25 May 2015
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Woman awarded just $18k in $6.5m suit over knee injury

Straits Times
22 May 2015
K.C. Vijayan

A BRITISH woman who sued for more than $6.5 million in damages in probably "the most expensive knee injury ever claimed" was awarded just $18,000 as the High Court was not convinced she could not walk or work as before.

And given that 51-year-old Pamela Jane Mykytowych shared half the blame with V I P Hotel, whose wet lobby floor she slipped on in 2011 - resulting in a fractured left knee - she would have to settle for $9,000.

Mrs Mykytowych, who worked as a healthcare consultant in her own firm but gave up the job to be with her husband here, is understood to be devastated by the outcome and will appeal.

The hotel, which is located near Newton MRT, had accepted 50 per cent blame for the mishap, leaving Justice Choo Han Teck to assess how much she should get.

While the knee injury has since completely healed, Mrs Mykytowych said that she continues to suffer from intense pain after developing a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

A former car-rally driver, she said she could no longer drive, or even walk much. When looking for a job after her injury, she claimed to have even been rejected when applying to be a cashier.

Her claims included more than $1.2 million to engage domestic help for herself for 18 years, $2.8 million for loss of future earnings, and $65,000 for the suffering caused by CRPS.

But in his judgment grounds released yesterday, Justice Choo set the damages relating to the knee injuries at $12,000. He also awarded her about $6,000 more for medical and transport costs resulting from the accident.

But he rejected all her other claims.

While agreeing that she suffered from CRPS, he ruled that she "grossly exaggerated" its impact on her life.

Defence lawyer Ramesh Appoo, acting for the hotel, had produced evidence that showed her taking a long nature walk in July 2012. The surveillance also captured her climbing up and down an embankment at Pasir Ris beach without difficulty.

The judge found that these contradicted her claim that her condition had been "steadily deteriorating" since November 2011.

A doctor who gave evidence also said she had told him about driving a manual car while in Britain.

Mrs Mykytowych, who always appeared in court in a wheelchair, also did not deny going to Spain, Dubai, Hong Kong and Malaysia for holidays after her accident. The judge said there was also evidence that she also made a few trips on her own.

"I therefore find her claims as to her disability and loss of income to be untrue," wrote Justice Choo.

"If her claim regarding the consequences of CRPS is genuine, she must be properly compensated. If it is not, the injustice is not only that she would have made an unmeritorious gain and (the hotel or its insurers) would have suffered an unmeritorious loss.

"More than that, such insurance claims will drive premiums higher and other policyholders will bear the costs of increases in insurance premiums."


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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Couple jailed for hurting maid

Straits Times
15 May 2015

A COUPLE who slapped their maid and threatened to sell her in Batam where she'd have to work in the sex trade were sentenced to jail yesterday.

Indonesian Solichah, 28, who goes by one name, said she felt "frightened" and experienced "pain and trauma" while working for Rosman Anwar and his wife Khairani Abdul Rahman at their Sengkang East Road home.

Singtel customer service officer Khairani, 42, was jailed for four weeks on three charges - two of slapping Ms Solichah's face and one of hitting her with a plastic stool. Rosman, 47, a senior logistics officer with Certis Cisco, was given two weeks for slapping the helper and pulling her hair.

District Judge Ng Peng Hong also ordered him to pay $1,520 to the victim for loss of salary for four months.

The couple commiteed the offences between August 2011 and March 2013, when Ms Solichah left the flat and made a police report.

Ms Solichah, who is now working for another employer, testified that she was regularly slapped by the couple over almost 21 months of working for them. Often, she was hit for making mistakes. She said she had asked for a transfer but was persuaded to stay.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Amanda Chong Wei-Zhen said the couple abused their position of authority and robbed the domestic worker of her dignity.

The victim said her employers told her "they have the right to slap my face, to push my head and to scold me, because they are paying my salary" and that "the agent had given them the right to slap me because they are my employers".

DPP Chong said the couple also threatened to sell and send the maid to Batam, where she'd have to work in the sex trade.

Khairani started serving her sentence yesterday while Rosman will surrender on July 1 as the couple have three school-going children. Rosman is out on a $5,000 personal bond and his passport has been impounded. The couple, defended by Mr B. Uthayachanran, were convicted last month.

Judge Ng said: "It is not disputed that in all maid abuse cases, the courts have consistently emphasised that domestic maid abuse cannot be tolerated, and maid abusers who indulge in inappropriate behaviour will not only be severely chastised but also receive deterrent sentences."

The couple could have been jailed for up to 1 1/2 years and/or fined up to $1,500 on each charge of voluntarily causing hurt.


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Amos Yee pleads not guilty to both charges

08 May 2015

He saw a huge outpouring of grief online after Mr Lee Kuan Yew died on March 23, with many praising the former Prime Minister’s contributions to modern Singapore. This piqued teenage blogger Amos Yee Pang Sang’s interest and he decided to find out more about Mr Lee.

His curiosity was “probably heightened” during a meeting two weeks earlier with some members of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), the 16-year-old told the police in a statement taken hours after his arrest on March 29 for content posted online.

Amos faces two charges for posting an obscene image featuring Mr Lee and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and a video clip intended to hurt the religious feelings of Christians. Yesterday, details of his motivation and the events leading up to his posting of the offending materials online emerged from a voluntarily-given police statement, which was among documents tendered in court at the start of a two-day trial.

A third charge, for posting a video containing remarks about Mr Lee intended to be seen by people likely to be distressed by it, has been stood down.

Since his arrest on March 29, the case has attracted much public interest. Yesterday before the hearing started, the courtroom at the State Courts was packed with a queue forming outside. The hearing was brief: It lasted about 20 minutes, with Amos pleading not guilty to both charges.

In his statement to the police, Amos said that a friend and SDP volunteer called “Brandon” had invited him for dinner, which took place after a party walkabout in Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency. The SDP members talked to him about “flaws” in the Singapore system, such as with the Central Provident Fund (CPF), he said.

“My disagreement with the manner in which formal education is conducted, which explained my decision to drop out of school, was probably also an emotional catalyst for my opinions towards Lee Kuan Yew,” stated the former Zhonghua Secondary School student in the police statement.

He said that a party member also told him about the work of blogger Roy Ngerng, who has written about the CPF and is being sued by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for defamation.

Amos told the police that he spent a few days writing, filming and editing a video that made references to Mr Lee and Jesus Christ.

He was “slightly apprehensive” that what he was doing might be illegal, and told Brandon and another friend, Mr Ngan Wai Lit, about parts of the video. According to Amos, Brandon said it was offensive but did not comment on whether it was illegal, while Mr Ngan said he was unsure if uploading the video would be criminal.

The teenager then looked up the Sedition Act. “I remained unsure as to the legality of my video. I wish to state that I was aware that the contents of the video were seditious in nature, in that they raised discontent or disaffection amongst people practising the Christian faith in Singapore, but was not sure if my actions would land me in jail,” he told the police.

Amos also told his mother he was making a video criticising Mr Lee but did not go into specifics. She advised him not to upload it but he went ahead.

After uploading it on March 28, Amos sent now-defunct website The Real Singapore a Facebook message to share his video. The video went viral and he received hate messages. However, he felt that “despite the hatred and ill-will generated”, it opened up a larger avenue for critical discussion about Mr Lee.

Amos said he also learnt that Mrs Thatcher had once said Mr Lee was always right, and felt she had “an uncanny liking” for Mr Lee. He went on Facebook to ask for photos of the two leaders, then decided to superimpose their faces on an allegedly obscene image he found online.

“I felt that it was a funny, shocking and effective way of making fun of Margaret Thatcher’s statement about Lee Kuan Yew being right all the time, and that in turn would encourage more people to openly criticise and make fun of their political leaders, which opens up a larger avenue for critical analysis and positive change in Singapore,” he stated.

He told the police that he was the sole creator of the content in question.

Defence lawyer Alfred Dodwell tendered three exhibits to the court. He later told reporters that one was a “similar image” from the South African edition of a magazine called Women’s Health, and two were caricatures meant to show satire.

District Judge Jasvender Kaur adjourned the hearing after directing both sides to address the test of obscenity by showing the tendency to corrupt, and who the targets were. Both sides will make further submissions today.

If convicted, Amos faces up to three months’ jail and a fine for posting the obscene image, and up to three years’ jail and a fine for wounding the religious feelings of Christians.

Yesterday’s hearing comes after several developments since his arrest. They include a stranger discharging himself as Amos’ bailor after the teenager refused to abide by bail conditions, and another stranger slapping him outside the State Courts. On Wednesday, Amos’ bid to vary his bail conditions was dismissed by the High Court.


Amos raised a Catholic, was asked to leave church in 2013

By Neo Chai Chin -

He was raised a Catholic and began attending mass independent of his family from Secondary 1, Amos Yee said in his statement to the police.

The blogger, who is facing charges for posting an obscene image online as well as content intended to wound the religious feelings of Christians, said he had considered himself a practising Catholic until some incidents caused him to become an atheist.

One such incident took place in 2013 when he was kicked out as an altar boy for swearing at a meeting.

The statement was given to the police on the night of March 29, a few hours after his arrest. In it, Amos said he was asked to leave the church in 2013, when he told a priest his reservations about being confirmed as a Catholic.

The “major impetus” for embracing atheism was his advocacy of logic and reasoning, Amos said. He questioned the implications of his confirmation in the Catholic faith and began doing research on Catholicism and Christianity by watching YouTube videos and reading blogs on atheism.

Amos became a fan of a YouTube channel called The Amazing Atheist, and said he grew convinced that God does not exist and, even if He did, “nobody rational would ever follow Him”.

“As a result of my research into atheism and possibly, the emotional catalysts that drove me away from my church, I stopped going to church in mid-2013 and stopped practising the faith altogether,” Amos said. It was not mentioned which church he attended.


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Winsta Group sues 13 directors, officers over 'breach of duties'

Straits Times
22 May 2015

INVESTMENT firm Winsta Group is taking legal action against 13 executive directors and officers.

M Development, the com-pany's holding company, told the Singapore Exchange (SGX) yesterday that the individuals were involved in a series of "undisclosed interested-party transactions" that constituted "actionable wrongs and breach of duties".

The transactions were disclosed in an interim report by accounting firm KordaMentha, which had since launched an internal audit of Winsta Group, as announced on April 9.

The statement to the SGX said the Winsta Group had started legal proceedings against 13 people in the High Court after trading closed on Wednesday.

They include former director Sim Pei Yee as well as persons and entities related to her.

Law firm Rajah & Tann is acting for M Development, formerly known as NTI International, and the Winsta Group.

Ms Sim became executive director of M Development in September 2010 and oversaw Winsta Group's daily operations.

Her father Sim Poh Ping and sister Sim Pei San were listed as key management personnel of M Development. Their remunera-tion for the last financial year exceeded $150,000 each, according to the company's annual report.

The statement also said Winsta Group will suspend Ms Sim's executive functions as well as those named in the legal action.

M Development is appointing a professional management agent to assist in its operations.

Its shares closed 0.1 cent lower at 0.5 cent on the stock market yesterday.

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Thief gets 5 years' corrective training

Straits Times
15 May 2015
Amir Hussain

A FREELANCE painter who stole from three women was sentenced to five years' corrective training yesterday.

In the first incident, Tan Chin Heng (photo), 46, met a Vietnamese sex worker in a pub in Joo Chiat and she agreed to provide him with sexual services for $80.

Tan drove her in a rental car to a secluded carpark in Eunos Industrial Estate. He asked her to leave her handbag in the front passenger seat while they moved to the back. After a quarrel over price, Tan said the deal was off and told her to sit in the front seat.

But the moment she stepped out of the car, he quickly locked the doors, climbed into the driver's seat and sped off with her handbag, which contained $200 and US$1,000 (S$1,300) in cash, a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 cellphone and her passport.

Tan took the $200 and threw away the rest of the things.

On another occasion, he picked up a Chinese prostitute from a coffee shop in Geylang. Using the same car, he drove to the same carpark in Eunos and used the same ruse to drive away with her bag.

Tan also robbed a Chinese national he had befriended through the mobile phone app Wechat.

This time, he drove the woman to East Coast Park, and asked her to leave her handbag in the car while they took a walk on the beach. He then used the pretext of getting a cigarette lighter from the car, and drove off with her bag.

Tan was also convicted yesterday of criminal breach of trust. In January, he borrowed a Volkswagen Jetta but failed to return it and became uncontactable.

When the car was spotted at Hotel 81 Star in Geylang in February, the police arrested him there.

In mitigation, Tan's lawyer Sudha Nair said he pays monthly maintenance of $300 for a 19-year-old son from a previous marriage. He is also engaged to a woman, who is four months pregnant with their child.

Corrective training is a tough regime for repeat offenders with no remission for good behaviour.

Tan was jailed for 30 months in 2010 for similar theft offences.


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Custody tussle: Mum has no inherent right to her kids, says judge

Straits Times
07 May 2015
K. C. Vijayan

IN AN unusual fight for child custody, the High Court has made it clear that a mother does not have an inherent and inalienable right to her children.

Calling the tussle "rather exceptional and unfortunate", Judicial Commissioner Valerie Thean refused a mother's plea to have her two children live with her instead of continuing to live with their grandmother, uncle and aunt.

The judge said in judgment grounds issued on Tuesday: "The law mandates that a parent's - indeed, also a guardian's - responsibility is to look to the best interests of the children at the heart of the dispute."

She ruled that the specific facts of the case should determine who would have the best care and control of the children.

The girl and boy, who were born in 2007 and 2009 respectively, lived in their grandmother's house together with their parents.

Their parents, wedded in 2004, had a difficult marriage made worse when the father was stricken with cancer in June 2012. He died some five months later. His wife was also suffering from acute stress.

The couple's differences escalated into a household incident in October 2012 involving the children and grandmother.

The police were called - the mother was arrested and referred to the Institute of Mental Health for acute stress treatment but was not allowed to return to the family home by her brother-in-law. By then, her husband was dying.

She was discharged four days later to the care of her brother and a friend, and subsequently given a stern warning by the police.

Her husband left a will appointing his brother and sister-in-law as the children's guardians.

A State Courts judge last year ordered the woman and guardians to share custody of the children but specified care and control to the guardians. The children had supervised access to their mother at the Centre for Family Harmony, among other things.

Her appeal to the High Court before the judge was dismissed in February and she applied again last month for permission to appeal to the apex court. This was dismissed on Tuesday.

Her lawyers P. Suppiah and K. Elangovan argued that she now worked as a schoolteacher of young children and could not be construed as unfit to take care of her own children.

But lawyers Kee Lay Lian and M. Vidhya for the respondents noted that professional assessments said the October 2012 incident had left "a permanent psychological scar" from which the children had yet to recover.

The judge found the grandmother and guardians had a loving relationship with the children. A switch of care and control at this stage would be traumatic as they needed a stable platform from which to start to repair their relationship with their mother.

The judge ordered that the mother be allowed assisted access to the children with a psychiatrist as facilitator. She also ordered the mother and the guardians to undergo counselling to rebuild their relationship.


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Xpress and its former chairman broke listing rules in 2014: SGX

Business Times
22 May 2015
Kenneth Lim

They failed to disclose creditors' winding-up applications in a timely fashion, it says

[Singapore] XPRESS Holdings and its then chairman broke listing rules in 2014 by not disclosing creditors' winding-up applications in a timely fashion, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) said on Thursday.

SGX has issued warnings to the printing services company and to KK Fong, Xpress' chairman and chief executive at the time of the breach and currently the company's non-executive and non-independent director.

Xpress on July 22 halted trading of its stock, and announced a day later that one creditor had filed a winding-up application in relation to about S$400,000 of rental arrears, while a bank filed an application in relation to facilities of about S$1.2 million.

Following queries by SGX, Xpress on July 28 revealed that it had received notice for the S$400,000 claim on July 3, and the notice for the S$1.2 million claim on July 8, which was more than two weeks before the July 23 disclosure.

SGX's investigations also found that Mr Fong only informed the other Xpress directors about the winding-up application on or about July 16, more than a week after the notices were received.

According to the exchange, Mr Fong said that he had tried to resolve the matters arising from the winding-up applications, which he felt were "frivolous" or "legally flawed", and he was concerned that an immediate announcement might have given an "unbalanced picture of the company's state of affairs".

But SGX said Mr Fong's objections did not preclude Xpress from making an immediate announcement as required.

SGX noted that the listing rules require issuers to immediately announce any winding-up applications, and the delayed disclosures by Xpress and Mr Fong were a breach of those rules.

If Xpress could not make an immediate announcement on time, it should have requested a trading halt of its stock immediately, SGX said.

"Disclosure is fundamental to a fair, orderly and transparent market," SGX said.

In response to queries by BT, Xpress's board of directors said in a statement that it took a "serious view" of the warning and noted that it has taken a number of steps to improve compliance since July 2014. The company has a new group financial controller, will appoint an external law firm to assist in compliance, and has reiterated to management the need to inform the board of all material matters.

In its own defence, the board also said that it took "great efforts" to exercise prudence during the period between being informed by management and disclosing the winding-up applications.

"The actions that led to the calling of a trading halt on July 22, 2014, included meetings with management and other relevant parties to fully understand the background and implications of the matter," the board said. "This is to ensure that the announcement that finally went out on July 23 was complete, accurate and without prejudice."

Both winding-up applications have yet to be resolved.

Xpress shares closed flat at 1.7 Singapore cents on Thursday before the announcement.


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New appointments to Supreme Court Bench

Straits Times
14 May 2015
Look Woon Wei

THE Supreme Court will soon add a new judge and judicial commissioner to its Bench, said the Prime Minister's Office yesterday.

Mr George Wei Sze Shun, 60, and Ms Foo Tuat Yien, 61, will be appointed as judge and judicial commissioner respectively from May 25.

Mr Wei, an expert in intellectual property law in Singapore, is currently a judicial commissioner. He was previously a professor at the then University of Singapore (now known as the National University of Singapore) and the Singapore Management University.

Ms Foo, who joined the legal service in 1976, is currently a senior district judge at the State Courts.

She had served as a district judge in the then Subordinate Courts from 2000 to 2005, and was seconded to be assistant chief executive of the Competition Commission of Singapore from 2005 to 2009.

A judicial commissioner has the powers of a judge, but is appointed for only a specific period of time, usually two to three years.

Both of them will be sworn in at the Istana on May 26, together with Senior Counsel Kannan Ramesh, who will assume the position of judicial commissioner from May 22.

Mr Kannan is the managing partner of Tan Kok Quan Partnership, but will step down from his position. He specialises in dispute resolution, insolvency and restructuring, as well as international arbitration.

With the new appointments, the Supreme Court Bench will have a total of 14 judges, including the Chief Justice, and 10 judicial commissioners. It will also have five senior judges and 12 international judges.


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Suit against firm in charge of fire hoses dismissed

Straits Times
07 May 2015
K. C. Vijayan

IT TURNED out to be one expensive cigarette.

A single butt flung down from the upper floors of a Bukit Batok warehouse in January 2010 caused a raging fire and $1.4 million in losses.

The affected companies had tried to sue the firm in charge of the hose reel system, Rhythme Technology, claiming that it had not maintained the hoses properly.

But a judge has ruled that the inferno had blazed so out of control that even if nearby hose reels were working, it would not have made a difference.

Justice Choo Han Teck noted that firemen took three hours to merely bring the fire under control, and five hours to douse the flames completely.

According to eyewitness accounts, winds blew smoke and flames towards staff who were trying to fight the fire, and they abandoned the nearest hose reel and rushed to retrieve another from a neighbouring unit at Bukit Batok Street 23.

The judge dismissed warehouse operator Union Concept Manufacturers' claim that Rhythme Technology was negligent in fire hose maintenance.

Union and another tenant sharing the affected premises had sued Rhythme for losses amounting to some $1.4 million.

Union claimed that Rhythme had failed to ensure there was any water or sufficient water, in the fire hose reel nearest to its premises, and alleged that Rhythme's failure had prevented it from using the fire hose to stop the fire and salvage the property.

But Rhythme's lawyer R. Nandakumar countered that its staff had conducted a physical test on the hose reel nearest to Union's premises in September 2009, and found the various components of the system were in order. The results had been recorded.

Union's lawyer M. Ramasamy argued that, in addition to the absence of water, the non-return valve was installed in reverse, which affected the flow of water in the fire hose.

But key witnesses who had tried to use the fire hose on the day of the incident failed to turn up to give evidence in court.

"Without their evidence, it is extremely difficult for (Union) to prove that at the time the fire hose was used, there was practically no water in the hose reel, and that this was the result of (Rythme)'s breach of duty," wrote Justice Choo in decision grounds released on Tuesday.

The fire was caused by a lit cigarette that fell from the upper floors of the block and landed on pallets of polystyrene foam packing material outside the premises.

Fed by the combustible material and strong winds, it quickly spread into Union's premises.

The judge ruled there could have been other factors, for example, if the hose was not properly disentangled, for the lack of water from the hose.

Even if Rhythme had breached its duty of care, the fire was caused by large combustible materials stacked by Union outside its warehouse, which posed a high fire risk, he noted. The flames had gone out of control so quickly that human efforts would have been futile, he said.


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Yale professor to join NUS Law

22 May 2015

SINGAPORE — Yale Law School Professor Alec Stone Sweet will be joining the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Law in January 2016, the university announced yesterday.

He will also be the first Saw Swee Hock Centennial Professor in Law, a tenured full-time position at NUS Law. He is an internationally renowned professor of comparative constitutional law and comparative politics, said NUS.

“I have chosen to move to NUS because my future research will focus on Asian law and institutions, and NUS Law is clearly the most important law school in Asia,” said Prof Stone Sweet, who has been with Yale since 2004 and will be giving up his position there.

He added that Singapore’s growth as a “dispute resolution hub for Asia” is attractive to him.

“NUS Law hosts the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI) and will allow me to watch closely the development of the newly launched Singapore International Commercial Court.”

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Susan Lim's legal bill rises to $825k as SMC wins appeal

Straits Times
14 May 2015
Selina Lum

Surgeon ordered by judge to pay extra $465,000 in legal costs and expenses

THE surgeon suspended for overcharging a member of Brunei's royal family must pay an extra $465,000 in legal costs and expenses to the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) after it won an appeal yesterday on two bills it had submitted against her.

Dr Susan Lim, 60, had been ordered to pay $360,000 in costs and expenses last September, after the SMC's claim of nearly $1.4 million was slashed by a High Court assistant registrar.

The sum included $250,000 in fees to the SMC's lawyers from Wong Partnership and $81,000 in fees to two legal assessors and two medical experts involved in the disciplinary inquiries.

The SMC - which originally sought $1 million in legal fees and $337,000 in fees to the assessors and experts - appealed for the bills to be reviewed.

Yesterday, in a written judgment, Justice Woo Bih Li allowed an increase in the total bill to about $825,000.

While still short of the amount initially sought, total lawyer fees have more than doubled to $520,000 as part of the new amount.

The bills were for work done by the SMC's lawyers and expenses incurred in two disciplinary committee hearings brought against Dr Lim, as well as her subsequent appeal to the Court of Three Judges.

Justice Woo noted that while there was overlapping work, the case was vigorously contested by Dr Lim, involved complex issues of both law and fact, and was "document intensive", with 12,531 pages involved before the disciplinary hearings.

During the appeal, the SMC's lawyers had prepared a 232-page table of references to invoices issued by Dr Lim relating to some charges.

Justice Woo also raised the fees of the legal assessors and experts, the bulk of which was the $235,000 claim for the assessor in the second disciplinary hearing.

Justice Woo said he did not think the rate of $1,050 per hour charged by Senior Counsel Vinodh Coomaraswamy was unreasonable, in view of the complexities of the case. He noted that, given what had happened in the first inquiry, the assessor for the second inquiry had to be extra careful to ensure that the second committee did not "trip up".

Dr Lim was brought before two disciplinary committees for overcharging the sister of the Queen of Brunei. The first committee disqualified itself after her lawyers claimed that it had prejudged the case.

In 2012, she was found guilty by the second committee and suspended for three years, censured and fined $10,000. Her appeal was dismissed in 2013.


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Hard for buyers of properties abroad to get lost money back, say lawyers

07 May 2015
Joy Fang

SINGAPORE — Investors who have tried their hand at buying foreign property and got their fingers burnt are finding it tough to get their money back. The process is arduous, especially if it involves a suit against foreign companies, lawyers told TODAY.

In cases involving local agents, buyers can first turn to the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA). Of an average of 800 complaints it receives each year, nine from 2013 to date have been about the purchase of foreign properties, its spokesman said.

These include developers going into liquidation, development not carried out according to schedule and consumers being unable to get deposits back after deciding to withdraw from their purchase. But the CEA did not elaborate on the outcomes of the nine complaints.

The total sum of foreign property transactions is hefty. The Monetary Authority of Singapore has reported that the figure rose from S$1.9 billion in 2012 to S$3 billion in 2013, before moderating to S$1.1 billion in the first half of last year.

Legal action against foreign companies is rare, said a lawyer, because it concerns investments in foreign jurisdictions, so local firms have their hands tied. Victims would have to engage lawyers from the relevant jurisdictions and many are reluctant to do so because of unfamiliarity with laws there, he added.

Class action suits, involving many claimants, tend to drag on if all parties do not agree on decisions, said another lawyer who declined to be named. He has several clients seeking to recover their monies, including from property firm EcoHouse, which claimed to be working with the Brazilian government on a social housing scheme. The Brazilian Embassy later said its government had no dealings with the firm.

Reports said investments amounted to a minimum of £23,000 (S$46,467) per unit and EcoHouse had promised a 20 per cent fixed rate of return for a 12-month contract. But many investors said they have not received their returns or capital.

Another case involves a local real estate firm promoting properties in the United Kingdom. “They promised Residence A, then ... after you sign the deal, they inform you it’s no longer available and ... offer Residence B,” said the lawyer, adding that the difference between A and B tends to be large. His clients had paid 10 per cent of the property price as a deposit, which was about £12,000.

Recently, he received another case, in which his clients had invested in a fund that owns American properties. They had forked out about US$20,000 (S$40,398) and have yet to receive any payment. His clients are mostly aged 40 to 60, women and non-professionals. “Many are attracted because they say banks’ rate of return is too low, so they’re just looking for ways to get more (money),” he said.

On Monday, the Consumers Association of Singapore urged the authorities to review how foreign developers disclose information to buyers, particularly in advertisements. The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore also announced that it would implement new guidelines by year-end for ads pertaining to investments in financial instruments and property.

The CEA said estate agents and salespeople must comply with the Estate Agents Act when marketing foreign properties here. If provisions are breached, the possible repercussions include a letter of warning, financial penalties or licence suspension or revocation.

Anecdotally, about 600 to 1,000 foreign property units are sold here each year, said Mr Donald Han, managing director of property consulting group Chestertons. This is in contrast to about 6,000 units from local private home sales. He estimated that fewer than 1,000 local salespeople of the 33,000 registered have experience in marketing foreign projects.

Malaysia is one of the countries investors here have been eyeing. Malacca’s Hatten Group told TODAY its sales personnel ensure buyers understand their rights and commitments before they endorse a document stating the developer’s obligations. “We deliver on the terms as promised, as long as the conditions are met,” said a spokesperson, who added that terms such as price appreciation and rental yields can be delivered, as they are within the developer’s control.

However, the “imposition of taxes and levies ... related to property ownership are very much initiatives by the government authorities and these are beyond our control and estimation”, she added. “Such taxes are usually addressed directly to the owners of the properties and not the properties themselves. Therefore, it is also beyond our means to absorb such costs on an owner’s behalf. However, most investors expect developers to do so.”


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MOM: Crane fault likely cause of worker's death

Straits Times
22 May 2015
Olivia Ho

Probe points to design issue; coroner calls for advisory to warn other users

THE death of a Chinese worker who fell 19 storeys after being hit by a tower crane's load could have been due to a fault in the crane's design, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) investigation revealed yesterday in a coroner's court.

This prompted the State Coroner to call for an advisory to be issued at once to warn users of the crane in Singapore. Mr Liu Debao, a construction worker from Shandong, was pushed off an unfinished HDB building in Fernvale Street on Jan 23 last year.

The 40-year-old was struck by a prefabricated bathroom unit when the crane lifting it suddenly swung towards him at high speed.

It pinned him against some mesh barricades, which gave way. He then tumbled about 51m to the ground, where he was pronounced dead. The crane in question was manufactured in China by Shandong Guohong Zhonggong Mechanical Co. There are 14 cranes of the Guohong QTZ250 model in Singapore.

MOM senior investigation officer Wong Zhi Wun explained in court that a momentary loose wire connection in the crane's slewing control system could have potentially caused the accident.

Simulation tests found that when the disconnection occurred, the crane would start swinging at full speed, even if the operator released the joystick to stop it.

The crane operator, Mr Yao Fujun, also told investigators he had slewed the crane only slightly towards Mr Liu, but the bathroom unit suddenly surged towards his colleague at top speed.

According to Mr Wong, an inspection of the crane afterwards found no loose connections. But the wires could have been "intermittently loosened due to vibrations" during its operations.

He added that two other crane operators using the same model later came forward to claim they had experienced the same thing.

When they stopped and restarted the cranes, however, the problem ceased, so they did not think of reporting it until the accident.

While the investigation did not conclusively pin the blame on the crane design, Mr Wong said it cast "significant doubt" on the accident having been deliberately caused by the crane operator.

State Coroner Marvin Bay recommended that an advisory be sent out "without further delay".

He said: "If this happens once, it is tragic. If it happens twice, it is difficult to justify." He will release his findings on June 4.


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Time to quicken pace of social justice law reform: Forum

Straits Times
14 May 2015
Tan Chong Huat

THE recent enactment of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act 2014 and the amendments to the Animals and Birds Act were notable for being rare instances of Private Member's Bills being passed by Parliament.

Not since the mid-1990s, when the Maintenance of Parents Act and the Family Violence Bill were initiated by former Nominated MPs Walter Woon and Kanwaljit Soin respectively, has Singapore seen a mini flurry of such Bills in Parliament.

After Professor Woon's effort in 1994, it was another 16 years before Mr Seah Kian Peng's bid in 2010 to strengthen the Maintenance of Parents Act became only the second such Bill to be successfully enacted into law.

Private Member's Bills are introduced by MPs who are not ministers. The paucity of such Bills in the past 20 years raises the issue of whether more can be done to address the gaps in social justice in Singapore from a law reform perspective.

Generally, social justice law reforms are reactionary. For example, in November last year, the unsavoury episode of a foreign tourist who was allegedly cheated by a mobile phone retailer triggered a review of our consumer protection laws. Also, the rapid rise of cyber bullying and online vigilantism in Singapore led to the creation of the Protection from Harassment Act 2014, 17 years after a similar statute was enacted in Britain.

While real-life events should drive law reform and laws evolve with changing societal norms, not efficiently plugging the gaps in social justice may weaken society's collective conscience and pull us away from being a truly just society. As frontline champions of social justice in the courtroom, lawyers have played an important role in developing court-made law. It is, therefore, not surprising that the only two Private Member's Bills that have been drafted from inception - the Maintenance of Parents Act and the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act 2014 - were mooted by lawyers.

Proactive law reform by individuals is, however, subject to the constraints of time, resources and commitment. The increasing complexity of Singapore society and its laws makes drafting a Bill from scratch a daunting task for any single law reformer. While governmental and civil society resources may be made available to support the drafting of Private Member's Bills, other stakeholders that have the ability and resources to propose social justice law reforms should be involved.

One such stakeholder is the Law Society of Singapore, where the collective legal expertise and knowledge of its more than 4,000 members reside. However, a potential impediment is Section 38(1)(c) of the Legal Profession Act, which provides that one of the purposes of the Law Society is to "assist the Government and the courts in all matters affecting legislation submitted to it, and the administration and practice of the law in Singapore".

The words "submitted to it" were added arising from a high-profile brouhaha in 1986, where the then president of the Law Society issued a press release critiquing the Newspaper and Printing Presses (Amendment) Bill. Subsequently, Section 38(1)(c) was amended to revert to the position in colonial times, so as to prevent the Law Society from being used as a political pressure group to advance law reforms.

In reality, Section 38(1)(c) may not present an obstacle to the Law Society presenting proactive social justice law reforms today, given the willingness of the Government to consult on proposed laws and the inherent desirability of laws that promote social justice. In any case, lawyers' views on social justice law reforms may be sought through a variety of forums, and not necessarily through the Law Society.

Nevertheless, a policy of inclusiveness, reflected both in practice and in the statute books, appeals to the writer as a more promising foundation for promoting the public good. Such a policy may be reflected by inserting in Section 38(1)(c) a carve-out of appropriate areas, such as consumer protection law and community law, where the Law Society should be permitted to propose legislation for or comment on existing legislation.

This amendment will signal to lawyers their wider collective role in advancing social justice and legitimise the Law Society's role to bring together practitioners from various fields to share their frontline experiences, identify gaps in social justice and recommend legislative solutions where appropriate.

While it may not be possible for the government of the day to be neutral on some issues, a polity of mutual constructive engagement will certainly promote a more robust and engaged civic society. One particular area in which more discussion is needed is whether laws relating to the protection and care of elderly persons need to be strengthened. Recent cases highlighting the elderly's vulnerability should give greater impetus for proactive law reforms in this area.

In America, elder law encompasses a wide range of complex issues such as age discrimination, elder abuse and neglect, and end-of-life decisions. An Elder Law Bill which consolidates and addresses these issues holistically may be an efficient way to manage the challenges faced by Singapore's ageing population. As the representative body of all Singapore-qualified practising lawyers, the Law Society is best placed to harness the shared experiences of lawyers who provide legal services to elderly persons in diverse practice settings.

Ultimately, the fear today is that we are unable to close the gaps in social justice speedily through law reforms, which may have serious ramifications for the future of Singapore society. The Law Society, not only individual lawyers, should have a vital proactive role to quicken the pace of social justice law reforms where needed.


The writer is managing partner, RHTLaw TaylorWessing LLP


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


While real-life events should drive law reform and laws evolve with changing societal norms, not efficiently plugging the gaps in social justice may weaken society's collective conscience and pull us away from being a truly just society.

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Players sceptical of ensuring transparency

Straits Times
07 May 2015
Joyce Lim

CALLS for more transparency in brochures marketing foreign property in Singapore could boost investor confidence but industry players doubt such steps could be implemented.

The key concerns centre on the calls for developers to reveal financial data and the difficulty of summing up investment risks in the limited space on a handout.

But the proposal by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), that there should be more disclosure, seems to have been widely accepted.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon wants the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) to make it mandatory for advertisers to publish their audited financial reports in their sales brochures.

Developers should also disclose the investment risks involved and substantiate their claims on the investment returns.

Mr Seah told The Straits Times yesterday: "They should submit the permits and approvals... for their projects to the authorities here to prove that (they) are genuine as some developers had gone ahead to sell without having their building plans approved."

But Mr Kelvin Fong, who markets British property here in his role as senior group district director of PropNex, does not think investment risks can be summed up in a few lines in a brochure.

Mrs Doris Tan, regional director of international residential properties services at Jones Lang LaSalle, said smaller developers would have problems disclosing their financial positions.

Mr Peter Thng, executive director of Reapfield Property Consultants, said it is more important for the authorities to ensure a "level playing field" for both local agencies and foreign developers in marketing overseas property.

He noted: "The existing legislation does not apply to foreign developers who market their own properties here. They have a free hand in their advertisements."

Mr Thng, whose firm markets only foreign property, said some overseas developers put up false ads or give misleading information by editing photos used in sales brochures.

One project advertised as being a stone's throw from the Sydney Opera House was, in fact, far away. "The photograph was edited to make the development look like it was close to the city centre," said Mr Thng.

Asas on Monday said it was working with the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Council for Estate Agencies to review the advertising code.

Last year, Asas received nine complaints about property ads, up from six in 2013. Case has received 13 complaints regarding foreign property purchases in the past two years, said Mr Seah.

Mr Chew Hwei Yeow, chief operating officer of PPB Group, which will launch Southern Marina in Iskandar this year, said: "Tougher guidelines will create better practice and is always good for the industry. But advertisements with guaranteed returns can be misleading."

Mr Fong said: "Buyers need to attend seminars to fully understand the risks involved. Also, some developers would have created a new firm (for) the project. It would be hard to disclose their financial position in those cases."

Instead, he proposes a checklist for properties in different countries. "The checklist should include the permits needed for developers to launch the project and information such as whether banks would disburse the funds if the project is not sold out."


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$200m assets: Apex court orders deputies for widow

Straits Times
21 May 2015
K.C. Vijayan

A FIVE-YEAR spat involving three sisters from a prominent Singapore family has ended in the Court of Appeal, which found that one of the women - an 80-year-old who is mentally impaired - is unfit to make decisions about her estimated $200 million in assets.

The apex court found that she was vulnerable and that her youngest daughter and son-in-law had "exercised undue influence" over her. It also ordered deputies to be named on her behalf.

None of the parties was named in the 108-page judgment released by the court yesterday.

The landmark case - heard by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Appeal Judges Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang - is understood to be the first to be heard by the Court of Appeal involving the 2010 Mental Capacity Act. It is significant in clarifying how relevant provisions of the Act operate.

When her father died in 2004, the 80-year-old widow inherited a fortune that, by 2010, was approaching $200 million in value.

Her husband died in 2007, leaving much of his wealth to their three children.

But the court heard that the trio had a bitter relationship, which worsened after his death.

The battle lines were drawn with her elder son, a lawyer, and doctor daughter on one side, and her youngest daughter, a psychiatrist, on the other.

The feuds vexed the woman and tensions came to a head in late 2010, leading her two younger sisters to apply under the Mental Capacity Act to declare her unfit to manage her affairs.

They argued that their sister had given bankers a series of conflicting instructions about her assets and gone to live in Hong Kong with her youngest daughter and her husband, cutting off her other two children and her siblings.

In 2011, a district judge allowed the two sisters' application but two years later, it was set aside when the widow applied to the High Court.

Shook Lin & Bok lawyers, led by Senior Counsel Sarjit Singh, then successfully applied to the High Court on behalf of the two sisters for permission to appeal to the top court, pointing to the important issues of law involved.

The Court of Appeal heard the case last August. The widow was represented by Wong Partnership Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo, while her youngest daughter and husband were represented by Rajah & Tann Senior Counsel Lee Eng Beng. All three opposed the move.

However, the court found that the latter couple had used undue influence to try to keep the widow away from the rest of her family - which was against her wishes.

The court also made clear that medical evidence showed her memory had declined and her ability to understand information in relation to complex decisions about her assets had decreased. She also had paranoid beliefs.

The Court of Appeal has called for the parties to make submissions on who should be appointed deputies to help run her affairs.

"Given (her) considerable wealth, there will likely be many decisions she will have to make in relation to her property and affairs that involve substantial sums," the judgment stated.

In a new direction, Chief Justice Menon also ruled that the mental capacity of any person being scrutinised under the Act should be examined by an independent medical expert instead of being cross-examined on the witness stand.


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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Capital punishment needed to deter crime: Forum

Straits Times
14 May 2015
Bobby Yeo Chek Hong

INDONESIA executed eight prisoners by firing squad, amid intense international criticism and protest.

Australia and Brazil were among those expressing their strong disapproval, as the executed prisoners included two Australians and a Brazilian. Australia even recalled its ambassador to Indonesia.

Singapore faced the same intense criticism and rebuke after executing a Filipina, Flor Contemplacion, in 1995.

Contemplacion, a domestic worker, was found guilty of murdering another maid and a four-year-old boy, and was eventually sentenced to death by hanging.

Her death unleashed a wave of strong protests and anti-Singapore sentiments in the Philippines. Then Philippine President Fidel Ramos recalled the nation's ambassador to Singapore.

People oppose the use of capital punishment, citing the fact that it is brutal, barbaric and is in violation of human rights.

I beg to differ. If a person can get away with committing crimes without being punished, he would continue to commit more heinous crimes. Others would be encouraged to do the same. Crimes would increase as a result.

Capital punishment is an effective deterrent, especially against heinous crimes. It is necessary and justified in order to maintain law and order in a nation.

Bobby Yeo Chek Hong

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'Wee set up bookkeeping firm as a smokescreen'

Straits Times
07 May 2015
Danson Cheong

FORMER City Harvest Church (CHC) finance manager Serina Wee left the church in 2007 to set up her own bookkeeping firm, Advante Consulting.

The firm went on to handle the accounts of various companies under the CHC group, including Xtron, which managed the music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun, the wife of church founder Kong Hee.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong yesterday argued in court that the move was a smokescreen, so auditors would not raise questions about whether the church had control over Xtron.

"I put it to you that the real reason Advante was started, and then took on the role of Xtron's accountant, was a step to create this separation that was felt to be necessary between CHC, Xtron and UEPL," he said. UEPL was another church-linked firm then involved in a church property bid.

Mr Ong said this separation was "just an appearance" as Wee continued to be involved in decisions involving CHC and Xtron finances.

At one point, Wee was the accountant of both the church and Xtron - and church leaders believed this would be perceived as a conflict of interest. Wee, on her eighth day on the stand, disagreed with both the prosecution's charges.

The 38-year-old is part of a group of six church leaders accused of misusing church money to bankroll Ms Ho's secular music career. They are charged with channelling $50 million from the church building fund into sham bond investments and covering up the misuse.

The investments were the subject of a spirited exchange between lawyers on both sides yesterday after Mr Ong asked Wee if their "only purpose" was getting financial returns.

Wee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Andre Maniam, and Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, who is acting for co-accused Tan Ye Peng, asked the prosecution if it was now arguing that the investments were "supposed to be for financial returns only", and not dual-purpose investments to fund Ms Ho's career, or a sham.

Mr Ong said the prosecution's case was that the bonds were a sham.

"They are not dual purpose. They are not purely for financial return. They are not for investment at all," said Mr Ong, who then asked Mr Sreenivasan what the defence's case was.

Mr Sreenivasan said: "Your Honour, I really have a problem when they don't tell me what is their case, they want me to answer what's the defence... They have the burden of proof all inverted."

The trial enters its 128th day today.


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Cases to determine mental capacity need independent expert: Apex court

21 May 2015
Yvonne Lim

Such cases are now adversarial; parties have their own medical experts to better chances of being appointed deputy

SINGAPORE — Calling for a change in the way court cases that determine a person’s mental capacity to run his personal affairs are conducted, the apex court said a more “sensible” approach would be for judges to direct the inquiry with input from an independent medical expert.

Currently, such cases under the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) are largely adversarial in nature, where duelling parties put forward their own medical experts to better their chances of being appointed deputy and take over control of what is usually a loved one’s personal affairs.

In a judgment released yesterday, the Court of Appeal said such hearings should take an inquisitorial approach instead because the interests of the person whose mental capacity is being assessed are “paramount”.

“The court’s role is a protective one and it should not shy away from taking control of MCA proceedings and directing parties on the evidence that it requires in order to reach its decision,” wrote Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who has also overseen reforms in the justice system recently to help families settle disputes less acrimoniously.

The court, comprising Appeal judges Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang as well, added that time and costs would also be saved if evidence are adduced in a more targeted manner.

The judges’ comments came in their decision on such a case involving a wealthy woman from a prominent family. Her siblings and two of her children wanted to be made deputies, arguing that she was suffering from dementia. But the woman herself, along with her youngest daughter and her husband, resisted their bids, saying she merely suffered from a condition known as Mild Cognitive Impairment.

During the hearing, the woman refused to have her mental capacity assessed by an independent medical expert, resulting in the matter being determined by way of cross-examination. And when her cross-examination did not speak well of her capacity, her lawyer sought to persuade the court that little or no weight should be given to it.

In its grounds of decision, the Court of Appeal said: “This was unsatisfactory and it illustrates the need for a sensible approach to be taken by parties, especially in the conduct of such cases.”

The judges added: “In our judgement, such cases under the MCA may be better dealt with if the court were to direct the inquiry, if need be, with an assessor.”

The court found the woman incapable of making “relatively complex decisions” concerning her property and affairs, and ruled that deputies should be appointed to make decisions on the woman’s behalf.

However, who these will be will be decided only after both sides make submissions on the precise scope of deputyship, the judges said. The appointment of an independent legal adviser accountable to the court will be considered, they added.

Commenting on the mooted change, family lawyer Belinda Ang said a court-appointed independent assessor would not only provide an impartial evaluation, but also help ensure that a mentally incapacitated person would not have to endure an arduous cross-examination.

“Family disputes are often very emotional and a person who is already mentally incapacitated should not have to go through a lengthy process in court. The best way would be to appoint an impartial expert to give an evaluation,” Ms Ang said.

Mr Koh Tien Hua, who is also a family lawyer, agreed that a court-appointed third-party independent assessor would lessen the adversarial nature of such court proceedings.


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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Justice must be above revenge: Forum

Straits Times
14 May 2015
V. Subramaniam

I AM surprised that many people still advocate the retention of the death penalty in a society like ours, which places heavy emphasis on the need for kindness, empathy, compassion and the humanitarian spirit ("Callous stance on drug traffickers unfair" by Mr Terence Lim; May 5, and "Drug traffickers deserve no sympathy" by Mr Patrick Tan Siong Kuan; April 30).

No individual is born a criminal. The transformation happens over time because of various familial, social and environmental factors.

The desire to get even is a natural human trait. Deeply ingrained in the judicial and social psyche is the belief that punishment by death is a necessary evil justified as a means of avoiding further evil; that life imprisonment is insufficient for those who take a human life or endanger public safety; and that there is no room for mercy or compassion, and little desire to help offenders reform.

In this day and age, the death penalty appears to be not only inhuman but also immoral.

It fails to achieve the criminal justice system's core objectives of reforming and rehabilitating offenders, as well as deterring others from committing similar crimes.

There is no convincing empirical evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect.

Its only other purpose is to assuage the feelings of the victims and public conscience. But retaining it on the grounds of retribution alone is flawed.

It is time to relook this "eye for an eye" attitude and reconsider to what extent it should influence the verdict against offenders.

Abolishing the death penalty should be the sine qua non of a modern state like ours, which aspires towards social and economic greatness.

What is at stake is our faith in justice being above revenge, of the principle that the state cannot take away a person's life, and of our commitment to collective improvement.

This would be the "great civilising step" for our society.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

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Man accused of killing brother gets pro bono lawyer

Straits Times
07 May 2015
Olivia Ho

A FORMER Singapore Polytechnic student accused of murdering his older brother at their family home has found a lawyer to represent him free of charge.

Ng Yao Wei, 21, appeared in court via video link from Changi Prison yesterday and was remanded for another three weeks at Changi Medical Centre for further evaluation and treatment, on the request of the Institute of Mental Health.

He is accused of killing 26-year-old motion graphics artist Ng Yao Cheng on April 13 at the Windermere condominium in Choa Chu Kang, where the brothers lived with their parents. Ng will be represented pro bono by Mr Josephus Tan of Fortis Law Corporation, who saw his client for the first time yesterday as he appeared on screen.

Mr Tan said he was appointed last week after the defendant's parents approached him. He told reporters outside the courtroom: "I know it was reported that they are living in a condo, but apart from the house, I don't think they have the financial capability. I can't be expecting them to sell the roof over their heads to fund their legal fees. Our concern is for the parents to seek counselling themselves and leave the legal proceedings to us."

Ng called police to report a murder on the night of April 13 and paramedics arrived to find the elder Mr Ng lying in a pool of blood in a bedroom, reportedly with knife wounds to his neck. He was pronounced dead at 11.16pm.

It is believed that the brothers had been arguing.

Ng was arrested on the spot and taken to Changi General Hospital as he had injuries. He was charged with murder there on April 15. Ng recently completed a diploma course in business information technology at Singapore Polytechnic where his results put him on the Director's Honour Roll in his second year. If found guilty, he could face the death penalty. The case will next be heard on May 27.


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Mediation services vital as society evolves: Forum

Straits Times
21 May 2015

IT IS a shame that the take-up rate for divorce mediation is dismal ("Low take-up rate for schemes to help divorcing couples"; Tuesday).

This is not only reflective of family disputes, but also of all other disputes, including commercial, labour, family business, relational disputes, and so on.

As a professional mediator, I have observed that when people are in a dispute, they are quick to hire the best lawyer they can afford. But if they reach a point of settling disputes amicably, they will then look for the cheapest mediation services around.

The best mediation services cost only a fraction of the litigation fees people in a dispute would otherwise incur.

A lack of awareness of early private mediation, and a reluctance to pay for professional private mediators leads to two things.

First, parties posture unnecessarily, and they attempt mediation only at the courts (because it is low cost and, in some cases, mandatory).

This is unfortunate, as positions have already become further entrenched, too much animosity would have accumulated, and claims would further inflate to take into account legal fees and emotional distress.

Early intervention would minimise not only the costs of conflicts, but also collateral damage (to children, staff morale, reputation, and so on).

Second, the private mediation industry will never be able to sustain a high level of professional amicable dispute resolution services without greater public awareness.

The public is generally not well educated on what constitutes good mediation service, and people often rely

on "industry experts" to mediate, rather than mediation experts.

This has, on occasion, resulted in the smearing of the reputation of all mediators, because industry experts who have undergone some mediation training do not necessarily provide the best mediation services.

The public should expect professional mediators to not only possess adequate problem-solving skills, but also be extraordinarily equipped to facilitate constructive discussions, while managing emotional and relational dynamics.

Professional mediators do need to invest much time, money and effort to be accredited, and to receive continual training.

At the moment, this is, more often than not, heavily dependent on the individual mediator's passion and sacrifice of his own resources.

Professional mediators hold themselves to high standards of resolving disputes at the least possible cost, and strive to reconcile relationships whenever possible.

As society becomes more fractured and litigious, the public should expect and pay for no less than professional mediators.

Linda Heng (Ms)

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Yee claims ex-bailor molested him, then flip-flops

Straits Times
14 May 2015
Olivia Ho

TEEN blogger Amos Yee yesterday alleged that he had been molested by the youth counsellor who had bailed him out last month, then admitted that it was all a ploy to bait the media.

Barely a day after he was convicted of making remarks intending to hurt the feelings of Christians in a YouTube video clip and uploading an obscene image, the 16-year-old returned to his Facebook page.

At 2.40pm, Yee put up a lengthy post inviting the media to "catch" him as he left Pasir Panjang MRT station between 3pm and 4pm.

He wrote that if they did, he would "clear the air" and "reveal that little tidbit of information on how (his) ex-bailor, Vincent Law, molested (him)".

Last month, Mr Law had stepped forward to post Yee's $20,000 bail when the teen's parents refused to do so after Yee breached his original bail conditions by posting online.

After Yee breached the conditions again, Mr Law discharged himself and the teen returned to remand at Changi Prison after bail was raised to $30,000.

Mr Law, 51, had to defend himself when several media outlets contacted him. He told The Straits Times: "I deny this serious and false allegation... I have no idea why he would say that."

Just before 9.45pm yesterday, Yee posted again, this time saying that "Vincent Law didn't really molest me, haha". He admitted that the entire post was to trick the media into "the thoroughly exhausting experience of waiting in Pasir Panjang fruitlessly for several hours".

While a few applauded his "plot", several netizens called him ungrateful and scolded him for using the name of the man who had helped him. They called for him to apologise to Mr Law. Others wrote that the lie affected his credibility and referred to the parable of the boy who cried wolf.

Yee was bailed out by his parents on Tuesday after the court reduced the bail amount to $10,000. The court also removed all conditions, including the ban on posting online.

He will be sentenced on June 2 pending the outcome of a probation report.


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Geylang stabbing: Man charged with murder

Straits Times
07 May 2015
Olivia Ho

A 55-YEAR-OLD man was charged yesterday with the murder in Geylang on Sunday night.

Yaacob Mohamed Yatim is accused of killing Mr Abdul Rashid Mohd Nenggal, 48, at about 9pm that night.

The victim was found on the pavement alongside a slip road leading to Guillemard Road from Sims Way. Yaacob is believed to have stabbed Mr Rashid in the back at a coffee shop between Lorong 6 and Lorong 8.

According to earlier reports, the two had known each other and came to blows over Mr Rashid's former girlfriend.

The accused is said to have run away, while the victim staggered to the slip road about 10m away and collapsed. Police found him lying motionless and bleeding there.

Mr Rashid was pronounced dead an hour later at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Yaacob will be remanded for a week to assist the police with their investigations, and will be taken back to the scene to re-enact the crime.

If convicted of murder, he could face the death penalty.

The case will be mentioned in court again on May 13.


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Court dismisses drug courier's bid to avoid caning

Straits Times
21 May 2015
Olivia Ho

THE High Court yesterday dismissed Malaysian drug courier Yong Vui Kong's application for a judicial review to avoid caning.

His lawyer, Ms Violet Netto, will also have to personally foot the bill of $2,500 for legal costs.

In a statement issued yesterday, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said the costs had been incurred by her "failure to conduct proceedings with reasonable competence and expedition".

Yong's death sentence was commuted last November to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane. He was initially sentenced to death in 2008 for trafficking 47.27g of diamorphine.

On March 4 this year, the Court of Appeal dismissed an attempt by Yong, 26, to quash his caning sentence.

On March 13, Ms Netto, who is from law firm L. F. Violet Netto Advocates and Solicitors, made a judicial review application on Yong's behalf for an order that would prohibit his caning.

The AGC subsequently applied to strike out the application on April 14, calling it an abuse of process of the court.


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Businessman faces jail over illegal GST collection

Straits Times
14 May 2015
Joanna Seow

THE owner of an interior design business faces 50 days in jail for illegally collecting more than $8,000 in goods and services tax (GST) from a customer.

Mohaideen Osman, 39, who runs Formz Design International, pleaded guilty to eight charges of unlawful GST collection, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) said yesterday.

At a court hearing on Tuesday, he was ordered to pay a penalty of $26,590 - three times the sum he collected - and a fine of $12,000.

As he cannot pay, he must serve the jail term.

He must also pay the Comptroller of GST the money he pocketed illegally.

Mohaideen became the sole proprietor of Formz Design International in April 2009 but did not register for GST.

Investigations showed that he issued eight sales invoices that year to the Agricultural Bank of China, which had hired his company to provide interior design and renovation services.

These invoices included 7 per cent GST, which came to $8,863 in total. Another 16 charges were considered during sentencing.

Under the GST Act, offenders who collect GST unlawfully face a penalty of three times the amount of the tax and a fine of up to $10,000 for each offence.

Five people and businesses have been convicted of this previously, with their taxes and penalties amounting to $810,000 in total, Iras said.

To see if a business is registered for GST, the public can check the business name or business registration number on the Iras website at www.iras.gov.sg


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ADV: LexisNexis Criminal Law Special Bundle!

Singapore Law Watch
07 May 2015

Hearing adjourned to Sept after final witness testifies: City Harvest trial

Straits Times
21 May 2015
Amir Hussain

Crossover Project is No. 1 calling of church: Ex-executive member

AFTER a gruelling 137 days, the trial over the alleged misuse of City Harvest Church (CHC) funds wound down yesterday after the final witness took the stand.

The hearing, which began in May 2013, was adjourned by Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon to September, when the court will hear closing submissions.

In all, the prosecution has called 14 witnesses and produced more than 1,400 documents - including 1,010 e-mails - to make its case.

The six church leaders are alleged to have misused CHC's money to bankroll pop singer Ho Yeow Sun's secular music career, which they wanted to use to spread the Gospel via the Crossover Project.

The accused are CHC pastors Kong Hee, 50, and Tan Yee Peng, 42; former finance managers Serina Wee, 38, and Sharon Tan, 39; and former investment committee members Chew Eng Han, 54, and John Lam, 47.

They allegedly misappropriated $24 million in CHC's building funds through sham bond investments in music production firm Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna, and allegedly misused another $26 million to cover it up.

Ms Ho is church founder Kong Hee's wife.

Yesterday, former church executive member Jean-Jacques Lavigne was called to the stand by Chew, who has been conducting his own defence since last May.

Mr Lavigne said he joined the church in late 1998 and stopped attending services in June 2013, a month after Chew left.

Mr Lavigne was a leader in CHC's Business Breakthrough Group - a business network group started in 2003 - and became an executive member, eligible to hold office, in 2008.

Asked by Chew how he felt about church money being put into bonds to fund the Crossover, Mr Lavigne said that from a church member's point of view, it was "probably the best thing to happen in years".

On how important the project was, Mr Lavigne said it was the "No. 1 calling of the church".

"There is no other vision (in the church) but the Crossover," he said.

Mr Lavigne said he bought a number of Ms Ho's Mandarin albums. He added that he was "delighted" with her Crossover work in the United States, and described it as "top-notch and world class".

Earlier in his testimony, Mr Lavigne told the court how CHC was keen on a joint venture with his former employer SUTL, which owns the One Degree 15 Marina club.

He became the business development manager of SUTL's lifestyle division in 2005.

In 2006, SUTL wanted to bid for the Formula One Pit Building and was in discussions with CHC on commercial plans to jointly develop the proposed building, which would include a concert hall.

"CHC was very committed to (the project)", Mr Lavigne said.

Mr Lavigne also said Chew approached him in 2007 to be the general manager of Xtron, and wanted him to run it as a "purely commercial entity", with CHC being a major client. While he did not take up the offer, Mr Lavigne did arrange an audio-visual services project for Xtron in 2008.


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Secretary took nearly $500,000 from law firm

Straits Times
14 May 2015
Elena Chong

She pleads guilty and is jailed 40 months for forging cheques, falsifying accounts

A FORMER law firm secretary who misappropriated almost $500,000 over 61/2 years was sentenced to 40 months' jail yesterday for forging cheques and falsifying accounts.

Noriza Aziz, 44, had been employed by AsiaLegal LLC when she committed 209 offences between December 2006 and May 2013.

Now a part-time worker, she pleaded guilty to 39 counts and had the remaining 170 charges taken into consideration during her sentencing.

She has made partial restitution of $379,800, leaving an outstanding sum of $109,400.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Chew Xin Ying said that on May 13, 2013, one of AsiaLegal's directors discovered payment vouchers on Noriza's table and informed a fellow director. An internal investigation was carried out.

Noriza lodged a police report on May 22 that year admitting to having misappropriated about $500,000 from the firm.

The court heard that she would forge and doctor cheques by writing words and figures to inflate the amounts.

She would also submit fake payment vouchers to the bookkeeper at the end of the month.

Noriza's lawyer Louis Joseph said in mitigation that the mother of two was "extremely remorseful" and had learnt a "painful lesson" from her misdeeds.

She could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined on each count of forgery. For falsifying accounts, she could have been jailed for up to 10 years and/or fined.


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Amos Yee refuses to see psychiatrist - again

Straits Times
07 May 2015
Selina Lum

TEENAGE blogger Amos Yee's parents took him to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to see a psychiatrist on April 3. But after two sessions, the 16-year-old refused to go anymore, it was revealed in court yesterday.

The prosecution offered to lower the teenager's bail amount and do away with the requirement that he report to Bedok Police Station every morning - if he agreed to continue seeing a psychiatrist.

Yee refused, and the High Court rejected his challenge to his current bail conditions, under which he cannot post any content online.

Clad in a purple prison jumpsuit, the teen, who looked to be in good spirits during the hearing, continues to be remanded in custody pending his two-day trial, which starts today, for attacking Christianity and transmitting an obscene image.

Yee had filed a motion to the High Court for his bail to be lowered from $30,000 to $20,000, and to be allowed to post online.

His lawyers, Mr Alfred Dodwell and Mr Ervin Tan, argued that the court should quash bail conditions that forbid Yee from posting online and require him to make private the video and blog post that are the subject of the charges.

Mr Tan said Yee did not want to take down the video and posts as he considers this tantamount to an admission of guilt.

Mr Dodwell said Yee has been on social media since he was eight and it was "the equivalent of him drinking water". He added that the bail conditions were "taking away a lot from him", including his right to reply to people bashing him on the Internet.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang asked: "It's just a question of not posting anything for the time being. What's so difficult about it?"

He added that Yee would just have to learn to curb himself.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Hay Hung Chun countered that Yee wanted to "drink Coke rather than water" and was not being deprived of a basic need.

"The law is not a buffet for him to pick and choose what he wants and chuck away what he doesn't like," said the DPP.

Mr Hay told the court that the prosecution became aware only on Tuesday that Yee had seen a psychiatrist. The prosecution was prepared to relax the bail conditions to let him seek help, but stood firm on the social media conditions.

Mr Dodwell objected to the DPP stating that Yee is a troubled youth who needs psychiatric help, as he has not been diagnosed with any condition.

The court also heard that, on March 29, Yee's mother lodged a police report to apologise to the nation and to put her son through counselling as she was "unable to get through to him".

The judge asked Yee's lawyers if their client was prepared to accept the prosecution's offer to continue his appointments. Yee flatly refused.

Justice Tay said that in view of that, he saw no reason to vary any of the bail conditions.

Yee's mother, Madam Mary Toh, 48, later told reporters she "felt very bad" after his video went viral, and made a police report to apologise to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and to "whoever got hurt" by her son's actions, as well as to seek help for him.

She said she did not think that Yee had a mental illness, but took him to the IMH to find out why he was so "special" - as he did not fear anything and did not seem to understand consequences.

"All of us know that he's perfectly normal," she said.


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'Ensure copyright' of wedding photos

Straits Times
20 May 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Lawyers warn couples such images could be used by other parties

WEDDING photos are meant to be personal memories that last a lifetime.

But if couples do not ensure they own the copyright of images of their big occasion, they could end up being used by other parties.

Lawyers issued this warning yesterday in the case of 35-year-old singer and actress Rosanne Wong - half of Hong Kong Cantopop music group 2R.

She discovered that pre-wedding photos of her and her fiance, dentist Derek Baram, were used at exhibitions by the wedding services agency she had hired, The Feline Bridal on River Valley Road.

The High Court this week dismissed one appeal and upheld another by the agency's boss, Madam Wang Choong Li, after Ms Wong successfully sued her for copyright breaches.

Last year, a district court awarded the Singapore permanent resident - whose full name is Rosanne Wong Wan Chin - $43,500 for the use of 29 pre-wedding photos taken in London, at $1,500 apiece. The lower court also awarded $1,000 to Ms Wong over copyright breach of her wedding day photos that appeared in a coffee table book placed at the agency.

However, the High Court allowed Madam Wang's appeal in the latter case after her lawyer B. Sham Kumar had argued that Ms Wong had not shown she owned the copyright.

Ms Wong hired Feline Bridal to provide services such as gown rental, photography and video recording for her 2009 wedding.

The couple flew to London for the pre-wedding shoot, and although Ms Wong wore the Feline Bridal gowns for the occasion, Judicial Commissioner (JC) Aedit Abdullah found that she owned the copyright of these photographs because she had commissioned her own photographer for the event.

However, Madam Wang's lawyer claimed his client was not acting as an agent for Ms Wong when Madam Wang hired a photographer for the wedding day.

Ms Wong's lawyers, from Tito Isaac & Co, disputed this, and countered that there was no agreement in the relevant form to permit Madam Wang to use the wedding photographs.

JC Aedit found the copyright of the wedding day photographs did not belong to Ms Wong. In judgment grounds released yesterday, he said that "in the absence of any evidence of an actual commission of the... photographer by (Ms Wong)", the copyright resided with either the photographer or Madam Wang.

The judge further lifted an injunction against Madam Wang on the use of the wedding pictures, as well as pre-wedding photos.

He added that copyright issues "may be far from the minds of most couples marrying, but as in many instances, the law intrudes when least expected".

He noted the relevant section 30(5) of the Copyright Act has "not attracted much judicial attention in Singapore". It provides for a person who commissions a photographer to be entitled to the copyright, subject to any agreement.

Lawyers told The Straits Times that copyright depends on the conditions of any agreement between the parties, within the framework of the Act.

Mr Wong Siew Hong of Eldan Law advised: "Read the fine print of the terms and conditions and settle the issues before the deal is inked."

Madam Wang told The Straits Times that her company now issues clients with a form they must sign to say whether they consent to any further use of their photographs.

She added: "I am sad and very disappointed, but we learnt a lot from this and we have to be very careful and move on."


Background Story


Cantopop singer Rosanne Wong discovered that her pre-wedding photos were used by the wedding services agency she had hired.


The agency's boss, Madam Wang Choong Li, claimed Ms Wong had agreed that she could use the pre-wedding day photographs. Madam Wang also argued that Ms Wong had no copyright on the wedding day photos.


Judge Aedit Abdullah said "in the absence of any evidence of an actual commission of the... photographer by (Ms Wong)", the wedding day copyright resided with either the photographer or Madam Wang.

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Retiree guilty of hitting, pouring bleach on maid

Straits Times
14 May 2015
Elena Chong

A 74-YEAR-OLD retiree who claimed to love her maid "like her own daughter", slapped her and pushed her head against a wall, as well as poured bleach on her.

Lum Wai Lui was convicted on the two charges yesterday after a court heard how she meted out the punishment on Filipina Jonna Memeje Muegue, 25, for eating a salmon meal that was not meant for her. The helper told the court that she weighed 48kg when she started working for the family at the Maplewoods condominium in Bukit Timah in December 2011.

But by the time she climbed out of a sixth-floor window to escape some 10 months later, she had lost 10kg - having been underfed and left to feel hungry, even after meals.

She had been employed by Lum's daughter, Chua Siew Peng, 43, who has claimed trial to charges of slapping and confining the helper. Her trial is ongoing.

Lum's other daughter, Kathleen Chua Siew Wei, 41, has also been charged with slapping the maid. Her trial is due to resume later this month.

Ms Muegue said she was treated well by the family before the abuse began around March 2012.

In her decision, District Judge Lee Poh Choo said evidence showed the maid had been abused over some time.

"Even when Jonna was weak and in pain, she consistently said it was 'por-por', the accused, who hurt her."

The judge accepted Ms Muegue's evidence about the abuse, which occurred on the night of Oct 29, 2012, the day before she escaped.

In contrast, the judge found Lum to be not credible at all. "The accused painted herself as an extremely kind and generous person, especially towards Jonna.

"She claimed she loved Jonna like her own daughter. Yet, at the same time, she described Jonna as 'evil' and made disparaging remarks about her and unfounded allegations about what Jonna did to entice her son-in-law."

The judge will hear the counsel's mitigation and submissions from Deputy Public Prosecutors Yang Ziliang and Siti Adrianni Marhain on June 29.

Lum yesterday pleaded not guilty to three other maid abuse charges that have been stood down by the prosecution.


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LTA seeks $500m from failed contractor

Straits Times
06 May 2015
Christopher Tan

THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) has filed some $500 million in claims against bankrupt contractor Alpine Bau for not completing two MRT projects, in what is believed to be the biggest claim of its kind in Singapore.

But it is unlikely to recoup anywhere near the full amount.

The Austrian builder was working on the King Albert Park, Sixth Avenue and Tan Kah Kee stations of Downtown Line 2 when it filed for insolvency in June 2013.

Despite having appointed two other builders - Australia's McConnell Dowell and Korea's SK E&C - to take over Alpine's contracts, and having them work round the clock, the LTA indicated that completion of the line will be delayed by at least three months.

It said: "Alpine Bau GmbH (Singapore branch) is in the process of being wound up and we have filed our proof of debt with the liquidator - Stone Forest Corporate Advisory Pte Ltd.

"We have also filed a proof of debt with the administrator of Alpine Bau GmbH in its home jurisdiction of Austria."

It would not say how much it was trying to recoup, but The Straits Times understands that claims filed with Stone Forest stand at just over $200 million.

Another claim, filed with Austrian lawyer Ulla Reisch, a special administrator for the liquidation of the parent company, comes up to around $298 million.

Mr Abuthahir Abdul Gafoor, executive director of Stone Forest, said it has received claims totalling about $300 million in Singapore.

Mr Gafoor said his company has recovered about $6 million, mainly from the sale of assets such as vehicles, and from deposits previously paid by Alpine.

He added: "The liquidators have also paid out preferential claims amounting to about $2.3 million to Alpine's employees."

Mrs Reisch said she has received two claims amounting to €200.4 million (S$298 million) from the LTA. "Both claims are denied in full", but her office is in talks with the LTA's lawyers on the possibility of revising its claims downwards.

Mr Gafoor said that in terms of payouts, preferential creditors such as company employees, the Central Provident Fund and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore will have priority.

The LTA is not a preferential creditor.

Observers said the LTA is likely to be saddled with a bigger bill for the two Alpine contracts. It awarded them to the Austrian group in 2009 for $670.7 million.

Soon after the builder filed for insolvency, the LTA re-awarded the uncompleted projects to the two new contractors for $476 million.

Although Alpine is not the first insolvency Stone Forest has had to deal with, it is the largest.

Mr Gafoor said: "We have been involved in the restructuring or the winding up of a number of companies, but not involving debts of more than $50 million.

"We are also seeing a trend of construction-related companies facing severe cashflow problems even though they may have good projects in hand."

Meanwhile, construction work at the affected stretch is going flat out. Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said the line will open in the first quarter of next year.

The transport authority would not comment further on its claims against Alpine Bau.


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Ho 'didn't know number of Mandarin albums sold'

Straits Times
20 May 2015
Amir Hussain

She was also unaware of how project to break into US scene was funded

SHE claimed to have inspired stars such as Jay Chou and thousands of others to embrace Christianity through her concerts around the region.

But Ms Ho Yeow Sun yesterday also admitted that she did not know exactly how many of her Mandarin albums were sold, or how the project to break into the American pop music scene was being bankrolled.

Ms Ho was taking the stand for the first time in the long-running trial involving the alleged misuse of funds belonging to City Harvest Church, which she founded with her husband Kong Hee.

He and five others are accused of funnelling more than $20 million from the church's building fund to pay for the Crossover Project, which aimed to use Ms Ho's secular music to spread the Gospel.

Ms Ho was called to the stand by Chew Eng Han, the church's former investment manager and one of the accused, who is conducting his own defence. He asked Ms Ho, better known by her stage name Sun Ho, if the Crossover was about her.

Telling the court and a packed gallery that the project was only about the church, she said that for 71/2 months starting in 2003, she performed before 140,000 people at 80 concerts in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia.

During the concerts, she said she shared her experience of how her religion helped her through depression. Half of the audience at the concerts would later raise their hands to embrace Christianity when asked if they would do so, said Ms Ho.

Among those who were "impacted" were Taiwanese singers Jay Chou, Will Liu Genghong and Rachel Liang Wen Yin, as well as two members of the band F.I.R, she added.

Referring to a blog post by Kong, which stated that Ms Ho's five Mandarin albums sold four million copies, Chew asked how the singer could believe such a figure since documents, including those from her managing company Xtron Productions, showed far fewer numbers.

Ms Ho denied being aware of the blog post or any of the documents.

She was, however, confident of the success of her first American album because "I believe this is what God wants me to do and I was working very hard at it".

Ms Ho said she was working towards "one million to two million" for the United States album.

Asked whether she knew how the US Crossover Project was being funded, Ms Ho said that between 2007 and March 2010, she did not. Its financing and budgeting were carried out by others, including Kong, she explained.

The launch of the album was planned for August 2010. But in May that year, criminal investigations into the alleged misuse of church funds began. The album was never released, despite her recording 50 songs for it.

But she said: "In my mind, it was never a closed deal. If everything is settled and God willing, it would be a privilege to complete the Crossover."

Chew also called former church member Sun Yuen Peng to the stand yesterday. The businesswoman told the court how she and her husband invested $350,000 in Xtron bonds in 2007 after being promised a 4 per cent return after 1-1/2 years.

They never got a cent back, and were instead told not to doubt the church leaders. The couple left the church in 2012.

Madam Sun said: "We had only negative news about Sun Ho that she was living in a big bungalow and her expenses, et cetera."


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Singapore tackles skills gap in cyber security sector

Business Times
13 May 2015
Amit Roy Choudhury


THE digital super highway that's coming up in Singapore, as part of the Smart Nation initiative, will allow for many services that will be transformational in nature. There will be instant connectivity, access to information and vital services such as health care.

One unfortunate downside of this digital connectivity is that it will act like a beacon for cyber criminals who will try to hack the system for gain. As Singapore builds up its digital infrastructure, cyber security has become a major challenge for companies, institutions and ordinary citizens.

Despite the sophisticated nature of threats, such as APTs (advanced persistent threats), malicious e-mail, compromised or malicious sites, exploits and malware, the biggest constraint in cyber security is not technological in nature. Rather, it's a manpower issue. Given the magnitude of the problem and its growth, there are not enough qualified cyber security personnel. And that is a problem that needs to be addressed.

The Economic Development Board's Gian Yi-Hsen notes that despite the increased number of cyber threats faced, the world continues to face a scarce talent pool of suitably trained cyber security specialists.

"In 2012, just 0.8 per cent of Singapore's 144,300 ICT (infocomm technology) workers were IT security specialists, with a shortage in the middle and senior tiers due to a shortage of training programmes and entry routes for mid-career professionals," Mr Gian, director, safety and security industry programme office (SSIPO), tells The Business Times.

EDB, along with other government agencies, such as IDA (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore) and tertiary institutions, are working to fill the need for more cyber security specialists with training and other initiatives.

"With leading multinationals such as SAP, Oracle, PayPal, Symantec and FireEye establishing stronger local presence, Singaporeans now have more exciting job opportunities in the cyber security field," Mr Gian says.

Building up a workforce with the right cyber security skill sets takes time. As a result, Singapore has in parallel taken up a strategy to develop itself as a regional hub for cyber security. This is expected to attract international cyber security specialists to the Republic and add to the cyber security knowledge and expertise here.

A regional hub would need to possess the ecosystem of talent, players and infrastructure to provide solutions and services to address cyber threats, while offering thought leadership.

Mr Gian notes that Singapore is in the process of undertaking the following measures:

  • build up public sector R&D capabilities via the National Cybersecurity R&D Programme;
  • leverage the country's strong ICT infrastructure such as its excellent connectivity and position as a data centre hub in the region in order to make Singapore an attractive location for provision of cyber security services to the region;
  • engage companies to set up cyber security R&D and innovation activities in Singapore.

Last month, the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI) was established here as an innovative hub for law enforcement, responding to the changing nature of crime in the 21st century.

The IGCI employs staff with law enforcement, security and other relevant backgrounds, from all over the world. There are 40 nationalities, including Singaporean, at the IGCI now.

Speaking to The Business Times, Madan Oberoi, Interpol director, cyber innovation and outreach, says that the Internet has not been designed to prevent manipulation by criminals, and can be viewed as easy to attack and difficult to secure. "Yet, society and individuals are becoming increasingly reliant on network and information technology."

Dr Oberoi adds that to better foresee the potential risks associated with new and developing technology, Interpol carries out research into emerging threats and trends in cooperation with academia, research institutes and the private sector.

The official adds that preventing and investigating cyber crime often requires information from many different sources. Internet service providers (ISPs) and electronic service providers (ESPs) such as social networking platforms may have crucial information about a suspect or a victim.

"Through the IGCI, Interpol is working cross-sector with stakeholders to better detect, predict and counter international cyber crime. A recent example of this is the Interpol-coordinated takedown of the Simda botnet."

EDB's Mr Gian adds that with IGCI located in Singapore, local companies will able to form partnerships with Interpol. "Already, several private sector partners have pledged strong support for the IGCI, ranging from the offer of significant technical and human resources, to advanced solutions and intelligence, as well as various training programmes."

IGCI will also house a cyberfusion centre, where its main role will be to provide real-time gathering and analysis of information from various sources, and provide member countries with potentially useful information about malicious Internet activities and threats. The centre could also be used to coordinate operations and facilitate cyber crime investigations by member countries, which will further establish Singapore as a hub.

Aviation major Boeing has also set up its Boeing Cyber Analytics Centre (BCAC) in Singapore.

Per Beith, director, information security solutions, electronic & information solutions, Boeing Network and Space Systems, tells BT that BCAC was created to address the growing need for better and deeper understanding of the cyber threat environment and its impact on government, business and academia.

"As a regional resource for information sharing and collaboration, the BCAC provides a venue to partner across the Asean region for evaluation of technologies and techniques to address the pervasive cyber threat environment," adds Mr Beith.

Boeing will staff the BCAC with analysts using state-of-the-art cyber analytics technologies to serve the primary mission of analysing current and emerging cyber threats and issuing timely alerts to BCAC partners.

Mr Beith makes an important point. He says: "One of the purposes of the BCAC is to promote information sharing and collaboration between nations in the Asean region. This is a very important part of cyber security. Given the extensive use by both governments and corporations of Internet connectivity, no organisation or government should attempt to face the current cyber threats alone."

Among local organisations, Singtel has taken a number of initiatives in shoring up Singapore's cyber security readiness.

William Woo, Singtel MD for enterprise data and managed services, notes that cyber security is no longer a technology issue and it's increasingly becoming a major concern of top management and boards of many enterprises. "Singtel is building its cyber security capabilities organically, as well as through investments and partnerships to be a global managed security services provider."

The initiatives taken by Singtel include its acquisition of Trustwave, a leading managed security services provider in North America. Singtel will be able to leverage the expertise and talent of Trustwave's more than 1,200 cyber security specialists in 26 countries, including an elite team of security specialists in its forensic and threat research security unit, SpiderLabs.

Singtel has also formed a strategic partnership with US-based FireEye to provide services to customers and enhance the cyber security ecosystem in the Asia-Pacific. FireEye recently released a report on a shadowy hacking group, APT30, that has been targeting Singapore, other Asean states and India for at least the past 10 years.

The telco has also set up the Singtel Asia Pacific Cyber Security Competency Centre (ACE) in collaboration with EDB. The centre hopes to catalyse innovation and develop competency to enhance the cyber security ecosystem in the region.

Mr Woo adds that Singtel is partnering EDB to attract and collaborate with foreign and local companies to develop Singapore as a regional hub in digital innovation. Under this S$500 million, five-year plan, Singtel will develop capabilities in cyber security, data analytics and smart and safe cities.

As Singapore's various initiatives serve to groom and retain cyber security talent, EDB's Mr Gian notes that the cyber security market is expected to hit S$120 billion in 2017 from S$63.7 billion in 2011. "There will certainly be as many exciting high-value job opportunities for Singaporeans, whether in local or foreign companies."

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Town councils must abide by financial rules: MND

Straits Times
06 May 2015
Chong Zi Liang

THE Ministry of National Development (MND) has every right to seek redress in court against errant town councils, which must still observe financial rules even if they have wide freedom in their other operations, lawyers for the ministry said yesterday.

Wrapping up a two-day hearing on its bid to appoint independent accountants in Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), MND rejected arguments made on Monday by the town council, which claimed that the court was not the right authority to settle disputes between the ministry and a town council.

The ministry had applied on March 20 for the independent accountants to be appointed, after accounting and governance lapses were found following a special audit of AHPETC's books by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO).

Throughout the hearing, AHPETC argued that under the Town Councils Act, only the Housing Board or a resident of the town council could take it to court.

But Ms Aurill Kam, the Attorney-General's Chambers' deputy chief counsel for litigation who argued MND's case, countered that as MND hands out grants and has regulatory oversight, it too is entitled to legal recourse.

AHPETC's failure to take concrete steps to address gaps made it necessary to have independent accountants appointed, she said, adding that it treated its "mandatory obligations as malleable and that is a matter of concern".

These included a failure to make quarterly contributions to the sinking fund, which is for long-term cyclical maintenance.

Since AHPETC acknowledged it would not have enough money had it made the required transfers for the second half of last year, Ms Kam said "it would not be an overstatement to say that the defendant is technically insolvent".

She also suggested that AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim had been "economical with the truth" about sinking fund transfers.

In February, Ms Lim told Parliament: "We have taken steps and made good the transfers... (We) have been making transfers for financial year 2014/2015."

But AHPETC had made only two out of three transfers that were due at that time for the financial year 2014/2015.

Justice Quentin Loh pressed AHPETC's lawyer Peter Low about Ms Lim's speech in Parliament, saying: "If I had heard that, I would have thought three transfers were already done by then."

Mr Low replied: "There was no intention to mislead Parliament."

Speaking after the hearing, Ms Lim said she swore an affidavit on Saturday in which she said that her words in Parliament were "true and correct". She told reporters: "It is still my position today that what I said was factual."


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Woman entered S'pore under false identities

Straits Times
20 May 2015
Selina Lum

She had fled over fake degree, but returned using various passports

SHE fled the country after being charged in 2002 with using a fake degree to apply for permanent residency.

But that did not stop Lin Lifen, 39, from repeatedly coming back to Singapore over the next 12 years using different identities. She is now appealing against a 16-week jail sentence for her offences.

The wealthy businesswoman, who married a permanent resident from Canada, first returned to Singapore as Shuting Lin Grayston using a Canadian passport. Later, she used a Central African Republic diplomatic passport issued under the name Charlize Lin.

Each time, the Chinese national lied in arrival forms that she had never used a passport under a different name to enter Singapore.

In March last year, she was detained at Changi Airport after immigration officers noticed irregularities in her Central African Republic diplomatic passport.

Earlier this year, she pleaded guilty to one count of using a forged degree and three counts of making a false declaration.

Four other false declaration charges were taken into consideration. Her jail term has been stayed pending the outcome of her appeal.

In a written judgment published yesterday, District Judge Shawn Ho said Lin was a "wily wheeler-dealer who deliberately deceived the Singapore authorities with her duplicitous conduct".

Lin, who has a string of business interests including diamond mining, oil exploration and spas, said her main reason for coming back to Singapore was to spend time with her son. But the district judge said the evidence showed that it was the "powerful pull of profit, rather than familial bonds" that drew her back.

He said that in letters to the authorities in 2013, her lawyers said she wanted to move all her business interests here, make Singapore the head office for her oil business and invest $2 million in an apartment.

The district judge also rejected the defence's argument that the different names on the passports were not fakes adopted by Lin to mislead the authorities.

"Why was there a need to be chameleonic about her identity on official travel documents?" he said.

By re-offending after absconding while on bail, Lin had showed "total disregard of authority and blatant disrespect for the law", he added.

Between 1996 and 2000, Lin came to Singapore many times on a tourist pass.

In 2000, she was issued a dependent's pass under the sponsorship of her husband.

Lin, who has a primary school education, later got a fake bachelor's degree in economics from the Foreign Economics and Trade University in Beijing, as she wanted to get PR status here. But the university said the certificate was forged, following checks by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.


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Teen blogger convicted on 2 charges

Straits Times
13 May 2015
Amir Hussain & Olivia Ho

TEENAGER Amos Yee Pang Sang was yesterday found guilty of uploading an obscene image on his blog and intending to hurt the feelings of Christians in a YouTube video.

The 16-year-old is scheduled to find out his sentence on June 2, by which time a report on whether he is suitable for probation will be ready.

After spending 18 days in remand in Changi Prison, Yee was bailed out by his parents after the court, at the request of the prosecution, set bail at $10,000.

His previous bail of $30,000 included requiring him to report daily to a police station and to abstain from posting online. These conditions were also removed.

But he has to take down the offending image he posted on March 28 and the video he uploaded on March 27 because of the conviction. As of 11pm yesterday, both were still on his site.

The teen's father, computer engineer Alphonsus Yee, told reporters the verdict was "a fair one". He said that with his wife Mary Toh, they would "try (their) best to ensure similar offences don't occur".

State Court No. 7 was packed for the verdict, as it was during the two-day trial last week.

After District Judge Jasvender Kaur found him guilty of the two charges, the prosecution asked that a third charge Yee faced in relation to comments he made about Mr Lee Kuan Yew in the video be withdrawn.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Hay Hung Chun then urged the court to consider probation for Yee, stressing that rehabilitation should be "the main sentencing consideration".

He called Yee a "misguided young man" who sought attention "without regard to the damaging effects on the community". But he added that "taking into account the age and profile of the accused, it is clear that neither... a fine nor a term of imprisonment would be suitable."

Yee's lawyer Alfred Dodwell at first asked for a fine or a maximum sentence of two weeks' jail, which would have seen Yee released immediately given the time he spent in remand. But after a private discussion with the judge, the prosecution and Yee's parents, Mr Dodwell agreed that probation would probably be best since it would leave his client without a criminal record.



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WP objects to PwC being chosen to manage its finances

Straits Times
06 May 2015
Walter Sim

THE Workers' Party (WP)-run town council yesterday objected to accounting firm PwC being chosen to help manage its finances, should the court decide to appoint independent accountants to the town council.

Its lawyer Peter Low said using PwC may lead to perceptions of bias, as the firm helped in a recent special audit of the town council done by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO). The audit found accounting and governance lapses.

If PwC was again appointed to inspect the town council's books, the firm might be seen to have preconceived notions of AHPETC's wrongdoing, Mr Low said.

The town council was in court to argue against the Ministry of National Development's (MND) request for independent accountants to be appointed to AHPETC.

MND had suggested the High Court appoint PwC partners Ong Chao Choon and Chan Kheng Tek to oversee government grants to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), and to examine its past payments.

But AHPETC believes PwC would be "constrained" if it were appointed, Mr Low said.

He referred to a court statement made by AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim on April 17: "(PwC) had already made findings contained in the AGO report that it was not 'fully satisfied' with the validity and propriety of the town council's transactions with its managing agent.

"AHPETC also had disagreements with PwC during the course of the AGO audit."

Also, MND's offer to pay for the work done by the independent accountants, on top of suggesting whom to appoint, may also lead to suspicions of bias, said Mr Low.

Instead, AHPETC wants a neutral party - like a retired judge - to select the accountants.

Responding to Mr Low's argument, Justice Quentin Loh noted that the WP's MPs had fully accepted in Parliament the AGO's audit findings and had acknowledged its integrity.

"It can't be (you) accept what the AGO said but (you) have grave suspicions about PwC's work," he said.

"Is an auditor doing something unprofessional or doing something wrong, if it comes to related-party transactions or checking on processes, to follow the trail? You can't say they are being unreasonable," Justice Loh said.

In any case, if the independent accountants show bias, they would be answerable to the court, he said.

"They are no longer part of the AGO team, they are no longer part of anybody's team; they are officers of the court."

At yesterday's hearing, AHPETC's lawyers also said for the first time that the town council would submit two overdue financial reports by new deadlines that had earlier been set by the Government.

AHPETC's financial consulting firm, Business Assurance, is now ironing out accounting issues flagged by previous auditors, so AHPETC can submit an unqualified set of accounts, they said.

AHPETC has until June 30 and Aug 31 to submit its accounts for the 2013 and 2014 financial years respectively.

Its lawyers' assurance yesterday comes after they dithered on Monday when asked by Justice Loh how likely AHPETC was to meet the deadlines.


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Agent jailed two years for rental scam

Straits Times
20 May 2015
Elena Chong

A PROPERTY agent was sentenced to two years in jail yesterday for running a rental scam.

Goh Tzan En duped 25 people into believing he had secured units for them to rent when he knew the flats were not on the market, or had already been rented out.

He also tricked a 59-year-old man into paying an additional $5,000 to buy a flat in Jurong West in July last year.

The total amount involved in all 27 charges was $91,474, of which only $1,500 had been paid back.

Goh, 49, admitted to nine counts of cheating, and the rest were taken into consideration in sentencing.

Investigations showed that between last October and February this year, 25 people, mostly foreigners, responded to online advertisements Goh had posted. They met Goh, who was then with real estate company Era Realty, and signed rental agreements.

Goh made his victims pay him cash for advance rental, security deposits, stamp fees and agent's fees, although the move-in dates were far in the future.

He subsequently came up with various excuses for why his clients could not move into the units, and promised to refund the money to them. But he never did, and was later uncontactable.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Chin said this was not a one-off incident, but serial cheating.

Not only did the victims lose money, they were also subjected to unnecessary stress and anxiety, he said.

Goh, who was allowed to start his sentence on June 12, could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined on each charge.


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Driver pleads guilty over CTE crash that killed four

Straits Times
13 May 2015
Elena Chong

THE prosecution has called for the maximum five years in jail and at least a 20-year ban from driving to be imposed on the man who caused the death of a Singaporean, his South Korean girlfriend and her parents in a horrific accident on National Day two years ago.

Yesterday, 36-year-old Toh Cheng Yang pleaded guilty to not just causing death by dangerous driving but also driving under the influence of nitrezapam - a sedative known to cause drowsiness and fatigue. The level of the drug found in Toh was around five to 15 times the amount needed for medicinal use, and twice the level at which it produces the toxic effects such as drowsiness.

He also did not have a valid prescription for the drug - but Toh was no stranger to such abuse. Between 2001 and 2011, he was convicted thrice and sentenced to a total of more than five years for either possession or consuming a controlled drug.

That did not stop him from again abusing prescription medicine and speeding, resulting in the deaths of trainee pilot Amron Ayoub, 23, his girlfriend Song Ji Soo, 24, and her parents, Mr Song Jung Woo, 55, and Madam Kim Mee Kyung, 53, in the early hours of Aug 9, 2013.

At the time, Toh, a logistics operations director, was driving along the Central Expressway towards the Seletar Expressway, on his way home in his multi-purpose vehicle after drinks at a pub.

An eyewitness, interior designer Jumardi Mudah, 40, was driving in the same direction when he noticed Toh's car behind swaying between lanes. According to Deputy Public Prosecutor Yvonne Poon, Toh soon overtook Mr Jumardi, while travelling above the speed limit of 90kmh. Mr Jumardi followed and, pulling abreast of Toh, noticed that he seemed to be "dazed''. Toh sped away, travelling at around 110kmh.

As the vehicles went past Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, Toh nearly hit a van, according to the witness.

Mr Jumardi then saw Mr Amron's car parked on the chevrons just before the exit to Yio Chu Kang Road without its hazard lights on. Toh tried to take the exit but rammed into the stationary vehicle. The four victims, who were standing behind Mr Amron's Toyota Wish, were crushed between the vehicles.

Just minutes before, Mr Amron was driving the South Korean family, including Ms Song's brother Song Seoung Hwan, 30, towards Changi Airport when he had a flat tyre. He, with the others who were killed, was retrieving the breakdown sign and tools to change the tyre when Toh ploughed into them.

The impact sheared off Madam Kim's arm. The three South Koreans died on the spot while Mr Amron died in hospital an hour later. The younger Mr Song, a professional golfer, survived as he was at the right rear passenger door to help jack up the car. Toh, taken to hospital reeking of alcohol, abused staff at the hospital.

District Judge Low Wee Ping said the court had never dealt with such a horrific traffic accident. He deferred sentencing to May 29 to hear further submissions from the prosecution.

When The Straits Times visited Mr Amron's family in Hougang yesterday, his three sisters and father declined to comment.


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Court dismisses man's suit against SGH and surgeon over failed op

Straits Times
06 May 2015
Selina Lum

A PART-TIME law firm assistant who sought $1 million from the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and one of its surgeons, after an operation there failed to reverse his paraplegia, now has to pay two sets of legal costs after the High Court dismissed his case.

Mr Andrew Chua, 54, underwent the operation in 2007 after a slipped disc pressing on his spinal cord left him paralysed from the waist down. When his condition did not improve afterwards, he filed a lawsuit in October 2012, claiming negligence.

He claimed that orthopaedic surgeon Yue Wai Mun was wrong to have operated on him from the back and did not tell him he could have also been operated on from the front. He also said Dr Yue failed to order an MRI scan after the operation.

In a 71-page written judgment released on Monday, High Court Judge Woo Bih Li questioned why Mr Chua had continued to sue both the hospital and Dr Yue when a claim against either would have sufficed. Allegations against the hospital were dropped on the hearing's first day.

The judge also criticised two expert witnesses called by Mr Chua - Dr Chang Wei Chun and Dr Timothy Lee - calling their testimonies "illogical and unconvincing" and "confusing and unreliable".

The two surgeons had told Mr Chua that his spinal cord was still compressed and recommended a second operation, which they did at Gleneagles Hospital 20 days after his original procedure. The second one, done from the front, also failed to fix the problem. However, by 2012, Mr Chua could walk with difficulty using a walking frame.

Justice Woo said expert witnesses should take more care to ensure that they do not take part in litigation "just to do a favour for one party or to earn a fee" but rather because they genuinely believe the opinions they express. "This litigation has highlighted the importance of adequately preparing one's case," added Justice Woo. "The many shifts in Andrew's case did not reflect well on him and especially his professional advisers."

Mr Chua, who appeared in court in a wheelchair and was represented by Mr Ramasamy Chettiar, now faces the prospect of paying Dr Yue's lawyers from Rodyk & Davidson and SGH's lawyers from Legal Clinic. Costs will be assessed at a later date.

Commenting through his lawyer Lek Siang Pheng, Dr Yue said he felt vindicated by the judgment.

"It is regrettable that Andrew had decided to sue, despite medical literature and independent expert opinion provided to him beforehand showing that the treatment and care at SGH was appropriate," he said.


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Singapore Law Watch
20 May 2015

Don't make golf clubs take a sad stroll to finishing hole

Business Times
13 May 2015
Ven Sreenivasan

MEMBERS of Jurong Country Club (JCC) were shocked on Monday afternoon to learn that they will lose their newly renovated course in late 2016. And even more distressing to the 2,700 members is the fact that they will not be offered any alternative site after their 18-hole course and vast clubhouse are taken away.

The Singapore Land Authority simply announced that the club's 67 hectare site would be acquired to make way for the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail (HSR) terminus. Although the project itself would occupy only about 12 ha - or around 18 per cent - of the total area, the remaining land will be transformed into a mixed-use development comprising offices, hotels, retail and residences.

The club - whose land sits on a lease which still has some 20 years to run - will be compensated. But whether this will be enough for the club to afford another clubhouse elsewhere remains to be seen. But any new facility will have to do without a golf course.

This is a bitter pill to swallow for a club which just two years ago coughed up some S$24 million to refurbish its course, leaving its balance sheet somewhat weakened.

It is also unclear if any of the compensation JCC receives can be redistributed to members. While some lawyers argued that a case can be made for such in-specie distribution of funds, others note that existing laws specify that unused monies must go to a national charity.

The JCC chapter is just the latest in an uncertain story facing Singapore's golf clubs. Within the next five years, at least three golf courses will lose some or all of their property.

Keppel will be the first to go as its Bukit Chermin land will be taken over by SLA for mixed-use development. The club, which has 4,700 members, will not get any compensation as its lease expires in 2021, and will not be renewed. And like JCC, it has not been offered any alternative site.

The popular public course at Marina Bay will also make way for development. But in this case, it will get a new site in the form of the Singapore Island & Country Club's Sime Course at the club's Bukit location. That means SICC will be left with just three 18-hole courses after 2021 - the Bukit Course next to the Sime Course and the Island Course and the New Course at its Island location in Upper Thomson.

But the story does not end there.

By 2030, SICC could also lose its Bukit Course. That is also the year when the union-owned and operated Orchid Country Club will lose its 27-hole property in Yishun. Given the timing and Orchid's status as a quasi-public course, there is speculation within the golfing fraternity that it could end up being given the Bukit Course.

If so, that would leave SICC with its two 18-hole Island location courses.

Meanwhile, over at Tanah Merah, the 27-hole NSRCC course has lost its 9-hole Airforce Course. Across the road, the Tanah Merah Country Club's once-challenging Garden Course has had to give up precious land to the Changi Airport extension project, leaving it a simple and short par-70 18-hole course.

Developments over the past year have shaken the Singapore golfing fraternity and the golf market. And many golfers are losing serious money.

JCC membership sale is all but frozen, while prices of other clubs have fallen further.

Market insiders estimate that Jurong members would have lost some S$150 million of their membership investments. More, if recent debentures are counted.

Over at Keppel, members are resigned to writing off over S$200 million they invested in the club. TMCC's membership price has slipped from about S$175,000 to just under S$120,000 following the changes to its prized Garden course. Over at SICC, the value of membership has fallen from about S$220,000 a year ago to under S$185,000 now.

All this has had the predictable impact on the morale and confidence of the golfing fraternity here.

While one cannot argue with the needs of development, the relevant authorities should strive to provide more clarity on land use plans to clubs that could be affected some years down the road. Which golf courses around the island could lose their land in, say, 20-30 years? Which ones will be allowed to renew their leases, and for how long. And at what cost? Which locations - if any - around the island will be permanently designated for the sport?

These are useful planning parameters for an industry that employs several thousand people and has attracted S$3 billion in investment and membership fees.

As it stands, the sad reality for the Singaporean "weekend warrior" - many of whom are already pushing 50 or 60 - is that the outlook is as clear as a misty morning on the first tee. In the absence of any clarity, it could be a sad stroll to the finishing hole for many of the 35,000 club members here.

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Three accused 'were willing to raise deficit to help Xtron'

Straits Times
06 May 2015
Amir Hussain

TO ENSURE that pop singer Ho Yeow Sun's music career could continue to be financed by her management company, Xtron Productions, former City Harvest Church (CHC) finance manager Serina Wee Gek Yin - along with pastors Kong Hee and Tan Yee Peng - were willing to manipulate the transactions between the church and the company, and even raise the church's budget deficit to $1.8 million in 2007.

The three - Wee, 38, Kong, 50, and Tan, 42 - planned to move the church's editorial and graphics department to Xtron, and to outsource the work done by the department to the company in order to address Xtron's cash-flow problems.

The transfer of the department was calculated to cost the church $630,000 a year.

The prosecution alleged this yesterday in its cross-examination of Wee, on the stand for the seventh day in the trial against a group of six accused of misusing the church's money to bankroll Ms Ho's career.

The six individuals are alleged to have misappropriated $24 million in church building funds through sham bond investments in the music production firm Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna, and another $26.6 million to cover it up.

Questioning Wee yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Christopher Ong pointed to messages she e-mailed to Kong and Tan in October 2006 and in July 2008 relating to deficits at Xtron, which totalled $454,000 at the end of 2007.

Wee agreed that the proposal was to have the in-house design services moved and be provided by Xtron. She added: "I also stated that there would be benefit in the sense that this staff, they would be able to provide services for commercial entities, and then they can improve in their skills, which will benefit the church as well."

DPP Ong asked later: "Are you telling us... that the additional benefits that the church would gain from the staff moving over to Xtron and potentially improving their skills was worth $630,000?"

Wee replied: "I don't think I'm in a position to quantify the benefits. It is something that is intangible, and it's up to the church board to assess whether they find that it is beneficial for the church to enter into this increased retainer."

The DPP said: "Essentially, you were prepared to increase the church's expenses by $630,000, causing the church deficit to rise to $1.8 million for 2007, to ensure that you were able to continue financing Sun Ho's music career. Correct?" Wee agreed, adding it would be subject to the church board's approval.


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Five full-time lawyers help boost legal aid scheme

19 May 2015
Kelly Ng

SINGAPORE — For the first time, lawyers will be taking up files under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) full-time, instead of as volunteers, boosting its aim of serving a bigger pool of unrepresented accused persons.

As part of enhancements to the scheme, which will receive S$3.5 million in direct funding from the Government every year, a team of five young lawyers from five firms joined the Law Society’s (LawSoc) Pro Bono Services Office in January to exclusively handle criminal legal aid cases. These pioneering CLAS Fellows, who were seconded or sponsored by the firms, handle up to 30 cases at any time.

Separately, 22 firms have pledged to chip in for the 6,000 litigants CLAS aims to serve each year. The companies, including Drew & Napier, Rajah & Tann, Rodyk & Davidson and TSMP Law Corporation, have committed to take on a total of at least 300 pro bono criminal cases a year.

There are about 12,000 unrepresented litigants each year, the State Courts estimated, and about half of these may benefit from some form of legal aid.

Before CLAS was enhanced, the 265 volunteer lawyers under the scheme handled about 400 cases a year, or fewer than two cases each annually.

Despite a growing number of CLAS applications over the years, only a portion could be supported because of limited resources. For example, of the 1,780 applications received last year, only 431 were granted.

Although the number of lawyers volunteering with CLAS has increased to 400, the caseload target of 6,000 under the enhanced scheme is still a 15-fold jump.

The scheme’s reach expanded after the Government decided in 2013 to directly support defendants — a significant departure from its long-held stance against providing criminal legal aid — as Singapore moves towards a more inclusive and compassionate society.

Prior to this, the scheme, first launched in 1985, had been privately funded through the LawSoc and goodwill donations.

The Government has pumped into CLAS a one-off S$800,000 and will continue to commit up to S$3.5 million annually to cover operational costs, disbursements and honorariums for volunteer lawyers.

Speaking at the launch of the enhanced CLAS yesterday, Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said: “The Government decided to play a bigger role and to better assess defendants who cannot afford their own lawyers, but should nevertheless not be left to face the criminal justice system by themselves.”

However, the minister cautioned against the abuse of government-funded legal aid, citing examples in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, where legal aid had been cut to weed out “hugely wealthy people” and unmeritorious cases.

The enhanced CLAS, derived after working with multiple stakeholders including the judiciary and LawSoc, offers a formula buttressed by a proper and rigorous assessment process, he said.

The scope of aid under CLAS has also widened. For example, accused persons who intend to plead guilty can receive legal assistance, unlike in the past, when only those who were below the age of 18 or suffered from mental illnesses were eligible. The list of statutes has also been expanded to include offences under Sections 14 and 28 of the Moneylenders Act.

Criminal lawyer Suresh Damodara, who was conferred the Pro Bono Ambassador Award last year, said the Government’s commitment to legal aid would inspire existing and prospective lawyers to be involved in pro bono work. “I hope this will inject greater consciousness into the legal fraternity (and encourage lawyers) to step forward ... to ensure accused persons are not deprived of legal assistance.”

CLAS Fellow Ng Shi Yang said the fellowship is a “good starting point” to nurture the next generation of pro bono criminal lawyers. “Many of the unrepresented litigants have a lot of difficulty understanding what the system is about, what it means to be charged ... Having legal aid really assures them that they are not entirely helpless,” said the 28-year-old, who is on a six-month secondment from Wong Partnership.


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May 31 deadline for Ngerng's evidence

Straits Times
12 May 2015

BLOGGER Roy Ngerng, who was last year found to have defamed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has until the end of this month to submit evidence that will be used to assess the amount of damages he has to pay to Mr Lee.

Mr Lee's lawyers then have until June 14 to respond if they wish to, Mr Ngerng's lawyer George Hwang told The Straits Times after a closed-door administrative hearing yesterday.

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

These deadlines were set ahead of a High Court hearing that will be held between July 1 and July 3 to determine the total damages Mr Ngerng will have to pay Mr Lee.

Last November, Justice Lee Seiu Kin ruled that Mr Ngerng, 33, had defamed Mr Lee by suggesting in one of his blog posts that Mr Lee had misappropriated Central Provident Fund savings.

Mr Ngerng has already paid Mr Lee $29,000 in legal fees and related expenses, as ruled by the High Court.

The payment had been due on Jan 29, but a spat between Mr Ngerng and his lawyer at the time, Mr M. Ravi, caused it to be delayed until Feb 6.

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


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CAD investigated ex-tour guide's insurance policies

Straits Times
06 May 2015
Toh Yong Chuan and Carolyn Khew

TWO life insurance policies worth $98,000, which former tour guide Yang Yin wants to use to raise cash for his legal fees, were investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).

This was revealed yesterday in court by the CAD, which explained why it had seized both policies.

Following the closed-door hearing, Yang's lawyer, Mr Joseph Liow, said the CAD will file an application with the courts for the assets to be released.

The Attorney-General's Chambers later clarified that CAD intended to file a report to release the insurance policies to the person entitled to their possession. A magistrate's hearing on the matter will be held at a later date.

But even if this is settled in Yang's favour, the 41-year-old Chinese national still faces another battle to cash in the policies.

Madam Hedy Mok, a 61-year-old tour agency owner, has filed an appeal against the court's earlier decision to allow Yang to liquidate them.

She has accused Yang of manipulating her wealthy 88-year-old aunt, Madam Chung Khin Chun, and siphoning her money, and has started a series of legal actions against him.

Last August, Madam Mok succeeded in getting the courts to freeze Yang's assets. She is also suing him for damages.

Madam Mok's lawyer, Mr Peter Doraisamy, declined to comment after the court hearing yesterday, saying only that the CAD has intervened and ongoing court applications have been adjourned until the CAD's court application is heard.

Yang met Madam Chung, a retired physiotherapist, in 2008 in Beijing when he acted as her private tour guide. A year later, he moved into her $30 million bungalow in Gerald Crescent.

In 2012, he was given the right to manage her assets and welfare under the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) scheme.

But last September, Madam Mok evicted Yang and his family from the bungalow. Two months later, a court revoked the LPA.

Last month, the Family Court executed a will that leaves most of Madam Chung's assets to charity. It replaced an earlier will made in 2010 where Yang stood to inherit millions, including Madam Chung's bungalow. Yang is challenging this decision.

The permanent resident has been in remand since Oct 31 last year. He faces more than 300 criminal charges, including two criminal breach of trust charges for allegedly misappropriating $1.1 million from the wealthy widow.



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Ezion dismisses conspiracy suit as 'frivolous'

Business Times
19 May 2015
Kelly Tay

[Singapore] EZION Holdings has rejected as "frivolous and without merit" claims that it was behind a conspiracy to induce an AP Moeller-Maersk unit to breach charter agreements.

On Monday, Bloomberg had reported that Atlantic Marine Services BV (AMS) had filed a Singapore High Court suit accusing Ezion - a Singapore-based offshore service provider - of the conspiracy.

The Amsterdam-based company said Ezion created the impression that AMS, which had partnered Ezion to charter oil rigs to Maersk Oil, was in financial trouble.

Atlantic Marine said in the suit - which is scheduled for a closed hearing on June 2 - that it agreed to pay inflated charter rates to Ezion for the rig services provided to Maersk Oil to help the Singapore company secure bigger loans.

Maersk Oil, which is not a party in the lawsuit, said it has terminated its contract with Atlantic Marine for its failure to meet contractual obligations.

In an announcement on Monday afternoon, Ezion challenged AMS's claims, saying: "The group has received feedback that AMS has failed to meet their contractual and operational obligations and is currently in discussions with (a European-based multinational) oil major on how to better serve its requirement. Such discussions may include the group taking over the operations of the three service rigs (working in the North Sea that are operated by AMS).

"The suit has arisen as a result of this development as AMS has objected to the idea of the group taking over the operations of the three service rigs and has threatened to take whatever actions to stop the communication between the group and the oil major. The suit is seeking from the court an injunction restraining the group from communicating with the oil major to terminate its contract with AMS without putting a monetary value to the claim."

Ezion said it will continue its discussions with the oil major, and "whatever the outcome", no material impact is expected on the group's earnings or net tangible assets per share for the year ending Dec 31, 2015.

Muralli Rajaram, lawyer for Atlantic Marine, declined to comment, said Bloomberg.

Ezion, which last week posted a 9.4 per cent fall in first-quarter net income to US$41 million, described the operating environment as "challenging" after a drastic drop in oil prices.

Its shares closed at S$1.13, down 5.5 cents, on Monday.


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Singapore Law Watch
12 May 2015

Amos Yee challenging bail conditions

Straits Times
06 May 2015
Danson Cheong

A BAIL review for teenage blogger Amos Yee will be heard today at the High Court.

Yee's lawyer Alfred Dodwell told The Straits Times that his client will be challenging the conditions of his bail, which forbid him from posting content online.

Mr Dodwell, who is representing Yee pro bono with two other lawyers, said his client's bail conditions amount to a gag order and infringe on his constitutional right to freedom of speech.

"The reason why he is sitting in prison today is that he has a fundamental problem with the bail conditions. He feels that they are just wrong," he added.

Yee, 16, will stand trial tomorrow for attacking Christianity and transmitting an obscene image.

A third charge, stood down for now, relates to the Protection from Harassment Act. It accuses him of making an online video containing offensive remarks about founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The prosecution will assess whether to bring this charge at a later date.

The teenager was sent back to remand last Thursday after his bailor discharged himself, following a breach by Yee of his bail terms.

Yee, who was out on $20,000 bail, made two posts on his blog and shared those posts on his Facebook page.

"With the young these days, they are so connected. If he hasn't been found guilty and you remove his right to social media, it's like removing his right to drink water," said Mr Dodwell.

At his pre-trial conference last Thursday afternoon, District Judge Kessler Soh asked Yee to take down his latest posts, but he refused.

The judge then raised bail from $20,000 to $30,000, with the same conditions.


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SPH sues TRS couple for copyright infringement

Straits Times
19 May 2015
Elena Chong & Tham Yuen-C

It alleges website used its papers' content without permission

SINGAPORE Press Holdings (SPH) has brought a copyright infringement suit against the duo behind The Real Singapore (TRS) socio-political website.

The Singapore-listed media group alleged that content from its newspapers had been reproduced on the website without permission between January 2011 and April this year.

A writ of summons and statement of claim were filed in the High Court on May 7 and the papers served on Yang Kaiheng, 26, and Ai Takagi, 22, yesterday.

They were served by a clerk from WongPartnership, representing SPH, as they walked to the State Courts in Havelock Square for a pre-trial conference for a separate sedition case.

Yang, a Singaporean, and Takagi, his Australian fiancee, have been identified as being editors, developers, operators, moderators and administrators of TRS.

In its statement of claim, SPH cited at least 191 articles from its stable of newspapers that were substantially reproduced, without licence or authorisation, in the form of 177 articles on TRS.

The SPH articles included crime and political stories as well as commentaries, and first ran in The Straits Times, The Business Times, The New Paper and My Paper.

The media company said in court papers that Yang and Takagi had "systematically and consistently" used these articles for content on TRS, and received financial benefit from doing so.

Twice this year - on March 18 and April 2 - SPH sent letters to Yang and Takagi, notifying them of the copyright infringement.

The "TRS Editorial Team" replied to the first letter via e-mail the same day, acknowledging their articles contained "copyright-infringing contents... uploaded by those who have writer accounts". It said the articles "have now been removed". It did not reply to SPH's second letter.

But SPH contends in its claim that some articles remained accessible on the website until early this month, when TRS was ordered to shut down by the Media Development Authority (MDA) for publishing articles deemed "objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony".

SPH is asking the court to declare TRS infringed its copyright. It wants an injunction to stop TRS from continuing to do so; and damages or, alternatively, an account of profits that TRS made through the articles and the payment of the amount to SPH.

TRS was taken down by its editors on May 3, after the MDA suspended the licence of Yang and Takagi to operate the site.

The media regulator said they deliberately made up articles to incite anti-foreigner sentiment and undermine national harmony here, to drive traffic to the site and raise advertising dollars.

The couple have made representations to the MDA on the matter, and are awaiting a review that will determine if their licence will be revoked.

Yang and Takagi were charged with seven counts of sedition for articles published between October 2013 and February this year that allegedly promoted ill-will and hostility between different races or classes here. They face another charge of failing to produce documents, such as financial statements, to investigators.

Earlier this month, Yang was allowed to visit his critically ill father in Brisbane, Australia. He returned a week ago. His father is also back and hospitalised here.

The couple's lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, said yesterday that he will be making representations to the Attorney-General's Chambers on the criminal case. The next pre-trial conference for the case is on July 1.



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Blood donor jailed for giving false data

Straits Times
12 May 2015
Elena Chong

AN UNDERGRADUATE who donated blood was jailed for 15 weeks and fined $10,000 yesterday for lying in a health assessment questionnaire that he filled out beforehand.

The 23-year-old, who cannot be named because of a gag order, pleaded guilty to donating blood at the Bloodbank@Dhoby Ghaut in Orchard Road on Dec 19, 2012 and falsely declaring that he had not had sex with another man.

The defendant had been having a sexual relationship with a male partner since 2010 and also had sex with a male stranger sometime in December 2011.

The blood he donated was found to be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as HIV.

District Judge Lim Keng Yeow said this was an offence from which the offender "had so little to gain, but through which innocent people might have so much to lose".

"Innocent persons who have to depend on donated blood should never be put in danger by what is administered to them," he said. "They and their families should never even be put in fear that the blood they receive could cause them grave harm rather than do them good."

Defence counsel Christine Sekhon had asked for a short detention order (SDO) to be imposed on the young offender to minimise the stigma, and disruption to his studies.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor Joshua Lim said the SDO was "entirely inappropriate" in cases of this nature where the principles of general deterrence must apply because of issues of public health and safety.

The prosecution accepted the defendant's explanation that he gave blood because two friends who were donating had asked him to join them at short notice.

DPP Lim added that the three- to four-month jail sentence and $10,000 fine he sought should not be seen as the prosecution taking a "more charitable approach" - and if a person used the blood-donation procedure for cynical purposes, such as blood testing, the prosecution would seek a significantly higher sentence.

The maximum penalty for the offence is a $20,000 fine and two years' jail.


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Lawyer struck off the rolls for forging documents

Straits Times
05 May 2015
Selina Lum

A 44-YEAR-OLD lawyer known for his volunteer work was yesterday struck off the rolls for forging court documents and lying about the status of a lawsuit to fob off a client who was chasing him for updates.

For that, Mr Gopinath Pillai, the former chairman of the Law Society's Criminal Aid Legal Scheme, had to face the Court of Three Judges, which has the power to suspend or strike lawyers off the rolls for professional misconduct.

His counsel, Mr Suresh Damodara, urged the court not to disbar him, arguing that Mr Pillai had been under severe stress at the time from a combination of unfortunate circumstances in both his professional and personal lives.

Mr Damodara also noted that though Mr Pillai had been charged in January last year with six counts of forgery, he was eventually given a stern warning.

The criminal charges were withdrawn in August on condition he accepted the warning and did not commit any offence within two years, did not practise as a lawyer for three years, and continued with psychiatric treatment and counselling.

But Mr Chandra Mohan, acting for the Law Society, noted that cases in which lawyers acted dishonestly have invariably led to them being struck off.

The judges said that despite strong mitigating circumstances, they saw no basis for taking a different approach.

However, they added that he "may find a favourable response" if he were to seek reinstatement earlier than what would usually be the case.


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Church backs down in battle with MOM

Straits Times
19 May 2015
Toh Yong Chuan

FCBC drops legal review of minister's decision on sacked pregnant worker

A CHURCH that took the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to the High Court over the sacking of a pregnant employee has backed down.

Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) said in a statement yesterday that it is dropping the High Court legal review because it now accepts the Manpower Minister's decision on the dismissal.

In 2013, the church fired the church worker because of her alleged adulterous relationship with another married church worker.

It did not give the woman, who was then in her late 30s, the salary and maternity benefits she was entitled to under the Employment Act.

The woman complained to the MOM and then Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin ordered the church to compensate her about $7,000.

The church paid up but subsequently took the case to the High Court to have Mr Tan's decision reviewed.

But yesterday, the church decided to withdraw its court application.

It said that it had initiated the High Court legal review to clarify "the boundaries under which a religious body such as FCBC is able to conduct its internal affairs in managing the organisation, subject to the applicable laws of the land".

It added that the court process has given it access to documents including Mr Tan's affidavit on the grounds of the decision, and it has since "come to understand and recognise the rationale/basis for the (Manpower) Minister's decision based on the specific facts of this case".

"As a responsible religious body/corporate citizen of this nation, FCBC accepts the minister's decision," it said.

FCBC noted that while the MOM takes the position that employment terms should be reasonable and should not govern the private lives of employees unless they relate to job performance, as a church it can include moral conduct in its terms of employment "in appropriate circumstances" when the conduct affects how workers perform in their jobs.

Besides issuing the statement on its website and Facebook page yesterday, the church also took the unusual step of buying advertisement space to publish its statement in full in The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao today.

The 10,000-strong church, headed by Pastor Lawrence Khong, is one of Singapore's largest independent churches.

Mr Khong, who is a pastor-magician, has attracted controversy in the past with his strong views on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

When contacted, the MOM said it welcomes the church's decision not to pursue the case.

"Since FCBC has accepted the minister's decision and has withdrawn its case, we consider the matter closed," said an MOM spokesman.

But the case holds a lesson for employers, said the ministry.

"MOM wishes to remind all employers of the importance of clearly communicating upfront to a prospective employee his or her obligations under the contract, which must be reasonable and relevant to the requirements of the job."


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MPs united in concerns over drones

Straits Times
12 May 2015
Lester Hio

THE growing popularity of unmanned aircraft, or drones, in Singapore has raised concerns of safety, enforcement and privacy that this new technology brings on its wings.

Members of Parliament, including opposition MPs, shared the Government's concern and yesterday supported its move to regulate their use.

They gave the nod in Parliament to the Unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Bill, which sets out guidelines for the safe flying of drones and enforcement against those who violate them. The new law, which amends the Air Navigation Act and Public Order Act, will take effect from next month.

Yesterday, during the debate on the Bill, a main concern of MPs was of operators who do not play by the rules and rogue drones which pose a risk to public safety.

Non-constituency MP Gerald Giam, of the Workers' Party, said the Bill would not stop a "determined terrorist from using a drone to fly explosives, or chemical or biological agents into key installations or large crowds".

He asked if there were systems in place to deal with rogue drones.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris- Punggol GRC) asked about the extent of enforcement in such circumstances. "Would the authorities be empowered to shoot them down if operators refuse to land them, or if they are beyond control and likely to cause harm and injuries on the ground?"

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who introduced the Bill last month, replied that enforcers will have the powers to assume control of an unmanned aircraft to either fly it, end its flight or land it.

"How this will be done will depend on the circumstances, taking into consideration the need to ensure public safety," he added.

There have been close calls involving drones, with more than 20 incidents reported here since April last year, said Mr Lui. There were two instances when drones dropped on MRT tracks: last month at Commonwealth MRT, and last Saturday at Lakeside MRT. No services were disrupted nor damage caused to the tracks.

Another key issue is privacy. Nominated MP Benedict Tan pointed out there was hardly any mention of it in the Bill.

Mr Giam called for laws to protect a person's privacy from drones being used to take photographs of people or private property without permission, while Mr Gan wanted the flying of drones to be banned in HDB estates as they would intrude on the privacy of flat dwellers.

Mr Lui said enforcement will be taken under existing laws such as the Penal Code and Protection from Harassment Act 2014.

He also assured MPs the committee set up to provide a comprehensive framework for drone use here will examine if present laws are adequate and whether any enhancements are needed.

But while MPs said the new law is timely, they also cautioned it must not be too onerous that it stifles the creative and innovative use of drones. Drones are now being used for commercial purposes, such as in photography, film-making and even to serve food to restaurant diners.

Mr Lui agreed that a "judicious balance" must be struck between security and letting drone operators experiment and innovate.

"It is the challenge and dilemma we face," he added.



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


Security scares over unmanned aircraft

A SERIES of international security incidents involving drones were cited in Parliament during the debate on regulating unmanned aircraft.

  • Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) supported the restrictions on drones in and around sensitive areas such as military bases.

He gave the example of a drone that crashed on the grounds of the White House in the United States in January this year, prompting President Barack Obama to call for more stringent rules on drones.

  • Mr Ang also raised the possibility of drones being a public nuisance. He referred to a case of vandalism in New York City last month, when a vandal spray-painted a billboard of a Calvin Klein ad featuring American model Kendall Jenner.
  • Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew highlighted the potential security risk posed by drones. Last month, a drone carrying radioactive substance landed on the office roof of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
  • Mr Lui also noted a drone crashed in Australia and injured a triathlete in April last year.

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Rajah & Tann named S'pore law firm of the year: Chambers Apac

Business Times
05 May 2015
Prisca Ang

RAJAH and Tann (R&T) - one of Singapore's Big Four law firms - has been named the Singapore law firm of the year by Chambers Asia-Pacific's 2015 rankings, marking the second time the firm has clinched the title since it was introduced in 2010.

The limelight was also on Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, CEO of Drew & Napier - another Big Four firm. Mr Singh has, for the fifth year running, clinched the standalone Star individual in the area of litigation. The ranking, above Band 1, is given to lawyers with exceptional recommendations in their field.

Mr Singh dedicates the award to the lawyers in Drew & Napier, "without whom this would not have been possible".

"We are uncompromising about never ceding the high ground when it comes to standards and ethics, and are fixated about recruiting and training those with the greatest ability to hold that ground," he said in an interview with The Business Times.

The Chambers' awards recognise law firms' pre-eminence in key practice areas and notable achievements such as outstanding work, impressive strategic growth and excellence in client service.

R&T, which was up against five other shortlisted firms for the top national law firm award, has been expanding its regional presence. Its network of firms, known as Rajah & Tann Asia, forms the largest legal services provider in South-east Asia.

"We have positioned ourselves as an Asian firm that's headquartered and anchored in Singapore," said R&T managing partner Senior Counsel Lee Eng Beng in an interview with BT.

He added that R&T's Asian network is able to provide services to clients in Singapore and in multiple jurisdictions across South-east Asia, especially in a time of greater regional integration. He also highlighted that R&T is deeply honoured to have received the award.

R&T racked up six Band 1 rankings - the highest ranking a firm can achieve for various categories of Singapore law.

Drew & Napier, which was also shortlisted for the law firm of the year award, attained five Band 1 rankings. It has upheld its Band 1 in its litigation practice for nine years running, and has been the standalone in band 1 for seven years.

The firms were selected from a shortlist that also included Allen & Gledhill, Shook Lin & Bok, Morgan Lewis Stamford and WongPartnership. Meanwhile, the award for the Singapore International Law Firm of the Year went to Allen & Overy.

Two individual achievement awards were also presented at the gala dinner and awards ceremony held at the Ritz Carlton in Hong Kong.

Bill McCormack, managing partner of Shearman & Sterling's Singapore office, was recognised for his outstanding contribution to the legal profession as a project finance and development lawyer.

The Lifetime Achievement in the Legal Profession award was presented to Hong Kong litigator Nick Hunsworth of Mayor Brown JSM.

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Govt releases new developer rules on show units, sales data

Business Times
19 May 2015
Lynette Khoo

[Singapore] LEGISLATIVE changes to the Housing Developers (Control and Licensing) Act will now require developers to provide detailed sales data on a weekly basis and disclose the value of any benefits to buyers in transaction documents. For the first time, the government is introducing a new set of rules to also ensure that developers accurately depict actual housing units in their showflats.

Amendments to the Act and the new set of rules on show units under the subsidiary legislation, Housing Developers Rules, will take effect from this month to "improve safeguards and provide more information to prospective purchasers of private residential properties", the Ministry of National Development (MND) said on Monday.

Augustine Tan, president of the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (Redas), noted that developers that are already ensuring accurate representation in their showflats "will not have any issues" with the new rules.

"It's better for the buyers and we have no issues with that because we want the buyers to know exactly what they are getting. It's in the right direction," he said.

One of the show unit rules requires the floor area of the show unit to be the same as that of the actual housing unit; another rule requires all external and structural walls (both internal and external) of an actual unit to be depicted in the show unit. If any internal non-structural wall is not built in the show unit, the position, thickness and width of that wall must be clearly marked on the floor and labelled.

Existing show units that have been set up and open for viewing before July 20 will be exempted from the new show unit rules. But developers have to inform buyers of the differences between the show unit and the actual unit, prominently displaying a detailed list and description of the differences at the entrance of the show unit, and provide buyers a copy of that list.

"Some developers may not be very thrilled by some of these new rules, but they may be resigned to have to comply as it is now the law of the land," said SLP International executive director Nicholas Mak.

It is common for developers to create "optical illusions" in their showflats, such as thin markings on the floor to depict the walls and using the same tiles for the balcony and the living room to make the latter look bigger, he observed. "With the actual units getting smaller and smaller, developers try not to turn off the buyers and will ask the interior designer to come up with ways to make the unit not look too small."

A spokesman from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) told BT that that developers will have to submit a declaration that the show units are set up in compliance with the requirements before opening the show units for viewing. The Controller of Housing will conduct spot checks to ensure that the developers build their show units according to the requirements.

"The developer will be required to close the show unit if it is not erected in compliance with the requirements in the Housing Developers (Show Unit) Rules," the spokesman said. "Further action, including suspension or revocation of licence, may also be taken against the developer. In the event that a licensed developer is found to have breached the rules, he shall be liable to a fine not exceeding S$5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both."

There will also be less room for manoeuvring by developers when it comes to pricing tactics. From next Monday, housing developers must submit detailed sales data to the Controller of Housing every week. This will include sales volumes and transacted prices of individual units and the value of any benefits to buyers, including cash rebates, absorption of legal fees or stamp duties, rental guarantees and furniture vouchers. The information will be published on the URA website weekly from June 5.

The Option to Purchase and Sale & Purchase agreements - which are standard forms prescribed under the Housing Developers Rules - will also be amended with effect from July 20 to include more information, such as the value of any benefits that developers offer to buyers.

Buyers already have to declare any price discount, rebate or other benefit when seeking a home loan under the Monetary Authority of Singapore rules. In an ongoing lawsuit, however, UOB is suing a Lippo Group subsidiary and seven individuals for allegedly misleading the bank into granting inflated housing loans for 38 units at Marina Collection in Sentosa from 2011 to 2013 by not disclosing substantial furniture rebates.

Chia Siew Chuin, Colliers International director of research and advisory, said that discounts have always been difficult to quantify and ascertain. "With more detailed information, buyers can decide for themselves which type of discounts are the most beneficial to them, in real value terms."

But consultants flagged that there is a minor flipside to publishing weekly developers' sales data: Mr Mak felt that weekly data may be an "over-kill" and increase the work for some developers' staff; Ms Chia noted that property trends develop over the longer course of months, quarters to even a year.

"Buyers should take note that weekly information should be harvested for individual project details, rather than be used as an indication of wider market trends," Ms Chia added.

Developers told BT they were unsurprised by the changes, having largely complied since an amendment bill for the Housing Developers Act was read in 2013 in Parliament.

Cheang Kok Kheong, CEO of development and property at Frasers Centrepoint Limited, said that its recent showflats are in full compliance with the new rules. "We believe more regular updates of sales data will be beneficial for everybody including buyers and developers."

A spokesman from City Developments also said that the group is fully compliant with the new regulatory requirements. "Nevertheless, we are reviewing the announced revisions in detail and will implement various measures, where needed," he added.

Knight Frank executive director Tay Kah Poh noted that the new rules will curtail developers' flexibility to price according to business conditions and lay out their show units to highlight design possibilities.

"Singapore's control regime, in terms of disclosure, is probably one of the most onerous around, and these changes will add to the burden on developers to 'show their cards'," Mr Tay said. "But this seems to be in keeping with the prevailing regulatory mood for the authorities to ring fence consumers more and more against all manner of malpractices."


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MAS gets nod to share info with foreign bodies

Straits Times
12 May 2015
Chia Yan Min

A NEW law gives Singapore's banking regulator more powers to share information on the policing of money laundering and terrorism financing with foreign supervisory bodies.

But only "bona fide" requests will be acceded to and the information shared will be kept confidential, Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) board member Lawrence Wong said in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Wong, who is the Culture, Community and Youth Minister, gave this assurance to Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC), Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam and Nominated MP Benedict Tan during the debate on the MAS (Amendment) Bill.

The Bill, passed in Parliament yesterday, gives the MAS the authority to inspect a wider range of financial institutions for money laundering and terrorism financing breaches.

They include non-bank credit card and charge card issuers.

The new law also sets out requirements for financial institutions to conduct customer due diligence and to retain these records.

These changes will align Singapore's regime with international standards set by the Financial Action Task Force, the global standard-setter for anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing.

But MPs were concerned that the changes might affect Singapore's position in the banking and financial sector, where client confidentiality and trust are paramount. Banking confidentiality, which has been an "important foundation of success, continues to be critical", Dr Tan said.

"We must safeguard against spurious international requests, and also safeguard bona fide client confidentiality," he added.

Mrs Chiam asked if the changes might put banks in a position of conflict between growing their business and being subject to regulatory requirements.

Replying, Mr Wong said: "All the banks and financial institutions around the world understand that there's a need in today's environment... to be able to identify and verify customers' identity, to screen customers against sanctions lists and other published databases.

"This is not an imposition or additional requirement. This is basic to what a bank should do and it is essential in preserving trust and integrity in order to develop the banking sector."

While customer information might be given to foreign supervisory bodies in some cases, the requested information will generally relate to the financial institution's policies and procedures, or lapses that may be identified through inspection, Mr Wong said.

To ensure the requests are bona fide, the foreign supervisor must be specific about the purpose of the request, the nature of the assistance and the relevance of the requested information.


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Judge questions courts' role in appointment of accountants

Straits Times
05 May 2015
Walter Sim

JUSTICE Quentin Loh yesterday questioned the need for the courts to be involved in the appointment of independent accountants to the town council run by the Workers' Party.

The proposed accountants are partners of major accounting firm PwC, Mr Ong Chao Choon and Mr Chan Kheng Tek, who he said are experienced professionals who can make their own judgment call.

This was among the questions he raised to test the strength of the legal arguments made by the Ministry of National Development (MND) in its application for independent accountants to be appointed to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

Responding, the MND argued that having the court act as an arbiter in the appointment will prevent an impasse should disagreements arise. Also, one of the conditions for the release of $14 million of grants to AHPETC was "payment controls", said the deputy chief counsel for litigation at the Attorney-General's Chambers, Ms Aurill Kam, who is arguing the case for the MND.

In its court application, the MND wants the independent accountants to co-sign payments above $20,000 taken from the grants, which must also be kept in a separate account.

Said Ms Kam: "A court-appointed officer to carry out that control is in the interest of all parties. If there are issues... there is an independent party - the court."

She cited a hypothetical example of an instance in which the accountant decides not to sign off on a specific payment, which both the defendant and MND might find unreasonable. "There is no way to resolve that implementation difficulty, and it also wouldn't be in the interests of the town council or residents."

As the independent accountants will be officers of the court, they will be empowered to compel AHPETC and its managing agent, FM Solutions and Services, to produce documents, so long as permission has been sought and granted by the judge. The judge may also ask for more information if the evidence provided is deemed insufficient, she said.

What if the accountants discover wrongdoing and suggest taking legal action, Justice Loh asked.

Ms Kam replied they may then "step in the shoes" of the town council to sue the relevant third parties who owe money, or who have received wrongful payments.

"This is an arrangement that works and ensures justice for all parties concerned," she added.




WP town council 'running out of funds', MND warns

THE town council operated by the Workers' Party (WP) is running out of funds and yet it has not taken enough steps to put its house in order, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said yesterday.

Questions remain over the cash flow position and accounting practices of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), which has recently missed two sinking fund payments as it needs the money to keep its daily operations going, MND revealed. That is why the High Court should appoint independent accountants to oversee government grants to AHPETC and examine its past payments, MND argued at the start of a two-day hearing to decide if such a move is necessary.

MND had applied to the court on March 20 to appoint independent accountants to AHPETC, after accounting and governance lapses were discovered following a special audit of its books by the Auditor-General's Office.

But the town council, represented by lawyers Peter Low and Terence Tan, countered yesterday that the court should not intervene in what it called a "political dispute" between the WP and the ruling People's Action Party.

The lawyers also argued that the Town Councils Act does not give the High Court the power to grant MND's request, adding that such a move would contradict the Government's stance to adopt a "light touch" in regulating town councils.

If there is any mismanagement of town council funds, only the Housing Board or the residents have the right to complain, Mr Low said in response to questions by Justice Quentin Loh, who is presiding over the case.

And if the town council runs out of funds, nothing can be done until the next general election, when voters can register their dissatisfaction, he added.

Attorney-General's Chambers deputy chief counsel for litigation Aurill Kam, representing MND, responded that calling this a "political dispute" is a "very serious assertion" that overlooks the legal questions involved.

"The leadership of the town council being WP members is not the point," she said. Rather, the accountants, if appointed, would look into whether payments were properly authorised, and if there was any breach of duty.

Key AHPETC staff are co-owners of its managing agent, FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), giving rise to potential conflicts of interest. FMSS' contract is also due to expire in July, which reinforces the urgency of MND's application, said Ms Kam.

She noted that AHPETC had missed two out of four payments into its sinking fund for the last financial year. The money is for long-term cyclical maintenance.

While AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim had said at a hearing in March that it had enough funds to supply essential services until June, this was "premised on them not making sinking fund transfers", Ms Kam said. Although AHPETC has appointed an external auditor and financial consultant to help clean up its books, the move is a "lukewarm assurance" as its finances remain "shrouded in uncertainty".

She also said AHPETC had initially stressed its urgent need for MND grants but changed its tune when MND offered to give half the grants, with terms attached.

MND has withheld about $14 million in grants to AHPETC, which it will disburse only if its court application is successful.

Near the end of the hearing, Justice Loh asked twice if AHPETC would meet the deadlines for the submission of its past accounts. Mr Low replied: "It is work in progress... We're working towards the deadlines."

The hearing continues today.



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Singapore signs MOUs on cyber security, trade marks

Business Times
19 May 2015
Kelly Tay

[Singapore] SINGAPORE on Monday signed two memorandums of understanding (MOUs) - one on cyber security with France, and another on trade-mark cooperation with China.

The former is the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore's (CSA) first international MOU. It was signed at the Élysée Palace in Paris, France, by CSA chief executive David Koh, and Guillaume Poupard, director-general, Agence Nationale de la Sécurité des Systèmes d'Information (ANSSI).

The signing ceremony was witnessed by French President Francois Hollande and President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who is in France to mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore-France diplomatic relations.

Said Mr Koh: "This agreement demonstrates the commitment of our organisations to cooperate to face common threats to cyber security. Cyber security is a critical issue in an increasingly borderless world and we look forward to working alongside France to better prevent and respond to evolving cyber threats."

Separately, the MOU between Singapore and China on trade-mark cooperation will see the two countries enhance exchanges on trade-mark registration, examination practices, protection, and enforcement.

The MOU was signed by Tan Yih San, chief executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), and Liu Yuting, Vice-Minister of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) of the People's Republic of China.

Under the agreement, Singapore and China will facilitate exchanges of IP officials and experts, and develop capacity-building activities - such as training on the examination of trade marks, oppositions, and dispute resolution proceedings.

Joint conferences will also be conducted, and IP rights holders in both countries will be educated on trade-mark protection and enforcement. Since 2013, trade-mark applications by class count in China exceeded 1.8 million annually, making the country the top trade-marking destination in the world.

Said Mr Tan: "This MOU strengthens the linkages between the two countries' trade mark and brands. It facilitates Chinese companies' effort to expand their operations in Singapore and the larger ASEAN region. It will also welcome Singapore companies and MNCs based in Singapore to have greater access to the China market with their trade marks and brands."

In 2014, bilateral trade between the two countries rose 11 per cent year on year to reach S$115.2 billion. Singapore is China's largest foreign investor with US$7.3 billion worth of investments last year. China is Singapore's largest trading partner.


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Law to regulate taxi booking services

Straits Times
12 May 2015
Lim Yan Liang

WHILE some regulation of third-party taxi booking services is necessary to protect commuter interest and safety, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said a light-touch approach will be adopted in how the Government regulates such service providers operating here.

He said this yesterday before Parliament approved a Bill making it necessary for third-party taxi booking services that have more than 20 participating taxis, to register with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in order to operate in Singapore.

The law requires the service providers to adhere to guidelines such as specifying fares and surcharges to commuters upfront, dispatching only licensed taxis and drivers, and providing LTA with live data on bookings.

Flouting the rules can lead to fines of up to $100,000, suspension or having licences revoked.

"The proposed regulatory framework balances the need for consumer protection with the flexibility needed for innovation in the industry, so that these services can enhance the provision of taxi services in Singapore, and ultimately benefit both commuters and taxi drivers," said Mr Lui.

During the debate on the Bill, Non-Constituency MPs Lina Chiam and Gerald Giam questioned the need to regulate service providers. Both believed the market should decide whether a business was viable or sustainable.

The proposed law "deviates from the concept of free market", Mrs Chiam said, adding: "What LTA should be concerned (about) is the safety of passengers who use the taxi booking apps. It should not be concerned whether or not the company is able to financially sustain itself... or whether taxi booking services are 'reliable and efficient'."

Said Mr Giam: "In regulating third-party service providers, the Government should focus more on maximising benefits to consumers and taxi drivers, and less on protecting a particular business model or existing taxi operators."

Others like Ang Mo Kio GRC MPs Seng Han Thong and Ang Hin Kee asked whether the regulations went far enough to protect drivers and ensure that service providers treated them fairly.

"How do we ensure that third- party booking operators are held financially accountable?" Mr Ang asked.

Such providers do not have huge investments in vehicle fleets that can be held financially liable.

Drivers told him of late payment of fares and they also worry that such operators could exit the market with little warning.

He and Mr Seng also voiced concern about chauffeured vehicles and private limousines which compete with taxis because of the third-party booking apps - many of which offer both services.

Mr Lui said there are existing regulations to govern chauffeured vehicle services. They must be pre-booked and cannot be hailed.

Third-party providers must clearly distinguish between such services and taxis.

Mr Lui said the points raised by the MPs illustrate why some regulation is needed. "While we want to try and keep the market competitive (and) we don't want to over-regulate... there has got to be certain minimum thresholds before we allow some of these operators into the system," he said, adding later: "It is no good for the taxi industry in Singapore if we just let any and every applicant... into the market."


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AHPETC's defence in trade fair case unconvincing: Judge

Straits Times
05 May 2015
Rachel Chang

THE judge who fined the Workers' Party-run town council for holding a trade fair last year without a permit has set out the full grounds for his decision.

District Judge Victor Yeo said in a document released last week that he found the town council's main defence - that it believed it did not require a permit - to be unconvincing.

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) ran the Chinese New Year fair at Hougang Central Hub for 22 days despite the National Environment Agency (NEA) refusing to issue it a permit.

It was fined $800 by Judge Yeo last December. AHPETC paid the fine, but filed a notice of appeal, which requires the judge to release his full grounds for the decision. Now, AHPETC has one month to decide whether to proceed with the appeal.

AHPETC had two lines of argument on why it did not require a permit.

The first was that the fair was held in a common area, which the Town Councils Act gives it the power to manage.

But Judge Yeo wrote that the Act does not "exempt town councils from the licensing laws of the land". The requirement to get an NEA permit to hold a temporary fair is one such national licensing law, he said.

AHPETC's second line of defence was it thought only a pasar malam required a permit, and its fair, with about five stalls, was a "community event" or "mini-fair".

Judge Yeo said he found these arguments unconvincing as AHPETC had e-mailed the NEA to check if a permit was required. NEA said "yes" and gave AHPETC the application forms.

AHPETC submitted an incomplete set of forms, missing documents it said were unreasonable demands - like a letter of support from the Citizens' Consultative Committee.

It also crossed out the words "trade fair" on the forms and replaced them with "event".

If AHPETC did not believe it required a permit, then its actions in submitting an incomplete and altered set of forms were "exceedingly puzzling", said the judge. Also, AHPETC did not explain its reasoning to NEA via e-mail at the time.

"At the very least, it was imperative to communicate something as fundamental, and as straightforward as this to the NEA," he wrote. But its actions in the exchange with NEA showed that it had a problem only with the suitability of the application forms, rather than the requirement of a permit per se.

The judge rejected AHPETC's argument that it had acted in good faith, calling its decision to cease correspondence with NEA over the permit "a conscious and deliberate move". And over the course of the fair, it met NEA's warnings to stop the fair "with complete silence and defiance".


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IDA issues ‘stern warning’ to Singtel over Gushcloud incident

19 May 2015
Tan Weizhen

SINGAPORE — The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) today (May 18) issued a “stern warning” to Singtel, following the completion of investigations into what it deemed to be a negative marketing campaign involving social media agency Gushcloud. 

The smear campaign, where Gushcloud had offered perks to social media “influencers” to complain about rival telcos, had caused a huge public backlash earlier this year, prompting Singtel CEO Chua Sock Koong to publicly apologise to StarHub and M1.

In a press release, IDA said it was “disappointed that such marketing tactics have been employed by Singtel”. 

“IDA has always encouraged licensees to compete by promoting the availability, price and quality of their own services, and not by disparaging those of their competitors,” said a spokesman.

He added: “IDA made it clear in its warning to Singtel that IDA will not tolerate such practices. IDA requires Singtel to put in place the necessary measures to ensure appropriate management oversight and control over its marketing and advertising campaigns in order to prevent future such incidents, and that it should not adopt publicity practices or campaigns that may potentially bring disrepute to the telecommunication industry.”

Responding to IDA’s statement, Singtel said it is “committed to upholding the highest standards of professional values and integrity in everything we do”.

Its spokesperson said: “We take a very serious view of the lapse. We have, and will continue to take measures to ensure that our staff and business partners understand and adhere to the same standards and values.” She declined to elaborate on the measures.

StarHub said it noted and accepted the authority’s decision to close the matter. It did not respond to TODAY’s queries on whether it was still pursuing further action as it had indicated previously.

M1 made it clear that it will not be taking the matter further. Its assistant general manager for corporate communications Chua Hian Hou said: “We have accepted Singtel’s apology and its assurance that it will not engage in such practices in future.”

Gushcloud co-founder Vincent Ha could not be reached for comments today, as calls to his mobile phone went unanswered.

In the wake of the debacle, Gushcloud came up with a set of guidelines on good conduct for its staff when they are engaging social media “influencers”, a term used to describe those who have a substantial following on social media platforms.

Discussions are taking place between industry players and the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) to create guidelines for the industry.  ASAS had said it was reviewing the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP).

Direct Marketing Association of Singapore chairperson Lisa Watson said that while she was for adding more guidelines to the code to help educate consumers and guide marketers, she was unsure about the benefits of having regulations. “Most content service providers have clear standards of transparency - both in the old public relations world and today’s environment,” she said in an email response. “Before a campaign, one should always take the ‘headline test’ (would it be a good or bad day if your actions made the headline news?). I doubt either of these parties (Singtel or Gushcloud) thought this one through.” Technology blogger Alfred Siew felt there was no need for guidelines, as the potential public backlash would keep marketers in check. 

“Consumers would show their displeasure at this kind of marketing. It’s misleading and it’s not real, not to mention dishonest. I think there is no need for so many rules as long as the market is clear in its response - Singtel was slammed for this in public,” he said.

IDA’s warning to Singtel also sent out a clear signal that the industry will not tolerate such practices, he added.


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Severe penalties for serious crimes by youth

Straits Times
12 May 2015
Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

THE worrying behaviour of some Singapore youth came under scrutiny in Parliament yesterday, with MPs asking about penalties and rehabilitative measures for those who make offensive remarks on race and religion or who commit serious crimes.

Youth who make seditious remarks may be counselled on respecting other races and religions, and made to interact with people from different communities through community service and other activities, said Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Low Yen Ling.

They may also receive different penalties, depending on the severity of their offence, she said in response to a question from Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin. These include conditional warnings, probation and being placed in a juvenile rehabilitation centre, reformative training centre or prison.

"These measures encourage offenders to take responsibility for their actions and equip them with the life skills to embark on constructive lifestyles," said Ms Low.

Meanwhile, youth who commit serious crimes like vandalism or hurt to others should be severely punished to send a deterrent message against criminal behaviour, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.

While rehabilitative options are available, the courts have also meted out stricter punishments in the case of more serious offences.

Some are "deterrent sentences to send a strong signal that such criminal behaviour will not be condoned nor taken lightly", he said.

When appropriate, the prosecutor may appeal against the sentence if it does not reflect the seriousness of the crime, he added.

He was responding to Dr Janil Puthucheary (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), who wanted to know whether existing penalties could deter youth from serious crimes.

Last month, Daryl Lim Jun Liang, 19, was sentenced to 10 days of detention and 150 hours of community service for assaulting foreign workers. The Attorney-General's Chambers has filed an appeal for a harsher sentence.

Mr Masagos did not raise this incident yesterday, but cited two other cases of stiff sentences.

Last year, three men in their 20s were jailed and caned for vandalising public property, while in 2013, three young men were jailed and caned for rioting and slashing a full-time national serviceman in an Orchard Road shopping centre.

"These sentences give the community the assurance that safety and security are being safeguarded," said Mr Masagos.


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$5.5b claim against family moves here from US

Straits Times
05 May 2015
K. C. Vijayan

AN 11-YEAR legal battle involving a staggering US$4.1 billion (S$5.5 billion) claim against a Singapore family has moved to the High Court here after a lengthy US legal case.

The labyrinthine case centres on a failed China technology investment back in 2000 and includes claims that hundreds of thousands of dollars were squandered on diamonds.

The High Court last month granted a temporary freeze on the assets of some of the family members involved, ahead of a further hearing of the case being brought by Hong Kong firm New World TMT.

Ex-Silicon Valley-based chief executive "Tony" Qu Jianping is alleged to have made fraudulent claims to induce New World to invest about US$670 million in a big technology project in China in 2000. He is believed to be moving around the region, but is not a defendant in the Singapore case.

A California court has already issued a judgment against him in a case brought there by New World.

Mr Qu was founder of California firm Prediwave, which mounted the China investment.

But the project, involving television and cable transmission systems, was technologically flawed - and lost vast sums.

Since then, Mr Qu has allegedly tried to conceal and siphon off a lot of money through a maze of companies and bank accounts.

The Singapore case includes claims that Mr Qu's daughter, Qu Jia Yi, also known as Sara Qu, helped conceal assets allegedly misappropriated from New World.

A statement of claim filed by New World also claims Ms Qu spent US$283,530 on diamonds while studying in the US in 2006. She is said to have received funds through her Singapore bank.

In 2004, New World sued Mr Qu and Prediwave for alleged fraud in California.

In 2006, the Superior Court of California awarded New World US$2.82 billion in damages. The sum included US$2 billion in "punitive" damages - that is, damages intended to punish the defendant, over and above actual losses.

New World claims that the sum has now mushroomed to about US$4.1 billion, including a large amount of interest.

New World's legal action here is against Mr Qu's former wife, Singaporean Wang Wei, her two children with Mr Qu, Sara and Steven Qu, alias Wang Siak Hwa, and three other parties also named as "judgment debtors" by the US court.

The High Court has already issued a "default judgment" against Madam Wang. This happens when a defendant does not respond to legal action.

The latest order - freezing assets - relates to siblings Steven and Sara Qu. He is understood to be a Singapore permanent resident while she holds a US passport.

New World is part of a Hong Kong conglomerate investing in media and technology industries, including in mainland China.

After New World's investment in Prediwave, system prototypes produced by the firm for testing in China failed, were not compatible with existing television infrastructure and did not meet commercial standards in China.

Prediwave failed to address the defects and it emerged that several companies designated to provide technical support and controlled by Mr Qu, Madam Wang and two others were sham companies.

Among other things, Mr Qu was alleged to have conspired together with Madam Wang and two others to provide some US$4 million in salary and bonus to himself over four years from 2001.

As of April last year, New World had recovered US$331.4 million from the liquidation of Prediwave and seizure and sale of some assets owned by Mr Qu and other corporate debtors of the US judgment, according to documents filed in the High Court here.

The other three judgment debtors are two Chinese nationals linked to Prediwave, and a Singapore firm - Newstar Management - owned by Madam Wang.

Madam Wang married Mr Qu in 1985. They divorced in 2003.

Ms Sara Qu was a director of Prediwave and seven other companies in the US controlled by Mr Qu and is said to be living here.

New World - through Rajah & Tann lawyers Rebecca Chew and Ang Siok Hoon - is seeking an account of all sums misappropriated.

It is understood that the defence has not yet filed its case.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due later this month.


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Low take-up rate for schemes to help divorcing couples

Straits Times
19 May 2015
Priscilla Goy

Little awareness of options to resolve disputes amicably, say mediation experts

JUST 19 divorcing couples sought private mediation about their settlements last year.

And only seven cases were completed under the Collaborative Family Practice (CFP), a scheme launched in 2013 to offer couples specialist legal help with post-divorce issues, such as child custody, before they go to court.

The Primary Justice Project - a pre-court option for divorcing couples ineligible for legal aid, but unable to afford legal fees - has handled just a dozen divorce cases since its launch last May.

The low take-up numbers were revealed yesterday by the Family Justice Courts and Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC), which runs the first two schemes. A third is run by the Community Justice Centre, an independent charity based in the State Courts.

Latest available figures show there were more than 7,500 divorces and annulments in 2013.

Mediation experts called for greater awareness of the help options available, and urged couples to resolve disputes amicably to save time and money.

However, SMC executive director Loong Seng Onn said the figures could be down to couples who "simply want revenge". He added: "They want to drag the other party through the court process because of what their former spouse did to them."

With private mediation, cases are often resolved within a day. It can help in matters such as financial, property and child custody before they get to court.

Yet, take-up of this option has shown little improvement since 2010, when there were just eight cases settled.

Under the CFP, if an agreement is reached, the courts can grant the interim judgment in one to two months, instead of four to six.

But awareness of the three options is so low that even some lawyers are not familiar with them.

Ms Sophia Ang, director of counselling and psychological services at Family Justice Courts, said: "If you're having a happy marriage... very few people would bother to go read up on what mediation is about.

"It is when you're in a conflict, things get really bad and you're desperate, wondering what to do and where to go."

Lawyers say agreeing on issues before going to court reduces acrimony.

Mr Loong said: "Litigation in court is an adversarial process. Both parties have to persuade the judge to decide in their favour. But in the pre-court options, the aim is to enter an agreement with the other party to settle matters."

Family lawyer Michelle Woodworth, of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, cited how the CFP scheme benefited one couple.

Instead of focusing on the break-up itself, they discussed issues such as the division of assets and care of their children. Focusing on these issues helped the husband, who did not initiate the divorce, to be more "emotionally ready", Ms Woodworth said, whereas these problems would have been tougher to negotiate in court.

Mr Loong added: "It's important to let parties know how they can resolve their disputes without affecting the children. Marriages may die, but parenting will continue."


Background Story


If you're having a happy marriage... very few people would bother to go read up on what mediation is about... It is when you're in a conflict, things get really bad and you're desperate, wondering what to do and where to go.

- Ms Sophia Ang, director of counselling and psychological services at Family Justice Courts

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Legal changes to help bankrupts, spur prudence

Straits Times
12 May 2015
Wong Wei Han

PROPOSED changes to Singapore's bankruptcy laws are aimed at creating an environment where bankrupts can more easily get back on their financial feet.

The changes were tabled in Parliament for their first reading yesterday after a public consultation that has been held since January.

The Bill to amend the Bankruptcy Act will make it harder to have a person declared bankrupt but easier for a bankrupt to exit bankruptcy once their obligations have been fulfilled.

The new regime will include four key changes. One is to raise the minimum debt level for people to be made bankrupt from $10,000 to $15,000. This is to encourage creditors and debtors to resolve more debts without resorting to a bankruptcy application.

A second change will allow bankrupts to get out of bankruptcy according to a set timeframe.

For instance, a first-time bankrupt who has paid fully his "target contribution" will be discharged after three years if his creditors have no objection. The target contribution is the total sum a bankrupt must repayto be eligible for discharge. The amount is determined by bankruptcy trustees.

If creditors object to the discharge after five years, a bankrupt who has paid his target contribution will still be discharged, unless the High Court upholds the creditors' objection. For repeat bankrupts, the exit points are pushed back by two years.

Bankrupts will be automatically discharged after seven years, or nine for repeat bankruptcies.

The new timeframe adopts a gentler approach than that of existing rules, under which there are no specific exit points from bankruptcy, and discharge is granted only by the High Court or Official Assignee on a case-by-case basis.

"(The change) will create a more rehabilitative regime, giving bankrupts timeframes and the incentive to seek gainful employment as a means of achieving their discharge," the Ministry of Law said.

But a third change will ensure that the records of those who have not fully paid the target contribution will remain permanently on a public register. Currently, all bankruptcy records are removed five years after discharge.

Lastly, new rules are also being introduced to "ensure better utilisation of public resources and encourage creditors to exercise financial prudence when extending credit", the Law Ministry added.

Institutional creditors, such as banks or companies with annual sales of over $100 million and more than 200 employees, must spend their own money to appoint a private trustee, who will administer their debtors' bankruptcy.

This will ease the strain on the Official Assignee, a High Court office which handles more than 90 per cent of bankruptcies here.

As at March 31, 22,370 cases of bankruptcies were on the books. Since 2011, 1,500 to 1,900 new bankruptcy orders have been filed annually. Some 51 per cent of existing bankruptcies were initiated by financial institution creditors, which have been resistant to the added costs of private trustees.

But the Law Ministry said higher administration costs "may not be undesirable" as they could lead to more prudent lending.

Still, banks such as OCBC said the new rules will not have any significant impact on credit assessment policies. "Various factors are taken into consideration before we make a bankruptcy application... We have a structured way of recovering our loans - a bankruptcy proceeding is just one tool," said OCBC head of consumer credit risk Joseph Wong.


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New rules this year for advertisements touting investments

Business Times
05 May 2015
Claire Huang, Lee Meixian

BEFORE the year is over, advertisements on investments in financial instruments and properties will face more stringent rules, as new guidelines by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) kick in, the advisory council said on Monday.

The council, together with the media owners that make up its members, is working with the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) to improve the current advertising code in these areas.

"Proposed enhancements include raising the standards of disclosure and strengthening measures to deal with advertisers who repeatedly place misleading advertisements," said Tan Sze Wee, chairman of ASAS.

The move will help the public better understand the risks of the investments, and will also protect them from recalcitrant advertisers, he pointed out.

These financial instruments refer to any product that is expected to generate future profits or benefits for the consumer upon purchase. These include securities, forex trading, insurance policies, real estate and even agricultural and aqua-cultural programmes.

ASAS is an advisory council to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case). On Monday, the consumer watchdog also issued a warning on investing in foreign properties, given the recent proliferation of such advertisements here.

"Such advertisements often make positive claims about the investment value of the properties and the potential returns, but seldom clearly disclose the risks and the legal and regulatory framework involved in foreign markets, which are very different to Singapore," Case president Lim Biow Chuan said.

"We strongly urge the relevant authorities to review existing legislation to ensure that developers who sell their foreign properties locally abide by the same minimum standards in information disclosure that local developers have to meet," added Mr Lim.

Currently, there is a list of mandatory particulars that has to be included in any advertisement put up for a local housing project. These details include the tenure of the land and its encumbrances, the expected completion date of the project, the expected date when the legal title of the units will be transferred to the buyers, etc. It applies to print advertisements and showflat signages, said Lee Liat Yeang, real estate lawyer at Rodyk & Davidson.

Advertisements for foreign properties, on the other hand, are not governed by any legislation here. Case is thus proposing that developers selling foreign properties here provide fact sheets which include, among other things, information on the financial standing of the developer, the developer's and investor's respective obligations, as well as proper valuations of the properties.

Mr Lee welcomes the proposal. He noted that investors in foreign properties have burgeoned beyond the once-limited circle of sophisticated investors, ever since onerous taxes such as an additional 7 per cent buyer's stamp duty on Singaporeans buying a second home came into effect.

"Many Singaporeans still believe in real estate, so they succumb very easily to buying properties overseas if they are not familiar with equities or bonds. They also tend to trust foreign developers selling properties in Singapore under the auspices of well-known real estate agencies."

Doris Tan, head of international residential property services, JLL Singapore, said that most of the developers the agency works with are either publicly listed companies or those with good financial standing, so compliance with Case's criteria will not be difficult, although the stricter disclosures are likely to make it tougher for JLL to market overseas properties in Singapore.

Others like Savills and CBRE don't believe they will be impacted much. They currently do not inform buyers of developers' financial stability, but said this would not be difficult information for them to obtain, given their developer clientele profile.

Sarah Nicholson, CBRE's director of international project marketing, Asia, said her agency already complies with CEA guidelines, which are quite in line with Case's proposed criteria. Besides in-depth due diligence done for both public and private developer firms, CBRE also already provides guide pricing on developments.

"I usually tell my customers that if an investment seems too good to be true, it normally is. Buyers should be cautious of investment opportunities that over-promise, as they are likely to under-deliver," she added.

Ching Chiat Kwong, executive chairman and CEO of Oxley Holdings, said the company puts detailed developer and development information on its website. But he does not think it likely that developers will freely offer up information about their financial standing to buyers, "which should be a job done by credit rating agencies", he pointed out.

As for providing property valuations, he simply said: "The price we advertise at is the market value."

Oxley is currently marketing two mixed developments - in Cambodia and London - both here and overseas.

In the past two years, Case has received 13 complaints from buyers of foreign properties, most of whom said they failed to get the high rental yields or capital growth that had been promised to them. Some did not even get updates on their investments and lost contact with the property investment firm; a number ended up losing more than S$100,000.

"Investing in an unfamiliar foreign market holds high risks, such as foreign currency fluctuations, property market trends, sovereign risks and interest rate risks. Some of these deals have turned sour when prices declined sharply ... There are also reported cases where the developer of foreign properties became insolvent and was unable to continue with the development," Case noted.

The infamous example here is that of EcoHouse, the Brazilian social housing developer that dangled annual yields of 20 per cent, collected more than S$65 million from Singapore investors and then left them largely unpaid. EcoHouse shuttered its Singapore office last August, and later suspended its global operations and filed for a voluntary winding-up. It was also found to have no links with the Brazilian government's social housing scheme.

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Dallas Buyers Club suit a legal minefield

Straits Times
18 May 2015
Irene Tham

ALL eyes are on Hollywood studio Voltage Pictures for its first lawsuit against Internet users in Singapore for illegally sharing its film Dallas Buyers Club.

The last time users' hearts skipped a beat over a similar issue was in 2007, when local anime distributor Odex went after hundreds of illegal downloaders and took a few individuals to court.

But because all the Odex cases were eventually settled out of court, there is no legal precedent to answer the question of whether broadband subscribers in Singapore are liable for acts committed on their Internet accounts.

"This is all fairly new ground, like the Internet," said lawyer Bryan Tan, a technology partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay.

But Voltage's case against Singapore's illegal downloaders has already generated heated discussion on social media.

There are many unanswered questions and there are also concerns that the lawyers acting on behalf of Voltage may have overstepped their ethical boundaries.

Is there a need to establish a link between an impugned Internet account and the actual downloader?

Early last month, Voltage's Singapore representative, Samuel Seow Law Corporation, sent 77 M1 subscribers letters demanding a written offer of damages, failing which they ran the risk of being sued. More letters are expected to be sent to Singtel and StarHub subscribers.

The studio identified more than 500 Singapore Internet protocol (IP) addresses - of Singtel, StarHub and M1 subscribers - at which the movie was allegedly downloaded.

It filed "pre-action discovery" applications against the three Internet service providers (ISPs) in the High Court late last year, and succeeded in compelling the ISPs to release their customers' details.

The issue here is that the demand letter is addressed to the Internet subscriber, who may not be the one who allegedly infringed on the copyright.

This has sparked a heated discussion online over whether the ISPs' lawyers or the courts should have demanded more proof to link the person who infringed copyright to the impugned Internet account.

Subscribers who were wrongfully threatened with a demand letter could mount a lawsuit against Voltage for making groundless threats, but how many can afford to do so?

Are lawyers allowed to threaten downloaders with the possibility of criminal proceedings to further civil claims?

Demand letters sent out by Samuel Seow Law Corp hinted at the possibility of criminal sanction under sections 136(3) and 136(3A) of the Copyright Act.

The letters, seen by The Straits Times, spelt out a maximum fine of $50,000 or imprisonment not exceeding three years, or both, under Section 136(3) of the Act. It also specified a maximum fine of $20,000 or a maximum jail term of six months, or both, under Section 136(3A) of the Act.

However, the Law Society's Practice Directions and Rulings 1989 states: "It is improper for a solicitor to communicate in writing or otherwise a threat of criminal proceedings in order to achieve a stated objective in any circumstance."

The directions are a set of ethical guidelines for lawyers.

Mr Harish Pillay, president of the Internet Society (Singapore), said criminal threats should not be used to further civil claims.

"While there was some cagey wording to suggest that criminal sanction 'may' apply, there is a lot of text detailing and emphasising it," he said.

"The majority of people reading the letters are your 'man in the street'. They would not know any better and would think that the threats are legitimate."

When contacted, the Law Society said it has not received any complaints against Samuel Seow Law Corp but urged the Internet Society to report any complaints against any lawyers.

"No one should use the threat of criminal proceedings in order to settle a civil dispute... Complaints will be thoroughly investigated, in accordance with statutory procedure," a Law Society spokesman told The Straits Times.

Why didn't the courts supervise the drafting and issuing of demand letters?

Since so many Internet users are involved, some have asked why the Singapore courts did not supervise the drafting and issuing of demand letters.

They drew comparisons with Australia, where Voltage is also going after Internet users for illegally downloading the Dallas Buyers Club movie. There, demand letters have to be issued to Internet users under Australian court supervision. This is to ensure that exorbitant settlement fees would not be sought.

Court supervision here could also protect end-users in similar ways.

Mr Pillay said the Singapore courts are entitled to impose conditions such as supervising demand letters. "But lawyers for the ISPs need to ask for it... We think this could have been asked for," he said.

When contacted, Singtel, StarHub and M1 declined to comment on whether they had asked for court supervision to protect their subscribers.

How much of a fight did the ISPs put up to protect customer details?

The three ISPs, when asked, did not explain in detail how they resisted Samuel Seow Law Corp's demands in court. Court documents are also not available for public inspection.

Consumers Association of Singapore executive director Seah Seng Choon said consumers should be informed of what was done to protect their interests.

"Consumers in a highly competitive broadband market may want to exercise their choice of ISPs based on how much the service providers are willing to do to protect them," he said.

In a document seen by The Straits Times, one of the ISPs' lawyers had asked for "security for costs" - a potential deterrent.

Security for costs, which companies like Voltage might have to pay for if defence lawyers ask for it, is usually provided through a banker's guarantee.

Lawyers usually request it when the firm filing the lawsuit is not based in Singapore, and the defendants want to ensure their legal costs are covered if the plaintiff loses the suit.

Did Voltage intend to sue Internet users at all?

When The Straits Times last checked with the courts early this month, no individual had been served a writ of summons.

It may still be early days but it would be an uphill task to sue so many individuals. One of the major hurdles is security for costs.

If Internet users were sued in Singapore, their lawyers could ask for security for costs as Voltage is a foreign company.

"The security for costs sought could potentially run into the millions if a substantial number of defendants decide to pursue such applications," saidHolborn Law's disputes lawyer and director Lakshanthi Fernando.

Also, very few copyright holders go after end-users for fear of the public relations nightmare that might ensue.

For instance, Odex director Stephen Sing was flamed online and threatened soon after

the firm targeted downloaders. Anti-Odex online campaigns followed.

An association of content owners, which declined to be named, said suing end-users was akin to activating nuclear weapons.

It said: "We have nuclear weapons in modern-day warfare, just like there are many options to counter online piracy, but we don't use them."


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New court to hear $1b dispute case

Straits Times
10 May 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Commercial nature of cross-border spat makes it ideal for international court

A US$800 million (S$1 billion) spat involving Australian, Indonesian and Singapore business interests is set to be the first case heard before the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC).

BCBC Singapore, a wholly owned subsidiary of Australian company Binderless Coal Briquetting Company, is seeking damages from Indonesian company PT Bayan Resources TBK.

The claim and counterclaim between the parties arise mainly from alleged breaches of a joint venture pact for the application of a patented technology to produce and sell upgraded coal from East Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo.

The spat also relates to the business and operations of the joint venture company PT Kaltim Supacoal, incorporated in Indonesia, whose shares are held by both parties.

The joint venture deed is governed by Singapore law and the heads of damages include a claim of about US$750 million and a counterclaim of about US$59 million.

The newly minted SICC was set up to hear cross-border disputes and, along with the successful arbitration sector, is a part of Singapore's plan to be Asia's dispute resolution hub and grow its legal services industry.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has assigned a panel of three judges - Justice Quentin Loh, Justice Vivian Ramsey and Justice Anselmo Reyes - to hear the case.

Justice Ramsey, from Britain, and Justice Reyes from Hong Kong are both International Judges on the SICC Bench. Judge Loh is from the Singapore High Court.

A court case management conference with the parties is due to be held tomorrow.

It is understood that the cross-border commercial nature of the dispute made the case appropriate to be heard by the SICC in lieu of the Singapore High Court.

A team of Rajah & Tann lawyers led by Senior Counsel Francis Xavier is representing BCBC Singapore while Senior Counsel Davinder Singh is helming a Drew & Napier team in defending PT Bayan and making a counterclaim.

The case between the two parties has also spilled into Australian courts where a landmark tussle is ongoing over whether Bayan's shares in Perth-based company Kangaroo Resources should be frozen pending the outcome of the Singapore hearing.

A West Australian appeals court ruled last September that it would issue a freeze before substantive proceedings commence in the court.

The case has vexed several tiers of legal minds in the Australian system, given that proceedings had yet to be concluded in an overseas jurisdiction - Singapore - before the freeze order was sought.

But PT Bayan appealed in March for special leave in Sydney before Australia's Chief Justice Robert French and Justice Kenneth Hayne gave the go-ahead to appeal against the freeze order to Australia's highest court, which could be this month.

At issue in this appeal is whether Australian courts have the power to make the unusual order.

Senior Counsel B.W. Walker, for Bayan, said at the hearing that the case was an "ideal vehicle to test" if any Australian court had the "substantive jurisdiction" to grant the freeze order being sought by BCBC Singapore.


Ex-manager grilled over Sun Ho's pay hike

Straits Times
05 May 2015
Danson Cheong

THE salary of pop singer Ho Yeow Sun was more than doubled in 2006 - a decision made not by her management company, but by her husband Kong Hee and his fellow City Harvest Church (CHC) pastor Tan Ye Peng.

The prosecution alleged this yesterday as it began its cross-examination of former CHC finance manager Serina Wee.

Wee, 38, Kong, 50, and Tan, 42, are part of a group of six accused of misusing church money to bankroll Ms Ho's secular music career.

They are charged with channelling $50 million from the church's building fund into sham bond investments and covering up the misuse.

The prosecution's allegation centred on January 2006 board meeting minutes from Xtron, Ms Ho's management company.

They show company directors suggesting that her monthly pay be increased from S$7,000 to US$10,000 - about S$16,000 according to exchange rates at the time.

During a blustery exchange, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong told the court that the minutes had been written by Wee a year after the supposed meeting before being backdated and given to Xtron directors to sign in preparation for an audit.

DPP Ong, citing immigration records of Xtron directors Wahju Hanafi and Choong Kar Weng, called the minutes a "work of fiction", adding: "If there was indeed such a discussion, it certainly didn't take place... because the evidence shows that Mr Hanafi and Mr Choong were not in Singapore on Jan 2, 2006."

Wee, who appeared calm and composed throughout her sixth day on the stand, noted that the conversation between the duo could have occurred on another date. But she conceded that the "idea of increasing (Ms Ho's) salary" did not come from Mr Hanafi.

"So what is missing from these minutes is that when Mr Hanafi suggested increasing Sun Ho's salary, it was because someone else had first suggested it to him. Correct?" asked DPP Ong, to which Wee agreed.

DPP Ong said that this "hidden someone" was Kong or Tan, and Wee again replied yes.

Later, he charged that the reason Wee prepared minutes in such a manner was that she knew the directors would "never withhold their approval to the minutes and supposed decisions" they were given to ratify.

The defence has always maintained that Xtron and CHC had made decisions independently.

DPP Ong added: "I put it to you that... the minutes were really all just for show, to make it appear like the Xtron directors were the ones making decisions when it was really Kong Hee and Tan Ye Peng."

Wee disagreed, saying that the final approval from Xtron directors was still required.

The trial continues, entering its 126th day today.


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Divorce made less bitter with new mediation process

18 May 2015
Laura Elizabeth Philomin

SINGAPORE — Once they both decided to part ways after 18 years together, all he and his wife wanted was to settle the terms of their divorce amicably, without a drawn-out tussle.

On the advice of their lawyers, the couple opted to take the Collaborative Family Practice (CFP) route, where parties and their respective lawyers work out together the terms of the split — including the division of matrimonial assets, maintenance payments and custody of the children — before filing their agreement with a Family Court.

After only four meetings, a deal was struck, in which he agreed to pay in full for a new five-room flat for his ex-wife and the quantum of child and spouse maintenance.

“When we came to that stage, I didn’t want to argue over this and that. Once the divorce was initiated, I just wanted to get it over with as soon as possible,” said the divorcee, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lee.

The CFP started in 2013, the same year the Family Justice Review Committee was tasked to look at ways to make the family justice system less stressful and acrimonious. Before that, divorces were known to involve estranged couples bringing their spats to the courtroom, where each tried to gain an edge over the other by trotting out their accounts of petty rows.

Under the CFP, trained lawyers sit in with their clients to facilitate negotiations on the terms, and they reach a mutually-agreed proposal they then file with the Family Courts.

Another person who has chosen the CFP service, Ms Chan (not her real name), said the official nature of court proceedings would have made it more difficult for her, given her grief and guilt over the end of her eight-year marriage.

“By letting us discuss the essential issues in person with our lawyers present to guide, mediate and officiate on the spot, the CFP process made the divorce as painless as it could probably get,” she said. She and her ex-husband reached a settlement in four meetings and concluded the divorce process in six months.

Lawyer Yap Teong Liang, who runs his own firm T L Yap Law Chambers LLC, dismissed fears that the CFP would make divorce appear easier and encourage more couples to resort to dissolving their marriages.

“The divorce law is still the same because after you successfully complete the CFP process, you still need to file the divorce documents in court. I think the fundamental difference is that whatever decision they come to in the sense of an agreement, both parties have participated in the process of arriving at a consensual agreement,” he said.

Apart from both spouses’ willingness to negotiate their arrangements amicably, lawyers said screening for family or marital violence and mental health issues are involved for eligibility.

Mr Rajan Chettiar said the CFP process may be slightly shorter than traditional court mediation. Under the CFP scheme, parties work together as a team to identify issues and solutions in a non-adversarial environment. In contrast, parties in court mediation have to file their divorce with the courts and submit all the relevant court documents before proceeding to mediation, he said.

“I think that’s not a good idea because mediation comes a bit too late when people have already filed court documents and said all the things they want to say about each other. They’ve already set the tone for that kind of acrimony ... and then you want them to shift gear and go to mediate. I think it’s quite tough for some people,” added Mr Chettiar.

Couples will also have to sign upfront an agreement informing them that they cannot use the same lawyers engaged for the CFP process if the matter proceeds to litigation in court should they fail to reach an agreement, said family lawyer Michelle Woodworth, a partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP.

“It is to provide a holistic and safe environment for negotiation on a without-prejudice platform. And I think it incentivises the settlement process; everybody is kept focused on the ultimate goal which is to come to a resolution,” she added.


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'Cabby abuser' gets retrial as new witnesses step forward

Straits Times
09 May 2015
Selina Lum

A NORWEGIAN who has served more than half of his 10-week jail term - after admitting to choking a taxi driver, paying the victim $30,000 and losing his job - has been given a chance to defend himself in a retrial.

This comes after two Singaporean men stepped forward to say that the cabby was actually the aggressor. The High Court heard yesterday how Mr Mohamed Ayub Shaik Dawood and his friend, Mr Roslan Zainal, witnessed the entire altercation last September in Circular Road.

When Mr Ayub read a newspaper report on the case, he was surprised that Arne Corneliussen, 50, was jailed while cabby Chan Chuan Heng, 46, whom he saw throwing a punch, escaped punishment.

He sought out Corneliussen's lawyer, and he and his friend have since filed affidavits on their account of what happened.

Corneliussen's lawyer, Mr Terence Seah, said his client had pleaded guilty because he was too drunk to remember the details of the fight and the police had eyewitness accounts that he had attacked Mr Chan.

Given the "exceptional turn of events", the prosecution did not object to Corneliussen's conviction and sentence being quashed and the case sent back to the State Courts for a retrial.

However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Kok Weng stressed that this did not mean the earlier conviction was wrong.

The DPP pointed out that the two new witnesses were not at the scene when police arrived and did not come forward during police investigations.

Two passers-by who had pulled Corneliussen away from Mr Chan told police that they saw the Norwegian chasing the cabby and choking him, said the DPP.

But Mr Ayub said he saw Mr Chan punch Corneliussen on the left side of his head, causing the latter to squat down in a daze. When Corneliussen asked the cabby why he had hit him, Mr Chan tried to run away.

After a chase, Corneliussen caught up with Mr Chan and pinned him down before being pulled away.

Mr Roslan did not see the punch but heard a loud smacking sound, after which he saw the cabby, arms akimbo, standing over Corneliussen who was squatting, with his hands covering his face.

Corneliussen, a Singapore permanent resident, lost his job as director of programme management at a courier company and paid the cabby $30,000 in compensation out of goodwill after the incident.


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QT Vascular assures investors over suit

Business Times
05 May 2015
Claire Huang

QT VASCULAR has assured investors in an update on the ongoing litigation involving specialty balloon angioplasty company AngioScore Inc during its annual general meeting on Thursday last week.

In June 2012, AngioScore initiated patent infringement proceedings against QT subsidiaries TriReme Medical and Quattro Vascular, as well as QT Vascular's chief executive Eitan Konstantino in relation to the Chocolate PTA balloon catheter. AngioScore's claim is that QT Vascular's Chocolate PTA infringes the '119 Patent - a patent that claims a very specific design for an angioplasty balloon catheter and a non-deployable stent.

QT Vascular on Monday said that Dr Konstantino had reaffirmed that the board's position on the information regarding the patent claim as stated in the initial public offering (IPO) document remains valid and will not have a material effect on the financial position or profitability of the group.

AngioScore was co-founded by Dr Konstantino.

The group said the probability that AngioScore could obtain a permanent injunction against Chocolate PTA is minimal because the former does not practise the '119 Patent. It also believes a new available design of Chocolate PTA will materially reduce the risks related to the patent claim on Chocolate PTA.

In its update, the group said the patent claim does not implicate intellectual property (IP) and that it is not at risk of losing IP (including patent applications) as a consequence of the claim. QT Vascular also said it continues to believe that its worst case liability would involve payment of a reasonable royalty on such products made, used or sold in the US, which is not expected to have a material effect on the financial position and profitability of the group.

The patent-infringement lawsuit was stated in QT Vascular's IPO document. The proceedings were taken in the federal trial court of the Northern District of California, US. QT's share came under pressure on Wednesday last week when it hit a 52-week low of S$0.215 in intra-day trading, after it issued an update on the litigation including the patent claim and the state law claims. It said the patent claim was scheduled for trial in September 2015.

QT's shares eased half a cent to S$0.23 on Monday.

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Insurance industry poised to overcome regulatory challenges

Straits Times
18 May 2015
Wong Wei Han

THE insurance industry worldwide faces challenges as increasingly stringent regulations apply to the sector in the wake of the global financial crisis.

But insurers will tread through this difficult period to play an even greater role, said Mr Mike McGavick, chairman of the Geneva Association and executive chairman of XL Group.

He was speaking at a briefing last Wednesday that opened the association's four-day general assembly in Singapore.

The Geneva Association is an international insurance think-tank with a membership of 90 chief executives from leading insurance and reinsurance firms.

"Post-financial crisis, there were concerns that the risks of financial stability would spill over from the banking sectors. But I think a great deal of work has been done to persuade the world's main regulators that we are a different and much more stable set of risks."

But efforts to raise regulatory standards have continued, and the industry is now eyeing Solvency II as the next big regulatory regime. The regime has been drawn up in the European Union to raise capital and supervision requirements for insurance and reinsurance companies, and will be fully implemented in January next year.

Mr McGavick noted that the industry is ready to adopt new and tougher rules as long as they are standardised globally to minimise compliance costs and retain capital efficiency.

In Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is also consulting with insurers ahead of the launch of the RBC 2, which is an update to the risk-based capital framework for the insurance industry.

But Singapore's approach is "smart regulation", MAS managing director Ravi Menon said last Tuesday at the Insurance Institute of London.

"This means communicating clearly the desired outcomes of regulation and allowing financial institutions the latitude to achieve these outcomes in ways that… minimise the compliance burden," Mr Menon said.

Meanwhile, the current low interest rate environment has pressured insurers' bond investment income, and the slowdown may lead to industry consolidations globally, Mr McGavick said.

These were some of the key industry themes discussed by the 60 chief executives who were in town last week for the Geneva Association's closed-door meetings.

The general assembly - held here for the first time - was supported by the MAS, which hopes to see further developments in the non-life insurance segments.

"Offshore and reinsurance growth in Singapore has been significant in the last five to eight years. These cross-border and wholesale products will continue to see strong growth in South-east Asia, where overall penetration is still quite low," MAS assistant managing director Leong Sing Chiong said at the briefing.


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Amos Yee trial: Court decision expected next Tuesday

Straits Times
09 May 2015
Amir Hussain & Olivia Ho

AFTER a two-hour hearing yesterday before a courtroom filled with onlookers, teenage blogger Amos Yee was told that he would find out his fate next Tuesday.

The 16-year-old had pleaded not guilty to uploading an obscene image and intending to hurt the feelings of Christians in a YouTube video. But the prosecution, calling it a "simple" case, urged that he be convicted on both charges.

"The defence says the image is not obscene, but it plainly is," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Hay Hung Chun. "The defence says the accused did not deliberately intend to wound the religious feelings of Christians but he plainly did."

The image in question that Yee posted on March 28 was an illustration of two people having sex, on which he superimposed the images of Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

One of Yee's three lawyers, Mr Ervin Tan, argued that for an image to be obscene, it has to have a tendency to "deprave and corrupt" those who see it. But this was not the case here.

"The image is a line drawing which the accused found online. There is no colour, no facial features, and no genitals depicted. It simply shows the shape of two humans in what appears to be a sexual position."

The original image that Yee used is the type used by magazines such as Women's Health to educate its readers, he added.

Instead, he argued that the main complaints with the image were that it was in poor taste and its timing was insensitive, coming so soon after Mr Lee's death.

But DPP Hay argued that the image - a gratuitous depiction of sexual activity - was used as nothing more than a joke to make fun of others. And measured against the "acceptable boundaries of public morality", the sexual act that was depicted - when not for scientific, educational or medical purposes - had the tendency to corrupt or deprave viewers.

As for the video that was posted on March 27, defence lawyer Chong Jia Hao pointed out that no Christian leader has stepped forward to complain. Instead, he highlighted how police reports lodged against Yee focused on the hurt caused by the way he had criticised Mr Lee.

The lawyer also argued that "Section 298 (of the Penal Code) is not a blasphemy law", and that it has to allow for legitimate and even robust criticism of religion.

But DPP Hay argued that Yee's comments went far beyond fair discussion. He "was offering, under the guise of critical discussion, intentional insults (against Christianity)... exacerbated by a mocking tone...", he said.

And he pointed out that not only has Yee refused to take down the offensive posts, but he has also clearly admitted in his police statement that they were "offensive and promoted ill-will and hostility among Singaporeans".

Yesterday, however, Yee's lawyer Alfred Dodwell requested that an earlier statement that his client gave to the police be tendered as evidence - one that would "vindicate" the teenager.

This led to both sides exchanging barbs.

DPP Hay objected, saying he was "bamboozled" by the request since Mr Dodwell had enough opportunity to submit the evidence earlier.

When District Judge Jasvender Kaur allowed the submission,

people in the public gallery clapped.

Mr Dodwell told the court that in the statement, Yee had told police "there was no deliberate intention of wounding religious feelings".

Instead, his intention was to "provide a unique analogy to Mr Lee Kuan Yew based on his substantive knowledge of Jesus Christ".

After the trial, Yee was taken back to Changi Prison, where he is being remanded.



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Man in TRS case allowed to visit sick dad in Australia

Straits Times
05 May 2015
Elena Chong

A MAN accused of publishing seditious articles on socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) was given permission to leave the country yesterday to visit his father, who had a stroke last Friday.

Yang Kaiheng, a 26-year-old Singaporean out on $60,000 bail, will have to return from Australia by May 17, a day before his next court appearance.

Before departing, he has to provide a full itinerary and his overseas address and contact number, and remain contactable by the investigation officer. His mother is with his 55-year-old father, who is in intensive care in Brisbane.

The prosecution had initially objected to Yang's application to leave Singapore, but withdrew its objections when Yang's counsel said his Australian fiancee, Ai Takagi, 22, who faces the same charges, could provide information demanded by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

The MDA on Sunday suspended the editors' licence and ordered the website shut with immediate effect.

It said TRS had published material that was objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony.

Noting that while at least two out of TRS' three known editors were foreigners, the authority said the site sought to incite anti- foreigner sentiments in Singapore, and to make profit at the expense of Singapore's public interest and national harmony.

Yang's lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, who made the urgent application last Saturday, told District Judge Eddy Tham yesterday that the issue of complying with the MDA's request should not be a reason to hold his client back.

"My client, Mr Yang, is not an editor of the website. That has been his position since the start of investigations," he said.

He told the court that as of Sunday afternoon, Australian doctors had said Yang's father could die in the next two to three days.

In his objection, Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan listed the high risk factors, including the fact that Yang is a permanent resident in Australia, owns a property and intends to get a job there.

He said Yang had not cooperated in the investigation, and with MDA now involved, it has only increased his flight risk. But he also expressed sympathy over Yang's circumstances and said if there was some demonstration of good faith of compliance on Yang's part, the prosecution was prepared not to object to him leaving Singapore, given a suitable bail quantum and other bail conditions.

Judge Tham increased his bail by $40,000, and said it was clear the application was not motivated by a desire to avoid justice in Singapore, but by an unfortunate family calamity. He noted that the prosecution had verified the medical condition of Yang's father.

Yang has to provide his lawyer with a medical report every three days, starting today.

Upon his return, he has to surrender his passport to the investigation officer.

Meanwhile, Takagi, who was in court, has to comply with directions to produce documents and information by tomorrow.

Yang and Takagi allegedly published seven seditious articles on the TRS' website and Facebook page between October 2013 and February this year that would promote feelings of ill will and hostility in Singapore.

If convicted, they could be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to three years on each charge.



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


The MDA on Sunday suspended the editors' licence and ordered the website shut with immediate effect. It said TRS had published material that was objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony.

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Amos Yee does an about-turn over apology

Straits Times
17 May 2015
Olivia Ho

A day after saying he was "extremely remorseful" for the false claim that his former bailor Vincent Law had molested him and that he would offer a "detailed" public apology, teenage blogger Amos Yee has again admitted to lying.

At 1.30am yesterday, he posted on his Facebook page a link to a new post on his blog, which began: "I should issue a sincere apology to Vincent Law? Hahahahaha." He also said the 51-year-old youth counsellor threatened to discharge himself nine times.

In his post, Yee also described several instances in which he said he was unreasonably treated by Mr Law. These included insisting on meeting him every day, and not allowing him to take photographs with other people.

When asked about Yee's latest about-turn, Mr Law told The Sunday Times: "I think it's best to leave Amos alone and not write about him." He added that he was not considering legal action.

In another post on his Facebook page later yesterday, Yee continued to insult Mr Law. He wrote that if his former bailor were to take legal action, he would sue for "emotional abuse of a child".

His posts attracted hundreds of comments yesterday, with many netizens criticising his behaviour. Some said he was like "the boy who cried wolf" while others said he had lost his credibility, and was simply looking for attention.

Last Friday, after Mr Law demanded an "unreserved apology" from Yee for having claimed he molested him, the teenager, writing on his Facebook page, said: "I am extremely remorseful for the turmoil that I have caused to Vincent and his family..." Mr Law had initially posted bail of $20,000 for him last month, stepping up after his parents refused to do so.

The teenager was found guilty on May 12 of uploading an obscene image and making remarks intending to hurt the feelings of Christians, after a two-day trial. That day, the court reduced the bail sum to $10,000, with no conditions attached. Bail was posted by his parents. Yee will be sentenced on June 2, pending the outcome of a probation report.

Olivia Ho

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Xtron loan repayment never factored in: DPP

Straits Times
09 May 2015
Danson Cheong

CITY HARVEST Church (CHC) loaned $13 million to Xtron over two years - but repayment of the loan was never formally documented in the company's cash flows.

Former CHC finance manager Serina Wee, 38, conceded this in court yesterday, during her 10th day on the stand in the long-running trial.

Xtron was the company that managed the music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun, a pop singer and the wife of founding CHC pastor Kong Hee, 50.

Wee and Kong are among six church leaders accused of misusing church money to bankroll Ms Ho's secular music career.

They are charged with channelling $50 million from the church building fund into sham bond investments and covering up the misuse.

These investments included the $13 million Xtron bonds, entered into by CHC in August 2007 and which were due for payment two years later.

Xtron had intended to use the money to pay for the production of Ms Ho's United States album and then repay the debt with album proceeds.

But the prosecution highlighted Xtron's cash-flow spreadsheets and noted that repayment of the "substantial amount" was never factored in.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong asked Wee, who was responsible for the company's accounts, why this was so. "If you say it was important to repay the bonds upon maturity because Xtron has real obligations... why is it not keyed into your cash flow?"

Wee, who was calm and composed despite the grilling, said the debt was "just administratively" not keyed in.

Later, she told the court that church leaders had "informally assessed" the bond liabilities, but these were never put into a "formal spreadsheet".

DPP Ong said this showed that the church leaders were not concerned about repayment and were content with "kicking the can of the debt down the road".

He noted that no proper analysis had been done to find out whether the bonds could be repaid based on album sales estimates. "I put it to you that this lack of concern was because you knew the bonds you and (the co-accused) had created were just a sham."

Wee disagreed, saying she had mentioned in e-mail messages that church leaders had to find a way for Xtron to redeem the bonds.

The trial continues into its 130th day next Monday.


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Yee's trial date set; verdict could be out on Friday

Straits Times
05 May 2015
Amir Hussain

THROUGH a video-link from Changi Prison, Amos Yee was told yesterday that he could find out the verdict in his court case as early as Friday.

The 16-year-old's two-day trial is scheduled to begin on Thursday morning, with the prosecution proceeding on two of three charges he faces.

One pertains to allegedly uploading content online that contained remarks against Christianity, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of Christians.

The second charge is for purportedly transmitting electronically an image showing obscene figures.

A third charge, stood down for now, relates to the Protection from Harassment Act. It accuses him of making an online video containing offensive remarks about founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The prosecution will assess whether to bring this charge at a later date.

Yee's parents were not in court yesterday afternoon for his pre-trial conference, held in the judge's chambers, and only one of the three lawyers representing Yee pro bono, Mr Ervin Tan, attended the closed-door hearing.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom later, Mr Tan said it was a "tight timeline" to prepare for a two-day trial.

"We do not wish to see him spend more time in remand than is necessary," he added.

Yee was charged in court on March 31. He was first remanded on April 17 after his parents decided against posting bail.

Four days later, he was bailed out by family and youth counsellor Vincent Law, who was hoping that the teen would be willing to be counselled.

But Yee was sent back to remand last Thursday after Mr Law discharged himself. He told The Straits Times he was forced to do this because Yee breached his bail conditions by posting on his blog and Facebook page.

Last Wednesday, he wrote two blog posts titled "The Ridiculous Terms of my Bail" and "My Abusive Father". He shared them on Facebook the next day.

At his pre-trial conference that Thursday afternoon, District Judge Kessler Soh asked Yee to take down his latest posts, but he refused. The judge raised bail from $20,000 to $30,000, with the same conditions. At the hearing, the prosecution also proposed that his trial be expedited.

If convicted of making remarks with the deliberate intention of wounding the feelings of Christians, Yee faces up to three years jail or a fine, or both.

If convicted of electronically transmitting an image showing obscene figures, he could face up to three months' jail or a fine, or both.


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Mindef patent case: Dr Ting Choon Meng and TOC website 'made false claims'

Straits Times
16 May 2015
Elena Chong

Doctor who lost patent case, TOC failed to publish correction: Judge

HE HAD lost his patent case against the Ministry of Defence (Mindef). But that did not stop Dr Ting Choon Meng from airing his grievances to sociopolitical blog The Online Citizen (TOC).

Yesterday, both he and five people running the website were found to have made false statements in a 27-minute video interview and an article that was published on the TOC website in January.

District Judge Bala Reddy ordered that as long as the video interview is published, it must include a prominent notification - at the start and at the end of the video, and lasting at least 30 seconds each - that certain statements made by Dr Ting have since been declared by the courts to be false.

A similar requirement applies to the article, which was the remedy sought by the Attorney- General's Chambers, representing Mindef, under the new Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).

But the saga is not over. Dr Ting and TOC are appealing, with their lawyers arguing that the Act was never meant to cover such cases involving the Government.

Dr Ting's lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, said: "This is a judgment that stretches the reach of the harassment Act beyond what it was clearly intended to cover."

Dr Ting, the co-founder of medical devices firm MobileStats Technologies, claimed that Mindef had copied his patented concept for an emergency mobile clinic after speaking to him about it at a trade fair in 2005.

The vehicle is essentially a truck that opens up to become a resuscitation area with surgical equipment and emergency life-saving devices.

Dr Ting's firm decided to sue Mindef instead of Syntech Engineers, which manufactured and supplied the vehicles. He said he was forced to drop the case last January, claiming that the legal costs were too high.

A court then declared Dr Ting's patent invalid and revoked it.

He went to TOC to complain, among other things, about how Mindef had not just copied his patent, but also tried to financially wear him down by dragging out the case in court.

Judge Reddy yesterday called Dr Ting "a disgruntled man who is unable to come to terms with the fact that his Singapore patent is invalid". He pointed out that although Dr Ting had known from the start that the vehicle was manufactured by Syntech Engineers, he had deliberately ignored the facts at every turn and referred to Mindef as the party that infringed his patent.

Not only were his statements clearly "unsubstantiated and false", but he and TOC also failed to publish a correction. Dr Ting even went on to repeat his false statements in his affidavit to the court.

"Such aspersions on the integrity of Mindef and our public institutions, if left unchecked, will severely undermine public confidence," said the judge.

He also highlighted how Dr Ting's statements on social media that Mindef had connived to deliberately infringe his patent - despite the court ruling that there was never a valid patent in the first place - show that he had mounted a "collateral attack" on the court's final judgment.

The judge also ruled that the Government has the legal right to apply for an order under POHA.

The Act, which came into force last November, is meant to "protect persons against harassment and unlawful stalking".

The lawyers for Dr Ting and TOC argued that the word "person" does not include the Government. But the judge said that if the intention was for the word to mean only natural persons, it would lead to a situation where companies, for instance, will not be able to avail themselves of the remedies provided by the Act.

He also pointed out Section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act, which allows the Government to seek legal recourse as long as the claim, if it arose between private persons, provided a cause of action.

TOC's five respondents were Mr Lee Kwai Hou, who wrote the article "Inventor forced by Mindef to close company over patent rights"; executive editor Xu Yuen Chen; editor Loh Hong Puey; managing editor Choo Zheng Xi; and finance executive Lee Song Kwang.


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Help for SMEs on personal data protection

Business Times
09 May 2015
Amit Roy Choudhury


THE government on Friday announced measures to help companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), understand the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which has been in force since July 2, 2014.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim announced at a personal data protection seminar that the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), the watchdog body for data protection in Singapore, will collaborate with the Law Society to establish a legal advice scheme to help SMEs on matters related to personal data protection.

From June 1, the scheme will provide SMEs with basic legal advice on compliance with the PDPA at a preferential fixed charge of S$500. During the one-hour consultation, a lawyer assigned by the Law Society will review a PDPA checklist (completed prior to the consultation) with the SME. The lawyer will make an initial assessment on whether the SME has complied with the PDPA provisions and will advise on possible next steps such as the need for additional legal services or consultation.

Dr Yaacob also announced that the PDPC and the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) have released two guides. The first provides organisations with a series of steps on how to protect personal data in electronic form while the second is a guide on managing and responding to data breaches. Both guides are available on the PDPC's website and have been written in a simple manner that is easy to understand.

Also from June 1, the PDPC will double the credits for free checking of the Do Not Call (DNC) registry from the current 500 to 1,000. With the new measure PDPC expects that more than 80 per cent of the organisations checking numbers with the DNC registry will not need to pay.

A PDPC spokesman noted that in a consumer survey conducted by the PDPC this year, about nine in 10 consumers who have signed up for the DNC Registry experienced a drop in the number of telemarketing messages received over the past year.

More organisations have been registering accounts on the DNC registry to check their telemarketing numbers, in order to comply with the DNC provisions. The average monthly number of new organisation accounts registered in the past six months (November 2014 to April 2015) has been about 90 organisation accounts per month.

There have been about 440 data protection-related complaints received by PDPC since the PDPA took effect 10 months ago. About 230 complaints have been successfully facilitated or found not to require further action. Another 70 are still undergoing facilitation. About 140 complaints are under investigation of which less than 10 complaints relate to unauthorised data disclosure.

PDPC recently conducted two surveys with organisations and consumers, and the findings showed that organisations were aware of the need to comply with the PDPA. More than 80 per cent of organisations had some measures in place to comply with the PDPA. The survey also showed that more than 80 per cent of organisations believed that the PDPA would help strengthen Singapore's position as a trusted hub and choice location for data hosting and management activities.

Among individuals, more than 80 per cent agreed that with the Act, consumers had better control over their personal data. Close to 80 per cent of consumers felt that the Act was effective as more organisations had been seeking consent when collecting personal data.

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Hearing on independent accountants for AHPETC starts today

Straits Times
04 May 2015
Rachel Au-Yong

A HIGH Court hearing will start today to decide whether to appoint independent accountants to oversee government grants given to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

The Ministry of National Development (MND) had applied to the court on March 20 to appoint the accountants, after a special audit by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) found accounting and governance lapses at the Workers' Party (WP)-run town council.

The hearing had been scheduled as a closed-door session, but the court decided to grant AHPETC's request to allow the case to be heard in open court. The decision was made known to AHPETC lawyers last Thursday.

The case will be heard by Justice Quentin Loh. AHPETC and WP chairman Sylvia Lim is expected to represent the town council.

Ahead of the hearing, Ms Lim said in a statement last Saturday that the town council had hired an external accounting firm to help it clean up its past accounts and strengthen its internal controls.

AHPETC engaged the accounting firm on March 3, about a month after the AGO's audit findings were released and two weeks after Parliament held a special debate over the lapses at the only opposition-run town council here.

If the court agrees to appoint the independent accountants, the MND will release about $14 million in grants to AHPETC. These grants are disbursed to all town councils but the ministry has withheld them from AHPETC for a year now owing to governance and compliance lapses.

The MND also wants the independent accountants to examine past AHPETC payments and take appropriate action to recover any losses suffered by the town council and its residents.

Ms Lim had previously told reporters that having independent auditors would "derail" AHPETC's work, as the town council would have to deal with several sets of auditors.

She could not be reached for comments yesterday.

In her statement last Saturday, Ms Lim reassured residents that the town council is "working hard" to file its FY2013/14 accounts by June 30 and its FY2014/15 accounts by Aug 31 - deadlines set earlier by the MND.

AHPETC will also soon send letters to its residents providing details of key points from the AGO report and parliamentary debate, as well as "clarifying some misconceptions that have been circulated", she said.


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Trivelis developer may extend warranties

Straits Times
16 May 2015
Lim Yi Han

Financial compensation for 'premium' flats: 'Strong justification' needed

THE developer of a troubled "premium" housing project has said financial compensation for residents is possible only if there is "strong justification".

But EL Development (ELD) continues to maintain that Trivelis - a Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) project in Clementi - was built "according to specifications and approved plans".

Meanwhile, it is considering extending the one-year warranty on all furnishings and fittings and offering free safety films for glass shower panels as part of a "goodwill package" for residents.

Trivelis - an 888-unit project - was advertised as containing "choice fittings" and "quality floor finishes".

But when owners began collecting their keys in January, some discovered problems such as rusty dish racks, poor quality laminate flooring and glass shower panels that shatter easily.

An ELD spokesman told The Straits Times it is looking to help affected owners and working with the Trivelis residents' committee.

"We will look into the residents' requests and issues and offer what we can, within reasonable boundaries," he said. "Right now, we have not concluded the discussions so there's no concrete plan on what we will offer in terms of the goodwill package. As for defects, we want to assure residents we will rectify them."

He added that the company's response would be on a case- by-case basis and "not a one-size-fits-all treatment".

However, the response did not wash with all residents.

Public relations manager Eliza Soh, 31, said: "We are not here to haggle for freebies. What we want are long-term solutions to the bigger problems that are going to affect our lifestyle.

"To the developer, Trivelis is just another product but to residents Trivelis is our home."

Mr Stephen Yip, a 34-year-old civil servant, bought a three-room flat and has faced problems such as rainwater seeping into his unit and a faulty tap and window latch.

He said it is fair for the developer to extend the warranty of the furnishings and fittings, adding: "I didn't do any renovation in my kitchen and the items don't seem to be of high quality so I'm not sure how long they can last."

Project manager Andy Tan, 33, said: "It really depends on what are the things they are offering. I still prefer cash over freebies."

ELD said it has already cleared drains after rainwater collected in corridors and it will continue to monitor the situation.

It is understood that the authorities do not regulate interior renovation or quality of the furnishings.

According to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), after construction, the authorities will perform checks on things such as fire safety, sanitation and drainage and accessibility features. A BCA spokesman said "matters such as defects and workmanship quality" are between the developer and buyer.

While the Housing Board oversees DBSS projects, the projects are designed, built and sold by private developers who are responsible for any defects. The DBSS scheme was suspended in 2011 after a public outcry over high indicative price tags for units at Centrale 8 in Tampines.

Earlier that year, ELD had beaten 10 other bidders for the Trivelis site, offering $224 million or $271 per square foot per plot ratio.

Trivelis is the first public housing project taken on by ELD, a "boutique" developer with 20 staff members. Its other projects include condominiums such as Rosewood Suites in Woodlands and Stevens Suites near Bukit Timah.

A spokesman for the Trivelis residents' committee said: "We certainly hope for the developer to consider offering a goodwill package soon. The details of the package are for ELD to consider... We hope that the offer made to residents will be acceptable."

More than 200 residents on Thursday met their MP Sim Ann, who called a goodwill package a "move in the right direction". ELD did not attend the meeting.


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Renowned UK judge joins S'pore Bench

Straits Times
08 May 2015
K. C. Vijayan

WHILE the appointment of Sir Henry Bernard Eder as a judge here is seen as Singapore's gain, a London source says his departure from the British Bench is a loss.

Sir Bernard retired from the British judiciary last month at 62, when he could have been promoted to the Appeals Court and remained there until 2022, said a commentary in Britain's Law Society Gazette.

He was appointed an International Judge of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) and was sworn in by President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday.

He is recognised for his expertise in commercial disputes, civil claims and international arbitration in commercial areas, such as banking, shipping and insurance.

He joins Sir Vivian Ramsey, who once headed London's technology and construction court, and former British Court of Appeal judge, Sir Bernard Rix.

Gazette columnist Joshua Rozenberg wrote: "There is no disguising that (Eder) is retiring early." He said Sir Bernard joined the Bench from a prestigious commercial firm and was used to working long hours on the most intellectually demanding cases.

The SICC is geared to hear cross-border disputes. Along with the arbitration sector, it is part of Singapore's plan to be Asia's dispute resolution hub and to grow the legal services industry. Said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in January at the SICC's launch: "To realise these aims, we must have a world-class Bench with impressive expertise in commercial law."

Commercial litigation partner Jason Woodland, at the London-based law firm Peters & Peters, told The Straits Times: "Mr Justice Eder was a highly respected Commercial Court judge, who dealt with some very complex litigation. His move to the SICC highlights the increasing competition for high-calibre judges from jurisdictions like Singapore."

Mr Woodland added that London has to take steps to retain its leading position by ensuring it can attract and retain members of the High Court judiciary, in whom litigants from around the world have confidence.


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MDA’s move reflects light touch towards content regulation: Analysts

04 May 2015
Valerie Koh

The Media Development Authority’s (MDA) decision to act against The Real Singapore reflects the light touch it has pledged towards content regulation, said media observers and academics TODAY spoke to.

Until the “extreme” case of The Real Singapore came along, the authorities had previously not moved to shut down a website using the Broadcasting Act, which the Internet Code of Practice comes under, they noted.

Professor Ang Peng Hwa of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University, said the MDA move helped shed some light on how the Internet Code of Practice, which took effect in 1997, can be used.

“The implementation at this stage … is light-handed and used in a fairly extreme case. It’s not just any case that comes along, but one that has public sentiment against it and a court case,” said Prof Ang, noting that there was a petition to shut down the website a year ago.

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said: “This is the first time that MDA has resorted to suspension, but when you put it against the backdrop of TRS’ alleged egregious conduct, it becomes more of a question of when (to suspend), rather than whether.”

The editors of the The Real Singapore appeared to have been testing the limits of the media regulator, said Associate Professor Tan, adding that the MDA has demonstrated their resolve to tackle recalcitrant sites and deter potential copycats.

He also said: “We must be mindful of the rapid and widespread reach that social media sites have. Ultimately, it’s Singaporeans who bear the consequences of their falsehoods.”

Political observer and former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Zulkifli Baharudin felt that rules guiding traditional media should apply to new media as well. “People think because they’re from the Internet, we should not be too harsh to them, and we should expect a certain level of inaccuracies. I don’t buy that,” he said. “Whether you’re a website or not, you have the responsibility — like any other media — to present honest, factual reporting of events.”

However, Assoc Prof Tan pointed out that similar sites could easily be set up outside the MDA’s jurisdiction. Hence, netizens must be media literate and verify online content before spreading it, he said. Commenting on the possibility of copycat sites, former NMP Calvin Cheng said anonymity on the Internet is not a guarantee.

“At the end of the day, nobody is truly anonymous on the Internet. If they break severe enough laws, wherever they are they can be hunted down and international arrest warrants issued,” said Mr Cheng, a member of the Media Literacy Council.

Socio-political websites that operate within Singapore’s laws and social norms have nothing to fear, he added.

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UN law could resolve US-China sea contest

Straits Times
16 May 2015
Mark J. Valencia

AS US Secretary of State John Kerry was winging his way to Beijing to prepare for the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue next month, the United States and China seemed to be on the verge of a political and possibly military showdown in the South China Sea. How and why did the situation get this bad and what if anything can be done to avoid a confrontation?

Ever since the US announced and began to implement its political and military "rebalance" to Asia, China has viewed it as a way and means to constrain if not contain its rightful rise and influence in Asia. Thus, it is no surprise nor accident that the two have now come face to face over what may seem like a small issue.

But why is this happening in the South China Sea? Over the last year or so, China has conducted reclamation work at seven sites in the Spratlys and is constructing an airstrip that can be used by its military. Constant squawking by US ally the Philippines has drawn world attention to it and the extreme dire possibilities. To some degree, the Philippines has prodded the US into taking a more robust position than it might have. But it is also an "opportunity" for the US to show its resolve. The US fears that this reclamation and its militarisation will advance China's capability to control the area and deny access to others, including itself. It also thinks this may be a prelude to a Chinese declaration of an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in the area similar to China's declaration for the East China Sea in 2013. So the US has decided to signal to China and the world that China's recent activities have gone "too far".

It has been announced or "leaked" that the US is considering challenging China's claims and actions with military vessels and aircraft. This raises the more fundamental issue of what is "too far" and who has the right to decide what the rules are or should be. This is all occurring in the context of a supposed "new relationship" between a rising power and the lone superpower. According to the US, the issue is "freedom of navigation" and China's aggressive and "bullying" tactics in enforcing its claims in the area. But strictly speaking, China has done little or nothing to interfere with freedom of navigation or overflight in the Spratlys. US and others' concerns are all maybes and might-bes.

Nevertheless, the US believes that it must physically contest China's claims and policies lest they become "customary international law" through "state practice". The US maintains that if a state persistently objects to a new norm as it is being developed, it cannot be bound by it. This is the raison d'etre of its Freedom of Navigation Programme, through which it physically contests maritime policies and practices of many other states with warships and military aircraft. Ironically, the US maintains, in the words of Mr Daniel K. Russel, Assistant Secretary of State, that it "opposes the threat of force or use of force or coercion by any claimant". But isn't such "gunboat" diplomacy also a threat of use of force? Moreover, China has not yet declared such an ADIZ and it is not even clear what jurisdiction it claims from the features it is "reclaiming". More awkward, the US has not ratified the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), which it claims to be enforcing.

China insists that it has sovereignty over the features in question and that it has the right to do as it pleases on and with its own territory. Also, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying has declared that "freedom of navigation does not give one country's military aircraft and ships free access to another country's territorial waters and airspace". She added that "we demand the relevant side talks and acts cautiously and does not take any actions that are risky or provocative, to maintain regional peace and stability". As for the news of the possibility that the US would physically challenge China in the area, she said: "The Chinese side will take resolute measures to safeguard national sovereignty and safety, we will keep an eye on the situation in relevant waters and airspace, and respond to any violation of China's sovereignty and threat to China's national security."

A more peaceful and civil option would be for the US to ratify Unclos and then use its dispute-settlement mechanisms. The US may also take the issue before the UN Security Council and have it assess the problem and recommend what to do about it. This approach would be preferable to the "might makes right" principle and the precedent it sets.

Besides the obvious dangers of this approach, this option is also fraught with legal and political difficulties.

Apparently the US wants to "test" China's claims to some features as islands.

But even if they are - or were before - reclamation-only rocks, they are still entitled to generate a 12-nautical-mile (nm) territorial sea. The only features that China occupies that are - or were - neither legal rocks nor islands are Hughes, Mischief and Subi reefs, which do not stand above high water. The US challenge would presumably focus on these features and their supposed territorial seas.

Other features that China occupies and on which it is undertaking reclamation work - Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reefs and Johnson South Reef - do generate a 12nm territorial sea. This means that aircraft have no right of overflight without permission and warships must comply with the innocent passage regime. For example, submarines must surface and show their flag. These complexities could cause many a misunderstanding.

Moreover, China requires prior permission for innocent passage of foreign military vessels to enter its territorial seas - as do Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Iran and, more relevant, other claimants Taiwan and Vietnam. This means that a US warship presence in China's claimed territorial sea would be challenging not only China's sovereignty claim but also its territorial sea regime. This would make the US action particularly provocative.

This confrontation could be avoided by dialogue and face-saving compromise. China could clarify its claims in the South China Sea - at least privately - in a manner that doesn't undermine Unclos or the current international order. And the US could - perhaps also privately - cease conflating freedom of navigation with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities. These would be big concessions for nationalists on both sides and, thus, are unlikely. But anything less is papering over fundamental differences and simply postponing the inevitable.

If a showdown, political or otherwise, is not avoided the hope for a "new relationship" between an emerging power and the status quo power will look a lot more like the past than the future.


The writer is Adjunct Senior Scholar, National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, China

Background Story

The US is considering challenging China's claims and actions with military vessels and aircraft. This raises the more fundamental issue of what is "too far" and who has the right to decide what the rules are or should be.

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Ex-AXA director loses defamation suit

Straits Times
08 May 2015
Grace Leong

A FORMER senior financial services director, who claimed the references AXA Life Insurance gave him left him "unemployable" in the industry, has lost a multimillion-dollar defamation suit.

Mr Ramesh Krishnan, 44, had accused AXA of defaming him when providing references on his work performance. He also demanded $22.5 million for alleged loss of earnings and damage to his reputation before filing the suit.

He said the references cost him potential remuneration from two prospective employers - a $2.2 million package with Prudential and a $20,000 sign-on fee with Tokio Marine.

Mr Ramesh, who managed a group of agents that sold AXA products, said the insurer provided the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) with information on his low group persistency ratios - this refers to how long the policies were still in force after a given period - and high lapse rates. This refers to policies that terminate because policyholders stop paying premiums.

It also provided information on the conduct of 14 agents under his supervision, five of whom had been disciplined for improper sales practices and unprofessional conduct. Three other agents were referred to the police.

AXA had complied with an industry reference check system on financial advisers when it told the two companies of the "persistency" of policies sold by financial advisers under Mr Ramesh's agency.

Mr Ramesh said AXA conveyed a much lower persistency rate, one that would lead an ordinary person to infer that he had been incompetent.

But High Court Judicial Commissioner George Wei found that an ordinary person is unlikely to know what is considered a low persistency ratio as "comprehension of the figures... will require a certain degree of special background knowledge".

The judge's 106-page ruling released yesterday also noted that AXA did not breach the duty to take reasonable care in responding to Prudential, Tokio Marine and MAS, because the accuracy of AXA's calculations of the persistency ratios was "supported by evidence and remains largely unchallenged" by Mr Ramesh.

Further, the judge found that AXA did not cause Mr Ramesh to be rejected by Prudential because it had, even after getting AXA's references, applied and managed to get a conditional licence on his behalf from the MAS.

But Prudential decided against hiring him. Similarly, Tokio Marine took into account many factors in deciding not to hire Mr Ramesh, of which AXA's references were only one, the judge found.


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Socio-political site shut down on MDA's orders

Straits Times
04 May 2015
Rachel Au-Yong

SOCIO-POLITICAL website The Real Singapore (TRS) was shut down by its editors yesterday, after the Media Development Authority (MDA) suspended their licence to operate the site and ordered them to take it offline.

Explaining this unprecedented step, the MDA said yesterday that TRS had published material that is "objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony".

Noting that at least two out of TRS' three known editors are foreigners, the agency added that the site "sought to incite anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore" and to "make profit at the expense of Singapore's public interest and national harmony".

The move comes a month after two of the editors behind TRS - Singaporean student Yang Kaiheng, 26, and his Australian girlfriend Ai Takagi, 22 - were charged with sedition for publishing articles that allegedly promoted ill will and hostility between different races or classes here.

A third editor, Melanie Tan, who is believed to be Malaysian, was not included in the charges.

At a media briefing yesterday, MDA said TRS "deliberately fabricated articles and falsely attributed them to innocent parties", in what the agency believes was an attempt to raise the site's traffic - and thus its advertising dollars.

It also noted that TRS inserted falsehoods in articles so as to make them more inflammatory.

Previous police investigations found that TRS articles targeted Filipinos and Chinese and Indian nationals, among others.

Assistant Professor Liew Kai Khiun, who teaches communications at the Nanyang Technological University, said MDA's unusual move should serve as a warning about "how vulnerable Singapore can be to external forces through the porous cyberspace".

"It must have been alarming for the authorities and Singaporeans to discover the extent of foreign involvement in a website that has been accused of amplifying social tensions in Singapore," he told The Straits Times.

Yesterday, MDA ordered Yang and Takagi not to post any new articles with immediate effect, and to take down the TRS website and all its online channels - including its social media pages - by 8pm. They did so an hour before the deadline.

If they had not done so, they could have been subject to a maximum fine of $200,000 and/or jailed for up to three years.

MDA also instructed Yang and Takagi not to resume online operations under any other name.

They have been given until May 11 to provide information on TRS' operations, such as its finances, and to submit arguments as to why their licence to operate the site should not be cancelled.

Failure to provide the information could result in a fine of as much as $5,000 each and/or jail time of up to a year.

If their licence is cancelled, Yang and Takagi will not be allowed to operate the website permanently. MDA will also be able to take other actions, including blocking access to the site.

But they can appeal against the suspension and potential cancellation of the licence by writing to Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim.

Even as the site was taken down last night, several links were circulated online of what appeared to be clones of the site. An MDA spokesman said the agency is looking into the matter.

Former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng, who has campaigned for TRS to be shut down, said MDA's move is not an affront to freedom of speech.

"This is not how freedom of speech is practised in Singapore, nor is it the type that most Singaporeans value," he said.


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AHPETC needs govt grants and hopes to get the $7.1m soon: Sylvia Lim

Straits Times
15 May 2015
Lim Yan Liang

THE town council run by the Workers' Party (WP) needs the government grants that have been withheld from it and hopes to receive the $7.1 million soon.

The grants are needed for the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) to meet its operating expenses and to make transfers to its sinking fund, WP and AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim said yesterday.

She also explained why AHPETC did not accept an offer of half the grants, with conditions attached, from the National Development Ministry (MND) last year.

MND had withheld the grants during a year-long special audit of AHPETC's accounts by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO), which ended in February. It continued doing so after the audit unearthed accounting and governance lapses at AHPETC.

The ministry said it would disburse the grants if the High Court appoints independent accountants to oversee the use of the money by AHPETC. The court decision is pending.

Yesterday, Ms Lim said that by the time the ministry made its half-grant offer last October, AHPETC believed the completion of the AGO's audit was "imminent", and that the entire grant might be disbursed after that.

That was why AHPETC did not accept the offer, she explained, responding to a statement the ministry had issued on Tuesday.

The ministry, in disputing online reports that it was withholding the grants for no good reason, had revealed that it made the half-grant offer. But AHPETC rejected it, despite having earlier asked for the grants to meet its cash flow needs and sinking fund obligations, MND added.

Yesterday, Ms Lim said AHPETC had been deferring its sinking fund transfers in order to pay its routine expenses and "ensure continuity of operations".

It made the quarterly transfers when it could, but its priority was to ensure it had enough cash for daily operations, she said.

She also said AHPETC had earmarked all the withheld grants for its sinking fund payments for the financial year 2014/2015.

"News reports have generated concern about AHPETC's ability to continue to operate. AHPETC hopes to receive the operating grants soon. In the meantime, AHPETC will continue to prioritise its operations to avoid disruption of services to residents," she said.


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Wee 'engineered ways to help fund Sun Ho's career'

Straits Times
08 May 2015
Danson Cheong

SERINA Wee helped City Harvest Church (CHC) pastor Kong Hee engineer ways to finance the career of his pop singer wife Ho Yeow Sun, the prosecution said in court yesterday.

It said that together with other church leaders, the former CHC finance manager devised three different schemes to channel money from CHC's building fund to Ms Ho's management company Xtron.

They finally settled on the third, which was buying $13 million in Xtron bonds in August 2007 - money that would pay for Ms Ho's United States album, the costs of which had increased significantly.

Wee, 38, is part of a group of six church leaders accused of misusing church money to bankroll Ms Ho's secular music career.

They are charged with channelling $50 million from the church building fund into sham bond investments and covering up the misuse.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong took the court through a series of e-mail that showed church leaders had considered offering Xtron a direct loan of $2.5 million, and using the building fund to place a fixed deposit with Citic Ka Wah bank to facilitate an Xtron bank loan.

When those plans fell through, the group came up with the Xtron bonds to address the company's "serious cash flow problems", Mr Ong said.

"At some point, it was determined that going into these bonds was the best or, perhaps, the only option available to finance the expenses of Sun Ho's music career," said Mr Ong.

"You played a part in that because you were the one who did the cash flows and figured out that it would meet the needs of the expenses. Correct?"

Wee, on her ninth day on the stand, agreed but said she did not know if the bonds were the "only option available" to finance Xtron.

Several times yesterday, Mr Ong also accused Wee of lying on the stand. In one instance, Mr Ong highlighted a 2007 e-mail that Wee sent to the church board and finance committee, seeking their approval to plough $9 million in church money into fixed deposits with Citic Ka Wah bank.

He said they were not told the full reason behind the proposal - which was to build a relationship with the Hong Kong bank so Xtron could obtain a bank loan.

"I put it to you that you are lying when you say the board was told the full rationale for the Citic Ka Wah fixed deposits," said Mr Ong.

Wee, who was calm and composed throughout, disagreed. She said even though the church board was not told explicitly, it had known since December 2006 that Xtron was raising funds for Ms Ho's album project.

In that context, the board was "aware", she said.

The trial continues into its 129th day today.


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Judicial integrity and potential pitfalls

Straits Times
03 May 2015
K. C. Vijayan

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon shares his views on the importance of judicial integrity in a new book out this month.

The real threats lie not in the obvious, like corruption, but in how a judge works day to day, and his attitude to ordinary tasks in his diary.

It includes the temptation for judges to make short work of small, uninteresting cases or to accept the views of their law clerks without sufficient study.

Such petty breaches mark the start of a slippery slope, he writes in the book, Core Values Of An Effective Judiciary, published by the Singapore Academy of Law.

The book is a collection of conference papers by various Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific, including China, India and New Zealand and comes at a time when there is increased international interest in promoting judicial integrity to combat judicial corruption.

In March, International Bar Association (IBA) president David W. Rivkin convened a meeting in Singapore on the association's Judicial Integrity Initiative, a flagship project to combat judicial corruption worldwide.

It was attended by judges, Bar leaders, prosecutors and civil society representatives from eight Asia-Pacific nations, including Singapore.

The IBA is the world's leading legal organisation with more than 55,000 lawyers and more than 190 law societies and Bar associations. Mr Rivkin chose Singapore for the meeting "because of its strong tradition of judicial integrity".

In his chapter, Chief Justice Menon underlines integrity as the cornerstone for judges to function effectively.

"Society accepts our judgments because they trust us and because they expect and believe that we will be incorruptible guardians of the law, ultimately that we are men and women of integrity," he says.

Obversely, lack of public trust and confidence in the judiciary's integrity will have "far-reaching consequences on our ability to properly serve our function within society".

Saying it is important that judges possess "the courage and backbone to stand up for and defend their decisions and the reasons for their decisions", he adds: "Integrity is an intuitive concept that draws together ideas of honesty, moral courage, and a proper respect for the integrity of others."

But knowing what integrity means and requires is only half the story; a judge must also consider the potential pitfalls to integrity.

Such threats are not seen just from the obvious, like taking bribes or abusing judicial power. "On the contrary, the lack of integrity is usually manifested far more inconspicuously and subtly in the mundane day-to-day routine of a judge," he writes.

He cites the example of how judges allocate time for the cases they are assigned. "Besides ourselves, there is no possibility of anyone else knowing precisely how we have looked at a particular case; this is strictly a matter of one's own conscience," he says. "There is the constant temptation to give short shrift to small and uninteresting cases which involve issues that seem to be of no consequence to anyone other than the parties."

Such an attitude is untenable, and he points out that small cases are of utmost importance to the litigants and have a legitimate claim to a fair share of judicial time and attention.

Another example could be when judges delegate tasks to law clerks and then "unthinkingly" accept their views without studying the matter closely because of the pressure of time.

Also, appeal judges might face a different kind of temptation - "to effectively cede the decision of the appeal to the member of the court most familiar with that area of law or the case".

"These are all derelictions of duty, no matter how small or inconsequential it might seem and no matter how well we might be able to rationalise what we do," he says.

"Minor as they may seem to be, these so-called petty infractions place the judge on a slippery downward slope.

"When small deviations have become the accepted norm, what is there to stop a judge from succumbing to a more significant infraction?"

Chief Justice Menon says integrity starts with understanding what it means and the moral courage it demands, and cites an anecdote from a biography of former United States president Dwight Eisenhower, involving the legendary US Chief Justice Earl Warren.

The year was 1954 and Mr Eisenhower had invited Chief Justice Warren to a White House dinner. Among the guests was the lawyer arguing a landmark case before the Supreme Court to continue segregation of blacks in the southern states of the US, Brown v Board of Education of Topeka.

The president went to considerable lengths to tell Chief Justice Warren what a great man the lawyer was. And as the guests were leaving the room after dinner, Mr Eisenhower took Chief Justice Warren by the arm and said of the white southerners who wanted segregation to continue: "These are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big overgrown Negroes."

Chief Justice Menon writes that despite the "unseemly exertion of pressure" from the executive branch of government, Chief Justice Warren and the rest of the justices all voted in a landmark judgment in favour of the plaintiff, to end racial segregation in public schools in the US, which in turn led to outlawing centuries of oppression that had rested on the colour of a person's skin.

"I think this quite neatly encapsulates what we mean when we say in common parlance that to act with integrity is to be upright and to act honourably," he says. "Having the courage and backbone to stand up for and defend their decisions and the reasons for their decisions is clearly an important judicial quality as exemplified by Chief Justice Warren."

He suggests that the landmark change, one of the landmark victories of the American civil rights movement, might not have come to pass had Chief Justice Warren succumbed to pressures and acted differently.

"Integrity, which encapsulates the quality of being able to stand up for something, becomes the ultimate guarantor of judicial independence," he says.



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


What CJ says

Integrity, the bedrock

"No matter how learned in the law, how logically impeccable or how intellectually forceful our judgments are, all of this will come to naught if the very source of these decisions, the judiciary, is perceived by the public as being untrustworthy. I suggest this is the bedrock on which we must stand. Society accepts our judgments because they trust us and because they expect and believe that we will be the incorruptible guardians of the law, ultimately that we are men and women of integrity."

When public trust fades

"The erosion of public trust and confidence in the judiciary's integrity will have far-reaching consequences on our ability to properly serve our function within society. Once this happens, our decisions will not be accepted and with that, our effectiveness as adjudicators will be destroyed."

Courage to defend views

"Integrity, which encapsulates the quality of being able to stand up for something, becomes the ultimate guarantor of judicial independence. Plainly, it does not suffice for integrity that we come to our own views about the principles and values we wish to endorse and act upon. Beyond that, it is essential that we have the courage to stand up for those views and defend them against external pressures and influences, even when the consequences of doing so might be professionally and personally risky."

Injustice must hurt

"We must be so identified with justice that it hurts us to see injustice. Such must be our intolerance for injustice. We must take every instance of injustice personally."

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Amos Yee 'extremely remorseful' to bailor Vincent Law for allegations of molest

Straits Times
15 May 2015
Chua Kee Siong

Teenage blogger Amos Yee has said that he is "extremely remorseful" for his claims that his bailor Vincent Law had molested him

SINGAPORE - Teenage blogger Amos Yee has said that he is "extremely remorseful" for his claims that his bailor Vincent Law had molested him.

In a note posted on his Facebook page at about 130am, he said he is "currently tendering a long, and detailed public apology to Vincent and his family, for my horrid actions," and that he needs three days to finish preparing it.

"I am extremely remorseful for the turmoil that I have caused to Vincent and his family, for the allegations towards him that he molested me," he said.

"I am currently tendering a long, and detailed public apology to Vincent and his family, for my horrid actions. And I implore him to give me about 3 days to finish preparing it, I am a slow writer..."

The note comes a day after Mr Law, a family and youth counsellor, demanded an "unreserved apology" from Yee after the teenage blogger claimed he had molested him.

Mr Law, 51 - who initially posted bail of $20,000 for the teenager last month - said he has told Yee's parents that he wants the 16-year-old to apologise publicly and fully retract the allegation, otherwise he would "take legal action" for defamation.

Mr Law had stepped up to bail him out after his parents refused to do so, but discharged his responsibilities after Yee breached the conditions of his bail. The condition was that Yee was not to post anything online.

In his note the teenager also invoked religion to plead his cause.

"I understand that Vincent is a Christian and preaches the tenant of forgiveness. So praise Jesus, our holy Christ, please offer me, a second chance."

The teenager was found guilty on Tuesday of uploading an obscene image and making remarks intending to hurt the feelings of Christians, after a two-day trial last week.

Yee will be sentenced on June 2, pending the outcome of a probation report.

On Tuesday, the court reduced the bail sum to $10,000, with no conditions attached.

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Sociopolitical site changes name to avoid legal woes

Straits Times
08 May 2015

THE founder of a new sociopolitical site has changed its name to avoid it being mistaken for The Straits Times.

Blogger and former political candidate Alex Tan, 27, now based in Australia, yesterday took down his Straits Times Review (STR) site and put it up at a different URL, renaming it States Times Review.

The site, which is unrelated to The Straits Times, discusses sociopolitical issues in Singapore.

The name change comes a day after media group Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) said it would explore all legal and other options against the site for using the name of its flagship newspaper, The Straits Times. SPH also lodged a trademark infringement complaint with Facebook against the STR Facebook page, calling for it to be removed.

Earlier this week, Mr Tan had said on Facebook that his website "is based in Australia and it shall comply only with Australian laws. For those who are concerned with the domain name, please re-direct The Straits Times to sue (Malaysian newspaper) New Straits Times before suing me".

Yesterday morning, he added that he had applied to register "Straits Times Review" as a trademark in Australia and that the application had cost "$120 only". He also said he had e-mailed SPH asking to resolve the issue "amicably".

But shortly after 2pm, he announced the site's name change in a Facebook post: "Hi all, I have changed the site name to States Times Review to avoid legal confrontations with The Straits Times." He also changed the name of STR Facebook's page.

An SPH spokesman said yesterday the company was aware of the name change, adding that it had asked Mr Tan to "refrain from using any (of SPH's) trademarks or brand names in the future".

SPH also told Mr Tan that the New Straits Times is using its name by agreement as "there were historical links between the papers".

A systems engineer, Mr Tan was formerly an editor of sociopolitical site Temasek Review, which was renamed TR Emeritus in 2011 after Temasek Holdings complained about the site's name.

Mr Tan, a Reform Party candidate in Ang Mo Kio GRC during the 2011 General Election, was also a co-founder of controversial website The Real Singapore (TRS), which was taken down recently. His new site was set up on April 18, days after two TRS editors were charged with sedition.

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WP town council appoints external accounting firm

Straits Times
03 May 2015
Chong Zi Liang

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) has hired an external accounting firm to help it clean up its past accounts, said its chairman Sylvia Lim in a statement yesterday.

The firm will also advise AHPETC, which is run by the Workers' Party (WP), on internal audit matters and how to strengthen its internal controls and processes, added Ms Lim, who is also WP chairman.

The move comes after a special audit by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) found accounting and governance lapses at the town council, including potential conflicts of interest arising from key AHPETC staff being co-owners of its managing agent FM Solutions and Services.

Yesterday, Ms Lim revealed that AHPETC engaged the accounting firm on March 3 - about a month after the AGO's audit findings were released, and two weeks after Parliament held a heated debate over the lapses at the only opposition-run town council.

Her statement, posted on AHPETC's website, comes as the High Court deliberates over whether to allow an application by the Ministry of National Development (MND) to appoint independent accountants to oversee government grants given to AHPETC.

Only if the court gives the nod will the ministry release about $14 million in grants to AHPETC - money disbursed to all town councils but which MND has withheld from AHPETC for a year now due to its governance and compliance lapses.

MND's application, which was made on March 20, also asks the court to look at past AHPETC payments and take appropriate action to recover any losses suffered by AHPETC and its residents.

Political observer Eugene Tan said it was puzzling that the WP waited two months to announce the appointment of the external accounting firm.

"It's baffling because the move is a positive one and would have been welcomed by residents and the MND," Prof Tan, an associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University, told The Sunday Times yesterday.

"But it's a clear attempt not to be dictated to. They want the courts to see that they recognise that accountants are needed and they can run their own show."

Media queries directed to Ms Lim about the name of the external accounting firm and the tenure of its engagement were not answered by press time yesterday.

In Ms Lim's statement yesterday, she also reassured residents that AHPETC is "working hard" to file its FY 2013/14 accounts by June 30 and its FY 2014/15 accounts by Aug 31 - deadlines that had been set earlier by the MND.

In addition, the town council will soon send letters to its residents providing details of key points from the AGO report and parliamentary debate, as well as "clarifying some misconceptions that have been circulated", she said.

"Due to the importance of the subject, we have taken some time to prepare this letter," Ms Lim said. "The past months have been challenging, but AHPETC remains undaunted," she added.

The MPs of AHPETC "are mindful of our duty to be accountable to you, the residents who have put us in office to serve", said Ms Lim.

"You have supported us, and we will do our best despite the challenges we face."


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Tourist jailed 4 weeks for slapping cop

Straits Times
15 May 2015

Finnish tourist Antti Tapio Peltomaki, 35, was jailed for four weeks for voluntarily causing hurt to a public servant in the discharge of his duty

WHEN two police officers responded to a call for assistance in March, they arrived to find a Finnish tourist lying in a back alley near Fragrance Hotel in Selegie Road in just his underwear.

The man, Antti Tapio Peltomaki (photo), had been spotted looking drunk and nearly naked in the lobby of the hotel.

The police officers managed to get him to put on a raincoat, but he removed it after a while and became agitated when they asked him some questions.

While the two policemen were trying to calm him down, Peltomaki suddenly slapped one of them, a 21-year-old national serviceman. The police officers could not calm him down, and had to arrest him.

Yesterday, the 35-year-old, who works as a sales manager with a video game magazine publisher, was jailed four weeks for voluntarily causing hurt to a public servant doing his duty.

Peltomaki pleaded guilty, and told the court he was ashamed of his actions.

In his mitigation, Peltomaki's lawyer Louis Joseph asked for a one-day term with a fine, or not more than a week in jail.

The lawyer said that as a result of the case, the Finn had to extend his stay in Singapore for two months, "at enormous financial cost and expense".

The offence was committed on the spur of the moment and there was minor injury caused, Mr Joseph added.

Peltomaki, who has a seven-month-old daughter, also offered to pay $1,000 in compensation.

This is his first brush with the law. For the offence, Peltomaki could have been jailed for seven years, fined and caned.


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No one sued yet for illegally sharing film

Straits Times
08 May 2015
Irene Tham

IT HAS been one month since a Hollywood studio sent letters to Internet users here, threatening to sue them for illegally sharing its film Dallas Buyers Club. Yet, no one has been taken to court.

A Straits Times check with the courts showed that Dallas Buyers Club, a United States-based company belonging to Hollywood studio Voltage Pictures, has not filed a writ of summons against any illegal downloaders here.

Early last month, Voltage sent 77 M1 users letters demanding a written offer of damages and costs, a move which sparked controversy online.

Another 150 letters are expected to be sent to Singtel subscribers after the telco handed over their details to Voltage Pictures' local representative, Samuel Seow Law Corporation, on Wednesday last week.

Sources told The Straits Times that the apparent lack of action could be due to recent resignations in the law firm.

The firm's lead partner on the Dallas Buyers Club case and director of litigation and dispute resolution, Mr Robert Raj Joseph, has resigned. A few trainees have also quit.

Mr Robert declined to confirm or deny that he had resigned when contacted. Mr Samuel Seow, the managing director of Samuel Seow Law, also declined to comment on other resignations.

Intellectual property (IP) lawyer Koh Chia Ling at ATMD Bird & Bird offered another possibility as to why no one has been sued.

"There would be no need to sue if Voltage had obtained satisfactory outcomes through settlements," he said.

But Mr Seow declined to reveal how many Internet users have offered to pay damages and whether their offers have been accepted.

Meanwhile, those who have received the letter of demand can seek free legal advice from the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore's (Ipos) newly launched IP Legal Clinic.

So far, no one has sought legal help from it.

In a notice issued two weeks ago, Ipos said that Internet users could question the accuracy of the investigations carried out by copyright owners if they had received a demand letter.

For instance, if an entire household was overseas at the time the infringement was alleged to have occurred, illegal downloading would not have been possible.

"This is ultimately an evidential issue," the notice said.

The notice also recommended the amount of damages users could offer, for instance, the cost of downloading or the price of a DVD of the movie in question.

Critics questioned whether lawyers were permitted to threaten criminal proceedings in the letter.

Ipos advised: "It is unlikely that these criminal provisions will apply where a person has downloaded or shared one movie via a peer-to-peer network, though this will depend on the precise facts of each individual case."


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Glut of law grads: 'Problem, what problem?'

Straits Times
02 May 2015
K.C. Vijayan

LAW Society president Thio Shen Yi has weighed in on the discussion about the oversupply of law graduates, arguing that this was not a problem but a boon for those running law firms.

"I'm probably going to make myself extremely unpopular for saying this, but from the perspective of the legal profession - problem, what problem?" he wrote in the current issue of the society's Law Gazette publication.

"We are actually quite sanguine about the situation as it has become an employer's market," he added.

This was unlike the case about 10 years ago when the four largest firms could absorb the entire local cohort of lawyers, who were then only from the National University of Singapore, he said.

His remarks come at a time when there are more law graduates than training places in law firms.

Law graduates have to undergo training at these firms, among other things, before they can become lawyers.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Law had announced that the the number of British universities whose graduates are accepted for legal practice in Singapore will be reduced from 19 to 11.

The law graduate surplus had caused much "collective angst and gnashing of teeth", and this "cocktail of insecurity" was further stirred by the delisting of some British law schools, noted Mr Thio.

He accepted that the current supply of potential lawyers was greater than demand but said it did not necessarily mean that there will be a surplus of lawyers in future.

He noted the profession took in up to 500 new lawyers annually, based on the growth of law firms as well as attrition involving those who do not renew their practising certificates.

But he pointed to several factors that may alleviate the issue of oversupply, such as a lower starting pay, which could lead to higher demand from law firms.

There could also be increased demand from smaller firms, increased demand for legal services or more global players setting up shop in Singapore, among other things.

"To those running law firms, this increased supply is clearly positive and wholly welcomed," he said.

"For the law graduate, things just got tough, but you still control your own destiny."

Agreeing, Mr K. Chandra Sekaran, a lawyer and managing partner of a small legal firm, said those who are good will make it as lawyers anyway despite the greater number of law graduates.

His firm had received about 35 applications last year and 20 this year from law graduates at home and abroad for training contracts, relatively high numbers for a small firm.

Meanwhile, the Law Society is making more efforts to reach out to the public.

Its latest move is to start a Twitter account https://twitter.com/LawSocietySG to enhance its outreach.

"This will enable you to receive regular and timely updates on news that concerns you," the society told members.


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Youth 'fascinated with buses' stole 3 for joyrides

Straits Times
15 May 2015
Elena Chong

He stole the third bus while on bail, father says son is hard to control

A 17-YEAR-OLD who grew fascinated with buses over the last year has pleaded guilty to stealing three of them and taking the vehicles on joyrides.

Muhammad Salahuddin Omar, who is deaf, gave his plea yesterday through a sign language interpreter, and asked for one last chance, signing that he hoped to continue his studies.

On March 8, he stole a 45-seater in Woodlands and drove it onto the Ayer Rajah Expressway before being arrested. At the time, he was on police bail for taking two buses from carparks in Bukit Batok and Jurong Road on Jan 31.

Since the latest arrest, the youth has been in remand.

When Community Court Judge Mathew Joseph asked why, Salahuddin's father stood up in court to reveal that he refused to post bail to ensure that his son would not commit more offences.

The father admitted to feeling shame when the police turned up at his door, and said it was hard for him to control his son and felt it was best for the "law to take him" for what he did.

Investigations showed that Salahuddin's father noticed his son developing a keen interest in public transportation over the last year, even attending transport exhibitions with his elder brother and playing bus-related computer games.

The two vehicles he stole in January within a space of less than five hours were worth a total of $220,000. He drove them despite being below 18 years old and without third-party insurance coverage.

At about 2pm on March 8, AZ Bus operations executive Toh Hoe Kok found his firm's $200,000 bus, which had been parked in Woodlands Industrial Park E8, missing.

He tracked the bus through his mobile phone which was linked to a Global Positioning System device on the vehicle.

The 56-year-old saw the vehicle going in circles along Ayer Rajah Expressway, Jurong Town Hall Road, Boon Lay Way and Jurong Pier Road.

He decided to go after the bus in his car, and managed to stop it near Bukit Batok Central.

The court heard that Salahuddin stole the Yutong model bus as it was automatic and easier to drive.

After finding the bus key, he started the engine and drove around for about 45 minutes before he was stopped.

Calling this case somewhat unusual, Judge Joseph said the manner in which the youngster had committed the offences and the number of charges involved were of concern.

He postponed sentencing to June 4, pending probation and Reformative Training Centre reports.

The maximum penalty for vehicle theft is seven years' jail, a fine and disqualification.

For driving under 18, the penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 or a jail term of up to three months; and for the insurance offence, a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a jail term of up to three months plus 12 months' driving ban.


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