30 March 2015
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Victims of condo gas explosion 'equally to blame'

Straits Times
30 Mar 2015
Joyce Lim

Judge: Property officer and guard's action or failure to act contributed to flash fire

THE simple act of switching off the lights in a room triggered a fiery explosion at a condominium in Geylang which left two men with burns on their faces, necks and upper limbs.

The blast occurred on Sept 19, 2009, and was caused by the ignition of town gas that had leaked from an underground pipe located outside the condominium and accumulated in the room.

Apart from security guard Kang See Wha and property officer Goh Joon Luan, one electrical worker, Mr Ng Den Leong, and a visitor, Mr Chung Ah Chye, were also injured.

Mr Chung was making a delivery to the condominium and standing outside the room when the blast occurred, injuring him.

Mr Kang filed separate lawsuits against the condominium's Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST), its managing agent Property Facility Services and its security firm Pledge Protection (Asia). Mr Goh's lawsuits were against the MCST and the managing agent, while Mr Chung's suit was against the MCST only.

In a written judgment released earlier this month, District Judge Tan May Tee absolved the MCST of blame.

In the cases of Mr Kang and Mr Goh, she concluded that the responsibility for the incident was shared equally between them and the managing agent.She ordered Property Facility Services to pay 50 per cent of the damages due to both men.

The court heard that Mr Kang, 59, was deployed by security firm Pledge Protection (Asia) as a security guard at Sims Residences condominium in Lorong 39 Geylang.

On Sept 17, 2009, Mr Kang was alerted to the smell of gas by a resident. As the condominium had just undergone painting works, Mr Kang thought it could be the smell of paint. He then recorded the complaint in a log book called the "Occurrence Book", which was kept in the guardhouse.

Over the next two days, he received the same complaint from the same resident and informed Mr Goh, who was his supervisor.

On the morning of Sept 19, the two men, accompanied by Mr Ng and another electrical worker, went to investigate the source of the smell.

Mr Kang told The Straits Times: "The resident said the smell was detected at the carpark. I accompanied my supervisor to the MDF room to check if the smell came from there. Two contract workers were with us. The MDF room is where all the telecommunication cables are and it is located at the carpark."

Upon entering the room, one of them switched on the lights.

Mr Kang recalled: "There was a strong smell, which I again thought was the smell of fresh paint. We were inside for less than five minutes and as we proceeded to leave, Mr Goh, who was behind me, switched off the lights.

"The next thing I knew, there was an explosion and I was thrown forward and fell on my face."

Mr Kang said he suffered more than 21 per cent burns on his body and face and spent more than two weeks in hospital.

"Mr Goh's injuries were far more serious. He was the last to leave the room. The explosion was so loud and it also created a big hole in the wall," said Mr Kang, who was represented by lawyer Dilip Kumar.

Investigations by Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) revealed that the flash fire had been caused by a leakage of town gas from a cracked underground low-pressure gas pipe located outside the condominium.

The leaked gas had found its way into the condominium premises through a communication cable conduit and somehow accumulated inside the MDF room.

The SCDF concluded that the fire was accidental and had most likely been caused by sparks from the electrical light switch igniting the gas when it was turned off.

Mr Mahendra Prasad Rai, who defended the MCST in all three suits, said the MCST could not have reasonably foreseen such a scenario occurring.

The judge agreed and also concluded that Mr Kang's employer could not be blamed for the presence of gas in the MDF room, nor its ignition from Mr Goh's action.

But the judge found that the managing agent, which was defended by lawyer K. Anparasan and provides maintenance services at the condominium site, should bear part of the blame.

And as the flash fire as well as his own injuries were caused by his actions, Mr Goh bore 50 per cent of the blame as well.

The judge also found Mr Kang, a security guard for about 10 years at the time of the incident, equally responsible for the accident.

She noted that he did nothing other than record the resident's complaint and inform Mr Goh.

She said: "Although he was following his employer's protocol by reporting to the building supervisor, as a security guard of considerable experience, he ought to have known that a potential gas leak was a dangerous situation...

"Yet he did not exercise any reasonable care for himself, but merely acted on the directions of Goh."

joycel@sph.com.sg

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Ex-fund manager sticks to his stand

Straits Times
21 Mar 2015
Hoe Pei Shan

He denies all allegations of wrongdoing; deputy senior pastor's turn on Monday

THE prosecution's cross-examination of the former fund manager for City Harvest Church ended yesterday as it began - by the defendant steadfastly rejecting all allegations of criminal wrongdoing against him.

"I disagree," Chew Eng Han (right) said repeatedly, as Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong laid out his case after 10 days of questioning Chew on the stand.

The 54-year-old Chew is one of six church leaders - along with founding pastor Kong Hee - accused of misusing $50 million in church funds to boost the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, and covering this up.

Five of them have also been charged with channelling money from the City Harvest Church's building fund into sham bond investments in Ms Ho's management company, Xtron, and glass manufacturer Firna.

Four, including Chew, then allegedly devised transactions to clear the sham bonds from the church's accounts to mislead auditors.

DPP Ong charged that Chew and his co-conspirators had committed criminal breach of trust when they dishonestly misappropriated $13 million for sham bond transactions in order to fund Ms Ho's music career.

"I disagree," responded Chew.

"I put it to you that in doing so you intended to cause wrongful loss to the City Harvest Building Fund," DPP Ong continued.

"I disagree," Chew once again replied.

The exchange went on until all 10 charges against Chew had been outlined, with the defendant never budging.

Chew, who left the church in mid-2013, was the fourth of the six accused to take the stand in the long-running trial, which began nearly two years ago.

It will resume on Monday with deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng expected to testify.

Tan and Kong have both been portrayed by Chew as the masterminds of the plan to evangelise through Ms Ho's music, and the key people behind the funding of her career.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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If neighbours can't settle disputes, law will step in

Straits Times
14 Mar 2015
Charissa Yong

WHAT counts as unreasonable behaviour in longstanding disputes was a key concern raised by several MPs yesterday as they debated a law to resolve difficult arguments between neighbours.

Parliament passed the Community Disputes Resolution Bill yesterday. Under the Bill, residents can haul recalcitrant neighbours who have "unreasonably interfered with their enjoyment of their residence" to a tribunal specialising in community dispute resolution cases.

Such unreasonable interference includes causing excessive noise, smell, smoke, light or vibration, and littering near or obstructing the neighbour's home.

But what is unreasonable, or excessive?

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) recounted an unhappy pregnant resident's complaint that the constant smell of cigarette smoke from her neighbour living one level below her flat would affect her unborn child.

She asked: "Smoking at home, what is wrong with that? Does the Bill solve such a problem?"

Added Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC): "There will always be clear cases, but there's also going to be a vast pool of very, very grey cases."

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong assured the House that the tribunal will determine what constitutes unreasonable and excessive behaviour "based on the facts of each case, using a commonsensical approach and the light of everyday experience".

"They will take into context our unique multiracial and multicultural context, in considering what is reasonable and excessive."

Over the two-hour debate, 14 MPs spoke on issues from dealing with residents with mental illnesses to preventing vindictive neighbours from abusing the process.

The MPs, all of whom supported the Bill, said that turning to the tribunal should be a last resort.

In reply, Mr Wong made it clear that the tribunal is, in fact, meant as the last resort to resolve difficult private disputes.

"Their first recourse should be for the individuals concerned to take responsibility of the issues, to speak to each other and to strive to resolve the issue amicably," he said.

Should informal mediation be unsuccessful, the tribunal can order residents to attend mandatory mediation sessions at the Community Mediation Court.

Mr Wong said this feature of the Bill addresses some current limitations to mediation. About 60 per cent of residents do not show up for mediation, as it has not been compulsory, he added.

Offensive acts cited in the Bill also include surveillance of, and trespassing on, a neighbour's home. Offenders can be ordered to pay damages of up to $20,000, or apologise, for instance.

Ms Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) said the Bill should "balance the respect for each individual's privacy in the sanctuary of their personal space, and the common interest of other residents living together in the community".

At least six MPs also asked how the tribunal would address residents with mental illnesses.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) recounted a case of a resident who accused her neighbour of taking and producing drugs, and continued to press the authorities to charge her neighbour even after they had investigated and found the neighbour innocent.

Existing laws and procedures regarding mentally ill persons will continue to apply, said Mr Wong. If a neighbour suspected of mental illness breaches a community dispute order, the court can order his family member to enter into a bond with the condition that he goes for medical treatment.

Mr Patrick Tay (Nee Soon GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam suggested ways to improve access to the tribunal. Mr Tay said it should accommodate dialect speakers, and Mrs Chiam suggested void decks could be mediation venues.

The tribunal will take cases from the second half of this year.

charyong@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Kok Xing Hui


Background Story

MEDIATION FIRST

Their first recourse should be for the individuals concerned to take responsibility of the issues, to speak to each other and to strive to resolve the issue amicably.

- Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, noting that the tribunal should be a last resort

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Case wants 'lemon law' to include manufacturers

Straits Times
30 Mar 2015
Jessica Lim

THE consumer watchdog is calling for a tweak in the "lemon law" for better consumer protection. It is proposing to expand the reach of the law to include manufacturers, beyond the current coverage of retailers.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) is looking at making it mandatory for manufacturers to give warranties for all goods sold in Singapore.

Currently, warranty cards, which compel manufacturers to repair or replace a defective item for free, are not mandatory and typically come with only bigger-ticket items such as refrigerators.

The proposed compulsory warranties from manufacturers could exist as private agreements between retailer and manufacturer, so that if an item is found to be faulty, the manufacturer will chip in to repair or replace it, or pay the seller for it.

The proposed tweak will leave retailer and manufacturer to decide how they want to divvy up the responsibility.

Case will present the proposal to the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) in May.

The "lemon law" is an amendment to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act and the Hire Purchase Act that gives consumers more protection against inherently defective products, colloquially known as "lemons".

It requires retailers to repair or replace a product found to be defective within six months of purchase - or give a refund.

Said Case's executive director Seah Seng Choon: "We want manufacturers to co-share the responsibility with the retailer. This will make it easier for the retailer to settle the matter with its customers.

"Right now, some retailers find it difficult to accommodate certain claims because it incurs cost for them. This drags on negotiations and discussions."

Mr Seah added that redress for faulty goods can drag on for six months.

Consumer complaints about defective goods have jumped since the "lemon law" came into force on Sept 1, 2012.

In the first year, Case received 554 such complaints. This grew 27 per cent to 701 in the second year. The numbers look set to remain high, with 317 complaints already received from September last year to February this year.

When contacted, the Singapore Manufacturing Federation urged Case to consult key stakeholders "so as to develop a practical and improved framework".

The ministry said it is unable to comment as it has not seen Case's official proposal.

Retailers applauded the move, but a few wondered if it would have unintended consequences.

Janet Mobile's manager Ken Tan, 28, who runs kiosks selling mobile phone accessories, said he gets most of his phone covers from a manufacturer in China. Out of 100, about 10 are faulty.

"We throw them away. It's part of costs," he said in Mandarin, adding that he once tried to get compensation. "They (the manufacturer) just said, 'Sorry, we cannot change.' That was it. If we have all these conditions, they may not sell to us any more."

Among retailers who are supportive, Mr Mandeep Chopra, owner of sneaker chain Limited Edt Vault, said: "This makes sense. Retailers are middlemen. Manufacturers should also take responsibility for their products."

He added that the current lack of pre-agreements can make negotiations for refunds, replacements and repairs tedious. "We have to go back and forth," he said.

Even manufacturers seem to think the new rule would be a good thing.

Garment manufacturer Winnie Soh, 58, who owns Vee Garments Enterprise, said refunds and repairs are done on a "case-by-case basis" with the retailers that the company works with. "It depends on whose fault it is, and sometimes it becomes a blame game. If there is a prior agreement, things will be clearer," she said.

Consumer Jackson Lim, 29, who works in the food and beverage industry, is all for the tweak.

"It gives me another avenue to seek redress and the process will probably be faster," he said.

"I think it's also fairer to the retailers."

limjess@sph.com.sg


Background Story

Recourse for consumers

What is the "lemon law"?

It is an amendment to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act and the Hire Purchase Act that gives consumers more protection against defective products, colloquially known as "lemons".

What does the "lemon law" do?

It requires retailers to repair, replace or give a refund for a product that is found to be defective within six months of purchase, as it would be presumed to have been defective at the time of delivery. Consumers are not entitled to this benefit if they

damaged or misused the product.

If an agreement cannot be reached, what can the consumer do?

He can take the case to the Small Claims Tribunal for claims of $10,000 or less, or to the Magistrate Court for larger amounts.

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

Sex predator gets 30 years' jail, maximum 24 strokes

Straits Times
21 Mar 2015
Selina Lum

Man sexually abused 31 boys, some as young as 11, whom he met online

YAP Weng Wah stood in court with his hands clasped in front of him, closed his eyes and let out a sob from time to time as he waited for his sentence.

When it came, he stared blankly. The 31-year-old Malaysian engineer was given 30 years' jail and the maximum 24 strokes of the cane for sexually abusing 31 boys between 2009 and 2012.

The boyish-looking Yap hardly looked like the villain in Singapore's worst case of sexual abuse of young boys.

But this was a man who, after befriending them online, cajoled victims as young as 11 - the oldest was 15 - into performing oral sex or letting him sodomise them. In the case of one boy, there was no sex but he was persuaded to send Yap a video of him performing a lewd act.

Justice Woo Bih Li made it clear that the high-risk offender needed to be put away for a long time to protect society and as a warning that such heinous acts would not be tolerated.

"There is... a strong public interest in the present case to deter potential sexual offenders from using the Internet to lure young victims," he said.

In the gallery were Yap's family - his mother and younger brother and sister - who had come from Ipoh.

The judge pointed out how Yap tried to hide the extent of his crimes.

When he was questioned after a victim lodged a report, he told the police that he had sex with just three boys. The truth was far more shocking.

In a raid on his home on Sept 12, 2012, around 2,000 video clips of him having sex were found in his laptop - footage that he would watch to pleasure himself.

It was through these videos, which were meticulously catalogued based on the boys' names, ages and the year he met them, that the victims were traced. Some of the boys could not be identified. There were, however, at least 14 other boys he had taped during his visits to Malaysia.

The 76 charges against Yap took up 23 pages. He committed the acts at his flat, in hotel rooms, at a public park, and in toilets at shopping centres and swimming pools.

In the case of one 13-year-old, he arranged a meeting at Hougang Swimming Complex some time in early 2010. In a toilet cubicle, he told the boy to remove his school uniform. He then sodomised the boy and recorded the act with his phone.

Around March 2010, he took a 15-year-old to a hotel. Yap undressed and tried to kiss the boy. Even when the boy protested, Yap performed oral sex on him.

He hunted for his victims on Facebook, often pretending to be a polytechnic student. He gained the boys' trust by portraying himself as an elder brother. And he invited them to share their problems with him.

Yap also made it a point to find out their interests and hobbies, then used the knowledge to arrange meetings with the victims under various pretexts, such as to give them gifts, play computer games or give body-building tips.

Justice Woo said Yap's premeditated use of the Internet to hunt for a large number of victims, and breaching the boys' trust after earning it, were aggravating factors. "Yap was planning and hunting for victims to satisfy his deviant urges," he said.

It was made worse by Yap recording videos of the sex acts despite the boys' protests. He assured his victims that he would delete the videos, but instead saved them on his laptop.

The videos were at risk of being circulated if they fell into the hands of third parties, said Justice Woo.

Yap, who in January admitted to 12 charges of sexual penetration of a minor, with the rest of the charges taken into consideration during sentencing, pleaded for compassion.

In a letter he read out in court, he said he was a first-time offender. He claimed to have found religion and vowed to do one good deed a day.

Yap also swore never to repeat his acts, was sorry for his "disgraceful" crimes and that he was ashamed of his sexuality.

He claimed to have developed a "phobia" of young boys in the more than two years that he had spent in remand. But the judge was not convinced.

Yap's multiple offences over a long period meant that his claim to be a first-time offender carried little weight. The judge also said Yap's guilty plea "did not spring from genuine remorse, but from a realisation that his goose was as good as cooked".

selinal@sph.com.sg


Background Story

High risk of re-offending: Psychiatrist

WHEN he was arrested in 2012, Yap Weng Wah was working as a quality assurance engineer at ASM Technology in Yishun.

When The Straits Times visited the company, few seemed to have heard of him.

But one 29-year-old technician, who gave his name as Mr Li, recognised him. He said people at work knew Yap as "Travis".

He said Yap "seemed very normal at work".

"He was always very quiet, he never showed any signs that he had these perversions," said Mr Li. "I only found out when I read the newspapers, I was shocked, I didn't expect he would be like that."

According to the defence, Yap, who moved to Singapore in 2009, had a nine-month sexual relationship with his male maths teacher when he was 12.

Yap thought what happened in the relationship were acts of intimacy and love, said his lawyer Daniel Koh.

It was also claimed that Yap had a phobia of approaching women, after he was rejected and humiliated by a female classmate.

The Institute of Mental Health's Dr Bharat Saluja found that Yap had hebephilia - a sexual interest in pubescent youth, typically between the ages of 11 and 14.

The psychiatrist also noted that Yap's risk of re-offending was high.

DANSON CHEONG and SELINA LUM

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

Court rejects adverse inference claim against drug courier

TODAY
14 Mar 2015
Yvonne Lim

SINGAPORE — Caught with an amount of drugs punishable with death, a drug trafficker’s defence was that he had a standing agreement with his supplier to never carry a quantity that invites the gallows.

After his charge was downgraded, however, he decided against calling this supplier to the witness stand during the trial to prove his argument.

Should an adverse inference be drawn against his claim?

The Court of Appeal gave its views on this issue in dismissing prosecutors’ appeal against a lower court’s decision in such a case.

By opting against calling his supplier to the stand to testify on the agreement they had, Muhammad Farid Mohd Yusop cast a “real doubt” on his own claim, prosecutors had argued. Although he was made to carry methamphetamine not exceeding the threshold for capital punishment on three occasions, this did not mean he was not acting with “wilful blindness” on the occasion he was caught, they added.

Farid’s charge was downgraded to a non-capital charge, and he was sentenced to 23 years’ jail and 15 strokes of the cane.

In its judgment released yesterday, the apex court said the threshold had not been crossed for them to intervene. This is because the trial judge’s findings, including on the credibility of Farid’s evidence, were not “plainly against the weight of the objective evidence”.

Defence lawyers are free to make the “tactical decision” not to call a witness, they noted. In this case, Farid’s lawyer Amolat Singh had explained that it was felt the supplier’s evidence would not help or might even be prejudicial to his client.

It would be “extremely rare” for a court to draw an adverse inference in such situations, it added.

But Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang noted: “As the facts of each case can vary so vastly, we hesitate to lay down a blanket rule that an adverse inference can never be drawn against an accused person even in a context where the failure to call a material witness was primarily motivated by the concern that it would be in that witness’s self-interest to give evidence that is prejudicial to the defence.”

On the prosecution’s contention with Farid’s claim that he did not know the weight of drugs he was carrying, the court said the “danger of abuse is clear”, in that accused persons may attempt to “manufacture defences” to escape capital charges.

But in this case, the judges — the others being Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justice Tay Yong Kwang — felt the trial judge had assessed Farid’s credibility in some detail, and they saw no ground to interfere with his finding or decision.

Yvonne Lim

yvonnelimsy@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Do scrutinise long-serving independent directors too

Straits Times
30 Mar 2015
Goh Eng Yeow

While shareholders should do homework, companies must ensure high standards

IN AN ideal corporate setting, shareholders elect the board of directors who then appoint the management to run the company in their interests.

In reality, however, most shareholders - especially the smaller ones - have little say over how a company is run.

With little direct access to the company, they have to rely on the independent directors, or IDs, to keep an eye on crucial areas such as the company's internal controls to ensure that questionable practices do not slip through.

Hence, a significant victory was scored recently in the United States, when global lender Bank of America changed its by-laws to allow long-term investors to nominate directors.

It was a move which pension funds there had reportedly celebrated as an important turning point for accountability.

For Singapore-listed firms, the protection of investors' rights is enshrined in the code of corporate governance which was last revamped about three years ago.

While compliance with the code is not mandatory, companies are required to disclose their corporate governance practices and explain any deviations from the code in their annual reports.

The code stipulates that there should be a strong and independent element on a listed firm's board which should be "able to exercise objective judgment on corporate affairs independently, in particular, from management and 10 per cent shareholder".

It also stresses that "no individual or small group of individuals should be allowed to dominate the board's decision-making".

The code defines an ID to be a person with no relationship with the company, its subsidiaries, management, or substantial shareholders who may interfere with his ability to make independent business judgments which are in the company's interest.

In particular, it prescribes that IDs should make up at least one-third of the board. In instances where the chairman is also the boss, part of the management team or a non-independent director, it wants at least half of the board to be made up of IDs.

There was also a key addition which was made to the code when it was revamped in 2012 - to subject the independence of any director who had served for more than nine years to "rigorous review".

This was to remove any doubt which an investor may have over an ID's independence of judgment if he stays so long on a board that he becomes close buddies with management.

But NUS Business School Associate Professor Lawrence Loh noted that long-serving directors, defined as those who serve beyond nine years, are very much a part of the local corporate scene.

He said: "For instance, one in three of our independent board chairmen are long-serving. About one-third of the long-serving IDs chair one or more of the major board committees - audit committee, nominating committee or remuneration committee. Two-thirds of all long-serving IDs sit on all three of these committees."

But some short-sellers have used the perceived lack of independence of the long-serving IDs to attack listed companies on their corporate governance practices.

Anonymous blogger Iceberg Research, for example, claimed that in giant commodities trader Noble Group, there are two IDs whose lengths of service stretch to 19 years, while the ID chairing the company's audit committee has been on Noble's board for 13 years.

It raised the question as to whether they were "de facto employees", given the length of time they have spent on Noble's board.

But Prof Loh felt that to have a blanket rule that a director is not independent simply because he has served more than nine years on a board is not useful.

He said: "In fact, we are barking up the wrong tree. The solution is actually to do director performance appraisal in objective ways. For Singapore, given the entrenchment of long-serving IDs, we may create more problems by having year limits on IDs."

With the onset of the annual general meeting season, one objective which investors can usefully pursue is to use such gatherings to scrutinise a director's record and his length of service when he is put up for re-election at the meeting.

The explanation given on the re- appointment of directors, especially long-serving ones who have already served more than nine years, will serve as a robust defence for companies if they have the misfortune to encounter a short-seller keen on attacking the shortcomings of their corporate governance practices.

engyeow@sph.com.sg


Background Story

With the onset of the annual general meeting season, one objective which investors can usefully pursue is to use such gatherings to scrutinise a director's record and his length of service when he is put up for re-election at the meeting.

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

Smear campaign sparks calls for stricter ad rules

Straits Times
21 Mar 2015
Irene Tham

Singtel marketing fiasco a good wake-up call for industry: Experts

STARHUB and M1 have accepted a public apology by Singtel group chief executive Chua Sock Koong for a smear campaign that ran last year.

StarHub chief executive Tan Tong Hai said in a statement: "We note and accept Singtel group CEO's apology."

An M1 spokesman said: "We accept Singtel's apology and will not be taking further action."

The Infocomm Development Authority is still investigating whether Singtel breached the Telecom Competition Code, which is imposed on all telecommunications licensees.

Last Saturday, blogger Wendy Cheng, better known as Xiaxue, blew the whistle by posting on her website a leaked 2014 e-mail from social media agency Gushcloud that gave instructions to its bloggers on how to complain about StarHub and M1's network connections and services.

Gushcloud was employed by Singtel in June last year to manage its e-campaign to promote a youth mobile plan. The social media agency's bloggers could receive up to $4,000 in cash incentives, among other benefits, for successful sign-ups.

Ms Cheng also posted many samples of the online complaints from Gushcloud bloggers targeted at the rival telcos.

Singtel apologised for the marketing campaign on Tuesday.

The company explained that its marketing standards that forbid negative campaigns had not been followed, and that the incident was an "isolated" one.

On Thursday night, the telco posted a second apology, this time on Facebook. It was signed off by Ms Chua, who pledged that the company would reinforce its "high standards and values" internally and with its business partners.

Singtel also terminated Gushcloud's services and said the employee involved in the campaign was no longer with the company.

So far, at least two bloggers have apologised for posting negative comments in the Singtel marketing campaign, although they insisted their comments were not fabricated.

Experts said this incident provides a good wake-up call.

Dr Ang Peng Hwa, legal adviser at the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas), said: "Consumers cannot be taken for granted. Fake comments or Facebook 'likes' cannot be passed off as genuine ones."

Asas is planning to roll out new guidelines for interactive advertising, such as those on social media or blog sites. These will specify that advertorials must be clearly marked as such, and discourage advertisers from buying fake Facebook "likes", said Dr Ang.

The Consumers Association of Singapore's executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon, said advertisers should include these guidelines and the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice into their contracts with social media agencies.

"Companies must also supervise what social media agencies do," said Mr Seah.

Dr Adrian Yeow, a senior lecturer at SIM University, said unethical practices, including paid content not being disclosed, may have surfaced due to rising competition among social media agencies.

Dr Terence Heng, an assistant professor at the Singapore Institute of Technology, said: "The ethical values surrounding blogging or tweeting as a form of marketing are still relatively new as opposed to, say, television or print advertisements."

He is confident that a better understanding of values that underscore traditional journalism will "gather pace" after this scandal.

Mr Alvin Lim, 35, who runs a blog called Alvinology, said a lot of bloggers are very young and do not have the experience to turn down dubious requests from advertisers.

Gushcloud chief executive Vincent Ha yesterday also apologised to M1, StarHub and the public for the campaign.

He said: "We regret the recent incidents and how it has affected the industry, our influencers and our clients... We are disappointed in ourselves for the way it turned out.

"We have started a process of auditing our practices, processes and people, to ensure that we can be a good agency and partner to our present and future clients."

Ms Cheng said: "I'm kind of surprised that it has blown up to be so big. I never expected that. I think it's very gracious of Singtel to apologise."

She said it had come as a shock to her when there was talk of legal action being considered in connection with the episode.

"Personally, I don't really want to see the bloggers get sued," said Ms Cheng. "A lot of them are very young."

itham@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Lim Yi Han

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

Two Bills to enable acquisition of underground space passed

Straits Times
14 Mar 2015
Cheryl Ong

THE way has been paved for the acquisition of underground space in the Government's move to develop a subterranean master plan.

Under two Bills passed into law yesterday, landholders have ownership rights to space 30m below a level known as the Singapore height datum - a flat islandwide plane not varying according to land contours and pegged to the mean historical sea level.

Space beneath that will belong to the State.

Compensation will also be given to landowners, should the Government occupy their land temporarily - typically up to three years - for public works.

Taking the House through the Bills, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said that the Government will have the powers and "flexibility" to develop public projects that require only a specific stratum of space, without acquiring the site.

Some MPs supported the Bills but still raised issues, including the valuation of underground space and how compensation should be applied.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) questioned professionals' ability to value subterranean space.

Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong asked if the Government would assist landowners whose businesses have suffered from temporary occupation of their land. He was also concerned that any request for the Government to acquire the site, in the event of a substantial impairment, would be irrevocable even if the offer is below a "fair value".

Replying, Ms Indranee said that there are "existing methodologies" that have been used to value underground space, as in the case of the Ion Orchard shopping mall.

As for business losses, other factors such as a loss of goodwill and an economic downturn could be factors. "So, it's a very difficult set of factors to assess business loss and loss of goodwill."

Finally, she said people could "play fast and loose" if a request to buy temporarily-occupied land were not irrevocable.

Ms Indranee said: "The intention behind the Act is to really assist somebody who... has found that the whole of his land is substantially impaired and he cannot use it for more than a year... There is an established set of principles which will allow the appeals board to determine what is the market value of the land."

ocheryl@sph.com.sg

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Injured worker to pay defence's legal costs

Straits Times
29 Mar 2015
K.C. Vijayan

A retired airport technician awarded $35,000 in damages following an industrial accident could now see that sum "whittled away" after a rare High Court order ruled that he must pay the defending firm's legal bills.

Mr V. Ram Das, 62, had been supervising cleaners aboard a cargo plane parked at Changi Airport in 2008 when he fell through the open door of the aircraft's cargo hold, despite a net being in place.

Two workers below managed to catch him and break his fall from a height of 3m but he suffered hip fractures, was warded and subsequently placed on medical leave for some eight months.

He sued SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC) for damages and in 2012, after an appeal, the High Court held that the company was 50 per cent liable.

However, the previous year SIAEC had offered to accept 50 per cent blame without going to court - an offer which he rejected.

A district court took this rejection into account last year when Mr Das argued for costs, in addition to the $35,000 awarded for his injuries.

Under court rules, a failure to obtain more in court than the initial settlement offer can lead the court to order a plaintiff to pay indemnity costs to the defence counsel as a penalty.

The High Court ordered Mr Das to pay the defence lawyers for the legal work done from the time the offer was made to the date the case was dismissed in the district court and from the time he appealed and won 50 per cent liability.

His lawyer A. Perumal had argued that his damages award would be "whittled away" if he had to pay the defence's legal costs on an indemnity basis.

But senior lawyer Niru Pillai countered that SIAEC "precisely sought to avoid the situation where (Mr Das') damages would be whittled away by costs" when it made the offer to settle in 2011.

Judicial Commissioner Hoo Sheau Peng held in judgment grounds released last week that the court will order indemnity costs "when the circumstances justify it".

She noted that SIAEC's initial offer to settle was serious, genuine and reasonable, and there was nothing "exceptional in the present case to justify a departure" from the court's use of its discretion.

"It is clear (Das) has obtained a judgment, whether on appeal or first instance, which was not more favourable than the terms of the Offer to Settle. (His) objections have been addressed... and no more need be said on it."

His indemnity costs will be fixed by the district court.

Lawyers said the case is a landmark as it makes clear that indemnity costs can kick in even at the stage when the defendant offers to settle on the apportioning of liability, before the court assesses how much is to be paid.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Record number appoint guardians to act for them

Straits Times
20 Mar 2015
Carolyn Khew and Toh Yong Chuan

A RECORD number of people have appointed guardians to make decisions on their behalf if they should lose their mental faculties, in the wake of a high-profile court case last year where the issue surfaced.

This year, the Government is hoping to get an even greater number to sign up for the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), by launching a publicity blitz and waiving its $50 application fee for now.

Last year, 3,250 people signed up, a 37 per cent jump over the figure in 2013, according to the latest statistics from the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), which administers the scheme.

More than half did so in September and October, following Straits Times reports highlighting the case of Chinese national Yang Yin, who is accused of manipulating an elderly widow into handing him millions in assets.

An LPA is a legal document that allows a person to appoint an individual to make key decisions for him, should he become unable to do so. Anyone who is at least 21 can sign one.

Yang, 41, has been accused by Madam Hedy Mok of manipulating her aunt, Madam Chung Khin Chun, 88, into handing over her assets worth an estimated $40 million.

She has also accused him of breaching his duties under the LPA, which was eventually revoked in November last year.

Such abuse is rare, and rather than putting people off, the case seems to have increased public awareness.

Remisier Lim Meng Hong, 58, was among those who signed up last year.

The mother of three said: "It makes sense. You never know, you may suddenly fall ill."

While the OPG said it "saw a very encouraging increase" in the number of applications during the last four months of last year, its spokesman said: "We hope more people will know about the benefits of making an LPA, and do so when they still have the mental capacity... Anyone can lose mental capacity at any age."

To help people make up their minds, it started a campaign on Monday, in print, television and social media, where two siblings fight over who should have the final say in handling their father's finances.

As of Dec 31 last year, about 8,750 LPAs have been accepted since the scheme started in 2010.

But some people remain reluctant to do so.

Retired engineering officer David Kwok, 64, said the newspaper advertisements have informed him about the LPA, but the cost of several hundred dollars for a doctor or lawyer to witness and certify the LPA form is stopping him from going ahead.

"If it's free, I would consider. Not just me, I think many of my friends would too," he said.

Getting the LPA witnessed and certified will not be free, but until September next year, it will be cheaper to sign up for one, as the OPG is waiving its $50 application fee during this time.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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Judge cuts jail term of ship worker guilty of CBT

Straits Times
14 Mar 2015
Selina Lum

Engineer gets 14 months' jail for marine oil scam

THE High Court yesterday reduced the jail term of a ship engineer, from 18 months to 14 months, for misappropriating 200 tonnes of marine fuel oil worth about $153,000.

Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon said that the prosecution had not proven beyond reasonable doubt that Greek national Pittis Stavros, 59, was a servant of his ship's charterer, V8 Pool.

The court still found him guilty of dishonestly misappropriating the fuel, but amended the charge from criminal breach of trust as a servant to a lesser charge of criminal breach of trust.

Criminal breach of trust carries a maximum jail term of seven years, but someone who misappropriates property entrusted to him as a servant, or employee, faces up to 15 years' jail.

Stavros is on bail of $120,000 after his lawyer, Mr Shashi Nathan, asked for a deferment of the sentence for 30 days to let his client consider whether he wants to take the case further.

Stavros had appealed against his conviction and sentence after he was found guilty last year of committing criminal breach of trust while he was entrusted with the fuel as chief engineer of crude oil tanker MV Sakura Princess, which was chartered by V8 Pool.

On Jan 10, 2013, the Sakura Princess was in Singapore waters and a barge named Coastal Saturn was deployed to supply it with 500 tonnes of fuel.

The prosecution alleged that Stavros struck a deal with the bunker clerk and the marine surveyor to sell back 200 tonnes of fuel to the supplier, thereby supplying only 300 tonnes of fuel to the ship.

This is known as a "buy-back" arrangement in the bunkering industry, in which fuel is "sold" back to the company supplying it.

The 200 tonnes of fuel was sold for US$40,000 (S$55,151), which Stavros shared with the surveyor.

But Stavros denied entering into any deal to give the Sakura Princess a short-supply of 200 tonnes.

At his appeal last month, Mr Nathan argued that according to shipping law, the captain and crew of a ship are considered to be the servants of the ship's owners and not the charterers.

He also argued that Stavros cannot be said to have misappropriated V8 Pool's property when the fuel did not belong to it at the material time.

Mr Nathan contended that the district judge was wrong to believe the testimony of bunker clerk Tommy Tan and surveyor Joseph Seah that they entered into a buy-back deal with Stavros.

The pair do not currently face any charges.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Injunction against firms linked to Swiss lifted

Straits Times
28 Mar 2015
Rennie Whang

THE High Court's order of a freeze on the assets of prominent Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier has been varied.

The injunction against 14 Singapore companies in which Mr Bouvier holds shares was discharged at a hearing on Wednesday.

All companies in which Mr Bouvier holds shares, including those outside Singapore, are also entitled to continue to transact business as usual.

Mr Bouvier is being sued by two companies linked to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, for manipulating prices of art and failing to deliver a painting.

He was reportedly arrested late last month in Monaco after Mr Rybolovlev filed a complaint.

Mr Bouvier is the owner of Natural Le Coultre, which ships and stores art for the wealthy. He is known here for co-founding the Singapore Freeport - now known as Le Freeport - a high-security facility near Changi Airport.

The High Court had previously ordered a freeze on his assets globally, forbidding him from removing any assets up to the value of US$500 million (S$684 million) from Singapore, or disposing of any assets whether or not they are in Singapore.

A further hearing will take place in the High Court on April 6 and 7 to decide on Mr Bouvier's discharge application.

Discovery orders have been suspended as well, pending the next hearing.

The High Court also ordered the plaintiffs to provide security for any damages which may be found to have been suffered by Mr Bouvier among others, as a result of the freezing order they had previously sought and obtained.

The plaintiffs were ordered to provide a suitable Banker's Guarantee of US$20 million within a week.

RENNIE WHANG

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Court battle to decide if widow can change will

Straits Times
20 Mar 2015
Carolyn Khew

A COURT showdown has been set for the end of the month to decide whether a wealthy 88-year-old widow will get to change her will.

On March 31, lawyers representing Madam Chung Khin Chun and her niece Hedy Mok are expected to clash with the lawyers of former China tour guide Yang Yin, 41.

The new will, which Madam Mok, 61, said was drafted according to her aunt's wishes last year, leaves most of Madam Chung's assets to charity. It is supposed to replace the one made by the widow in 2010, in which she leaves everything, including her $30 million bungalow in Gerald Crescent, to Yang in the event of her death.

After a pre-trial conference on Wednesday during which the March 31 date was fixed, lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, who is representing the widow, said: "We take the position that (the 2010 will) was procured by undue influence."

But Yang's lawyer Daniel Zhu claims that this is not the case and that the 2010 will is valid.

"At that point in time, the will was done up by a lawyer and there was a medical doctor who certified her mental capacity," he said.

Madam Chung was diagnosed with dementia last year.

"The mental capacity of Madam Chung has been a topic of severe scrutiny from the courts, the media and public," said Yang in court documents.

"I do not see how a fresh will purportedly executed by Madam Chung, age 87, was validly made, if at all."

Yang has been in police remand since Oct 31 last year.

CAROLYN KHEW

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Intraco wins S$6.6m arbitration award

Business Times
13 Mar 2015
Cai Haoxiang

[Singapore] TRADING company Intraco has won a S$6.6 million award in an arbitration ruling on a dispute with privately held Timor Global, a Timor Leste coffee plantation and trading company.

The award sum does not include interest and costs associated with the award which are yet to be decided by the arbitrator. The award is also subject to correction or amendment.

Intraco said that it will "seek to enforce the arbitration award".

The dispute stems from a July 1, 2007, joint venture agreement between the two parties.

Intraco's claim was for S$9.8 million in total, of which S$3.2 has already been received before the issue of the arbitration award.

Intraco first issued a writ of summons against Timor Global on Dec 3, 2008, to claim about S$3 million of monies outstanding under invoices and debit notes issued according to the joint venture agreement.

On Sept 23, 2009, the legal proceedings were halted and arbitration begun to pursue the recovery of S$9.8 million, as well as interest, damages and costs.

Other than the shareholder dispute, Timor Global was also in the news for bank debt troubles.

The company reportedly defaulted on paying US$2.3 million back to The Australia & New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) in 2013, triggering a move by ANZ to recover all outstanding sums.

The credit facilities extended to the company by ANZ's Timor branch had been underwritten by Jannie Chan, co-founder of luxury watch retailer The Hour Glass, coffee entrepreneur Bill Tan Tjo Tek, and his business partner Bobby Lay Ni Sing. In January, all three were ordered by the High Court to pay US$5.7 million over the bank facility defaults.

Intraco, which did not change hands on Thursday, last traded at 30 Singapore cents a share.

haoxiang@sph.com.sg

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Hearing on Ngerng's damages in July

Straits Times
28 Mar 2015
Walter Sim

A HIGH court hearing will be held in July to assess the amount of damages payable by blogger Roy Ngerng to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for defamation.

Mr George Hwang, the third lawyer to represent Mr Ngerng in the defamation case, told reporters after a closed-door administrative hearing yesterday that the case will be heard between July 1 and July 3.

He declined to comment further because the matter is before the court.

Justice Lee Seiu Kin ruled last November that Mr Ngerng, 33, had defamed Mr Lee in a blog post dated May 15 last year by suggesting that the Prime Minister had misappropriated Central Provident Fund savings.

Earlier this year, the High Court ordered Mr Ngerng to pay Mr Lee $29,000 in legal fees and related expenses for costs incurred up to the conclusion of the application for a summary judgment.

The sum was due on Jan 29, but a spat between Mr Ngerng and his lawyer at the time, Mr M. Ravi, led to the payment being delayed until Feb 6.

In mid-February, Mr Ravi was suspended from practising law following concerns about his mental health. Mr Ngerng's case was then taken up by Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, who was in turn replaced by Mr Hwang earlier this month.

Mr Lee is represented by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh of Drew & Napier.

WALTER SIM

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Distribution of fliers by PAP 'not an offence'

Straits Times
20 Mar 2015
Lim Yan Liang

THE distribution of fliers in recent days by People's Action Party (PAP) activists in Aljunied GRC, Hougang and Punggol East is not an offence, the police said yesterday.

"In consultation with the Attorney-General's Chambers on the police report made on the distribution of fliers at Aljunied Group Representation Constituency, it has been determined that there is no offence disclosed," the police said in a statement.

"The distribution of fliers in itself is not an offence in Singapore."

The statement came after a police report was lodged about the fliers, which PAP activists have been distributing across Aljunied GRC, and the Punggol East and Hougang single-seat wards. All these areas are under the Workers' Party (WP).

The leaflets, in English and Chinese, give a list of significant findings against Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) in a report by the Attorney-General's Office (AGO) that was released last month.

The fliers also urge residents to question their MPs about their town council's management and financial health.

The fliers come one month after a two-day debate in Parliament over the AGO report, which found lapses in governance and compliance at AHPETC, including key AHPETC staff being co-owners of its managing agent FMSS.

During the parliamentary debate, the WP said there had been no criminal wrongdoing or loss of money in its contracts with FMSS. It said its MPs knew of the AHPETC staff's ownership of FMSS and that they had no role in tender deliberations.

The WP acknowledged lapses in management, but said these were largely the result of inexperience and human error, and that the party has since put in place safeguards to rectify the situation.

The AGO findings were endorsed by Parliament, including the nine WP MPs, after a heated debate.

yanliang@sph.com.sg

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Allen & Gledhill named Regional Law Firm of the year

Business Times
13 Mar 2015

ALLEN & Gledhill was named the Regional Law Firm of the Year and the Singapore Law Firm of the Year at the International Financial Law Review (IFLR) Asia Awards 2015 this week in Hong Kong.

This is the second consecutive year that the firm won the regional law firm award - it was the first Singapore and South-east Asian law firm to do so last year - and the 14th time it has won the national law firm award for Singapore.

Lucien Wong, chairman and senior partner of Allen & Gledhill, said: "We are grateful to our clients for giving us the opportunity to work on some of the region's most innovative deals. The awards reflect the continuing commitment and dedication of our lawyers and staff in providing the highest quality of legal services to our clients."

Established in 1902, Allen & Gledhill is one of the biggest law firms in Singapore. Mr Wong went on to add that Allen & Gledhill's team of over 400 lawyers in the region work seamlessly together to deliver the quality work that it is known for.

Other winners included Linklaters, which won the international law firm of the year, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which won mergers & acquisitions (M&A) team of the year as well as the category's deal of the year.

Meanwhile, Allen & Overy won team of the year for project finance, Sullivan & Cromwell came out tops in the equity team category, while HSBC won in-house debt and equity linked team of the year.

The IFLR Asia Awards, which was started in 2000, honours the region's most innovative deals as well as the firms which worked on them.

"Linklaters has clearly had another excellent year in Asia Pacific," said Tom Young, managing editor at IFLR. "I'd like to congratulate the firm on winning the international law firm award."

IFLR is a leading financial law publication for lawyers speciaising in international finance in finance institutions, corporates and in private practice.

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'Accountants will derail our work': Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council

Straits Times
28 Mar 2015
Walter Sim

WP chairman 'surprised' by Govt's court application

A HIGH Court application by the Government to have independent accountants oversee government grants given to the Workers' Party-run town council will, if granted, "derail our work towards meeting deadlines" to file its accounts, party chairman Sylvia Lim said yesterday.

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) has till June 30 to submit its 2013 accounts, which are late. It was also asked to submit its 2014 accounts by Aug 31.

In her first comments since the court proceedings were made public on Friday last week, Ms Lim, an MP for Aljunied GRC, said she was "very surprised" the case was brought against the town council.

Speaking after a closed-door administrative hearing at the court, she said of the expected delay: "They're asking for the independent accountants to make inquiries, so we would have to handle a few different sets of auditors at the same time... It will derail our work and we may not be able to file our accounts until the next elections." The next general election must be held by January 2017.

The town council is represented by lawyers Peter Low and Terence Tan of Peter Low LLC.

Since a two-day parliamentary session last month debated the findings of a report by the Auditor-General's Office into its finances, AHPETC has been taking "additional steps", Ms Lim said.

These included appointing its own consultants to help the town council address the weaknesses and disclaimers outlined in the report, said Ms Lim, who was at yesterday's hearing with fellow Aljunied GRC MP Faisal Manap.

She declined to comment on the specifics of the court application but said: "We'll be making our case known in court. We don't think those orders are warranted."

If the court gives the nod, the National Development Ministry will release about $14 million in grants to AHPETC - money disbursed to all town councils but which it has withheld for a year now owing to serious lapses in governance and compliance.

MND, which will foot the bill for the accountants, is asking for "adequate safeguards", such as having segregated accounts and for payments above $20,000 from this account to be co-signed by the accountants. It also asked the court to empower the accountants to look at past payments and take appropriate action to recover losses suffered by AHPETC and its residents.

The town council has to file an affidavit by April 17, to which MND will reply by April 24, said Mr Tan. A closed-door hearing for MND's application has been fixed for the week starting April 27, he added.

waltsim@sph.com.sg

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Ex-remisier pays $157,000 civil penalty for false trading

Straits Times
20 Mar 2015
Mok Fei Fei

A FORMER remisier has been slapped with a civil penalty of $157,000 for false trading.

On Oct 20, 2011, Mr Tan Hua Ann, who was then a remisier at UOB Kay Hian, executed a false sell order, according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

He entered the order during the pre-open phase to create a false appearance in the indicative opening price for a Lyxor exchange-traded fund, pocketing personal gains of $62,723.

The pre-open phase is the 30-minute duration before the start of the trading day at 9am where orders are collated but not matched. At the end of the pre-open phase, orders that can be matched will be carried out at a single price known as the equilibrium price. This forms the opening price of the security for the day.

Mr Tan admitted to contravening regulations under the Securities and Futures Act (SFA) and has paid the civil penalty without court action.

He has also been barred from conducting business in any regulated activity under the SFA for two years, among other prohibitions issued by the regulator.

"MAS will take firm action against any form of false trading or manipulation as such actions affect investors' confidence in the market," MAS assistant managing director Lee Boon Ngiap said in a statement.

"When a licensed person knowingly commits such misconduct, MAS will not hesitate to prohibit such person from carrying out regulated activities for an appropriate period to deter such conduct and protect the investing public."

MAS was alerted to the matter by the Singapore Exchange.

The civil penalty regime was introduced in 2004 as an alternative regulatory tool to criminal sanctions.

feimok@sph.com.sg

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Nod for lawsuit over burnt car

Straits Times
13 Mar 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Lamborghini owner need not wait for insurers to settle claim via market pact

THE owner of a $1.3 million Lamborghini burnt out after a chain collision has been given the green light to sue the drivers of two other Lamborghinis who he believes caused the accident.

In a rare case, the High Court on Wednesday agreed with Mr Michael Koh, saying he could proceed with his court suit rather than wait for insurers to settle the claim through a market agreement.

Mr Koh's son-in-law, Mr Chua Zhi Rong, was driving his black Lamborghini Aventador at the front of a three-car convoy along Malaysia's North-South Highway when it was involved in the December 2013 pile-up. Behind Mr Chua was Mr Edward Lee, with Mr Bret Chia bringing up the rear - both in Lamborghini Gallardos. The cars were heading north and registered in Singapore.

Mr Koh is suing the two men for negligence. If the court hearing goes ahead to decide liability, it is expected to ascertain the cause of the accident.

Mr Lee had sought to be indemnified by his insurer Liberty Insurance, and Mr Chia by his, AIG Asia Pacific Insurance, in relation to any claims. AIG lodged an objection to Mr Koh's bid to settle the matter in court, arguing that a market agreement signed by General Insurance Association (GIA) of Singapore and other insurers applies in this case.

The agreement states that in multiple-vehicle accidents, it is expected that the vehicle directly behind the hit car bears full liability. This is based on what insurers call the "swing-around" principle, which assumes that different insurers are liable in different cases. The agreement is meant to promote efficiency and reduce costs.

AIG claimed that Liberty is liable to replace the burnt car in full, but Liberty disputes this.

AIG's lawyer Teo Weng Kie argued that if a pending GIA adjudication panel decision is in its favour, it means AIG would not be liable even if its client had contributed to the loss of Mr Koh's car.

Liberty's lawyer Abdul Salim Ibrahim and Mr Koh's lawyer Nigel Bogaars opposed AIG's move to stop court proceedings, saying Mr Koh is not bound by the market agreement and would not get any benefit from it. Liberty also intended to allege in the court case that Mr Chua contributed to the mishap and could be apportioned blame.

Assistant Registrar Wong Baochen had found AIG's move "unmeritorious" and dismissed its stay application last December. AIG appealed but Justice Woo Bih Li was not convinced that court proceedings should halt, pending the GIA panel outcome.

In judgment grounds released on Wednesday, the judge found that as Mr Koh was not a party to the market agreement and even if the panel ruled in favour of AIG and bound Liberty, this would not settle the court claim, which would still have to proceed.

Justice Woo made it clear that to allow the court proceedings to continue did not mean the court was displacing the GIA adjudication process.

"Both the GIA adjudicators and the court proceedings would proceed concurrently," he said.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Surveyor's jail term for corruption tripled

Straits Times
27 Mar 2015
Selina Lum

A MARINE surveyor whose job was to inspect ships before they berthed, but asked for bribes to omit safety breaches in his report, yesterday had his jail term for corruption tripled from two months to six.

Syed Mostofa Romel, 50, was caught red-handed last May in a sting operation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), in which safety breaches were planted on a vessel and the dollar bills handed to Romel were marked.

The Bangladeshi was sentenced to two months' jail by a district court last month.

The prosecution appealed to the High Court, arguing that the original sentence was "unduly lenient" and did not reflect the seriousness of the danger posed by his corrupt acts.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon agreed. "This type of corruption is antithetical to everything Singapore stands for," he said as he upped the jail term for Romel, who was due to be released on Sunday.

Romel was an associate consultant with a marine surveying firm whose job was to inspect vessels before they were allowed to be docked at port terminals.

The checks include making sure that the documentation was in order and that the vessel was seaworthy. A ship classified as low or medium risk would generally be allowed to dock. If a ship was classified as high-risk, the operator would have to rectify the problems identified before the ship was allowed to be docked, thus incurring delays and additional costs.

On Mar 10 last year, after inspecting the tanker Torero at a terminal off Jurong Island, Romel told the captain and chief engineer that he had made several observations which would result in a high-risk certification.

The captain disagreed, saying they were minor issues. Money could fix the problems, Romel told him. The captain offered US$500 (S$680) but Romel demanded US$3,000. Romel then omitted the high-risk observations in his inspection report.

On May 27, CPIB launched an operation to nab Romel, using the same vessel, this time deliberately prepared with safety breaches, and with Romel assigned again to inspect it.

True to form, Romel raised the breaches to the captain, who handed him US$3,000 in marked bills. When Romel returned to shore with the cash, he was immediately arrested by CPIB officers.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Grace Lim argued that Romel should be jailed for six to eight months as his corrupt actions were detrimental to public safety and Singapore's reputation as a marine services hub.

Romel's lawyer, Mr Thong Chee Kun, argued that no actual harm was caused; neither was evidence produced to show the potential harm.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Some business owners may find ways round higher tax

Straits Times
19 Mar 2015
Phyllis Ho & Marissa Lee

They could take earnings as dividends, convert to private limited firms or corporatise, say experts

THE upcoming increase in the top personal income tax rate will prompt more business owners to take their earnings as dividends rather than as a taxable salary, consultants say.

They also say that high-earning sole proprietors and partners would look more closely at converting to private limited companies or corporatising.

The recent Budget said that those with chargeable income above $320,000 in the 2016 tax year will face a top rate of tax of 22 per cent, up from 20 per cent now.

Should these sole proprietors or partners convert to private limited companies or corporatise, they would be subject to the corporate tax rate of 17 per cent.

Dividends are paid out of after-tax earnings.

"Any dividend paid by a Singapore tax resident company is tax-exempt in the hands of its shareholders," said Ernst & Young Solutions partner Chung-Sim Siew Moon.

The two percentage point personal tax rate hike has spurred more interest in corporatisation, said Mrs Chung-Sim, who noted that "there has always been interest" since the corporate tax rate was cut to 17 per cent in 2010.

When AscentiaTax director Ho Soon Wing started his tax services business in 2009, he went with a private-listed structure.

"Even with the previous tax structure, savings have been quite substantial," he said.

Based on his calculations, it makes good financial sense for a new start-up to structure as a private limited company if it expects to generate profits of $120,000 or more every year, even after the start-up exception - where start-ups do not have to pay tax - expires in three years.

Nonetheless, Mr Ho said his main reason for corporatising was the need for limited liability.

Other consultants agreed that individually-run businesses and partnerships are unlikely to rush to corporatise solely on the basis of tax changes.

As Mrs Chung-Sim noted: "Tax cannot and will not be the deciding factor for corporatisation... Business, commercial and legal considerations play a big part."

Companies must meet additional statutory compliance requirements that sole proprietorship and partnerships do not, and this can result in higher compliance and maintenance costs.

Still, corporatisation has many commercial advantages, including enhancing a business' image, which could potentially raise revenue.

More importantly, CA Trust Pac tax consultant Lim Lian Soon said, many sub-contractors prefer to corporatise in order to obtain limited liability protection.

But ACR Engineering director Ben Koh noted that this option to corporatise so as to receive dividends instead of salary is not "readily available" to all business owners.

"Business owners that operate on modest profit levels may not actually see huge tax savings even if the approach of paying themselves only dividends (and no salaries) is adopted," he said, adding that most entrepreneurs may prefer remuneration in the form of salary for this reason.

Corporatising a personal business or partnership takes about a week, assuming that there are no existing contracts. The cost of doing so via the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority falls below $350.

But with Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo warning recently that the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) will "closely monitor corporatisation behaviour", some consultants are concerned about what this might mean for business owners.

Mr Loh speculated that "corporatisation behaviour" does not refer to the conversion into private limited companies but, instead, something "more contrived" - for example, the setting up of numerous companies to collectively house a simple business and glean more tax exemptions when having one company would ordinarily suffice.

Mr Wilson Ong, assistant commissioner of the corporate tax division at Iras, told The Straits Times that when a minister issues a warning, "it is usually followed up with measures".

However, he could not yet disclose the form that these measures would take.

hphyllis@sph.com.sg

marilee@sph.com.sg

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Job readiness not all that is desired of law graduates: Forum

Straits Times
13 Mar 2015

MS JOSEPHINE Chong brings up certain points in her letter with which I disagree ("Preference for job-ready law grads"; Forum Online, Monday).

First and foremost, Ms Chong said that a plus point for Australian law schools is that one can work part time to fund one's studies. But this is not unique to Australia. In Britain, foreign students are also given the opportunity to find part-time work to supplement their tuition fees.

Ms Chong also prefers that the study of law produce "job-ready" graduates. I can understand how, for an employer, the need to hire "immediately job-ready" law graduates is tempting. This would undoubtedly reduce the costs of training, as well as save time and effort in making a graduate "job ready".

However, I must throw into doubt the realism of such expectations. The study of law requires more than an "industrialised" approach.

Perhaps we can expect this of graduates from other fields, such as engineering or accountancy, but law is a fluid concept.

It teaches us ethics. It educates us on the rule of law. It sheds light on abstract concepts on what is law itself, and why we need it.

To suggest that a lawyer should be educated just so he is ready for work is to neglect the very nature of law.

The study of law should also involve the understanding of normative ideas, and to form different perceptions of the world. We should refrain from producing "mechanical" graduates.

Furthermore, while it may be true that one of the local polytechnics offers its students a more grounded and practical education, a diploma in law is still not enough to qualify one as a lawyer. A qualifying law degree is still necessary. Law, in its very nature, cannot be exclusively practical; it must be able to provide an all-rounded education.

Every fresh-faced graduate has to start somewhere. Making mistakes and learning on-the-go are all part of an invaluable experience, and can, in fact, help make for better lawyers.

Nicholas Chandra

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GM fined for causing retired hotelier's death

Straits Times
27 Mar 2015

THE general manager of a multinational corporation who caused the death of former hotelier Sonnie Lien in a road accident was given the maximum $1,000 fine yesterday for driving without due care and attention.

Michael Teo Wee Hian, 65, who was convicted of failing to keep a proper lookout and hitting Mr Lien, 78, on Nov 11, 2013, was also banned from driving for six months.

Mr Lien was one of the sons of the late tycoon and philanthropist Lien Ying Chow, who founded Overseas Union Bank - Singapore's fourth-largest bank until it was acquired by United Overseas Bank in 2001.

Mr Sonnie Lien was general manager of the Mandarin Singapore for 15 years, and had retired more than a decade earlier.

The court heard that Teo was driving on the rightmost lane along Ulu Pandan Road towards Holland Road when he saw Mr Lien standing a short distance from the leftmost kerb.

He looked away from Mr Lien and concentrated on his lane as he planned to turn right into Holland Grove Road.

But he did not notice that Mr Lien had started crossing the road and he could not stop in time. Mr Lien died about an hour later from multiple injuries.

Teo's lawyer, Mr Foo Cheow Ming, said his client had an unblemished driving record for the past 30 years and was driving at about 50kmh, within the speed limit. His client had seen the pedestrian but thought that he would not cross the road, he said.

The maximum penalty for the offence is a $1,000 fine or six months' jail.

ELENA CHONG

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What happens when you can't fulfil your option to buy?

Business Times
19 Mar 2015
Lee Liat Yeang

More buyers are failing to complete private home purchases. What legal consequences do they face?

THE purchase of a private residential property involves legal documentation which includes the signing of a contract. Once the deposit is made and the contract is signed, the buyer is legally bound to make the balance payment of the purchase price and complete the legal documentation by the completion date stipulated in the contract.

But some buyers might not be able to pay the full balance payment to complete the purchase. This article explores the legal consequences that such buyers could face, whether they are buying from developers or from sellers in the resale market.

PURCHASE OF A RESALE PROPERTY

Aside from the sale of uncompleted residential properties by developers, there is no prescribed contract for the sale and purchase of a private residential property. The most common contract is by way of an option to purchase where the seller grants an option to the buyer for a stipulated period in consideration for an option fee. Upon the exercise of the option by the buyer, a sale and purchase contract is formed. Parties then have to complete the process by the scheduled completion date in accordance with the terms of the option.

Most option formats do not have specific clauses dealing with the failure to complete. However, most if not all option formats, incorporate the Law Society of Singapore's Conditions of Sale 2012. One should note two pertinent conditions here, namely condition 9 that deals with Late Completion Interest, and condition 15 that deals with a Notice to Complete. These conditions will apply unless they are specifically amended by the terms of the contract.

If the buyer fails to complete the purchase on the scheduled completion date, the seller can choose to extend the completion date, and also charge the buyer (as provided for in condition 9) for late completion interest (as liquidated damages), from the day following the scheduled completion date up to the actual completion day, at 8 per cent per annum on the balance of the purchase price.

In cases where the buyer fails to complete despite the extension given, the seller can apply to court for an order to compel the buyer to specifically perform his side of the contract. This remedy might not be given by the court, particularly when the buyer lacks the financial or legal capability to complete the purchase.

Most sellers might prefer to rescind the contract so that they can proceed to resell instead of spending time and money to go to court. In such a case, the seller must consider condition 15 where it is stated, among other things, that upon service of a notice to complete, parties must complete the transaction within 21 days after the day of service of notice and time will be of the essence of the contract.

If the buyer fails to comply with the terms of any effective notice to complete given by the seller, the seller may, among other things, forfeit and keep any deposit paid by the buyer and resell the property.

If upon any resale contracted within one year after the scheduled completion date the seller suffers a loss, the buyer must pay to the seller, as liquidated damages, the amount of such loss. The liquidated damages will include all costs and expenses reasonably incurred in the resale or attempted resale but the seller must give credit for any deposit and any money paid on account of the purchase price.

PURCHASE OF PROPERTY FROM A DEVELOPER

The sale and purchase of private residential properties from the developer is governed by the Housing Developers Rules. There is a prescribed form of the Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) that can be used by the housing developer, subject to such modifications pre-approved by the controller of housing. For the purpose of this article, we will refer to the relevant clauses in this prescribed form of SPA.

The buyer's primary obligation is to pay the purchase price by progressive instalments in the manner set out in the SPA. If the buyer fails to pay any or any part of any instalment of the purchase price, the buyer is liable to pay interest on the unpaid amount to the vendor, calculated on a daily basis at 2 per cent per annum above the base rate (defined as average of the prevailing prime lending rates of DBS, OCBC and UOB, per annum rounded down to the nearest one-eighth of 1 per cent) as provided under clause 6 of the SPA. The prevailing interest rate chargeable is 6.75 per cent.

While the developer can sue a delinquent buyer for the unpaid instalment(s) of the purchase price, it is likely to choose to terminate the SPA and look for another buyer. In such an instance, the developer relies on clause 7 of the SPA which gives it the right to treat the SPA as repudiated by the buyer if any or any part of any instalment of the purchase price and interests remain unpaid for more than 14 days after the expiry of the relevant due date for payment.

In order to exercise this right, the developer has to give to the buyer a written notice, of not less than 21 days, of the developer's intention to treat the SPA as repudiated. The SPA shall be annulled after the notice has expired unless the unpaid instalments and interest are paid within the notice period.

Upon annulment of the SPA, the developer has the right, among others, to resell the unit as if the SPA had not been entered into. The developer can recover from the instalments previously paid by the buyer all interest, property tax, maintenance charges and other amounts owing and unpaid under the SPA, as well as all costs incurred (if any) by the developer to recover possession as at the date of the annulment, and also forfeit 20 per cent of the purchase price from instalments (excluding interest) previously paid.

The terms of the SPA are also clear that the developer cannot claim for or forfeit more than the sum of 20 per cent of the purchase price and other moneys owing, even if the developer suffers a loss exceeding 20 per cent of the purchase price upon resale of that unit.

PURCHASE OF ECs FROM DEVELOPERS

The contractual position is substantially similar for the purchase of executive condominiums from developers.

However, pursuant to an announcement made by the Ministry of National Development on Dec 9, 2013, the relevant clause 7 (as well as clause 19 relating to non compliance with EC rules) was amended such that the amount that can be forfeited by the developer is 20 per cent (where the leasehold estate commences before Jan 1, 2014), and 5 per cent (where the leasehold estate commences on or after Jan 1, 2014).

Although the apparent reason for this change is to relieve significant financial hardship of young couples who cannot fulfil the eligibility requirement of marriage for ECs, the lowered cap (of 5 per cent) in the forfeiture amount applies to all situations including those cases where the default by the buyer is due to failure to pay any part of the purchase price (covered by clause 7).

Buyers are advised to plan ahead their financial arrangements, including setting aside enough to pay for any part of the purchase price that cannot be covered by a housing loan or CPF moneys. This should be done before the signing of a binding contract so as to avoid unnecessary financial loss.

The writer is a partner of Real Estate Practice Group of Rodyk & Davidson LLP. This article is for general information purpose only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific legal advice for any particular case or matter.

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Banking compliance: will one-size-fits-all do?

Business Times
13 Mar 2015
Joseph Cherian, Bernard Yeung & Anil Kishora

Imposing rules and frameworks from different economic contexts may not be relevant, desirable or even fruitful for Asian banks

Banking the world over is grappling with an ever-growing list of compliance concerns, be it combating money laundering or the channelling of terror funds, policing clients for their tax behaviour, international sanctions, or regulatory compliance.

Enormous resources have been deployed in ensuring compliance, chasing shifting goalposts, fixing gaps in the regulatory framework, or responding to regulators' demands.

Under-staffed — and potentially under-trained — regulators are equally overworked, diving deep to identify breaches, expose potential non-compliance, and enforce regulations to protect customers from the banks, as well as protect the banks from themselves.

In the quest for a banking sector that is perfect, the world has been busy implementing all the rules - or rather, remedies - designed in the wake of the global financial crisis. Many Asian countries have adopted these en masse, and are moving rapidly towards convergence with the West.

In terms of the rigour of execution, some, like Singapore, even appear to have taken a lead over many developed jurisdictions. In a lecture in Asia last November, Bank of England governor Mark Carney praised Singapore for its excellence in execution, describing it as a "world leader" and an example for all countries to follow.

To be sure, banks are an integral and necessary part of all national economies, which have to address priorities and requirements depending on the stage of development they are in.

Almost all Asian economies, with their youthful demographics for example, need rapid growth, which in turn demands investment and financing in infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture, cross-border trade, small-scale enterprises, service sectors and other strategic areas.

Bankers in Asia will need to be part of this growth story to stay socially relevant, and continue to receive and deploy capital and other resources.

CONTAIN COMPLIANCE COSTS

However, imposing rules and frameworks that have originated elsewhere and from different economic contexts - for example, the Volcker Rule in the United States - may not really be relevant, desirable or even fruitful.

Banks operating primarily in the emerging markets have space to profit from funding the real economy and, as such, they may need growth nutrients, rather than the medication developed for banks mired in malfunctioning business and economic contexts.

The traffic rules meant for players who weave in and out of speculative trades, subprime lending and securitised junk could hardly be relevant for all banks.

National stakeholders probably need to ponder if one-size-fits-all regulatory solutions will work for the rest of us in Asia, even though the world has opted for near-total convergence.

While one hopes the regulatory train will change tracks sooner than later, we need to contain the side-effects for the present. Indeed, a 2013 report by global consultancy PwC stated that it expected risk and regulatory compliance expenses to account for 10 per cent of Asia Pacific banks' annual revenue by 2015, up from 7 per cent.

A key area where a major Asian financial centre - or centres - can take the lead is in containing this escalating cost of compliance.

Not only do Asian financial centres host many banks, they usually are accompanied by a large financial ecosystem comprising prudent regulators, audit firms, consultancies, legal experts, specialist boutiques, and all that is needed to run a major financial centre.

Singapore, for example, hosts more than 100 banks, and supports a world-class financial ecosystem. All the players in this ecosystem together have the intellectual firepower to not only design and develop risk and regulatory compliance systems that are relevant for developing Asia, which is a meta-discussion topic in itself, but also cost-effective delivery models for compliance advisory.

Given the plethora of rules and regulations, irrespective of whether they originate from the West, the risk of key requirements falling through the cracks is high.

STANDARDISE THE BASE

The industry would be able to handle compliance much more effectively, and at a much lower cost in terms of dollars incurred on implementation (or management time spent on repairs), if solutions for various regulatory compliance requirements could be provided in pre-developed, standardised base versions.

This could then be customised to the scale and complexity of a bank's operations, be part of its enterprise-wide technology solution, and integrated into its existing processes.

In terms of implementation, banks and regulators often rely on external vendors to carry out diagnostics and suggest enhancements. The process is usually time-consuming and expensive.

As regulations proliferate and standards expected of banks soar, the costs are ballooning. Vendors often find it difficult to commit the right resources, while banks frequently grudge - in private - the quality of inputs they gain from these engagements.

The subsequent independent testing and examinations continue to flag problems, exposing the deficiencies in the current approach.

Casual conversations with some experts indicate that outcomes may also be sub-optimal, due to the narrow scope and piecemeal nature of the work assigned, or on account of inconsistent implementation.

TAKE LEAF FROM IT SECTOR

What is needed is a solution that is easy to understand and implement.

Can the regulatory compliance consulting industry then take a leaf or two from the IT solutions business, which offers standard tools to manage a business's requirements?

Case in point - the industry does not look for a bespoke technology product every time it needs to process words or crunch numbers; many simply buy Microsoft Office. How do we replicate this approach in regulatory compliance?

The systemic strain that the current compliance focus is creating across jurisdictions is ultimately a huge drain on the real economy.

A more effective delivery model would not only bring down costs, but may also lead to a standardised compliance landscape amenable to effective testing, monitoring and periodic enhancements across industry.

A standardised approach could potentially also help build trust that is so critical. The consulting community in Asia can take the lead in making compliance frameworks standardised.

It will probably make life simpler for the auditee and auditor alike, reducing scope for interpretational flip-flops, extended learning curves and expensive repairs, which often lead to higher costs, truncated productivity and more systemic stress, but at times even engender more distrust in the system.

The revolution taking place in the financial technology, or FinTech, space may also aid in this process of designing and implementing prudent rules, regulations and compliance systems that are relevant for developing Asia.

Joseph Cherian is director of NUS Business School's Centre for Asset Management Research and Investments, Bernard Yeung is dean of the School, while Anil Kishora was CEO of the State Bank of India in Singapore from June 2009 to December 2014. The views expressed in this article are their own

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Deputy senior pastor grilled by prosecution

Straits Times
27 Mar 2015
Hoe Pei Shan

DEPUTY senior pastor Tan Ye Peng cannot hide behind the excuse that he and his team relied on professional advice when carrying out "sham" deals involving the alleged misuse of City Harvest Church's (CHC) money.

That is because any advice would depend very much on what Tan and the other five accused chose to reveal to auditors and legal experts, charged Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh as she began her cross- examination of the 42-year-old yesterday.

At one point in her grilling of Tan, she even accused him of lying on the stand.

Things were more relaxed for him earlier in the day - the 107th in the long-running CHC trial - when he was cross-examined by lawyers for several of the other accused, including the lawyer for founding pastor Kong Hee.

The lawyer for CHC finance manager Sharon Tan, for instance, spent much of his time verifying that his client was simply carrying out instructions, and was not someone who had a hand in making key decisions.

Six of the church's leaders are charged with misusing $50 million of church funds to boost the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, and covering up the misuse.

The prosecution believes that five of the accused channelled money from the church's building fund into sham bond investments in Xtron, Ms Ho's management company, and glass manufacturer Firna.

Four of them, including Tan, then allegedly devised transactions to clear the sham bonds from CHC's accounts to mislead auditors.

Tan has repeatedly told the court that church leaders only acted on the advice of lawyers and auditors in structuring the funding of the Crossover project - the church's plan to evangelise through Ms Ho's secular music.

They had relied on these experts to approve the transactions and ensure that they were legal.

But DPP Chionh objected to Tan's logic: "...that statement that you relied on the advice of the lawyers and the auditors is meaningless in itself, unless we also know exactly what information you provided to the auditors and the lawyers. Agree?"

Tan agreed, but not before his lawyer, Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, raised objections on the manner of questioning.

DPP Chionh then hit back, saying that the defence lawyer was interrupting her in "an attempt to save the witness from answering".

Presiding Judge See Kee Oon allowed DPP Chionh to continue.

She went on to tackle the relationship between Xtron and CHC.

Tan had insisted that Xtron was a separate entity capable of making its own decisions, despite its directors being chosen and appointed by the church board.

DPP Chionh charged that Tan had lied on the stand when he claimed that it was auditor Foong Daw Ching who had instructed him to keep the church's actual extent of control over Xtron under wraps.

Tan disagreed.

The trial resumes on Monday with the prosecution continuing its cross-examination of Tan.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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When 28% shareholding is a majority at an AGM...

Business Times
19 Mar 2015
Kenneth Lim

Study of detailed polling results of 279 annual general meetings shows that the average percentage of issued shares voted is about 55%

[Singapore] WHEN is a 28 per cent shareholding a majority?

When only 55 per cent of issued shares are voting, which is the average at general meetings by Singapore-listed companies in 2014, according to a study by an academic and a private investor.

The report on shareholder meetings also found that Singapore-listed companies were relatively prompt in calling annual meetings, although concerns were raised about shareholder participation and the quality of explanations about resolutions.

The report was authored by National University of Singapore Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen and private investor Chew Yi Hong. It looked at 701 AGMs and 173 standalone extraordinary general meetings (EGMs) in 2014.

The study found that an average of only about 55 per cent of issued shares actually voted in the 279 AGMs for which detailed polling results were disclosed.

"This means that ownership of about 28 per cent of the voting ordinary shares of an issuer would on average translate to a majority of votes at the meeting," the report explained.

In Singapore, listed companies have a four-month deadline to conduct an AGM following their financial year-end.

Compared to the G-7 countries of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, only Japan has a shorter AGM deadline of three months. Italy has a deadline of four months which can be extended to six months subject to shareholder approval.

The short deadline and the concentration of companies with December year-ends may have contributed to bunching in Singapore, where 76 per cent of all April meetings took place in the last five business days of the month. But the authors noted that clustering was evident in all other markets as well.

"Issuers should hold their meetings before the last week of April if they have a December year-end," the authors wrote.

Most of the meetings were held in the central area of Singapore. To help shareholders participate in meetings, companies that hold meetings outside of the central areas should provide transportation, the authors recommended.

The report also raised a question about a handful of companies that held general meetings overseas. Thai Beverage Public Co, for example, has shareholder meetings in Thailand because Thai laws do not entitle Singaporean shareholders to attend meetings of the drinks company, even via video conference or webcast.

"Given that the right to attend general meetings is a fundamental shareholder right, should Singapore Exchange (SGX) allow a foreign issuer to have a primary listing in Singapore if most Singapore shareholders would not have the legal right to participate in shareholder meetings either in person or through a video conference or webcast?," the authors asked.

Although explanatory notes were provided for resolutions to re-elect directors about 58 per cent of the time, the authors felt that the quality of the explanations could be improved.

"Beyond the sweeping statement that the director, upon re-election, will remain in his current role(s), we hope that the issuers disclose the process and the consideration that they have gone through to recommend the directors," the authors wrote.

One positive observation was that about 45 per cent of issuers have disclosed detail poll voting results.

The number suggests "that a substantial number of issuers have already adopted poll voting ahead of the SGX deadline of Aug 1, 2015," the report stated.

kenlim@sph.com.sg

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1MDB saga extends to Swiss bank in S'pore

Business Times
13 Mar 2015
Anita Gabriel

[Singapore] SINGAPORE has unwittingly found itself drawn into the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) saga after it was revealed that a local branch of Swiss private bank BSI is keeping the state-backed firm's money that was redeemed from a controversial investment in Cayman Islands funds.

However, this is not the only time that the same bank, BSI Singapore, deemed a boutique wealth manager, had dealt with 1MDB.

Based on documents obtained by The Business Times, BSI Singapore had issued portfolio statements on 1MDB's US$2.318 billion investment in Cayman Islands funds back in 2012 for client Brazen Sky - 1MDB's wholly-owned unit incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and the entity that carried out the investment offshore.

Typically, portfolio statements, which provide information on the value and performance of investments, are issued to clients by the investment manager, in this instance, it should have been Hong Kong-based Bridge Partners Asset Management as well as Australia's Avestra which entered the picture later.

When contacted to confirm or deny if the bank had issued these portfolio reports for 1MDB's investments, a BSI Singapore spokesman declined comment, citing confidentiality.

On Wednesday, Malaysia's Ministry of Finance issued a statement that 1MDB's cash of US$1.103 billion, the second tranche of total funds of US$2.32 billion invested in Cayman Islands is being kept in BSI Singapore. The first tranche of US$1.22 billion was redeemed and repatriated late last year and has since been "substantially utilised", according to 1MDB's latest financial statement.

The funds for the Cayman Islands investment followed a complex series of corporate transactions by 1MDB involving a joint venture firm it had set up with PetroSaudi International (PSI).

Documents reveal that four months after 1MDB sold and converted its stake in the venture, 1MDB PetroSaudi (1MDB PS), into Islamic notes of US$1.2 billion in 2010, the state-owned firm ploughed a further US$500 million to subscribe for more Murabaha notes issued by the venture.

The funds were meant for a proposed investment of a 4.23 per cent stake in French energy giant GDF Suez. The joint "investment opportunity" was proposed to 1MDB in July 2010 by PSI, which claimed that it could acquire the stake in the French state-controlled firm at a discount for a total of US$2.5 billion and that it would be a "strategic fit" and could "assist in transforming the Malaysian economy", given the French firm's technology and capital expertise.

PSI is helmed by Saudi businessman Tarek Obaid who founded the oil and gas investment firm with reportedly Prince Turki Abdullah Al Saud, the seventh son of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. Following King Abdullah's death and a reshuffle in January this year, Prince Turki relinquished his post as governor of Riyadh.

It is unclear if the proposed investment involving a global giant listed on Euronext Paris with a current market value of 45 billion euros (S$65.86 billion) eventually happened; this investment has not been publicly disclosed by 1MDB nor can it be gleaned from GDF Suez's shareholder profile in the annual reports.

The commercial benefits are also unclear as, unlike a straight forward equity investment, 1MDB will not enjoy the upside from a potential price appreciation in GDF Suez's shares.

The proposal, led by 1MDB's then chief executive Shahrol Halmi - he left the firm in 2013 to join Pemandu, a government unit tasked with the country's economic reforms - was prepared by 1MDB chief investment officer Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil to the board in early July 2010.

It is understood that Malaysia's central bank approved 1MDB's request for a foreign currency borrowing of US$500 million to subscribe to 1MDB PS's Murabaha notes - Murabaha is a cost-plus-profit deal and one of the most common and deemed the easiest methods of Islamic financing.

Documents also reveal that 10 months later, Mr Shahrol sought approval from 1MDB's shareholder, the Ministry of Finance, to invest a further US$330 million for the Murabaha facility to utilise the proceeds for "strategic international investments". 1MDB planned to make a drawdown from a facility agreement with AmBank Bhd and Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia and for the funds to be credited to an account at RBS Coutts Bank Ltd in Zurich, Switzerland. While Standard Chartered Malaysia did not provide the drawdown, AmBank did.

One year later, 1MDB's total investment of US$2.03 billion in Islamic notes was repaid for US$2.2 billion and following a series of corporate transactions, the proceeds were reinvested in a segregated portfolio company in Cayman Islands.

The move by 1MDB to invest its funds abroad drew much criticism, not least because of its mandate as a strategic development firm to woo foreign money into the country and galvanise economic activity.

Following intense pressure and doubts over the investments, 1MDB redeemed its offshore investments late last year.

1MDB's critics have long questioned the firm's rationale of keeping its money outside Malaysia, given its tight cashflow problems to service its hefty debts of some RM42 billion (S$15.7 billion) .

On Thursday, Malaysia's second Finance Minister Ahmad Husni Hanadziah said that the government had provided 1MDB a standby credit facility of RM950 million and admitted for the first time that the firm was facing cashflow problems, a clear signal of the firm's mounting woes.

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MPA dismisses Iceberg claims on Noble unit's malpractices

Straits Times
27 Mar 2015

CLAIMS by the Iceberg Research blog that commodity giant Noble was involved in "illegal activities" as part of its commercial operations were rejected by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA).

The MPA said claims that it cancelled a licence held by a Noble unit for supplying bunker fuel due to malpractice were false, according to trade publication Seatrade Global.

The allegations were made in Iceberg's third report on Noble, which was published last Saturday.

Iceberg said it had acted as a whistle-blower in 2013 when one of the people now associated with it reported Noble's commercial practices in Singapore to the MPA. "Noble had been associated with some less than reputable local companies," Iceberg said in its third report.

Iceberg claimed the MPA then told the Iceberg member that the information "validates some of our observations" and the decision was taken not to renew Noble's bunkering licence.

An MPA spokesman told Seatrade Global that its investigation of the unit, Noble Resources International, "did not find any malpractices". He added that Noble's licence was not renewed in September 2013 due to the unit not fulfilling licence obligations such as delivered volumes, and was not related to a breach of regulations.

The MPA also dismissed allegations by Iceberg that malpractice surrounding bunkering and involving Noble had continued after Noble's licence was cancelled and had eventually led to the collapse of OW Bunker last November.

OW Bunker, the world's biggest bunker supplier and Denmark's second-biggest listed firm by revenue, filed for bankruptcy in November 2014. It blamed fraud by two senior employees at a Singapore-based unit, Dynamic Oil Trading.

"The assertion by Iceberg Research that 'had the MPA acted on the information sent to them, this high-profile bankruptcy leaving hundreds of millions due to creditors unpaid could certainly have been avoided' is also untrue," the spokesman told Seatrade Global.

"No relevant information about OW Bunker, including from Iceberg Research, was furnished to the Singapore authorities before OW Bunker's bankruptcy."

Noble said on Monday that it had started legal proceedings in the Hong Kong High Court against former credit analyst Arnaud Vagner, the person it identified as the mastermind of Iceberg Research.

RENNIE WHANG

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Smear campaign: Singtel may face legal action

Straits Times
19 Mar 2015
Irene Tham

STARHUB is exploring taking legal action against rival Singtel over an online smear campaign last June, which Singtel has apologised for and distanced itself from.

The controversy first became public after blogger Wendy Cheng, better known as Xiaxue, posted on her website last week that social media agency Gushcloud had instructed its bloggers to bad-mouth StarHub and M1 as part of Singtel's e-campaign.

"We have written to Singtel on this matter and are assessing our legal options," said Ms Jeannie Ong, StarHub's chief marketing officer.

The telco wants Singtel to take responsibility to ensure all false and disparaging comments created and proliferated by its staff and Gushcloud are "retracted and corrected".

"Such marketing tactics are unethical and we do not condone such negative campaigns," said Ms Ong.

On Tuesday, Singtel and Gushcloud apologised for the marketing campaign that disparaged its rivals. Singtel explained that its marketing standards that forbid negative campaigns were not followed, and that the incident was an "isolated" one.

An M1 spokesman said it had noted Singtel's apology, but "will explore further action if necessary".

Lawyers said this includes taking legal action against Singtel and Gushcloud for possible defamation.

Separately, the Infocomm Development Authority is investigating to see if its Telecom Competition Code, imposed on all licensees, was breached.

Last Saturday, Ms Cheng posted a leaked 2014 e-mail from Gushcloud to its bloggers instructing them how to create messages targeted at StarHub and M1. For instance, they were asked to "complain/lament" about the two telcos' network connections and services.

The aim was to promote a Singtel youth mobile plan, with Gushcloud's bloggers receiving up to $4,000 in cash incentives, among other benefits, for successful sign-ups.

Ms Cheng also posted on her website samples of these complaints targeted at StarHub and M1. One such complaint read: "I've really been annoyed by the terrible connection I've been getting from M1 through these years. From constantly having no connections at Zouk to having my line cut off when I'm on the line (sometimes important business talks)..."

Another sample read: "You know what? I'm finally sick and tired of StarHub's poor reception and network connections!"

Lawyers contacted said Singtel and the bloggers engaged could be liable for defamation.

Lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson, said the case could be one of "conspiracy to injure".

"However, StarHub and M1 would need to show that they sustained damage to their business as a result," said Mr Leong. "This is because the complaints may be genuine and what Singtel and Gushcloud did was to precipitate a public airing of the complaints."

itham@sph.com.sg

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Syariah Court plan to protect divorcees' kids

Straits Times
13 Mar 2015
Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

MUSLIM couples on the brink of a break-up have to give the Syariah Court their plan on caring for the children after the divorce.

The scheme will start this year for parents of children under 14, and will be extended to those with children up to the age of 18 from 2017, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim announced.

The move aims to better protect the welfare of children whose parents are seeking divorce. The court, which administers divorce and inheritance cases based on Islamic family law, will work with other agencies to aid divorcing couples.

Dr Yaacob told the House he was heartened by the Syariah Court's marriage counselling programme, started in 2004 to give couples a shot at reconciliation. "(It) is over and beyond what the Syariah Court set out to do - to settle divorces amicably and deliver just outcomes," he said.

"Yet it reflects the commitment of (the court), like the rest of our Malay/Muslim organisations, to improve constantly to serve the needs of the community."

Under this programme, the Syariah Court has worked with 15 groups to counsel over 27,000 couples contemplating divorce. More than 40 per cent changed their minds, choosing to stay together, Dr Yaacob said.

NUR ASYIQIN MOHAMAD SALLEH

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Penang chief wins defamation suit, awarded $227k in total

Straits Times
27 Mar 2015

KUALA LUMPUR - Three Umno-linked newspapers and a senior leader of Malay supremacy group Perkasa have been ordered to pay Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng RM610,000 (around S$227,000) for defamation over a statement accusing him of spying for Singapore.

Written by Perkasa information chief Ruslan Kassim and published on pribumiperkasa.com, the statement claimed that Mr Lim revealed state secrets to a People's Action Party (PAP) leader during a meeting in Singapore in August 2011.

The New Straits Times (NST), Berita Harian (BH) and Utusan then picked up Mr Ruslan's statement, which was released in October 2011, in their news reports.

The statement alleged that Mr Lim and two Malaysian businessmen, Datuk Azman Yahya and Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan, had dinner with a senior PAP leader in Singapore. It questioned whether the three men had "leaked national secrets" to the PAP leader during the meeting.

High Court Justice Nor Bee Ariffin yesterday said the dailies had practised irresponsible journalism because they had not verified the report with Mr Lim.

"Instead, they hurried in publishing the article even though the dinner took place two months before Ruslan's press release," The Malaysian Insider website quoted the judge as saying.

The court ordered Perkasa to pay Mr Lim RM150,000 in damages. New Straits Times Press, which owns both NST and BH, and Utusan were told to pay RM200,000 each. Mr Lim was also awarded a total cost of RM60,000.

The Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general filed the suit in mid-2012, seeking damages of RM15 million.

During the trial in February last year, he declared his loyalty to the country in the High Court.

"I have no national secrets as I am not a federal leader," he said.

In his statement of claim, he also charged that the allegations against him were malicious.

He claimed that because he is from an opposition party, the defendants - being aligned with Umno - had an agenda to damage his credibility to win back Penang.

DAP has been in charge of Penang since the 2008 general election.

Mr Ruslan said he would file an appeal against the verdict.

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Minister's decision on SMC case a considered one: Forum

Straits Times
19 Mar 2015

WE REFER to the letters by Dr Ho Ting Fei ("Lessons for professional regulatory bodies"; last Thursday) and Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan ("Restoring confidence in medical disciplinary process"; Tuesday) concerning the recent court decision arising from disciplinary proceedings against Dr Lawrence Ang.

The Medical Registration Act allows both patients and doctors who are dissatisfied with the decision of the Singapore Medical Council's complaints committee in relation to a disciplinary complaint to appeal to the health minister.

This serves as an important avenue to protect the interests of patients and doctors alike, by ensuring that all disciplinary matters are dealt with in as fair and impartial a manner as possible.

The minister may either uphold the complaints committee's decision or refer the matter for a disciplinary inquiry before a disciplinary committee/tribunal.

The decision in each appeal is a carefully considered one that is made after giving full consideration to all relevant information presented, including the views of the complaints committee, and additional expert opinions, if appropriate.

Of the 68 appeals to the minister processed between 2010 and last year, seven (about 10 per cent) were referred for disciplinary inquiry before a disciplinary committee/tribunal. For the remaining 61 appeals, the decisions of the complaints committee were upheld.

The Ministry of Health respects and acknowledges the court's ruling and comments in Dr Ang's case.

We will review our processes to further streamline them.

Lim Bee Khim (Ms)

Director

Corporate Communications

Ministry of Health

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I never spent beyond my means: Ex-tour guide

Straits Times
13 Mar 2015
Toh Yong Chuan

YES, he did buy some luxury items, take his family on holidays and even stayed at the five-star Hilton in Osaka, Japan.

But former China tour guide Yang Yin maintains that these expenses came from money given to him willingly by a rich Singaporean widow because she saw him as her "grandson".

He insists he did not spend beyond his means, even if the means were largely down to the widow's generosity.

In the defence his lawyers filed with the High Court on Wednesday, Yang rejected accusations that he worked his way into the life of 88-year-old Chung Khin Chun because he coveted her wealth.

Instead, it was the widow who started to give him smaller amounts first - for things such as English lessons and a car in China - before giving him enough to buy a condominium.

An explanation was also given for a $500,000 bank transfer Madam Chung made to Yang's father in China in 2010. The money was for Yang's father to buy a painting by prominent Chinese artist Xu Beihong on behalf of Madam Chung. The painting has since been seized by the Commercial Affairs Department.

The defence papers were filed in relation to a lawsuit by the widow's niece, 61-year-old tour agency owner Hedy Mok.

Acting on behalf of her aunt, Madam Mok alleges in court papers that Yang manipulated the elderly woman, who was diagnosed with dementia last year, into handing over control of her wealth. She also alleges that he used the widow's money to indulge in a lavish lifestyle.

The saga first became public news last September after Madam Mok evicted Yang, his wife and his young daughter from Madam Chung's $30 million bungalow in Gerald Crescent, off Yio Chu Kang Road.

Later that month, Yang was arrested. He was charged in October with faking receipts at his music and dance school here. The 41-year-old, currently in remand, also faces two counts of criminal breach of trust for allegedly misappropriating $1.1 million from Madam Chung.

Madam Mok is also trying to get a new will by Madam Chung recognised. This will is supposed to replace a previous one in which the widow left everything to Yang. He is contesting this application.

The former tour guide claimed he met Madam Chung and her husband, Dr Chou Sip King, in 2006. Dr Chou died in 2007.

In 2008, Yang was Madam Chung's tour guide during a trip to Beijing. During the trip, he claims, Madam Chung asked him to be her "grandson".

He continued to keep in touch with her when she returned to Singapore - speaking to each other for up to 40 minutes every week - and later started visiting her here, the papers said.

It was Madam Chung who wanted him to remain in Singapore for longer periods.

Yang was advised to set up a business to get an employment pass. Madam Chung gave him the money for this, he claims.

According to Yang's 26-page defence, Madam Chung had transferred $4,000 to him after her holiday, possibly as a "generous" tip. There was a $12,000 Chinese New Year

hongbao and $40,000 for Yang to buy a car in China so he can "get used to driving" before coming to Singapore to take care of Madam Chung.

Then he used $300,000 of Madam Chung's money, which was "given to him as a gift", to buy a unit at The Shore Residences in Amber Road in 2010.

He later sold it for $1.4 million, according to the papers.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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The myth of trade-offs: Forum

Straits Times
27 Mar 2015
Calvin Cheng

THE Western press has been relentless in trotting out the opinion that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had built Singapore's undeniable economic success while trading off fundamental civil liberties.

Much as I understand that it is in the West's fundamental DNA to assert certain inalienable freedoms, as a Singaporean, I strenuously object that there has been any such trade-off.

Some of my Western friends who have never lived here for any period of time have sometimes self-righteously proclaimed, no doubt after reading the cliches in the media, that they could never live under the "stifling and draconian" laws that we have.

My answer to them is simple: Are you the sort to urinate in public when a toilet isn't available, the sort to vandalise public property, the sort that would leave a mess in a public toilet that you share with others? Are you the sort who would throw rubbish on the streets for others to pick up, the sort that would stick gum on train doors or leave them on the floor to dry up into one ugly black scar on the pavement? Are you perhaps a drug smuggler? Because we execute those. Or maybe you molest women? Because we would whip you. Are you the sort that would get drunk and then get into fights and maybe beat up a stranger in the bar? Back home you may get away with it but if you are that sort, then maybe this place isn't for you.

In short, are you a civilised person who wants to live in a civilised society? Because the things you cannot do in Singapore are precisely the sort that civilised people should not do anyway. If you are, you have nothing to fear.

Or maybe like the Western press has kept saying these few days in their commentaries on Mr Lee, you fear that you could be locked up because we do not have freedom of speech?

Do you want to come here and insult other people's race and religion? Maybe these are fundamental freedoms in your country, but in ours, because we have experienced deadly racial riots at the birth of our country, these are a no-no. But then again, why would you want to purposely offend others?

Or maybe you want to tell lies about our public figures, accuse them of corruption when you have no evidence to back them up, or accuse them of stealing, cheating, or all manner of untruths? If so, then be prepared to be sued for libel. Even if Western societies think that you can say these things about your political figures, we don't and we are better for it.

And those political opponents of Mr Lee who have been bankrupted, allegedly because they were such formidable foes? No such thing. Mr J.B. Jeyeratnam and Dr Chee Soon Juan may be the martyrs much adored by the Western press, but have you heard of Mr Chiam See Tong, the longest-serving opposition Member of Parliament who won five consecutive elections against Mr Lee's People's Action Party? Or Mr Low Thia Khiang, who not only won five consecutive general elections, but in the last one in 2011, also led a team that unseated the incumbent Minister for Foreign Affairs and our first female Cabinet minister?

Both these opposition MPs have never been sued, much less bankrupted. In fact, Mr Chiam won several libel lawsuits against Mr Lee's ministers. You would never have heard of them, or have chosen not to, because it doesn't fit the Western narrative that legitimate opposition was stifled by Mr Lee through lawsuits. It doesn't suit your narrative of trade-offs. The fact is that every single opposition politician successfully sued for libel engaged in the type of politics that we do not want, the kind founded on vicious lies being told in the name of political campaigning.

What about detention without trial? Again and again ad nauseam, the Western press has used the example of Operation Cold Store to bolster its narrative of Mr Lee as an autocrat, where 111 left-wing politicians were arrested on suspicion of being communist in 1964.

But what about Operation Demetrius, where in 1971, 342 persons suspected of being involved with the IRA were detained without trial by the British Army? Or closer to the present where thousands have been interred without trial by the United States in Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of being terrorists? Firstly, detention without trial is not something used only by the Singapore Government, but countries need to make their own judgment about applying such laws when they feel their security is threatened and the normal judicial process is inadequate; in the 1960s and 70s, communists inciting armed revolution were Singapore's greatest threat.

Whether those people were indeed communists will be a question no doubt debated endlessly by historians, in the same way as whether the 342 in Northern Ireland were indeed IRA members, or the thousands in Guantanamo Bay were indeed terrorists.

So where is the trade-off? How are we unfree?

I tell you what freedom is.

Freedom is being able to walk on the streets unmolested in the wee hours in the morning, to be able to leave one's door open and not fear that one would be burgled. Freedom is the woman who can ride buses and trains alone; freedom is not having to avoid certain subway stations after night falls. Freedom is knowing our children can go to school without fear of drugs, or being mowed down by some insane person with a gun. Freedom is knowing that we are not bound by our class, our race, our religion, and we can excel for the individuals that we are - the freedom to accomplish. Freedom is living in one of the least corrupt societies in the world, knowing that our ability to get things done is not going to be limited by our ability to pay someone. Freedom is fresh air and clean streets, because nothing is more inimical to our liberty of movement than being trapped at home because of suffocating smog.

These are the freedoms that Singaporeans have, freedoms that were built on the vision and hard work of Mr Lee, our first Prime Minister. And we have all of these, these liberties, while also being one of the richest countries in the world.

There was no trade-off.

Not for us.

The writer is a media entrepreneur and former Nominated MP

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Two women jailed for life for drug trafficking

Straits Times
19 Mar 2015
Selina Lum

Malaysian and Ghanaian spared death penalty in Ice smuggling case

A MALAYSIAN kindergarten teacher who tried to take a suitcase containing almost 1.9kg of methamphetamine or Ice out of Singapore - with her seven- month-old baby in tow - was jailed for life yesterday.

Komal Rihan Nand Kumar, 31, had been hysterical when she was stopped at Woodlands Checkpoint three years ago. Yesterday, she broke down in tears during sentencing in the High Court.

Also sentenced to life imprisonment for trafficking was Ghanaian mother of three Fauziya Mohammed, 35, who passed the bag to Komal at a hotel in Desker Road.

Both were spared the death penalty after they were issued certificates stating that they had substantively helped disrupt drug trafficking activities.

Fauziya testified that she travelled from Ghana to Niger to meet a man called "Young" who would help her ailing clothes business if she went on a trip for him. At his home, Young told her to pack her clothes into a suitcase.

Young checked in the bag at the airport and gave her air tickets, a SIM card and US$3,000. She flew to Morocco, then Doha. She arrived in Singapore on Feb 20, 2012 and checked into a hotel.

The next day, she was told by Young over the phone that someone wearing a green T-shirt and carrying a baby would collect the bag from her at the hotel.

That evening, Komal collected the suitcase. She then took a taxi from Queen Street to Malaysia. The cabby helped her put the suitcase in the boot as she was carrying the baby.

At the checkpoint, the taxi was stopped. As the suitcase was being searched, Komal started crying loudly, claiming it was not her bag. She started having breathing difficulties and tried to bite her tongue. The checkpoint officers tried to calm her down.

The suitcase was found to contain close to 1.9kg of Ice.

Fauziya's defence was that she did not know the bag held drugs.

Komal claimed her Nigerian husband had asked her to collect the bag. She said she trusted him even though he had previously told her to collect a bag containing white powder in Cambodia.

Her child is now at a welfare home in Malaysia.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Bill tabled to vary HDB lease infringement penalties

Business Times
13 Mar 2015
Lee Meixian

[Singapore] A BILL was tabled on Thursday that, among other things, proposes to vary the quantum of penalties that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) may impose in lease infringement cases, depending on severity.

If passed, the penalty will be capped at S$50,000. Currently, HDB may compulsorily acquire the flat or impose a penalty on the flat owners. The penalty is fixed for each type of infringement. The bill for first reading was introduced by Desmond Lee, Minister of State (National Development), on behalf of National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

HDB yesterday said that for unauthorised subletting, the current penalty, in lieu of compulsory acquisition, is set at 15 per cent of the flat's price.

If a HDB flat dweller is found to own a private residential property during the five-year minimum occupation period, the penalty is 5 per cent.

What HDB is suggesting then is "calibrated levers", adjusted according to the severity of the offence. For example, a HDB spokesman told BT, cases of illegal subletting that also cause problems of disturbance and overcrowding are deemed more serious than missing a procedure in applying for a permit.

The bill also proposes to give HDB officers more powers in investigating lease infringements. It seeks to give them more powers to enter premises with a warrant, take written statements, get photographs, audio or video recordings of the flat if needed, and also to require people to give information or documents that are relevant to the investigation. Currently, officers depend on flat owners, occupiers or subtenants to let them into the flat. They also sometimes face refusal to provide written statements or furnish particulars.

leemx@sph.com.sg

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Reformative training for underage sex

Straits Times
27 Mar 2015
Elena Chong

A 20-YEAR-OLD who had sex with two underage victims after befriending them on Facebook was sentenced to reformative training yesterday.

Jonathan Chua Jia Loone was on probation for underage sex when he committed three fresh offences, having committed another five offences earlier while on bail.

After he admitted to three of the eight charges, the court had called for pre-sentence and reformative training reports.

Probation was ruled out for the full-time national serviceman with the Singapore Police Force, who was found suitable for reformative training, which lasts between 18 months and 36 months.

The court heard that the first victim was 14 when she befriended Chua on Facebook in June last year. They met soon after.

On the second occasion, he took her to a toilet for the handicapped at Serangoon Community Centre for sex.

A few days later, they had sex again at a staircase in a block of flats near Hougang Polyclinic. Chua was waiting to see a doctor at the polyclinic but decided to engage in sexual intimacy when he realised the queue was rather long.

After Chua befriended the second victim on Facebook last September, he asked the 14-year-old to be his girlfriend but she declined. He sent a picture of his private parts to her, and she did likewise.

On Sept 18, they met at VivoCity. He brought her to a toilet for the handicapped, where he sexually abused her. She made a police report about two months later, while the KK Women's and Children's Hospital had referred the first victim's case to the police in September.

Chua was placed on 18 months' probation in July last year for two similar offences.

Quoting from a probation officer's report, the prosecution said Chua's conduct in national service was "less than exemplary". He was not forthcoming with the probation officer, has a pro-criminal mindset, knew the consequences of his actions and thought the victims would not report him.

The prosecutor also highlighted aggravating factors such as an element of sexual exploitation in this case, and the fact that Chua did not use any contraception.

elena@sph.com.sg

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MAS, CAD to jointly investigate market misconduct

Business Times
18 Mar 2015
Kenneth Lim

Decision to pursue civil or criminal action to be decided after probe is concluded

[Singapore] TIES between the Singapore police and the nation's financial regulators are set to become closer, with a new framework to merge investigations of market misconduct.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Singapore Police Force's Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) will jointly investigate market misconduct from now on, in an effort to streamline and strengthen enforcement, the two agencies announced on Tuesday.

MAS and CAD previously worked independently in their probes into insider trading and market manipulation, based on an initial assessment of the nature of the offence; MAS tackled cases likely to result in a civil penalty, and CAD, those likely to entail criminal prosecution.

Now, both agencies will investigate potential misconduct together right from the start. The decision on whether to pursue civil or criminal action will be decided after investigations are concluded.

The burden of proof for civil penalty actions is typically lower than for criminal charges, requiring the regulator to show wrongdoing only on a balance of probabilities. Criminal charges must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

MAS and CAD will consolidate their investigative resources and expertise for such cases. MAS officers taking part in joint investigations will be gazetted as CAD officers, giving them the same criminal powers of investigation as officers from the police white-collar crime unit. No changes to the existing law are necessary, MAS said.

The Securities Investors Association of Singapore (SIAS) welcomed the change. Its president David Gerald said: "This, to me, is a good thing for the market because I would expect investigations to be expeditious and it strengthens the process of investigations. When there's coordination and collaboration, there'll be better resources for investigations."

Lawyer Wendell Wong of Drew & Napier said that the change should also improve consistency. He hoped that it would help in setting sanctions between the civil and criminal regimes. "There should be a calibrated approach in terms of appropriate sanctions or punishments."

The joint investigations bring CAD closer to another regulator of Singapore's financial markets. Singapore Exchange (SGX) had announced on Feb 27 that current CAD director Tan Boon Gin would become its chief regulatory officer in June.

Those moves came about 11/2 years after the October 2013 penny stock rout, when a crash in the prices of a number of stocks, including Asiasons Capital, Blumont Group and LionGold Corp, wiped out billions of dollars of market value.

CAD began an investigation into that event in April 2014; the probe is ongoing.

Asked about the status of the investigation, MAS referred to a November 2014 statement that MAS and the police were "working closely in the investigation, and committed to completing it expeditiously".

kenlim@sph.com.sg

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Boustead wins suit over Libya contract

Business Times
12 Mar 2015
Andrea Soh

It put a halt to project when civil war broke out in 2011 but was sued by Bahrain bank for payment

[Singapore] ENGINEERING and infrastructure firm Boustead Singapore has won a US$18.8 million dispute with Bahrain bank Arab Banking Corporation.

The four-year-long dispute, involving lawsuits and counter-suits by both parties, was brought to a close on Wednesday, when the Singapore High Court dismissed the bank's claim against the firm as "unconscionable".

The dispute had started from a S$300 million contract that Boustead had entered into in 2007 through a joint venture to build a township in Libya.

Then, the company, through Libyan bank Arab Banking Corporation, provided two separate counter-guarantees for advance payment and performance to Libya's Bank of Commerce and Development.

The latter bank was then to pay out these amounts, comprising US$3.7 million for the advance payment guarantee and US$15 million for the performance guarantee, to a government entity Organisation for Development of Administrative Centres (ODAC), which had awarded the contract to the joint venture.

When civil war broke out in the country in February 2011, following the revolutions that had taken place in Tunisia and Egypt earlier at the start of the Arab Spring, Boustead pulled out of the country, evacuating 31 foreign staff and putting a halt to the project.

While invoking the force majeure clause on the contract with ODAC, Boustead also obtained a temporary injunction from the courts to stop Arab Banking Corporation from carrying out the guarantee payments.

But faced with repeated requests by the Bank of Commerce and Development to either extend or liquidate the counter-guarantees, Arab Banking Corporation in September 2012 demanded for payment from Boustead, and eventually sued the company.

The High Court on Wednesday decided that Arab Banking Corporation was not to receive payment from Boustead, and not to make payment to Bank of Commerce and Development.

"The circumstances are such that it would be unsconscionable for Arab Banking Corporation to receive payment of monies from Boustead, which will eventually be paid to ODAC," said the judge Woo Bih Li.

The Bank of Commerce and Development had made these demands "fraudulently in the reckless sense", he added, and the Arab Banking Corporation had knowledge of this fraud.

Boustead had earlier made provisions for S$18.8 million in relation to its financial exposure in Libya, but this amount did not include the counter-guarantees as the company had been confident of recovering.

Separately, the company also announced on Wednesday that its wholly-owned subsidiary Boustead Projects has been appointed as the designer and will design, build and lease a property at one-north to a multinational corporation.

This would be the first contract that the company has won under the Boustead Development Partnership that was established in August last year to expand its industrial property capabilities.

The counter shed 1 cent, or 0.6 per cent, to close at S$1.655 on Wednesday, after a trading halt was lifted in the afternoon following the announcements.

sandrea@sph.com.sg

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Mastermind who staged fake accident gets 38 months' jail

Straits Times
26 Mar 2015
Elena Chong

A FORMER bus driver who masterminded a staged accident involving four vehicles and claims of about $57,000 was jailed for three years and two months yesterday.

Mohammed Eunos Zakaria, 39, was convicted of six charges of cheating by orchestrating an accident along Sembawang Drive on July 27, 2009.

Eunos, who works as a chauffeur, was found guilty after a two-day trial of conspiracy to cheat three companies - Rentokil Initial Singapore, NTUC Income and Tokio Marine Insurance.

The companies were deceived into believing that a van and three other cars were involved in a collision, with claims for injury and damage amounting to $57,132 filed. The total payouts involving Eunos was $25,232.

Eight other accomplices pleaded guilty last year and were each jailed between six weeks and six months.

Seeking a jail term of at least 38 months, Deputy Public Prosecutors Leong Weng Tat, Nicholas Khoo and Nathaniel Khng said in their submissions that Eunos played a pivotal role in the staged accident.

The evidence clearly showed that he was one of the organising minds for the accident, they said.

Of the four vehicles involved, Eunos procured three through his contacts.

Mr Leong said Eunos was also involved in the actual direction and execution of the staged accident, and later followed up by getting the documentation required for the false claims.

Without Eunos getting the three vehicles during planning and conceptualising stages, it would have been impossible for the group of cheats to even stage the fake accident, Mr Leong added.

Another aggravating factor is the difficulty of detection, he said.

The prosecution also submitted that Eunos told lies in court and made unfounded allegations against the law enforcement officers.

He showed "utter lack of remorse" by interfering with police investigations in trying to tamper with witnesses.

District Judge Liew Thiam Leng said the accident had been well planned.

"The manner in which the accidents were staged was well arranged," he said.

It is difficult to detect such fake accidents as they appear to be like any other accident.

Judge Liew said Eunos was involved "from the beginning to the very end".

The victims in such fraud cases are insurers and the public, Mr Leong said.

He quoted a newspaper report that said fraudulent motor insurance claims has resulted in higher insurance costs across the board, and affected not just vehicle owners but also the public.

Eunos could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined on each charge.

elena@sph.com.sg

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US tax law: Proposed regulations amended

Straits Times
18 Mar 2015
Grace Leong

AMENDMENTS to proposed regulations to help financial institutions here comply with a new United States tax law being imposed worldwide were released by the Government yesterday.

The changes stemmed from a feedback session that was held late last year over the local implications of the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca).

This Act requires all financial institutions outside of the US to regularly submit information on financial accounts held by American citizens to the US Internal Revenue Service.

Financial institutions face a 30 per cent withholding tax on certain gross payments received from the US if they fail to comply - a regulation that worries local institutions.

The Government has rejected suggestions to exempt Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS) accounts and all investments made using SRS funds from Fatca reporting obligations.

It noted that these accounts do not meet the US criteria for exemption.

There were 567 suggestions received over the feedback period, the Government said yesterday, with 208 being seen as helping advance the policy objectives for implementing the Singapore-US Fatca Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA).

These were incorporated into the regulations and Fatca E-Tax guide. The rest were rejected.

The IGA will allow financial institutions here to report the required information to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras), which will in turn pass it on to the US.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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IP rights: Litigation should be last resort

Straits Times
12 Mar 2015
Mark Lim & Diyanah Baharudin

Collaboration or 'expert determination' are alternatives to litigation

HIGH-PROFILE patent and trade mark disputes involving Singapore companies have put the spotlight on the use of litigation as the way to resolve intellectual property (IP) cases. Disputes that have hit the headlines here include a trade mark row involving the exclusive Ku De Ta club at Marina Bay Sands SkyPark, and another between tea company Tsit Wing (Hong Kong) and Singapore-based TWG Tea.

But there is much to weigh up before pursuing a court tussle. Other ways exist of resolving a dispute. For example, Singapore in April last year introduced the use of "expert determination" in patent proceedings heard by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos). Under this approach, complex patent issues that are in dispute can be referred to experts in the relevant technical area.

Any company thinking of taking action against a competitor should consider this decision within the larger framework of its product strategies and business models. For example, is it to stop or delay the launch of a competing product? Is it to secure licensing fees? For some companies, patent cross-licensing agreements can be an attractive proposition. Google and Samsung, two of the world's most impactful technology companies, have successfully negotiated patent cross-licensing deals with their competitors (and each other) in a bid to increase productivity and eliminate the threat of litigation.

Notably, in January last year Swedish communications technology company Ericsson announced it had reached an agreement with rival Samsung that ended all ongoing related legal disputes between them and included global patent cross-licensing of cellular technologies between them.

Another viable option is R&D collaboration, through which companies bring in external technologies or ideas through joint-venture agreements. For companies that face a lack of resources, knowledge or market reach, this can lower the cost of driving innovation and accelerate time for a new product to be brought to market.

If a dispute cannot be resolved through such agreements, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) should be considered. ADR options include negotiations between the parties, mediation where a trusted third party facilitates such negotiations and Ipos' "expert determination" option for patent disputes, where a mutually agreed-upon third party makes a decision on specific technical issues in the case.

Special counsel Dan Collopy and patent engineer Serene Ong of IP firm Spruson & Ferguson note: "With the introduction of this new procedure, it is more encouraging for applicants to acquire and enforce their patents in Singapore, knowing that there is a variety of options parties can pursue in resolving potential disputes."

If litigation is the only option, the next question is where to do so. IP rights are essentially "territorial". When a party registers a trade mark or is granted a patent in one country, it has rights only within that country. However, a company may choose to apply for corresponding rights in the countries in which it operates. Consequently, a company with IP rights all over the world may be exposed to multinational IP disputes.

A high-profile example is the patent dispute between California-based Apple and South Korean rival Samsung. The companies were embroiled in prolonged patent wars in more than eight countries, with each accusing the other of infringing patents for smartphones and tablets. Last August, they agreed to settle all patent suits outside the United States.

Apart from the strength of the case in each country, deciding where to initiate action involves pragmatic questions such as the location of the target's manufacturing facilities, major markets and assets. Also, how quickly can a case be heard in a country and what are the remedies (including interim search, stop or freezing orders) which can be obtained?

Once the countries of interest have been identified, it is important to decide where proceedings in those countries should be brought: the courts, the IP office, or possibly the competition or trade authorities.

It will be necessary to identify an officer who will have overall charge of the litigation strategy. It is advisable to engage an external lawyer to coordinate this strategy, and ensure that consistent positions are taken in all countries.

Consider the recent dispute between the partners of Bali's Ku De Ta beachfront club and its Singapore namesake at the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark. The Singapore Court of Appeal ruled on Dec 22 last year that the "Ku De Ta" trademarks registered in Singapore should be transferred to the Bali partnership. These marks had been registered by a company set up by Australian businessman Arthur Chondros, who was one of the partners of Ku De Ta Bali.

In deciding, the Court of Appeal placed considerable importance on statements made by Mr Chondros in Australian proceedings, which showed that he had always viewed and understood the right to use the "Ku De Ta" name as belonging to the Bali partnership as a whole and not just to him alone.

Clearly, inconsistency in positions or actions across different countries may adversely affect proceedings in another country.

Overall, then, companies looking to assert their IP rights must take into account the objectives of their action, and weigh the various routes they can take to achieve their desired outcomes.

Value-creating options such as cross-licensing, R&D collaboration, or alternative dispute resolution should be the foremost considerations, with litigation being the last resort.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The first writer is a senior legal counsel at the IP Academy, and director of the hearings and mediation group at the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore. The second writer is a legal counsel at Ipos.

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Carpooling sites emerge after new laws passed

Straits Times
26 Mar 2015
Christopher Tan

NEW carpooling websites have popped up after new laws were passed three weeks ago allowing motorists to collect money for giving rides.

Ryde and SwiftBack are the two newest kids on the block, joining other carpooling sites such as ShareTransport.sg, Tripda, Executive Car Pool Club, SinJorean CarPool Group and Carpool.

Between them, there are several thousand people who have signed up as either car owners offering to give others a ride, or commuters who want to hitch a ride from someone with a car.

Harvard Business School graduate Terence Zou, 40, started mobile app Ryde, which pairs up the two sides in "real time".

He has partnered insurer Aviva to offer coverage to those who share rides, saying it is possibly the first such coverage in Asia.

Ryde also offers women-only pairings, as some women want to carpool only with other women, he said.

Mr Zou, who is Singaporean, said Ryde is managed by a team of five. "We want to be the next Airbnb and Uber of Asia, to be created out here from Singapore."

The new laws state that it is illegal for drivers to solicit passengers on the road, in public spaces or in carparks.

A vehicle is primarily for the motorist's own use and not for the purpose of offering paid rides.

Also, the destinations of passengers must be clarified before the journey and drivers cannot offer more than two rides a day.

Lastly, the laws allow drivers to accept monetary compensation or payment in kind for offering rides - though it should not be for profit.

"The amount or the value of any benefit in kind that the person collects from the passenger as payment does not exceed the cost and expenses incurred for the carriage of the passenger," reads the statute.

If there is more than one passenger in the car, the total payment must not exceed the expenses incurred for the trip - such as the cost of fuel or Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges.

Architecture student Hyu Lim, 22, is one who has jumped on the carpooling bandwagon.

He took a break from university to work on a few technology start-ups, including SwiftBack.

"With MRT breakdowns, higher ERP charges and higher petrol duties hogging the news of late, we thought ride sharing would be a good idea," he said.

"It allows people to defray the cost of driving and is also good for the environment."

The Singaporean, who taught himself computer coding, said he is "hoping to build something that would change social, economic and environmental innovation".

Technopreneur Moh Hon Meng, 46, was among the first in the carpooling scene here. He started ShareTransport.sg in 2012.

He said there has been "a big spike in new users" since news of the new regulations broke in the first week of this month.

"Normally, we have about 400 new users a month. This month, the number stands at 1,474, and there are still a few days to go."

christan@sph.com.sg

 

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

 

DEFRAY COST OF DRIVING

With MRT breakdowns, higher ERP charges and higher petrol duties hogging the news of late, we thought ride sharing would be a good idea. It allows people to defray the cost of driving and is also good for the environment.

- Architecture student Hyu Lim, 22, who has jumped on the carpooling bandwagon


THE RULES

The new laws state that it is illegal for drivers to solicit passengers on the road, in public spaces or carparks.

A vehicle is primarily for the motorist's own use and not for the purpose of offering paid rides. The destinations of passengers must be clarified before the journey and drivers cannot offer more than two rides a day.

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

Shipping must be engaged in developing new UNCLOS agreement

Business Times
18 Mar 2015
David Hughes

THE shipping industry is in general now well aware of the environmental implications of its use of the sea. Over the past 30 years or so, regulations protecting the sea and atmosphere from the harmful effect of shipping operations have increased massively.

Right now the industry is getting used to the need to meet much stricter sulphur-in-fuel regulations in Emission Control Areas (ECAs), with a worldwide lower limit coming in at the turn of the decade. Meanwhile, the requirement to fit water ballast treatment equipment in almost the entire world fleet is occupying the minds of shipowners around the globe.

In the longer term, shipping is being required to act to reduce its carbon footprint as part of global efforts to mitigate global warming. This issue has already meant a huge effort on the part of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) to ensure that this area is regulated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

There is, however, another push for more regulation, coming from a different direction. Governments agreed recently that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should be expanded to include a new legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine life in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ).

The new ocean regulations are proposed to include: area-based management tools, such as marine planning and marine protected areas; environmental impact assessment (EIA) requirements; transfer of marine technology; managing marine genetic resources, including benefit-sharing.

The implications for shipping may not be immediately obvious but they could be profound. Fortunately, the World Ocean Council (WOC) is on the case. This is an organisation we are going to hear more from. WOC describes itself as "the only international, cross-sectoral alliance for private sector leadership and collaboration in Corporate Ocean Responsibility". It says it is working "to ensure ocean industries are informed and engaged in global ocean governance developments affecting business".

According to WOC, members to date include over 70 organisations from a wide range of ocean industries: oil and gas, shipping, seafood, fisheries, aquaculture, mining, renewable energy, ocean technology, maritime law, marine environmental services and other areas.

Significantly, WOC has the support of ICS whose secretary general Peter Hinchliffe said: "It is important that ocean industries are informed and constructively engaged in ocean governance developments.

Support merited

The WOC is providing this by monitoring, analysing and reporting on the ocean policy and planning on behalf of the ocean business community. The WOC merits the support and involvement of companies concerned about the future of their ocean operations."

There are big question marks over how these new ocean laws will affect companies currently or potentially operating in the high seas and deep seabed - shipping, oil and gas, cruise tourism, fishing, seabed mining, biotechnology, submarine cable, and others - as well those from associated support sectors, such as maritime legal, finance, and insurance companies.

The political decision to recommend proceeding with the new legally binding instrument on biodiversity in the ABNJ under UNCLOS was taken at the UN's 9th meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the ABNJ in New York in January 2015. The decision was to develop the draft text of a legally binding instrument and that the UN General Assembly should decide at its 72nd session in September 2017 to convene a formal intergovernmental conference to finalise the new ocean laws.

WOC says that, although these decisions are major steps forward towards expanding UNCLOS, there is still time for ocean industries to engage in this critical ocean governance process that will affect business access and operations.

The shipping industry's long experience of the development of environmental regulations at IMO points to the need to to do all it can to ensure policies and regulations are developed with full and balanced information, are based on good science and risk assessment, are practical and implementable.

It is also vital that operational issues affecting shipping are kept within IMO and do not end up being split between that UN agency and UNCLOS. It is to be hoped that shipping will not be hit by the flak of a turf war between them.

Now it just so happens that the next WOC Sustainable Ocean Summit will take place in Singapore on Nov 2-4. More information on the venue should be announced soon. This industry event, which is held only every two years, is taking place at a crucial time. November may seem a long way off but it is worth noting it in the diary.

Shipping needs to be fully engaged in the development of the new legally binding UNCLOS agreement. Otherwise the law of unintended consequences could mean well intentioned regulation adversely affecting commercial shipping.

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

Lessons for professional regulatory bodies: Forum

Straits Times
12 Mar 2015

TUESDAY'S report ("Why SMC was ordered to pay doctor's legal costs") raises various questions and thoughts.

First, I applaud the judges for a fair, just and honest ruling. It proves once more that our Singapore judicial system is beyond ranks and positions in its execution of justice.

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has much to learn, and needs to examine its deficiencies.

Despite having the full support and advice of qualified medical professionals, how did the disciplinary committee end up producing a charge that lacked clarity and making "a number of errors" in finding the doctor guilty, including taking into account "facts that it should not have considered"?

Hence, one worries whether the SMC has exercised and will continue to exercise full caution and fairness in handling every complaint and disciplinary action, in line with its professional role and responsibility.

The legal costs paid by the SMC will have a bearing on the annual fees paid by its members and consequently raise the costs of medical practice.

The SMC should seriously commit to heart the judges' comment that paying costs will "incentivise appropriate conduct in litigation". This is a good and timely reminder for the SMC.

A wrong charge, if not reversed, results not only in the unnecessary loss of income beyond a doctor's suspension, but also the loss of professional credibility.

The health minister's actions in ordering the hearing are also questionable.

Was there due diligence to examine all evidence and understand the case before ordering the disciplinary hearing, especially since the SMC's complaints committee had already found that the doctor had not been at fault?

Was adequate and appropriate advice from people with medical backgrounds given to the minister? Should the minister not bear some responsibility for the consequences?

I hope this case will be like a beacon shining light into dark corners and traps that can compromise our public regulatory systems.

Ho Ting Fei (Dr)


Background Story

PATIENTS SHOULD BEAR SOME COSTS IN A LOSS

The mother involved in the case where the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has been ordered to pay the doctor's legal fees had her complaint rejected by the SMC's complaints committee ("Why SMC was ordered to pay doctor's legal costs"; Tuesday). Yet, the mother chose to pursue the issue through a higher authority. Should there be a system where patients also bear part of the legal costs incurred, should the outcome not be in their favour? Otherwise, we may be inadvertently encouraging litigation against health professionals.

- Ng Pau Ling

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Pastor: I'm not an accounts-trained person

Straits Times
26 Mar 2015
Hoe Pei Shan

BEING no expert in accounting, Tan Ye Peng insisted he could not have been involved in any conspiracy to fake City Harvest Church (CHC) accounts.

He also claimed that as a dedicated servant, he would never do anything to harm the church - pointing out that he gave $400,000 from the sale of his house to CHC.

Into his third day on the stand, the church's deputy senior pastor denied charges by the prosecution that he had been part of a plan to defraud auditors by falsifying accounts, in a bid to cover up misuse of church funds.

"I'm not an accounts- trained person. In fact, when I was in university year one, I failed my accounts," said the 42-year-old yesterday, to chuckles from the courtroom.

He, along with founding pastor Kong Hee and four others, have been accused of misusing $50 million of the church's money to boost the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun.

Five, including Tan, are charged with channelling money from the church's building fund into sham bond investments issued by Xtron, the firm which managed Ms Ho's career, and glass manufacturer Firna. Tan, along with three others, then allegedly devised transactions to clear the sham bonds from the church's accounts to mislead auditors.

Tan, the fifth defendant to take the stand, has continually denied any wrongdoing, stressing how church leaders had constantly sought expert advice from lawyers and auditors in matters related to the funding of the Crossover project.

The Crossover was the church's plan to evangelise through Ms Ho's secular music.

Tan yesterday acknowledged that handwritten meeting notes by church finance manager Sharon Tan, another of the accused, had referred to the need to "clear bonds" off CHC's books.

But he said there had been nothing illegal about these plans, and that it was the church's auditors who preferred having "the bonds off CHC books to keep the accounts simple".

The use of the church's building fund to finance the Crossover was not an unauthorised act as charged by the prosecution, added Tan.

"In every aspect, we've never felt that we've done anything unauthorised," he said.

"Till today, church members come to me and say, pastor, hang in there. No one says pastor, we've been deceived."

He told the court that CHC never suffered any financial loss, as all of the church money used for the transactions "has been accounted for".

The money "has all come back", he said.

He also claimed that as a devoted church leader, he would never intend to cause any loss to CHC.

To illustrate his commitment, Tan highlighted how he even sold his house and gave $400,000 of the proceeds towards repaying the church's money.

This, on top of donating a separate $100,000 to Xtron in relation to the Crossover.

"I'm an ordinary man, I'm just a pastor, I just want to do the will of God, I just want to be faithful to the vision that God has given to us," said Tan.

"In all honesty, I would never do anything that would cause loss to the church... This is the church that I grew up in. This is my spiritual family."

The trial enters its 107th day today.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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

Standardise contracts between customers, businesses: Forum

Straits Times
18 Mar 2015

NOW and again, we read of cases where customers get into disputes with businesses over booking cancellation fees ("Case looks into wedding banquet cancellation fees"; Monday).

It is time for the industries and businesses to come up with some standard, which can serve as a guide that both parties - business and customer - can agree to right from the outset. This will definitely help mitigate disputes.

These agreements have to be contractual - possibly in the form of a taxable invoice for which a deposit is payable.

These contracts have to work both ways. Customers are at the mercy of businesses if such contracts are one sided.

What if the business fails to deliver as promised? Who protects the customers then?

Most customers just accept a full refund and walk away disappointed. There is no penalty at all for the businesses.

It is time for customers to receive some form of compensation when businesses fail to deliver, for whatever reason.

We must create a scenario where both parties enter into a contract with their eyes open and fully committed, and with each party knowing what to do if commitments are not honoured.

Lau Kim Lon

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Due diligence, legal advice needed: Forum

Straits Times
12 Mar 2015

IN A landmark decision, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a professional body, such as the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), cannot simply hide behind the fact that it was carrying out its public regulatory function and, therefore, be absolved from paying costs in the event it loses its case ("Why SMC was ordered to pay doctor's legal cost"; Tuesday).

The repercussion of this ruling is that professional bodies would be guided to exercise greater due diligence before taking their members to task, as they will be aware that they are liable for costs if they are held to have conducted their proceedings haphazardly.

The ruling may also deter professional bodies from pursuing cases that they are doubtful about, so as not to risk paying costs.

This is clearly not the outcome we want. To avoid such a scenario, professional bodies should be aided by legal counsel in complicated cases where the disciplinary committee members are clearly in doubt.

The Court of Appeal has also stated that the public prosecutor who exercises public "constitutional" functions does not enjoy absolute immunity from costs.

If even the office of the public prosecutor is subject to paying costs in the event it is held by the courts to have conducted a wrongful prosecution, then professional bodies should also be held to the same principles.

Rajasegaran Ramasamy

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DMX Tech probe finds 'irregular accounting practices'

Straits Times
26 Mar 2015
Jacqueline Woo

A PROBE by legal counsel in Hong Kong appointed by DMX Technologies, into an alleged offence involving two of its top executives, has turned up "irregular accounting practices".

The mainboard-listed firm, a digital media and software provider, said in a filing to the Singapore Exchange (SGX) on Tuesday that it had made a report to the Hong Kong police on Monday, in line with its counsel's advice.

DMX Technologies had said in a statement last month that the Hong Kong police were "investigating a suspected offence that took place in 2008", in which its executive director and chief executive Jismyl Teo and chief financial officer Skip Tang "may have involved the company".

According to the findings by the firm's Hong Kong counsel, the "irregularities" had taken place in 2008 and 2009 at two of the company's units.

Both Ms Teo and Mr Tang had been arrested on Feb 3 by Hong Kong's Commercial Crime Bureau. They were later released on bail.

The Hong Kong authorities have not laid any charges on the firm or its officers, including Ms Teo and Mr Tang.

The board later suspended both of them from all executive duties for an indefinite period from Feb 9.

"(The move) would be prudent and appropriate and in the interests of the company and its shareholders," DMX Technologies said last month.

In the meantime, the firm has appointed executive director and vice-chairman Iwao Oishi and finance manager Astor Cheung to oversee the portfolios and responsibilities of Ms Teo and Mr Tang respectively.

DMX Technologies said the counsel will "continue and expand the scope of its investigations". It requested a trading halt of its shares on March 20. Yesterday, it sought a suspension of trading.

The firm is also applying to the SGX for extensions for the release of its financial results for the 2014 fiscal year and the first quarter of this year.

This was because its auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, needed certain information, which remained outstanding owing to the sudden suspension of the two appointment holders, in order to finalise the audits.

The company posted a net profit of US$7.6 million (S$10.4 million) for the third quarter to Sept 30, up 5.16 per cent from the same period a year earlier, on the back of savings in operating expenses.

Revenue, however, dropped 5.26 per cent to US$104.2 million, owing to a fall in demand in its information and communications technology division.

tsjwoo@sph.com.sg

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Recourse for consumers over 'unfair practices': Forum

Straits Times
18 Mar 2015

CONSUMERS do have some legal recourse over unfair practices by businesses ("Case looks into wedding banquet cancellation fees"; Monday).

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob cited the case of a couple who had to pay half the cost of the wedding banquet, despite cancelling their booking a year before the wedding. This is clearly exorbitant and punitive, which is not allowed by the law.

If the hotel wants the couple to pay half of the banquet cost, it must be able to prove in court that it has suffered such actual damages (amounting to half the cost).

Since the cancellation notice was given a year in advance, it is hard to imagine how the hotel could have suffered a loss of such an amount.

Furthermore, the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act states that even if the consumer had entered into a written agreement with such terms with the hotel (ignorantly or carelessly), such an agreement can be challenged in court by the consumer suing the hotel on the grounds that it is an "unfair practice".

One of the "unfair practices" specified in this Act is "taking advantage of a consumer by including in an agreement terms or conditions that are harsh, oppressive or excessively one-sided so as to be unconscionable".

Tan Sin Liang

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Ex-sergeant admits asking NSF to drive without licence

Straits Times
12 Mar 2015
Lim Yi Han

A FORMER master sergeant (MSG) yesterday admitted ordering a full-time national serviceman (NSF) to drive a military jeep, even though he had no valid licence.

The NSF went on to lose control of the vehicle during a training exercise in the Marsiling training area in Mandai, causing it to overturn.

The accident killed a fellow soldier who was in the rear passenger seat and injured two other soldiers on board on May 11, 2012.

A court heard that former MSG Lee Kong Kean, 33, who was conducting the exercise, later told instructors his intention to lie to investigators that NSF Cavin Tan, now 22, had stolen the jeep.

Lee pleaded guilty to two charges of a rash act endangering human life and attempting to pervert the course of justice. He is represented by lawyers Sunil Sudheesan and Diana Ngiam, and is expected to be sentenced on April 22.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Tang Shangjun said Lee has a Class 3 military driving licence and was fully aware of the requirements needed to obtain it. The full duration of the Class 3 military driving course is 29 days, and military jeep familiarisation is part of it.

Mr Tan did not have this licence, but Lee ordered him to drive the jeep.

DPP Tang said: "Lee had a duty to ensure that safety procedures and training protocol were strictly adhered to.

"This was an act that could endanger the lives of everyone who was on the jeep driven by Cavin."

Some time into the exercise, between 5.30am and 6.30am, Mr Tan lost control of the jeep on a downward slope. It tilted, rotated and overturned several times before landing on its side.

Fellow NSFs Dickson Hong and Ow Yong Wei Long were thrown out and hurt. NSF Tan Mou Sheng was pinned under the jeep. He died of severe pelvic injuries.

None of the trio had been wearing helmets or seat belts.

Later that day, Lee told the instructors his intention to lie that Mr Tan had stolen the jeep.

"This was a claim which Lee knew to be completely untrue, but he nevertheless attempted to make this claim in the hope that he would gain the support of the instructors," noted DPP Tang. "However, none of the instructors agreed with (his) suggestion."

Last December, Mr Tan was sentenced to a 10-day short detention order - a community-based sentence that is less disruptive and stigmatising than prison.

District Judge Low Wee Ping said during his sentencing: "Perhaps one positive outcome of this case is that national servicemen now know that they do not need to obey a manifestly illegal or unlawful order."

For the rash act, Lee faces a jail term of up to six months and a fine of up to $2,500. For attempting to pervert the course of justice, he faces 3-1/2 years in jail and a fine.

limyihan@sph.com.sg

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Man gets three years' jail, six strokes for rioting

Straits Times
26 Mar 2015
Elena Chong

A 21-YEAR-OLD man was part of a group that punched and kicked two men outside a club last October, leaving one with a serious head injury.

For rioting, Ahmad Ridhwan Wee Ahmad Jafni was sentenced to three years' jail and six strokes of the cane yesterday.

District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan said the group had behaved like "a pack of hyenas", and that he was more concerned about Ridhwan, who has a prior stint in the Reformative Training Centre (RTC).

Ridhwan and four others were part of an unlawful assembly when some of them attacked Mr Shawn Ho Yong Han, 25, and Mr Wang Jie Feng, 21, along Serangoon Road on Oct 22 last year.

The victims and Ridhwan's group had been drinking at Club Flux in Serangoon Road on the night of Oct 21.

At about 3.20am, when Mr Ho and Mr Wang were about to leave, a performing artist went over to their table to talk to Mr Ho. Mr Wang then saw a patron who was allegedly sitting with Ridhwan's group pointing his finger aggressively at Mr Ho.

Sensing trouble, the pair decided to leave and started walking along Serangoon Road, hoping to catch a taxi.

Ridhwan and his accomplices followed them. After they caught up with the victims, they punched and kicked them for about two minutes.

Mr Ho was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital with cuts and head injuries. He was discharged two days later against medical advice.

A subsequent brain scan at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital showed post-traumatic aphasia and bleeding in his brain. Mr Ho was initially unable to speak, but has partially recovered.

He also suffered from post-traumatic epilepsy as a result of the head injury and will need to take anti-convulsant medication for the rest of his life. Mr Wang suffered minor injuries and did not see a doctor.

During sentencing, Judge Shaiffudin also expressed his concern over the escalating violence shown by young people.

Police statistics showed that 322 youth were arrested for rioting last year, up from 283 in 2013 and 239 in 2012.

The judge had some parting words for Ridhwan as well. "You have a lot of time to reflect in prison. I hope what you have said - you promise you will change - is genuine," he said.

Ridhwan has a previous conviction for loan shark harassment in 2011, and was released from RTC in October 2013.

One of the four co-accused, Adam Koh Yong Sheng, 20, has been sentenced to reformative training. The case against the rest is pending.

Ridhwan, whose sentence was backdated to Oct 30 last year, could have been jailed for up to seven years and caned.

elena@sph.com.sg

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ADV: LexisNexis - Law of Negotiable Instruments

Singapore Law Watch
18 Mar 2015
LexisNexis

UK-Asean cooperation in IP can have big payoffs

Business Times
12 Mar 2015
John Alty

THIS week, I am in South-east Asia to build on the strong economic and trade ties between the UK and Asean. It seems fitting that during my first visit to Singapore, I will be involved in the 2015 Singapore GREAT British Week. This week of activity showcases all that is great about Britain - our innovative companies and our customer-driven service industries.

The UK has world-class businesses in research and development, technology-based sectors, designers and creative industries. And while this week celebrates the best of what the UK offers in innovation, creativity and education, it is also an opportunity for us to celebrate the strong collaborative bond between Singapore and the UK in these areas. I hope as many people as possible will get a chance to experience the GREAT British Week with us.

The UK enjoys a close and historic bilateral relationship with Singapore, lasting nearly 200 years. Singapore accounts for half of UK exports to Asean, and is its largest market by a wide margin (though some products are re-exported elsewhere). It is also the only Asean country with which we have an overall trade surplus, amounting to £2.4 billion (S$5 billion) in 2013. The UK's total exports to Singapore rose by more than 10 per cent to £6.5 billion in 2013, as business services overtook financial services as the largest UK services export. Goods exports have grown by £1 billion over the past two years. Reciprocally, the UK is home to three-quarters of Singapore's investment in Europe.

Underpinning this strong trade relationship is a mutual respect for Intellectual Property (IP). IP matters economically to the UK, to Singapore and the wider Asean regions and is necessary to assist economic growth and encourage successful creativity and innovation.

IP rights are at the heart of any successful international business and are often among a company's most important assets. This might be a trade mark to protect a brand or patents that protect inventions and innovation, design rights or copyright. Every successful business will own some IP, but it is important that this is correctly valued and properly protected. Evidence clearly shows us that great ideas, properly protected and effectively exploited, help companies compete more successfully both in home markets and overseas.

With the IP events during GREAT British Week in Singapore, we want to raise awareness and understanding of IP among businesses, creators, designers, innovators and consumers and we look forward to some healthy discussions.

Alongside dialogue with businesses and consumers, we see the value in exploring the links between IP and innovation, research and development. Both Singapore and the UK rate highly on innovation - the Global Innovation Index 2014 by Insead ranked UK as No 2 and Singapore as No 7 in the world's most innovative countries. It is important to maximise the value of this innovation. This visit is an opportunity for the UK to demonstrate our support for collaborative research with Singapore and desire to make sure that technology transfer is effective and secure for the mutual benefit of our businesses and economies. The UK IPO enjoys an excellent relationship with the IP Office of Singapore and I hope together we can work towards these aims.

But IP protection needs to be joined up internationally for businesses to benefit from harmonised systems. I was delighted to meet with the Asean Working Group on IP Cooperation earlier this week. The work this group is doing to promote IP asset creation, commercialisation and protection is hugely admirable and I hope will see Asean transformed into an innovative and competitive region through the use of IP.

In the UK, we value the opportunity to play a role in helping to develop IP frameworks in the region. We recognise the importance of Asean as a highly valued trade partner. Total UK exports to the six largest Asean economies - Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam - combined in 2013 were around �14 billion. That's equivalent to more than three times the UK's total exports to Brazil, nearly twice those to India and 50 per cent more than to Japan. It is important to establish business environments that allow business to operate effectively and safely across borders. This is why we are keen to help develop robust IP systems that help to deliver real benefits for us all. We have much to share and much to learn from each other.

Asean will be a growing and important trading partner for the UK both now and in the future. The opportunities for trade and investment both ways between the UK and Asean are plentiful and I hope that together the UK and Singapore can foster business environments to support these opportunities.

John Alty

The writer is chief executive of the UK Intellectual Property Office

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'No attempt to hide Xtron's role in Crossover project'

Straits Times
25 Mar 2015
Hoe Pei Shan

CITY Harvest Church (CHC) leaders did not attempt to hide the fact that a company run by some of its members was involved in a project to evangelise through the music of founding pastor Kong Hee's wife.

Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 39, said this while on the stand yesterday - the 105th day of the long-running trial on the alleged misuse of $50 million in church funds.

He said the church's executive members knew about music production firm Xtron's involvement in the project, dubbed the Crossover, and why an external party was needed to run it. But he said all of this was not explicitly stated.

Tan, Kong and four others are accused of misusing $50 million in church funds to boost the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, and covering it up.

Five of them have also been charged with channelling money from the church's building fund into sham bond investments in Ms Ho's management company, Xtron, and glass manufacturer Firna.

Four, including Tan, then allegedly devised transactions to clear the sham bonds from the church's accounts to mislead auditors.

Tan's lawyer N. Sreenivasan set the stage for his client by saying that "there is this accusation that you all were hiding matters" from executive members.

He asked Tan if the executive members knew about Xtron's involvement in the Crossover project.

"Yes," replied Tan. "I think we may not have explicitly said it in a meeting with the executive members but, generally, they knew... The Crossover was a project that the whole church was involved in, and they prayed every week (for it).

"They were all aware of the sensitivity and that this was not going to be done by the church, it was going to be done by another company... Generally, everyone would know that Xtron is doing the Crossover," said Tan.

Mr Sreenivasan then asked his client to explain why the church's efforts to inform its members about Xtron's role had not been documented.

Tan said: "I feel that sometimes what is obvious is things that are not stated in black and white. If I had known in 2010 that I would be investigated, I would have noted everything down... These are things that, I think, it would be even more contrived if we were to note things down like that, as if we knew we would be investigated."

Midway through yesterday's proceedings, Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh objected to the way in which Mr Sreenivasan was examining his client, saying he has "leading the witness".

Ms Chionh is likely to conduct the prosecution's cross-examination of Tan next week.

The trial continues today.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

 

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

 

NOT EXPLICITLY STATED

I think we may not have explicitly said it in a meeting with executive members but, generally, they knew... The Crossover was a project that the whole church was involved in, and they prayed every week (for it).

- Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, replying to his lawyer N. Sreenivasan, who asked if the executive members knew about Xtron's involvement in the Crossover

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Govt working with lawyers with eye on sector's future

Straits Times
17 Mar 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Indranee also urges lawyers to up their game to tap global opportunities

THE Government is working with the legal sector to think about what the future holds in the next 15 to 20 years, and to prepare for them.

Already, lawyers here have to adapt to trends such as the use of technology and the internationalisation of law.

"In the longer term, the skills required of litigators and the nature of legal practice itself may change even further," said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah.

"For us to become the centre of gravity for legal work, we need to anticipate what the future of the international litigation will look like and adapt accordingly," she said yesterday.

More on such scenario planning will be made known at the Legal Futures Conference in July organised by the Law Ministry and the Singapore Academy of Law.

Speaking at a Law Society conference on international commercial litigation yesterday, she urged Singapore lawyers to up their game to tap the growing opportunities in global commercial litigation.

In order to develop Singapore as a legal hub, lawyers here would have to morph from domestic to regional and international lawyers.

Lawyers here are at different stages of development towards that goal, she noted.

"If you can continue to improve quality levels, position yourselves competitively, build collaborations with your foreign counterparts and leverage on technology, then you will be well on your way to making that transformation," she said.

She also talked about the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), a key part of Singapore's strategy to provide a full suite of dispute resolution services for the global business community. It will hear global commercial disputes, including those governed by foreign law.

The SICC has drawn keen interest here and abroad since its launch in January. For instance, Australia's Chief Justice Robert French said in Canberra last month that three Australian jurists had been appointed to the new court and there were opportunities for Australian lawyers, given the provision for foreign lawyers to argue in SICC cases.

The SICC's aim is to grow the legal sector here by attracting parties which would otherwise not come to Singapore to settle their disputes, said Ms Indranee at the event attended by 300 people.

Lawyers at yesterday's conference said her speech was a "clarion call" to gear up to the internationalisation of cross-border legal work.

"We need to have the competencies to compete internationally or the space created by the cross-border work brought here will be taken up by foreign lawyers," said Braddell Brothers managing director Edmund Kronenburg, a Singaporean.

Law Society president Thio Shen Yi said the society supports the move to develop a global legal hub here, pointing out that "if the legal sector grows, domestic lawyers will also benefit".

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Stiffer punishments for construction safety lapses

Straits Times
12 Mar 2015
Aw Cheng Wei

CONSTRUCTION companies, safety officers and Members of Parliament are backing the move to impose heftier punishments on errant contractors who flout the industry's safety rules.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Hawazi Daipi announced changes to the current demerit point system which punishes companies by stopping them from hiring new foreign workers.

The new system will see companies penalised, rather than individual worksites, according to MP Patrick Tay (Nee Soon GRC). This means that the more worksites a company manages, the likelier it would be to rack up demerit points.

"(The shift) imposes a heavier burden on companies to ensure high safety standards across all their worksites, and not individual ones," Mr Tay said.

Other changes include having errant companies carry the demerit points for 18 months - up from the current 12.

More demerit points will be given for more serious offences - for example, causing a worker's death will warrant 25 points, up from the present 12.

This would also mean a company would be barred from hiring foreigners for three months.

Mr Seet Choh San, president of the Singapore Institution of Safety Officers, said there will be no excuse for companies, adding that the stricter rules are appropriate, considering that schemes have been put in place by the Manpower Ministry and Workplace Safety and Health Council to help firms develop a safety framework.

Experts, however, noted that the new system may put bigger companies in the hot seat.

Mr Belvin Tan, 48, safety manager of Yau Lee Construction, said: "Bigger companies usually have safer workplaces because they have the resources to make sure appropriate measures are put in place. The new system can unfairly put them at higher risk."

With safer workplaces, Nominated MP Randolph Tan hopes that more locals will be attracted to construction jobs.

Dr Tan said: "(Workers are) willing to undertake heavy lifting because they know their employers care enough to equip them with well-maintained equipment.

"It is definitely not wages alone that will attract people to construction jobs, I am certain."

Fellow Nominated MP K. Karthikeyan said: "Many (companies) are not investing in training and better technology. When accidents occur, they just change workers.

"Every life, regardless of nationality, should be respected."

awcw@sph.com.sg


Background Story

New body to curb worksite accidents

THE Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Institute is setting up a new body which aims to prevent construction site accidents.

One of the ways the Observatory for WSH Landscape (OWL) plans to do this is by creating a list of worksites and their accident risk - based on previous statistics - to predict which ones are most likely to suffer further incidents. The list is due to be ready by the end of this month.

Speaking at the WSH Institute forum yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health Amy Khor emphasised the need to detect workplace dangers early. She said: "This project aims to identify worksites that have a high likelihood of causing injuries so that preventive measures can be taken."

It will also provide decision makers with information so they can improve policies and direct WSH resources.

OWL, which will be housed at the WSH Institute in Bendemeer, will also try to reduce the number of cases of cancer and non-malignant respiratory diseases here that may be associated with construction work.

Dr Khor said: "We need to better anticipate and prepare ourselves for future risks."

AW CHENG WEI

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Ex-director's graft acquittal overturned

Straits Times
25 Mar 2015
Selina Lum

A FORMER business director of an ST Engineering subsidiary, sentenced to eight weeks' jail for corruption, was yesterday dealt a double whammy.

Mark Edward Tjong, 49, an American citizen who is a permanent resident here, was convicted last year on one count of corruption involving about $57,000 and cleared on a second count involving $30,000.

But the former director at ST Electronics (Info-Software Systems) (STE) now stands guilty on both counts - after the High Court dismissed his appeal against his conviction but allowed the prosecution's appeal against his acquittal.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang found that Tjong had received both sums of money from Mr Mujibur Rahman as a reward for facilitating the appointment of the Bangladeshi's company as an STE agent in Bangladesh.

The case has been adjourned to next Monday for sentencing arguments.

In 2005, Tjong, who oversaw the South Asian region, was introduced to Mr Mujibur, the managing director of a Bangladeshi firm that handled government contracts.

Following Tjong's recommendation to his superiors, Mr Mujibur was appointed in March 2006 as STE's agent to help secure a contract with the Bangladesh police.

STE successfully clinched the project to supply walkie talkies and set up a telecommunications network in May 2006, and paid $185,424.90 as an agent fee to Mr Mujibur.

The two men later met in Dhaka, where Mr Mujibur handed Tjong two blank cheques.

Tjong filled in the amounts - $57,386.67 and $30,000 - and deposited the cheques into the bank account of his then girlfriend, Ms Ho Su Ling, who is now his wife. The funds were later withdrawn.

Tjong's lawyer, Mr Shashi Nathan, had argued that his client did not favour Mr Mujibur and that there was no prior discussion or agreement between them about any reward during the appointment process.

But Justice Tay concluded from the evidence that Tjong did contemplate a reward when he recommended Mr Mujibur to his superiors.

He said that as STE's only presence in Bangladesh, Tjong must have known the influence he held. And Tjong's extensive help to Mr Mujibur indicated he had a special interest in the latter winning the tender.

Tjong also knew that profit-sharing was a common business practice in Bangladesh. And since Mr Mujibur would get nothing if the deal fell through, it was natural that discussions on profit-sharing take place only after the project is clinched, said the judge.

Justice Tay was also not persuaded by Tjong's explanation that the two sums of money he received were not intended to be a reward for himself.

Tjong said the first sum was for travel and training expenses for 10 Bangladeshi police officers, while he took the second sum to run errands for Mr Mujibur, namely, to remit money to his son in London and to bring him vitamins, car parts and whisky.

While the district judge felt that Tjong's explanation for the second sum raised a reasonable doubt, Justice Tay rejected both claims as untenable.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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CCS says no to S$137m Parkway, Fortis deal

Business Times
17 Mar 2015
Jamie Lee

Transaction involving acquisition of RadLink-Asia called off following CCS provisional decision to block proposal

[Singapore] THE Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) said on Monday that it had blocked last week the S$137 million proposed acquisition of RadLink-Asia and its subsidiaries by Parkway Holdings.

Both Fortis Healthcare Singapore, which owns RadLink-Asia, and Parkway, have since announced that the acquisition is off. The acquisition would have been undertaken by Medi-Rad Associates Ltd, an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of IHH Healthcare Berhad.

On March 11, CCS issued letters to both parties, informing them of its provisional decision to block the proposed acquisition.

"In the letters, CCS stated that the proposed transaction would result in a substantial lessening of competition in the affected markets, and would infringe section 54 of the Competition Act."

CCS said that following the proposed merger, Parkway would become the only commercial supplier of radiopharmaceuticals in Singapore through its 33 per cent shareholding of Positron Tracers Pte Ltd and the acquisition of all of RadLink.

"CCS's market inquiries indicated that no potential new radiopharmaceutical supplier would enter the market in the next two to three years to compete with the merged entity," it said.

RadLink is Parkway's closest competitor in the area of radiology and imaging services for private outpatients in Singapore, CCS added. Besides gaining "very substantial market share", the merged entity would enjoy "moderate to high" entry barriers, and weak customer bargaining power.

Fortis said it will continue to explore alternative strategic opportunities related to RadLink, CCS said.

IHH Healthcare, which owns Parkway, had said the offer lapsed and ceased to be of effect.

With regard to section 54 of the Competition Act, CCS noted that competition concerns are unlikely to arise in a merger situation unless the merged entity will have a market share of at least 40 per cent.

It will also be wary when the enlarged firm will have a market share of between 20 per cent and 40 per cent, as well as create the situation where the combined market share of the three largest firms is at least 70 per cent.

This is not the first time CCS has blocked a merger, a spokeswoman told The Business Times.

leejamie@sph.com.sg

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More people to qualify for free legal aid

Straits Times
11 Mar 2015
Danson Cheong

MORE accused persons will very soon be able to apply for free legal representation - part of a raft of measures to ensure that the common man continues to have access to justice.

The enhanced Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (Clas), which will be rolled out on March 23, will include a revised means test which will allow more deserving persons to qualify for help. This was revealed by Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday in Parliament.

To raise awareness of the scheme, the Law Society will produce a "pamphlet of rights" which will be available at police posts and community clubs, he said.

The pamphlet, which will be ready by next month, will provide "guidance to any member of the public asked to assist in an investigation... and includes information on arrest, search and prosecution as well as legal aid", a Law Society spokesman told The Straits Times.

The enhanced Clas scheme will benefit up to 6,000 people every year, an increase from the current 400. Besides full legal representation, Clas will render basic legal advice and help in writing legal letters, including for mitigation pleas, Mr Shanmugam said.

Part of the funding will come from the Government, signifying a "significant" shift, he said.

Previously, the Government's stance had been that funding criminal legal aid would result in the state using public funds to both prosecute and defend the same accused individuals. Mr Shanmugam had said in 2013 that the shift is geared at becoming a more inclusive and compassionate society.

Yesterday, Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said the right balance was needed when configuring the pro-bono ecosystem, so it would not affect the market for small law firms.

Mr Shanmugam replied that the changes should not affect these firms, but added that the Government would monitor the situation. MinLaw will also continue to refine the family justice system, he said.

Last year, the Family Justice Act was passed and the Family Justice Courts set up with the key aims of making the system more streamlined, cheaper, better able to look out for the interests of children, and of ensuring that the court process does not end up tearing families further apart.

As part of the current review, which will be completed by next year, the Government is studying family law-related legislation such as the claim an illegitimate child has to a share of the deceased parent's estate.

It will also look at strengthening the enforcement of maintenance orders. "This will help those who depend on maintenance payments to raise their children after divorce," said Mr Shanmugam.

Ms Ellen Lee (Sembawang GRC) said that for many family lawyers, the changes of the family law system were of a "seismic proportion". She said family lawyers, who were used to "being adversarial on behalf of their clients", now have to take on the role of conflict managers and problem solvers.

Mr Shanmugam said courses, talks and training sessions will be organised to get family lawyers up to speed.

He also spoke about the push to develop Singapore into an international hub for dispute resolution. He said the setting up of the Singapore International Commercial Court and Singapore International Mediation Centre, for instance, will provide local lawyers and firms more work. He added that his ministry would continue to help local practices tap regional opportunities.

dansonc@sph.com.sg

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Two Gilstead Court owners file appeal over collective sale

Straits Times
25 Mar 2015
Cheryl Ong

TWO minority owners at Gilstead Court in Newton have appealed against a High Court decision that backed the $150.2 million collective sale of the condominium.

The owners, who are being represented by Stamford Law Corporation director Adrian Tan, want the Court of Appeal to look at part of the decision by High Court Judge Quentin Loh last month that gave the sale the green light.

The sales agreement imposed financial penalties on five owners who had objected to the sale.

One of these penalties said they had to pay twice the contributions made by consenting owners towards a common fund set up for costs related to selling en bloc.

They were also required to pay an extra $135,000 for Strata Titles Board proceedings related to the sale.

The case ended up in the High Court after mediation efforts with the Strata Titles Board broke down.

Justice Loh had said that dissenting owners have "basic rights" to object to the collective sale and were not bound by terms of the agreement as they were never signatories.

He had said: "This cannot be right. Otherwise, a majority can embark on an ill-advised collective sale and yet call upon to detractors to contribute to the costs thereof."

Though it would have been "simpler and neater" to refuse the sale, he had added that it would not have been in the interests of the majority owners to do so, given the "present state" of the property market.

The decision to let the sale proceed, though more tedious than scrapping it, was "the fair one", he said then.

CHERYL ONG

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Voyeurs, don't expect leniency

Straits Times
17 Mar 2015
Selina Lum

Court accepts evidence that they don't lose control

DIAGNOSED voyeurs caught filming unsuspecting victims will face an uphill task in convincing the courts to impose lighter sentences solely on account of their mental disorder, following a High Court ruling yesterday.

In a 62-page written judgment, Justice Chan Seng Onn accepted the medical evidence submitted by the prosecution that voyeurism - unlike impulse control disorders such as kleptomania - does not cause someone to lose his self-control.

The finding came in the case of a former civil servant who took upskirt videos and secretly filmed his girlfriend's family members in the shower.

The 31-year-old was given 30 months' probation in 2013 by a district judge, who placed considerable weight on the fact that he was diagnosed with voyeurism and concluded that deterrence should not take precedence over rehabilitation.

But yesterday, Justice Chan set aside the "manifestly inadequate" probation sentence and instead imposed a jail term of 16 weeks, following an appeal by the prosecution. Prosecutors had argued that a deterrent jail term for such offences was warranted to send a stern message to potential offenders, in an era where miniature and hidden digital video recording devices are increasingly available.

A person with voyeurism derives sexual arousal from observing an unsuspecting person who is naked, undressing or engaged in sexual acts.

During the appeal, medical experts on both sides weighed in on the issue of whether a person diagnosed with voyeurism is able to control his actions.

In his judgment, Justice Chan noted that the diagnosis of a mental disorder in most cases is a mitigating factor that the courts may take into account during sentencing. However, he said he would give "little or no mitigating value" to a mental disorder in which the person is able to control his actions and if it is shown that punishment will effectively deter him from committing the same acts again.

Justice Chan accepted the testimony of the prosecution expert, Dr Stephen Phang, that voyeurism is merely a descriptive label for a perverse form of behaviour which intrudes into the sanctity and privacy of others.

Dr Phang said a person with voyeurism, which is not a mental illness, remains in full control of his actions even if he shows symptoms of impulsivity.

Justice Chan said he was satisfied that the accused in the current case had full control over his actions in the light of his "high degree of planning and premeditation". He said the district judge was wrong in giving significant weight to the fact that the man was voyeuristic such that principles of deterrence were overridden.

Justice Chan said deterrence was relevant in sentencing. Given that camera phones are ubiquitous and recording devices come in all shapes and sizes and are getting cheaper, "the perverse now find it easier to prey on unsuspecting women almost everywhere", he said.

Rehabilitation is also relevant but it did not automatically mandate a lighter sentence, he said.

He noted the man had gone to great lengths to commit the offences, sticking mini-cameras to his shoe and planting a camera - in the guise of a lighter - in the bathroom of his girlfriend's home.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Nobel Design ex-chairman sues CEO, 3 directors

Straits Times
11 Mar 2015
Rachael Boon

He alleges that company's announcement defamed him

THE former chairman of mainboard-listed furniture firm Nobel Design Holdings is suing the chief executive and three other directors for defamation.

Non-executive director Bert Choong is alleging that he was defamed in an announcement by Nobel Design on Oct 17.

The firm yesterday announced that the legal proceedings have been launched in the High Court.

Mr Choong is suing Nobel chief executive officer and group managing director Terence Goon, non-executive chairman Adrian Chan, independent director Teh Ban Lian and chief operating officer Wee Ai Quey.

Four other directors who are not a party to the suit made this disclosure in a Singapore Exchange filing as they believe it is in the company's interests that the suit is made known to shareholders.

The directors who were named in the suit abstained from the decision to approve the announcement of the suit, Nobel said in a statement yesterday.

In the Oct 17 announcement, the board of Nobel Design had alleged that Mr Choong conducted himself in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the group and in breach of his fiduciary duties.

He had failed to disclose that Studio 216 - a company in Kuala Lumpur retailing household furniture - was set up in early February last year.

He had also allegedly sent an e-mail in 2013 that was "not true" to Porada, a principal supplier of Nobel Design's unit, Marquis Furniture Gallery.

He had said he was helping Marquis set up a Kuala Lumpur showroom for Porada.

He also allegedly did not tell the board that Studio 216 was selling furniture from Porada, among other suppliers, making Studio 216 a direct competitor to the firm's business interests in Malaysia.

Nobel Design noted in October that although he had several chances to explain his conduct, Mr Choong "has not responded satisfactorily to all the company's inquiries".

In a statement last Friday, the company said Mr Choong declined to sign off on its results announcement as he had not been given sufficient information.

It did not elaborate on what the "information" was about.

Nobel Design said yesterday that Mr Choong's claims do not involve the firm, and it is not a party to the proceedings.

The directors whom he is suing have said that "individually and collectively, (they) are of the view Bert's claims are baseless and wholly without merit".

Mr Choong, a founding member of the group, was CEO from 1996 until March 2010. Mr Goon subsequently assumed the CEO role.

Mr Choong was succeeded as chairman in June 2013 by Mr Chan, a corporate lawyer, and non-executive chairman and independent director at the company.

The company assured shareholders that the legal proceedings will not affect day-to-day operations or have a material impact on business affairs.

rachaelb@sph.com.sg

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Mum in toddler drowning granted a discharge

Straits Times
25 Mar 2015
Elena Chong

THE woman who allegedly drowned her 17-month-old son in the sea off East Coast Park was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal yesterday.

After the order was made, an emotional Lim Ann Nee hugged her French husband and several people when she walked out of the courtroom.

The 45-year-old was found to be suffering from "acute transient psychotic disorder" when she allegedly carried her son into the sea on Nov 25, 2013.

She was originally charged with murdering her son, Emilien Lacroix, but the charge was amended to culpable homicide. She was released on bail in July last year after spending eight months in custody.

Yesterday, her husband, who clutched a bouquet of lilies, was among more than a dozen people, including family members, seated in the public gallery.

The prosecution applied for a discharge not amounting to an acquittal after informing the court that Lim was given a stern warning by police last Friday.

Her husband, a Singapore permanent resident, has to give an undertaking to ensure she is properly cared for and prevented from harming herself or others.

Lim was said to have carried her son into the sea between 4.43pm and 6.03pm on Nov 25 that year, before leaving him alone despite knowing he was unable to swim and the act was likely to cause death.

The toddler's body was found floating about 300m from Bedok Jetty, while Lim was rescued by the Police Coast Guard in the waters off East Coast Park.

She was assessed to be of unsound mind at the material time and did not know what she was doing.

Based on Section 84 of the Penal Code, "nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law".

A statement from the Attorney-General's Chambers said Lim has since recovered fully from the psychotic episode.

Her subsequent psychiatric assessments have been favourable, and she has strong family and social support.

Lim is required to continue her periodic visits to the psychiatrist or counselling for three years.

The reports are to be submitted to the prosecution and police for monitoring and review.

Speaking to reporters, her lawyer, Mr Anand Nalachandran, said: "Moving forward, their focus will be mourning the loss of Emilien. As you can imagine, it will be a long and difficult road for them."

He said once his client completes the conditions, the prosecution will apply for a discharge amounting to an acquittal.

elena@sph.com.sg

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Charge reduced for father, son who allegedly killed robber

Straits Times
17 Mar 2015
Lee Min Kok & Shannon Teoh

THE father and son who allegedly killed an armed robber are set to be granted a reprieve, with a charge of murder reduced to causing death by negligence.

Criminal lawyer Gobind Singh Deo, who is representing Malaysian part-time cook Moo He Hong, 57, and his Singaporean son Wee Keong, 29, told The Straits Times yesterday: "The amended charge will be under Section 304(A), a far more minor one compared to murder, which carries the death penalty.

"It is two years' jail maximum and a fine. I will do the necessary to obtain bail on Wednesday." Mr Gobind, the second son of famous Malaysian lawyer Karpal Singh, said the case is due to be rementioned at the Rembau magistrate's in Negeri Sembilan tomorrow.

The elder Moo's Singaporean wife, Madam Kuek Soo Lan, revealed to The Straits Times that bail for each of the men could be set at between RM10,000 (S$3,800) and RM15,000.

"I'm so happy right now, my heart is literally beating out of my chest," the relieved 52-year-old said over the phone. "They have been locked up for almost three weeks and it has been a testing period for the family."

Both men had been in detention since Feb 24, when alleged robber Chan Boon Poh attempted to snatch Madam Kuek's bag outside their house in Gemencheh, Tampin, at around 12.30am.

She was slashed by Chan's parang on her left arm and fingers, which required 25 stitches.

Moo had rushed to her aid, knocking Chan to the ground with a pipe. With the help of his son, they then tied up the still-conscious Chan with some rope. After Moo returned from taking his wife to the clinic for treatment, he discovered that Chan had died.

While the circumstances surrounding Chan's death were not clear, Madam Kuek has maintained that her husband and son were acting in self-defence.

Malaysia's Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail had weighed in on the debate, telling The Star last Saturday that the pair should not have been charged with murder.

Faced with the prospect of a legal battle, Madam Kuek managed to secure the services of Mr Gobind on Sunday. Mr Gobind, who is MP for Puchong in Selangor, is known for saving Singaporean woman Noor Atiqah M. Lasim from the gallows after she was caught with heroin and other drugs in her bag at the Sepang airport budget terminal on Jan 5, 2009. He produced new evidence backing her claims that she was not aware of the bag's contents. She was charged with drug possession instead of trafficking, and was sentenced to 12 years in jail.

Said Madam Kuek: "With the help of Mr Gobind, I am very optimistic that my husband and son will be proven innocent."

Concerned netizens had started a crowdfunding campaign for the family, while an online petition calling for a fair trial for the duo was also launched.

mklee@sph.com.sg

shannont@sph.com.sg

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Why 8 British law schools were dropped

Straits Times
11 Mar 2015
Amelia Teng

Aim is to ensure talent pipeline, not control number of lawyers: Indranee

THE recent cut to the number of British law schools where Singaporeans can study for admission to the Bar here is not meant to control the number of lawyers and "beat market forces".

Instead, the aim is to ensure "a sufficient pipeline of quality legal talent" to support Singapore's legal needs, Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law, told Parliament yesterday.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan- Toa Payoh GRC) and Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), both lawyers, expressed contrasting views on the issue.

Mr Vikram Nair argued for more regulation for those going overseas to study law, to save them the heartache of returning only to find that they cannot practise as a lawyer.

He believes the spurt began in 2011, when data on top earners in each profession was published. Lawyers being near the top of the list "might have sent a signal to prospective students that this might be a path to quick riches".

Official figures show the number of Singapore students reading law in Britain climbed from 350 in 2008 to 1,142 in 2013. This has led to more competition for a six-month practice training contract at a local law firm - a must to qualify as a lawyer.

Last year, nearly 650 graduates competed for about 490 contracts. While 94 per cent of local graduates landed one, the figure was just 70 per cent among graduates who studied abroad.

But Mr Hri Kumar Nair believes having a list of approved universities abroad is "inflexible, subjective and can be arbitrary".

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) two weeks ago dropped eight British law schools, leaving 11 on the approved list. The changes, which affect next year's intake, came after a Singapore Institute of Legal Education (Sile) review. The next review is in five years' time.

"I believe everyone who wants to practise law or any other discipline should be entitled to try, provided they meet the minimum standards to practise in Singapore and are prepared to compete in the market for work," said Mr Hri Kumar Nair, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law. He urged MinLaw not to change admission rules "so regularly", and suggested that quality can be maintained through the way the Bar exam is set.

Ms Indranee said MinLaw will discuss this with Sile and the Law Society, noting: "The number of available training contracts and retention of trainees are determined by the law firms, not the Government. It depends on their manpower needs, which in turn are determined by market forces."

She also said there are insufficient criminal and family law lawyers, a shortage "unlikely to be addressed by the current supply of law graduates, as many of them aspire to practise commercial... law". Community law-focused UniSim Law School (ULS), which will first take in 50 to 75 students a year, is a "targeted measure" to address this problem. She said the ULS steering committee is finalising its report and more details will be revealed later.

ateng@sph.com.sg


FOR AND AGAINST: Two MPs give their views on restricting the number of overseas universities where Singapore students, who want to practise law here, can study

I have long been against such rules, and their constant changes. They mess with people's plans and they mess with their minds. Picking the right universities in the way we do, I think, is inflexible, subjective and can be arbitrary. I believe everyone who wants to practise law or any other discipline should be entitled to try, provided they meet the minimum standards to practise in Singapore and are prepared to compete in the market for work. That principle currently applies to any graduate of any trade or profession, and law should not be any different.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), a lawyer with Drew & Napier


Personally, I am in favour of more regulation. The process to qualify as a lawyer is relatively long, requiring study, practical training and, finally, traineeship. If a person starts embarking on this journey at the age of 18 to 21, in the expectation that they would one day become lawyers, they may feel they have wasted their time if, at the very end, they are unable to get training contracts and jobs. It might be kinder to restrict the numbers earlier so that prospective students do not unnecessarily embark on a journey they cannot complete. This is especially so if the families have incurred significant costs and debts to send their children abroad in the hope they would be able to pay it back once qualifying.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), a lawyer with Rajah & Tann


Background Story

MINISTRY OF LAW

FY2015 Budget

$0.5 billion

Up by 19.4 per cent

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Singapore Law Watch
25 Mar 2015

Ex-fund manager again denies any wrongdoing: City Harvest trial

Straits Times
17 Mar 2015
Hoe Pei Shan

He 'only carried out ideas of senior pastors' regarding alleged sham bonds

FORMER City Harvest Church fund manager Chew Eng Han yesterday again denied wrongdoing over alleged sham bonds used to cover up the misuse of church funds, reiterating that he had merely carried out the ideas of his leading pastors.

Chew was being cross-examined by Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Christopher Ong, as the long-running trial of six church leaders - including Chew and founding pastor Kong Hee - entered its 99th day yesterday after a month-long break.

The six are accused of misusing $50 million in church funds to boost the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, and covering this up.

The prosecution also believes that five of them channelled money from the church's building fund - made up of donations by church members towards a new church building - into sham bond investments in Ms Ho's management company, Xtron, and glass manufacturer Firna.

Four of them, including Chew, then allegedly devised transactions to clear the sham bonds from the church's accounts to mislead auditors.

DPP Ong sought to show that building fund monies had been diverted to finance Ms Ho's career - an unauthorised purpose of the fund which, he said, Chew had been trying to "disguise" by shrouding the transactions in secrecy and neglecting to check for approval from the church's board.

But Chew disagreed, saying that he had no reason to hide anything as it was clear to him that the money would be going to Ms Ho's music.

As the instructions had come from his senior pastors, who are also church board members, he had not questioned their legitimacy nor the desire for discretion.

"Questions are being put to me, Your Honour, as if I have a duty when it comes to corporate governance, that a fund manager needs to ensure that the whole board knows everything," said Chew.

"But that's not how it works between a fund manager and a corporation or the board of a corporation. The fund manager will work with usually one key person, maybe the CEO, and he takes instructions from the CEO.

"It's up to the CEO now, how he conducts his corporate governance and works things out and gets the required approval," he said, referring to the chief executive officer.

To him, Chew added, if key board members such as Kong and co-accused deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng said yes, that was sufficient approval.

In response, DPP Ong said: "I put it to you that you are being disingenuous and merely seeking to evade responsibility for your culpability for these bond investment charges, when you try to portray yourself as just an innocent fund manager taking instructions from Kong Hee and Tan Ye Peng."

The trial continues today.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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

Two views on scrutiny of new laws in the House

Straits Times
11 Mar 2015
Tham Yuen-C

MORE Bills should be sent before a Select Committee, to raise awareness and support for legislation, Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) said.

He said it is Parliament's responsibility to scrutinise Bills through such committees, made up of MPs who can solicit public feedback, call witnesses, hold hearings and suggest changes.

But the Leader of the House, Dr Ng Eng Hen, said various Bills had been sent before such committees over the years, when further scrutiny was deemed "necessary and beneficial".

He added that there were other Parliamentary processes through which Bills can be scrutinised.

After Bills are debated, Parliament will move to become a Committee of the Whole Parliament for MPs to go through the Bills line by line and propose changes.

But Bills may also be referred to specially convened Select Committees for extra scrutiny. The last time this was done was in 2004, with the Building Maintenance and Management Bill.

Mr Singh said referring Bills to such committees adds "much-needed civility to public discourse" and allows the Government to "deepen discussions and generate greater public support for laws".

His party's MPs and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam had called for two Bills to be committed to a Select Committee last year, he said.

But both times they were rejected, he added, as feedback garnered through the Government's feedback channel, Reach, was "deemed to have been sufficient".

But Dr Ng said the Government refers Bills to such committees to "further examine the details of implementation for complex issues or seek views from experts and other focus groups on matters related to the Bill".

He cited nine of the instances it has done so, such as with the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill in 1988 and the Advance Medical Directive Bill in 1996.

But he added that there are other ways to scrutinise Bills and improve on legislation, such as through public consultation exercises before Bills are introduced.

He pointed out that many Bills have gone through such "extensive public consultation", most recently this year's Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill.

yuenc@sph.com.sg


Background Story

PARLIAMENT

FY 2015 Budget

$35.1 million

Up by 2.5 per cent

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

Strength of legal system 'of first importance' to Mr Lee Kuan Yew

TODAY
24 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE — The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew stopped practising law when he became Prime Minister in 1959, but he continued to be deeply interested in the development of the nation’s legal profession and legal system, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon today (March 23).

“In Mr Lee’s vision for Singapore, the strength and vitality of the legal system, including first-rate law schools, a strong and able profession and an outstanding legal service led by a free, independent and incorrupt judiciary, were matters of the first importance,” CJ Menon said in a statement, on behalf of the Singapore Judiciary, to mark Mr Lee’s passing.

The Chief Justice noted that from the start of his tenure as Prime Minister, Mr Lee set out to eradicate corruption in public institutions.

“To Mr Lee, the worth of a legal system was to be assessed not simply by the greatness or grandeur of its theoretical underpinnings, but more importantly, by whether it operated well at a practical level to ensure order and justice in dealings among citizens, and also in the relationship between the citizenry and the State,” CJ Menon said.

Apart from being a lifelong champion of the rule of law, Mr Lee was also “a keen proponent of continuous learning and development”. To him, this was essential if the legal profession in Singapore were to meet the challenges of globalisation sucessfully.

“He also believed that the quality of our legal services sector and the values of the legal profession would be strengthened if judges, senior lawyers and other members of the wider legal community would come together to mentor younger lawyers and inspire them with a passion for and a lifelong commitment to doing right by all,” CJ Menon said.

This led to the establishment of the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) in 1988.

“More than a quarter of a century later, the SAL continues in its endeavour to ensure that the legal fraternity remains up-to-date with the latest legal developments from across the world, so that it is well-placed to learn from the best of these and to incorporate them within our system,” the Chief Justice said.

In a separate press statement, Law Society president Thio Shen Yi said the legal profession “owes a specific debt of gratitude” to Mr Lee.

“We enjoy effective, clear and enforceable laws, and an unimpeachable and incorruptible judiciary. We owe that first to Mr Lee’s clarity of vision that sustainable economic growth is underpinned by the rule of law, and second, his relentless opposition to corruption of any kind, exemplified by his zero-tolerance approach,” Mr Thio said.

He noted that Mr Lee was elected as the first Honorary Member of the Law Society under the Legal Profession Act — the society’s highest honour — for his outstanding contributions to Singapore and the legal profession.

“We will not see his like again, and are proud to count him as one of us,” Mr Thio said.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Hotel body, CASE to work on guidelines for wedding package cancellations

TODAY
17 Mar 2015
Jordon Simpson

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Hotel Association (SHA) said it is looking at putting together a set of best practices for hotels when handling wedding package cancellations, and will seek inputs from the consumer watchdog to ensure these protect both its members’ and consumers’ interests.

This comes a day after the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) raised concerns  about disputes over such cancellation policies, and urged fairer contract terms.

Responding to media queries today (March 16), SHA executive director Margaret Heng said hotels have been accommodating by considering cancellations on a case-by-case basis.

“Hotels have wedding package cancellation (policies) in place because once the venue is booked it cannot be sold to another party. In general, any cancellation will have cost implications for the affected hotel,” she said.

Currently, cancellation policies for wedding packages vary between hotels. Grand Hyatt Singapore requires a non-refundable and non-transferable deposit of S$5,350 (nett) upon firm reservation of a wedding.

Two months before the wedding, a second deposit of 50 per cent of costs — after deducting the first deposit — is then required for event charges. Full payment is required two weeks before the wedding date.

W Singapore-Sentosa Cove requires couples to place a non-refundable and non-transferrable deposit upon confirmation of their wedding. A second deposit, equivalent to 80 per cent of the contracted package, will be required no later than two months before the event.

“While we do view each wedding cancellation with careful consideration, it is not viable to do away with a charge as there is an element of high opportunity cost,” Mr Stephane Fabregoul, General Manager of W Singapore-Sentosa Cove said.

Riverview Hotel’s cancellation policy states that cancelling six months in advance will incur the couple a penalty of 30 per cent of the total anticipated bill. If a wedding is called off three months in advance, the penalty will be 70 per cent of the total anticipated bill, and any notice of less than three months will have the couple paying the anticipated bill in full.

Ms Indrani Bit, Director of Marketing Communications at Grand Hyatt Singapore said: “We welcome the action started by CASE to put in place stipulated guidelines with regards to cancellation of hotel wedding packages, or any corporate/social event packages for that matter. It would safeguard both consumers as well as businesses.”

She also pointed out that before agreeing to a contract and placing their deposits, couples are required to sign off on a binding contract which states in writing that they are agreeable to the payment and cancellation policies stipulated.

“However, we do understand that unforeseen circumstances do happen, so we do exercise flexibility in adjusting our levied penalties and cancellation policies to the benefit of our clients on a case-to-case basis,” she said.

jsimpson@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Changes in transfer pricing in Singapore

Business Times
11 Mar 2015
See Jee Chang & Lee Siew Ying

IRAS is reviewing how it's practised by S'pore taxpayers. Companies would do well to pay heed to ensure compliance with the arm's-length principle.

TRANSFER pricing has become a buzzword of late, not only in the international tax arena, but also for companies here in Singapore.

Transfer pricing - which has to do with the prices charged in transactions between related companies within a group - has been singled out (rightly or wrongly) by tax authorities in developed countries as the key modus operandi by which some major multinationals have shifted profits from high-tax jurisdictions to low-tax ones.

Tax authorities argue that this results in these MNCs not paying their fair share of tax, leading to less tax revenues to fund public goods, which may mean that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and individuals have to shoulder the extra burden.

Singapore, with a relatively lower corporate tax rate of 17 per cent, is not known as a high-tax jurisdiction. Theoretically, this should discourage MNCs from shifting profits out of Singapore and, hence, transfer pricing should not be an area of focus for the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS). But this is not proving to be the case; since 2006, IRAS has been scrutinising transfer pricing practices. This level of scrutiny is set to rise even further if recent developments are anything to go by.

WHY IS IRAS CONCERNED ABOUT TRANSFER PRICING?

Tax authorities in many nations - including the US, UK, France and Japan - have been increasingly launching extensive audits on MNCs, in certain cases slapping them with a hefty tax bill upon concluding that they are guilty of profit shifting through various aggressive tax-planning schemes including transfer pricing.

Some MNCs have disputed these conclusions, and have taken the tax authorities to court. However, many MNCs are spooked by the extensiveness of such tax audits, and in their attempt to avoid such tax audits, some MNCs may pull back profits from their intra-group transactions involving lower-tax jurisdictions, such as Singapore, to placate these tax authorities. In other instances, they may reconsider their existing structures and operations in Singapore altogether.

IRAS appears to be wary of MNCs pulling back too much profit out of their Singapore operations without basis, at the expense of Singapore's tax revenue. More importantly, IRAS is also concerned about the longer-term impact on Singapore as a business location, as unresolved transfer pricing controversies can be very costly and time-consuming for businesses.

So IRAS has started reviewing the transfer pricing of Singapore taxpayers to ensure compliance with the arm's-length principle, which is premised on an independent and commercial basis. This also highlights IRAS's commitment to being a good treaty partner (Singapore has signed double-tax treaties with over 70 countries) and a responsible member of the international tax community, one that upholds international tax and transfer pricing principles.

KEY CHANGES TO SINGAPORE'S TRANSFER PRICING GUIDELINES

On Jan 6 this year, IRAS released new, comprehensive transfer pricing guidelines which replace those in force since 2006.

The most significant change in the new guidelines is IRAS's requirement and expectation that taxpayers prepare and maintain transfer pricing documentation to substantiate that their related-party dealings are at arm's length.

Although the 2006 guidelines stressed the benefit of preparing such documentation, IRAS revealed that, based on the cases subject to transfer pricing audits and reviews, a significant majority of taxpayers still did not have contemporaneous transfer pricing documentation. This compelled IRAS to issue new guidelines explicitly requiring documentation to be prepared.

The new guidelines also introduced the concept of "contemporaneous" documentation - documentation must be adequate and prepared no later than the tax return filing date for the financial year in which the transaction takes place. For example, transfer pricing documentation for transactions carried out in the financial year 2014 should be prepared no later than Nov 30, 2015.

Other significant changes include:

  • Expanded lists of information required, especially at the group level, which will require more time and effort by taxpayers to document. However, there is no requirement for documentation to be prepared in a "master file and local file" format/report, and there is also no country-by-country reporting requirement;
  • Documentation needs to be updated at least once every three years, absent of any material changes. Financial update of benchmark should be done annually;
  • Safe-harbour thresholds for exemption from documentation but limited to certain situations;
  • Taxpayers need to test the financial results of the tested party annually, and to make appropriate year-end adjustments at the year-end closing of financial statements; and
  • Taxpayers may be penalised for not complying with record-keeping requirements for tax if they are unable to provide transfer pricing documentation upon request, or denied any year-end adjustments made to the financial accounts if no supporting documentation is available.

THE WAY FORWARD

Transfer pricing will continue to be a focal point for IRAS. The new guidelines represent another significant milestone in Singapore's transfer pricing regime, and an affirmation of IRAS's intent to ensure that taxpayers maintain sufficient transfer pricing documentation and comply with the arm's-length principle.

With the release of the new guidelines, companies should start to:

  • Prepare and maintain contemporaneous documentation if none has been prepared;
  • Consider updating the transfer pricing documentation, in view of the new information requirements;
  • Prepare contemporaneous documentation during/before the financial year end, in order to support year-end adjustments (a condition for recognition for tax purposes) even though the deadline is Nov 30;
  • Re-evaluate relevant transactions and supporting analyses if new guidance impacts arrangement or transactions (for example, use of Berry ratio, use of global comparables, etc);
  • Prepare to respond to transfer pricing consultation or at least detailed query on transfer pricing matters; and
  • Consider implementing a consistent transfer pricing strategy and policies, to better mitigate double-taxation risks in the longer term.

In summary, a company that undertakes proactive transfer pricing planning and diligently prepares and maintains adequate and timely transfer pricing documentation stands the best chance of satisfying IRAS that it has complied with the arm's-length principle. Being proactive is paramount.

  • The writers are, respectively, tax partner and transfer pricing senior manager at Deloitte Singapore. The views expressed are their own

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

No victims, so there can't be any CBT case: Defence

Straits Times
24 Mar 2015
Hoe Pei Shan

Lawyer for accused argues 'fatal failure' of charge brought by prosecution

THERE is no case for alleging that City Harvest Church leaders had committed criminal breach of trust (CBT), simply because there are no victims, asserted Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan yesterday.

He was addressing the court before his client, church deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, took the stand as the fifth of six defendants in the long-running trial.

Tan and five other church leaders, including founding pastor Kong Hee, are accused of misusing $50 million in church funds to boost the music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun and covering this up.

Five of them have also been charged with channelling money from the church's building fund into sham bond investments in Ms Ho's management company, Xtron, and glass manufacturer Firna.

Four, including Tan, then allegedly devised transactions to clear the sham bonds from the church's accounts to mislead auditors.

Yesterday's court proceedings began with presiding judge See Kee Oon calling for a minute of silence in remembrance of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who had died just hours before.

Mr Sreenivasan then outlined what he called the "fatal failure" of the prosecution's charge of CBT against five of the six accused, Tan among them.

"Normally when there's an offence, there is a complainant, and normally the complainant makes the FIR (First Information Report)," said the lawyer, noting that his team had been asking for this report, but to no avail.

"We've not had any prosecution witness from the church alleging that the church is a victim, so we have this amazing situation. CBT is not a victimless crime, and (we have) no victim.

"It comes back to basics, a CBT case is about wrongful loss to a victim... It's quite clear there is no offence in this case."

The prosecution charges that the church's building fund monies, made up of donations by church members towards a new church building, had been diverted to finance Ms Ho's career - an unauthorised use of the fund.

But Mr Sreenivasan said Ms Ho's music was widely acknowledged as synonymous with the church's Crossover project to evangelise through pop music, and thus an objective of the church.

There had been no intent among the church leaders to cause wrongful loss to the church, Mr Sreenivasan added, and the full amount taken out was eventually returned to the church, with interest.

"If you put the money back in, then it would support the inference that there was no original dishonesty intended," said Mr Sreenivasan.

He is expected to examine his client on the stand for the remainder of the week, after which Tan will be cross examined by the defence of his co-accused, as well as by the prosecution.

The long-running trial enters its 105th day today.

hpeishan@sph.cam.so

 

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

 

THERE'S NO VICTIM

We've not had any prosecution witness from the church alleging that the church is a victim, so we have this amazing situation. CBT is not a victimless crime, and (we have) no victim.

- Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan

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

Restoring confidence in medical disciplinary process: Forum

Straits Times
17 Mar 2015

MOST doctors accept that in any just society, patients have the right to expect complaints about doctors' alleged professional misconduct to be thoroughly and rigorously investigated by an independent panel, so that public confidence in the integrity of Singapore's healthcare system is safeguarded.

In the case between Dr Lawrence Ang and the Singapore Medical Council ("Why SMC was ordered to pay doctor's legal costs"; last Tuesday), the SMC's Complaints Committee initially found that Dr Ang did not have any case to answer and all charges were dismissed.

Under the Medical Registration Act (MRA), both complainant and respondent have the right to appeal to the health minister against the Complaints Committee's verdict.

In this case, the complainant appealed to the health minister, who then told the SMC to hold a disciplinary hearing, which found Dr Ang guilty and suspended him.

The perception in the medical community is that this route of appeal for ministerial intervention may encourage abuse by dissatisfied complainants, as it carries little financial cost for the complainant.

The Court of Appeal also alluded to the fact that the reason for the minister's intervention was unknown.

It said: "It is not evident why or how the decision of the Complaints Committee was considered to be unsatisfactory."

To allay the anxiety among doctors, could the Ministry of Health reveal the following statistics since the MRA was amended to allow ministerial discretion in the appeal process?

How many appeal cases have been received by the ministry from dissatisfied complainants after the Complaints Committee stage?

Of these, how many were dismissed by the minister and how many were redirected back to the SMC for review by a Disciplinary Committee?

Of those reviewed by a Disciplinary Committee, how many had a verdict that was different from the Complaints Committee's conclusion?

With this information, I hope confidence can be restored in the integrity of the SMC's disciplinary process, so that doctors can practise with the assurance that only bona fide complaints proceed to the Disciplinary Committee stage.

Huang Shoou Chyuan (Dr)

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Cambodia recognises first patent by Singapore firm

Straits Times
11 Mar 2015
Phyllis Ho

A PROCESS to make patent applications easier for Cambodian and Singaporean firms has already borne fruit.

Cambodia has just recognised its first patent lodged by a Singapore firm, which has declined to be named.

The recognition was marked by a ceremony in the capital Phnom Penh last week, and came only two months after a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by Cambodia's Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos).

The MOU enables companies in both countries to apply for patents more easily.

Ipos chief executive Tan Yih San noted in a statement that businesses can also look forward to "expedited patents protection".

Such collaboration between Singapore and Cambodia is part of regional moves ahead of the Asean Economic Community that comes into force later this year.

The MOU and the new patent recognition should be seen as an "embodiment of Asean integration and greater harmonisation in the region", said Mr Cham Prasidh, the senior minister of Cambodia's Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts.

The collaboration also underpins Singapore's preparations to become Asean's first fully operational International Searching Authority and International Preliminary Examining Authority when the Patent Cooperation Treaty takes effect this September.

Mr Tan reaffirmed these plans.

He said: "We remain committed in forging a strong and interoperable intellectual property system for the creators in both countries and beyond."

hphyllis@sph.com.sg

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1,900 pupils' personal data leaked by accident

Straits Times
24 Mar 2015
Irene Tham

Primary school sends file to 1,200 parents; procedures being tightened

THE personal data of more than 1,900 pupils from Henry Park Primary School was leaked two weeks ago, in the second major case reported here since patrons of karaoke chain K Box had their details exposed last September.

An Excel spreadsheet containing the children's particulars was mistakenly sent out to about 1,200 parents on March 12 as part of an update about a school event.

The file contained the names and birth certificate numbers of all 1,900 pupils in the school, and the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of their parents.

A day after the leak, the school's principal, Mr Chia Soo Keng, sent an e-mail apology to all parents, asking them to delete the Excel file and not to use the data. He told The Straits Times: "This should not have happened."

This was the school's first data breach and it is reviewing all personal data handling procedures to prevent a recurrence, he said.

"For a start, all confidential information files are now password-protected," said Mr Chia.

A Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman said: "All schools have been reminded to use encryption as an additional means to protect personal data stored in files."

Apologising for the incident, she said the employee who made the mistake has been counselled and the school has been asked to tighten its controls.

Still, several parents contacted by The Straits Times said they were concerned. "How do you ensure that the data is not used?" said a 39-year-old IT consultant, giving her name only as Ms Wong.

Another parent asked why sensitive files were not encrypted. "The school should have tighter processes," said the 30-year-old sales manager, who wanted to be known only as Mr Soh.

Last year, the names, addresses and mobile-phone and identity- card numbers of K Box's 300,000 members were posted online in the biggest breach of personal data here. The Personal Data Protection Commission has not released investigation findings.

Three parents told The Straits Times they hoped the commission could step in.

However, the privacy watchdog said MOE schools such as Henry Park are exempted from the Personal Data Protection Act, fully enforced from July 2 last year. The Act requires organisations to take "reasonable measures" to protect personal data in their possession.

Instead, MOE schools are governed by public-sector rules.

These have not been made public, though the MOE spokesman said its internal rules require sensitive information such as personal data to be encrypted and not be disclosed to unauthorised parties.

Lawyer Bryan Tan, a technology partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay, said in situations not covered by the Act, the public has no recourse and "only moral suasion".

But lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson, said if parents suspect their data has, for example, been sold to a tuition agency, they can complain to MOE and the commission, which can investigate and charge wrongdoers in court.

Privacy advocate Ngiam Shih Tung, 47, said it is timely to review the exemption of government agencies from the Act.

"There are many areas where the Government may have fallen short of the standards imposed on the private sector," said the engineer. "Is there a requirement for public agencies to state the purpose of data collection?"

itham@sph.com.sg

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Deficiencies found in fair value measure: audit survey

Business Times
17 Mar 2015
Jamie Lee

[Singapore] SINGAPORE'S Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) on Monday raised an alert on "common and persistent deficiencies" relating to fair value measurements, internal control testing and revenue recognition among public company audits.

ACRA was referring to the latest global survey of audit inspections by the International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators (IFIAR) - which Singapore is a founding member of - that has found recurring and high levels of deficiencies in key areas of public company audits. The results of the third-annual survey were released in London on March 3.

In a statement, IFIAR called on the auditing industry to enhance "the professional scepticism of practitioners".

"We continue to see high levels of inspection deficiencies in vital areas of public company audits," said Lewis H Ferguson, IFIAR chair, and board member of the US Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. "This is a problem for investors and stakeholders around the world."

The IFIAR inspection report comprises key findings of significant audit firms, and their inspections of 948 company audits of listed public interest entities, systemically important financial institutions and the overall quality control systems in place within the audit firms. Most of these findings are consistent with the results of IFIAR's prior surveys.

Looking at the areas of audit which had a high rate of deficiencies - as a percentage of all inspected audits for these areas - the highest was for internal control testing, which stood at 24 per cent. This was followed by fair value measurement at 20 per cent, and revenue recognition at 14 per cent.

Critically, for audits of systemically important financial institutions - which would include global banks and insurers - the survey found the highest number of deficiencies related to auditing of allowance for loan losses and loan impairments, internal control testing, and auditing the valuation of investments and securities.

Meanwhile, audit firms' own quality control systems brought out the highest number of inspection findings in terms of engagement performance; independence and ethics requirements; and human resources.

Based on reports from IFIAR members on whether audit quality in their jurisdictions had changed, almost half of the respondents noted no significant overall changes.

In a statement, ACRA's chief executive Kenneth Yap said: "Singapore has maintained a consistently high quality of audit, although some of the deficiencies observed by IFIAR's survey do feature in our own inspection finding.

"Nevertheless, audit quality is constantly a work-in-progress, and we will continue to take all necessary steps to further raise the quality of audit. One upcoming initiative is to have audit firms share their audit quality indicators as a gauge to assess improvements in audit quality amongst firms in Singapore."

There are 29 IFIAR member countries, including several in South-east Asia such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Other members include the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

leejamie@sph.com.sg

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Why SMC was ordered to pay doctor's legal costs

Straits Times
10 Mar 2015
Salma Khalik

THE Singapore Medical Council (SMC) was wrong to think that it cannot be made to bear the costs incurred by a doctor found innocent in a disciplinary hearing.

The Court of Appeal said it was "implausible" that Parliament meant the SMC to have "absolute immunity" from bearing the legal expenses in such cases - especially those in which the professional watchdog was clearly in the wrong.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justices Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash said this in their March 5 judgment, which turned down an appeal by the SMC over being made to pay the cost of Dr Lawrence Ang's disciplinary and court hearings.

It came after the Supreme Court overturned a disciplinary committee's guilty verdict regarding one of four charges against Dr Ang for the way he delivered a baby who fell ill.

The SMC had argued that it "cannot in law" be made to pay the doctor's costs based on the Medical Registration Act, and that it "should not" be made to pay as it was carrying out its public regulatory function.

The Act does not mention costs when a doctor is found not guilty. The judges, however, said this does not mean a disciplinary tribunal cannot make the SMC pay.

They found it difficult to imagine that Parliament intended to allow a quasi-prosecutorial body such as the SMC to act with absolute immunity from costs when the public prosecutor, who exercises public "constitutional" functions, does not enjoy a similar privilege.

The judges added that the power to order costs is important "to incentivise appropriate conduct in litigation".

They said that in this particular case, it was "indefensible" for the SMC to ask not to be made to pay the cost, as the Health Minister had ordered the hearing "even though the conduct in question has been assessed by fellow professionals and found not to cross even a preliminary threshold of misconduct".

The court also took the ministry's action to task.

"No reasons were given by the minister," the judges said. "It is not evident why or how the decision of the Complaints Committee was considered to be unsatisfactory."

They added that the SMC was also at fault when it failed to specify the type of professional misconduct Dr Ang had allegedly committed, leading to "a lack of clarity" on what he was being charged with.

Also, the disciplinary committee "made a number of errors" in finding the doctor guilty, including taking into account "facts that it should not have considered".

The judges concluded that the SMC "bore a measure of the responsibility for the errors made by the lower tribunal", thus providing further reason for the SMC to bear the cost of the hearings incurred by Dr Ang.

salma@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/ST.Salma

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Noble files HK suit after third Iceberg report

Business Times
24 Mar 2015
Kenneth Lim

It acts against ex-Noble credit analyst and a firm which registered Iceberg site

Singapore

NOBLE Group has thrown a legal punch back at the parties that it says have been waging a month-long campaign to accuse the commodities trading company of aggressive accounting.

Noble shares rallied 4 per cent, or 3.5 Singapore cents, to close at 91 Singapore cents on Monday. The stock was the day's most actively traded.

After saying it would start legal proceedings in a pre-market announcement, the commodities group filed a writ of summons in the Hong Kong courts against Hong Kong-based Arnaud Vagner, who worked as a credit analyst for Noble from 2011 to 2013; and Seychelles-registered Enlighten Ace Ltd, which has registered the online website Iceberg Research.

Noble is seeking damages on claims of conspiracy to injure Noble by driving down its share price and a allegedly spreading false or misleading information. Noble believes that Mr Vagner is a key player behind the allegations published by Iceberg.

The suit came after Iceberg Research published a report over the weekend alleging that Noble was understating its debt position. That was the third report by Iceberg, which had previously raised questions about Noble's treatment of long-term investments and its marked-to-market contracts.

In the report, Iceberg said other analysts, including credit rating agencies, wrongly accepted Noble's accounting of inventories as liquid assets that could be used to arrive at its net debt position, because suppliers who were also creditors might hinder the sale of that inventory.

Asked about that issue, Standard & Poor's (S&P) credit analyst Cindy Huang defended the ratings agency's methodology.

"S&P believes that commodity traders' inventory are typically highly liquid and could be used to repay debt when required," she said. "Commodity is not as liquid as cash so we apply a haircut to the inventory value of commodity. The haircut varies depending on our assessment of the liquidity of the commodity. For example, we would apply 10 per cent for oil, which is highly liquid as it has a deep market, compared with coal/cotton which we apply a higher hair cut of 25 per cent. We do not include inventory held for processing as an offset for borrowings as we don't consider it to be liquid and readily available for debt repayment."

Noble had provided rebuttals to the two earlier Iceberg reports. Asked about a response to the third report, a Noble spokesperson said the company would not add anything beyond its announcement about the start of legal action.

"Their actions, and their timing, have been calculated primarily to inflict damage rather than to facilitate the distribution of research," Noble said in its announcement.

In its latest report, Iceberg said that it viewed itself as a whistleblower. The outfit also claimed that one of its members had previously reported certain activities to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) in 2013, and alleged that if the regulator had acted on that information earlier, the fraud that sent OW Bunker into bankruptcy in 2014 "could certainly have been avoided".

MPA had no comment.

Analysts in general have not been overly alarmed as a result of Iceberg's allegations.

"The allegations do not dislodge the basic value proposition for Noble," Religare research analyst Nirgunan Tiruchelvam said. "It's a leading and highly diversified commodity trader."

The attention on Noble has made its stock an active trading counter. Fund manager Invesco on March 19 pared its stake to 4.85 per cent from 5.09 per cent by selling 15.4 million shares at 85.45 Singapore cents apiece just days after becoming a substantial shareholder.

Noble's stock has lost about a quarter of its value since Iceberg's first report on Feb 15.

kenlim@sph.com.sg

 


 

Iceberg: 'Not the first time we acted as whistleblower against Noble' 

OBSCURE outfit Iceberg Research said in its third report on Noble Group that this is not the first time that it is acting as a whistleblower against the commodities trader.

Referring to the bankruptcy of Danish bunker supplier OW Bunker in 2014, it claimed that a member of Iceberg had in 2013 "reported Noble's commercial practices in Singapore to the Maritime Port Authority (MPA)".

It alleged that "Noble had been associated with some less than reputable local companies" and that while "the decision was taken by MPA not to renew (Noble's bunkering) licence", Noble was not fined.

Iceberg also said that its member later informed MPA that the supposed "illegal activities" had continued, Noble was allegedly "still involved", and the unnamed "local companies" in question had become major bunker suppliers in Singapore.

Those "local companies and people that our colleague had reported to the MPA were directly responsible for the fraudulent bankruptcy of OW Bunker" in 2014, Iceberg claimed.

"Had the MPA acted on the information sent to them, this high-profile bankruptcy... could certainly have been avoided."

OW Bunker, the world's biggest bunker supplier and Denmark's second-biggest listed company by revenue, filed for bankruptcy in November 2014, blaming fraud by two senior employees at a Singapore-based unit, Dynamic Oil Trading.

It estimated the alleged fraud to be worth US$125 million, and also reported a US$150 million risk management loss. OW Bunker went into liquidation after its banks refused to extend credit.

Noble, which has filed a suit in Hong Kong, said in a Singapore Exchange statement on Monday in response to Iceberg's claims that "we reject their allegations as inaccurate, unreliable and misleading".

The MPA did not respond to Iceberg's allegations by press time.

melissat@sph.com.sg

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

 

Stamford Law to go global after full merger with top US law firm

Business Times
16 Mar 2015
Claire Huang

[Singapore] SINGAPORE'S sixth largest law firm, Stamford Law Corporation, will fully merge with one of the world's top five law firms, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, in a trailblazing move that will not only internationalise a local law firm but also pave the way for Singapore law to go global.

Effective April 1, the merger will make the combined practice - to be named Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC - a Singapore law practice where the partners will be concurrent partners of the global firm, said Lee Suet Fern, senior director and founder of Stamford Law.

This means Stamford Law will fully integrate with the other 28 Morgan Lewis offices globally, making it the first Singapore law firm able to offer both foreign law and full Singapore law counsel in all areas, said the two firms in a statement.

Morgan Lewis Stamford will become Morgan Lewis's 29th office as well as the latter's headquarters in Asia, excluding Japan, the firms said.

While there has been talk of a glut of Singapore lawyers, Mrs Lee noted that a merger of this size and scale gives opportunities for Singapore lawyers to be involved in more complex and in-depth cross-border legal transactions for many of the largest global corporations.

"The combined practice will also bring significant work, skills and opportunities for Singapore, and will contribute towards the growth of, and opportunities for, Singapore as an international and regional legal hub - through further exports of legal services to the region."

The idea of a full merger, mooted in late 2013, is also expected to materially advance Singapore's goal to become an international dispute resolution centre and an internationally competitive legal services hub.

Said Mrs Lee: "With the significant growth of arbitration in Singapore in the last few years, and the recent establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Courts as well as the Singapore Mediation Centre, this merger could help generate growth of large-scale dispute resolution work, especially that involving the Fortune 100 companies that represent some of Morgan Lewis's top clients."

"This could help make Singapore the obvious dispute resolution centre of choice for Asia and beyond. Naturally, Singapore litigation will continue to be undertaken by Singapore-qualified lawyers."

Jami McKeon, chair of Morgan Lewis, welcomed the merger, adding that this integration signals the firm's long-term commitment to Singapore as it makes the combined practice both a centre for Asia sector practice, and a beachhead for further growth within Southeast Asia and the Asia region in general.

Set up in 1873 in the United States, Morgan Lewis is the largest American law firm and has more than 1,000 lawyers in its dispute resolution practice globally. It is understood that more than half of the Philadelphia-based firm's revenue is generated from dispute resolution work. Average profit per partner (a key measurement of a law firm's financial health) is about US$1.57 million at Morgan Lewis.

Asked about plans to grow the Singapore team, Mrs Lee said she expects it to expand in terms of bench strength, including depth and breadth, as well as add new practice areas where appropriate.

Stamford Law started in December 2000, focusing on top-tier mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and securities law practices. It has since diversified into a full-service law firm.

Under Singapore law, a local law firm cannot be acquired by a foreign one. However, a foreign law firm may set up an office in Singapore either through the Foreign Law Practice (FLP) structure, which allows it to practise foreign law here; or the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) scheme, that allows a foreign law firm to practise Singapore commercial law.

The Joint Legal Venture (JLV) or Foreign Law Alliance (FLA) also provides a platform for Singapore and foreign law firms to enter into licensed, collaborative arrangements to provide their clients advice in permitted areas of Singapore law.

But foreign law firms may practise Singapore law only in "permitted areas" and operate under regimes which require periodic licence renewals under the four structures.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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

Stiffer penalties for contractors who flout worksite safety rules

Straits Times
10 Mar 2015
Lim Yan Liang

CONTRACTORS who flout safety rules will be barred from hiring any new foreign workers under a new stiffer demerit point system.

This ban will be imposed on the company when it accumulates a specified number of points.

Currently, the punishment is confined to specific worksites.

Other changes include errant companies having to carry the demerit points for 18 months, instead of 12 months now.

The penalties will also kick in earlier, and more demerit points will be given to serious offences.

Announcing this in Parliament yesterday, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Hawazi Daipi said: "We hope the enhanced (system) will help drive companies to put in greater coherent effort to address systemic safety lapses."

These four changes to the scheme came after workplace deaths for the construction sector remained stubbornly high in recent years, despite efforts to bring it down.

The construction industry accounted for 27 of 60 workplace fatalities last year, and 33 of 73 fatalities the year before.

This was despite measures, such as the requirement from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for developers to identify risks and hazards at worksites before a tender is awarded.

The Workplace Safety and Health Council also made 1,600 visits to worksites to conduct safety compliance audits last year, double the 800 visits in 2013.

Overall, though, workplace deaths across all industries fell to a record low of 60 last year, said Mr Hawazi.

As a result, the MOM met its target of 1.8 workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers four years ahead of schedule.

But the number of non-fatal injury cases at workplaces has gone up over the last three years, from 10,060 in 2011 to about 13,000 last year.

Said Mr Hawazi: "We need to continue to press on and do more in order to achieve sustainable improvements in our workplace safety and health performance."

Yesterday, he also announced that the Government will enhance the regulatory framework for Major Hazard Installations (MHI), such as oil refineries.

This is following recommendations by an inter-agency task force set up to review the framework. Asked by Nominated MP K. Karthikeyan about the Government's efforts in this area, Mr Hawazi said that several recommendations would be adopted, including the setting up of a National MHI Regulatory Office to work with MHIs on safety, health and environment matters.

Mr Hawazi was also asked by Mr Patrick Tay (Nee Soon GRC) about compensation limits for workers who die from workplace incidents or are permanently incapacitated.

He said the MOM will be reviewing the limits to bring them in line with the rise in nominal median wages.

The limits were last revised in 2012.

To address the increase in industrial accident medical bills, MOM will also be raising the cap for medical expenses claims to ensure that the Work Injury Compensation Act continues to fully cover more than 95 per cent of claims where hospitalisation is required, said Mr Hawazi. Currently, coverage is capped at $30,000 per accident or for a period of one year from the accident, whichever is reached first.

The Act imposes a duty on employers to compensate their employees who are injured as a result of work.

As such, Mr Hawazi said, it does not cover freelancers who are considered their own employers.

"We encourage self-employed persons to take responsibility for their own well-being and purchase adequate insurance to ensure some financial certainty in the event that they are injured while at work," he added.

yanliang@sph.com.sg

 

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

 

MINISTRY OF MANPOWER

FY2015 Budget

$1.5 billion

Up by 16 per cent

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

Singapore providing assistance to Malaysia in 1MDB probe

Business Times
24 Mar 2015
Anita Gabriel

Authorities here are in touch with their Malaysian counterparts on the matter

Singapore

SINGAPORE authorities will back Malaysia's high-profile probe into state-backed 1Malaysia Development Berhad by providing assistance "within the full ambit" of its laws, said the country's financial regulator.

Such a cooperation may have already begun as the Monetary Authority of Singapore told The Business Times that the authorities here are in touch with their Malaysian counterparts on the matter.

"Singapore authorities are in touch with their Malaysian counterparts. We are committed to assist within the full ambit of our laws," said the Monetary Authority of Singapore in response to queries by the The Business Times.

However, MAS declined to elaborate further. " As there are ongoing investigations in Malaysia, it is not appropriate to provide more details," said an MAS spokesperson.

This marks the first remarks by a Singapore regulator on any potential collaboration with Malaysian regulators on the investigations into troubled 1MDB.

The MAS was responding to BT queries on whether the regulator has been approached by Malaysian authorities to cooperate in the probe after it was revealed that a local branch of Swiss wealth manager BSI Singapore was keeping 1MDB's cash of US$1.103 billion that was redeemed from investments in Cayman Islands funds.

"MAS has been engaging the relevant financial institutions in Singapore. As a matter of policy, MAS does not comment on its supervisory dealings with specific financial institutions," said the spokesperson, adding that it is unable to comment on individual banking relationships due to "confidentiality considerations".

"Financial institutions here are required to conduct rigorous customer due diligence, regular account reviews, and to monitor for and report any suspicious transactions," MAS added.

The regulator reiterated that as an international financial centre, Singapore has put in place a robust regime to protect the integrity of its financial system.

On Monday, Bank Negara Malaysia vowed to do all it can under its jurisdiction with regards to the audit and probe being carried out on 1MDB.

In an interview with CNBC and in response to a question on the audit, Malaysia's central bank governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz said "we will uphold whatever that is under our purview under the legislation . . . We are accountable for it".

Earlier this month, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the country's Finance Minister and chairs 1MDB's advisory board, ordered the national auditor to "independently verify 1MDB's accounts" and pass the findings to Parliament's bipartisan Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The audit was commissioned on the back of heightened public pressure for the authorities to scrutinise 1MDB's operations and accounts following reports of alleged mismanagement.

Alongside the audit, the country's police and anti-graft body are also probing the firm which suffered losses of RM665.36 million (S$249 million) in the financial year ended March 2014 versus a profit of RM778.2 million the year before.

1MDB, set up in 2009 to woo foreign investor dollar into the country and stimulate economic activity in strategic sectors, has come under stinging criticism for its elevated debts of some RM42 billion which has raised much concern in Malaysia.

Malaysia has set up a high-powered task force comprising the police, the Attorney-General's office and anti-corruption agency to investigate complaints related to 1MDB.

Malaysia's top cop Khalid Abu Bakar earlier said that the probe was related to possible criminal breach of trust and cheating involving the firm.

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

CASE seeks guidelines on cancellation of hotel wedding packages

TODAY
16 Mar 2015
Valerie Koh

Consumers association wants to put disputes between hotels, couples over charges to a stop

SINGAPORE — When they decided not to go ahead with their wedding four months before the big day, Mr Ken Chong and Ms Ngia Hui Na were dealt another blow: The hotel they had booked to hold their banquet asked them to pay up.

A dispute ensued, with the couple saying they were not informed about the cancellation policy and the hotel standing firm.

The February deadline given to them to pay 50 per cent of the charges — amounting to more than S$10,000, including the S$3,000 deposit they had paid — has passed and the hotel has threatened legal action.

The consumer watchdog here wants to put such disputes to a stop by asking the industry association to come up with guidelines to deal with cancellation of wedding packages.

In a survey last year, the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) received responses to enquiries about cancellation policies from only 18 out of 100 hotels.

One hotel, which CASE did not name, charged couples in full upon cancellation, if notice was given less than eight months from the banquet date, for instance.

Among the 23 complaints it received relating to such disputes in the past four years, couples in two cases had to forego their deposits even though other couples had taken over their slots.

Highlighting the disparities in practices on World Consumer Rights Day yesterday, CASE president Lim Biow Chuan said: “Could you not have found alternative customers to take up the time slot, if we’re quite some time away from the actual booking?”

Most hotels said they had rejected potential customers, because the couples had signed a contract with them, and hence, there was a need for compensation, said Mr Lim.

He acknowledged, however, that most couples fail to read the fine print in their contract. “Most couples, when they book a wedding venue, the last thing they have in mind is that they’ll cancel,” he said.

Talks have been held with the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA) since last year for hotels to issue fairer contract terms for the cancellation of wedding packages, said CASE, but little progress has been made.

“We’ve been negotiating with the SHA to see if they’ll come on board. If they don’t, then we’ll have to consider legal action,” said Mr Lim, without elaborating. “We will consider (this) later if hotels are totally uncooperative and they insist on charging that kind of fees that we feel are unreasonable.”

Legal action can be taken against hotels that enforce a penalty, such as cancellation charges, despite not having suffered genuine losses, said lawyer Daniel Chia of Stamford Law Corporation. But hotels can also sue customers who default on paying the penalty if they have lost business due to late cancellation, he added.

valeriekohsf@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

SIA and 7 other carriers reach settlement in price-fixing lawsuit

Business Times
10 Mar 2015
Nisha Ramchandani

SETTLEMENTS have been reached with eight airlines - including Singapore Airlines (SIA) - in a class action lawsuit related to price-fixing of tickets for trans-Pacific flights.

According to a legal notice on the website airlinesettlement.com, the eight airlines are Air France, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, SIA, Thai Airways and Vietnam Airlines. Meanwhile, the lawsuit is said to be continuing against five non-settling airlines - namely Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways (ANA), China Airlines, Eva Airways and Philippines Airlines.

The class action suit claims that the airlines agreed to fix prices on tickets for trans-Pacific air travel, which means that passengers could haSave & Closeve paid more than necessary. Affected passengers could include those who have purchased an air travel ticket from one of 26 airlines, with at least one flight segment between the US and Asia/Oceania for travel stretching back to Jan 1, 2000.

A hearing will be held in San Francisco at the US District Court on May 22. The eight settling airlines have agreed to pay some US$39.5 million to the settlement fund, which is being presented to the court for approval. SIA appears to be paying US$9.2 million of that sum.

The legal notice also said: "The settling defendants deny the allegations, and deny that they have any liability. The defendant airlines also deny liability."

ANA, however, has allegedly pleaded guilty to fixing the prices of certain discounted tickets sold in the United States from April 1, 2000 until at least April 1, 2004.

An SIA spokesman said in response to queries from The Business Times: "At this stage, it will be inappropriate to comment as this matter is before the court."

The California-based law firms handling the class action are Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy as well as Hausfeld.

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

Interview with Singapore Law Society President Thio Shen Yi: Pro bono services initiated with 7 full-time lawyers

Lianhe Zaobao
22 Mar 2015
Poh Lay Hoon

This article was first published on 15 March 2015 in the Singapore Mandarin broadsheet,Lianhe Zaobao.
SLW commissioned a translation to give the legal community a view of legal reports from different Singapore news outlets.

Like other "Westernised" lawyers who received their education in the English medium, Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi is articulate in English, fluent and at ease due to his strong foundations in the language. He is more limited when it comes to Mandarin. To quote him, he only knows enough to order food.

However, the lack of grounding in the language has not weakened how he practices the traditional Chinese virtues of upholding justice and helping the poor and weak.

Compassionate and warm-hearted, he leads by example, and actively encourages all of the employees of his law firm, TSMP Law Corporation, to engage in charity and contribute to society.

He was elected President of the The Law Society of Singapore taking office in January this year. In an interview with Lianhe Zaobao, he touches on the new pro bono programmes of the society, the legal profession and lesser-known aspects of his family.

The Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) Fellowship Scheme was launched by the Law Society in January this year to help accused persons who are poor and needy. It has already recruited seven full-time lawyers to handle its operations.

Thio Shen Yi, 48, who became the 25th president of the professional association in January this year, described the CLAS Fellowship as "a way to create the pro bono DNA we want, to encourage pro bono service to become part of the legal professional culture". Under the new programme, the Law Society will fund the appointment of lawyers to provide pro bono services to accused persons from needy backgrounds. Major local law firms will also assign their lawyers to provide pro bono services for at least half a year.

Five law firms in pro-bono programme

Thio revealed that a total of five law firms are supporting the CLAS Fellowship programme. Among them, Allen & Gledhill and WongPartnership will each send two lawyers a year to assist in offering pro bono services full time, with each having a six-month term.

Another three law firms - Rajah & Tann, Drew & Napier and Rodyk & Davidson - will provide sponsorships to allow the Law Society to hire three lawyers to provide full time pro bono services.

Interviewed by Lianhe Zaobao, Thio said that major law firms have not been doing proportionately as much as smaller law firms in this respect for many years. Starting this year, they have significantly picked up the pace. Some medium-sized law firms have also committed to handling a certain number of pro bono cases each year.

He noted that many pro bono cases have been handled by small law firms in the past. "Some small law firms handle up to 10 cases a year. They do not earn as much but are willing to give. I have great respect for them."

He stressed that the programme only helps those who are in financial difficulties. "The Law Society does not want to see pro bono lawyers being appointed for those who have the financial ability to hire lawyers themselves, thereby depriving another lawyer of work."

"In this regard, we need to continually improve our practices, because there will certainly be those who fall through the cracks."

A Law Society spokesperson said that the Pro Bono Services Office helps more than 430 people in criminal cases last year.

In the first two months of the year, close to 40 individuals have successfully applied for assistance and lawyers under the programme are already helping them with their cases.

Charles Lim, who is part of the programme, said that providing legal services to those who have no money but who are most in need of such services is a bold measure by the Law Society to repay society. "I feel very honoured to be able to participate in this effort."

Another lawyer, Ng Shiyang, noted that the programme is a significant development in Singapore's history of pro bono services. He finds it an inspiring opportunity to be one of the pro bono lawyers.

Turning pressure into opportunity one of the greatest challenges of the legal profession

Talking about the challenges facing the legal profession, Thio said that law firms, both large and small, now face many changes in the areas of technology, policy and regulation. These changes will impact the shape of practice of law firms in the next two decades.

In addition, law firms also have to contend with market forces and structural changes. Most companies want to save legal fees but saving money is not possible for certain matters. "This is because, for example, if financial regulations are breached, this can bring catastrophic loss to a company."

On policy changes, he gave the example of regulations such as the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) and Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) introduced by the government. Not only have these reduced opportunities for developers to make money, they have also affected the business of lawyers dealing in conveyancing.

"How one transforms the various pressures faced into opportunities is the greatest challenge."

He said that law firms now have more new regulations to comply with, such as the anti-money laundering provisions introduced several years ago. "However, because of these new regulations, the service standards of law firms have also been raised."

Singapore is a global city, and like New York, London and Tokyo, it is facing problems with immigration and a rising cost of living. With the changing demographics and a larger population, there are more people to break laws.. With a larger working population and more companies being incorporated, criminal law, family law and regulatory laws have become increasingly important.

"Even as we progress towards becoming a global city and continue to upgrade ourselves, we need to ensure that there is 'justice for all'."

He noted that lawyers form an important pillar of a free economy and market. However, if everyone practices corporate law in large law firms, then who will take care of the needs of the common man? Who will represent those charged with assault or disturbance?

"If the prosecution is strong and the counsel for the accused is weak, then the accused will be in trouble. Therefore, regardless of the type of case, be it corporate, criminal or family, we need to have good lawyers."

He admitted that not everyone can afford lawyers' fees and hence, there is a need for pro bono services. However, many pro bono cases are handled by small law firms.

"Society needs small law firms that are capable and strong. We need to help them survive. The Law Society has been supporting small law firms over the years with training. But faced with such strong external pressures, surviving is a challenge for them."

Thio Shen Yi: Law profession allows me to grow every day

Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi is a versatile person. Other than corporate cases (such as oppression of minority shareholders and shareholder disputes), bankruptcy and restructuring, banking and finance litigation, insurance and international trade disputes and arbitration, he is also well-versed in construction and engineering law, and his clients include local and foreign companies.

He describes the life of a lawyer as "busy, busy, busy". Because of his love of the profession, he has never thought of giving it up.

"Practice is invigorating and never boring. The egal profession allows me to learn and grow every day and I feel that I am extremely fortunate."

Thio described a lawyer's work as hard, pressured, and physically and mentally taxing during long hearings. Although the profession has "chewed up" many, he continues to advise young lawyers: The victors are those who do not retire the field.

Though they have to attend to hundreds of important matters every day, Thio and his wife, Stefanie Yuen, who jointly head TSMP Law Corporation, are active in charity and encourage their employees to do the same.

This law firm was established in 1998 and has grown from seven lawyers to more than 60 lawyers today.

Market can reflect whether there are too many law graduates

As the head of a law firm, Thio has his own views on the issue of a surplus of law graduates and young lawyers.

In the past, law students need to first apply for a training contract with a law firm before they graduate. After graduation, they will do pupillage and then prepare for their bar examinations. After passing their bar examinations, they will be able to qualify as lawyers. However, in recent years, a number of students have not been able to get training contracts after they graduate.

Thio feels that there is no need for market intervention or central planning. One should just let market forces decide.

"If there are too many restrictions, including caps on the number of lawyers, the market will become distorted; this includes areas of specialisation and our salaries. Let me give an example: If there are 300 vacancies in corporate law but 200 lawyers, then they will all move into this type of work. Conversely, when 800 people are competing for 500 places, which may include work in community law (family law and criminal law), then they will not be as picky.”

"When supply and demand correspond, the market will self-adjust. If money can be made in community law, then there will naturally be people who will do the work. The problem in the past was that there were insufficient lawyers and many wanted to become high-earning corporate lawyers. Now, the direction has changed, with law graduates who want to do something else entering the market."

"Law firms will not hire more lawyers than they need. For me, having an excess of law students is not a problem. This is because not only can we hire the lawyers we need, we can also pay them a more reasonable salary. "

Young lawyers not accustomed to arguing

"Young lawyers must possess breadth of domain knowledge. When there were fewer of them, they were more precious and more pampered. Now, they are fighting for places, more willing to work hard, which is a good sign.

"However, I feel that the law schools today teach too much content. The thinking skills of students are not developed to the level I’d like. They are exposed to a lot of information but are not accustomed to arguing. Some lack analytical skills and common sense. However, this is the role of law firms, which is to teach them how to become lawyers."

"A litigation lawyer may have rich legal knowledge but not know how to fight a case well. When we say 'fight', this does not mean force on force or a raw contest of power. Rather, this is like "Sunzi's Art of War', where subtlety, strategy and psychology tactics come into play."

Five law experts in the Thio family argue over food the most

Born into good circumstances, Thio does not have the arrogance of an offspring of a wealthy family. He grew up in a Christian family, whose members are highly educated and well-known on the social circuit. Thio is the eldest son and has two younger sisters.

The older of the two, Thio Li Ann, is a constitutional law expert in the NUS Faculty of Law. Formerly a Nominated Member of Parliament, she received anonymous threats against her and her family after opposing the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises homosexual behaviour.

Her mother, Dr Thio Su Mien, 77, is a retired lawyer. In 2009, she became famous after the AWARE saga, in which she was called the "feminist mentor". She and the new committee received death threats after publicly expressing their concern that the women's group had become a tool for spreading homosexuality.

More low profile are his father, an engineer by training, who is CEO of Overseas Union Enterprise (OUE), and his youngest sister, who has emigrated to Britain.

He said that his both sisters studied law at Oxford University. The youngest sister had the best results and was the only one of the children to get a First Class Honour's degree. However, she chose not to practice or teach, but to become a good wife and mother instead.

Thio was a school debater during his student days and enjoyed economics the most among his subjects. However, as the oldest child and the only son, he acceded to his parents' wish for him to get a professional degree, and studied law.

"Honestly speaking, I am the 'least educated' person at home. My family members all have doctorates or graduate degrees, while I am the only one with the most basic Bachelor's degree."

Thio and his wife, Stefanie Yuen, are joint managing directors of TSMP Law Corporation.

With this many legal talents in the family, are there frequent noisy debates at home?

"Our arguments are no different compared to other families. At the dinner table, we are more likely to argue over where one can get the best chicken rice, or where one can find the most authentic nasi padang."

"These arguments can get quite heated. Someone will say Wee Nam Kee while another will object and say that Tian Tian is the best. Both then explain their logic in detail.. How good is the rice? How outstanding is the chilli sauce? The debate can get quite intense. Our arguments are far less intellectual than you would think."

He laughed as he spoke, and my photographer colleague and I could not help but join in.

Regrets not putting enough effort in studying Chinese

If you could live his life over, what would you do differently?

This was the final question in the interview that has lasted over two hours. Thio's answer was unexpected.

"I would have taken Chinese more seriously. It's something I really regret. Had I had better command of the language, it would have opened wider horizons for me. Also, I would have trained harder to try to get in the national tennis team." He said this in all seriousness.

He is the archetypal English-educated elite student. He studied at Anglo Chinese School for ten years and got a scholarship to study humanities at Hwa Chong Junior College. Subsequently, he read law at Cambridge University. In 1992, he obtained the highest score in the British bar examinations.

He enjoys sports. Other than tennis and squash, he also played rugby in his schooldays. Till today, he plays for the Law Society in tennis.

He admitted that he was playful during his school days. He scored D7 for his Chinese language at both his O and A level examinations. Today, his only son, who is in secondary four, resembles him at that age. "However, he is much more serious in learning Chinese compared to me when I was in school."

pohlh@sph.com.sg

Source: Lianhe Zaobao © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

'Open up equity crowdfunding to more'

Straits Times
16 Mar 2015
Jacqueline Woo

Market players weigh in as MAS seeks feedback over proposed rules

AS THE crowdfunding scene booms, industry players are paying close attention to a Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) consultation paper on securities-based crowdfunding (SCF), where start-ups can raise funds by giving investors equity in return. The consultation period closes on Wednesday.

The paper, put out last month, has proposed that this form of funding be open only to accredited and institutional investors - defined as those with an annual income of at least $300,000 or having $2 million in net assets.

The proposed new rules will not cover crowdfunding based on donations or rewards - still the most prevalent form today - as they "do not involve offers of securities or the prospect of financial returns", said the MAS.

It said it is looking at offering securities-based crowdfunding to a select group of investors "as a start", as the practice carries "significant risks".

It noted that there would be "a high probability of capital loss" while securities issued in this form of funding "are more illiquid compared to traditional securities investment instruments".

But some market players are keen for a wider group of investors to be involved.

Mr Getty Goh, chief executive of real estate crowdfunding platform CoAssets, told The Straits Times that accredited investors are "already very well served by private bankers".

"There is, on the other hand, a large pool of people who fall slightly short of qualifying as accredited investors, but are very savvy with it comes to technology and investments.

"They also want to have more say over growing their own finances."

Mr Goh added that allowing this group of people to participate in an alternative investment such as securities-based crowdfunding would "open up an avenue where they can realise their financial goals and dreams without over-stretching themselves financially".

Entrepreneur Andy Lim, who is behind the newly launched equity- and lending-based crowdfunding portal FundedHere, said equity crowdfunding would be limited from realising its full potential if it was open only to accredited investors - "a small crowd".

His ideal model of securities-based crowdfunding would involve heavily and specifically knowledgeable, tech-savvy 25- to 40-year-olds who draw an annual income of $100,000 and have "surpluses (in finances) to participate in such high-risk projects".

"If we want this to be a serious, credible crowdfunding platform, it would be better to have a wider pool of investors."

Crowdonomic, one of the first crowdfunding platforms set up here, is looking at a "gated community" approach, comprising white-collar professionals, said co-founder and chief executive Leo Shimada.

It would include mid-level and senior managers from industries such as accounting, banking and financial services, and law.

"They have the academic foundation or professional training to not only add value to the companies they choose to invest in, but they are also well equipped to understand the inherent risks of venture investments," Mr Shimada said.

"Including this segment would be critical to making sure there there is enough of a 'crowd' to enable the dynamics of crowdfunding to come to life, and for (start-ups) to access additional venture capital."

These white-collar professionals, added Mr Shimada, can be segregated from the more vulnerable non-professional retail investors by income declarations or having to pass a test before participating in investment activities.

Mr Lawrence Yong, co-founder and chief executive of peer-to-peer lending platform MoolahSense, cited regulations adopted by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in Britain.

He noted that the MAS could introduce similar measures, such as setting investment limits and self-certification requirements for non-accredited investors to protect people without comprising the spirit of crowdfunding.

Already, there is a steady, growing interest in equity crowdfunding here.

Crowdonomic, for instance, is set to launch a securities-based crowdfunding platform this year, together with a new joint venture between the Singapore Exchange and Clearbridge Accelerator.

Mr Brock Murray, chief executive of Canada-based software development firm Joi Media, said he is seeing more clients from Singapore who want to launch platforms for financing start-ups.

"Businesses across all industries are going online today - from movie rentals to hotel bookings to personal banking - and it's time for the private financial market to do the same," he said.

"A trend like this is a gamechanger, and those that ignore it could become irrelevant."

That said, it may be still some time before equity crowdfunding really takes off.

"There may not be millions of early adopters even if the regulations are to be relaxed entirely, because people are so comfortable investing in stocks and property here," noted Mr David Bebko, chief executive of Crowdworks Inc, a Boston-based crowdsourced e-learning firm, which also has an office in Singapore.

"Crowdfunding is still very nascent here. Awareness is still pretty low, and more needs to be done to educate the public.

"I do believe that equity crowdfunding has a bright future here in Singapore - it's a very empowering tool for both investors and start-ups alike - but it's just not something that will develop overnight."

For Mr Kenny Goh, 29, a senior associate at a law firm here, the opportunity to invest in a company via crowdfunding would be a draw, especially if he sees potential for it to list publicly.

"But I'll part with my money only if all factors (in my assessment of the company) point to a 'yes'.

"Otherwise, I'd stick to stocks and property, which already have reliable sources of information to help me evaluate and decide if I should invest," he added.

Lawyer Elizabeth Kong cautioned that investors, for their part, should be aware that there is no ready market for the trading of equities in such start-ups, and that they may not be able to cash in on their investments for a long time, if at all.

"Start-ups are generally very risky investments and investors should not invest more than what they are comfortable losing," added Ms Kong, a director at Stamford Law Corporation.

"They must go in with their eyes wide open."

tsjwoo@sph.com.sg


Background Story

In other parts of the world

THE UNITED STATES

THE US regulatory regime on equity crowdfunding remains uncertain as the Securities and Exchange Commission has yet to publish its final rules.

Under current regulations, only accredited investors - those with an annual income of more than US$200,000 (S$278,500) or a net worth over US$1 million - can invest in crowdfunding sites that offer financial returns.

Several states, however, have enacted their own exemptions within the existing federal laws, including Kansas, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The new rules, if passed, could allow businesses to raise up to US$1 million in funding and widen the crowdfunding investor pool beyond accredited investors.

BRITAIN

PARTICIPATION in equity crowdfunding is open to anyone.

First-time investors, however, are required to keep their first two investments to less than 10 per cent of their net assets.

These net assets must come from reserves that will not affect their housing status, pension or life insurance.

Following the first two investments, the investor is then able to obtain self-certification as a sophisticated investor.

Britain also has separate rules for lending-based models.

HONG KONG

THERE are no specific rules on equity crowdfunding, although all investment products are regulated by Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission.

MALAYSIA

THE Malaysian Securities Commission has proposed allowing businesses to tap equity crowdfunding to raise growth capital up to RM5 million (S$1.9 million).

It is also proposing to allow both accredited and retail investors to participate in equity crowdfunding deals.

There is no restriction on the amount an accredited investor can put in for any one deal.

But retail investors must adhere to an investment cap of RM3,000 for each deal and RM30,000 in one year.

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

Gambler tried to kill wife so she wouldn't have to pay his debts

Straits Times
10 Mar 2015
Joyce Lim

A SECURITY guard went to a casino in the hope of repaying $40,000 he had gambled away - but ended up losing more.

It was then that John Gee Tze Chiang decided to kill himself, after spending a final happy night at a karaoke bar with his wife.

The next morning, when she told him of the calls she had been getting from creditors, he decided to kill her too so she would not be saddled with his debts.

Gee knifed Madam Koh Poh Lian twice in the chest and also in her neck and back, before turning the blade to his own chest.

The 38-year-old couple were found lying in a pool of blood by his parents, who shared the Housing Board flat in Clementi West Street 2. Both survived.

Yesterday, Gee was jailed for seven years for attempted culpable homicide, and had a charge of attempted suicide taken into consideration.

Gee spent two days in hospital being treated for two lacerations. His wife needed emergency surgery, during which her heart stopped. She was resuscitated, but she suffered a bacterial infection and had drugs administered intravenously for four weeks.

For almost six months after the attack on Aug 11, 2012, she suffered blurred vision and weakness in her limbs, and was unable to return to her warehouse job.

She was preparing for work when Gee attacked her, causing her to fall onto the bed screaming. When she tried to get up, he held her down and told her it would soon be over. Gee stabbed her in the neck, then in the back. He then knifed himself.

The prosecution sought a five- to seven-year jail sentence, stressing the brutality of the attack and physical and psychological harm caused to the victim.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Isaac Tan said Gee was a "habitual gambler". He controlled the couple's finances and looked after the card accessing his wife's account, where her $3,000 monthly wages were paid. After giving her $50 "pocket money", he would gamble away the rest.

Defence lawyer Muhammad Ferhad Johari said Gee, who was working at Marina Bay Financial Centre, was a dedicated worker.

In passing sentence, Justice Lee Seiu Kin said there needed to be sufficient time in prison to ensure Gee could receive therapy for his gambling disorder.

He could have been jailed for up to 15 years, fined and caned.

joycel@sph.com.sg

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

Family travel policies for gay partners?

Straits Times
22 Mar 2015
Melody Zaccheus

Lesbians and child get travel claim approved, but insurers divided over how to deal with such cases

A tropical storm caused an eight-hour delay for a Singaporean woman, her toddler and her lesbian partner travelling by train from Seattle to San Francisco in the United States. Upon returning to Singapore, Ms Olivia Chiong and Ms Irene Chiong, who were legally married in California last December, submitted a claim to insurer MSIG Insurance Singapore.

They did so even though they were unsure if their marital status would be recognised by the insurer for the family travel policy which they had bought.

Singapore does not recognise gay marriage and the insurance policy's conditions said it applied only to the insured person and his or her "legal spouse and all their legal children".

Ms Olivia Chiong, who has a two-year-old biological daughter, said they were doubtful that their claim would go through.

"We thought there would be an issue as we weren't married in Singapore. We were prepared to write an appeal letter," said the operations manager.

But the travel delay claim was approved last month and they were paid $360 after attaching their marriage certificate from the State of California and the child's Singapore birth certificate.

An MSIG spokesman told The Sunday Times that the claim was paid because it was a "valid loss from an event" covered under the policy.

Six insurance companies contacted said claims by same-sex couples under their family travel policies were rare and gave varying responses on how they would deal with such cases.

A spokesman for ACE Insurance said the company abides by Singapore's matrimonial laws and allows only families comprising of two heterosexual adults who are legally married and their children to buy their annual family travel policies.

But adults do not have to be related for the single-trip family travel insurance policies. This means that its single-trip family insurance policy can cover any household, including those comprising same-sex couples, as long as the group includes a child related directly to one of the adults, such as in a parent-child relationship.

AIG Asia Pacific Insurance said the sexual orientation of its policyholders and insured persons "is not relevant during the application for insurance or claims assessment across all AIG products".

Insurance experts said it is up to the discretion of companies to award claims.

"Approval does not necessarily amount to endorsing the status of a couple. It could be a matter of cultivating business," said National University of Singapore associate law professor Poh Chu Chai.

He said there is no law restricting such a practice, though local companies might "stick to the norm", in the light of Singapore's laws which do not recognise gay unions.

Financial adviser Nicholas Lee said it might be easier for same-sex households to buy group travel policies which do not require individuals to be related.

Direct Asia Group's senior head of non-motor business Shawn Lim said the company recognises that "every family unit is different" and it would cover valid claims made by gay couples under its family travel policy. "We are happy to insure a single parent with five children or two dads or two mums with a child."

A spokesman for the General Insurance Association of Singapore said there are many travel policies in the market and advised consumers to "check their terms and conditions".

melodyz@sph.com.sg

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

Is that your name,address,phone number in the dump?

Straits Times
15 Mar 2015
Grace Chng

Firms throw out documents with personal data without shredding

Personal information is still being improperly collected, used and disposed of, even though there is a new law to protect personal data.

Seventy organisations - especially those in retail, healthcare and property - are under investigation following complaints that they used e-mail addresses and other personal information for marketing purposes or collected identity card and other personal details without prior consent.

If found guilty under the Personal Data Protection Act, which came into effect last July, they can be fined up to $1 million.

Another 70 complaints against retailers, property companies and various other organisations were resolved after the authorities brought together the parties and complainants to discuss the matter.

The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) which enforces the Act said no financial penalties were imposed in the cases resolved.

The investigations were conducted under the Act which has two pillars: the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry and personal data protection.

Much of the initial attention was focused on the DNC Registry which was implemented in January last year and lets people opt out of having telemarketing messages sent to their mobile phones.

The personal data protection part of the Act makes it necessary for organisations to take measures to protect names, IC and passport numbers, addresses and other personal data in their possession.

This is to prevent the unauthorised collection, use and disclosure of such information.

That means these organisations must ensure that such information is properly disposed of as well.

But a recent check by The Sunday Times in the Raffles Place area found that documents containing personal information are still being thrown out in the trash from offices in high-rise buildings there.

Among other things, The Sunday Times found photocopies of passports, resumes of various professionals and details of commissions paid to property agents.

Most of the documents had the names and logos of local and foreign banks and other companies, and they included reports on industrial projects in Japan and Indonesia and project progress reports.

All were marked confidential or strictly confidential.

There were also printouts of e-mail with addresses, names and telephone numbers. The documents were dated from 2013 to this year.

Access to the rubbish bins was easy. One karung guni man, who was seen sorting out the documents into neat piles, said he would sell them to recycling companies.

Corporate information does not come under the purview of the commission, which is concerned only with personal data protection.

When told of The Sunday Times' findings, PDPC chairman Leong Keng Thai said he was very concerned.

"Organisations are strongly advised to put in place processes to ensure the proper disposal of documents containing personal data," he said.

The commission has helped to raise awareness of the requirements of the new law by working with industry groups to run briefings, workshops and seminars.

So far, more than 18,000 people from over 3,400 organisations have attended these events.

Another 7,500 people have attended work-skills qualification courses or accessed e-learning courses on the Act's requirements.

In May, the commission will conduct a personal data protection seminar, called Securing Personal Data for a Competitive Edge, aimed at organisations and companies.

Guidelines on ways to keep personal data secure and manage data breaches will be issued later this year.

Sample templates will be provided for organisations to seek consent from individuals for the collection, use or disclosure of their personal data.

Experts on personal data protection say many organisations think their job is done when they appoint a data protection officer as required by the law.

Lawyer Toh See Kiat, who has consulted for companies, charities and educational institutions on the Act, said legal compliance is only the first step.

"You need to have the tools and systems running properly in the background so that this new personal data protection policy becomes the new organisational culture," he said. "Then, and only then, is it sustainable."

Organisations have also not gone to the root of privacy breaches.

Instead, they continue to have "a deep-set resistance to changing the ways they have been collecting, using, storing and processing data", he added.

Mr Kevin Shepherdson, co-founder of personal data protection specialist Straits Interactive which provides training in compliance with the Act, said many organisations comply with the law by having data protection officers, for example.

However, these organisations do not know how to implement the Act in daily operations.

"They have to understand the data workflow, how personal data is collected, used, disclosed and then destroyed," said Mr Shepherdson.

Documents for disposal, for example, should be shredded and not tossed out with the rubbish, he said.

Mr Neil Percy, vice-president of market development of document destruction firm Shred-it, said that while many companies shred documents on their premises using their own shredding machines, the documents for disposal are not kept securely.

Instead, they are sometimes left next to the shredder or piled on desks, accessible to any passer-by, including those not authorised to view their contents.

Shredding should be done by someone authorised to see the information, he added.

PDPC's Mr Leong stressed that keeping personal data is a responsibility and may, in some cases, become a liability.

"If they don't need the information, they should dispose of it properly."

chngkeg@sph.com.sg


Background Story

TIPS ON DATA PROTECTION

Personal data protection specialist Straits Interactive has conducted audits of 50 companies to check if they are ready to comply with the new Act.

It came up with this checklist after finding five common areas of weakness.

DO use a shredder or a document disposal service to dispose of documents containing personal data.
DO NOT throw away or recycle paper with personal data.
DO keep all documents with personal information in cabinets.
DO NOT expose confidential files on staff desks or shelves where unauthorised passers-by can see or pick them up easily.
DO put up reminders at copiers, fax machines or printers telling users to take all personal documents when they are done.
DO NOT leave behind passports, identity cards, resumes and other confidential information at these machines.
DO record and track who has access to keys to cabinets and drawers where confidential files are kept.
DO NOT leave keys hanging in keyholes.
DO ensure that screen savers for PCs and laptops have password protection.
DO NOT leave PC and laptop screens exposed when users are not around.


What reporter found in trash bins

The Sunday Times went to a number of high-rise office buildings in Raffles Place on a weekday afternoon, and found it easy to gain access to garbage bins which were kept in unlocked enclosures.

In the trash were many clean, printed documents and e-mail, including the following:

• A law firm's business expansion plan, with personal details of lawyers it hoped to get on board, including their photographs, educational background and work history.

Under the Personal Data Protection Act, this is potential infringement because photos, names and professional information were disposed of improperly.

• Photocopies of pages from the passports of two children opening an account with a foreign bank.

The photocopies were accompanied by forms filled and signed by the children.

Under the Act, this is potential infringement as personal data like a person's name, photo, date of birth and passport number was disposed of improperly.

• A property lease agreement containing the name, employment pass and passport numbers of a foreign bank employee.

The lease was between a real estate company and the bank.

This is potential infringement under the Act because the employment pass and passport numbers are personal information that was not disposed of properly.

• A document from a real estate company listing details of commissions received by four property agents who clinched a significant rental deal.

The amount that each agent received was listed.

This potentially infringes the Act because information about property agents and the commissions they received is personal data that was not disposed of properly.

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

Man hired scapegoats for gambling operator

Straits Times
10 Mar 2015
Lim Yi Han

A MAN who hired scapegoats to take the rap for an illegal gambling house operator, when police raided the operations, was sentenced to 22 months in jail yesterday.

Abdul Haleem Abdul Majeed, 47, a security guard, pleaded guilty to 17 charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Some 51 others were taken into consideration during sentencing.

Between 2005 and 2007, Abdul Haleem received nearly $110,000 from Chua Chin Hoe to find and pay people to register as owners of his unlicensed jackpot machine outlets and Internet cafes.

The duo had known each other since the 1990s, the court heard.

Chua usually handed over $400 for each outlet per month to Abdul Haleem, and promised $5,000 per charge if the scapegoat was arrested.

Abdul Haleem was also expected to teach the scapegoats what to tell the police if they were arrested so that Chua, 59, would not be implicated.

With the money Abdul Haleem received, he paid $26,600 to four scapegoats and pocketed $82,760. The case came to light in 2006, when the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau received a tip-off.

In 2012, Chua was sentenced to 41/2 years' jail and fined $20,000. Abdul Haleem was charged last July.

In mitigation, his lawyer Andrew Yeo asked for a lighter sentence, noting that he was never involved in running the illegal gambling outlets.

He added that the twice-divorced Abdul Haleem is a sole breadwinner who has to look after his three sons, aged between 10 and 12.

He also has a 17-year-old son in a former wife's custody.

Abdul Haleem, who has diabetes, is also caring for his father who suffers from dementia.

District Judge Low Wee Ping also ordered him to pay a penalty of $82,760 - the amount he pocketed. In the light of his family situation, the judge agreed to his request for the jail term to start from March 30.

For corruption, he could have been jailed for up to five years and fined up to $100,000.

limyihan@sph.com.sg

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

Guidelines being drafted, but major player takes wait-and-see approach

Straits Times
22 Mar 2015
Pearl Lee

The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) is drafting its first advertising guidelines for social media, but one of the biggest players in the blog advertising community here may want no part of it.

Blogger management agency Nuffnang's chief executive Cheo Ming Shen said his company is concerned that social media agency Gushcloud - recently exposed for launching a smear campaign with Singtel against other telcos - is helping to map out the guidelines too. "For an organisation that has such a negative reputation, I feel that their involvement could be detrimental to the entire process," he said.

Asas had invited key stakeholders in the social media advertising industry to be a part of drafting the guidelines, which will help set clear boundaries in what is a largely unregulated landscape. They include Nuffnang (a global community of over 900,000 blogs), Gushcloud, and media companies Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp.

Mr Cheo said his firm had raised the issue with Asas.

"We are concerned that the legitimacy of any guidelines that are set up with Gushcloud will be greatly questioned," he said, adding that his company will adopt a wait-and-see approach. "If we feel that Gushcloud will negatively affect the legitimacy of the guidelines, we will pull out and make our own guidelines public."

But Asas' legal adviser, Professor Ang Peng Hwa, said the authority will continue to engage both Nuffnang and Gushcloud to create the guidelines. "When you make rules, you have to make them with the key stakeholders, even if some of them have made mistakes. Social media advertising is a new area and we are all learning."

Prof Ang, who is also one of two vice-presidents of the Consumers Association of Singapore, added: "Usually, big companies want to be a part of such guidelines to show the public that they are ethical."

When contacted, Gushcloud's chief executive Vincent Ha said the firm is "committed to work with all parties to create industry guidelines". "We are a young company, we respect the views of other industry players, and we would like to move forward and grow together," he said.

leepearl@sph.com.sg

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Concert promoter LAMC fined more than $280,000 for tax offence

Straits Times
15 Mar 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Concert promoter LAMC Productions, which brought stars such as Lady Gaga, Pussycat Dolls and Dionne Warwick to Singapore, has been ordered to pay $281,212 for failing to declare and pay tax set aside from the performers' fees.

The sum comprises a penalty of $256,212 - three times the tax due - plus a fine of $25,000.

Under the Income Tax Act, an events company must withhold tax on payments to non-resident entertainers, then notify and forward the withheld tax to the Comptroller of Income Tax.

LAMC entered into five contracts with the management company for the stars who performed here in concerts in 2008 and 2009, but failed to declare and pay the tax withheld. The five concerts featured Stereophonics, Pussycat Dolls, Lady Gaga, Keane and Dionne Warwick. The contract fee for Pussycat Dolls was US$150,000 (S$208,400) and Lady Gaga half that sum, while the fees for Dionne Warwick and Keane were US$50,000 each. Stereophonics were paid US$33,500, but the sum withheld was US$1,500 when it should have been US$4,565 at the requisite 15 per cent tax.

This is the first time a company has been prosecuted and convicted of this offence.

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) said that LAMC directors James Knudson and Lauretta Alabons had been previously advised on how to calculate the tax to be withheld before informing and paying the authorities.

It said it takes a serious view of non-compliance and tax evasion. Urging individuals and businesses to disclose any past tax mistakes, it said: "Iras will treat such disclosures as mitigating factors when considering action to be taken."

Those who wish to own up or report malpractices indicating tax evasion may e-mail the taxman at ifd@iras.gov.sg or write to Iras.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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

Hong Lim Park protester pleads guilty

Straits Times
10 Mar 2015
Walter Sim

THE first of six protesters facing public nuisance charges for their part in a Hong Lim Park protest rally on Sept 27 last year pleaded guilty in court yesterday.

Chua Siew Leng, 43, who does not hold a regular job, was fined $300 by District Judge John Ng over her "very early" guilty plea and minor role in the protest, and because she had no prior criminal record. She could have been fined up to $1,000.

The cases against the other five - including bloggers Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, 33, and Han Hui Hui, 23, who co-organised the protest rally - have been fixed for a joint trial on June 4 and 5.

Chua's lawyer, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, said in a mitigation plea that she "has distanced herself from attending such events in the future".

He said: "(She) has realised that her role in the incident, no matter how minor, unfortunately did contribute to the disruption of the YMCA event and cause annoyance to members of the public."

The six were accused of disrupting the YMCA Proms @ The Park charity event for children with special needs, which was held in Hong Lim Park at the same time as the Return Our CPF protest rally.

Deputy Public Prosecutor John Lu told the court that they "became more emotive" when Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, the YMCA event's main guest, arrived at about 4.50pm.

The six accused and at least 20 others then marched three times around the general vicinity of the YMCA event, shouting loudly, chanting slogans, waving flags, holding placards, blowing whistles loudly and beating drums.

"These acts, which lasted until 5pm, disrupted the YMCA event and caused annoyance to members of the public who were attending the YMCA event," DPP Lu said.

A 20-year-old full-time national serviceman called the police at 4.51pm that day to complain, saying protesters were "going around the place shouting".

The Attorney-General's Chambers last month rejected an application to withdraw the public nuisance charge against Chua, Janet Low Wai Choo, 55; Goh Aik Huat, 42; and Ivan Koh Yew Beng, 59; in lieu of a stern warning.

All six protesters were originally represented by lawyer M. Ravi. But he has since been suspended from practice following concerns about his mental health. The cases were then taken on by Mr Thuraisingam. But as of yesterday, he was handling only Chua's case.

Han, Low, Goh and Koh are now represented by Ms Violet Netto, and Ngerng by Mr George Hwang.

In addition to the public nuisance charge, Ngerng and Han each face a charge of organising a demonstration without approval, which carries a maximum fine of $5,000.

Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, Chua said she took a different decision from the other five because of personal circumstances, adding that she had told them of her decision.

waltsim@sph.com.sg

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'S'pore a model' in drive to curb judicial corruption

Straits Times
21 Mar 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Global lawyers' group aims to take effective steps to combat the problem

SINGAPORE could be a model in a new move by a global lawyers' group to wipe out judicial corruption worldwide.

International Bar Association (IBA) president David W. Rivkin pointed to Singapore's clean and honest government and the excellent reputation of its judiciary outside the country. "The independent Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau is a model that other countries may follow," he said.

Mr Rivkin was speaking to The Straits Times following a meeting on the IBA Judicial Integrity Initiative, a flagship project designed to combat judicial corruption worldwide.

The IBA is the world's leading legal organisation with more than 55,000 lawyers and over 190 law societies and Bar associations. It aims to take effective steps to combat judicial corruption where it exists. The Singapore meeting followed the first session in London last month, and was held at the Attorney-General's Chambers.

It was attended by judges, Bar leaders, prosecutors and civil society representatives from eight Asia-Pacific nations, including Singapore.

Mr Rivkin explained: "I chose to conduct this meeting in Singapore because of its strong tradition of judicial integrity. I have spoken about the subject many times with Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and he expressed strong support for the IBA project and what we can achieve given our global strength."

Mr Rivkin said the meeting discussed at length the nature of judicial corruption and actions that have been effective and ineffective in deterring it. "We left the meeting with many ideas about how the IBA should proceed with the initiative in order to be successful," he said. A specific work plan will be developed over the next two years.

"This will likely include more specific study of the manner in which judicial corruption arises and best practices that countries have implemented to prevent it.

"Singapore may be a good case study for the latter. We may also draft specific steps that our individual and Bar association members should follow."

Lauding the country's "outstanding reputation as a clean and honest government", he added: "The reputation of the Singapore judiciary outside the country is excellent, both for the quality of the judges and for their integrity. That is why the newly created Singapore International Commercial Court will be attractive to many foreign parties."

Lawyers here said various mechanisms in place here deter and discourage corruption. Giving one example, SMU law graduate Chan Yuk Lun said: "Judges' salaries are pegged in a realistic way to appropriate private-sector pay levels and systems elsewhere may well consider this."

vijayan@sph.com.sg


Background Story

IDEAL CHOICE

I chose to conduct this meeting in Singapore because of its strong tradition of judicial integrity.

- International Bar Association president David W. Rivkin, on why its Judicial Integrity Initiative meeting was held here

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

Man fails in bid to reopen 1999 case

Straits Times
14 Mar 2015
Selina Lum

Court says it has no power to relook conviction, revise life term for violent killing

AFTER serving 16 years in jail, a man sentenced to life imprisonment for a violent killing tried yesterday to get the Court of Appeal to reopen his case.

But the three-judge court said it had no power to relook the conviction or revise the sentence.

"There is no miscarriage of justice in this case," said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who gave the court's decision.

CJ Menon noted that Aloysius Joshi Carilman, 52, has a mental disorder which requires lifelong treatment and his best hope is to persevere with treatment until a parole board assesses whether he can be released.

Aloysius was represented by the late criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan when he was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 1999. He was found guilty of culpable homicide by the High Court for killing Mr Samikinannu Anbinsalvam near a shop in Bukit Purmei Road in March that year. His appeal was dismissed in November 1999.

Aloysius had attacked Mr Samikinannu on the night of March 29 when the latter was chatting and playing cards with his brother and some friends outside an unoccupied shop unit at Block 112.

Aloysius, who was drinking beer nearby, started to quarrel with one of Mr Samikinannu's friends. He then left the scene but returned later.

The wife of a provision shop owner witnessed him using a bottle to hit Mr Samikinannu before stamping on him a few times. She also saw him picking up a metal chair and hitting the victim while he was lying motionless on the ground.

Mr Samikinannu died in hospital the next day.

A Woodbridge Hospital psychiatrist testified that Aloysius was suffering from schizophrenia and that he was likely to require medication for the rest of his life.

The court also heard that Aloysius had been admitted to Woodbridge Hospital 17 times since 1986 for alcohol intoxication and also relapses of his mental illness.

Yesterday, Aloysius, representing himself, tried to seek a shorter jail term. Reading from some papers, he argued that his family members were prepared to ensure his well-being after he is released from prison. He said he had been rehabilitated after being treated in prison and he no longer had the urge to take alcohol or drugs.

However, after he was asked by the court to clarify what he was seeking, the thin and bespectacled Aloysius began rambling incoherently.

The court dismissed his application without requiring the prosecution to respond.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Preference for job-ready law grads: Forum

Straits Times
09 Mar 2015

MS TAN Tian Hui makes many valid points in her letter ("Much relevance in British legal education"; last Thursday).

In particular, the merits of exposure from an overseas education and the opportunity to explore interests outside of core subjects cannot be denied.

That is why the local law schools provide exchange programmes with overseas universities and make students take cross-disciplinary subjects.

I also have no doubt that the British law student has a personally enriching experience.

I write, however, from the perspective of an end user.

I run a legal practice and have trained and worked with graduates and interns with British, Singapore and Australian legal education backgrounds.

As an employer, my preference is to hire candidates who are more immediately job-ready.

In recent years, I have found the graduates from Britain to be less job-ready.

If parents are to spend a small fortune on an overseas law degree, let it be for one that would make their children more job-ready, especially in a market where there is excessive supply and insufficient demand.

The overseas law graduates who have obtained a Diploma in Law and Management from Temasek Polytechnic would have some local grounding in Singapore law, as well as practice-relevant regulations and directions.

Their initial training to be paralegals makes them more immediately job-ready.

Another plus point for Australian law schools is that one can work part-time in Australia to fund one's studies, which means that children from less-privileged backgrounds will also have the chance to join the legal profession.

The Singapore Institute of Legal Education, in not removing Australian universities from the approved list, has facilitated this.

Josephine Chong (Ms)

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MND asks court to appoint independent accountants to AHPETC

Business Times
21 Mar 2015
Kelly Tay

They are to safeguard S&CC grants given to the town council, but not take over its running

[Singapore] THE Ministry of National Development (MND) has applied to the court to appoint independent accountants to safeguard government grants disbursed to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

If the court grants the order, MND will be able to disburse Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC) grants for both FY14 and FY15 to AHPETC - of which the Workers' Party is in charge.

From there, AHPETC will have to keep the grants in segregated accounts. In addition, payments from these accounts exceeding certain thresholds will have to be co-signed by the independent accountants.

The ministry said in a statement on Friday: "MND is also asking the court to empower the independent accountants to look at past payments made by AHPETC and to take appropriate action to recover losses suffered by AHPETC and its residents, provided the independent accountants obtain the court's permission to do so.

"The independent accountants, however, will not take over the operations of AHPETC, nor will they seek to remedy the problems identified by AGO (Auditor-General's Office) and AHPETC's auditors. These remain the responsibility of AHPETC's town councillors."

In February, a report by the AGO had said that there was currently no guarantee that AHPETC's accounts were reliable or that public funds were being properly spent.

It had flagged five broad areas of major lapses by AHPETC, including the governance of related-party transactions and the management of sinking funds.

In a parliamentary debate last month, National Development minister Khaw Boon Wan had said that his ministry would withhold S&CC grants for FY14 - worth about S$7 million a year - until AHPETC's problems were fixed.

He had also said that AHPETC should take "concrete actions" to show its residents that it would "make things right" - including commissioning a forensic audit to get to the bottom of things, and taking immediate steps to recover improperly-authorised payments, if necessary.

MND said on Friday, in giving the reason for its application to the court: "AHPETC has not indicated that it is willing to take these actions."

kellytay@sph.com.sg

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