as cause of future job loss

Artificial intelligence (AI) is shaking up the law and accounting sector, as companies embrace the use of increasingly smart machines to perform mundane tasks that have traditionally been the preserve of junior employees.

Many international legal and accounting firms have developed programs that can sift through regulatory registers, read and understand natural language and use these to categorise documents for better, faster and cheaper delivery of certain services.

Some see this as the next target for technological disruption, similar to what Uber did to the taxi industry, which may come at a cost of human jobs. But others have argued that there is a lot to gain from embracing the new approach in terms of saving time and money.

"AI is an indispensable tool for coping with the ever-growing amounts of data which lawyers have to handle in running complex matters," Mr Edward Chan, banking partner at London-based Linklaters law firm, told The Financial Times.

His firm has developed a software that can check thousands of client names for banks using regulatory registers in Britain and Europe overnight. "Previously, it would have taken a trained junior lawyer an average of 12 minutes to search a single customer name," he said.

European venture-capital firm Invoke Capital recently made a multimillion-dollar investment in Luminance, which is developing AI to automate the legal drudgery involved in corporate mergers and acquisitions, reported Bloomberg, which noted that the robot lawyer is just one of many aiming to replace overworked associate attorneys.

A recent Deloitte study suggested that technology has already contributed to a reduction of about 31,000 jobs in the legal sector, including roles such as legal secretaries, and a further 39 per cent of jobs were at "high risk" of being made redundant by machines in the next two decades.

Mr Moshe Vardi, a computer science professor at Rice University in Texas, was quoted as saying by the Financial Times: "We are approaching the time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task.

"Society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: If machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?"

But there are other voices that see AI as a beneficial tool to make their jobs easier. The United States Association of Chartered Certified Accountants noted that over the next two years, automation will alleviate many cumbersome processes, such as bookkeeping and transaction coding, enabling accountants to focus on advisory services and other higher-value work.

Mr Fabian Horton, founder and principal lawyer of Australian virtual law firm ConnectLaw, told a summit earlier this month that lawyers are looking to fill the time saved by AI: "What we see is, even though the technology is coming through, it's actually not giving us less to do, it's giving us different things to do."

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Third-party funding regulation impeding Asian legal market

Business Times
21 Sep 2016
Matthew Secomb

THIRD-PARTY funding - which offers an alternative way to fund a legal claim - has traditionally been met with suspicion and scepticism. Third-party funding allows a commercial fund with no prior connection to the case (the "third party") to finance the cost of legal proceedings, whether in litigation or arbitration. In return, they receive a share of any damages. This is contrasted with traditional funding methods, in which the party or a related company pays these costs.

For hundreds of years, funding another party's claim was a crime, with concerns that the third party in question may take the opportunity to inflame damages, suppress evidence or suborn witnesses. The notion of a party "gambling" on the outcome of litigation was considered problematic, as third-party funding could distort justice and damage the integrity of the judicial process. While England abolished the common-law crime in 1967, it remained largely unlawful in Singapore and Hong Kong.

In recent years, we have seen this type of funding become increasingly popular across jurisdictions in Europe, the United States and Australia. One argument in favour of third-party funding is that it provides access to justice by enabling a party to enforce its rights in a dispute. Even when a party to a dispute is solvent, this funding method offers commercial options for how risk is allocated, and the claim is collateralised. This frees up capital which may have been tied to the dispute for other business objectives.

Asia's legal landscape is now responding to the increasing global prevalence of third-party funding of international arbitration. Singapore closed the consultation for draft legislation legalising third-party funding for international arbitration in July. Hong Kong's Law Reform Commission has recommended legislative reform.

These reforms have been the topic of ongoing discussion in recent years and have been the subject of some controversy. In many jurisdictions, there has been a level of consensus around the development of third-party funding. The prevention of this type of funding initially made sense for various policy reasons. However, there has been an about-face with many now seeing that the use of third-party funding actually supports the development of a society governed by the rule of law.

In both Hong Kong and Singapore, the judiciary has made some headway in tackling the old common-law prohibition. Third-party funding is permitted in Hong Kong when it is being used by liquidators to pursue claims on behalf of insolvent companies. In Singapore, the Court of Appeal decided that the prohibition applies to arbitration, but also recently suggested that third-party funding might be possible in certain situations.

White & Case's 2015 International Arbitration Survey, conducted with Queen Mary University London, showed that Singapore and Hong Kong are now the third and fourth most preferred venues for international arbitration. Both jurisdictions need to maintain this momentum; it is becoming apparent that third-party funding is an area in which reform is needed to stay ahead of other arbitration centres. Singapore, while recognising the need to protect its judicial system from abuse, also sees that third-party funding work is currently going to other international arbitration centres.

Singapore's path to reform would require that the common-law restrictions on third-party funding be abolished. It would also specify that third-party funding in international arbitration and related court and mediation proceedings would not be "contrary to public policy or otherwise illegal".

This is a significant legal reform; normally, funded parties would face risks arbitrating in a jurisdiction in which third-party funding is prohibited. Following reform, lawyers would be able to recommend third-party funders and negotiate these funding agreements. By publishing draft legislation, Singapore could be seen to have leapfrogged into the lead ahead of Hong Kong for now - but this advantage is unlikely to last. Hong Kong's Law Reform Commission issued its consultation paper on third-party funding for arbitration in late 2015 and ended the consultation period in February, with draft legislation expected in Hong Kong by the end of this year.

These are long anticipated and welcome developments for international arbitration in Asia - although for now, nothing has changed and the nature of the expected amendments remains unclear. But law firms, parties and funds should prepare for the changes to come. In 2015, several major funds launched offices in Hong Kong, and we expect to see the same in Singapore. At this stage, we do not know how these jurisdictions will regulate third-party funding, with Singapore expected to impose a duty to disclose the identity of any third-party funders. The current form of third-party funding regulation in Asia is holding the market back. When this barrier is released, we anticipate rapid growth in how this market develops.

The writer is a Singapore-based partner at White & Case international law firm

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SBI Offshore files CAD report, beefs up board ahead of shareholder revolt

Business Times
16 Sep 2016
Anita Gabriel

AHEAD of a crunch shareholder vote on a boardroom shakedown on Friday, SBI Offshore has muscled up its board with four new members and lodged a report with Singapore's white-collar crime buster on a possible breach of securities laws and other offences.

The report lodged with the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) is in relation to the purchase and sale of a 35 per cent stake in China-incorporated Jiangyin Neptune Marine Appliance Co (NPT), said SBI Offshore chairman Mirzan Mahathir in an announcement to the Singapore Exchange.

"The full extent of the possible breach of securities laws or other offences, or other potential breaches has yet to be determined," said Mr Mirzan, who owns 11.6 per cent of SBI Offshore and is the eldest son of Malaysia's former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Following the shock findings of a review by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) on the NPT transactions that was publicly released on Sept 10, the board has also appointed a special investigation committee to lead the investigations on the matter and "other connected matters".

The committee comprises four newly-appointed independent non-executive directors - James Kho Chung Wah, Mark Edward Pawley, Ling Yew Kong and Lawrence Kwan Hon Kay.

Their appointments, which took effect on Wednesday, were announced separately earlier in the day when it was also announced that they would lead the investigations into the "grave and very serious" PwC findings as well as actions, if necessary, to recover properties and moneys and to seek redress against breaches of duties.

The latest developments at the ailing offshore company that made losses of US$1.5 million for the first half year ended June are unfolding a day before the feud between the company's founder and major shareholder, Tan Woo Thian, and its chief executive, Chan Lai Thong, comes to a head at an extraordinary general meeting (EOGM) on Friday.

Mr Tan, together with two other requisitioning shareholders, Hui Choon Ho and Ong Nai Pew are seeking to appoint four new directors to the board as well as oust Mr Chan from the board. The four prospective directors are Mr Hui, Dr Ong, Lau Yoke Mun and Geoffrey Yeoh Seng Huat. The three shareholders collectively own just over 31 per cent of the company.

If the proposed resolutions on the new appointments are passed, despite the board having flagged the suitability of two individuals as directors before backtracking on one of them, the troubled Catalist-listed company would end up with a 13-member board.

This is way more heft than the average board size of 5-7 of a small cap company on SGX and more than the board's own recognition previously that a board size of six or seven directors would suffice given its current operations and diversification into the solar business.

SBI Offshore said: "While the board had previously thought that the addition of one or two directors should be adequate, the gravity and implications of PwC's NPT Findings make it imperative for the board now to introduce a larger number of new and independent directors who were previously uninvolved with the company."

The damning PwC report, which was first reported by The Business Times, points to the existence of two sets of agreements each on the purchase and subsequent sale of NPT.

The two sets of agreements contain conflicting key details (dates and pricing) which allegedly bear the signatures of Mr Hui (for the NPT purchase) and Mr Tan (NPT sale) from the official disclosures made by the company in relation to the acquisition of NPT and its subsequent sale in 2015.

SBI Offshore's board have urged shareholders to vote against Mr Hui's appointment given his involvement in the NPT transactions and his conduct which has raised doubts on his suitability as a director. It has also recommended that shareholders vote against the removal of Mr Chan from the board.

The "eleventh-hour" move by the board to bring in new members could signal the likelihood - and worry - that the requisitioners, two of whom are former key executives of the firm, could just get their way at the shareholder meeting.

Mr Chan, who was the company's independent director at the time of its listing on Catalist seven years ago, has clearly fallen out with Mr Tan and Mr Hui, which has led to a shareholder revolt against him and is culminating in Friday's showdown that promises to be nothing less than nail biting.

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

Fund mooted to help those who are not paid damages

TODAY
28 Sep 2016
Kelly Ng

Money to be given to those who are physically injured due to fights, road rage, abuse

SINGAPORE — Victims of crime who are awarded compensation but do not get it because the offenders are unable to pay could get some help soon.

The Community Justice Centre (CJC) is looking at piloting an “emergency fund” next year that disburses up to S$1,000 for each such victim, starting with those who are physically injured due to fights, road rage or abuse — especially foreign domestic helpers.

The charity plans to set aside S$40,000 from donations for this “emergency fund” in its first year.

“If a convicted attacker can’t pay damages and serves a jail term in default, it does not help the victim at all ... The emergency fund helps to overcome short-term impediment and ensures that their lives are not thrown too far out of whack,” CJC executive director Leonard Lee told TODAY.

The initiative was mooted by judges who understand the “limitations” of the (criminal justice) system, added the charity’s vice-chairman Chew Kwee San.

Former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong had previously noted that a heavy jail term or fine would be “cold comfort” to a victim who had to bear the burden of medical bills, lost wages and other expenses.

In 2010, the Criminal Procedure Code was amended to make it compulsory for the courts to “actively consider” whether to make victim compensation orders after each conviction.

Before that, judges had discretion over whether such orders should be awarded, which meant victims often had to launch their own lawsuits to recover damages from their attackers even if there had been a successful criminal conviction.

Mr Lee said that despite the legislative amendment, there is still a gap in access to justice when offenders are unable to fully repair the harm done to victims.

State-funded victim compensation programmes are a common feature in several jurisdictions including in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States.

Meanwhile, the CJC is also trying to reach out to a bigger pool of beneficiaries.

For instance, it is looking at extending its On-Site Legal Advice Scheme — currently available at the State Courts — to the High Court in November.

The scheme involves volunteer lawyers who offer brief 20-minute consultations on a range of issues — from civil disputes and matrimonial cases, to criminal offences — to those who do not have the financial means to seek legal counsel.

Its planned High Court edition is targeted at those seeking advice on bankruptcy issues.

A support programme for family members of the incarcerated, piloted at the Community Court earlier this year, will also be extended to the other district courts.

Under this scheme, the CJC serves as a “middleman” in an ecosystem of support comprising various social service organisations, family service centres and authorities such as the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Such cases will be referred to the CJC by the judges, lawyers or investigation officers.

From next year, the CJC’s Primary Justice Project — which encourages early dispute resolutions for a fixed fee — will also widen its ambit to cover employment disputes and offences under the Protection from Harassment Act.

Set up in December 2012 and initially run by five student volunteers, the CJC has grown into a 700-volunteer outfit and introduced various new initiatives over the years.

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Authorities move to ensure illegal downloaders get fair process

TODAY
21 Sep 2016
Tan Weizhen

SINGAPORE — In a first, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) are applying to the courts to intervene in proceedings involving rights owners of two movies going after illegal downloaders here, to ensure a fair process. If allowed, they want to put in safeguards and conditions to avoid “allegations of abuse”, they said in a joint statement on Tuesday (Sept 20).

For example, in some countries, conditions are imposed on the letters of demand issued to subscribers, to ensure that the content is phrased in a way that does not cause undue alarm.

Last month, TODAY reported that the owners of the movies, Queen of the Desert and Fathers & Daughters, had started legal proceedings to go after those who illegally downloaded the movies here, the second such case here. Film studio Voltage Pictures, which produced Fathers & Daughters, had also gone after illegal downloaders of Dallas Buyers Club, which it produced, last year. Queen of the Desert is produced by QOTD. Both are represented by Samuel Seow Law Corporation (SSLC), which acted for Voltage Pictures in the Dallas Buyers Club case, and had drawn complaints over how two of its former lawyers had handled the proceedings. 

In the statement, IPOS and AGC said: “(We) are of the view that whilst content owners have the right to enforce their intellectual property, this should be done in a way that builds legitimacy and respect for the entire process, and is not susceptible to allegations of abuse.”

Abusive practices include “speculative invoicing”, also known as “copyright trolling”, where a party pursues quick settlements from alleged copyright infringers, by launching legal action against them and taking advantage of their reluctance to pursue their rights fully before the courts, said IPOS.

Adding that they had reviewed the positions taken in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US in similar cases, IPOS and AGC said: “We will be asking the courts to consider imposing similar safeguards and conditions, if we are allowed to intervene.” IPOS said it was inappropriate to comment on the precise safeguards and conditions being sought at this point. But it noted that in the Australian case involving the producers of Dallas Buyers Club and Internet service provider iiNet, the court ordered that the draft of the letters to be sent to iiNet’s subscribers be submitted to the court for its consideration.

In April last year, SSLC succeeded in getting the court to compel telcos to give up details of their customers who purportedly downloaded the movie Dallas Buyers Club, and filed civil claims against these customers.

But two months later, the Internet Society (Singapore) filed a complaint with the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc), alleging that Mr Robert Raj Joseph and Mr Lee Heng Eam, who were with SSLC then, had issued letters threatening criminal proceedings against the alleged downloaders, to advance the civil claims. This goes against the LawSoc’s Practice Directions and Rulings Guide, which states that it is improper for a solicitor to “communicate in writing or otherwise a threat of criminal proceedings in order to achieve a stated objective in any circumstance”. In May, LawSoc said it was taking action against two lawyers over their conduct in dealing with illegal downloaders of Dallas Buyers Club, without naming the lawyers.

Intellectual property lawyers who spoke to TODAY welcomed it as a move to ensure a fair process.

Mr Jason Chan, director of Amica Law, said: “If the court makes certain orders arising from the positions taken by AGC and IPOS ... future rights owners will definitely have to be aware of what happened in this case here.”

Mr Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons, who became president of the Internet Society (Singapore) last month, agreed, noting that the latest case with Queen of the Desert and Fathers & Daughters has a similar modus operandi as the Dallas Buyers Club case.

Other safeguards that could be introduced in such proceedings include setting a limit on the amount of damages that could be claimed, said the lawyers.

A pre-trial conference on the Queen of the Desert and Fathers & Daughters case was held on Tuesday morning, during which the deadlines for the parties — Samuel Seow Law Corporation and M1, Singtel and StarHub — to exchange information were set, as well as directions for the progress of the case.

TODAY understands that the case will likely be heard again in November.

Use amnesty to ensure tax affairs are in order: MAS

TODAY
16 Sep 2016

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has urged banks operating in the Republic to encourage their clients to use the opportunity accorded by tax amnesty programmes to ensure that their tax affairs are in order.

“Banks are required to adhere to the Financial Action Task Force standard of filing a suspicious transaction report (STR) when handling tax amnesty cases, similar to the practice in other jurisdictions,” said an MAS spokesperson yesterday.

“Participation in a tax amnesty programme, in and of itself, would not attract criminal investigation in Singapore. The expectation for an STR to be filed on account of a client participating in a tax amnesty programme should therefore not discourage clients from participation. A police investigation is commenced in Singapore only when there are reasons to suspect that a criminal offence under our laws has been committed,” she added.

The MAS statement comes after Reuters yesterday reported anonymous banking sources saying that private banks in Singapore are sharing with the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) the names of clients embracing an Indonesian tax amnesty, a move that could undermine the amnesty and damage the banks’ business with their biggest client pool.

The CAD, a police division that deals with financial crime, told banks last year they must file a report whenever a client takes part in a tax amnesty scheme, the sources told Reuters. After initial resistance from the banks, worried they might lose clients, that message was reinforced this year by the MAS, when Indonesia launched a tax amnesty aimed at wooing back some of the cash its wealthy citizens have stashed in Singapore, said the sources.

“The moment the client tells you he is participating in the amnesty, you have a suspicion that the assets with you are not compliant, and so you have to report to the authorities,” Reuters reported a senior executive at a Singapore-based wealth manager as saying.

Singapore made tax evasion a criminal offence in 2013, and is toughening up the implementation of the law after a money-laundering investigation into state-backed fund 1MDB in Malaysia exposed how some of its biggest banks failed to impose robust controls on suspicious money flows. Indonesians account for an estimated US$200 billion (S$273 billion) of private banking assets managed in Singapore, or about 40 per cent of the total.

A second person with direct knowledge of the matter said banks had started sending to the police STRs related to Indonesian clients who have participated in the amnesty regime. The police website says it has used such filings to detect financial crime. That means if there is any evidence of wrongdoing from these filings, authorities can further probe clients or banks.

The fear of such scrutiny could deter Indonesians from considering the amnesty, which runs to March and has had a tepid uptake. The Indonesian tax office said 393 trillion rupiah (S$41 billion) of assets had been declared as of Sept 13, of which at least 30 trillion rupiah are in Singapore.

 

WITH AGENCIES

 

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved 

Directors of two listed firms get warnings

Straits Times
28 Sep 2016
Marissa Lee

Warnings issued following Acra review of 2014 financial reports of 50 companies listed here

Directors of two listed companies received warnings after inspectors from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) combed through the 2014 financial statements of 50 companies listed here, Acra said yesterday.

Each year, about 50 of 600 or so Singapore-incorporated companies listed on the Singapore Exchange are selected to go under the microscope as part of Acra's Financial Reporting Surveillance Programme (FRSP).

Acra does not disclose the identities of the companies inspected.

But the number of warning and advisory letters issued by Acra involving one or more instances of non-compliance fell from 35 last year to 23 this year.

Many directors were also making the effort to promptly rectify financial reporting gaps identified by Acra, the regulator said.

This year's FRSP report flagged four areas where it saw the highest instances of non-compliance with accounting standards.

These included the application of new consolidation standards, business acquisitions, impairment of long-lived assets, and fair value accounting of properties.

In particular, the new consolidation-related standards became effective for the first time during Acra's review cycle for the 2014 financial reports.

The standards were developed after the fallout from the 2008 crisis heightened the criticism that some entities were not honestly consolidating the entities they controlled, or funding distressed entities that had not been disclosed.

In one case described in the report, Acra queried a listed firm that had avoided consolidating a loss- making investment into its bottom line by way of a structured transaction - an arrangement packaged to achieve a certain outcome.

Overall, Acra found a good level of quality in financial reporting, although it noted some companies still make straightforward errors in their cash flow statements.

Acra's surveillance programme was initiated in 2011 and beefed up in 2014. It is meant to address the apparent lack of ownership over financial reporting from company directors here.

Perhaps the best known example of Acra's surveillance programme is China Environment. Last year, Acra issued warning letters to two of its directors after finding it had recognised construction revenue prematurely which did not reflect the extent of work done. China Environment was also made to re-state and re-file its financial statements for 2013 and 2014.

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

Don’t split the legal pie but expand it: Voices

TODAY
21 Sep 2016

I refer to the letter “Limit working hours for lawyers called to the Bar” (Sept 19).

The writer suggested that one of two possible ways to address the oversupply of lawyers is to limit, by statute, the working hours per week for lawyers called to the Bar.

As a fellow member of the legal fraternity, I would argue that his proposed solution might not achieve its intended purpose. A statutory limitation on working hours could harm the profession.

Most lawyers charge by their billable hours. Understandably, they work long hours to earn as much as possible, whether for their firms to justify their salaries or for themselves. To limit working hours is to limit their earning capacities.

There would probably be two undesirable consequences for the profession and the public: Members of the fraternity may treat one another as rivals for their earnings; and legal fees would be hiked to adapt to the limited working hours.

Realistically speaking, lawyers and law firms need to maintain their level of income and revenue.

The intention of the writer’s proposal would be to let more lawyers share the same market. The underlying assumption is that the size of the market remains unchanged. But we could expand the legal market by creating more demand.

In the book Getting to Yes, the authors addressed the principle of “expanding the pie”. While splitting the pie may become a zero-sum game, expanding it could create a win-win situation for all parties.

This principle is well-accepted in mediation and applies here too. More demand for legal services creates more legal work, which means more jobs and earnings for lawyers.

The establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Court, the promotion of Singapore as a regional dispute resolution centre, and more, are examples of the attempts to create new demand for local legal professionals.

While these long-term plans may not resolve the oversupply issue immediately, they are the correct approaches. Any tactical measure to alleviate the oversupply is momentary. We should exercise caution where legislation is involved, especially when the side effects are obvious.

Shaun Wong

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Turn glut of lawyers into opportunity for legal industry: Voices

TODAY
16 Sep 2016
Edwin Teong Ying Keat

I refer to the thought-provoking article “The Big Read: As supply of lawyers lurches from shortage to glut, spotlight falls on policies” (Sept 10).

While we recognise the potential pitfalls of ignoring the glut of lawyers, we need not perceive it as being detrimental to our legal landscape, given the need for an available talent pool to ensure a constant supply of legal professionals.

A burgeoning supply could be beneficial, given the need to sift the best out of the yearly injection of fresh blood into the system.

Other legal systems are in a similar predicament. For instance, The Guardian reported in 2011 that the number of solicitors in England and Wales was growing at four times the rate of the population.

The aspirations of man will often compel many to study law, but the perennial interest in joining a specialised profession to challenge one’s mental faculties should not be seen as a crisis.

Policies should therefore be engineered to plug gaps in fields such as family and criminal law.

Beyond meeting the need for this talent pool via UniSim, we should strive for a paradigm shift and adjust the “aspirational” view of the profession associated with the notions of prestige and lucrative interests.

The legal profession should, rather, be construed as one premised on traits such as sound ethics and the ability to think and analyse critically.

Also, this perceived glut of lawyers can be an opportunity to brainstorm ideas for utilising lawyers for pro bono efforts similar to those of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and the Legal Aid Bureau.

Jobs could also be created as a result, so that law graduates who are unable to attain training contracts have viable alternatives.

We should go beyond the fear of a glut and garner benefits from it. In the spirit of progress, every perceived crisis can be an opportunity.

 

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

 

 

Singapore to step up fight against money laundering

Business Times
28 Sep 2016
Jamie Lee

[Singapore] AS A sophisticated financial centre, Singapore needs to step up to "aggressively target" more complex cross-border cases of money laundering, even as it is armed with a strong regulatory framework to fend off dirty money and terrorism financing.

This is according to a fresh report from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body that looks at countering illicit fund flows and terrorism financing, and of which Singapore is a member.

And Singapore will respond with greater force to fight against dirty money, a joint statement from three regulatory agencies on Tuesday showed. The response comes even as the FATF inspections in late 2015 took place before Singapore stripped 1MDB-linked BSI Bank of its licence to operate in Singapore.

Full details over investigations linked to the web of 1MDB fund flows were also not given to FATF then, because they were ongoing. FATF had noted Singapore was pursuing "some complex cases" involving transnational fraud and corruption.

"Singapore's law enforcement agencies, which have been pursing complex transnational money laundering cases, will strengthen their capabilities to identify and investigate more of such cases," a statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Finance, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said.

It added that the financial intelligence unit under the Commercial Affairs Department will develop more sophisticated data analytics to combat threats of tainted money flowing through Singapore from abroad.

Singapore scored well in regulations. FATF said Singapore had strong preventive measures, and targeted financial sanctions against terrorism and against financing a mass expansion of weapons of mass destruction. Its supervision of the financial sector is "robust", FATF said.

The authorities here have offered "high quality" requests for, and assistance in, international cooperation in battling money laundering and terrorism financing, FATF added.

But with the rising tide of risks linked to money laundering and terrorism financing, FATF has now assessed financial centres, such as Singapore, based on their inherently higher money laundering and terrorism financing risks. The last FATF report on Singapore was done in 2008, but the task force has since revved up its standards to account for the increasing threat posed by money laundering and terrorism financing.

Indeed, FATF noted that the size of Singapore's private banking and asset management industry, as well as its position as an international trade hub, increase the country's vulnerabilities in money laundering and terrorism financing activities. More than three-quarters of funds managed in Singapore are from foreign countries, with most of them out of Asia-Pacific.

FATF also cited data from authorities here showing that money laundering offences linked to illicit funds from aboard and churned in Singapore, made up 66 per cent of all money laundering investigations.

"Singapore is seen as a key financial centre for combating AML/TF threats in Asia, and given our status as a hub through which increasing amounts of money are flowing, our contribution in fending off such threats is crucial for an effective effort," said Stefanie Yuen Thio, joint managing director at TSMP Law. "We are asked to be gatekeepers, but the challenge will be in the fact that the funds do not originate here."

PwC Singapore's regulations leader Kwok Wui San said the report is a "strong affirmation by the international community that Singapore can take a more leadership role in combating complex transnational crimes".

"Other countries in the money chain must also do their part. There must be willing government-to-government cooperation, effective intelligence, sharing of intelligence, and trusted and strict law enforcement."

To be clear, efforts by Singapore regulators to fight money laundering have been percolating over the last few years, ahead of the FATF report.

In the last three years, MAS has imposed financial penalties on 27 financial institutions for offences linked to money laundering and terrorism financing. MAS had also had a six-fold jump in onsite inspections on financial institutions between 2013 and 2016, compared to the prior three-year period. It has directed banks of all sizes to replace senior managers found to be incompetent in management oversight.

These efforts have picked up speed this year, but were not captured fully by the FATF report. Notably, in the wake of the 1MDB scandal, MAS has pledged more intrusive supervision, and will publicise sanctions against financial institutions that persist in breaking anti-money laundering rules. In August, MAS also created a dedicated anti-money laundering department.

Lam Chee Kin, DBS's head of group legal, compliance and secretariat, noted important initiatives over the last 12 months that, with the FATF report, will help to ensure that the level of public-private dialogue and cooperation will remain strong and effective to combat financial crime.

And given the growing complexity of such activities, financial institutions will have to remain constantly vigilant in detecting irregularities and devising counter measures, said Loretta Yuen, OCBC's head of legal and regulatory compliance.

In the joint statement, the three Singapore agencies also said Singapore's regime to combat terrorism financing "was not accorded sufficient credit" by FATF assessors, who do not accept the Internal Security Act as a form of criminal prosecution. And as inspections took place in 2015, FATF did not account for convictions this year of six radicalised Bangladeshi nationals under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act.

To tackle other gaps highlighted in the FATF report, Singapore will also improve the transparency behind beneficial owners of companies, and lift standards in assessing money laundering and terrorism financing risks of businesses as well as charities.

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

Customers in a bind after furniture seller goes missing

TODAY
21 Sep 2016
Toh Ee Ming

SINGAPORE — Several customers have been left in the lurch after furniture retailer Royal House (The Rome Gallery) disappeared with thousands of dollars in paid deposits for items that were never delivered.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) is looking into four cases filed from January, on top of 48 cases of feedback and enquiries, involving payment contracts ranging from S$500 to S$6,500.

Royal House had set up a booth at Singapore Expo in June and July, its customers told TODAY, and they paid between S$500 and S$2,288 as deposits for furniture they had bought. Calls by TODAY to the company were unanswered, and its office was empty.

Customers claim that the company’s managing director gave “excuses” for the delay, citing delivery problems and a backlog of orders, before he eventually could not be contacted.

One customer, a 50-year-old engineer who gave his name only as James, said he was shopping for a new sofa set at Expo in early June and was served by two salesmen. He was told the sofa would arrive the following month, and made a full payment of S$2,288.

Closer to the delivery date, around the Hari Raya Puasa period, he was directed to the firm’s managing director Gary Chia, who claimed there were problems with delivery because staff members at the factory in Malaysia were not working. Later, he mentioned other issues such as securing an export permit and having a “backlog” of orders as reasons for the hold-up.

This went on until early August, until Sept 2 when Mr Chia sent out a text message saying that the company had run into “financial difficulties” and it “could no longer operate”.

James, who lodged a police report, said that Mr Chia did not answer calls, but he heard that the company was still hosting fairs in August. The police do not have sufficient evidence to take further action, he added.

Another customer, a 30-year-old global recruiter who did not want to be identified, paid an S$800 deposit for a S$1,500 sofa in end July at Expo. She later learned that the company closed down, and found others in a similar bind when she went online. “I wouldn’t have expected this thing to happen in Singapore, let alone at Expo .... how come there’s nothing (the authorities) can do?”

Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of Case, said: “Case’s powers are limited to negotiation and mediation, and this cannot be done if the company does not respond to us.”

To ensure that consumers do not fall prey to “questionable practices”, he urged furniture-fair organisers to play their part in checking their exhibitors’ credentials, or to explore imposing checks and safeguards against furniture exhibitors, such as having a policy to look into the background of newly registered vendors.

He also advised consumers to pay only upon delivery of goods, or to pay a low deposit because “there is no way to guarantee that the business delivers on (its) promise”.

This is especially if the business or the fair organiser does not have the mechanism to protect prepayments by consumers. Case is advising the affected consumers to consider filing a claim with the Small Claims Tribunals, or to file a police report if they suspect fraud is involved.

Mr Steve Liew, 35, an aviation engineer who placed a S$1,388 deposit for a dining table and a bed frame, and even went down to the company’s warehouse (which is now empty), said: “It’s a big sum of money, and as a small consumer, it’s already (too expensive) for us to get a lawyer … That’s why I think these (companies) are getting away (scot-free).”

Last week, Parliament passed changes to consumer laws — to take effect by the end of 2016 — giving Spring Singapore, a statutory board under the Trade and Industry Ministry (MTI), more powers to go after errant retailers. The agency can order shops to hand over information for investigations and enter their premises to take evidence. Case will be able to inform Spring on problematic retailers for investigation and Spring can submit injunction applications against the retailers to the courts.

In July, Case president Lim Biow Chuan told TODAY that Case has recommended that the MTI regulate the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act for collection of prepayments, because of increasing cases of “businesses being liquidated after taking large amounts of deposits” and consumer protection is inadequate. MTI said that it would review the feedback on prepayment protection.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Good for laws to keep up with technology: Forum

Straits Times
16 Sep 2016

I agree that legal but well-regulated online betting will be the best way to deal with illicit gambling ("Legal online betting may be available soon"; yesterday).

First, the outright ban of online gambling sites has not managed to eradicate the problem of people gambling online.

This is because while the ban has made it less convenient, the existence of virtual private networks and other means of changing one's Internet Protocol address means it is still possible to access most online betting sites.

In fact, this makes it harder for the authorities to track the identities of those involved in online gambling. This makes it difficult to prevent underage gambling and problem gambling.

By legalising but limiting online gambling to a few sites, the authorities and the companies offering such services can exchange information to minimise these problems.

This can be done by insisting that those registering for an online betting account must provide their personal identity details. This will ensure that people on the exclusion list are not able to gamble.

Second, allowing Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club to take bets online will likely mean increased revenues to fund various social causes.

Since some gamblers would continue trying to gamble online despite a ban, it would be better for this money to stay within Singapore rather than flow overseas through other online sites.

This money can be used to support our local athletes, who have received a tremendous boost since Team Singapore's spectacular performance at the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games.

To conclude, when a ban is difficult to enforce across the board, we should consider turning to regulation to deal with this persistent problem.

The casinos are a case in point.

While the Government continues to discourage gambling by imposing a $100 levy for Singaporeans and permanent residents, the casinos offer a legal avenue for those who might have turned to illicit gambling otherwise.

By ensuring our laws keep up with global advancements in technology, we will be well equipped to minimise the impact brought on by vice activities to our society.

Lionel Loi Zhi Rui

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

Bunkering sector aims to enforce high standards

Business Times
28 Sep 2016
David Hughes

In light of the recent Danish court case, IBIA is working to weed out fraudulent practices and so improve operating conditions for ethically run bunkering businesses

ACCORDING to the event organisers, some 1,500 participants from 500 companies and 60 countries will gather here next week for the 19th Singapore International Bunkering Conference and Exhibition (SIBCON). They will have a lot to talk about.

This year's SIBCON comes at a particularly challenging time for the bunkering sector, as yet another major company gets into serious trouble. Whether or not container shipping line Hanjin eventually survives, its restructuring bid and inability to pay its bills are already wreaking havoc. For an industry that is still dealing with the OW Bunker bankruptcy, this latest collapse was the last thing it needed.

While unpaid bills can put the survival of bunker suppliers in jeopardy, something has occurred since the seriousness of the Hanjin situation became apparent that has potential for damaging the industry's reputation.

On Sept 22, a Danish court sentenced an executive of a Danish bunker company to three-and-a-half years in jail and ordered the company to pay a DKK 10 million (S$2.05 million) fine for having defrauded a Malaysian company in a "systematic and professional" manner over nearly three years.

The defendants have two weeks to appeal the verdict. Danish criminal investigators decided to bring the case to court despite the Malaysian company having withdrawn its original charges. An announcement from the Danish court in connection with the verdict states that the defrauded company received partial compensation from the Danish bunkering company.

The International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA), which represents all parties involved in the bunkering process (including suppliers and shipowners) has welcomed the actions of the Danish authorities, who "have investigated and sought to bring to justice alleged fraudulent activities perpetrated by a bunkering company in the country".

"IBIA is encouraged by the fact that reports of these sorts of incidents are being investigated and, where necessary, relevant action is being taken by the courts," said IBIA CEO Peter Hall.

"However," Captain Hall added, "IBIA is deeply concerned that the guilty verdict, together with other recent reports of bad practices, places the bunker industry in a poor light. I'd like to stress that the vast majority of bunkering transactions are carried out to the satisfaction of all parties in an ethical manner. Nevertheless, IBIA condemns any fraudulent industry practices without reservation and is working hard to promote best practice guidelines across the industry."

IBIA board member Henrik Zederkof of Dan-Bunkering is also hopeful that the court case will be a signal that criminal behaviour will not be tolerated, adding that the many serious and professionally run companies in the sector should not be tarred with the same brush. His company's parent firm, United Shipping & Trading Company (USTC), has put out a press statement stating that "none of the companies under USTC or our bunker group Bunker Holding either in Denmark or abroad" is involved in any fraud case.

Capt Hall said that IBIA is working to weed out fraudulent practices and so improve operating conditions for ethically run bunkering businesses. To this end, IBIA is encouraging all industry players to formally adopt and adhere to best practices, and advocates the adoption of high standards.

Capt Hall told BT that IBIA also promotes licensing schemes that monitor and regulate operations. In addition, it encourages all members to commit to increasing competence and raising professional standards across the industry. "An example of this," Capt Hall said, "is IBIA's recently published Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for surveyors in Singapore to provide good practice guidelines during deliveries involving mass flow meters."

This brings us back to SIBCON, where IBIA will be meeting senior management from the leading bunker ports next Tuesday to discuss the wider adoption of the IBIA Ports Charter, which stands for quality, quantity and transparency in all forms.

Singapore, of course, is already setting the pace when it comes to ensuring buyers of bunkers receive the volume they pay for. The mandatory introduction of mass flow meters (MFM) in Singapore features prominently in both the pre-conference symposium and in the main proceedings.

In some regions of the world, there is a reluctance to embrace MFM and no appetite to make their use mandatory. The reputational damage from the latest Danish court case, following other reports of volume fraud, may lead to a rethink.

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

City Harvest leaders deceived members, auditors, lawyers: DPP

Straits Times
21 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong

They subverted church's internal governance bodies, used positions of trust to misspend funds, court hears

The six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders deceived church members, auditors and lawyers, and subverted the church's internal governance bodies, the High Court heard yesterday.

They used their positions of trust to misspend millions of dollars in charity funds - the largest amount in such a case in Singapore's legal history - on a pop singer's music career, according to Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong.

He was responding to the arguments against conviction put forth by the six CHC leaders at the centre of the financial scandal.

In October last year, the six were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of CHC senior pastor Kong Hee's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds from music production firm Xtron and glass-maker Firna, and the money was used to fund the Crossover Project. Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

The six, including Kong, are appealing against their convictions and sentences - ranging from 21 months' to eight years' jail - while the prosecution is appealing for longer sentences.

DPP Ong said the CHC leaders knew the bonds were "excuses to expend building fund money on (Ms Ho's) music career" and not investments.

Addressing the arguments by the CHC leaders that there was a need for secrecy in carrying out the Crossover Project in order to avoid uncomfortable public scrutiny, DPP Ong said it was strange since the only thing needing to be "secret" was the fact that Ms Ho was funded by the church's building fund - which was "buried so deep that even the auditors don't know about it".

He said it was public knowledge that Ms Ho was "famous pastor Kong Hee's wife", and Kong would come out to preach at the end of her concerts.

"Where is the secrecy in this?" asked DPP Ong, adding that Kong and his conspirators also controlled the bond proceeds, choosing to spend them on the Crossover Project and deciding how and when they would be repaid to the church.

Justice Chan Seng Onn asked: "If I put out the money and eventually pay back to it myself, just sweeping around, playing around it myself, having full control of it, how can you call it an investment?"

DPP Ong replied: "Yes, your Honour, that is exactly our point."

Another issue discussed in court yesterday was whether the offences committed by the six CHC leaders fell under the ambit of Section 409 of the Penal Code that they were charged under.

This is the most aggravated form of criminal breach of trust, and sets out the offence as one committed by a person "in the way of his business as a banker, a merchant, a factor, a broker, an attorney or an agent banker, merchant or agent".

In this context, Justice Chan asked if "the church, as a society, is in the business of courting donations", with agents of the church then being seen as agents carrying out such business. DPP Ong disagreed. But he said Section 409 concerns individuals who "customarily and regularly are entrusted with funds which they are then supposed to take responsibility for".

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said that if the elements of Section 409 are not satisfied, the charges could be reduced. Arguments for the appeal will continue today.

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

Ethics code for doctors expanded, updated

TODAY
15 Sep 2016
Tan Weizhen

Document addresses new areas such as telemedicine, more complex medical environment

SINGAPORE — After six years in the making, the Singapore Medical Council has updated — and expanded substantially — its 14-year-old ethical code and guidelines for doctors.

Taking into account developments in medical care, the 64-page document, which is twice as long as the 2002 edition, was released on Wednesday (Sept 14) and takes effect in January. It is the primary document that the SMC’s disciplinary process refers to, together with other legislation like the Medical Registration Act. The council assesses the appropriateness of a doctor’s professional conduct based on peer review, which is also applicable in civil or criminal courts, SMC said.

The revised code and guidelines address new areas such as telemedicine, alternative medicine and end-of-life care while existing guidelines on granting of medical certificates (MCs) and doctor-patient conduct, for example, were beefed up.

A 150-page handbook — covering diverse topics such as relationships with patients, social media and Internet presence, business ties and advertising — has also been published to explain the application of the revised code and guidelines and provide advice on best practices.

SMC said the materials were developed after extensive consultation with the medical community and the process started in 2010 with the establishment of a working committee to review the ethical code and guidelines. The council said the work was guided by principles including relevance to modern medical practice, adapting to the complexities and variations of medical practice, protecting patients’ best interests while being fair to doctors and regulating behaviour rather than imposing blanket prohibitions.

SMC said the guidelines are “intended first and foremost to guide SMC-registered doctors practising in Singapore”. Adding that doctors who are registered with SMC “carry the reputation of Singapore doctors”, the council said: “However, as cross-border medicine becomes more prevalent certain aspects, such as telemedicine conducted in Singapore for overseas patients, may become subject to (the code and guidelines), in addition to the laws and rules that apply in the overseas jurisdiction.”

In recent years, trials have been held here and abroad on replacing doctor visits with video conferencing sessions, for example. The guidelines state that the quality of care in performing robotic surgery remotely, for instance, should be no different from performing the procedure in person. Doctors must also ensure that patients are sufficiently trained to operate telemedicine equipment from their locations and prompt assistance is available if the equipment fails, or the patients cannot operate them.

Dr Tan Chi Chiu, who chaired the working committee, said the environment today has become more complex as compared to 2002: The evolution of technology, greater ways of interaction between doctors and patients and a more complicated medical legal environment. “In an era of increased complexity, it is easier to get tripped up easily. The opportunity for error has become greater. In 2002, the number of complaints to SMC was not so high, and lawsuits for medical negligence not so prevalent,” he said. Last year, there were 141 complaints filed with SMC against 161 medical practitioners. In 2002, 69 complaints were lodged against 73 medical practitioners.

He stressed, however, that the intent of the revised guidelines is not to “tie down doctors’ hands” in what they do. The guidelines are not more elaborate than those in places such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Hong Kong, which the committee studied. Over the past six years, the committee met more than 30 times. It held dialogues with various sectors of the medical community, as well as two profession-wide consultation in 2014 and last year.

Based on the feedback, there was concern about whether the code and guidelines would lead to doctors “not treating patients according to their best interests by practising defensive medicine”, according to SMC. Defensive medicine refers to the practice of ordering medical tests, procedures, or consultations of doubtful clinical value in order to protect the prescribing physician from malpractice suits.

In response, SMC said it was “illogical to equate abiding by ethical guidelines to practising defensive medicine and increasing healthcare costs”. “It should be to the contrary, since ethical handling of patients should lead to reduced complaints and litigation and thus lower insurance and indemnity costs,” said the council, adding that doctors should use clinical guidelines “in context and not blindly”.

Tanjong Pagar GRC Member of Parliament Chia Shi-Lu, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said the guidelines were balanced. He noted the discussion among the community whether the guidelines should be kept simple and broad, or should they be more prescriptive and run the risk of being outdated quickly.

On the issuance of MCs, the SMC asked doctors to have a “detailed conversation” with the patients about what types of light duties are available at their workplace before certifying them to be fit for such work. “Leaving it to employers to decide is insufficient and risky to patients. The lightest duty available may exceed what patients ought to perform without aggravating their conditions,” the SMC said.

“It is not right to expect employers to have the medical knowledge to calibrate what duties are given to their employees who are given ‘light duty’ medical certificates.”


What’s new in the SMC’s ethical code for doctors

Fees for services

•Doctors must not charge fees of a level that would bring the profession into “disrepute”. The appropriateness of fees is subject to peer review

•They must not take additional fees for if they have not provided any part of the services to a patient by other doctors

•Fees or range of fees you set must be transparent and made known to patients in advance, But patients’ acquiescence to fees does not absolve doctors of the responsibility of charging reasonable fees

Relationships with patients

•Doctors must not breach professional boundaries by initiating social media relationships with patients

•They can choose to accept such relationships initiated by patients, but cannot compromise relationship by sharing anything that would breach patient confidentiality or through inappropriate words or behaviour towards patients

•Doctors active on social media must ensure that they do not diminish their professional standing, or bring the profession into disrepute

Aesthetics

•Doctors must take reasonable care to ensure patients do not have psychological or psychiatric illnesses involving self and body image before performing procedures

•For more invasive and surgical procedures, a reasonable “cooling off” period is needed between patients giving consent and the treatment

•When obtaining consent from patients, doctors must disclose risks “beyond those that are more common”, compared to that required of conventional medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine

•Restricted to only modalities approved by SMC, ie needle acupuncture

•Must have medical reasons for offering SMC-approved CAM services to patients

•Cannot be used in disregard of medical needs of patients that are better met through conventional medicine

Telemedicine

•Doctors must ensure they have sufficient training and information to manage patients through telemedicine, or state the limitations of their opinions

•Doctors still retain responsibility for overall management of a patient who undergoes robotic procedures performed by other doctors

•Ensure confidentiality of medical information shared through technology

•Ensure that patients operating telemedicine equipment from their locations are properly trained

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Court extends legal action moratorium on Pac Andes

Straits Times
27 Sep 2016
Marissa Lee

Creditors of cash-strapped frozen fish seller Pacific Andes Resources Development (Pard) appear to have scored a legal victory yesterday.

A Singapore court extended a moratorium on legal action launched against the firm but ruled that it cannot restrain winding-up proceedings being made against Pard outside of Singapore.

The Pacific Andes group has struggled to repay debt since its relationships with banks soured last year.

Fearing what it called "the threat of forced liquidation", Singapore Exchange-listed Pard filed for protection under the Singapore Companies Act in July.

Its creditors opposed that move, alleging that the firm was stalling to shield its units from attempts to investigate certain suspicious transactions.

The full-day chamber meeting was held at the High Court earlier this month to decide if the moratorium should be extended.

It was attended by senior counsels from Rajah &Tann representing Maybank; WongPartnership, which represented Rabobank and Standard Chartered; TSMP Law for Bank of America; and Drew & Napier and Ashurst, which acted for Pard.

Clifford Chance Asia acted for one group of Pard's bondholders, while Advocatus Law appeared on behalf of another dissenting group of bondholders.

Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh decided yesterday that the moratorium for proceedings against Pard would be extended to Oct 12.

The moratorium can be extended further to Jan 13 next year if Pard agrees to hold a meeting to vote on a restructuring plan and agrees to appoint a chief restructuring officer, who will report to the court and provide independent oversight over the firm's affairs.

But the moratorium is limited to Singapore and it does not apply to three other Pard units that Pacific Andes had sought to protect, The Straits Times understands.

This is because Pacific Andes Enterprises and Parkmond Group, which trade seafood products and are incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, and Pacific Andes Food, a service provider based in Hong Kong, do not have strong enough connections to Singapore.

This leaves the door open for Pard's creditors to file for liquidation of the firm anywhere else in the world where it has assets, such as Bermuda or Hong Kong.

Pard could apply for an injunction in these jurisdictions to restrain winding-up petitions on the basis that a restructuring is ongoing in Singapore, but the outcome is uncertain, given the Singapore court's ruling.

Pacific Andes spokesman Geoffrey Walsh declined to comment yesterday.

He said an announcement would be made to the SGX "after the court delivers its reasons".

Pard owns about 58 per cent of the shares in associate firm China Fishery Group, also listed on the SGX and operating mainly in Peru.

Trading in shares of both Pard and China Fishery has been halted since November last year after they disclosed that they were being investigated for a possible breach of the securities law.

In January, Pard failed to honour coupon payments on $200 million worth of 8.5 per cent Singdollar bonds due next year.

The bonds were selling at 25 cents to a dollar yesterday, according to Bloomberg.

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

Holding charities to high standards

Straits Times
21 Sep 2016

The guidelines proposed to improve the governance of charities ought to be welcomed as the sector handles vast sums of money. Tax-deductible donations came to about $1.4 billion last year, propelled by the 300 per cent tax deduction allowed for the Golden Jubilee. Total annual receipts (including government grants) amounted to $14.6 billion.

With a steadily growing pool of registered charities (now over 2,200) one cannot rely on a sense of responsibility alone to ensure that the duty of care is exercised diligently and office holders are faithful to the charity's mission. At a basic level, for example, one would expect those at the helm to refrain from paying themselves excessively. That was an issue in Britain when the Charity Commission's chief called into question "disproportionate salaries", while others asserted "charities shouldn't be ashamed of paying people what they are worth". In America, it is said there are "too many charities" chasing the same pool of donors, leading to higher costs of fund raising that might not be fully disclosed.

It is to avert these and other risks in the charity sector that its code of governance deserves to be tightened. Excessive red tape, of course, could weigh down organisations but high standards of governance should never be compromised. Risks can abound when management is weak or dominated by a few individuals, there is no ceiling on how long board members can remain in office, and no transparency on how they are performing their duties.

Public views are being sought for the latest refinements to the code. Whatever views are expressed about the nature of the new guidelines, few would contest the objectives of the code. These are to help charities become more efficient and effective by sharing good practices, ensure board members conduct themselves properly, and boost public confidence in charitable bodies.

Given the diversity within the sector, the guidelines are applied differentially across groups. Over half of charities are relatively small and almost as many have a religious character, which might make internal and external oversight difficult. Whatever their characteristics, it is incumbent on all charities to abide by the spirit of the entire code. Alongside the attention given to their strategic direction, financial planning, compensation policies and fund-raising practices, there should also be adequate disclosure of all dealings. Public generosity calls for a high standard of integrity to be demonstrated by all charities to ensure that donors' good intentions are delivered upon. According to the World Giving Index, almost six in 10 Singaporean donate to good causes. However, fewer than three in 10 serve as volunteers. By raising their game, charities could inspire more to contribute and play an active role in them.

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

Takashimaya wins rent dispute with landlord

Straits Times
15 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

The court fight between Takashimaya and its landlord Ngee Ann Development (NAD) over the way to calculate rent has concluded in favour of the department store.

By ruling in favour of Takashimaya, the High Court has denied NAD's claim that it could charge Takashimaya a far higher rent because, hypothetically, the department store could cut back its own area and increase the area it sublets to speciality shops.

NAD had sued Takashimaya - the anchor tenant at its Ngee Ann City complex on Orchard Road since 1993 - last year after both sides reached a deadlock on the meaning of "prevailing market rental value" in the lease agreement.

Takashimaya, represented by Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and Ms Lim Wei Lee, contended that the rental rate should be valued based on the existing space configuration.

Out of the 56,000 sq m leased to it, Takashimaya uses 38,000 sq m for its department store and the rest is sublet to speciality shops. Takashimaya says this use of space reflects the business model of its parent company in Japan.

But NAD contended that the rent should be valued based on the highest potential of the property.

This method would be based on reducing department store space as speciality shops command higher rent.

In a written judgment released yesterday, Judicial Commissioner Debbie Ong accepted Takashimaya's interpretation.

She found that when they entered into the lease agreement, both parties had intended to have a long-term relationship - Takashimaya would run its department store as Ngee Ann City's anchor tenant and NAD would enjoy strong property values as a result of Takashimaya's presence and ability to attract customer traffic.

She noted that the relationship between NAD and Takashimaya was more like a joint business partnership rather than the typical landlord-tenant relationship.

She noted that Takashimaya Japan has a 26.3 per cent stake in NAD and has four directors on NAD's board.

"Given this foundational context to the relationship, it would be inconsistent with the parties' core understanding and agreement for NAD to obtain rent based on the highest and best hypothetical use of the demised premises even while Takashimaya continues to use nearly 70 per cent of its leased space for its departmental store," she said.

The consequence of using NAD's basis is that Takashimaya would pay far higher rent based on a hypothetical configuration with reduced area for its department store use.

If Takashimaya does indeed reduce the size of its department store in order to maximise profits, that would run contrary to its main business.

"It is doubtful whether Takashimaya would have entered into the lease if it contemplated that it may one day have to run a property leasing business instead of operating its departmental store," she said.

The lease between the parties was initially for 20 years, with Takashimaya given six options to renew for 10 years each.

The rental rate is to be reviewed every five years.

In 2013, after Takashimaya exercised its first option, NAD proposed to revise the rent to $19.83 per sq ft (psf) a month, more than double the existing rate of $8.78 psf. This was based on a valuation report that reduced the space for department store use.

Takashimaya rejected it.

After months of negotiation, both sides agreed in April 2014 to each appoint a valuer and take the average of the two rental values.

Ten days later, unbeknown to Takashimaya, NAD wrote to the two valuers, noting that they are not constrained by the existing space use.

Takashimaya found out only after the two reports - based on hypothetical configurations that reduced department store space - were issued.

NAD explained the failure to send Takashimaya a copy of the letter as an administrative oversight.

Both sides then reached an impasse on how to continue with the valuation exercise.

In her judgment, the judicial commissioner urged both sides to "resolve their disputes amicably" in the light of their long-term business relationship.

Contacted for comment, NAD said in a statement: "We will seek our lawyer's advice and come to a decision thereafter".


38k

Out of the 56,000 sq m leased to it, Takashimaya uses 38,000 sq m for its department store. The rest is sublet to speciality shops.

20

Initial number of years of the lease between the parties, with Takashimaya given six options to renew for 10 years each.

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

Ngee Ann Development Pte Ltd v Takashimaya Singapore Ltd [2016] SGHC 194

Good time to review S'pore's Code of Corporate Governance: MAS

Business Times
27 Sep 2016
Claire Huang

Stakeholders say key areas that could be improved include board renewal, disclosures of corporate governance practices and gender diversity

[Singapore] IT may be timely to review the Code of Corporate Governance for listed companies in Singapore given that the last time this took place was in 2012.

Ong Chong Tee, deputy managing director of financial supervision at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) made the point on Monday at the opening of the Securities Investors Association Singapore (SIAS) Corporate Governance Week, which is into its seventh year.

"Any review will need to carefully weigh the differing perspectives of different stakeholders. What is needed is a balanced and progressive code that not only serves to enhance Singapore's corporate governance standards, but is also pragmatic and workable in practice," he said.

First implemented in 2001, the code is a set of best practice recommendations MAS had issued.

But the size and sophistication of Singapore's financial sector makes it "neither possible nor realistic" for MAS to detect and prevent all bad behaviours or criminal acts. "It is also not ideal nor desirable for MAS to rely on overly prescriptive and conservative one-size-fits-all rules without inadvertently stifling legitimate business growth and innovation," Mr Ong pointed out.

So, good governance driven by boards must feature as an important frontline defence against bad policies, poor conduct and deficient risk management practices, he said.

A competent management must be complemented by a proactive board that places good corporate governance as a priority area of focus - an area of that will have increased supervisory engagement by the MAS with financial institutions, said Mr Ong.

Besides the need for a diverse board, Mr Ong also touched on the importance of quality disclosures.

Citing a Singapore Exchange (SGX) report issued two months ago, Mr Ong said the findings show that while disclosures are generally adequate, there is room for improvement. "One area, in my view, is for companies to provide better disclosures on remuneration, as well as the link between remuneration and performance. Another area is on more clarity with regard to diversity policies and the company's plans on them."

"Board of directors should set the tone from the top, and to walk the talk so that there is resonance from the tone in the middle and tone at the front business units," Mr Ong noted.

In his opening address, David Gerald, president and chief executive of SIAS, urged regulators to consider requiring boards to have a formal independent review of long-time independent directors, and to have the report made public to shareholders.

The current code recommends a rigorous review of the independence of any director who has served for more than nine years, but an SIAS review found several companies with lead independent directors who have served on the board for 24-30 years. This particular issue was also raised by corporate governance advocate Mak Yuen Teen, who said the guideline recommending such a review "has been met with many boilerplate statements and occasionally external consultants doing meaningless confirmation of independence after nine years". This topic, he said, needs revisiting, especially in light of the SingPost saga.

He noted that board renewal and succession planning "is an area of significant weakness in many companies" and that the current code does not have much emphasis on this.

"I think we should also look at making some guidelines mandatory especially those related to disclosures of corporate governance practices such as number and attendance of meetings and director biographical information. This is the case in the United Kingdom and Australia," said Prof Mak.

Stefanie Yuen Thio, TSMP Law's joint managing director, pointed out that nine years should be a hard limit for directors to hold a board seat, and should not be subject to review only. "Even if there are no business transactions or relationships that might make someone less than independent, spending nine years on a board will risk entrenching interests and build personal ties that could potentially compromise independence."

She proposed that there be hard limits on the number of listed company directorships an individual can have, adding that the role of a board in overseeing management should be clearly demarcated from operational management of the group. "To this end, all mainboard-listed companies should have a majority of independent directors. Currently, this is only a requirement where certain conditions are met, for example, if the chairman and chief executive are the same person or are related," Mrs Thio said.

Annabelle Yip, WongPartnership's joint head of corporate governance and compliance, said the existing code remains current, adding that it may be timely to review what provisions of the code should be hardwired into the listing rules or into law. "Also, in areas where progress is urgent but the pace of change has been slow, for example, in the area of gender diversity, query whether or not a stronger provision in the code, requiring disclosure of a breakdown in numbers or percentage of board or senior management roles by gender, or disclosure of a gender diversity policy, should be included," she said.

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

Hard to limit working hours for young lawyers: Voices

TODAY
20 Sep 2016

I refer to the letter “Limit working hours for lawyers called to the Bar” (Sept 19).

As a senior practitioner, I have always asked my young lawyers to either take their work home and not be at the office after hours or to return to the office at the weekend.

It is not a case of senior management making them work overtime but of young lawyers taking it upon themselves to work longer.

They take their work seriously and thus spend more time to ensure that they produce top-quality work for clients. I appreciate the care and passion young lawyers put into their work.

As young lawyers, they would also take time because they lack the experience to complete their work faster; they spend much time on research and redrafting and fine-tuning their work.

In my law practice, my senior lawyers usually leave on the dot at the end of office hours.

Using that as a guide, I see these young lawyers learning the ropes fast and becoming wiser in time management and sharper in knowing what needs to be added in affidavits.

Thus I disagree that a statutory limit on working hours is a straightforward fix.

Gloria James-Civetta

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

City Harvest appeals start today

Straits Times
15 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong

Prosecution will seek stiffer penalties, while defence fights against convictions, sentences

They have filed their papers.

Today, the six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders at the centre of a multimillion-dollar financial scandal will return to face the courts.

The marathon City Harvest trial begins again in the High Court, with both the defence and prosecution appealing. The appeal will continue tomorrow and for the first three days of next week.

It will be heard by Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.

The six who have been convicted - including CHC founder Kong Hee, 52 - are arguing against their convictions and sentences, while the prosecution is appealing for longer deterrent sentences.

In October last year, the six were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds from music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna, but this money was, in fact, used to fund the Crossover Project. Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

For their crimes, the six were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years.

Kong, fingered as the key man behind the scandal, was given the stiffest sentence.

Presiding Judge See Kee Oon had choice words for the charismatic church pastor, whom he said "acted consciously and dishonestly".

"One does not need to be an expert in legality to appreciate certain fundamental aspects of honesty, truth and integrity," said Judge See in his written judgment.

Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 57, was handed a six-year term. And as Kong's right-hand man, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43, was given a sentence of 51/2 years.

Former church finance manager Serina Wee, 39, was given a five-year term. Former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 48, was sentenced to three years in jail.

Former church finance manager Sharon Tan, 40, received a sentence of 21 months' jail - the shortest.

Calling the case unique and without precedent, Judge See had agreed with the defence that the church suffered no wrongful loss, but still found them guilty of serious offences - including falsifying church accounts and breaches of trust involving large sums of charity money.

But the prosecution has described the jail terms as "manifestly inadequate".

During the trial, it called for harsher sentences - highlighting the fact that the case involved the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore's legal history, which has shaken public confidence in the charity sector.

Said Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong: "It must be made clear that those leading charities, entrusted with the funds, must adhere to the highest standards of integrity and transparency."

The session starting today could be the final avenue of appeal open to the six church leaders.

If their appeals fail, they can refer the case up to the Court of Appeal, with its permission - and only if there is a point or question of law to argue.

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

New study award to help S’porean students

TODAY
27 Sep 2016
Amanda Lee

To help Singaporean students defray the cost of the tuition fees at the new law school, the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has introduced a new study award. The MinLaw-UniSIM Study Award offers each recipient $75,000 for the undergraduate law degree programme or S$60,000 for the Juris Doctor programme.

They are required to practise family and/or criminal law for five years in a Singapore law practice upon graduation and admission to the Singapore Bar.

Students at the new law school have to pay S$197,222.40 for the undergraduate law degree programme and S$164,352 for the Juris Doctor programme. These are the estimated total programme fees without government grant and includes the Goods and Services Tax.

MinLaw said in its press release that this study award would give financial assistance to students who previously received government support or sponsorship for their undergraduate or higher degrees, and who are thus not eligible for the Ministry of Education’s Tuition Grant scheme.

To qualify for the study award, applicants must meet two criteria: They cannot be sponsored by any organisation for the programme that they are taking; and their monthly per capita household income cannot exceed S$2,600 or they are facing financial difficulties.

Their eligibility will be assessed by the law school, and applicants have until Oct 1 to apply upon meeting the criteria.

For UniSIM School of Law’s first intake, which will start in January next year, close to 400 applicants have applied for the 60 places available. The majority (90 per cent) of the applicants are working professionals such as paralegals, law enforcement officers, court employees and social workers.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Union files appeal over sacking of SMRT staff

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
ADRIAN LIM

The National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) yesterday submitted an appeal to rail operator SMRT against the dismissal of two workers who were involved in a fatal track accident earlier this year.

Train driver Rahmat Mohd, 49, and another SMRT employee who has not been identified, were sacked over the incident in which two trainees were killed.

NTWU executive secretary Melvin Yong said the union had reviewed the cases and raised further queries in its appeal to SMRT.

"As we await the reply from the company on their decision, we will continue to render the necessary support and assistance to the affected employees during this difficult time," he said in a statement.

Mr Rahmat, who was dismissed last Tuesday following an internal inquiry, was driving the train that hit and killed the two men near Pasir Ris MRT station on March 22.

Mr Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 26, and Mr Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24, were part of a 15-man team sent to investigate a possible fault with track equipment.

The other employee who was fired is believed to have been part of the work team on the tracks.

SMRT said in April that several safety lapses were found, including allowing the train to ply in automatic mode. Watchmen who were supposed to keep a lookout for trains were also not deployed.

Besides the dismissals, warnings were issued and performance grades were "recalibrated downwards across various levels of the Trains team, including senior management", the company told staff.

SMRT said it will be examining the appeal in accordance with "established processes", but did not elaborate on what these are.

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

Accountant struck off rolls gets second chance

Straits Times
15 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Court finds the punishment excessive for her offence and suspends her for 2 years instead

An errant public accountant who was struck off the professional register within a year of being registered has been given a second chance, when the High Court allowed her appeal and suspended her for two years instead.

The court, which noted that Leow Kwee Huay had worked for more than 25 years as "an unregistered clerk without blemish" before qualifying as an accountant, ruled that the punishment was "manifestly excessive".

Justice Choo Han Teck, in judgment grounds released yesterday, said: "To finally be admitted as a certified public accountant and be struck off the register within a year of finally becoming a certified public accountant appears harsh in the context of the wrong that she did."

Leow, formerly an audit manager at accounting firm Er & Co, was convicted in 2013 on seven charges of forgery and jailed a total of five days. In September last year, after a disciplinary inquiry, the Public Accountants Oversight Committee deregistered her as her convictions involved dishonesty. Her offence involved appending her signature to the firm's name on audit reports without authorisation.

Through lawyer Daniel Chia Jin Chong, Leow appealed to the High Court, arguing that the oversight committee was flawed in giving insufficient weight to the special facts of the case. For instance, there was no harm suffered by the victim and no evidence that the audited financial statements were inaccurate. No one was put at risk and there was no market impact.

Mr Chia pointed out that Leow was jailed for two to three days on each charge - well below the six-month term imposed for forgery crimes.

Counsel Lim Jen Hui of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority called for the cancellation to be upheld, arguing that there were no "compelling mitigating factors".

Justice Choo said the integrity and honesty of the accountant, as well as the manner in which the offences were committed, are significant factors in sentencing but "all these factors must be considered on the facts of each case".

He said while the signature on the statements was forged, the contents were not false or inaccurate.

Leow was said to have done it because the owner of Er & Co was until then the only person who could sign the statements. "This is thus more like an unauthorised signature than a forgery as commonly understood," said the judge.

While he agreed she should be punished, he found the dishonesty involved limited. But he warned that her career will end for good if she repeated the misconduct.

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

Leow Kwee Huay v Public Accountants Oversight Committee [2016] SGHC 180

All 60 places filled in S'pore's third law school

Straits Times
27 Sep 2016
Amelia Teng

Close to 400 apply for two new programmes in UniSIM, which focus on criminal, family law

Singapore's third law school has filled all 60 places in its two new programmes, after receiving close to 400 applications.

SIM University (UniSIM), which hopes to plug a gap in the legal industry by training criminal and family lawyers, took in 27 applicants for its Bachelor of Laws (LLB) programme, and 33 for the Juris Doctor (JD) course, for those who have a first degree.

The private university, which released these figures yesterday, said 80 per cent of the successful applicants have an average working experience of 11 years.

They include law enforcement officers, court registrars, teachers and social workers. The rest are fresh school-leavers.

According to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw), there are about 1,600 criminal and family lawyers here as of 2014, compared with 3,600 corporate and commercial lawyers. A spokesman said many lawyers do not practise exclusively in these areas.

While UniSIM's law graduates can practise any area of law, there will be a strong focus on criminal and matrimonial law.

Both part-time courses, which start next January, will emphasise practice-based learning with a compulsory six-month Legal Clerkship Programme to train students to apply knowledge to actual cases.

This is separate from the training contract, a period of supervised training - typically also six months - required for entry to the Bar.

Students will take core modules in criminal law and family law, and subjects such as social services.

MinLaw will provide study awards for Singaporeans not eligible for government tuition grants as they had already attained a qualification with government subsidy.

Each LLB recipient will get $75,000 and those in the JD programme will get $60,000.

While there has been concern about a recent glut of new lawyers, a MinLaw spokesman said the new school "is a result of the recommendations of the fourth Committee on the Supply of Lawyers, which saw a need for legal practitioners in (the criminal and family law) fields".

"The demand for legal services is market-driven. The Government cannot control the number of Singaporeans who choose to pursue a law degree overseas," he said. "Our focus is to ensure quality of practitioners and the standards of legal services are maintained."

Lawyer Sunil Sudheesan, acting president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, said UniSIM law graduates would bring "fresh insights" from their own fields into the legal sector. "The only concern is whether there is enough paying work to sustain these graduates, as a lot of the work in these areas is pro bono."

Mr Balasubramaniam Tharmalinggam, 40, an assistant registrar at the State Courts taking the JD course, said his passion is in criminal law.

"This is a unique and challenging area," he said.

"You can actually make a difference to the lives of the accused and their family members."


Paralegal hopes to be family lawyer

Ms Sara Yang, 29, was overjoyed to be offered a place in SIM University's undergraduate law course. "This is the chance I've been waiting for, for so many years," said the legal manager at Peter Low LLC.

The law and management diploma holder from Temasek Polytechnic has been working as a paralegal since 2006. She had applied to the National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University to study law a few years ago but was not accepted.

Ms Yang, who hopes to be a family lawyer, said: "Over the years, I've seen cases where women are treated unfairly and are afraid to seriously consider divorce because of their fear of what society would think of them."

Her interest in divorce and family cases stems from personal experience - she had received counselling help from a community group when her mother went through a divorce two decades ago.

She knows the demands of the legal profession, especially in family law practice. "I've seen how the legal industry is more grit than glamour.

"There are a lot of late nights, crazy deadlines, missed appointments with friends," she said."But at the end of the day, I feel great satisfaction from helping people."

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

Man jailed 7 years for killing brother

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

23-year-old who stabbed older sibling to death at home suffered from major depressive disorder

Bad blood between two brothers turned into a family tragedy when the mentally ill younger sibling stabbed his older brother to death in the bedroom they shared, a day after the pair exchanged angry words.

Yesterday, Ng Yao Wei, 23, was handed a seven-year jail term after he pleaded guilty to a charge of culpable homicide.

After Ng was sentenced in a courtroom packed with family and friends, his 87-year-old grandmother told him she would pray for him. "Whatever food they give you, just eat, so that you will be healthy," she said in Hokkien.

Ng's parents, Mr Ng Soon Guan, 64, and Madam Gan Chai Min, 55, appeared distraught. They declined to comment when approached by reporters.

Ng's lawyer Josephus Tan said in court earlier that Ng's parents regretted not being able to protect the brothers from each other and not having discovered their younger son's depression earlier.

"The real victims are the parents," he said. "They have lost one son and, today, they are here to see the other one get sentenced."

Ng was a 21-year-old Singapore Polytechnic student on April 13 last year when he stabbed 26-year-old graphic designer Ng Yao Cheng to death at the Windermere condominium in Choa Chu Kang, where they lived with their parents, eldest brother and domestic helper.

The accused called the police at about 11pm to report a murder on the night of April 13.

Paramedics arrived 10 minutes later to find the victim with multiple knife wounds on his neck and body.

Ng was arrested at the scene. He was charged with murder two days later at Changi General Hospital, where he was treated for injuries.

The charge was later reduced to culpable homicide as Ng was assessed to be suffering from major depressive disorder, which reduced his mental responsibility for the killing.

Yesterday, the High Court heard that the two brothers had an acrimonious relationship and would often quarrel over trivial matters.

On the evening before the incident, two friends of the accused went to his home to play computer games. The older Mr Ng became agitated over the noise they were making and shouted at his brother. In response, Ng called his older brother "a dog" in Mandarin. Their father intervened before the two came to blows.

In the middle of the night, Ng took a knife from the kitchen and hid it under his pillow.

The following night, Ng confronted his older brother for embarrassing him in front of his friends. Angry words were exchanged. When Ng called his brother "an a***hole", the older man lunged at him.

The younger man stepped back, reached for the knife and repeatedly stabbed his brother with the weapon, which had a 20cm blade.

On hearing the commotion, their mother and domestic helper went into the room. The domestic helper took the knife to the kitchen while their mother tried to stem the bleeding on the older Mr Ng with a towel.

An autopsy found that the victim suffered 22 stab wounds.

Yesterday, Ng's lawyer, Mr Tan, asked for a jail term of not more than seven years. He argued that his client, a timid and quiet individual, had been subjected to longstanding physical and verbal abuse by his older brother since he was young.

As they shared a room, his client had no choice but to suffer in silence, he added.

The older brother had also made death threats towards Ng, resulting in the accused hiding the knife under his pillow, said Mr Tan.

Their parents agreed that the older brother was "a hot-tempered and unreasonable individual" who had differences with all his immediate family members but especially with Ng, said the lawyer.

In November 2014, Ng walked into the Institute of Mental Health to seek help but kept it from his family.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ma Hanfeng sought seven to 10 years' jail, to ensure that the accused is sufficiently treated before his release back into society.

The maximum punishment for culpable homicide is life imprisonment and caning, or jail of up to 20 years and a fine or caning.

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

ADV: Singapore Mediation Centre - Adjudication Conference, Oct 25 2016

Singapore Law Watch
15 Sep 2016
Singapore Mediation Centre

Former exec jailed 20 weeks, fined $100k

Straits Times
27 Sep 2016
Amir Hussain

A former executive at shipbuilder ST Marine implicated in one of the largest corporate graft scandals here was yesterday sentenced to 20 weeks' jail and a $100,000 fine.

Mok Kim Whang, 65, who was the company's senior vice-president from June 2000 to July 2004, is the third of seven former ST Marine senior executives charged in the case to be sentenced. He is the second to be given a jail term.

He had earlier pleaded guilty to 50 out of 827 charges: one of graft and 49 of falsification of accounts.

The remaining 777 charges - all for falsification of accounts - were taken into account in sentencing.

Deputy Presiding Judge of the State Courts Jennifer Marie noted that Mok did not pocket any money, but had continued a pre-existing practice at ST Marine to pay bribes to its customers' employees, and to cover up the kickbacks with a false paper trail.

Among other things, she also noted that Mok had pleaded guilty, was remorseful, and that "for an older person... the shame of going to prison is indeed a grave punishment".

"This sentence adequately recognises the need to send a strong signal to deter like-minded offenders that there are painful consequences that will flow from weak-willed corporate executives," she said.

"Where there is a case of such rampant disregard of the law, it will be incumbent on senior officers to take a stand and if it is not possible to put an end to such illegal activities - then they should part (with the) company or the industry to report the activities to the authorities."

The court had heard that ST Marine staff had been using cash bribes to get business since 2000, with the approval of its senior management team. The company is a subsidiary of blue-chip engineering giant ST Engineering.

ST Marine's records showed that at least $24.9 million in kickbacks were paid between 2000 and 2011.

Employees of ST Marine's customers, mainly overseas companies, would request "commissions" for giving ship-repair contracts and other business to the company.

After getting approval from ST Marine's senior management, an employee would submit petty cash claims for "entertainment expenses". Cash cheques issued for these claims would be encashed, and the amount given as a kickback.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) G. Kannan had asked for six months' jail and a $100,000 fine.

He said Mok was personally involved in raising and approving a total of 826 false petty cash vouchers involving a total of nearly $3.14 million paid out in claims.

"The amounts and number of offences involved are staggering and must be punished with a sufficiently lengthy term of imprisonment."

The case had also caused public disquiet and damaged Singapore's reputation, he added.

Mok's lawyer, Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, meanwhile asked for three to four months' jail.

Said Mr Tan: "When Mr Mok first started working in ship repair at the age of 16... he learnt that commission payments for ship repair works were commonplace in the industry. To him, these payments were a prevalent practice used to facilitate business in the industry."

Mok started work as an apprentice with the British navy in Singapore in 1967, eventually moving on to Keppel Shipyard and Pan-United Shipyard, the court heard.

He joined ST Marine in June 2000 and oversaw the company's Tuas Yard commercial projects, turning it profitable in just one year.

He starts his sentence tomorrow.

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

Court throws out woman's negligence claim against doc

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
SELINA LUM

She said treatment affected her mobility but was seen in video using stairs without difficulty

She had sued a surgeon over nerve injuries suffered after undergoing laser treatment on her legs, claiming her mobility was affected and that her legs hurt when they came into contact with clothes.

But video surveillance carried out by a private investigator hired by lawyers for the vascular surgeon being sued showed the 50-year-old woman walking and climbing stairs without difficulty or signs of pain.

During one journey, she was seen choosing to walk up a flight of stairs at Orchard MRT station instead of looking for a lift or escalator.

Yesterday, Madam Rathanamalah Shunmugam, a financial services director at an insurance company, lost her medical negligence suit in the High Court.

She sought at least $2 million for medical expenses incurred, future medical expenses, income losses suffered and future income losses.

Madam Rathanamalah alleged that Dr Chia Kok Hoong, who has a private practice at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, had not advised her about the risks and complications of the treatment, known as endovenous laser therapy.

She insisted that she saw Dr Chia to treat pigmentation on her legs and would not have agreed to undergo the procedure - used to treat varicose veins - had she been warned that she risked nerve injuries.

She claimed the constant pain and hypersensitivity in her legs have curtailed her ability to provide sound financial advice to clients. This has led to her clients being disappointed with her service and her being unable to grow her customer base.

Dr Chia, who was represented by Mr Christopher Chong, contended that he had told her of the risks, including possible nerve injuries, before carrying out the procedure to treat her varicose veins in July 2010.

Yesterday, Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah dismissed Madam Rathanamalah's claim.

He found that while Dr Chia did not maintain a complete contemporaneous record of his consultations with the patient, she had signed the consent form acknowledging that the risks had been explained to her.

There was also evidence from Dr Chia's witnesses, including the doctor who had referred her to the surgeon, that he had given her advice and obtained her consent.

The judicial commissioner commented that based on video surveillance, the extent of her injuries may not be as bad as she claims. He also noted that she had tried to claim for medical expenses which were already covered by her insurers.

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

SGX confirms Swiber probe

Business Times
15 Sep 2016
Tan Hwee Hwee

[Singapore] THE Singapore Exchange has confirmed investigations into developments at Swiber Holdings, saying that the probe is ongoing.

It said this on Wednesday in response to BT's query on the outcome of its probe into possible disclosure breaches, as contained in an Aug 16 letter addressed to Swiber's pre-July 28 board of directors. July 28 was the day when the offshore & marine (O&M) company announced its shock application for a wind-up, which it subsequently withdrew in favour of an application for judicial management.

BT, which obtained a copy of the Aug 16 letter, had earlier this week reported on the potential breaches.

SGX said that it would not comment on any ongoing investigations as they are confidential. But it noted that "a series of announcements from Swiber, including the one on July 8, came only after queries from SGX".

On July 8, Swiber issued several SGX filings including one flagging the delay of a US$710 million project off West Africa. Swiber first announced this project in an SGX filing on Dec 15, 2014, and laid claims to clinching contracts totalling US$1.03 billion.

Swiber's July 8 announcement on the project delay came after a private SGX query and 18 months after the project award was first disclosed under the SGX filing.

In the letter dated Aug 16 obtained by BT, SGX made reference to the disclosure lapses on the delay of the US$710 million project and two other litigation claims made against Swiber by Likpin International Ltd and Green Energy Group Asia Pacific Pte Ltd.

The letter indicated that such disclosure lapses are being considered as potential breaches of the exchange's Rule 703 relating to disclosure of material information.

SGX said in the response to BT that the due process of investigation into any company for a possible breach of the Listing Rules involves issuing show cause letters to the relevant persons so that they can understand the exchange's concerns, can assess their cases and provide responses to the exchange.

This ties in with the context of the Aug 16 letter, in which SGX invited named parties at Swiber to make representations within 14 days from the date of the letter to the alleged breaches of Rule 703.

SGX also highlighted on Wednesday that material rule breaches occurring after Oct 6, 2015, will be referred to the Listings Disciplinary Committee (LDC). The LDC has a wider range of sanctions than the exchange on parties found to be in breach of the listing rules, including imposition of monetary penalty in excess of S$10,000 per breach, in excess of S$100,000 in aggregate for multiple breaches, issuance of a public reprimand and an order for denial of facilities of the market.

SGX said it will keep the market informed of all public enforcement and disciplinary actions.

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

Man who stabbed boyfriend to death jailed 12 years

Straits Times
27 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

40-year-old accused has history of depression and was upset his lover did not want to go public with relationship

A hairstylist, upset that his boyfriend of eight years reneged on his promise to go public with their relationship, killed his lover after the latter avoided his calls and told him that he was "not gay".

The tragic turn of events came after Tan Chee Yeow phoned his lover's mother to reveal their relationship but the shocked woman told him "it was not possible".

The 40-year-old accused, who has a history of depression, was yesterday sentenced to 12 years' jail after he pleaded guilty to a charge of culpable homicide. He admitted stabbing to death Mr Tan Chin Siong, 48, an assistant vice-president at a local bank, at a busy walkway near Ang Mo Kio MRT station on the morning of Sept 4 last year.

The two men, both Malaysian, met in Johor Baru in 2007 and started a romantic relationship, the High Court heard yesterday. That year, the accused moved to Singapore after Mr Tan told him to do so.

Their relationship went downhill in the three years before the incident. The accused wanted to be publicly recognised as Mr Tan's partner, but Mr Tan wanted to keep their relationship low-profile and kept it from his parents.

The accused, who has a drinking habit, had also threatened to commit suicide several times.

Things came to a head on Aug 28 last year - Mr Tan's birthday - when the accused threw a tantrum and nagged his lover for not keeping his promise to introduce him as his partner to his family members.

The next day, after Mr Tan left for Johor Baru to celebrate his birthday with his family, the accused called his lover's home and told his mother about their relationship.

After this, Mr Tan ignored the accused's calls and messages.

He did answer one call, however, to say he was not gay and wanted to get married and have children.

The day after, Mr Tan accompanied the accused to see a psychiatrist, who said the accused's depression had been aggravated by the couple's domestic issues.

Mr Tan was advised to delay his intended break-up while the accused was put on medication to stabilise his emotions. But Mr Tan told the psychiatrist he wanted a break-up immediately. He also ignored the accused's calls and messages.

At about 8am on Sept 4 last year, the accused headed for Mr Tan's flat, with a knife he bought a day earlier.

At the walkway, he pleaded with Mr Tan to break up with him "slowly" but the latter kept quiet. He pleaded with Mr Tan to spend time with him but the latter replied that he had to keep his family company.

Sensing little chance of a reconciliation, the accused took out the knife and stabbed his lover twice in the chest and once in the back.

A passer-by struggled with the accused, kicked the knife away and scolded him before going off. A few others performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Mr Tan before paramedics arrived. He was pronounced dead in hospital at about 9.15am.

The accused stayed at the scene, wailing that he had killed someone. He was arrested and the knife was recovered from a drain.

The accused was initially charged with murder, but the charge was reduced as he was found to be suffering from moderate depressive disorder which substantially reduced his mental responsibility for his acts.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal sought jail of 12 to 14 years, arguing that the accused had made a conscious and deliberate decision to kill his lover.

Lawyer Josephus Tan, acting for the accused under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, argued for not more than 12 years, saying that the case was about "betrayed love".

The accused wrote a letter to seek forgiveness from Mr Tan's family. "I really loved him," he wrote.

His parents and four siblings, who flew here from Kuching, broke down in tears as they spoke to him after he was sentenced. His mother, who declined to give her name, said the family would wait for him. She also apologised to Mr Tan's family.


A passer-by struggled with the accused, kicked the knife away and scolded him before going off. A few others performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Mr Tan before paramedics arrived. He was pronounced dead in hospital at about 9.15am.

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

Ho's music career a genuine investment: Defendants' lawyers

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong

Putting church money into the music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun was a genuine investment and City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders had every right to do so.

That was the argument put forth by the lawyers of both former CHC finance manager Serina Wee, 39, and CHC deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43, at their appeal hearing in the High Court yesterday.

In October last year, Wee and Tan were among six CHC leaders convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho - the wife of CHC founder Kong Hee - in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found that the six CHC leaders - including Kong - had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds used to fund the Crossover Project.

Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

Wee and Tan were the last two CHC leaders to present their cases. All six are appealing against their convictions and sentences. The prosecution, for its part, is asking for longer sentences.

Said Wee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Andre Maniam: "My client did not think she was doing anything wrong - if there was an element of financial return, it was an investment."

The lower court had ruled that the bonds were not a genuine investment - in part because it found that the proceeds from these financial instruments were, in fact, controlled by the CHC leaders.

Mr Maniam told the court that there was nothing wrong with the investments having a dual purpose of both funding Ms Ho's music career and having an expectation of a financial return.

"(Wee's) point is (they) are not expensing the building fund for missions but also investing it," said Mr Maniam.

He had earlier referenced album sales projections for Ms Ho's United States album that showed profits would be made.

However, the album was never launched in the end - Kong told the court previously this was because of ongoing investigations in 2010.

Dressed in a black blouse and skirt, Wee, like the other accused, sat emotionless in the dock.

She faces a five-year jail term.

Wee, like the other five CHC leaders, took issue with the lower court's finding that using the building fund to finance the Crossover was a "wrong use" of the money.

Tan's lawyer, Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, told the court the Crossover was a mission of the church.

"(Tan's) mind was very, very clear, the Crossover was legitimate and supported by church members," said Mr Sreenivasan.

Tan, Kong's right-hand man, faces a 5�-year jail term.

Mr Sreenivasan said his client had provided "important and relevant information" to both the auditors and lawyers, and they knew that the bond proceeds would ultimately fund the Crossover Project.

Yet, no red flags were raised, he said.

Referring to Tan and the other CHC leaders spending CHC's money on the bonds, Mr Sreenivasan said: "They did not have knowledge that they were not legally entitled to do so."

Having said that, Mr Sreenivasan said Tan had made his peace with whatever finding the court would make.

"At the end of the day, if the court feels that it is legally wrong, then that is their will and (he) will let it be," he said.

The prosecution is expected to respond and present its case today. The appeal will also continue tomorrow.

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

Former housing agent fined for cash offence

Straits Times
15 Sep 2016
Janice Heng

It's illegal to handle cash but he used $93,000 of client's money to pay debts

A former property agent has been fined for handling $93,000 of his client's money in cash - the largest amount to date for which an agent has been prosecuted.

Goh Chung Yong, 48, had told his client that he would pass the cash to the client's conveyancing lawyers. Instead, Goh used the money to pay off debts he owed to loan sharks, and lied that it had been stolen from him, according to a Council for Estate Agencies release yesterday.

He was convicted yesterday and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine (in default, seven weeks' imprisonment).

It is illegal for property agents to handle transaction monies for or on behalf of anyone involved in the sale and purchase of a property, and in leasing Housing Board (HDB) properties.

The law took effect in 2010. Seventeen agents - including Goh - have been prosecuted since then.

Goh was previously a PropNex Realty agent. In 2014, a flat owner engaged Goh to sell his Sembawang HDB flat and look for another flat to buy.

In January last year, the flat was sold for $360,000. The owner had earlier agreed to buy a flat in Yishun for $308,000.

Goh asked the owner for $106,000 in cash - $93,000 to pay the conveyancing lawyers handling the purchase, and the rest as commission. Goh said he would pass the money to the lawyers since his office was near theirs.

The owner gave him the cash. But when the lawyers contacted the owner soon afterwards, it emerged that the money had not made it to them.

On March 12 last year, the owner lodged a complaint with PropNex, saying he could not complete the purchase of his new flat in time.

PropNex advanced the sum of $93,000 to the owner, and helped to get an extension from the HDB. The purchase was completed on March 27 last year.

PropNex terminated Goh as one of its agents. Investigations revealed that Goh initially lied to PropNex that the cash had been stolen from his car. He promised to return the money out of his own pocket.

He later admitted he had used the money to pay off debts. On April 16 last year, Goh repaid PropNex after selling his own condominium.

The Council for Estate Agencies advises consumers not to hand transaction monies to their property agencies and agents.

In a sale transaction, such monies include the option fee, downpayment, stamp duties, deposits and sales proceeds. Valuation fees and commission are not considered transaction monies.

Real estate agencies said clients might not realise that it is illegal for agents to handle cash.

Cheques and cashier's orders are more commonly used by clients in such deals, said PropNex chief executive officer Mohamed Ismail Gafoor. He said if a client requests the use of cash, the agent should advise him to get a cashier's order instead.

"Even though it's the law, not everyone may know. I think consumer education still has to catch up," said ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim.

The council said it will continue to take action against those who commit the offence.

The public can report cases of property agencies or agents who handle transaction monies to CEA by calling 1800-6432555 or e-mailing feedback@cea.gov.sg.

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

Rajah & Tann Asia extends reach to Philippines

Straits Times
26 Sep 2016
Chia Yan Min

Legal network Rajah & Tann Asia has extended its reach to the Philippines with a new member, C&G Law.

C&G Law, a full-service law firm in the Philippines, will become a member firm of Rajah & Tann Asia with effect from Jan 1 next year.

The firm works with major Philippine conglomerates and multinational companies operating in a diverse range of sectors.

"C&G Law is one of the most dynamic, progressive and well-regarded law firms in the Philippines. We are delighted that they are joining Rajah & Tann Asia at a time when the Philippine economy is enjoying a resurgence and many international and regional companies are stepping up their investments in the country," said Rajah & Tann Asia chairman Lee Eng Beng.

The Philippines has enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years and business leaders have stepped up their overseas investments, said C&G Law managing partner Jaime Renato Gatmaytan.

"Joining the Rajah & Tann Asia network is not only timely, but necessary to meet the growing demands of our clients," he said.

The Rajah & Tann Asia network also includes law firms and lawyers in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Chia Yan Min

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6 1/2 years' jail, caning for man who abused girlfriend's baby

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Amir Hussain

Tan pleaded guilty earlier this month to one charge of causing grievous hurt and three out of four charges of ill-treating a child. 

A man who pushed his girlfriend's one-year-old son off a bed with so much force that the baby broke his skull was yesterday sentenced to 6 1/2 years' jail and six strokes of the cane.

The infant had bleeding in his brain but miraculously survived the ordeal on March 25 last year - after emergency surgery. Now aged three, the boy is in foster care and undergoing rehabilitative therapy.

His tormentor, Franklie Tan Guang Wei, 26, pleaded guilty earlier this month to one charge of causing grievous hurt and three out of four charges of ill-treating a child.

District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim said a deterrent sentence was needed to signal society's disapproval and reprobation of Tan's conduct.

"The most glaring and obvious aggravating factor is the fact that these acts of abuse were committed against a defenceless and vulnerable child... His only crime was the fact that he cried, a natural thing for him to do at his age, and could not be consoled, which (Tan) found frustrating," she said.

The boy was born in mid-2013, after his father lost contact with his mother, who is now 25. In August 2014, she got into a relationship with Tan, who did odd jobs and last worked at a mobile phone shop. The next month, the infant's behaviour changed.

"(He) appeared to be fearful of males and started having nightmares in his sleep," Assistant Public Prosecutor Dillon Kok said.

Two nannies who looked after him also found bruises on his body.

"When (the mother) was questioned, she denied that (he) had been abused and claimed that there were 'spirits' in the flat," Mr Kok added.

In November 2014, the mother got pregnant with Tan's child and moved in with Tan and his mother.

On Nov 8, the baby's cries woke the couple. Tan slapped him once, leaving finger marks on his cheek and bruising near his ear.

Three days after the incident, a nanny took photos of the bruises and swelling. She made a police report about the injuries on Nov 19 and the Child Protective Service was informed. The baby was then put under the nannies' care, and the mother and Tan were allowed only weekly supervised access. Tan's grandparents later took over from the nannies in taking care of the baby in February last year, with the couple granted supervised access again.

But on March 8 last year, Tan's grandfather left the infant at Tan's flat. That night, frustrated with his cries, Tan threw the baby at his mother, who was about 2m away. The infant fell against her body.

Later, Tan and the mother were allowed to spend the nights with him. But on the morning of March 25, angered by the baby's cries, Tan hit his buttocks twice, causing a bruise.

After the mother went to work, leaving the infant alone with Tan, the baby vomited on the bed. Angry, Tan forcefully pushed him off the bed with his right arm.

The infant landed face-up on the floor about 2m away and vomited. Tan took him to the toilet to shower but did not check the water temperature first, scalding his upper back.

Later, Tan noticed that the baby was in a daze and semi-conscious. He was also vomiting repeatedly. Tan told the mother, who went home to find the infant weak and very pale. They took him to hospital.

The mother has been charged with two counts of permitting Tan to ill-treat the baby. Her trial is scheduled to begin next Monday.

Defence lawyer Gino Hardial Singh submitted a psychiatric report that said Tan has persistent depressive disorder, poor emotion regulation and low intelligence.

Tan could have been jailed for up to 10 years, fined and caned for causing grievous hurt. For child abuse, he could have been fined $4,000 and jailed for four years per charge.

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Legal online betting may be available soon

Straits Times
15 Sep 2016
Jermyn Chow & Melissa Lin

Singapore Pools, Turf Club await go-ahead to launch online services as early as next month

Punters may be allowed to place their bets online legally as early as the second half of next month - in a move that appears aimed at trying to counter illicit gambling on unauthorised websites.

The Straits Times has learnt that Singapore-based lottery operators Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club (STC) are preparing to launch their online betting services, in anticipation of getting the green light from the authorities.

Responding to queries from ST, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) would say only that it is evaluating applications from Singapore Pools and STC.

But ST understands that both lottery operators are running final tests on their online betting platforms and have prepared advisories for staff and customers.

They are hoping to be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act by the end of this month.

Details are still being finalised, but it appears that all lotteries and games except for Big Sweep will be available online. However, betting amounts and permutations will be limited. It is also understood that the operators will be able to take live bets online.

Singapore Pools offers betting on football and motor-racing as well as 4-D and Toto, while STC takes bets on horse races.

The latest move to allow the two operators to venture into online betting comes two years after Parliament passed the Remote Gambling Act, which outlawed online and phone gambling. Hundreds of websites that offer remote gambling services have since been blocked.

But the possibility of allowing some operators into this space had been kept open: Then Second Home Affairs Minister S. Iswaran said that an outright ban could drive illegal remote gambling activity underground.

An operator could be exempted from the Act provided that it was a not-for-profit operation and contributed to public, social and charitable causes in Singapore.

Both STC and Singapore Pools meet these criteria. They are not-for-profit organisations operated by the Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board), a statutory board under the Ministry of Finance.

Their gaming surpluses are channelled to the Tote Board to fund charitable and social causes.

If their applications are indeed approved, they will be the first to receive an exemption.

But MPs then said the exemption clause sends mixed signals.

Allowing punters to place their bets online would make betting more convenient - and lead to a whole host of other problems, social workers warned.

"The danger is not just addiction. Especially among the younger generation who lack self discipline, there's also the danger of debt issues," said Ms Deborah Queck, 48, who counsels gambling addicts at Eternal Grace Community Services.

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S'porean lawyer bags global award

Straits Times
26 Sep 2016
Annabeth Leow

Lawyer Remy Choo Zheng Xi has become the first Singaporean to clinch the International Bar Association's (IBA) Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year Award. Mr Choo, 30, was presented with his prize at the association's annual conference in Washington, DC, last Monday.

The IBA was founded in 1947 and has over 80,000 members from more than 160 countries. The award is open to all lawyers under 35 and recognises their professional excellence, ethical reputation and community service.

Mr Choo, a director at Peter Low LLC, was nominated by the firm's founder and managing director, Mr Peter Cuthbert Low. Mr Choo's award citation commended him for his work in the "unpopular and challenging area of human rights litigation".

He has been involved in cases such as teenager Benjamin Lim's death amid a police investigation, blogger Alex Au's charges of contempt of court and the Section 377A constitutional challenge.

Mr Choo wrote on Facebook that he hoped his win would show young lawyers that professional success and a positive social impact were not mutually exclusive goals. "Being the first Singaporean to win this award is particularly special to me," he said. "So for the IBA newsletter I picked a photo taken on Cavenagh Bridge, with a uniquely Singapore bumboat passing by."

Last year, he was named the civil society advocate of the year at the Singapore Advocacy Awards. The son of a chef, Mr Choo is a foodie and writes the occasional food review, according to his firm's website.

Annabeth Leow

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Find other ways to counter illegal gambling: Forum

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Toh Shok Ching

I was saddened by last Thursday's report ("Legal online betting may be available soon").

The Government approving Singapore Pools' and Singapore Turf Club's applications to be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act would be taking the easy way out in its efforts to counter illicit gambling on unauthorised websites.

Instead, it should think up responsive measures by working closely with the police and the Infocomm Development Authority, while continuing to ban and block websites that offer remote gambling services.

In fact, the ban acted as a deterrent.

What makes the Government think that the number of gambling addicts will not spiral upwards with the introduction of online betting?

Leisure gamblers could possibly turn into chronic ones. Online gambling could even reach new audiences, such as young people, housewives, retirees and the jobless. All they need is a smartphone or computer to log in at any time.

It is easy to get addicted to gambling, but so much harder to get out of it.

Chronic gamblers still place bets, even with the inconvenience of having to queue at kiosks. Why tempt them further with the convenience of online betting?

Telling the public that the gambling surpluses from Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club are used for good causes is irrelevant to families that are broken up as a result of gambling.

These families may not recover from the psychological damage gambling does to them.

We have already seen the damage the casinos brought. We do not need to see more.

Toh Shok Ching (Mrs)

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New law gives shoppers more protection against errant retailers

Straits Times
14 Sep 2016
Melissa Lin

Errant retailers will no longer be able to secretly close and reopen their shops under a different name to escape detection, under changes to the law approved by Parliament.

By the end of this year, government agency Spring Singapore will have wide-ranging powers to investigate and take enforcement action against retailers who persist in unfair practices.

The amendments to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act send a strong deterrent signal to the small number of businesses which engage in unfair practices, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon told the House during the debate, which saw 14 MPs rise to speak in support of the changes.

The new law aims to stamp out "black sheep" retailers and prevent a repeat of the Jover Chew saga.

The former mobile phone shop owner in Sim Lim Square and his workers were jailed last year for cheating 26 victims into agreeing to buy mobile devices worth over $16,000 over a 10-month period.

With its new powers, Spring - a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry which oversees the growth of enterprises in Singapore - will be able to search and enter premises without a warrant to gather evidence against a persistent errant retailer.

This will allow the agency to take action quickly and file a timely injunction - a court order to stop the retailer from continuing with unfair practices - if needed.

It will also be an offence for anyone to obstruct Spring's investigations, such as by destroying documents or giving false information.

Under the new law, the courts can also require errant retailers to alert customers that they are under injunction, such as by printing a notice on their invoices.

The retailers also have to alert Spring when there are changes to their shop's address or employment status. If they fail to comply, they may be charged with contempt of court.

The changes will plug some gaps in the current consumer laws, said Dr Koh, who is also Minister of State for National Development.

Currently, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Singapore Tourism Board handle consumer complaints. But the two agencies do not have investigative and enforcement powers.

They can negotiate with retailers, arrange for mediation or invite retailers to sign an agreement to stop their unfair practices. If the retailer refuses to sign the agreement or breaches it after signing, the agencies can take out an injunction.

But even if a court order is issued, business owners tend to close their shops and reopen under a different name to dodge penalties.

Under the new law, doing so would amount to a criminal offence.

In a debate that lasted three hours, 14 MPs raised concerns over issues such as the scope of the law, and how it will be explained to the layman.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) asked if the law applied to online retailers and agents who act as middlemen between buyers and overseas suppliers.

The Act provides the same protection to consumers whether their purchases are made online or from a brick and mortar shop, said Dr Koh.

Agents who "carry on a business" - meaning that they carry out several transactions, and not just a one-off deal - are also subjected to measures under the Act, he added.

Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) urged Spring and Case to educate consumers, particularly the elderly, foreign workers and tourists, on their rights as consumers.

Raising awareness of the changes to the law is a priority, said Dr Koh, who added: "Business models can change. Consumer shopping patterns may also evolve. So it is not always possible to use legislation to cover all manner of consumer actions... Consumer education will remain the key pillar of our consumer protection framework."

Five MPs also asked whether more will be done to protect consumers who buy prepaid packages, following the sudden closure of gym chain California Fitness in July.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who is also president of Case, noted that the amendments "make no attempt to discourage the taking of prepayment or deposits for future services".

Dr Koh said it would be "very challenging" to impose a broad-based measure on all businesses to protect consumers against loss of prepayments from business closures.

He noted that overseas jurisdictions such as the European Union, Australia and Hong Kong do not adopt such a stance, adding: "Such measures may affect the cost of doing business which would eventually be passed on to consumers."


How Jover Chew incident would have been dealt with now

Jover Chew's mobile phone shop at Sim Lim Square, Mobile Air, shot to infamy in November 2014 when a video of a Vietnamese tourist begging for the return of his money went viral.

The shop refused the Consumers Association of Singapore's request for it to sign an agreement to stop its unfair practices then.

Case's next step was to take out an injunction against Mobile Air.

The process would take several months, as Case had to seek approval from its relevant committees as well as the Injunction Proposals Review Panel at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, before applying for the court order.

Chew and four of his workers were last year jailed for cheating customers.

Describing how Mobile Air would have been dealt with under the new law passed yesterday, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said Case would refer the case to Spring Singapore, which now has the power to gather evidence - such as by entering and searching the shop even without a warrant - that Mobile Air had carried out unfair practices.

Spring could present the evidence to the courts, which might then issue an injunction barring Mobile Air from engaging in unfair practices as stated in the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.

The courts could also order Mobile Air to publicise its injunction status, such as by putting up notices on its premises. It would then be up to consumers to decide whether they still want to purchase from Mobile Air.

The shop's employees who engaged in the unfair practices could also be required to similarly declare that they are under an injunction.

Spring and Case could also work together to publicise the retailer's injunction order.

Had Mobile Air not complied with the court orders, Spring, as the administering agency, would have the power to haul the retailer to court. Failure to comply with a court order is considered a criminal offence, which could result in a fine and/or jail.

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

S'porean gets Aussie visa - with A$500 a day difference

Straits Times
26 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Work visa granted on appeal as impact of loss to his firm 'outweighs' other factors: Tribunal

A Singaporean underwater photographer who takes tourists diving at the Great Barrier Reef has been granted a work visa on appeal after an Australian tribunal found that his economic contribution to the community outweighed the fact that he had spent six months in jail.

Queensland-based Calypso Productions, the company that hired Singaporean Lim Yoong Xiang, 32, quantified the revenue loss from Mr Lim's absence from lack of a work visa as being A$500 (S$518) a day and claimed it would take a year to find a replacement with his unique skills.

But the office of Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection objected to issuing the permanent work visa, indicating that Mr Lim did not qualify under the character test, as he had served two six-month jail terms concurrently in Singapore in June 2012 for breach of probation orders in relation to cannabis consumption.

Mr Lim had been placed on three years' probation in 2010 for shoplifting, drug possession and drug consumption. His sentence was equal to 12 months under Australian rules, which disqualified him for a visa under the character test.

At issue was whether his past criminal convictions here took precedence over his economic contributions to his Queensland employer.

Mr Lim filed an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia, with a hearing held in Brisbane. In judgment grounds released last week, it set aside the previous decision and ruled the discretion to refuse Mr Lim a visa on character grounds should not be invoked.

Calypso, which hired Mr Lim in 2014 as its imaging information and marketing manager, specialises in underwater photography and operates in Cairns, which is Australia's tourist gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Mr Lim is a graduate and certified divemaster whose job includes underwater photography, sales and training.

Cairns-based Calypso has an annual revenue of A$1.4 million and more than 60 per cent of its clients are Chinese tourists for whom Mr Lim could facilitate a "positive experience", according to the company's managing director Lisa Conyers.

Mr Lim argued that the seriousness of his conduct was "very low by Australian standards", pointing to the different approaches to cannabis use in Singapore and Australia.

He added that he would have been unlikely to face a jail term for the same offences in Australia.

But the minister's representative stressed that drug-related offences are serious on account of the harm and costs to health and law enforcement resources, and underlined the duty to protect the community.

Tribunal deputy president P. McDermott said such a consideration "weighs slightly against" Mr Lim, but although " serious", the offending did not involve violent or sexual crimes. He gave Mr Lim credit for his "candour " at the hearing and said that he "now has a certificate of clearance from the Singapore Police which was issued under local spent convictions legislation".

He ruled that the impact on Calypso "outweighs" the other primary considerations. He found the risk of Mr Lim reoffending or causing harm to others in Australia to be " low".

"I am satisfied that the discretion to refuse the visa on character grounds should not be exercised," said Dr McDermott.


What are spent convictions?

From 2001 to last year, a total of 157,369 convicted offenders have had their criminal records rendered as " spent" under the Registration of Criminals Act.

To qualify for a record to be spent, the offender must not have been sentenced to an imprisonment term exceeding three months or to a fine exceeding $2,000. They must also satisfy a five-year crime- free period, among other criteria.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, in a written reply to a parliamentary question in February, said that based on these criteria, those who have had their records spent since 2005 include people who committed minor offences, such as shop theft, as well as foreigners, most of whom are immigration offenders.

Of the 157,369 people who had their criminal records rendered spent as of Dec 31, 68,792 were Singaporeans and permanent residents.

Of the 88,577 foreigners who had their criminal records rendered spent as of Dec 31, more than half (47,836 persons) were convicted for entering or attempting to enter Singapore without a valid pass, he added.

But the number of offenders with convictions rendered spent has declined steadily from 7,618 in 2006 to 2,888 last year.

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