05 May 2016
Text: A | A

SMRT settles lawsuit over escalator fall

Straits Times
05 May 2016
K.C. Vijayan & Pang Xue Qiang

Plaintiff, paralysed after falling into gap at MRT station in 2013, had sought $3m

SMRT has settled a lawsuit brought by a woman who was paralysed from the waist down after falling into an MRT escalator gap more than three years ago.

Ms Azlin Amran, 31, sued SMRT Trains for negligence, and sought about $3 million in damages following the mishap at Tanah Merah MRT Station on Jan 28, 2013.

Neither party disclosed the final payout, if any.

"I miss being spontaneous," said the once-sporty business studies degree holder last night.

She was making her way out of the station that day, when she fell into the escalator shaft on the third step of a descending escalator undergoing maintenance.

Ms Azlin remained trapped in the escalator mechanism for more than 30 minutes until Civil Defence officers rescued her and took her to Changi General Hospital.

She suffered spinal cord damage among other injuries, which has left her a paraplegic and needing to use a wheelchair to get around.

Medical reports from various specialists were tendered to support her claims and attest to her serious condition.

Then an administrative cum operrations executive, she is now severely handicapped in the labour market, according to the suit.

Through lawyer Nadia Moynihan, she alleged SMRT had failed in its duty of care, and sought special and general damages to pay for medical treatment, caregivers and loss of earnings, according to court papers filed in September last year.

SMRT, in defence papers filed by lawyer Anthony Wee, had contested the claims, arguing she had caused or contributed to her injuries by failing to keep a proper lookout, among other things.

A High Court case management conference was held yesterday before Assistant Registrar Janice Wong.

SMRT spokesman Patrick Nathan told The Straits Times the case had been amicably settled out of court. "We deeply regret the injuries that Ms Azlin sustained from the accident," he added.

Mr Nathan said following the incident, station staff have been reminded that safety barricades installed around maintenance areas must be fastened securely and checked regularly.

"In addition, maintenance staff must deploy lookout men on the upper and lower levels of escalators when these undergo maintenance tests. The safety of our passengers will and always continue to be our top priority," he said.

For Ms Azlin, who is now working at SPD, formerly known as Society for the Physically Disabled, as an employment support specialist, the mishap marked a sea change from her previous active and outdoor lifestyle.

She used to trek, swim, cycle and play badminton. Almost daily, she would climb 11 storeys to her flat in Sengkang as exercise and regularly travel abroad with her mother.

She told The Straits Times yesterday that she still takes the MRT to work in Tiong Bahru.

She said: "I still suffer a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder and have bits and pieces of flashback, especially in instances when I fall out of my wheelchair and can't get up. It's a reminder of everything I've lost."

She added: "Now, I have to plan every detail of my life. When I go out, I have to take note of whether the place is wheelchair-accessible.

"In the past, I could take walks and enjoy being in the moment. Now, when I'm taking out in a wheelchair, I have to be careful about a curb or a bump."

In March, SMRT was fined $120,000 after pleading guilty to one charge under the Workplace Safety and Health Act following a probe by the Manpower Ministry.

• Additional reporting by Rachel Chia

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

Legal eagles are fastest at Corporate Challenge

Straits Times
27 Apr 2016
Alvin Chia

The legal community had the fastest runners among 31 professional sectors at the past three years of the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge, which drew close to 48,000 participants altogether.

They clocked a collective average time of 39min 11sec for the 5.6km route, ahead of the civil servants (39:56) and advertising and public relations professionals (40:04).

Said Olivia Chia, 27, a business development advisor at law firm Linklaters: "Maybe it's because in our line of work, we have built up a high level of mental stamina and tenacity, so when we run, we have that strength in us to push ourselves."

Chia and more than 30 of her colleagues will be among 14,198 participants from 337 companies who will be taking part in the 13th edition of the JP Morgan event tomorrow evening.

But the civil servants are eager to out-pace the lawyers this time.

Dr Foo Gen Lin, a 33-year-old resident of orthopaedic surgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital who is representing the Ministry of Health, said with a laugh: "Oh dear, we cannot lose, definitely not to lawyers.

"Civil service are a fit group, we should show the public how it's done. And as a doctor, we need to 'run' the talk."

Healthy competition aside, the finding also revealed that men in their 40s, who average 37:59, ran seven seconds faster than their younger counterparts in their 20s.

In fact, running formed a big part of JP Morgan chief administrative officer Ong Wei Han's consideration when he changed residence from Novena to Amber Road four years ago, which allowed him to run more frequently at his favourite route at East Coast Park.

Said Ong, who used to represent Victoria School for cross-country schools national competitions: "In my 20s, the demands of work went up but I never had issues with my energy levels. But as I got older, I found that running gives me more energy as well as it helps to clear my mind."

Alvin Chia

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

Ex-tour guide's appeal over widow's new will dismissed

Straits Times
19 Apr 2016
Carolyn Khew

The High Court has dismissed an appeal by a former China tour guide to set aside a decision to recognise a new will made by a wealthy widow, which would result in her assets going mainly to charity instead of to him.

Yang Yin, 42, had argued that there was a procedural failure in the proceedings as the judge had denied his lawyers the chance to cross-examine witnesses who had given evidence to support the application for the new will.

Yang failed to get the application reheard.

In April last year, the Family Justice Courts had recognised a new will made by 89-year-old widow Chung Khin Chun, under which most of her assets - estimated to be worth $40 million - would go to charity.

The new will replaced an earlier one made in 2010, in which Yang stood to inherit everything.

The new will was recognised based on evidence given by several witnesses that Madam Chung had made the 2010 will under the undue influence of Yang, among other factors.

In his appeal, Yang said he wanted a "retrial" so that these witnesses could be cross-examined before the court decides whether undue influence had been exercised in the making of the 2010 will.

He also wanted to call on two key witnesses - the lawyer who had prepared the 2010 will and a prior one in 2009, as well as the doctor who had examined Madam Chung before she executed either will.

However, in her judgment, Justice Judith Prakash pointed out that Yang had been given opportunities to indicate if he wanted to call, cross-examine or subpoena witnesses, but chose to leave that decision to the courts.

Justice Prakash also noted that Yang did not rebut "serious" allegations that the earlier will was made under undue influence and fraud.

"Nowhere in his affidavit did the appellant (Yang) actually assert, for instance, that he had allowed (Madam Chung) free choice in her decisions," said Justice Prakash.

"This was a surprising position to adopt, at any stage in the proceedings, in response to allegations which were both serious and specific," she added.

The high-profile case involving Yang and the wealthy widow unfolded in 2014 after Madam Chung's niece, Madam Hedy Mok, evicted Yang's wife, who had been living in her aunt's house for about a year with her two young children.

Yang is currently in remand after being denied bail in October 2014.

Yang faces more than 300 charges for allegedly falsifying receipts at his company and allegedly misappropriating $1.1 million from the estate of Madam Chung.

His criminal trial is scheduled to start next month.

Contacted yesterday, Yang's lawyer Irving Choh said he would be getting instructions from his client on whether to appeal against the latest High Court decision.

Madam Mok told The Straits Times that her aunt is "happy" that there is progress in her case.

"We should respect her wishes," she said, referring to her new will.

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

SingPost special audit findings may lead to regulatory action

Business Times
05 May 2016
Melissa Tan

Some say entire board should share responsibility; SGX stresses that boards must not abdicate responsibility to professionals

[Singapore] DISCLOSURE failures and alleged breaches of fiduciary duties by Singapore Post director Keith Tay could open the door to regulatory action, following the release of a special audit report on the group's corporate governance late Tuesday night that shone a light on weak controls and lapses at the board.

Regulators told The Business Times that they would take action if needed, with some saying outright that they were reviewing the investigation findings.

Market observers also said they expect the relevant authorities to lay down the law where warranted, adding that there was also the question of whether the entire board should share some responsibility for Mr Tay's disclosure lapses.

The 52-page summary of a joint special audit into SingPost's corporate governance, released Tuesday, painted a picture of a board with potential inaccuracies in its records and no standard processes for evaluating acquisitions or for directors to disclose conflicts of interest.

While regulators declined to say on Wednesday whether they were investigating SingPost or Mr Tay for potential breaches, they suggested they were prepared to mete out sanctions where necessary.

A Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) spokesman said that "as a matter of policy, MAS does not comment on our dealings with individual parties". But she added: "Neither will we hesitate to take appropriate action against any individual or entity that flouts any legislation under MAS' purview." The SFA falls under MAS' purview while the Companies Act comes under ACRA's.

An ACRA spokesman said it would "work with the relevant agencies to review the findings from the special audit report to assess if any regulatory action is warranted". "In this regard, ACRA will take into account key considerations such as the sufficiency of public interest, whether any harm has been occasioned by the alleged breach and the culpability of the relevant parties."

On the Singapore Exchange's part, it said it was "reviewing the findings" in the special audit report. "We will take disciplinary action for any breaches of the listing rules and refer breaches to the relevant authorities, if necessary. We will also closely monitor the independent review of the company's implementation of the recommendations set out in the executive summary of the special audit report."

SingPost had disclosed to SGX the full findings of the probe but has thus far resisted calls to release the same to the public, which has been shown only a 52-page summary released via a SingPost bourse filing Tuesday.

SGX's statement on Wednesday came after it had said on Tuesday night that it "has asked SingPost to obtain independent confirmation" that the special auditors' recommendations are implemented, to be released "at the appropriate time taking into consideration the outcome of the CG (corporate governance) review".

SGX also stressed on Tuesday that directors must disclose their interests in transactions under Section 156 of the Companies Act and abstain from voting on such transactions, adding: "The board of a company is ultimately responsible for the announcements made by the company and must not abdicate its responsibility to any professionals especially where matters under consideration are not subjective but factual in nature.

"A company and its board must exercise due care in drafting, reviewing and approving SGXNet announcements. Any error must be promptly escalated to the board's attention for its deliberation and decision."

SingPost said in an email on Wednesday that it "accepted all the recommendations and will incorporate further recommendations that are forthcoming from our ongoing corporate governance review... We have committed to following through on the recommendations of the special audit plus those of the corporate governance review upon its completion". "Regardless of whether it is the incoming or outgoing chairman who will lead this exercise, SingPost, as a company, and our board of directors take corporate governance very seriously," it added.

It declined to confirm whether Singtel chairman Simon Israel was slotted to become its next chairman. The Infocomm Development Authority, which regulates the national postal operator, also told BT: "IDA does not comment on speculation regarding our licensees."

SingPost had commissioned the probe last December after admitting it had made an "oversight" in a 2014 deal disclosure. It had wrongly said no directors had an interest in its acquisition of freight forwarder FS Mackenzie - when Mr Tay in fact held 34.5 per cent of Stirling Coleman, which advised FS Mackenzie's seller.

The joint special auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Drew & Napier, found in their report that Mr Tay was "arguably in breach of section 156(1) of the Companies Act" for not declaring his interest in a 2013 acquisition of Famous Holdings "as soon as practicable".

They also found he had breached some fiduciary duties relating to the Famous deal and SingPost's acquisition of Famous Pacific Shipping (NZ) in 2015. Breaches of fiduciary duties come under the Companies Act.

However, the auditors said Mr Tay's 2015 omission appeared to not have been deliberate, and that although some of Mr Tay's disclosures "may not have been made as soon as practicable, our interviews suggest that the lack of timeliness in the disclosures would have made no difference to the decisions to enter into the Famous acquisitions".

Still, corporate governance specialist and SingPost shareholder Mak Yuen Teen pointed out in a letter to BT that "while the special auditors have concluded that Mr Tay's actions did not appear to have influenced the transactions, something that may be difficult to conclusively determine without full access to all information and evidence, the special auditors are of the view that Mr Tay did breach his duties as a director".

"It is important for the regulators, who have access to the full report and who may be able to undertake further investigations, to determine if further action is needed."

When asked whom the special auditors had interviewed and whether the auditors were satisfied with the interviewees' claims that Mr Tay's lack of timely disclosure would have made zero difference, Drew & Napier's director of dispute resolution Hri Kumar said in an email: "I do not think it is appropriate for the special auditors to respond to your queries, unless SingPost specifically instructs us to. Even if SingPost does so, we would have to ascertain if the questions will in any way affect the special audit. Any statement by the special auditors may be construed as a supplementary report. That should be dealt with in an appropriate manner. "

SingPost told BT: "The special audit was conducted by independent auditors. It is not appropriate for SingPost to make any statements or provide more details to the report that has been presented by the auditors to SingPost and the regulatory authorities."

Aside from Mr Tay, some observers have also wondered whether SingPost's board itself may run into trouble with the SFA for disclosing incorrect deal-related information in a bourse filing, then failing to correct it.

Section 199 of the SFA, for instance, suggests that no one "shall make a statement, or disseminate information, that is false or misleading in a material particular" and is likely to induce people to trade in a stock or affect the share price, if he "knows or ought reasonably to have known that the statement or information is false or misleading in a material particular".

Market watchers said Wednesday that it was not clear whether Mr Tay or SingPost's board breached the Companies Act or the SFA through their disclosure failures, but did not rule it out. Some also suggested that SingPost's board ought to share some responsibility for disclosure failures.

"The duty of a director to disclose his personal interests in any transaction involving the company as soon as he is aware of the relevant facts is a statutory duty that is clearly set out in Section 156 of the Companies Act," Gibson Dunn partner Robson Lee noted. "While the special audit has uncovered instances and has stipulated that Mr Tay appears to have breached his fiduciary duties to SingPost, it is not clear at this juncture whether the lapses in question amount to a statutory breach of the Companies Act that may lead to any regulatory enforcement proceedings against Mr Tay."

Mr Lee said he did not think Section 199 of the SFA was relevant to SingPost's incorrect disclosure in 2014, but added that the special audit findings were "a good case study for all directors who may in their course of discharging their roles and responsibilities encounter situations that require timely due disclosure of any personal interest or any potential conflict of interest".

"The board of directors and every director must be well informed of their joint and several statutory and common law duties to the company. directors should at all times adhere to best practices that are consistent with the spirit and not merely compliance with the letter of the law."

David Gerald, president of investors' lobby Securities Investors Association (Singapore), or SIAS, said it was "for the relevant authority" to "take appropriate action under the relevant laws". "We are confident that, if there are any breaches of the relevant laws, that is what would be done.

"Ultimately, the board is collectively responsible for any lapses in disclosure of any material fact. The question is whether the board should have enquired from Mr Keith Tay whether he had any conflicting interest in the transaction. This has not been addressed in the report."

Mr Gerald said it was the "responsibility of the board, on behalf of the company, to put in place sufficient safeguards to avoid any breakdown of disclosure by any director or manager, of material facts that would affect the interest of shareholders".

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

Singapore named arbitrator in time charter party

Business Times
26 Apr 2016
Tan Hwee Hwee

[Singapore] SINGAPORE has solidified its status as one of the world's top maritime arbitration centres by helping in the revision of the most widely used time charter party.

The New York Produce Exchange 2015 time charter party form (NYPE 2015) was issued last October. Representatives from the key bodies behind NYPE 2015 attended to enquiries from maritime players at a seminar held in conjunction with Singapore Maritime Week 2016. They expressed confidence that the document, which incorporated input from industry players worldwide, will gain traction in fixing charters in the dry cargo sector.

NYPE laid claim to a 70 per cent global share among time charter parties used in both 2014 and 2015. Singapore played an instrumental role over the last three years in the first major revision of the NYPE time charter form since 1993 and was named the third seat after New York and London for arbitration of any disputes associated with the use of NYPE 2015. This is the first time an NYPE charter party form has named a third seat of arbitration since its inception in 1913.

Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) board member Gina Lee-Wan, who was among the panellists at the NYPE 2015 seminar, told The Business Times

"We took the middle position as the Asian maritime hub between the Denmark-headquartered Bimco (Baltic and International Maritime Council) - representing shipowners' voices - and US-based Asba (Association of Shipbrokers and Agents)."

The revision leading to NYPE 2015 involved consultations with shipowners and charterers around the world. This has been touted as the first of its kind effort in developing a shipping document, resulting in a product - NYPE 2015 - that "can be used everywhere else in the world", according to Bimco chief officer, legal and contractual affairs, Grant Hunter. Mr Hunter described the process as "very helpful to us in getting a better hold of Asia's shipping community, particularly with Singapore as a maritime hub".

Asba board member Paul Hirtle shared a similar view. "We think we have been successful (and) now that we have done so with (NYPE 2015), with other documents that are producing or as we update them, we will consider incorporating (input from) SMF," he said.

SMF contributed extensive research collated from arbitration cases in the last 15 years, which was shared freely in the process of revising NYPE 2015 with one objective - to have the Asian voice and opinion heard and considered, Mrs Lee-Wan said.

SMF has weighed in among others, on the redefinition of the largely debated Douglas Sea State to Douglas Sea Scale in the time charter party, Mrs Lee-Wan, who is also a partner at Allen & Gledhill, said.

Douglas Sea Scale is a measurement of the height of waves and the swell of the sea. BT understands that the references of time charter parties to a particular Douglas scale without any mention of specific values is one of the most contested speed and consumption ship charter clauses between shipowners.

NYPE 2015 features an appendix under which the specific basis of the Douglas Scale agreed upon can be spelt out clearly by the shipowners and charterers. NYPE 2015 also brings the 103-year-old time charter form up to speed with the 21st century macro-environment by incorporating clauses on oil pollution and electronic bills of lading and ballast water exchange regulations.

The newly issued document was first used by a Danish charterer to fix time charters on five vessels. The most widely used NYPE form in the dry goods sector, however, is understood to be the 1946 version.

Shipowners told BT that the maritime industry is so steeped in traditions that it can be resistant to change. But there are signs of an early gravitation among some towards NYPE 2015, especially in fixing charters in Asia.

"We have made proposals to use NYPE 2015," said John Freybag, managing director, container and bulk chartering, of Germany-based Bernhard Schulte.

"A lot of maritime focus has shifted to Asia (and) it is very important for the industry to see the Asian view (including) the negotiation of contracts," Mr Freybag said.

Norwegian shipowner Torvald Klaveness is also thinking of using NYPE 2015 this year for fixing charters in its Singapore-based business unit, which is reportedly growing faster than its Oslo counterpart. Punit Oza, vice-president and head of Supramax Pacific, Klaveness Asia, sees new trades emerging under an environment of low shipping rates in the dry goods sector as opportunities for the use of a new time charter form. He also suggested that the starting point to use NYPE 2015 at Klaveness Asia could be "our commercial (shipping) pools".

Winning a seat on the world's most widely used time charter form represents a step closer to the goal of solidifying Singapore's standing beyond Asia as a global maritime arbitration hub.

Singapore had already scored an official seat of arbitration with Bimco back in 2012 to represent the Asia. That puts Singapore on 53 Bimco time charter forms and SMF is working towards getting Singapore included in 40 more time charter forms.

The number of maritime arbitration cases registered in Singapore have been steadily climbing, with Singapore Chambers of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA) logging in about 37 cases in 2015, up from about 26 in 2014, and about 20 in 2013, SCMA director of business development Teo Hwee Ping told BT.

Maritime disputes make up 17 per cent of or over 40 cases registered with Singapore International Arbitration Centre in 2015, Ms Teo said. These numbers do not include ad hoc cases that have been heard in Singapore outside the two institutions.

The growing influence of Singapore as an arbitration centre in Asia stems partly from its neutral standing point among economic powerhouses in the region. Mr Freybag of Bernhard Schulte said that Singapore also draws on the strength of its infrastructure. He named the legal expertise here as among the advantages Singapore has over China.

With a multitude of regulatory changes on the horizon in the maritime space, Ms Teo said that the number of cases registered or heard in Singapore is likely to increase in the coming years.

The increase will also be boosted by efforts - including those of SMF - to promote Singapore as an arbitration hub, she said.

The NYPE 2015 seminar is the third in a global maritime roadshow to introduce the newly published time charter party. Members from the NYPE 2015 drafting team have set out to visit Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul this week to give their views on the key clauses and explain the benefits of using the new time charter party.

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

SIAS says it will take errant companies to court if need be

Business Times
19 Apr 2016
Michelle Quah

[Singapore] INVESTOR lobby group Securities Investors Association (Singapore), or SIAS, will not hesitate to take errant companies to court on behalf of their minority shareholders if the situation warrants it.

SIAS president and chief executive David Gerald told The Business Times: "We will take legal action if the company doesn't want to come to the table, refuses to see reason and continues to do wrong."

He added that SIAS is willing - and able - to defend itself against legal action taken against it by companies or boards; it has lawyers from big-name firms here advising it on a pro bono basis.

"Companies should not take us and the minorities for granted," he said.

This is the first time Mr Gerald has unveiled SIAS's deadlier weapon in its arsenal, after having built a reputation for his kinder, gentler mediation efforts between listed companies and their minority shareholders.

His comments come in the wake of recent market and corporate governance lapses involving listed companies such as OSIM International and SingPost.

On April 12, Mr Gerald called on takeover regulator Securities Industry Council (SIC) to further examine OSIM founder Ron Sim's unintentional purchases of shares above his revised and final offer price two weeks before, to examine whether a false market had been created and whether shareholders had incurred losses. Mr Sim promptly agreed to compensate the shareholders who had suffered losses as a result of this.

Mr Gerald has also been vocal about the recent controversy surrounding SingPost. BT reported last month that the company had sent a lawyer's letter in February to Mr Gerald over an anonymous letter that was sent to the association last year, seeking confirmation from SIAS that the letter had not been distributed to any other party.

Mr Gerald has refused to comment on this, but it is believed that the letter was penned by SingPost staff and touched on the company's acquisitions, some of which are the subject of a special audit now being conducted by PwC and Drew & Napier.

When asked whether his comments on legal action pertained to either OSIM or SingPost, Mr Gerald insisted that he was not referring to any particular company or individual.

Rather, the SIAS chief said he felt it was important to let SIAS members and retail investors know that they have the option of joining the association in a representative action - similar in vein to class-action suits filed in other jurisdictions - as not many investors are aware that such actions can be pursued here.

"Investors must know they are protected," he said. "And I have been advised by our lawyers that SIAS can represent aggrieved shareholders. We can even set up a litigation fund, which minorities contribute to, even if they may not be involved in the legal action, to support the principle."

SIAS, registered as a charity under Singapore's Charities Act, cannot contribute to this fund itself.

A lawyer who advises SIAS on a pro bono basis and asked to remain unnamed for client-confidentiality reasons, explained how a representative action would work in this case: "SIAS may be involved in representative actions in a number of ways. For example, SIAS may itself become a shareholder of the company in question, giving it the right to sue. Another way would be for SIAS to organise members who are already shareholders."

He added: "There are some procedural hurdles to be crossed, so the first shareholder representative action will be closely watched."

There are precedents for other forms of representative actions here, the most well-known being the case involving some 5,000 Raffles Town Club members, who banded together to demand a refund of their S$28,000 fee, after finding out that the "exclusive" club they had joined had a whopping 19,000 members.

Mr Gerald took pains to stress, however, that while a representative action is an option for minorities, it should be their last one.

"I sincerely hope we do not see the day when we launch a class-action suit against a company. I believe in resolving things in the boardroom, not the courtroom, in the interest of all parties."

Legal cases take up a lot of time and money, for both investors and companies, he acknowledged. He should know from his three-decade-long legal career before he set up SIAS.

"This is time which the company should be using to manage its business, in the interests of its stakeholders. Since the inception of SIAS (in 1999), we have adopted a conciliatory approach as our first stance, to avoid unnecessary adverse publicity for the board and the company, because it has serious consequences for share value.

"When shareholders read negative reports on companies, they tend to dump the shares. Even highly sophisticated, savvy investors, like high-net-worth investors and institutional investors, get nervous."

Mr Gerald believes in meeting the various parties involved to work out the issues together. It is a lesson he learned in the 1970s, when he was the first legal adviser to Singapore's Labour Ministry. "There, I saw the wisdom of the government in promoting tripartism between employees, the unions and the ministry, to maintain industrial-relations harmony."

And so, in many of the cases SIAS has handled - NatSteel, China Aviation Oil, Isetan and between Olam International and Muddy Waters, to name a few - Mr Gerald has asked the company, its shareholders and regulators to sit down with him to work out a solution.

"That sort of tripartism should be the way in which Singapore capital markets operate. Because when you have acrimony in the capital markets, people will think twice about investing in our country.

"What is foremost in my mind is that the interests of Singapore must come first, before the rights of shareholders and the rights of directors."

He added: "My phone line is always available for any corporate leader to call. And if I have done anything wrong, please tell me and we can correct it.

"Court should not be the first forum, and please don't go to lawyers first. Where the company is reluctant to engage SIAS, it will find SIAS pursuing it tenaciously to do the right thing for its shareholders until it succeeds."

He added that SIAS is well-advised, legally: "We do not write or say things to the press without advice. We are careful in what we say and do.

"I don't play the legs, I play the ball. So, the referee never blows the whistle on me," he said, using a football analogy to indicate that he goes for the issues, not the people.

"But if any company or any board wants to send us a legal letter or wants to challenge us, be advised that we are prepared to take it to the hilt and defend our rights."

As for SingPost, Mr Gerald would only say: "My hope is that all issues will be amicably resolved in the boardroom. And I know that, going forward, that will be the case."

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

SingPost shares edge up as investors query audit report

Straits Times
05 May 2016
Marissa Lee

Some feel report didn't address concerns like how board arrived at prices paid for purchases

Singapore Post's share price edged up a cent to $1.59 yesterday even as a special audit report released late on Tuesday found that the company has "no prescribed policy, process or procedure" for evaluating and approving merger and acquisition transactions.

Mr David Gerald, president of the Securities Investors Association of Singapore (Sias), said: "Sias is somewhat surprised, especially for a company with a $3 billion market capitalisation, that such important policies or processes were not in place."

The postal group, which has spent recent years sweeping up stakes in logistics firms to grow into a regional e-commerce player, sought the audit last December after it came to light that its board had wrongly disclosed that none of its directors had any interest in the 2014 acquisition of freight forwarder F.S. Mackenzie.

SingPost later revealed Mr Keith Tay, who on Tuesday resigned as SingPost's lead independent director, is a chairman and 34.5 per cent shareholder of Stirling Coleman, which arranged the deal on behalf of the seller of F.S. Mackenzie.

The report by special auditors Drew & Napier and PricewaterhouseCoopers attributed this lapse and another to the carelessness of SingPost staff rather than deliberate attempts to conceal Mr Tay's interests.

But some investors felt the report did not address other concerns, such as how the SingPost board arrived at the prices it paid for the F.S. Mackenzie and Famous Pacific Shipping (New Zealand) purchases that Stirling Coleman advised the sellers on, and what fees Mr Tay earned from these deals - questions that Sias had raised to the board in January.

Mr Gerald said the basis for the investment decision "could have been addressed more thoroughly" to assuage the concerns of shareholders.

Notably, the report never mentioned the amounts SingPost paid for the three acquisitions investigated, although the sizes of the stakes were mentioned. And while the investigation was drawn out for about three months, the auditors said it was only on April 29 that SingPost informed them that one piece of evidence - an exco paper dated Jan 7 last year - might not be accurate. No reason was given.

Adding to the string of questions, the report recorded differing accounts between two company secretaries in January last year on whether they should include a disclosure of Mr Tay's interests in a draft announcement.

The announcement later went public with the paragraph on disclosures omitted. The auditors left it at that, saying only that the final approval of the chief executive was not obtained in this instance as the responsibility had been delegated to the company secretaries. This deviation was not "significant or unusual", the auditors wrote.

When contacted by The Straits Times last month, former company secretary Winston Wong had declined to comment, citing a non-disclosure agreement. He is now at OUE. The other company secretary has also left SingPost.

For now, the Singapore Exchange said it is reviewing the special audit report, and will take disciplinary action for any breaches of the Listing Rules and refer breaches to the relevant authorities, if necessary.


Singapore Post, which has spent the last few years sweeping up stakes in logistics firms to grow into a regional e-commerce player, called for the audit last December after it came to light that its board had wrongly disclosed that none of its directors had any interest in the 2014 acqusition of freight forwarder F.S. Mackenzie.

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

SembMarine shares slump as client files for bankruptcy

Straits Times
26 Apr 2016
Grace Leong

Major client Sete Brasil deep in arrears since Nov 2014; rig builder also in US$214m dispute with another client

Sembcorp Marine stock slumped nearly 4.9 per cent yesterday after news that one of its major clients got the nod to file for bankruptcy.

The move by Sete Brasil has sparked concerns over whether the rigbuilder may have to make further provisions for outstanding contracts.

The stock fell nine cents to $1.75, after rallying 19 per cent to a two-week high of $1.87 on Thursday.

Sete Brasil's shareholders agreed to a plan to file for judicial recovery last week, prompting SembMarine to commence arbitration proceedings against the Brazilian firm's various subsidiaries. Sete Brasil has not paid SembMarine for orders worth billions since November 2014.

"Given the complexity of the situation and the various stakeholders involved, we expect this to be a long-drawn-out process," OCBC Investment Research said.

The rig builder has seven drillships worth US$7 billion (S$9.5 billion) on its order books for Sete Brasil. SembMarine has said the $329 million provisions it made in the fourth quarter last year for these contracts are sufficient.

DBS Group Research said it believes the recent rally in rig builders is "unwarranted amid all the uncertainties in Brazil and the oil market".

More bad news came yesterday when Marco Polo Marine (MPM), another SembMarine client, managed to obtain a stay of legal proceedings on a dispute over a US$214.3 million project. The case is going to arbitration.

The stay order means SembMarine unit PPL Shipyard cannot continue further with court proceedings to try to force MPM to fulfil its obligations as guarantor of the contract. PPL served a contract termination notice on MPM's unit, Marco Polo Drilling, after it failed to make a second payment of US$21.43 million by a Nov 30 deadline.

MPM said it and its unit are not under any obligation to make the payments claimed by PPL for a rig it had built that was allegedly riddled with defects.

DBS said it maintains a "cautious stance on rig orders, which will likely lag an oil price recovery. We need oil prices to recover to sustainable levels, pushing up rig demand, utilisation and charter rates to incentivise rig operators to place orders. Meanwhile, we may see more deferments and cancellations in 2016".

"New order wins for Singapore rig builders dwindled from $9 billion in 2014 to $5 billion last year. Keppel won its first new order this year while SembMarine has yet to secure any so far this year," it said.

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

More mediated disputes resolved, says Case

Straits Times
19 Apr 2016
Alexis Ong

More consumers are settling monetary disputes with businesses through mediation, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

Case's mediation centre handled more of such disputes last year. It mediated 190 cases last year, up from 125 in 2014, 146 in 2013 and 147 in 2012.

The number of resolved cases also rose from 94 in 2014 to 145 last year, with the resolution rate for mediated cases rising from 75.2 to 76.3 per cent over the same period, said the consumer watchdog.

Case president Lim Biow Chuan said this was encouraging as it shows that more consumers and businesses are willing to explore alternative ways to solve disputes instead of going to court.

With mediation by Case, "each party is able to have a greater say in the negotiations and more control over the outcome of the mediation", said Mr Lim.

He added: "Furthermore, all mediation cases and settlements will be kept confidential at the end of each session and are out of the public eye."

The amount Case helped to recoup for consumers dipped by 0.4 per cent to $438,121 last year, from $439,701 in 2014.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon attributed this to possibly more prudent consumer spending habits after numerous business closures over the past few years.

The sector with the most cases mediated last year was the contractor industry, followed by the beauty and car sectors. In 2014, the car sector was No.1.

Complaints against the beauty industry were mainly about aggressive selling tactics and ineffective treatments, while the top grouse against the car sector was about defects in cars purchased.

Complaints related to the contractor industry were generally about delays in work completion and poor workmanship.

Mr Edward Tan, executive director of the Renovation and Decoration Advisory Centre, which was set up by Case in 1986, said such disputes could arise due to a "mismanagement of expectations".

He encouraged homeowners to do the necessary research before hiring contractors.

Mr Tan said mediation is preferred to legal action in renovation disputes, primarily because it is cheaper and less time consuming.

He said legal fees could be around $3,000 to $10,000, and court proceedings could take up to a year, while mediation costs less than $1,000 and takes a month to six weeks. "Mediation is more amiable. There's no judgment being placed on anyone," he added.

The electronics industry had the largest increase in mediated cases, from seven in 2014 to 18 last year.

A mediated dispute that saw the highest amount of money recovered involved a woman who bought an electrolysis health machine for $25,600. She agreed to pay a deposit and the rest in instalments over the next two years.

A month later, she was diagnosed with diabetes and became unsuited to use the machine. But the full sum for the machine had already been deducted from her credit card.

The woman went to Case for mediation after she failed to negotiate with the seller. She was eventually refunded $22,000.

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

Singapore investigating large number of transactions in cross-border probe

Straits Times
05 May 2016
Grace Leong

The Singapore authorities yesterday said they are investigating a large number of complex transactions in a sweeping cross-border probe believed to be linked to the troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

This emerged at a state court hearing yesterday involving Kelvin Ang Wee Keng, who was charged on April 20 with corruptly giving a gratification of $3,000 between 2013 and 2014 to research analyst Lee Chee Waiy to expedite preparation of a favourable valuation report to be issued by his firm.

Ang, 34, the second Singaporean to be charged in connection with the probe, has been in remand since April 20. He is believed to be employed in the finance sector.

Ang is scheduled for a hearing on May 11. The Straits Times understands that he faces the possibility of more charges being brought against him.

The first Singaporean charged was Yeo Jiawei, a former wealth manager at Swiss private bank BSI who was arrested in March and charged on April 15 with an offence under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act. Yeo was charged with receiving benefits from criminal conduct, and with cheating and obstructing justice. He is scheduled for a hearing today.

District Judge Christopher Goh yesterday granted the prosecution's application to remand Ang for another week but allowed him "reasonable" access to his lawyer Hamidul Haq, with arrangements to be made by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).

Chief Prosecutor Tan Ken Hwee said this would be the prosecution's last request for remand for the purpose of investigations. He said investigations so far have confirmed that Ang has had "extensive dealings over more than two years with Yeo, and some others implicated in improper dealings". He called Yeo "a central figure in investigations".

"There are cross-border elements to these complex and layered transactions involving many shell companies. Unravelling, unpacking and comprehensively analysing all the transactions... will continue to take a significant amount of time," Mr Tan said. The authorities are set to "finalise the position in relation to (Ang) within the next six days".

Mr Haq argued against Ang's further remand as his client "is not the subject of the main investigation that CAD is conducting" and allegedly has a "more peripheral" role.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong bank accounts of several unnamed people have been frozen, and they are being probed by the authorities in nations outside Malaysia, such as Singapore, Bloomberg reported.

The Attorney-General's Chambers yesterday declined comment on this matter. The authorities here said in February that they had frozen "a large number" of accounts in connection with possible money laundering related to the probe.


TIME NEEDED

Unravelling, unpacking and comprehensively analysing all the transactions... will continue to take a significant amount of time.

CHIEF PROSECUTOR TAN KEN HWEE, on the "complex and layered transactions"

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

Trademark tussle: Firm wins appeal against rival

Straits Times
26 Apr 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Defendant not entitled to defence that it was using its 'own name', Court of Appeal rules

An event management company has won its case on appeal against a rival which had used a similar acronym for its trademark.

The Audience Motivation Company Asia, which is based in Singapore, had sued AMC Live Group China over the use of two marks with the words "amc live" and "amc AMC Group China", which were alleged to have infringed its own "amc!" mark.

AMC Live, incorporated here in 2012, is part of a group of companies that provides events and concert management services in China, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong. It started in Chengdu in 2007 and is said to have organised concerts in China involving singers such as Jay Chou.

Audience Motivation, which has been operating for nearly 20 years and has eight offices in the region, manages marketing events including prominent corporate sales and media launches, as well as corporate roadshows. Some of its events include the launch of the Audi Centre (Singapore), the HP Global Influencer Summit in China and the Tiger (Beer) Roadshow in Thailand.

Audience Motivation had lost its case against AMC Live in the High Court last year, which led to its appeal before the Court of Appeal comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang.

The apex court agreed with the High Court that there was a clear trademark infringement under the Trade Marks Act.

However, even if this was so, the relevant law held that there would be no infringement if a person uses his own name, or the name of his place of business or that of his predecessor, provided the use is in accordance with honest practices in industrial or commercial matters.

The Court of Appeal's judgment last week focused on the "own name" issue, making it a benchmark case for this area of the law.

Lawyers Dedar Singh Gill, Gabriel Ong and Michael Moey argued for Audience Motivation that the "own name" defence did not apply, while lawyers Max Ng, Amira Budiyano and Mitchel Chua countered that AMC Live's use of the "own name" defence was justified by evidence. The hearing was held last October.

The apex court ruled that AMC Live was not entitled to the "own name" defence, saying its use of "amc" did not follow "honest practices". Among other things, the court found no evident connection between "amc" and the Chengdu firm that first started the group. The court was not convinced that the name was an acronym for "A Music Company", as claimed by its group chief executive Leong Seng Chet.

The court also noted that the Chengdu firm had placed a job advertisement online as a Singapore company known as "amc" in 2010 well before it was incorporated in Singapore, at a time when Audience Motivation was the only Singapore firm going by the name "amc".

The Chengdu firm, in presenting itself as "amc", had organised corporate events for Singapore companies such as SilkAir in September 2009, in direct rivalry with similar services from Audience Motivation, said the court.

Separately, the court also held that the use of similar logos by AMC Live, on which the AMC Asia mark had built its goodwill, would lead a segment of the public to believe both were linked. The court further ordered damages payable by AMC Live to be assessed.


The trademark of Singapore-based event management firm The Audience Motivation Company Asia.

The two marks of AMC Live Group China that were alleged to have infringed The Audience Motivation Company Asia's "amc!" mark.

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

The Audience Motivation Company Asia Pte Ltd v AMC Live Group China (S) Pte Ltd [2016] SGCA 25

Drone laws in Singapore

Straits Times
19 Apr 2016

In Singapore, new laws took effect in June last year specifying, among various things, that permits have to be sought to fly a drone of more than 7kg, or within 5km of any airport.

The Unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Act provides clear guidelines for the safe use of unmanned aircraft.

It stipulates that even drones that weigh less than 7kg need a permit from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to fly within 5km of an aerodrome, or at altitudes above 200ft (61m) above mean sea level when they are 5km or more outside of an aerodrome.

Permits are also required for specialised services, such as surveying, aerial advertising, flying display performances or if the operator plans to discharge any substance from the drone.

Users of these drones will also have to apply for a permit to fly over or near certain security-sensitive areas, and to take photos in them. Similar regulations will apply for "special event areas", or venues designated for major events. Those who breach these regulations could be fined up to $20,000, jailed for up to 12 months, or both.

The carrying of dangerous materials, such as weapons, or bio-chemical or radioactive material by drones is forbidden.

Hobbyists who use drones for recreational and private purposes can do so without a permit, provided their drones weigh less than 7kg and are not used in any of the above ways.

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

Will Singapore shareholders get their say on pay?

Business Times
05 May 2016
Michelle Quah

It's an inevitable development for local market but, when it comes, it has to be managed carefully: global advisory firm

[Singapore] SINGAPORE investors could soon have a greater say on how much the executives of listed companies here get paid; but whether this is necessarily a good thing remains to be seen.

Global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson believes that Say-On-Pay is an inevitable development for the Singapore market - one driven not just by global trends but also by domestic needs.

Say-On-Pay is commonly defined as the ability of shareholders of a company to vote on how and how much executives of the company get compensated. In essence, it divests the power to decide executive remuneration away from the companies and into the hands of investors.

It ranges from binding votes, adopted by jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom, to non-binding, or advisory, votes, seen in the United States. Binding votes allow shareholders a legally binding vote on executive remuneration resolutions, including the company's remuneration framework and targets for the coming year. Advisory votes have shareholders voting on remuneration-related resolutions, merely to express their level of satisfaction with such practices; their votes do not compel the company to act.

Singapore has neither of these systems, nor any form of Say-On-Pay. It adopts a "comply or explain" approach to executive compensation.

The Corporate Governance Code here says that listed companies should disclose, in their annual report, the exact remuneration of each individual director and the CEO, and the remuneration of the top five key management personnel who are not also directors or the CEO in bands of $250,000. It also says companies should disclose information on the link between remuneration paid and performance.

Companies are expected to comply with these guidelines, and - as per Singapore Exchange (SGX) listing rules - to explain any deviation in compliance.

Kevin Ong, director of Executive Compensation Southeast Asia at Willis Towers Watson, believes Singapore's comply-or-explain approach leaves much to be desired. He cites the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) and SGX Board of Directors Survey 2015, which showed that 55 per cent of companies are still not disclosing remuneration details as recommended by the Code.

"In my discussion with SID members, our view is that the Code does not have teeth. Singapore companies, when talking about pay in their annual report, don't (usually) disclose pay versus performance. They typically have some boilerplate answer. (And) they hide behind reasons of confidentiality," he says.

"With more stringent requirements on pay disclosure, the bigger companies will have to disclose how they pay versus performance.

"We're not saying Say-On-Pay is a must, but Say-On-Pay is one of the things we must seriously consider."

What also needs to be considered is that Say-On-Pay has had both positive and negative consequences.

Mark Reid, Willis Towers Watson's global head of Executive Compensation, says: "It gives disclosure more bite. If shareholders are unhappy with the pay practices that are being disclosed or the detail of disclosure itself - the way it's disclosed - then it gives them more power to express their dissatisfaction."

Say-On-Pay has controlled inflation in countries such as the UK because companies need shareholder permission even to effect a pay increase. In other jurisdictions, the increased disclosure on executive remuneration has had the opposite effect - raising pay levels across the board.

Say-On-Pay has increased shareholders' ability to control the link between pay and performance. It has also meant greater shareholder engagement on the part of companies, but also greater time commitment on the part of the remuneration committee chairman.

Some less than ideal, and unintended, consequences has been a growing conservatism in pay practices, particularly among smaller companies. "If you haven't the time and resources to engage with shareholders, you typically just come up with the pay package that won't get you into trouble, and you all land up having the same thing. Which isn't necessarily a good outcome. You want pay programmes that will drive strategy and performance. Instead, you get a phase when everyone huddles together for safety because no one wants to be an outlier," Mr Reid observes.

He also points out that Say-On-Pay has vested a lot of the voting power into the hands of proxy agencies like ISS or Glass Lewis. "Their voting recommendations are followed by a lot of investors. That's been multiplied recently in the West, because shareholdings have become a lot more international. We see BlackRock or Fidelity investing globally and they might not know what the best practices are there. So, they might outsource the voting recommendation to these proxy agencies. I think, right now, the pendulum has swung too far and the agencies have gotten very powerful and there aren't enough agencies to provide a diverse point of view, so it's driven too much power into one point of view."

As to whether Singapore should adopt Say-On-Pay, Mr Reid says it isn't necessary - for now. "You could argue that the first step is to move away from a comply-or-explain approach to a more legalistic framework (instead, wherein listing rules and the law could mandate pay practices and greater disclosure)."

Still, he adds, "disclosure breeds more disclosure".

"Once you've opened the Pandora's box, everyone wants more - 'you've told us this, but you haven't told us this'. So, it's definitely a one-way street. Once you've accepted the idea of detailed disclosure, Say-On-Pay is inevitable.

"You're probably five to 10 years away from needing it."

If it comes to that, Singapore will likely adopt advisory votes before considering having binding votes. "You would have to do that because neither the corporations nor the shareholders will be sufficiently staffed or experienced to deal with a heavy-duty Say-On-Pay," Mr Reid says.

Mr Ong adds: "Say-On-Pay, if it has to come, has to be managed carefully. Say-On-Pay is not necessarily a bad thing for Singapore. When it comes, people have to be educated on what it means, what it's meant for. And smaller companies might have to be exempted or given a longer time frame to comply."

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

Hearing starts in case against former AIA agent

Straits Times
26 Apr 2016
Lorna Tan

Sally Low faces 19 charges totalling $8.89m in claims after she retracts guilty plea in 2014

The long-awaited criminal trial involving former AIA agent Sally Low began yesterday.

Low, 38, had retracted her guilty plea in June 2014 to charges of duping Indonesian businessman Ong Han Ling, 77, into buying a bogus AIA Thank You insurance policy for US$5.06 million (S$6.8 million).

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi said he is proceeding on all 19 charges totalling $8.89 million in claims against Low. Four of the charges are for cheating, 11 for fraudulent use of forged documents and four are under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.

Mr Hon said in his opening statement that Low "perpetrated an elaborate and prolonged scheme of deception" on Mr Ong and his wife to make them part with their money, to Low's benefit.

The saga began in late 2002 when Mr Ong was allegedly sold a fake policy by Low, then an AIA agent. Mr Ong claimed that after he remitted the premium, Low, without his knowledge or consent, used the funds to buy four AIA policies for him, his wife and their daughter.

He alleged that midway through the tenure of the AIA Thank You policy, Low deceived him into giving the insurance proceeds from three of the unauthorised policies to her by use of fabricated computer errors. Her scheme came to light in 2008 after Mr Ong learnt from AIA that the Thank You policy was bogus.

The insurer made a police report against Low and sacked her in December 2009. Mr Ong also made a police report against Low in January 2010 for allegedly cheating him of money. He sued her for damages totalling US$2.25 million and $2.99 million.

In May 2011, she was charged with 19 criminal offences, including cheating the Ongs, using forged documents and money laundering.

In December 2013, Low pleaded guilty to two charges of cheating, one charge of fraudulent use of forged documents and one charge of moving crime proceeds to a bank account in Hong Kong.

The prosecution's offer to proceed with these four charges, with the remaining 15 charges taken into consideration, lapsed when she retracted her guilty plea six months later. Low also claimed she was a victim of a ploy with Mr Ong to cheat AIA instead.

Yesterday, Mr Hon cross-examined Mr Tan Wah Kiong, who was the previous investigating officer of the case when he was with the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).

The other witnesses in the trial include Health Sciences Authority handwriting expert Yap Bei Sing, former AIA manager Raymond Chew, the Ongs and former private banker Constance Lim.

Low's lawyer is Mr Adrian Wee of Characterist LLC. Low, who was made bankrupt by her previous set of lawyers, has had six sets of lawyers acting for her, and her sentencing date has been postponed several times.

She had previously admitted herself to the Institute of Mental Health, but was certified fit to plead and stand trial.

Meanwhile, the Ongs are suing AIA and Motion Insurance Agency for negligence and lack of care.

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

Wanted: creative local lawyers

Business Times
18 Apr 2016
Claire Huang

Creative client solutions more important now as business owners look to maximise their money's worth, says Hogan Lovells partner

CURRENCY woes may have been singled out earlier this year as the key culprit behind international law firm Hogan Lovells' modest growth for its financial year 2015, but in Singapore, it faces a more fundamental problem: talent.

Industry players agree that attracting a good team of lawyers - the DNA makeup of a firm - defines, to a large extent, how well the practice performs.

Currently, Singapore has an employer's market in the legal sector, thanks to an oversupply of young lawyers, that has resulted in lower starting pay and fiercer competition among peers.

That should be a happy problem for Washington, DC-based Hogan Lovells, which set foot here in 1998. But Stephanie Keen, partner at the Singapore office, says it is difficult to recruit the kind of lawyers she is looking for, specifically from the local talent pool.

"The real issue for us is that when we look at local talent, we tend to look at those who have been in the market for four or five years, who have got, one, the training; and, two, the experience."

So the firm often finds itself looking at lawyers trained internationally, as "they have a different perspective of how law firms work", she tells The Business Times in an interview.

"My sense is that the training for Singapore lawyers is very much about reading the legislation, reporting about the legislation, working very hard, working very long hours. I think they're incredibly diligent. (But) what I see is that they often are not asked to think outside the box at an earlier age and not interact with clients at the junior end."

Industry players BT spoke with echoed similar views, adding that young local lawyers are very exam-oriented. Some noted that many of these young lawyers leave the industry after about three years of practice as they become burnt out.

The ability to come up with what Ms Keen describes as "creative solutions" for clients becomes even more important now as business owners tighten their belts and look to maximise their money's worth.

She cites an example of creative solutions in Australia, where the banks went through a period some years ago bundling up loan portfolios. They were selling off some of the distressed portfolios but had packaged those with one or two positive ones that were interesting to investors.

"I think being a lawyer nowadays . . . is no longer about just being able to say 'the statutes say this' and 'this is what the law is'. It's much more 'okay, there's an opportunity out here, how can we help clients understand this is an opportunity where they can make money because we've seen it happening in the United States, we've seen it happening in Europe' and we draw on that sort of global knowledge. That is how I think we will stay ahead."

To pave the way for junior lawyers to interact with clients on a pro bono basis, Hogan Lovells has a global programme run at the regional level. Initiated last February, the sessions are run in the US, United Kingdom, and Asia Pacific and Middle East regions, on a semi-annual or bi-annual basis.

It gives lawyers the chance to meet with clients to help them understand what ticks in the business, what drives revenue and "how does what I do as a lawyer, in terms of looking at some of their documentation, help clients understand their business and help their business grow", Ms Keen says, adding that she is not sure that the local firms look at this aspect as much.

She points out that the problem with international hires, unfortunately, is that many tend to return to their home countries after a stint here, resulting in higher turnover at the Singapore office, compared to the firm's other offices. It may explain why she is supportive of taking in Singapore trainees and grooming them with an international perspective.

In order to stay ahead of the curve, it is also vital for the lawyers to have "particularly strong industry sector knowledge because that's what clients really need", notes Ms Keen. This translates to "commercial awareness of what's going on in the region and an understanding of how it impacts on clients' businesses", which will give the firm an edge over rivals.

Despite volatile financial markets and slowing economies, the business of law is still profitable. Led by chief executive Stephen J Immelt, the firm reported a 2.3 per cent year-on-year rise in revenue in FY2015 to US$1.82 billion. Excluding effects of currency, its revenue rose 8.2 per cent. Profit per equity partner rose 2.7 per cent to US$1.25 million from a year ago, although revenue per lawyer fell 4 per cent to US$724,000.

Of the total global revenue, about half comes from the Americas, 43 per cent from Europe, and 7 per cent from Asia.

Asia remains a key focus for the firm, which previously said it hopes to grow Asia's revenue to 10 per cent of the global sum. Almost a third of the 35 lateral hires last year were in the region. It has also said it will be making further significant regional investments in 2016.

In 2001, Lovells set up a joint venture with Singapore law firm Lee & Lee. Nine years later, the transatlantic merger of Hogan & Hartson and Lovells took place to create a global firm with more than 40 offices, including associated offices. The firm now comprises more than 2,500 lawyers, of whom more than 800 are partners.

It currently has 10 offices across Asia-Pacific in cities including Hanoi, Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney. The Singapore office employs 80 staff, of whom 50 are lawyers, including 11 partners.

Ms Keen says corporate work, energy projects and infrastructure, as well as banking, are the top three drivers of growth here. In the next three years, the firm will focus on some of the industry sectors.

Says Ms Keen: "I was in Singapore as a trainee in 1997 and back in those days, in most of the international firms that were just coming here, they were focusing much more on project finance because that's kind of what the market wanted."

Over time, the market became more sophisticated and clients wanted not only corporate lawyers but also private equity or merger- and-acquisition (M&A) lawyers. Besides specialists within the practice, they now want specialists within industries, she adds.

"TMT (telecommunications, media and technology) is one industry we are focusing a lot on here. We have a partner in Hong Kong who is very strong in TMT and we're looking at enhancing the offering we have here and that's because I think we see fintech (financial technology), and the type of disruption that fintech brings, being very important in this region."

Asia, deemed a backwater by some, has gradually grown to be a priority in the global legal sphere. This trend favours Singapore.

In recent times, tie-ups between international and local law firms have come under the spotlight.

Last year alone, Singapore's legal realm was energised by several unions, such as that between US firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP and Singapore's Stamford Law Corporation to create Morgan Lewis Stamford. The Republic's oldest law firm, Rodyk & Davidson, also struck a mammoth tie-up with the world's largest law firm, Dentons of the US, and Australian outfit Gadens, to create a powerhouse with collective revenue of over US$2 billion. KhattarWong partnered international law firm Withers as the two seek to expand in the region.

But hopes about whether the magic circle law firms - London's most profitable international law firms - will eventually tie up with Singapore practices were gently laid to rest.

"The magic circle, the silver circle, I suspect, will less likely see tie-ups here because I think the people they want to tie up with wouldn't necessarily want to tie up with them," says Ms Keen.

Instead, she believes that firms in the tier below the silver circle are the ones who are more likely to set foot in the region as they expand their global footprint and are able to offer more competitive rates.

Even as the legal sector grapples with expansion and cost issues, technology will inevitably transform the way legal firms provide services - something that has started happening in the financial services sector, making industry players nervous.

There are now computers that are able "to negotiate certain sorts of divorce proceedings" and it will not be long before computers can create the first draft of an agreement - seen as commoditised and simple work that lawyers do, Ms Keen says. She added that this "high-volume, low-revenue work" will eventually be dealt with by technology.

On the other hand, work that requires creativity or the more complex high-end work will continue to require lawyers' expertise, and the shift will come in the next 5-10 years.

"What you will see is that the days of very, very large law firms with lots of people running big deal teams will go; and over time, it will be lots more very talented, very specialised individuals who can't be done away with by technology."


Snapshot of Hogan Lovells

• FY2015 revenue rose 2.3 per cent to US$1.82 billion
• Profit per equity partner up 2.7 per cent to US$1.25 million
• Global revenue breakdown: the Americas (50 per cent), Europe (43 per cent), Asia (7 per cent)
• 41 offices plus five associated offices worldwide
• Over 2,500 lawyers, of which more than 800 are partners
• Strength in financial services, energy, and pharmaceuticals

1899 - John Spencer Lovell sets up practice in the UK

1904 - Frank Hogan opens law office in Washington DC

1924 - John Spencer Lovell and Reginald White are joined by Charles King, forming Lovell, White & King

1925 - Nelson Hartson, former solicitor of Internal Revenue, joins Frank Hogan's law firm

1938 - Firm converts to partnership and adopts new name, Hogan & Hartson

1966 - Lovell, White & King merges with Haslewoods

1988 - Lovell White & King and Durrant Piesse merge to form Lovell White Durrant

1990 - Hogan & Hartson opens first international office in London

2000 - Merger between Lovells and German firm Boesebeck Droste; merger between Lovells and the Dutch firm Ekelmans Den Hollander

2001 - Lovells launches joint venture with Lee & Lee in Singapore; merger between Lovells and French firm Sim�on & Associ�s

2009 - Hogan & Hartson and Lovells announce their respective partnerships have approved merging firms to create a top-10 global law firm known as Hogan Lovells

2010 - Hogan Lovells was formed via a transatlantic merger

2015 - Hogan Lovells Lee & Lee named Asia Legal Business South-east Asia Law Awards' Corporate Citizenship Firm of the Year, opened offices in Perth and Sydney in September

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

River Valley rape trial: Man changes mind, pleads guilty

Straits Times
05 May 2016
Selina Lum

A day after he pleaded not guilty to raping a woman at three different spots in 20 minutes along a stretch of road, a 30-year-old man changed his mind and admitted his guilt.

Instead of continuing with his High Court trial in what prosecutors describe as a "brazen case", Lim Choon Beng pleaded guilty to two counts of rape, one count of sexual assault and one count of aggravated outrage of modesty. Four other charges will be considered during sentencing.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Zhuo Wenzhao told the court that Lim, who was jobless, was drinking with friends in Robertson Quay before he approached the victim along Martin Road at about 3am on Feb 9, 2013.

The 24-year-old woman from China, who worked as a performer at a lounge, was walking home alone from Havelock Road to her apartment. She slowed down to let Lim walk ahead of her.

After a short distance, Lim, then 26, turned around and spoke to her in English, before asking her in Mandarin if she was a Chinese national and if she liked American men.

Despite her attempts to shake him off, Lim grabbed her and pushed her backwards onto a grass patch in front of the Watermark condominium at about 3.15am.

The woman begged him to let her off, but he paid no heed and raped her.

When some cars passed by, Lim got off the victim. At about 3.25am, he pulled her across Rodyk Street and hit her head against a wall at the Robertson 100 condo.

The woman begged again to be freed but he raped her again.

Thinking that she could seek help from a security guard, the woman suggested that they go to her apartment. Meanwhile, a female security guard at The Inspira condo called the police after seeing Lim on top of the crying victim.

At about 3.35am, when Lim and the victim reached River Valley Close, he pinned her to the ground, forced her to perform oral sex on him and raped her again. This time, she managed to escape.

After running some distance, the victim stopped a car with a woman behind the wheel. She also contacted a friend to call the police.

When the victim returned to River Valley Close, she found police officers at the scene with Lim and immediately pointed him out as the person who had raped her.

The case has been adjourned to tomorrow for sentencing arguments. The maximum punishment for rape and sexual assault is 20 years' jail as well as caning or a fine.

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

Passengers of private-hire cars are covered by required insurance: Forum

Straits Times
26 Apr 2016

The report on April 16 ("Am I covered by insurance if I'm a Grab or Uber car passenger?") said that private-hire cars are "not required by law" to buy insurance that covers passengers.

The Land Transport Authority wishes to clarify that under the Motor Vehicles (Third-Party Risks and Compensation) Act, all motor vehicles, including private-hire cars, are required to be insured against third-party liability risks, which include death and bodily injury to passengers.

This means that passengers in a private-hire car that is involved in a motor accident can claim compensation from the owner of the private-hire car or its insurer.

The statutory insurance requirement for private-hire cars is the same as the requirement for taxis.

Both are required to procure insurance which covers the use of the vehicle for hire and reward purposes.

Those convicted of using or permitting a person to use a vehicle in Singapore without the appropriate insurance are liable to a fine not exceeding $1,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or both.

The driver will also be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for 12 months from the date of conviction.

As was stated in the Land Transport Authority's press release of April 12, under the intended vocational licensing regulatory framework, permanent residents and work permit holders who wish to become private-hire car drivers have to be employed by either car rental or limousine companies ("Some gaps in rules on private-hire cars"; April 14).

This is unlike for Singaporeans, who can be Uber or GrabCar drivers also if they are sole proprietors of a chauffeur services company.

Work permit holders are, furthermore, subject to the Ministry of Manpower's prevailing foreign worker quotas.

Helen Lim (Ms)

Group Director

Corporate Communications Group

Land Transport Authority

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

David v Goliath tussle in 'lease v licence' dispute

Straits Times
18 Apr 2016
Toh Yong Chuan

SME says ex-landlord delayed extension; latter says firm was granted licence, not lease

A home-grown logistics company is taking to court its fight with a landlord many times its size.

Local supply chain services provider iHub Solutions has sued its former landlord, Freight Links Express Logisticentre (FLEL), in the High Court over a rental dispute that happened in 2013.

iHub, a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) set up in 2000, has a paid-up capital of $100,000, according to company records.

FLEL is owned by Singapore Exchange-listed Vibrant Group, which has a market capitalisation of about $40 million. At the centre of the spat is about 40,000 sq ft of office and warehouse space that iHub rented from July 2005 to October 2013 in a warehouse owned by FLEL in Penjuru Road, in Jurong.

When iHub wanted to extend the lease after October 2013, it pointed to a clause in its agreement with the landlord that gave it an option to extend for three years, with the rental hike capped at 10 per cent. It said in court papers it approached the landlord six months before the term was up, but the landlord dragged its feet because it wanted to raise rent by more than 50 per cent.

As negotiations stalled, iHub charged that FLEL took steps to hinder its business. These included "unjustifiable restrictions on carparking spaces" and the "improper parking of containers which obstructed access and/or made it unsafe". It said FLEL even dragged in land owner JTC Corp by sending the extension to JTC for approval when it was unnecessary to do so.

The SME said the landlord had "misrepresented to JTC" that FLEL was managing the space and providing logistics services to iHub when it was not. "The motivation for doing so appears to be an attempt to circumvent the JTC 50-50 rule - that is, at least 50 per cent of the building must be operated by the defendants," said iHub in its court papers.

Without the extension, iHub had to move to another warehouse and said it suffered losses of $805,000, which it is suing to recover.

The landlord denies the charges.

It said in court papers that the SME was not granted a lease but a "licence" to operate at the premises, paying a "monthly service charge", not a "rent".

It said it "had not failed, refused or neglected to confirm the extension", noting that it had e-mailed the SME about two months before the end of the term to confirm the renewal. The SME was aware that the continued use of the premises was subject to JTC's approval, it added.

FLEL said the suggestion of its misrepresentation to JTC was "a baseless attempt by the plaintiff to impute bad faith on the part of the defendant".

It argued that it did not give any impression it would evict the company and, in fact, JTC subsequently approved in December for the firm to continue to use the premises as a sub-tenant and not a licensee.

The landlord also denied that it hindered iHub's business. It said the company had asked for two parking spaces and was given one. As for using containers to block access to the company, the landlord said it was "a complete fabrication".

It accuses iHub of being "mischievous" in bringing the suit to "falsely gain a windfall" at its expense.

iHub is represented by Mr Dominic Chan and Mr Daniel Goh of Characterist LLC, while Ari, Goh & Partners is representing FLEL. The case is scheduled to be heard in October.

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

3 more defendants named in Keppel Club lawsuit

Straits Times
04 May 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Legal action filed against 10 to recover alleged losses from suspected membership fraud

Keppel Club's bid to recover alleged losses from suspected membership fraud has widened to include three more defendants in its High Court suit against seven other parties.

Among the trio added is retiree Lawrence Ng, the husband of former veteran Keppel staff member Setho Oi Lin, 67, who is the first defendant in the case.

Keppel, Singapore's oldest country club, was rocked in 2014 by revelations of the alleged fraud. It led to the sacking of Ms Setho, who started with the club as a clerk in 1966 and rose to supervise its membership department.

The club is suing Ms Setho, four others and two firms implicated in the alleged membership fraud, said to involve about $37.3 million in lost revenue. A probe in 2014 detected "irregularities" in more than 1,300 membership transfers at the club spanning a decade from 2004.

Among other things, some membership files contained only the records of payment of the food & beverage deposit to the club, not the membership transfer fees.

Keppel, which held its annual general meeting on April 20, notified members it had obtained leave from the High Court last month to include the additional defendants.

The club also obtained orders to freeze the assets of two of the three new defendants, including Mr Ng, which will prohibit them from disposing of or dealing with their assets up to the value of $19 million until the case is resolved.

The club obtained a similar freeze order against Ms Setho and two others last year.

Mr Ng, defended by lawyers Chong Jia Hao and Letchumanan Devadason, is expected to file his defence by next week.

Keppel's lawyers from Lee & Lee allege in court papers filed last month that Mr Ng was an accomplice and wrongful beneficiary of his wife's alleged fraud.

Keppel claims that as her husband, Mr Ng knew of the salaries she earned throughout the years as well as her fiduciary duties.

According to court papers, he was also a spouse member who spent much time on Keppel's premises and knew there were no legitimate reasons she would have large amounts of monies.

Mr Ng is the second family member of Ms Setho implicated in the High Court suit.

Her younger brother Setho Wai Meng, 58, had been earlier named as the fourth defendant when Keppel first filed the suit last year. It alleges he was among others who had received monies and benefited unjustly at the club's expense.

Mr Setho, defended by lawyer Tito Isaac, is denying the claims other than to accept that he did receive cheque payments from 2012 which Ms Setho requested to bank into his accounts. He then remitted the sums to her after the cheques were cleared, keeping some of the amounts, which she decided, as a gift from her.

Keppel alleges he allowed his bank accounts to be used as a conduit for wrongful payments.

One of the 10 defendants, Madam Young Ah Whatt, has died, but Keppel obtained a court order last month to extend the validity of the court papers by another six months, while it determines the appropriate legal representative to serve the papers on so the club can recover sums from her estate.

Updated findings showed she was said to have received over $400,000 from her alleged involvement in the suspected fraud.

Meanwhile Ms Setho, who is denying the claims, has filed a counterclaim against the club for wrongful dismissal and lost wages. Defended by Harry Elias Partnership lawyer Philip Fong, she has hit back at the club in defence documents filed, pointing out that she was not the sole custodian of membership files and highlighting audits that cleared the club's accounts every year.

The run-up to the case is ongoing and the next pre-trial conference is due later this month.

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

Man, 82, jailed 8 years for killing daughter-in-law

Straits Times
26 Apr 2016
Selina Lum

Retiree who stabbed 54-year-old to death after argument found to be mentally ill

An 82-year-old mentally ill retiree who stabbed his 54-year-old daughter-in-law to death, following a quarrel over the washing of curtains, was yesterday jailed eight years.

Char Chin Fah pleaded guilty to culpable homicide for killing Madam Ong Guat Leng, a housewife who was married to his elder son Yeng Kong, 52, on Aug 21, 2014. He was found to have suffered an acute paranoid reaction, which reduced his mental responsibility for his actions.

In sentencing, Justice Woo Bih Li said the very serious offence would ordinarily attract a long jail term but he "experienced some hesitation" due to Char's advanced age.

The High Court heard that Char lived with his elder son's family in Tampines for two years, and had an acrimonious relationship with his son and daughter-in-law.

Char's personality made it easy for him to develop paranoid and abnormal suspicions about the intentions of others. This made him "a difficult subject to live with", said a psychiatric report.

He often complained to his two other children about Madam Ong, whom he felt was disrespectful as she called him by his full name and often nagged at him.

Char behaved in socially inappropriate ways, such as placing his dirty socks on the dining table and not closing the door when using the toilet. This annoyed Madam Ong, who was on medication for an anxiety disorder, which made her nag whenever she felt agitated.

Char was given a bed in the flat's living room and his living space was separated from the rest of the living room by a curtain.

The tension reached boiling point on the evening of Aug 20, 2014, when the couple argued with Char for not washing the curtains.

Feeling betrayed by his son for not speaking up for him, Char decided to kill Madam Ong. At about 5.30am the next day, Char left the flat for his daily exercise. Over breakfast, he wrote a "suicide note" to his daughter and drank beer to "gather more courage".

Char went back to the flat when Madam Ong was sleeping alone at home. He took the sharpest knife in the kitchen, went to the master bedroom and attacked her.

He grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly banged her head against the wall. She ran to another room but he caught up with her. She begged him for forgiveness, but he did not relent.

Madam Ong ran back to her room but was unable to close the door and Char stabbed her in the chest with the knife, which had a 20.4 cm blade. He left the knife in her body, washed up and called his daughter and younger son to confess.

The daughter, Madam Jenny Char, called Madam Ong's daughter, who called the police. Meanwhile, Char went to his daughter's home to hand her his belongings.

An autopsy on Madam Ong found four stab wounds in her chest, fractures on her skull, as well as bruises, abrasions and swellings on her face and body.

Dr Stephen Phang of the Institute of Mental Health said that though his "perceived villainess has been eliminated", it was possible for Char to develop paranoid reactions to family members in the future.

Prosecutors said 10 years' jail was fair but defence lawyer Ramesh Tiwary sought five. Char's daughter will house him after he is released, he said. Char's daughter and younger son were in court yesterday but not his elder son.

Madam Char, 53, said they do not keep in contact with their brother. She said her father - who worked as a tailor, bus driver and coffee shop attendant - had a "temper" and wanted to be respected, but denied that he was difficult to live with.

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

Engineer's 'unfair' penalty reduced on appeal

Straits Times
18 Apr 2016
K.C. Vijayan

A professional engineer, whose registration was cancelled after he lied to the immigration authorities to help his Chinese national girlfriend get a visit pass, has had his punishment reduced to a suspension by the High Court.

Justice Lee Seiu Kin said the punishment was "unfair" as the offence had nothing to do with Fong Chee Keong's work as an engineer, unlike previous cases cited by the Professional Engineers Board (PEB).

"Fong had not, in committing the offence, transgressed the bounds of professional duty," he said in judgment grounds released earlier this month.

"It would therefore be unfair to punish Fong with the cancellation of his registration in circumstances where even cases involving direct breaches of professional duty by corruptly receiving gratification do not necessarily attract this punishment."

In July 2013, Fong, then 41, was convicted of making false statements to the immigration authorities in a bid to obtain a visit pass for his girlfriend, Tang Qiuxia, 36, and sentenced to four weeks' jail. Three other charges were also taken into consideration.

The PEB subsequently took disciplinary action against him in relation to the criminal conviction, which breached the board's professional and ethical conduct rules.

He was found guilty last June and the PEB cancelled his registration as a professional engineer and ordered him to pay $10,000 in costs.

Fong appealed against the decision to the High Court, arguing among other things that the offence was not one which made him unfit for his profession.

Fong, who represented himself, further said the PEB's sentence was manifestly excessive.

Justice Lee found the charge was justified, given that he was convicted of an offence that involved fraud , dishonesty or moral turpitude.

Lawyers Ian Lim and Gordon Lim, representing the PEB, argued that cancellation of registration was the benchmark sentence in such cases, pointing out that the offence was a serious one which led to a jail term instead of a mere fine.

They pointed out that nine out of 11 past cases of engineers who had been convicted on disciplinary charges had their registrations cancelled.

Justice Lee found that all the cases cited by the PEB involved offences directly related to the carrying out of the engineer's professional duties, "and the PEB rightly took a stern line in imposing a sufficiently heavy punishment to reflect the gravity of the offence".

But Fong's "transgressions" were not related to the carrying out of his professional duties as an engineer, said Justice Lee.

"It was a moral shortcoming driven by emotional forces in his personal life that may or may not have affected his professional life."

The judge said the maximum suspension of two years was appropriate given the serious nature of the offence.

He added that Fong's conduct in trying to delay the disciplinary proceedings was a serious aggravating factor, noting he not only sought multiple adjournments "at short notice and on tenuous bases", but also "falsified an excuse for his non-attendance at one point".

"The PEB is entitled to expect professional engineers to comply dutifully with all respects of the Professional Engineers Act and to cooperate fully with the PEB particularly in the areas of discipline," he added.

"Any dishonest manipulation of the process by an engineer would be taken seriously and I am of the view that Fong's conduct in this regard is highly aggravating."

Fong was ordered to pay a further $9,000 in costs to the PEB.

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

Fong Chee Keong v Professional Engineers Board, Singapore [2016] SGHC 54

SingPost's disclosure lapses 'made no difference to deals'

Straits Times
04 May 2016
Marissa Lee

But auditors take director to task for delay in disclosing stake in firm advising companies

A long-awaited report has found that the disclosure lapses relating to deals by Singapore Post (SingPost) to buy two freight forwarders made no difference to the company board's ultimate decision to acquire the two companies.

However, the report took director Keith Tay to task for the delay in disclosing his interest in the firm Stirling Coleman, which advised the companies that were being bought by SingPost.

Special auditors Drew & Napier and PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a corporate governance review at the request of SingPost. Last night, a 47-page summary of the report was issued.

SingPost has been embroiled in controversy after it came to light last December that Stirling Coleman had advised the parties selling the firms to SingPost. This raised various issues, such as whether disclosure of Mr Tay's interest in the deals was properly made and even if SingPost may have overpaid.

In the acquisition of F. S. Mackenzie, the auditors noted that Mr Tay had declared his interest as chairman and 34.5 per cent shareholder of Stirling Coleman to the board.

Stirling Coleman was advising the seller of the freight forwarder.

But the announcement on July 18, 2014, posted on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) website that went out to the public, omitted this information and went unnoticed by the SingPost corporate secretarial team. Mr Tay spotted the omission that night and highlighted it to the SingPost team.

SingPost company secretary Winston Wong asked external lawyer Ng Eng Leng of Rodyk & Davidson if a disclosure should be issued, but Mr Ng advised that it was not necessary. However, Mr Ng told the auditors subsequently that he had not read the incorrect announcement and would have advised SingPost to issue a clarification if he had been aware of its mistake.

The special auditors pinned the incorrect disclosure on what it called "carelessness" in preparation and review by certain SingPost staff.

On the second acquisition of Famous Pacific Shipping (New Zealand) announced on Jan 14 last year, the paragraph on "directors' shareholding and controlling interest", which would have disclosed to the public that Stirling Coleman was advising the firm and that Mr Tay was its chairman, was entirely omitted.

The auditors did not point fingers at any one person for this lapse, although it noted that SingPost's legal team had differing views on whether disclosure was necessary.

They also noted that Mr Tay had disclosed his interest to Famous Holdings, which held Famous Pacific, but not to the SingPost executive committee, which was the approving authority.

But even with these lapses, the special auditors concluded that "there is no suggestion that Mr Tay's vote influenced or otherwise affected the eventual approval of (the) acquisitions."

SingPost's statement last night was swiftly followed by a separate statement from Mr Tay via his lawyers, to say he has resigned as lead independent director with immediate effect, as he sees no further need to remain on the board now that the audit is completed.

Mr Tay said last night: "While there are some factual findings in the report that I disagree with completely, they do not detract from the key point - nothing I did caused the non-disclosures in relation to the acquisition of F.S. Mackenzie and Famous Pacific."

National University of Singapore business school associate professor Mak Yuen Teen, whose letter on these deals last December had sparked the audit, said: "The special auditors were critical of Keith Tay... It would seem that regulators may need to look further into this. I think this point should not be buried by the argument that SingPost would still have made the acquisitions."

SGX reminded companies last night of the rules on transactions that require disclosure of a director's interests. It said a company's board is responsible for the announcements and must not abdicate its responsibility to professionals.

It also wants SingPost to obtain independent confirmation that recommendations set out in the summary are implemented.


How the saga unfolded

JAN 18, 2013: SingPost says it is buying a 62.5 per cent stake in freight forwarder Famous Holdings for $60 million. Mr Keith Tay, non-executive chairman and a shareholder of Stirling Coleman, which arranged the transaction, abstains from voting.

JUNE 23, 2014: SingPost executive committee (exco) meets to approve acquisition of freight forwarder F.S. Mackenzie. Mr Tay, attending via telephone, declares his interest in the deal as Stirling Coleman is advising the seller of F.S. Mackenzie.

JULY 18, 2014: Famous Holdings approves the F.S. Mackenzie acquisition via directors' resolution. No physical meeting takes place. SingPost announces the �7 million (S$13.8 million) deal on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) later. Statement includes an incorrect paragraph: "None of the directors or controlling shareholders of the Company has any interest, direct or indirect, in the Acquisition."

NOV 5, 2014: During a board meeting of Famous Holdings, a SingPost subsidiary, at 10.30am, the board is updated on the progress of the acquisition of freight forwarder Famous Pacific Shipping (New Zealand). Mr Tay declares his interest in Stirling Coleman, financial adviser for Famous Pacific. Later, at noon, a SingPost exco meeting is held in the same room, but there is no recorded disclosure of Mr Tay's interest in the Famous Pacific deal. Mr Tay cannot recall declaring his interest at the SingPost meeting.

JAN 7, 2015: SingPost exco approves acquisition of Famous Pacific Shipping (New Zealand). Mr Tay does not attend as he is in hospital in China. There is no recorded discussion of Stirling Coleman's involvement in the acquisition.

JAN 7-14, 2015: SingPost's legal team discusses if Mr Tay's interest in Stirling Coleman needs to be disclosed in the SGX announcement.

JAN 14, 2015: SingPost announces that it has acquired a 90 per cent stake in Famous Pacific Shipping (NZ) for a total consideration of up to NZ$8 million (S$7.5 million). In its statement, the entire paragraph on "directors' shareholding and controlling interest", where Mr Tay's interest in Stirling Coleman would have been disclosed, is omitted.


RECOMMENDATIONS

• To improve guidelines on the evaluation and approval of merger and acquisition transactions

• To implement standard procedures for the disclosure of directors' interests

• To put into writing the guidelines for preparing and disclosing announcements made to the Singapore Exchange on merger and acquisition transactions

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

Co-founder of TWG Tea loses case

Straits Times
25 Apr 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Claims against Osim, others dismissed; judge also calls defamation suit 'storm in a teacup'

A co-founder of luxury tea brand TWG Tea has lost his case against the chief of lifestyle company Osim International and others, with a judge calling one of his claims a storm in a tea cup.

TWG Tea co-founder Manoj Murjani had his claims against Osim International chief executive officer Ron Sim and five others dismissed by the High Court and failed to convince the court he was removed as chief executive of TWG Tea.

In judgment grounds released on Friday, Judicial Commissioner Chua Lee Ming also rejected his defamation suit against Osim and eight others as "nothing more than a very big storm in a tiny tea cup".

The dispute goes back to 2011, when Osim, which sells healthy lifestyle products such as massage chairs, invested in TWG Tea.

The gourmet beverage firm was launched in Singapore in 2007 as a subsidiary of The Wellness Group (TWG) - a company founded by Mr Murjani - which invests in and promotes spas and health and wellness products.

Osim bought an initial 35 per cent stake in TWG Tea in April 2011.

"Unfortunately, disagreements soon started brewing between the two men at the helm of TWG Tea and Osim," which "boiled over and spilled into this court", said the judge.

A key issue was Osim's subsequent share subscription in TWG Tea in January 2014, which increased its overall stake to 69.9 per cent of the shares in TWG Tea.

The lead plaintiff, The Wellness Group, had alleged that the share issue was an act of minority oppression and breached the terms of a shareholders' agreement on March 18, 2011, between Osim, Paris Investment, itself and TWG Tea.

Lawyers Prakash Pillai and Koh Junxiang from Clasis Law, who represented both plaintiffs, The Wellness Group and Mr Murjani, had sought a court order to set aside the shares issued to Osim and its wholly-owned Paris Investment.

They argued that Osim and five other defendants had acted "oppressively" against The Wellness Group's interests under the Companies Act.

The Wellness Group had accused them of conspiring to injure it and Mr Murjani, and breaching an implied term in the sale contract to maximise TWG Tea's profit before tax for 2013.

Mr Murjani alleged that Osim and others had acted to damage TWG Tea's profitability and acted wrongfully to enable Osim to take control of TWG Tea.

The Wellness Group alleged that they did this using several means, including acts by Mr Sim and Mr Taha Bouqdib, a director and chief executive of TWG Tea, to remove Mr Murjani as CEO of TWG Tea.

Drew & Napier Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and lawyer Jaikanth Shankar successfully countered the claims in defending Osim, Mr Sim and others.

They argued that the defendants acted properly and there was no intention to "dilute" Mr Murjani's shares when the share subscription was raised for TWG Tea, among other things.

After an 18-day hearing over three months last year, the judge ruled that The Wellness Group had "failed to prove all of its allegations".

The judge said while the appointment of directors Khor Peng Soon and Peter Lee to TWG Tea breached an implied term of the shareholders' agreement, it did not amount to unfair conduct within the meaning of the Companies Act.

He said there could not have been any prejudice to The Wellness Group as Osim had control of the TWG Tea board before the duo were appointed.

He also found "no commercial unfairness" in the share subscription issue.

The judge also found that Mr Murjani resigned on his own accord as CEO of TWG Tea in 2012 and was not removed as he alleged.

He noted that Mr Murjani had said in an e-mail to Mr Sim a day after he announced his resignation, that he supported the steps necessary to professionalise the company.

Mr Murjani had also taken issue with a statement released by the Osim board in 2014 in accordance with SGX Mainboard Rules. It had described the allegations as "unmeritorious and groundless".

But the judge said, to an ordinary, reasonable person, the words meant "nothing more than that the Osim board believed that the plaintiffs did not have a good case or that the plaintiff's case was unfounded".

Separately, he dismissed a counterclaim by Osim against The Wellness Group and Mr Murjani that two paragraphs in a February 2014 Straits Times report attributed to a press statement by TWG had defamed Osim and five others.

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

First hearing today on changes to elected presidency

Straits Times
18 Apr 2016
Tham Yuen-C

The hearings on proposed changes to the elected presidency will start today, with at least four academics and a researcher set to speak on the matter.

They are Singapore Management University law dons Eugene Tan and Jack Lee, Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, academic Loke Hoe Yeong from the European Union Centre in Singapore, and human rights researcher Brian Chang.

The five are among 19 individuals and groups who will give their views at four hearings on the elected presidency, instituted in 1991.

They were selected by the Constitutional Commission - formed to review the elected presidency - out of more than 100 individuals and groups who had sent in their views during a public consultation.

Only the Workers' Party declined to participate among those invited. It had called for presidential elections to be abolished in its submissions and said its MPs would speak about the issue in Parliament.

The commission, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, was appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in February to review three aspects of the elected presidency.

The three areas are: the eligibility criteria for candidates; provisions for minority candidates to have a chance of being elected from time to time; and changes to ensure members of the Council of Presidential Advisers have experience in the public and private sectors.

Associate Professor Tan said in his submissions that he agreed qualifying criteria should be made more stringent, given the increase in reserves that the president has to safeguard. But he said any changes should kick in only after the next presidential election due by August next year. "Changing the rules of the game so late in the presidential electoral cycle would upset legitimate expectations. This would also unnecessarily politicise the election for a non-partisan office," he wrote.

Mr Chang and Mr Loke both suggested the creation of a vice-president post to ensure minority candidates get a chance to be elected. The vice-president would have to be of a different race from the president, and must contest the election on the same ticket. Mr Chang said it would ensure anyone of any race will be able to stand in the election.

Dr Lee suggested that a committee be appointed to identify suitable minority candidates with the help of relevant organisations such as civil society groups and unions.

He said this would be similar to how Nominated MPs are chosen by a parliamentary select committee.

The public hearing will be held at the Supreme Court auditorium from 9.30am to 5pm today. The other hearings will be on Friday, and April 26 and May 6.

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

HDB tightens rules for transfer of flat ownership

Straits Times
04 May 2016
Yeo Sam Jo

Previous rules allowed some to avoid paying ABSD; transfers now granted only under special circumstances

Housing Board flat owners who wish to transfer their ownership to a family member are no longer allowed to do so except under six special circumstances including divorce and financial hardship.

Previously, owners were not bound by such restrictions when transferring their flat to a spouse or immediate family member.

Having done so and given up their ownership, HDB dwellers could then purchase a private property without incurring the Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD).

This duty of 7 per cent of the purchased property price applies to Singaporeans buying any second residential property here.

Under newly tightened regulations which took effect on April 1, changes in flat ownership are allowed only on grounds of marriage, divorce, death of an owner, financial hardship, renunciation of citizenship and medical reasons, said an HDB spokesman yesterday in response to queries. This would include those who need help from family members in servicing the mortgage, or who have a chronic illness and wish to bequeath the flat.

She stressed that HDB did not make the change to target the loophole that allowed buyers to avoid paying the ABSD, but as part of a regular policy review. Those who do not fall under the new guidelines will be reviewed on a case by case basis.

Property observers said flat transfers done to avoid the ABSD have been an open secret and a common practice in the real estate circle.

Termed as "decoupling", it often involves one spouse legally giving up his or her co-owner status to become an authorised occupier.

"Agents were going around teaching people how to do this and it was all above board," said Mr Chris Koh, director of estate agency Chris International.

The practice caught on after January 2013, when Singaporeans had to start paying ABSD from their second property, instead of the third, as a measure to cool a heated market.

On average, about 6,000 applications for ownership transfers were approved each year from 2012 to last year, mainly due to marriage, divorce, death of an owner and financial hardship, HDB said.

R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng said the latest move by HDB would help ensure that buyers are not financially overstretched.

Real estate lawyer Lee Liat Yeang, a partner at Dentons Rodyk & Davidson LLP, agreed.

"Decoupling is not all that rosy. It may not be easy for a single income to support a loan for a private property," he said. "It could also be the seed of future dispute as you are selling off your interest in the flat."

Mr Koh noted there is a considerable transfer fee and the spouse left with the flat would have to pay the other's Central Provident Fund mortgage instalments with interest.

While the Government said as recently as last month that it is too early to unwind property cooling measures, experts said it might be time to consider easing the ABSD.

PropNex Realty chief executive Ismail Gafoor said: "A second property should not be seen as excessive and Singaporeans should not be penalised for it."

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

Elected presidency scheme has several contradictions

Straits Times
24 Apr 2016
Han Fook Kwang

There were no queues to attend the public hearings last week to look into changes to the elected presidency (EP) scheme.

If the empty seats were a reflection of how interested Singaporeans were in the matter, you have to say not many were.

It isn't surprising.

Twenty-five years after the EP was mooted and debated, the experience so far has been largely uneventful, save for two occasions when questions arose about the role of the highest office in the land.

The first was when President Ong Teng Cheong, the inaugural EP, clashed with the Government over what information he was entitled to regarding national assets which made up the country's reserves.

That early conflict made the Government wary of a president who might have different ideas about his role; the first indication perhaps of trouble ahead.

The issue surfaced again in the 2011 presidential election when some among the four candidates saw the EP's role differently from the official view, and campaigned accordingly.

It alarmed enough people who called for more to be done to educate Singaporeans about the nature of the office.

Looking back now, these hiccups were not unexpected, given the novelty and inherent ambiguities of the office.

They might have seemed troublesome at the time but in reality the issues they raised helped the public understand better what was at stake and focused attention on areas which needed greater clarity.

There were quite a few:

What exactly is the role of the EP?

What powers did he have relative to the government of the day?

What sort of person would be most suited to play this role?

These questions surfaced again at the public hearings last Monday and Friday.

It was good the Constitutional Commission headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon touched on them and probed the thinking behind the various submissions.

Reading accounts of the proceedings, especially transcripts of the exchange between law professor Eugene Tan and the panel, what stood out for me were the several contradictions and conflicting objectives that continue to bedevil the EP scheme

I counted at least three.

First, over who qualifies and how he or she is selected.

Candidates have to meet stringent requirements to ensure only those of the highest qualifications would be eligible, but they are then subjected to a national election where popularity might trump merit.

Chief Justice Menon, in fact, highlighted this when he said: "...merit in terms of who might in fact be the best president is not necessarily the same thing as the one who is most likely to win an election. There are two different points there that we might be in danger of conflicting by putting this considerable emphasis on merit."

He was spot on, and it left me wondering which of the two was more important: Having a president of impeccable professional qualification, or one with a strong mandate won through a popular poll?

In an ideal world, you want both.

But voters look at other qualities besides technical competence, and who is to say they are wrong.

The other problem with a national election is that voters expect to have a certain degree of choice available to them. Restrict those numbers too greatly by having overly stringent conditions, and you run the risk of having an election seen as not free or fair.

The second contradiction: The EP is supposed to be non-political and non-partisan but the process of selecting one through an election can be highly political.

Both the CJ and Associate Professor Tan made this point.

This was what the CJ said: "...while the elected president is selected through a political process... the office itself is meant to be non-partisan, non-political to the greatest extent it possibly can."

When candidates fight for election, when they want to differentiate themselves from other contestants, when they are trying to persuade voters to elect them, they have to reveal their political positions on issues.

In fact, going by precedents, quite a few of them were politicians before they became presidential candidates.

How to fight a presidential election without turning it into a political contest for an office that is non-political is a contradiction waiting to be resolved.

The third area of conflict has to do with this question: Which is the more important role of an EP - as a symbol of the country and ceremonial head of state, or as custodian of the national reserves?

I was particularly interested in how the panel viewed it, and, in fact, it stated its position clearly.

This was how the CJ put it: "It is actually, first and foremost, I speak I think for the Commission, it is first and foremost an office that serves to symbolise the unity of the nation.

"It is first and foremost the Head of State, and accompanying that, there are a range of important custodial powers that go with that."

If he is right - and I think he is - then it points the way to how we view who is best suited for the job.

A symbol of the country, a unifier as some have put it, should be a man or woman who has in abundance the values Singaporeans uphold, someone they can relate to and will be proud to identify with.

If the President is first and foremost this, then it is more important to find someone with these qualities than one who has all the right professional qualifications.

This would argue against making the requirements even more technically stringent, which might make it more difficult to find such a person.

On the other hand, it makes the case stronger for minority candidates to be given a chance of being selected, as a symbol of the country's commitment to multiracialism.

Even when it comes to exercising his custodial duties, technical ability might not matter the most.

A president who can say "no" to a government must have personal and political courage backed by sound judgment.

There may not be that many people who have this in them prepared to go against the entire government machinery, so why limit the numbers and the possibility of missing out on other outstanding candidates?

I hope the panel will help answer these questions, even as it recommends ways to change the office.


A symbol of the country, a unifier as some have put it, should be a man or woman who has in abundance the values Singaporeans uphold, someone they can relate to and will be proud to identify with. If the President is first and foremost this, then it is more important to find someone with these qualities than one who has all the right professional qualifications.

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

Business valuation becoming vital in financial reporting

Straits Times
18 Apr 2016
Wong Wei han

Business valuation is becoming a more vital part of corporate accounting and driving the need to enhance the skills and standards around this speciality.

An ongoing focus on this front is now bearing fruit through initiatives such as a new programme being launched this week to nurture chartered valuers and appraisers, KPMG managing partner Tham Sai Choy told The Straits Times.

Business valuation is an aspect of accounting and auditing that establishes the value of an asset. This is becoming an increasingly significant part of financial reporting, said Mr Tham, who is also a board member of the Singapore Accountancy Commission.

"A recent survey by us found that some 80 per cent of the balance sheets now comprise estimates of fair value. The more objective, cost-based accounting of my generation is giving way to the more complex world of financial instruments, multiple currencies and cross-border businesses," he noted.

"It is also a relatively new trend where we see more companies seeking growth through mergers and acquisitions. And this finds its way into financial reporting, where we have to break down the asset into multiple lines of different valuation to account for things ranging from buildings to brand and intellectual property."

A third area that requires better valuation services is litigation, particularly in bankruptcy cases and shareholder disputes.

The financial industry has so far relied on services scattered across providers offering different types of valuations.

"So it's quite unsustainable. It doesn't help that some of the rules are still ambiguous, and there is often a lack of understanding on how (valuations) should be used. The industry and international standard setters are still working on enhancing these rules," Mr Tham added.

The complexity of business valuation has come to the fore in recent months as public scrutiny centres on the fair value model of companies such as Noble Group.

In response to the challenge, the industry has long hoped to create a common set of competencies and standards for valuation. The launch of the Chartered Valuer and Appraiser Programme is part of the answer to that call, Mr Tham said.

The programme, by the Institute of Valuers and Appraisers of Singapore, will offer structured training and national certification to those in the valuation services, in a bid to improve consistency and quality.

Nanyang Technological University Business School will conduct the training courses, which will begin in August. KPMG is one the programme's industry partners.

The programme is part of the industry's multi-year push to build a leading accountancy hub for Asia-Pacific by 2020. As early as 2010, the Committee to Develop the Accountancy Sector (CDAS) - set up by the Ministry of Finance - noted in its report that Singapore should develop a centre of excellence in business valuation, internal audit, risk management and tax.

Another key industry initiative arising from the CDAS recommendations was the launch of the Singapore Qualification Programme in 2013, which also provides training and certification, allowing participants to be recognised as chartered accountants.

Mr Tham stressed that these industry programmes are not launched to raise the job barrier for existing professionals.

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

Ex-CFO of Sinomem to pay S$316,000 penalty to MAS for insider trading

Business Times
04 May 2016
Jamie Lee

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on Tuesday said that it has taken civil penalty action against Pu Weidong and Triumpus Assets Management Pte Ltd (Triumpus) for insider trading in the shares of Sinomem Technology. They will pay S$316,000 as a civil penalty.

Mr Pu, the sole shareholder of Triumpus, was the chief financial officer in Sinomem in 2009. Between March 2 and March 27, 2009, Mr Pu and Triumpus bought 4.6 million Sinomem shares when Mr Pu possessed confidential price-sensitive information concerning a proposed share buyback offer by Sinomem, MAS said. The share buyback offer was announced on March 27, 2009, and the insider trade translated to a profit of S$49,542.

In the same year, between Aug 25 and and Aug 31, Mr Pu and Triumpus separately sold 14.2 million Sinomem shares when Mr Pu possessed knowledge of confidential, price-sensitive information on a proposed placement of shares by Sinomem. The share placement was made public on Sept 9, 2009. No profit or loss was made on these trades.

Mr Pu and Triumpus have admitted to contravening sections of the Securities and Futures Act. On top of the civil penalty of S$316,000, Mr Pu and Triumpus must pay S$61,610.75 for the legal costs and disbursements incurred by MAS for the civil penalty action.

Mr Pu will not be a company director or be involved in the management of a company for a period of one year from July 3, 2016.

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

Bahrain bank's appeal against Boustead gets thrown out

Business Times
23 Apr 2016
Melissa Tan

[Singapore] THE Singapore High Court has dismissed an appeal by a Bahrain bank, Arab Banking Corporation, against engineering firm Boustead Singapore, Boustead said in a Singapore Exchange (SGX) filing on Friday.

It added that the Court of Appeal's decision on Thursday to throw out the case "finally and conclusively discharges the company's liability to Arab Bank under the facility agreements".

Arab Bank's appeal was regarding an US$18.8 million dispute between it and Boustead that lasted four years. This started from a S$300 million contract Boustead entered into in 2007 through a joint venture to build a township in Libya.

Boustead had at that time provided two separate counter-guarantees, via Arab Bank, for advance payment and performance to Libya's Bank of Commerce and Development.

Libya's Bank of Commerce and Development was then supposed to pay these amounts - US$3.7 million for the advance payment guarantee and US$15 million for the performance guarantee - to a government entity, Organisation for Development of Administrative Centres (ODAC), which had awarded the contract to the joint venture.

But when civil war broke out in Libya in February 2011, Boustead pulled out of the country, halted the project and invoked a "force majeure" clause on its contract with ODAC.

Boustead also got a temporary injunction from the courts to stop Arab Bank from carrying out the guarantee payments.

Faced with pressure from Libya's Bank of Commerce and Development, Arab Bank demanded that Boustead cough up the sums under the facility agreement and sued Boustead.

However, the Singapore High Court ruled in March 2015 that Arab Bank was not to receive payment from Boustead, and was not to make payment to Bank of Commerce and Development. Arab Bank subsequently appealed.

But in its decision on Thursday, the Court of Appeal found that "Arab Bank acted fraudulently, in the reckless sense, in making the demand" for Boustead to pay, Boustead said in its statement.

The appellate court also said a "permanent injunction" was warranted on Arab Bank, Boustead pointed out. This indicates that Boustead does not and will not ever have to pay Arab Bank the sums demanded under the facility agreement.

Boustead shares slipped half a cent to finish at S$0.80 on Friday before the announcement.

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

Arab Banking Corp (B.S.C.) v Boustead Singapore Ltd [2016] SGCA 26

Sex abuse: Greater clarity urged in law

Straits Times
17 Apr 2016
Seow Bei Yi

Experts say Penal Code section must be amended if intent was to cover male and female offenders

Criminal lawyers and professionals who deal with victims of sexual abuse have called for greater clarity in the law after the High Court last week ruled that a woman cannot be found guilty of sexual penetration of a minor.

But lawyers also agreed that the judge was right to decide the way he did, and that it is up to Parliament to amend Section 376A(1)(b) of the Penal Code if the intent was to cover both male and female offenders.

Zunika Ahmad, 39, had pleaded guilty to six counts of sexual penetration of a minor, and one count of sexual exploitation under the Children and Young Persons Act.

Over a period of around 22 months, she regularly had sex with a girl using a dildo. The abuse started in 2012, when the victim was 13.

Zunika lived as man, and no one suspected otherwise until the girl went to the police.

But last Tuesday, Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu rejected her guilty pleas to the charges of sexual penetration and ruled that Section 376A(1)(b) did not apply to women. He sentenced her to eight months in jail for the other charge.

Section 376A(1)(b) was enacted in 2007 after a review of the Penal Code. It states that "any person (A) who sexually penetrates, with a part of A's body (other than A's penis) or anything else", a person under the age of 16, is guilty of an offence.

A person found guilty of an offence under the section could be punished with up to 10 years' imprisonment, a fine, or with both.

If the minor is below 14 years old, the perpetrator could receive up to 20 years' imprisonment and may be liable to a fine or caning as well.

But the judge reasoned that the reference to a person who has a penis meant that A could not, therefore, be a woman.

He did refer to the parliamentary debate that took place before the law was passed. Then Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee had highlighted public concerns over female sexual abuse of male minors.

But the judge ruled that his hands were tied given the clear phrasing of the law.

The decision led the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) to question the seeming inconsistency between the intention of Singapore's policymakers and the way the provision was interpreted.

Ms Jolene Tan, senior manager for programmes and communications at Aware, wrote in a letter to the Forum page published last Friday that "it is unjust to treat the sexual assault of a minor differently based on the gender or anatomy of the perpetrator".

She argued that the words "other than A's penis" in Section 376A(1)(b) seems to be targeted at catching female abusers.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, she said that if the precedent set last week is followed, even clear cases of sexual assault could fall through the cracks. And this could lead to victims being denied justice.

Aware runs a sexual assault care centre that caters to both male and female victims, although it mostly works with women.

Last year, of the 267 cases handled by the centre, 15 per cent involved child sexual abuse. Out of these, more than half involved penetrative assault.

Ms Lena Teo, assistant director for counselling at the Children-at-Risk Empowerment Association, said while a child may not fully understand or be affected by the sentence the perpetrator receives, this may not be the same for older victims.

What is more, sexual assault on a child will cause him or her to grow up with some form of trauma, she added. Whether the perpetrator is a man or a woman, she said, "at the end of the day, the hurt to the victim is the same".

The victim, now 18, had told this paper last week that she still suffers nightmares and can hardly sleep. "She took advantage of my family situation, betrayed my trust and destroyed our lives," she said of Zunika.

She said she was saddened that Zunika was acquitted of nearly every charge. "I thought she was a man when she took my virginity, so why can't she be charged like a man?" she asked.

Criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan agreed there could be more clarity in Section 376A, but "if there is a benefit of doubt, it should be given to the accused, as was done in this case".

"The solution is to relook this section, and other sections involving person A, B, or C," he said, and make clear the sexes involved.

On concerns that this ruling may lead to harsher punishment for men, veteran lawyer Amolat Singh said this is why it is especially important in criminal law that sections set out the precise boundaries of conduct for offenders. "There are some rules of interpretation when you look at statutes. The basic principle is to give the words their ordinary, literal reading."

If it was Parliament's intention for the section to be gender neutral, he added, it is up to Parliament to make the necessary amendments.

Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam said there is a lacuna, or lexical gap, in addressing such a situation. The accused got off lightly because she is a woman, he said, and the ambiguity in wording is an issue that has to be addressed.

He added: "Judges cannot make or amend the laws. It is for the legislature to review."


ROOM FOR REVIEW

The solution is to relook this section, and other sections involving person A, B, or C.

CRIMINAL LAWYER SUNIL SUDHEESAN, referring to Section 376A(1)(b). He said the sexes involved could be made clear.

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

 

Data Register pleads guilty to breaching Companies Act

Straits Times
04 May 2016
Marissa Lee

The company which calls itself Data Register and misled 1,056 firms into paying it a $490 "subscription fee" in November 2013 pleaded guilty yesterday to 500 charges of breaching the Companies Act.

The charges were for failing to state its name and registration number on its business letters. Data Register, which created the impression that it was a government entity, also admitted to another 604 charges which will be considered in sentencing, at a later date.

The case will be mentioned again on May 25.

Each breach under Section 144 of the Companies Act carries a maximum fine of $1,000. The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra), which brought the case to court, has called for a $400 fine for each charge, or a total fine of $200,000. Data Register is asking for a total fine of $50,000.

"These charges represent a mere fraction of the potential offences committed by the issuance of the letters," Acra chief executive Kenneth Yap told a district court, but the accused had already strained Acra's resources and it decided not to pursue the matter further.

Between last month and November 2013, Acra received an unprecedented 7,884 complaints and inquiries concerning Data Register, and incurred a sum of $59,135.86, paid to external vendors for taking and making calls to members of the public concerning Data Register.

In 2014, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) had also investigated Data Register over the alleged scam and seized monies from the company's bank account, but no fraud charges were brought against the company yesterday. The CAD did not respond to queries from The Straits Times by press time.

Even with a conviction, Data Register is not barred from soliciting more business or reviving its payment demands from subscribers.

For its part, Acra said it wrote to Data Register in November 2013, demanding that the firm cease further plans to send "unsolicited business letters with vague and threatening contents", and to offer to remove the firms it had sent letters to from its database and not charge them the $490 fee.

But Acra learnt that some recipients of Data Register's opt-out e-mail the following month found that they were unable to choose the "remove my account" option. And up till July last year, Data Register was sending "final invoice reminders" requesting that firms pay up the $490 to avoid a visit from a credit management company.

Data Register's two registered directors - Dr Szilard Toth, a Hungarian citizen, and Singaporean Lee Wei Hsiung, who is employed at corporate secretarial service firm Tricor, were not in court yesterday.

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

Fashion retailer ordered to repay $2m

Straits Times
23 Apr 2016
Selina Lum

She breached fiduciary duties in transfer of cash, assets between firms

High-end fashion entrepreneur Tina Tan-Leo has been ordered to repay $2.09 million to one of the firms under her Link Group, after the High Court found that she had breached her fiduciary duties as a director.

The case centred on transfers of cash and assets that were made from lifestyle concept store Living the Link - in the two years leading up to its voluntary winding up in May 2010 - to two other companies in her stable, Link Boutique and Alldressedup International.

Mrs Tan-Leo is the sole shareholder of all three companies. Liquidators, represented by Mr Suresh Nair, sued her and the two companies to reverse the transfers as these were "undue preferences".

The suit was funded by Living the Link's former landlord, Cheong's Company. It had staked a claimon Living the Link for $1.3 million, mostly in rental arrears and damages arising from the store's premature termination of its lease in 2009. With the judgment, Cheong's will be able to recover the debt from Living the Link, but the landlord is unlikely to get the full sum as it is not the only creditor.

In a written judgment published yesterday, Justice Steven Chong ordered Link Boutique and Alldressedup to repay their sister company $1.25 million and about $800,000 respectively. These were for the transfers of inventory to Link Boutique and Alldressedup on Dec 31, 2008; the transfer of shares to Link Boutique in April 2009; and cash payments made to Link Boutique in December 2008.

If the companies do not pay, Mrs Tan-Leo has to personally repay the entire sum of $2.05 million.

Justice Chong concluded that Mrs Tan-Leo had breached her fiduciary duties as a director of Living the Link inallowing these transactions and is therefore jointly liable to repay the sum. The judge also ordered her to repay $41,700 that Living the Link had paid for her personal expenses and her husband's in 2009.

Rejecting her defence that she had acted honestly and reasonably, he found that she was "influenced by a desire to prefer the associate companies of which she is a director and the sole shareholder".

However, he accepted that cash transfers of $980,000 to Link Boutique were part of a legitimate series of mutual dealings between the two companies.

In a statement, Mrs Tan-Leo said she was relieved that the court case of three years was finally over. "The outcome is somewhat disappointing, but it is what it is, and we shall accept it and move on," she said.

She noted that the case had its origins in a dispute between Living the Link and its former landlord over the store's premises at One Nassim.

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

Living the Link Pte Ltd (in creditors’ voluntary liquidation) and others v Tan Lay Tin Tina and others [2016] SGHC 67

Report details 'root causes' of AHTC lapses

Straits Times
17 Apr 2016
Charissa Yong

KPMG cites shortcomings in WP town council's governance framework, accounting practices

The independent accountants hired by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) have pinpointed several issues that lie at the root of the town council's governance and financial lapses.

They have to do with the town council's governance framework and policy management, accounting practices, accounting system and capability of its finance department, said KPMG in its first report on the town council's accounts.

The shortcomings in these areas are the "root causes" of the lapses flagged by the town council's own auditors and the Auditor-General's Office in a special audit report in February last year.

Of the 17 lapses which were still outstanding, the town council has fixed two, said the firm.

These and other findings were in the KPMG's report which was submitted on Friday to the Housing Board.

  • Some weaknesses identified by KPMG

  • FINANCE DEPARTMENT

    The Aljunied Hougang Town Council's (AHTC) finance department was weakened by a high turnover of staff. It also did not have a finance manager, and had only a deputy finance manager.

    This led to the loss of institutional knowledge and inconsistencies in accounting practices.

    AHTC told the firm it had difficulties recruiting and retaining managerial staff, but has since appointed two consultants to help with book-keeping matters, and also hired a second deputy finance manager.

    ACCOUNTING PRACTICES

    The town council had not closed its accounts every month, making it hard to ensure the accuracy of its accounting data. AHTC is coming up with procedures to do so, and plans to implement them by the 2017 financial year.

    It is also using a dated accounting system, which is no longer supported by vendors and cannot provide reports in the formats needed.

    This has made it hard for the town council to get an accurate picture of its service and conservancy charges arrears.

    The town council has issued a tender for a new system to replace it. It is also improving its system so that it can generate reports on service and conservancy arrears without the need for manual entry. This should be ready by the month's end.

    RELATED PARTY TRANSACTIONS

    The town council has a conflict of interest policy that did not extend to councillors. The policy also did not explicitly cover payments made to related parties.

    AHTC will come up with a policy and establish procedures for such transactions that comply with the law, by next month. It had also informed KPMG that there had not been any transactions with related parties since the town council's contract with its former managing agent, FM Solutions and Services, ended last July.

    Four of the town council's senior officers had stakes in FMSS, and had approved payments on behalf of the town council to their own company.

The Workers' Party-run town council released the report yesterday, saying that it has been progressively implementing measures to address the outstanding issues flagged.

AHTC hired a team of accountants from KPMG last month to look into its books.

This followed a Court of Appeal order in January for the town council to appoint a Big Four accounting firm to establish whether any past payments it made were improper and ensure it complies with the laws.

The apex court also directed the accountants to submit monthly progress reports to HDB.

In the 42-page report, KPMG noted that the "root causes" "are fundamental to... systemic difficulties for AHTC in effectively and efficiently discharging its obligations" under the Town Councils Act and financial rules.

It pointed out that the town council's inability to keep its finance department staff had led to the loss of institutional knowledge and inconsistencies in accounting practices, for instance.

AHTC's use of a dated accounting system, which is no longer supported by vendors, had resulted in its inability to produce reports in the format required for accounting processes, it added.

And due to weaknesses in how related party transactions were approved, work on projects had sometimes started before the go-ahead was given.

The firm also said that the town council had sometimes transferred too little or too much money to its sinking fund, because it did not correctly compute the amounts due.

It recommended measures, such as developing an accounting manual and code of business conduct, to address these "root causes".

But it said: "As our review is still ongoing, these recommendations are preliminary in nature and may be refined in the course of this engagement."

In a statement posted on the town council's website yesterday, AHTC chairman Pritam Singh said that the town council has agreed, after discussions with KPMG, to implement several measures by July.

They include a policy management process, a governance and internal control framework, guidelines for staff in its finance department and an accounting manual.

The town council also transferred $9.1 million to its sinking funds on Friday, fulfilling its obligations under the court judgment that had set specific deadlines for the transfers to be made, said Mr Singh.

KPMG said the town council had fixed two lapses to do with internal controls and procurement.

It had done so by ensuring that it conducts surprise checks on the cash held at its offices, and by appointing different people to hold the keys to its strongroom and safe.

Of the remaining 15 lapses that range from the incorrect use of sinking funds to incomplete disclosure of related party transactions, AHTC has started to put in place measures to remedy 12 of them.

Another three lapses are still pending review by KPMG.

The Ministry of National Development said on Thursday it would give the town council $12.9 million in grants that it had earlier withheld, as it is satisfied that safeguards are in place to ensure the money is properly used.

The HDB said on Friday that it is reviewing KPMG's report.

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

More credible responses needed from S'pore firms accused of bribery abroad: Mailbag

Business Times
04 May 2016

RECENTLY, allegations have been made in media reports about the possible involvement of some Singapore companies in bribery scandals overseas. The responses from these companies typically include an immediate denial of the allegations, and an assertion that the company has zero tolerance for corruption and a code of conduct prohibiting bribery and corruption. In some cases where third parties are allegedly used, the companies have not denied using the third parties, but have stated that the third parties they use are bound by a code of conduct and an agreement to not pay bribes.

Such responses are not helpful for a number of reasons: First, every company will undoubtedly say it has a zero tolerance for corruption. I have never seen a company say it has some tolerance for corruption.

Second, most companies have a code of conduct that prohibits bribery and corruption, and certainly none will have one that condones it. This does not guarantee that employees or third parties may not have violated the code. Without further investigations, it would be impossible to say for sure that no employee or third party has paid bribes.

Third, where third parties are used, the company will not know if the third party abides by the code of conduct and service agreement, especially if it does not audit these third parties. A recent global survey of bribery and corruption found that many companies did not audit third parties. I have not seen a Singapore company accused of bribery through third parties confirm that it audits the third parties it uses.

Having a code of conduct is only the first step to any effective anti-bribery and compliance programme. Even the existence of a robust compliance function cannot guarantee that bribery will not occur, especially if the company has aggressive sales targets and incentive compensation closely linked to individual sales targets, and operates in industries or countries with high levels of corruption.

We have weak enforcement of our anti-corruption laws overseas, unlike some developed countries, which have strengthened their anti-bribery laws and enforcement in overseas jurisdictions.

Further, there is no concept of corporate liability when employees or third parties pay bribes, and senior management and boards are not held responsible when they oversee a corporate environment that is weak in curbing corruption.

Singapore is also not one of the 41 signatories to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention aimed at combating bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. Therefore, while Singapore has strong enforcement of its anti-corruption laws on home turf, there is less pressure on Singapore companies operating overseas to strengthen their anti-corruption controls, compared to companies from countries such as the US and the UK. Given these factors, when bribery allegations about Singapore companies surface, I tend not to dismiss them outright.

In a recent case, overseas media reports said a leaked confidential memo from an overseas company accused of being a middleman in a massive bribery scandal commented that the Singapore company that was allegedly involved was an "ideal client" because it had lax anti-corruption controls, relative to other multinational clients.

However, it has become evident that even if our regulators do not take enforcement actions overseas, Singapore companies may be exposed indirectly through investigations by overseas regulators of foreign public officials, foreign companies and third parties. Even if no enforcement actions against Singapore companies result from such investigations because of jurisdictional issues or because the Singapore companies are not the main targets of investigation, their involvement causes reputational harm and potential loss of future business opportunities, which are likely to affect their long-term profitability. If many Singapore companies become accused of engaging in corruption overseas, it will also affect Singapore's standing in the global community - even more so if government-linked companies are implicated.

Singapore companies that do business overseas need to take a good hard look at their compliance programmes, strategies, incentive systems and business practices and adopt a more measured approach when responding to bribery allegations. Rather than issuing a knee-jerk outright denial, chanting "zero tolerance for corruption" and "code of conduct" whenever such allegations surface, they should take allegations seriously and commit to reviewing their compliance programmes and undertaking their own investigations. Outright denial of bribery without any specific action may give the impression that the company has a head-in-the-sand attitude towards actual bribery risks out in the field. If the allegations subsequently turn out to be true, the company's initial response would be seen to be shallow and, over time, the company will lose its credibility.

Mak Yuen Teen

Associate Professor at the NUS Business School

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

Heroin trafficker escapes the gallows

Straits Times
23 Apr 2016
Selina Lum

He gets life term after arguing drug addiction, mental illness impaired 'mental responsibility'

A 30-year-old heroin trafficker, who failed to escape the death sentence in three previous attempts, yesterday succeeded in getting the High Court to sentence him to life imprisonment instead.

Justice Choo Han Teck accepted the defence's argument that Jeffery Phua Han Chuan's ketamine addiction, coupled with a persistent depressive disorder, impaired his mental responsibility when he smuggled more than 100g of heroin into Singapore at Woodlands Checkpoint.

Phua was convicted in September 2011 by the same judge and given the death penalty, which was then mandatory for those convicted of importing more than 15g of heroin. His appeal against the conviction was dismissed in July 2012.

After exhausting the avenues of appeal, Phua filed two criminal motions in a bid to get his convictions overturned. His applications were dismissed in March 2014 and September last year.

In 2013, law amendments kicked in, giving judges the discretion to sentence drug couriers to life imprisonment instead of death, if certain conditions are met.

This gave death row inmates like Phua a chance to be re-sentenced.

Phua, represented by Mr Michael Chia, applied to be re-sentenced on the basis that he suffered an abnormality of mind that impaired his mental responsibility for his acts.

The prosecution accepted that Phua was a courier but disagreed that he had diminished responsibility. A hearing was held to hear psychiatric opinions from both sides.

Dr Munidasa Winslow, for the defence, and Dr Kenneth Koh, for the prosecution, both agreed that Phua had a persistent depressive disorder and ketamine addiction.

Dr Winslow said this "substantially impaired his judgment, impulse control and decision-making in agreeing to be a courier, without seriously thinking through the possible consequences of his actions".

Dr Koh disagreed. He said Phua was able to plan and perform complex, organised actions in committing the offence. Phua also agreed to import the drugs two weeks before the actual offence, so his decision to go ahead cannot be said to have been made on impulse, he added.

But Justice Choo said, given that Phua was a chronic ketamine abuser, his decision-making ability and impulse control would be impaired during the two-week period. He concluded that Phua's mental illness and ketamine addiction did impair his mental responsibility for the act.

He said: "I am satisfied, from the facts and medical evidence... that the applicant was probably incapable of resisting any internal rationality that might have dissuaded him from committing the offence."

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

President Tony Tan gives his assent to Supply Bill

Business Times
16 Apr 2016
Lee U-Wen

[Singapore] THIS year's Budget is a "responsible, prudent and balanced" one, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Friday after he gave his assent to the Supply Bill.

This Bill, which was passed in Parliament on Thursday at the end of the Committee of Supply Debate, authorises the government expenditures proposed in the Budget for the new financial year starting April 1.

The government expects an overall budget surplus of S$3.4 billion this year, and Dr Tan noted that the Budget is one that prepares Singapore for the future while taking care of the country's current needs.

These were his first comments on the landmark Budget, the first for the 13th Parliament that was formed after last September's general election. It was also the first Budget for Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who spent close to two hours delivering the Budget statement in Parliament on March 24.

"Budget 2016 has been debated extensively in Parliament. The Ministry of Finance has also separately given the Council of Presidential Advisers and me a detailed briefing on the Budget," said Dr Tan in remarks posted on his Facebook page.

As required by the Constitution, he said that the Council had considered the proposed Budget and recommended that he assent to the Supply Bill on the basis that the Budget is unlikely to draw on the government's past reserves.

"I concur with the Council's recommendation and have exercised the President's discretionary power provided for under the Constitution to give my assent to the Supply Bill," said Dr Tan.

He described Budget 2016 as a reflection of the government's ongoing commitment to "build a better future" for Singapore.

"The initiatives to transform our economy through enterprise and innovation, and prepare our people for new and better jobs through skills development, are forward- looking," he said. "These are thoughtfully designed to involve the community, companies and industry associations in supporting Singapore's longer-term goals."

He added that the sector-based approach adopted in the initiatives would enable Singapore to make further progress by building on the broad-based schemes that were put in place over the last few years.

The Budget also aims to build a caring and resilient society with a focus on both the young and seniors, said Dr Tan.

"The measures announced under this thrust of the Budget will support community efforts to look after the vulnerable among us and complement the ongoing endeavours to transform our economy and develop new capabilities," he said.

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

Eye surgeon suspended for hiding $445k in earnings

Straits Times
04 May 2016
Yuen Sin

SMC tribunal says offences serious, not just 'mere breach of an employment contract'

A 55-year-old eye surgeon, who hid nearly $450,000 in extra earnings from his employer, has been suspended for three months.

Dr Marc Tay Tze-Hsin, a former national swimmer, worked as a consultant for Pacific Healthcare Specialist Services (PHSS) and was also a director.

Under an agreement, he was to hand over all generated income to PHSS, which would pay him an annual gross remuneration of $396,000, and some bonuses.

In 2005, he agreed to become a visiting consultant for The Lasik Surgery Clinic (LSC), with the knowledge of his fellow PHSS directors.

He entered into an agreement on behalf of PHSS for LSC to pay PHSS the fees for surgery he performed at LSC.

But between December 2005 and December 2006, LSC paid Dr Tay separate fees that were concealed from PHSS. The total amount was $445,874. He made full restitution in February 2009.

At a Singapore Medical Council (SMC) disciplinary tribunal inquiry on Feb 3, he pleaded guilty to three charges.

In mitigation, his lawyer said the matter was "essentially a civil case involving a breach of Dr Tay's employment contract with PHSS".

However, the tribunal said Dr Tay's offences were serious and "could not be characterised as a mere breach of an employment contract".

The concealment of the payments received from LSC was at the expense of PHSS. The amount involved was substantial, it added.

The tribunal said "any sentence short of a suspension would not adequately reflect the gravity of Dr Tay's offending conduct, which involved dishonesty".

Dr Tay was censured and required to give an undertaking to the SMC that he would not engage in the same or similar conduct again. He was also ordered to pay the costs of the inquiry as well as the costs related to it.

His three-month suspension, the minimum suspension period handed out by the SMC, took effect on April 25 and will run to July 24.

In February 2014, Dr Tay was convicted in the State Courts - then known as the Subordinate Courts - of dishonest misappropriation, and was fined $30,000. The amount in the proceeded charges was $204,325.

He was also fined $2,000 for breaching the Companies Act.

Dr Tay is now with LSC. When contacted, he declined comment.


Dr Tay was censured and required to give an undertaking to the SMC that he would not engage in the same or similar conduct again. He was also ordered to pay the costs of the inquiry as well as the costs related to it.

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

Tycoon 'removed' from S'pore, held in Indonesia

Straits Times
23 Apr 2016
Arlina Arshad

The Indonesian authorities are holding a securities tycoon in custody over a high-profile fraud case, after Singapore cancelled his entry permit and declared his presence in the country as "unlawful".

Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement that Hartawan Aluwi had been "removed" from the city-state.

Hartawan, 54, had fled Indonesia for Singapore in 2008, after he was named a suspect along with several others for allegedly misusing the government's money amounting to 6.7 trillion rupiah (S$683 million) to bail out the now-defunct Bank Century during the 2008 global financial crisis. The controversial rescue was to prevent a systemic risk or collapse of Indonesia's financial services industry.

Hartawan had used a number of accounts in PT Antaboga Delta Sekuritas Indonesia, a securities firm where he was the president commissioner, to hide money sent by Bank Century founder Robert Tantular, local media reported.

He was also sentenced in absentia to 14 years' jail last July in a related case involving Bank Century.

On Thursday, the Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority took Hartawan into custody, after "the Controller of Immigration cancelled his entry permit and declared his presence in Singapore to be unlawful", the MHA said.

"He was removed from Singapore on the same day," it added.

Indonesian police investigators flew together with him from Singapore to Jakarta on Thursday night, national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told reporters yesterday.

Indonesia and Singapore have signed an extradition treaty, but Indonesia has yet to ratify it.

Mr Boy said Hartawan's passport had expired in 2012 and his Singapore permanent residency status was revoked around February this year, providing "an opportunity for the local authorities to bring him back". He added: "This is really a coordination with support from the Singapore Government towards our search efforts."

Singapore Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam had considered Hartawan to be an "undesirable immigrant... due to his involvement in fraudulent investment schemes and money laundering activities", MHA said.

"In accordance with the law, Mr Hartawan appealed to the Minister for Home Affairs against the controller's decision. After due and careful consideration of the representations and documents submitted by Mr Hartawan Aluwi, the minister rejected the appeal," it added.

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

1MDB: Missing cash may derail plan to write off debt

Straits Times
16 Apr 2016
Shannon Teoh

Fund says it could have been scammed after it handed $4.8b to fake offshore company

Troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) might not just have been cheated of US$3.5 billion (S$4.8 billion) by transferring it to a phoney offshore company, but the missing cash is threatening a plan by the state investor to retire a third of its RM51 billion (S$18 billion) debt pile, observers say.

1MDB has claimed that in making the deposits, it dealt with the former managing director of Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), who was also the chairman of subsidiary Aabar Investments PJS, and the latter's chief executive.

But it has emerged that the series of payments was instead made to similarly named Aabar Investments PJS Limited, which was registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). IPIC said in a London Stock Exchange filing Monday that it does not own this company, which is referred to as Aabar BVI. IPIC said it has not received any payments from Aabar BVI.

The BVI company was wound up in June last year, IPIC said. The situation jeopardises 1MDB's debt-asset swap with IPIC which must be completed by end-June. The deal was to help 1MDB retire some US$4.5 billion in debt.

In May last year, 1MDB signed a deal with IPIC to surrender some of the US$3.5 billion deposit and investment units, worth US$940 million, in exchange for US$1 billion cash and the transferring of all liabilities from US$3.5 billion in bonds.

"If the money is missing, then what was a done deal is now headed towards a dispute," Mr Lim Chee Wee, of law firm Skrine, told The Straits Times.

The complicated 1MDB deals are closely watched by government critics, but are lost on others still trying to figure out who took what and who's to blame. Prime Minister Najib Razak, who also heads 1MDB's advisory board, has said he did not take any funds and that huge sums found in his personal bank accounts were Saudi donations. His critics say he was 1MDB's main driver.

1MDB, in defending why it transferred US$3.5 billion to Aabar BVI, based in the offshore tax haven, has claimed that this was on the instruction of IPIC's former managing director Khadem Al-Qubaisi and Aabar Investments' then chief executive, Mr Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny. 1MDB president Arul Kanda Kandasamy said on national television on Wednesday that IPIC and Aabar "cannot run from their responsibilities" as the sums were paid through the Aabar duo.

The US$3.5 billion was paid out by 1MDB as security deposits and fees to cancel share options as part of a deal involving IPIC's guarantee of bonds issued by 1MDB.

Having first insisted that its audited records show "documentary evidence of the ownership of Aabar BVI", 1MDB now accepts that it could have been scammed after "the recent denial by IPIC and the announcement by the Office of the Attorney-General of Switzerland" that two former Emirati public officials are being probed for fraud.

Mr Khadem left IPIC in April last year, while Mr Badawy exited in August. Although not named by Swiss authorities, they are the duo under investigation, according to media reports citing unnamed sources.

According to the Public Accounts Committee report and transcripts of its 1MDB inquiry released last week, 1MDB claims that "the counterparty has sign(ed) off that they have received their funds" including an "acknowledgement from a former CEO of Aabar that funds were received" in an initial US$1.4 billion tranche.

But "the National Audit Department found that Aabar Ltd (or BVI) was not listed in the IPIC group based on its 2013 and 2014 financial statements", the report said.

Litigation lawyer Andrew Yong of AmerBon said that if 1MDB has the documents to back its claim, then IPIC would have to honour deals struck by officials who had the authority to do so. But given the narrow time frame for the swap to be executed, "it will likely go into a dispute that will take years to resolve".

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

Criminalisation can hit shipping's bottom line

Business Times
04 May 2016
David Hughes

WHEN seafarers suffer a blatant injustice somewhere in the world, there is often genuine widespread outrage in the global shipping industry. That anger is usually tempered, however, by a feeling that nothing much can be done and trade must carry on regardless.

There was an uproar when Spain's Supreme Court recently overturned the 2013 verdict of the Spanish court of first instance in La Coruna, which had acquitted Apostolos Mangouras (master of the tanker Prestige) of charges of criminal damage to the environment in 2002.

Tanker owners body Intertanko's summary reflects the way the episode is widely viewed throughout the global shipping industry. It said: "Captain Mangouras, now 81 years old, is outrageously branded a 'reckless' criminal. Yet his actions were described as 'exemplary' by the vessel's flag state. Confronted with a refusal by the Spanish authorities to give the damaged ship refuge, Capt Mangouras bravely did all he possibly could to protect crew, ship and cargo, and to protect the environment. He remained on board with the chief engineer after the rest of the crew had been evacuated, in order to try and save the ship. Finally, against his judgement, he was obliged by the Spanish authorities to take a series of actions that resulted in the damaged tanker being forced to remain out at sea in appalling conditions, where she eventually broke up."

Every international shipping body you could think of expressed anger. Plenty was said about the criminalisation of seafarers. But it looked, and still looks, like another wrong that cannot be righted.

So it was a bit of a surprise to see a press release from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) last week, a few months after the final ruling in the case, saying that ICS has strongly criticised the judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court in the Prestige case.

ICS raised the matter at a meeting of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPCF) last week. The shipowners body told the IOPCF meeting: "This decision appears to be highly unusual and has been reached through a somewhat contorted application of law to facts which were found to be correct by the lower court. The decision also seems entirely unbalanced, applying different standards when assessing the blameworthiness of the master to those applied to government officials on shore, whose decisions were exonerated by the Supreme Court."

However, the case was not just about blame; it was probably even more about money. ICS spelt out what the judgment could mean: "It is of great concern to ICS that this decision may be used to support a claim to break the shipowner's right to limit liability and that the amounts then claimed would far outstrip those limits. These limits of liability are the essential quid pro quo for shipowners for agreeing a strict liability under the 1969 Civil Liability Convention (CLC) regime. However, under the CLC, the right to the limits may be broken if it can be shown that the shipowner acted 'recklessly and with knowledge that damage would probably result'."

Undermining shared liability

ICS says the actions by the Spanish government to pursue its claims against the shipowner - "for what are expected to be enormous amounts in excess of the shipowner's limits of liability" - could seriously undermine the system of shared liability that has been agreed under the CLC/Fund liability and compensation regime.

Understandably, ICS says it has appealed to all member states of the IOPCF to do their utmost to protect and support the system which has worked very well over the past decades, and which should not be sacrificed for the interests of individual countries.

"The whole regime is based on cooperation and trust between the shipping industry, the oil industry and governments," says ICS in its statement to the IOPCF. But ICS warns that it now fears that the entire system of efficient compensation for oil spills could be put in serious jeopardy because of unsound decisions being made by national courts.

Asking countries to be reasonable is all very well but when an incident occurs, local considerations can be overwhelming. Those "interests of individual countries" can often prove too strong.

So does the global shipping industry's policy have to be to cross fingers and hope there is no major incident for a long time to come - and, when it does happen, that the oil laps up on the coast of a "reasonable" state?

Well, not quite. Let us return to the hapless seafarer who is usually at the centre of these cases. If principles of fairness and justice, and the rule of international maritime law, are applied right from the start, we are less likely to end up in a Prestige type of situation.

Almost everybody agrees that creeping criminalisation of seafarers has taken place, and is continuing to blight the industry. Collectively, shipping has got to make an even bigger fuss over injustices when they occur. But there must be a strategy too. It should focus on strengthening the 2006 International Maritime Organization/International Labour Organization Guidelines on the Fair Treatment of Seafarers. Ten years on, it is high time to find a way to ensure seafarers are always treated properly, and with respect.

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

Ex-banker charged in likely twist to 1MDB saga

Straits Times
23 Apr 2016
Chong Koh Ping

A former Singaporean private banker has been charged with receiving benefits from criminal conduct, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said yesterday.

Yeo Jiawei, 33, a former wealth planner with the Singapore unit of Swiss private bank BSI, was charged on April 16 with an offence under the the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.

"As investigations are ongoing, no further details are available at this time," said a statement released by the AGC yesterday.

According to the charge sheet obtained by The Straits Times, Yeo was charged for receiving $200,000 in his Bank of China account on or around Jan 30, 2013.

This amount represented his benefits from cheating, said the charge sheet. While the charge sheet made no mention of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) or any related entities or individuals, Bloomberg reported earlier yesterday that Yeo was charged with money laundering following investigations into 1MDB's money flows.

Yeo could be jailed up to 10 years or fined as much as $500,000, or both if convicted.

This appears to be another twist in the 1MDB saga. The authorities in Malaysia, Switzerland, the US and Luxembourg are also probing claims 1MDB was used to funnel money to politically connected individuals.

BSI handled accounts for 1MDB and related parties, including Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments PJSC, an entity the fund did business with, and Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, according to documents entered into Singapore's High Court as part of an effort by another former BSI private banker to unfreeze assets.

Mr Yak Yew Chee had attempted to sue the Singapore Government in order to gain access to a portion of about $10 million in his bank accounts frozen by the authorities as part of their 1MDB probe.

The authorities said in February that they had seized a "large number" of bank accounts over possible money laundering and other offences linked to 1MDB.

The Commercial Affairs Department and the Monetary Authority of Singapore have been investigating possible offences relating to 1MDB since the middle of last year.

Mr Yak has since left BSI and the bank announced last month that its head of Asian operations Hanspeter Brunner had retired. They are among several senior employees who have left, or are said to be leaving BSI Singapore in recent months.

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

Suspended doc in false death cert case guilty of 3 charges

Straits Times
16 Apr 2016
Amir Hussain

A 65-year-old general practitioner barred from practice for wrongly stating two patients' causes of death was yesterday convicted of criminal charges in a district court.

Kwan Kah Yee, a former medical director of Ren Ci Hospital, pleaded guilty to three charges: signing a false death certificate, fabricating evidence for a Singapore Medical Council (SMC) probe, and furnishing false information to police.

The former president of the Singapore Society for Clinical Hypnosis admitted to two other similar charges. These will be taken into consideration in sentencing on April 29.

The court heard that on March 29, 2011, Kwan went to Ms Siti Mariam Mohd Salleh's home in Teck Whye Lane at the request of the Singapore Casket Company, which had been informed of her death by her husband Sariffudin Mazlan.

Kwan was then practising at Superbcity Hospice in Peninsula Plaza and was paid about $250 for each certificate of death he issued.

He issued one to state that 32-year-old Ms Siti's cause of death was "ischaemic heart disease", when he knew this was false. There were no electrocardiogram (ECG) reports, or other evidence of this.

On Dec 10 that same year, after the SMC started investigations based on a complaint by Ms Siti's foster sister, which was not elaborated on in court, Kwan asked Mr Sariffudin to sign a letter, to be used for the probe. Among other things, it said Ms Siti had been treated for ischaemic heart disease since May 2007, and Mr Sariffudin wanted the probe to end to prevent his wife's confidential information from being disclosed.

Although he did not agree with the letter, Mr Sariffudin signed it as he trusted Kwan, Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi told the court.

But in October 2014, the SMC's disciplinary tribunal suspended Kwan for three months, after he pleaded guilty to two charges of professional negligence relating to the wrong death certificates of Ms Siti and Mr Gareth Tan Soon Poh, 26.

Kwan had issued a death certificate in Mr Tan's Dublin Road home on March 29, 2010, stating his causes of death as "bronchiectasis" and "chronic obstructive airway disease", without any proof of this.

The SMC appealed to the Court of Three Judges, which in July last year raised Kwan's suspension to three years. He was also ordered to pay $6,000 in legal costs to the SMC.

The three judges - Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang - also said they were "deeply disturbed" by the case, and, in a rare move, had asked the Attorney-General to consider investigating it.

Among the issues that should have been raised: Kwan's incentive in falsely certifying the deaths.

Police began investigations last July, and asked Kwan to produce his medical records and case notes. But he gave false case notes which recorded, among other things, that Ms Siti's ECG reports and abnormal blood test results had been shown to him by Mr Sariffudin. He also falsely recorded Mr Sarifuddin as saying Ms Siti had complained of chest pain in 2007, and that she was treated in hospital several times.

In an earlier case, Kwan had been suspended for three months, fined $5,000 and censured by the SMC for wrongly stating a patient's cause of death in 2009 as "congestive cardiac failure", which is not an acceptable cause of death.

The patient's daughter had filed a complaint against Kwan, as the family was making an insurance claim.

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

The impact of short selling on insider trading

Business Times
04 May 2016
Qian Wenlan

HISTORY is replete with examples of insider trading, globally and in Singapore.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) took action against former banker Vincent Rajiv Louis last October for contravening the Securities and Futures Act after he admitted to insider trading.

Insiders capitalise on profit opportunities because they have private information - details that can be obtained only because they are close to the source of information. Hence, insiders are said to be "informed".

However, we often think that such informed people are only those in, or associated with, a particular firm.

There is one group whom few consider as informed: short sellers.

Short sellers are investors who sell shares that they do not currently own in the belief that prices will decline. This means they can buy back the shares at a lower price and earn a profit. That they are able to analyse and identify overvalued or "suspicious" stocks that will soon experience a price decline or regulatory intervention make these short sellers informed investors, although not from privileged information typically associated with insiders.

Beyond being informed, short sellers execute a considerable amount of trades, making them a critical part of the stock trading system.

Daily shorting is prevalent in many stock exchanges. It has been reported that short selling accounts for 24 per cent of the New York Stock Exchange's (NYSE) share trading volume and 31 per cent of NASDAQ's.

The question is: can informed short sellers affect insiders who do not short sell?

According to my study at the National University of Singapore Business School with fellow researchers Massimo Massa, Xu Weibo and Zhang Hong, the answer is "yes".

We examined publicly listed companies on the NYSE, NASDAQ and AMEX stock markets, using information from various sources such as Thomson Reuters, and found that the behaviour of insiders - directors and officers of listed companies - changes with the presence of short sellers in the market.

Short sellers are potential competition in the trading of private information.

Take, for instance, a firm that is planning to invest in projects with negative net present values. Its insiders (such as its management and directors) would have privileged information, and could decide to profit from trades before the market is aware of the plan.

CATALYST FOR INSIDERS

While short sellers are generally slower than insiders when it comes to obtaining such information, we found that the mere presence of short sellers in the market serves as a catalyst for insiders to trade sooner, and faster.

Insiders are incentivised to sell their shares before the short sellers attack the firm, because competition from short sellers reduces the profitability of insider trading as time goes by.

This results in insiders bringing forward their trades before any short selling occurs - which in turn reduces the average time span of insider sales.

Interestingly, we found that the more shares short sellers have, the more shares insiders want to sell before a short seller attack.

Particularly when short sellers have more shares to sell, insider trading is more likely to occur among more informed insiders such as directors than less informed insiders - suggesting that the more informed insiders are, the more they will exploit their informational advantage to pre-empt short sellers.

This also means that directors and such senior management are most affected by short sellers.

The effects of short selling on insider trades are also amplified when short sellers continue to pay attention to the firm.

We found that companies with more negative news in the subsequent month - hence drawing the attention of short sellers - have more and faster insider selling.

LESSER OF TWO EVILS?

All in, short selling introduces competition that accelerates the rate at which private information is revealed to the market via insider trading.

While there has been talk about limiting short selling, what our research shows is that such a move may have the inadvertent consequence of not exposing insider trading earlier and, hence, decelerating the rate at which private information is revealed to the market.

Regulators will have to think about which is the lesser of the two evils -- short selling or insider trading - because, as it turns out, short selling has its benefits, after all.

The writer is assistant professor of finance at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

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

Banking & finance body rolls out revised standards for financial planners

Business Times
23 Apr 2016
Claire Huang

[Singapore] AS PART of a wider move to inject uniformity and greater professionalism into the financial advisory industry, the Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore (IBF) has rolled out a revised set of competency standards for financial planning, together with stakeholders.

The IBF Standards for Financial Planning, which took 15 months to develop, is aimed at providing a clear professional development roadmap and certification pathway for the 18,000 to 20,000 financial planners here.

Besides the usual core skills relating to cash management plus insurance and investment and retirement planning, the new IBF standards have introduced new competency areas such as financial planning for high net worth individuals and business owners, as well as ethical principles in the financial advisory process.

Merlyn Ee, executive director at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), on Friday said at the launch of the new standards that new and senior practitioners would be able to stay relevant by taking up the IBF courses to develop the required skills at various stages of their careers.

Currently, the curriculum of the widely recognised Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Chartered Financial Consultant/

Singapore (ChFC/S) qualifications awarded by the Financial Planning Association of Singapore (FPAS) and Singapore College of Insurance (SCI) respectively, have been updated to meet IBF standards. From 2016, these practitioners would be eligible to apply for the advanced certification.

The cost of taking a ChFC/S programme comprising 130 training hours is about S$4,000 before a government subsidy, while the cost of a CFP programme that comprises 160 to 180 training hours is estimated to be between S$4,000 and S$5,000 before the subsidy.

IBF said financial institutions such as AIA Singapore, AXA Life Insurance, Great Eastern Life, Great Eastern Financial Advisers, IPP Financial Advisers, NTUC Income and Prudential Singapore are either looking to have their in-house programmes IBF accredited or sending their agents for the CFP or ChFC/S training. The institute expects most of the tied agents who are trained in-house to join the IBF-accredited curriculum in the second half of 2016.

Ong Puay See, IBF's chief executive, said: "What this IBF accreditation does is it brings it up to a common language.

"Instead of us counting how many are CFPs and ChFC/S holders and not knowing whether they are mapped against each other, we now have a common lingo where we can track year on year, what per cent of the industry is IBF-certified by way of the different pathways."

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

Law boosts global enforceability for rulings on civil, commercial matters

Straits Times
15 Apr 2016
Lim Yan Liang

Enabling court judgments here on civil and commercial matters to have greater international enforceability is at the heart of a new law passed by Parliament yesterday.

Approval of the Choice of Court Agreements Act also makes Singapore courts a more attractive forum for deciding cross-border disputes, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah explained during the debate on the legislation.

Its approval now paves the way for Singapore to ratify an international pact that 28 countries have adopted: the Hague Convention.

Under the convention, if a Singapore court has been chosen to preside over a dispute, under what is known as an "exclusive choice of court agreement", the hearing must be held in Singapore. The court's judgment must thus also be recognised and enforced by courts of all other parties to the convention. Singapore signed it in March last year.

"The implementation of the convention demonstrates Singapore's commitment to be a global player in facilitating international commerce," said Ms Indranee.

"Drawing more complex cross-border commercial cases to our courts will allow us to develop and shape commercial law, as well as international jurisprudence relating to the convention."

This latest step comes as Singapore moves to establish itself as an international arbitration hub. The Singapore International Commercial Court heard its first case in November last year.

Responding to questions from Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan and Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), Ms Indranee said the Hague Convention is "very promising" despite the relatively small number of countries that have adopted it so far.

She said 27 of the 28 European Union states are party to the convention, and the United States and Ukraine have also signed it. Singapore will do its part to encourage fellow Asean members to adopt the convention, she added.

As for Mr Nair's question on whether courts would be obliged to recognise judgments made by convention nations with "less robust" legal systems, she said there are built-in safeguards in the convention and the Act that provide grounds for the courts here to refuse to recognise or enforce foreign judgments.

These include instances where the judgment was obtained by fraud, or where enforcement would be against Singapore's public policy. The courts also have some discretion in the matter, said Ms Indranee.

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

Court awards legal costs for work done on pro bono basis

Straits Times
03 May 2016
K.C. Vijayan

A construction company which lost its appeal against a worker's $1,900 wage claim has been ordered by the High Court to pay $6,000 in legal costs meant for the law firm representing the worker on a pro bono basis.

The case is significant for pro bono work, as it is the first reported case where the court has directly ruled on the availability of legal costs to pro bono lawyers and provided clarity on the issue.

Judicial Commissioner Debbie Ong said there is "no reason" why the losing party should not be ordered to pay costs, just because the winning party lacked money and was represented by a lawyer on a pro bono basis.

She made clear in oral judgment grounds released last week that the payout was not tantamount to champerty - where a client pays his lawyer only if he wins a case.

In this case - a dispute over unpaid wages between SATS Construction and Bangladeshi worker Islam Md Ohidul - the Labour Court had ordered SATS to pay $1,931.13 to the worker last year.

SATS then appealed to the High Court, which dismissed the appeal in January, but the judge ordered a further hearing on whether costs were payable to a winning party where the lawyer acted pro bono.

TSMP Law Corporation lawyer Melvin Chan argued for the worker that if the plaintiff - SATS in this case - had won, a costs order can be made against pro bono-aided defendants.

But in this case, if the plaintiff cannot be ordered to pay costs when it loses, it would be an open invitation to the plaintiff to " try its luck" in appealing against the Labour Court decision, he said.

SATS was defended by lawyer Dhanwant Singh.

Judicial Commissioner Ong said the courts have a discretion to award costs. "In the present case, there is nothing on the facts that warrants a departure from the general principle that the defendant, as the successful party, ought to be awarded costs," she said.

Citing a 2013 judgment by a Court of Three Judges, she said the prohibition against champerty did not apply in this case where the impecunious defendant would not have been able to afford a lawyer.

"It is indeed honourable for a lawyer to give his services pro bono, knowing that if the party he represents is unsuccessful, or if costs are not awarded in favour of that party, he will not be paid."

The pro bono lawyer has put in substantial time and effort, she said. "There is no windfall for the client, who will not keep the cost sums ordered. There is no prejudice to the opposing losing party who would have had to pay costs to the winning party in non-pro bono situations."

In legal aid cases, costs recovered by the legally aided person on winning a case would go to the Legal Aid Bureau, she noted.

She said the policy and principle behind legal aid and pro bono work are similar - they are meant to enhance access to justice and "it is fair for the providers of such services to be paid for the work they had done, by virtue of cost orders".

TSMP is donating the costs awarded to the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, a group dedicated to addressing migrant workers' concerns.

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

Call for campaign rules to avoid politicising presidential polls

Straits Times
23 Apr 2016
Chong Zi Liang

Lawyer says candidates must declare they understand role before getting eligibility cert; not make 'grandiose promises'

A 49-year-old lawyer wants rules introduced for campaigning during the presidential election because the last polls were politicised to the point that unrealistic promises were made.

Mr Rey Foo proposed that before candidates are issued certificates of eligibility, they must make a declaration that they understand the role of the president.

Candidates must also not make what he called "grandiose promises" that are outside the scope of the presidency to fulfil, he said yesterday at the second public hearing of the Constitutional Commission to review the elected presidency.

But he did not cite any instance of politicising that he said occurred in the presidential polls in 2011, when four candidates contested and President Tony Tan Keng Yam won by a slim margin.

In making his suggestion, Mr Foo said: "The election process for the elected president should be of an entirely different flavour compared with the normal general election for Parliament seats.

"The style... in the past election was very similar to the political type of election. I don't think that should be the case."

To enforce the proposed rules for campaigning, a tribunal can be set up to look into complaints of breaches, he said. Candidates should be disqualified from running if they break the rules twice, he added.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, said the tribunal's role would be similar to that of an election judge who looks into wrongdoing during parliamentary and presidential elections.

Mr Foo said it could be adapted from the existing institution.

But former Parliament Speaker Abdullah Tarmugi, a member of the commission, raised the issue of who should be allowed to report a possible infringement.

If members of the public could do so, the tribunal could be inundated by cases. But if only candidates could file complaints, the process could become a source of conflict among candidates seeking the office.

Mr Foo replied that a candidate who makes a false allegation would risk his reputation, but acknowledged that the procedure needs to be fine-tuned.

When asked if he felt Singaporeans were clear about the elected presidency, he said that based on his experience, people did not have a full understanding of the role, responsibilities and powers of the office.

Schools should teach the younger generation about it, he added.

CJ Menon noted that others at the first hearing had also emphasised the need for public education.

It was a point he raised again when a group of Singapore Management University law students gave their views on the six-man Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).

They suggested the CPA's advice to the president be published with the presidential decision for reasons of transparency, adding that it would help people better understand the role of the office.

CJ Menon said that implicit in this suggestion was the need for greater education. "One of the points implicit about this thing is that there is a need for people in Singapore to have an appreciation not only in the role of the president, the nature of the functions he has, but as well with the CPA, what the CPA can and cannot do."

In an earlier exchange with the Eurasian Association's representatives, CJ Menon said members of the public tend to focus on the president's custodial role over the country's reserves.

But the president performs other important functions as well, such as approving key public service appointments, he said.


THE CRUCIAL POINT

Your point is that candidates who come out and make promises in seeking election, in the presidential elections, are putting forward things that they ultimately can't deliver. Because they can't come forward and say, 'I'm going to drive for better healthcare', 'I'm going to drive for better trains' or whatever the issue may be.

All their concern in that office, apart from the critically important national symbolic and ceremonial roles, all they are able to do is to check, serve as a check and balance on the Government's powers in relation to finance, appointments...

And that's the crucial point you're making... that you have to recognise the distinction and therefore try to curb the electoral process so it doesn't unnecessarily fuel expectations that can't be met and doesn't give people a misunderstanding of the office of the presidency. That's really the critical point you're making.

CHIEF JUSTICE SUNDARESH MENON, summing up the reason underpinning lawyer Rey Foo's proposal that rules be introduced for campaigning during the presidential election.


Eurasian Association calls for GRC-style presidential elections

The Eurasian Association yesterday said restricted presidential elections, in which only minority candidates can run, are not the best way to ensure Singapore gets a minority president from time to time.

It proposed having GRC-style presidential polls instead to achieve this aim.

"We're not in favour of the restricted election where... we have a minority candidate stand (after a few terms)," its president Benett Theseira said at the second Constitutional Commission hearing on the elected presidency.

"We feel it goes against the grain of our multiracial philosophy and it may create unhappiness, forcing people to vote for a single individual who is of an ethnic minority."

Mr Theseira was at the hearing with the association's vice-president Alexius Pereira, honorary treasurer Martin Marini and trustee Timothy de Souza.

He also said stipulating that only minority candidates can run could create keen competition among minority communities and divide them.

Under the GRC-style election, two or three people will contest the election on one ticket, with at least one member in the group belonging to a minority race.

The group will then pick one person as a "front runner", who will be president if it wins the election.

The other two members will be appointed to the Council of Presidential Advisers.

But a requirement should be put in place that a minority candidate be designated the front runner when this method does not throw up a minority president after a few terms, said Mr Theseira.

He added that this way of electing presidents is similar to how teams are elected for group representation constituencies in parliamentary elections.

He said it would give minorities a fair chance of being elected to the highest office of the land, adding that it would affirm all races are treated equally.

Professor Chan Heng Chee, a commission member and chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, said such requirements would make it a "restricted election" as well.

But Mr Theseira said the GRC-style election "dilutes the impact slightly" as the slate will be multiracial.

"As a society, we've had experience doing that in the parliamentary elections with the GRCs, and I think that is something that people are used to," he added.

Responding, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, the commission's chairman, said: "It's really a question of palatability, right? Because in substance, it comes down to the same thing.


"Students propose three-wing council of advisers

Two proposed changes to the role and structure of a council that advises the president were made yesterday.

One came from a group of law students, which wants the six-member Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) to be reconfigured into three wings that the president can turn to for specialised advice.

These are: financial, legal and appointment, which will advise on key public service appointments, such as the chief justice and auditor-general.

But each CPA member can serve in more than one category, they told the nine-member Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency framework.

The second and more radical proposal was made by 28-year-old lawyer Ronald Wong.

He wants two of the six CPA members to be elected by Singaporeans. The six would then get together and vote for one of them to be the president.

But such a system could frustrate Singaporeans as there is a chance that neither of the two whom people elected could be picked as the president, said Mr Philip Ng, a member of the commission and the chief executive officer of property developer Far East Organization.

Mr Wong replied that in his proposal, the president would play a ceremonial role while all decisions the president is required to make would be collectively taken by the six-member CPA, with a majority vote.

This effectively transfers some of the president's powers to the CPA and gives it more teeth, he added.

"The CPA and president have to be seen as a unitary institution," said Mr Wong, who argued that his proposal will ensure the president's custodial powers are subject to the CPA's own veto powers, and will bring a consensus to the office.

Asked by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, the commission chairman, if he was proposing a fundamental redesign to the elected presidency, essentially situating the office within the CPA, Mr Wong agreed.

He also said his system is a "halfway house" that seeks to bridge the old system, in which the president is appointed, and the current one of popular election.

The law students' proposal largely focused on improving the CPA's effectiveness and transparency.

One of them, Mr Alexander Lee, 23, said the three specialised wings for the president to consult would improve the quality of the CPA's advice and make it more efficient.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang, a commission member, pointed out that the decisions before the president may not be so "clean cut" as to fall neatly into the three categories.

CJ Menon agreed, and added that there is value in the way the present CPA considers all issues as a group, bringing their diverse expertise and perspectives to the discussion.

But while it may not be wise to "compartmentalise the CPA into specific areas of expertise", CJ Menon said there is value to having guidelines that ensure the CPA members together bring a range of experience to the table, which would not be "unbalanced".

The extent of the president's veto powers was also raised.

Currently, the president's decision is final when he acts with the CPA's support. When the CPA disagrees, he may exercise his veto powers, but Parliament may override it with a two-third majority.

But CJ Menon said a third option worth exploring is when a minority in the CPA disagrees with the president's veto, and that veto can be overturned by a parliamentary "super-majority''.

Lim Yan Liang


Eligibility criteria should stand the test of time: CJ

The question of how much to alter the eligibility criteria for presidential poll candidates came up for discussion yesterday, with the chairman of the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency giving his view on the issue.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said at his commission's second hearing: "What we're trying to do is to examine whether the constitutional provision can be drafted in such a way that it can withstand the test of time, and for that to happen, what we're dealing with is trying to define (the) criteria."

In doing so, the search is for a configuration of criteria that will yield "a pool that's likely to throw up a sufficient number of suitable candidates", he added.

Many who took part in the first two hearings, held on Monday and yesterday, had said the criteria should be made more stringent.

But they also expressed concerns that this could shrink the pool of potential candidates, and urged the commission not to go overboard in raising the bar. They were referring to a requirement that private sector candidates have experience running a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million to qualify.

CJ Menon said: "You can't set the criteria by looking at the individuals and say I think at this level we will have so many suitable candidates, it's because we know exactly who the candidates are. I don't think that's the way to go about it."

Yesterday, lawyer Ranvir Kumar Singh, 57, suggested that the amount be raised to $500 million, using Singtel as a benchmark. He said the company's value had increased five times since the elected presidency was implemented in 1991.

CJ Menon said the $500 million threshold would capture the top 0.2 per cent of firms here - the same proportion captured in 1991 when the threshold was $100 million.

Mr Singh also proposed looking at the net assets, governance record and profitability of companies, to determine if a potential candidate had done a good job.

Commission member Wong Ngit Liong, chairman and chief executive of Venture Corporation, noting it would involve a qualitative change to the criteria, asked if the Presidential Elections Committee would be making more subjective judgments when deciding who qualifies to run.

Mr Singh said the committee's members must be of a high calibre to be in a position to judge.

Another commission member, Mr Philip Ng, chief executive of Far East Organisation, said an issue it was tasked to examine is how to phase in new criteria, if any. Mr Singh said he had not thought about that.

Tham Yuen-C

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

Perennial turns to court amid rift with Pontiac over Capitol Singapore

Business Times
15 Apr 2016
Lee Meixian

It is seeking wind-up of three associates, citing deadlock with co-owner over key issues

[Singapore] DISAGREEMENT between the co-owners of Capitol Singapore - an integrated development located at the junction of Stamford Road and North Bridge Road - over some key issues relating to the project have resulted in Perennial Real Estate Holdings Ltd (Perennial) seeking court action to wind up three associated companies.

The three associated companies - Capitol Investment Holdings, Capitol Retail Management and Capitol Hotel Management - are equally owned by Perennial (through Perennial Capitol and New Capitol) and Pontiac Land (through Chesham Properties).

These Capitol entities hold the assets of Capitol Singapore, which includes a luxury hotel, mostly high-end retail shops, residential units, and the refurbished landmark Capitol Theatre.

Explaining the move to have the associated firms wound up, Perennial said in an announcement on Thursday that both sides are "in deadlock" and "their relationship has been adversely affected such that the shareholders (of the three Capitol entities) cannot realistically continue to work together constructively".

"As such, it is just and equitable that the Capitol entities be wound up," Perennial added.

All components of the integrated development - retail, theatre, hotel and residences - have received their temporary occupancy permits.

Perennial said: "The Perennial entities and Chesham have been unable to agree on a number of key issues relating to the Capitol project. As a result, in the last few months, the Capitol project has become increasingly deadlocked at both the board and shareholder levels."

When asked what will happen to the day-to-day operations at the development, a Perennial spokesperson said: "The making of a winding-up application will protect and preserve Capitol Singapore's assets until such time as the applications are determined by the court.

"The relevant Capitol entities will also continue to be managed in accordance with the current practice. The retail tenants will be able to continue their business as usual and tenancy agreements entered into by Capitol Singapore with the retail tenants will continue to be observed."

Representing Perennial is TSMP Law Corp's Thio Shen Yi; Pontiac is understood to be represented by Drew & Napier's Davinder Singh.

Perennial (through its entities) is prepared to either (i) buy Chesnam's 50 per cent shareholding in the Capitol project, (ii) sell its effective 50 per cent shareholding to Chesham, or (iii) have all shares in the project sold to a third party.

When asked what course of action it will pursue, a Pontiac Land spokesperson said: "Chesham Properties Pte Ltd regrets that Perennial Real Estate Holdings Limited has chosen to commence proceedings in court. We are reviewing the options and we will respond appropriately in the interests of the company."

Pontiac Land is a privately-held luxury property developer owned by the billionaire Kwee brothers.

Property consultants declined to estimate how much the development would be worth if liquidated, but one analyst said Perennial could make a small profit if it cashes out, as the current market value of the development is slightly greater than its gross development value of S$1.1 billion.

DBS Group Research equity analyst Derek Tan, who has a "buy" rating on Perennial, does not intend to change his rating, given the uncertainty of the outcome.

Asked which seems the most favourable option for Perennial, the analyst said: "I believe it would be for Perennial to sell its stake to either Pontiac or a third party, subject to pricing. This is because Perennial does not enjoy much scale in Singapore, which makes it hard to pit itself against other landlords with scale."

Perennial's focus remains largely in building integrated developments in China. In Singapore, it owns stakes in TripleOne Somerset, Chinatown Point, AXA Tower and CHIJMES.

Mr Tan said: "There has been some delays to the opening of the hotel, and the retail component seems to be still a little quiet. Probably familiarity has yet to really set in with consumers yet. Residential sales have also been slow." Close to half the 39 residential units have been sold.

On Thursday, Perennial shares closed trading at S$0.91, down 1.1 per cent.

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

Singapore firm in row over Libyan payments wins lawsuit

Straits Times
03 May 2016
K.C. Vijayan

A Bahrain-based bank failed in a US$18.8 million (S$25 million) court suit against public-listed Boustead Singapore in the fallout from a construction project that derailed during Libya's 2011 civil war.

The Court of Appeal in effect stopped the Arab Banking Corporation (Bank ABC) from receiving any payment from Boustead and held it from making payment to another bank further up the banking chain involved in the guarantee arrangements.

Bank ABC had sought the payouts based on a credit facility agreement with Boustead, a Singapore incorporated infrastructure company involved in international construction developments, as it wanted to settle, in turn, demands from Libya's Bank of Commerce and Development (BCD).

But the Court of Appeal comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and Justice Quentin Loh found Bank ABC had acted fraudulently as it could not have "honestly believed it was obliged to honour any demand from (BCD)," among other things.

BCD had sought the payouts based on guarantees from Bank ABC because it said it had to pay the project developer, the Organisation for Development of Administrative Centres (ODAC), following the project meltdown.

But the ODAC notices were "manifestly" defective as they did not comply with the conditions of the performance bonds and advance payment guarantees upon which hinged the whole case.

"Any banker who compared those notices against the requirements for a valid demand stipulated in the performance bond and advance guarantee payment could not have reasonably concluded that they constituted conforming demands," wrote CJ Menon in judgment grounds released last month.

But the court made clear this "truly is an exceptional case", resulting in a rare suit where a bank lost claims against a client over demands to settle performance guarantees provided by the client.

Boustead's spat with Bank ABC began from a 2007 deal in which it undertook a joint venture to build a township in Al-Marj, Libya.

As part of the arrangements, both entities vouched for advance payment and performance to BCD.

BCD was, in turn, expected to to pay the sums of US$3.7 million for the advance payment guarantee and US$15 million for the performance guarantee to ODAC, a Libyan government outfit which had hired Boustead's joint venture company for the project.

When unrest broke out in February 2011, the project site was pillaged and looted and Boustead abandoned the project.

It deemed the project contract with ODAC terminated by the "force majeure" event - an unavoidable accident.

Boustead subsequently obtained a court injunction to stop Bank ABC from carrying out the guarantee payments to BCD but the latter insisted Boustead pay up under the facility agreement. The bank's action was in part triggered by pressure from BCD.

The High Court ordered last year that Bank ABC was not to receive payment from Boustead, and was not to make payment to BCD.

The bank appealed to the apex court, where its lawyers Muralidharan Pillai and Sim Wei Na from Rajah & Tann argued there was insufficient evidence to find the demand was made fraudulently, among other things.

Wong Partnership Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng and lawyer Josephine Choo countered for Boustead that Bank ABC had no grounds to claim against Boustead because the bank would not incur any liability against BCD.

Hence any claim against Boustead in those circumstances would be fraudulent.

The court found that "in gist", Bank ABC had acted fraudulently in making the demand recklessly on Boustead based on the facility agreement. It ruled Boustead would not be required to make the payments for good.

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

Arab Banking Corp (B.S.C.) v Boustead Singapore Ltd [2016] SGCA 26 

Can dad sell flat after mum's death?

Straits Times
23 Apr 2016
Janice Heng

Unfortunately, if the daughter is not a co-owner of the flat, she has no legal right to stop the flat from being sold, said the HDB.

As a legal owner of the flat, the widowed father can decide to sell the flat if he has met the Minimum Occupation Period of five years.

"If she is experiencing hardship or family dispute, the daughter could seek assistance from the Family Service Centre or the Legal Aid Bureau," suggested the HDB.

When a joint owner of a flat dies, the remaining joint owner can take ownership as the sole lessee, if he or she satisfies the eligibility conditions, such as being a Singapore citizen or permanent resident.

In such a situation, the remaining joint owner will have to lodge a Notice of Death with the Singapore Land Authority.

He may appoint his own solicitor to act for him, or engage the HDB's legal services.

If using the HDB's services, he should go to the relevant HDB branch, taking along his identity card, the original death certificate of the deceased joint owner, and a duplicate lease, if there is one.

He will have to pay registration and conveyancing fees at the point of application.

HDB's legal group will then prepare the Notice of Death and inform him to sign the documents.

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

Govt rebuts lawyer's comments on scheme

Straits Times
15 Apr 2016
Grace Leong

Ministry defends 2008 scheme which lawyer Lee Suet Fern says has not benefited S'pore lawyers enough

The Law Ministry has rebutted comments by a prominent Singapore lawyer who said a scheme unveiled in 2008 to open up the local legal sector to foreign law firms has not benefited local lawyers enough.

The ministry was responding to comments on internationalisation by Mrs Lee Suet Fern, managing partner of Morgan Lewis Stamford, at a lecture organised by the Law Society last month.

Mrs Lee had cited the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) scheme, which allows foreign law firms to practise in permitted areas of local law through Singapore qualified lawyers.

She noted that the six original QFLP firms, despite generating $1.2 billion in revenue between 2009 and 2014, had hired "only about 100 out of thousands of Singapore-qualified lawyers", and wondered if this was a good enough outcome. Foreign law firms, she said, had given local ones a run for their money.

In its response, MinLaw defended the scheme, noting that it had opened up new opportunities for Singaporean lawyers who were keen to do transnational commercial work. The scheme allowed them to gain exposure to niche areas not previously easily available and gave opportunities to young local lawyers.

The ministry noted that for 2014/2015, the nine foreign firms granted QFLP status generated $340 million in revenue, with 80 per cent coming from offshore work, or work that could have been done elsewhere.

Exports of legal services in 2014 were worth $700 million - $400 million contributed by foreign law firms.

The ministry added that more than a third of lawyers in QFLPs were Singapore-qualified and more than a quarter of partners in the QFLPs were Singapore-qualified.

It added that the scheme had received the backing of many of Singapore's larger law firms, some of which would be most directly impacted, as well as those in the financial services industry. "In other words, the introduction of the QFLP, and its role in making Singapore a regional legal centre, has implications beyond the legal sector, and benefits beyond the economy."

Pointing out that Mrs Lee's arguments appeared at odds with her previous positions, the ministry disclosed that she had sought to join the scheme in 2014.

But her proposal to do so was turned down as the ministry "had specific periods when it invited applications from everyone, then considered the best applicants".

"It would not be possible to give a licence to one firm, at that firm's request," MinLaw said.

Mrs Lee, however, appealed for an exception to be made for her firm and "strongly made the case for a QFLP licence to be given", said the ministry, noting that she had "extolled the virtues of the QFLP scheme" at the time.

"However, her request was rejected because no exceptions could be made for her. The QFLP licence is awarded only when an application cycle is called, and on a competitive basis."

Asked about this by The Straits Times, Mrs Lee said: "When we were exploring a merger with Morgan Lewis in 2014, we looked at the various existing options, including a QFLP. But as another round of invitations for QFLP licences was not likely, we searched for another avenue to achieve internationalisation."

Stamford Law merged with Morgan Lewis & Bockius last year. Mrs Lee was Stamford's senior director and founder.

Last night, Mrs Lee said she acknowledged the benefits of the QFLP scheme, but added that it is only one of the ways for the legal sector to grow. "Singapore lawyers need to go regional, with or without QFLPs. And there are many opportunities for Singapore lawyers to tap overseas opportunities, as more local and international firms tie up. This calls for a mindset change. Singapore lawyers need to leave their comfort zone and think regional, think international and venture beyond the shores of Singapore."

Pointing out that Mrs Lee's arguments appeared at odds with her previous positions, the ministry disclosed that she had sought to join the scheme in 2014.

But her proposal to do so was turned down as the ministry "had specific periods when it invited applications from everyone, then considered the best applicants".

"It would not be possible to give a licence to one firm, at that firm's request," MinLaw said.

Mrs Lee, however, appealed for an exception to be made for her firm and "strongly made the case for a QFLP licence to be given", said the ministry, noting that she had "extolled the virtues of the QFLP scheme" at the time.

"However, her request was rejected because no exceptions could be made for her. The QFLP licence is awarded only when an application cycle is called, and on a competitive basis."

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

Condo sales terms favour developer: Forum

Straits Times
03 May 2016

Here is the situation: You buy a condominium which is under construction and make payments progressively, as stipulated.

Before the Temporary Occupation Permit is granted, the developer wants to make changes to the common areas.

However, you do not like the proposed changes and object.

The developer then annuls the sales and purchase agreement with you so that it can proceed with the changes.

In doing so, it will refund all payments made without interest.

Here are the financial implications for the buyer when the agreement is annulled by the developer before completion.

The buyer will:

• incur legal fees (typically $4,000 to $5,000);

• incur the bank's housing loan cancellation fees (typically 1.5 per cent of the loan amount);

• bear the opportunity cost of initial payments made;

• have to have enough funds to repay the bank loan first, as the developer has 21 days to pay him back, that is, the buyer cannot use the funds refunded by the developer to repay the bank loan.

If a buyer is unable to bear any of these consequences , then he must take action to avoid the annulment.

The only way is to withdraw his objection to the developer's proposed changes, regardless of whether he agrees with them or not.

Let us contrast this situation with what happens when it is the buyer who wants to cancel the sales agreement.

The developer has the right to forfeit and keep 20 per cent of the purchase price without interest, and recover all costs and expenses, legal or otherwise, incurred by the developer in relation to the recovery of possession of the housing unit.

Comparing the two situations, it is clear that the transaction terms favour developers over individual buyers.

The contract in question is the standard document used by the industry, which all developers must use in the sale of housing units in Singapore.

The Government should review some of the clauses in the document to make it more equitable for the average home buyer.

Tang Hwee Jiun (Ms)

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

Ex-director jailed 22 months for CBT involving $130,000

Straits Times
23 Apr 2016
Elena Chong

A former businesswoman who committed forgery and pocketed $130,000 from a jewellery company by encashing two cheques was jailed for 22 months yesterday.

Chinese national Gou Linnan, 36,was a director at W & G Jewellery, which operates a retail outlet named Chow Tai Fook Jewellery at Marina Bay Sands (MBS).

As one of the two authorised signatories of the company's bank account, she could sign and make a cheque withdrawal.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi said between July 14 and 18 in 2011, Gou issued two cash cheques amounting to $130,000.

She wrote in the cheque book summary page that the cheques were payments to Chow Tai Fook, a Hong Kong-based jewellery supplier of W & G Jewellery.

But she encashed the cheques and spent the money on gambling.

Chow Tai Fook Jewellery confirmed that it did not receive the payments of $100,000 and $30,000 from W & G Jewellery.

She then forged a bank telegraphic transfer form in a bid to conceal her misappropriation of the $100,000.

She wrote her name as the applicant remitting $100,000 from her UOB personal account to Chow Tai Fook Jewellery's bank account in Hong Kong.

She then forged the signature of a bank employee under the "For Bank Use Only'' section to make it appear that the transaction had been carried out.

Police reports were subsequently made and she was arrested.

A second forgery charge was taken into consideration.

Gou has made partial restitution of 500,000 yuan (about $104,000) to Mr Wang Kaizhong, a director of W&G Jewellery.

Her lawyer, Mr Josephus Tan, said his client had been in a seven-year relationship with Mr Wang and went through four abortions. When the relationship went downhill, she gambled. She had hoped to win, and return the money to the company.

Mr Tan told the court that Gou married a Singaporean in 2014 and wants to start a family.

Gou could have been jailed for life or up to 20 years and fined for criminal breach of trust. The maximum penalty for forgery is 10 years' jail and a fine.

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

Law meant to cover female sex abusers: Forum

Straits Times
15 Apr 2016

The Association of Women for Action and Research is deeply dismayed by the recent High Court decision on the sexual penetration of minors under Section 376A(1)(b) of the Penal Code ("Woman acquitted of sexual penetration of a minor"; Wednesday).

According to reports, the court decided that Section 376A(1)(b) covers only perpetrators with penises, a category it conflates with "men".

There are three major issues with this approach.

First, in terms of substantive outcome, it is unjust to treat the sexual assault of a minor differently based on the gender or anatomy of the perpetrator.

The impact on the victim and the culpability of the perpetrator are not affected by whether the perpetrator has a penis.

Anyone who commits sexual abuse should be held accountable, regardless of their body parts.

Second, the idea that Section 376A(1)(b) does not cover female perpetrators or perpetrators without penises is inconsistent with the intention of the policymakers who introduced it.

In describing Section 376A in Parliament in 2007, then Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee began by noting that "female sexual abuse of male minors" was a key concern.

He went on to state that the amendment to the Act was intended to cover female perpetrators.

Third, proper interpretation of the statutory language does not require the perpetrator to have a penis.

The words "other than A's penis" in Section 376A(1)(b) are there to distinguish penetration with a non-penile body part from penetration with a penis, which comes under Section 376A(1)(a).

A person without a penis can clearly perform penetration with some other body part.

The contrast between Section 376A(1)(c) and other parts of Section 376A is also notable.

Section 376A(1)(c) refers to "(causing) a man under 16 years of age" to engage in penile penetration. By contrast, Section 376A(1)(d) refers to penetration by a person under 16 years of age with an object or a body part "other than (that person's) penis".

The legal drafters' clear, deliberate distinction between "man" and "person" strongly indicates that "person" should not be limited to mean "any man" or "any person with a penis".

Jolene Tan (Ms)

Senior Manager

Programmes and Communications

Association of Women for Action and Research

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

Appeal turns spotlight on corrective training

Straits Times
02 May 2016
K.C. Vijayan

A serial offender withdrew a High Court appeal against his five-year corrective training sentence - but could now see it slashed to just 14 months in jail following an appeal by the Public Prosecutor.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Lau Wing Yam told the court last week that while the technical requirements for the sentence of corrective training were satisfied in the case of Tan Yew Hock, the offences for which he was convicted may not be serious enough to trigger such a serious punishment.

The 44-year-old pleaded guilty last year to two charges of stealing a pair of earrings from a Hougang Mall shop and causing hurt to a 26-year-old male nurse. An additional charge of spitting at the nurse was considered.

However, Tan had a criminal record that went into a "not insignificant 10 pages", noted District Judge Matthew Joseph, who had sentenced him to five years of corrective training last year.

In 1990, Tan was given reformative training for robbery. A string of other offences including drug consumption followed in the next 25 years, and DPP Terence Szetoh, at last year's State Court hearing, urged the court to consider a pre-sentence report on his suitability for corrective training.

It noted among other things that Tan's stay in the community between offences was usually less than a year and he lacked close family support.

Tan, who was unrepresented at the State Court hearing, filed an appeal but wrote to the Supreme Court in February to withdraw it. However the prosecution concurrently reviewed Tan's case and found his offences were not serious enough to warrant his punishment. The prosecution argued before Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin last week for a substantial jail term, given Tan's extensive antecedents, instead of the longer period of corrective training.

The appeal judge called for an adjournment, pending the outcome of two upcoming magistrates' appeals before the Court of Three Judges relating to issues of corrective training.

He said he was aware of the period of jail time served by Tan by the time a decision would be reached in the present appeal.

An Attorney-General's Chambers spokesman said: "The Public Prosecutor... has no interest in securing excessive sentences when the facts do not warrant such sentences. This is a crucial aspect of the Public Prosecutor's role in protecting the public interest - to secure a fair, proportionate sentence that is neither manifestly inadequate nor manifestly excessive."

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

TV shows to push data privacy message

Straits Times
23 Apr 2016
Irene Tham

Singapore's privacy watchdog is planning its first marketing blitz to drum into organisations the need to secure consumers' data.

This is following its recent crackdown on breaches of the law, its first since new data protection rules took full effect in July 2014.

The Personal Data Protection Commission plans to widen its reach by launching its first TV infotainment programmes featuring how Singapore companies comply with the law.

It said lax security procedures were behind most of the recent breaches of the law.

While spending and launch details were not available, Commission chairman Leong Keng Thai told The Straits Times: "We understand that some businesses might still need time and more help to comply with their obligations.

"The key to using personal data is to use it in a responsible manner just as you would treat other commercial sensitive or valuable data."

So far, the Commission has reached out to more than 8,000 organisations and 66 trade associations via free quarterly briefings conducted with the Workforce Development Agency and e-learning programmes, among others.

On Thursday, the Commission rapped 11 organisations - among them household names K Box Entertainment Group, Challenger Technologies, Metro and the Singapore Computer Society - for failing to protect customers' personal data.

Under the Personal Data Protection Act, organisations that fail to protect personal data can be fined up to $1 million per breach.

The heaviest fine of $50,000 went to K Box for a data breach involving 317,000 customers in September 2014. K Box declined to comment when contacted.

Metro department store chain, on the other hand, was warned for not securing its website and content management system properly, leading to a data leak involving 445 customers.

Metro said it had hired auditor KPMG to assess the security of its systems and that it has since taken steps - such as to encrypt its data and update its system software - to better mitigate risks.

IT retail chain Challenger Technologies was also warned over an error that resulted in members receiving an e-mail meant for another member.

It said it has since hired local data protection consultancy firm Straits Interactive to audit and review its business processes and policies, and trained staff on the proper way to handle personal data.

The Singapore Computer Society was also warned for mistakenly sending a document containing the personal details of 214 individuals to these 214 individuals without proper checks.

Its president Howie Lau said it has taken steps and will consider strengthening existing encryption methods on data files to prevent this from happening again.

Meanwhile, lawyers said the recent crackdown serves as a wake-up call.

"More organisations will review even the most basic processes such as password setting and e-mail attachments - things that they do not normally take notice of due to a lack of time, resource or the know-how," said lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson.

Even data management services and IT system providers will sit up and review their security process, said lawyer Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons MPillay.

"They must also hire a data protection officer, as required by law, not only to protect customers' data, but also to ensure they do not retain the data longer than necessary," said Mr Tan.


Enforcement and breach details

K BOX ENTERTAINMENT GROUP

The karaoke chain received the heaviest fine of $50,000 and was directed to appoint a data protection officer, a must-have under the law. The enforcement was for a data breach involving 317,000 customers, resulting in their names, contact numbers and home addresses being posted on file-sharing website pastebin.com in September 2014.

Lax security measures caused the breach. For instance, access to its computers was protected by weak passwords comprising only one letter of the alphabet.

FINANTECH HOLDING

K Box's IT vendor was fined $10,000 for failing to update K Box's systems with the latest, most secure software and for lax security procedures. For instance, the system administrator's account password was simply "admin".

INSTITUTION OF ENGINEERS SINGAPORE

The Institution of Engineers Singapore was fined $10,000 for failing to put in place adequate security measures, resulting in the wrongful disclosure of the names, and e-mail and residential addresses of 4,000 members on pastebin.com.

FEI FAH MEDICAL MANUFACTURING

The health supplements supplier was fined $5,000 for failing to secure its online databases, resulting in the wrongful disclosure of the usernames, passwords, contact numbers and e-mail addresses of more than 900 customers on pastebin.com.

UNIVERSAL TRAVEL CORPORATION

The tour agency was directed to strengthen its data protection policy and send staff to be educated on the requirements of the law, although the tour agency was not fined. Its staff had shared the names, nationalities, dates of birth and passport numbers of 37 customers with four individuals within this tour group.

CHALLENGER TECHNOLOGIES

The IT retail chain was warned for not checking that its IT vendor had sent e-mail updates about the membership details of 165,000 people to the right recipients, resulting in the wrongful disclosure of members' names, membership numbers and points.

XIRLYNX INNOVATIONS

Challenger's IT vendor Xirlynx Innovations was warned for not having the proper checks in place for e-mail communications.

FULL HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS

The home exhibition organiser was warned for not ensuring that its computer system for registering individuals in a lucky draw properly secured the names and details of people who had entered their information.

METRO

Metro megastore was warned for not securing its website and content management system properly, leading to a data leak involving 445 customers.

SINGAPORE COMPUTER SOCIETY

The society was warned for mistakenly sending a document containing the names, identity card numbers and business contact numbers of 214 individuals to these 214 individuals without proper checks.

YESTUITION AGENCY

Yestuition Agency was warned for mistakenly publishing on its website the identity card numbers of 30 tutors, without their consent.

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

More legal woes for Art Heritage S'pore

Straits Times
15 Apr 2016
Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh & Lee Jian Xuan

The legal troubles facing Art Heritage Singapore, the firm behind the private museum Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris which closed on Monday after barely a year in business, are piling up.

The Straits Times has learnt that two more lawsuits were filed against the company, by a security company and a media house, bringing the number of reported lawsuits to four so far.

The total sums claimed come up to almost $900,000.

The Ministry of Manpower also told ST that eight employees have lodged salary claims against Art Heritage Singapore.

A former employee said he was asked to go on "half-time contract" on reduced pay between April and August last year.

He quit last August, nine months after joining the museum in November 2014. "Visitor attendance was a concern among the staff members, as we noticed it was low," he added.

Art Heritage Singapore chairman Marc Restellini told ST in an e-mail interview from Paris that he will "do my best to convince all the partners to pay the salaries as soon as possible".

The firm's shareholders include KOP Properties, entrepreneur Alain Vandenborre, a Singapore-registered investment holding company Art Museum Diffusion Group, of which Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier is the sole shareholder, and a Netherlands-registered organisation called The Art Heritage Group N.V.

Mr Restellini said the museum attracted between 250 and 400 visitors on weekends following the museum's opening last May. But in the last six months, daily visitor numbers were "usually around 25 to 40" people.

The two new lawsuits were filed in the weeks leading up to the museum's sudden closure on April 11. Security company Jasa Investigation and Security Services is seeking a sum of about $89,000 in a suit filed on March 29.

Media house Burda Singapore, whose magazines include Prestige and August Man, filed a claim for just over $14,000 on April 4. The case involves advertisements placed with it.

Last week, The Straits Times reported two ongoing lawsuits against Art Heritage Singapore. One was filed by media and digital agency Mediatropy over a sum of about $110,000 and another by Italian company Arthemisia Group over about €435,000 (S$668,000).

Housed in Fort Canning Arts Centre, Pinacotheque Singapore was the only overseas outpost of the Pinacotheque de Paris in France, which closed on Feb 15 due to falling visitor numbers.

The museums focused on showing Western masterpieces from private collectors around the world and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) facilitated the setting up of the museum in Singapore.

A 2014 New York Times report said that Singapore Pinacotheque cost US$24 million (S$32 million). Both museums were set up by Mr Restellini, who is a French curator and art historian.

STB's executive director of arts, entertainment and integrated resorts Carrie Kwik said the board provided funding that was used solely for the redevelopment of the Fort Canning Arts Centre, and that STB would work with relevant agencies, such as NParks, to "identify other meaningful concepts that could add value to the centre".

• With additional reporting by Huang Lijie

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

Youth’s punishment for smuggling upped to 2 years

TODAY
02 May 2016

SINGAPORE — A High Court judge has increased a young cigarette smuggler’s jail sentence from 15 months to 24 months following an appeal from prosecutors, ruling that it is important to apply the principle of sentencing parity across accomplices to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the administration of justice.

The case in question involved Pang Shuo, who was aged 19 when he was sentenced to 15 months’ jail for unloading 480kg of duty unpaid cigarettes. In contrast, his 20-year-old accomplice Zhi Dian was sentenced to 24 months’ jail.

In his grounds of decision released on Thursday, Justice Chan Seng Onn found that the district judge in Pang’s case had been “overly lenient”, going by the sentencing benchmark laid down by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in April 2014.

The factors to be considered were the amount of duty evaded, the quantity of goods involved, whether the offender was a repeat offender, whether he was acting on his own or was involved in a syndicated operation, and his role in the crime.

While a discount in the sentence ought to be given to young first-time offenders, Justice Chan found no reason for the extent of the disparity in this case on July 28 last year.

In explaining how he arrived at the decision to increase Pang’s jail term to 24 months, the judge also issued guidelines for the discount that may be applied to young offenders. For the same offence, an offender aged 20 could be considered for a 5 per cent discount to the benchmark sentence.

Those aged 19 could get a 15 per cent discount, and so on, until 45 per cent for offenders aged 16.

Going by this framework, Pang got a 46 per cent discount from the benchmark sentence, when he should have qualified for just 15 per cent, Justice Chan said.

In urging for Pang’s sentence to be enhanced, prosecutors had also pointed out that Pang was slightly more culpable than Zhi, as he was involved in the collection, delivery and unloading of the contraband cigarettes. Zhi, on the other hand, had only unloaded the goods.

But Justice Chan noted the culpability of two “low-level” offenders as paid workers in a syndicate could be minor, regardless of whether one was involved in importing at the start of the illicit supply chain or in unloading at the end.

“If one considers the various offending physical acts needed to carry out a smuggling operation, it is perhaps fortuitous that an offender, a mere paid worker within the criminal smuggling enterprise hypothetically involved in the whole chain at every step, was caught at one step, and not another,” he said. “The level of culpability inherent in the different physical acts carried out by a paid worker in the smuggling chain can be regarded as largely similar.

“I cannot see any real or substantive distinction in the worker’s culpability for these various individual physical acts.”

Justice Chan added that generally, the quantity of cigarettes smuggled was the most pertinent factor since this had direct links with the loss of revenue to the Government and the consumption of harmful goods.

He said the Government’s loss of revenue through cigarette smuggling easily runs into tens of millions of dollars and smuggling activities undermine the integrity of Singapore’s trading system as well as efforts to reduce the consumption of harmful goods.

Justice Chan noted that between 2013 and 2015, about three million packets of duty unpaid cigarettes were seized each year, a figure that is double that of 2012. And while the number of persons prosecuted for cigarette offences fell from 2010 to a low in 2013, there has been “an unfortunate slight rebound” over the past two years.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Man fails to take possession of flat due to legal issue

Straits Times
22 Apr 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Late daughter of dementia-ridden seller not empowered to act for dad in property sale

A High Court case has shown up problems that can arise when a person appointed to act for someone lacking mental capacity dies and is not automatically replaced.

"There appears to be nothing in the Mental Capacity Act (MCA)... that allows for any agency, such as the Office of the Public Guardian or the Insolvency and Public Trustee's Office , to act in the place of the deceased deputy, " said Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah.

His remarks came in judgment grounds released yesterday in the case of a man who bought a $270,000 HDB flat from a dementia-ridden owner, whose daughter acted on his behalf.

The seller's daughter, Ms Millicent Ruby De Silva, had obtained a court order in 2009 under the then Mental Disorders and Treatment Act, later replaced by the MCA. This authorised her to represent her father at court hearings but did not empower her to execute documents in relation to his properties.

Ms De Silva acted for her father in completing the sale of the unit in 2010 to Mr Peter Nathan, who was in a relationship with her. He moved in with them, but after she died in April 2012, his relationship with her father soured and he could not live with him any more.

Mr Nathan said the two surviving children of Mr Arthur De Silva Petiyaga, 75, who had dementia and other medical conditions, had declined to take care of him when approached.

He then took legal action to possess the house in 2014 but learnt he was not the registered owner of the flat as the late Ms De Silva's signatures on the documents on her father's behalf were invalid.

Mr Nathan then applied to the High Court for an order to "perfect" the sale of the flat to him. His lawyers from Vision Law LLC argued that all parties had consented to the sale then and it was appropriate for the court to intervene.

JC Abdullah disagreed and rejected the move, but not before exploring several avenues to try to resolve the case in the interest of all.

He noted that Mr Nathan had to live in the open at times.

The best course was to appoint a a new deputy to look after the interests of Mr De Silva, but family members were unable or unwilling and neither was the Public Trustee or Public Guardian able to take up the task, noted the judge.

Noting that the late Ms De Silva had no powers to authorise the sale on her dad's behalf in the first place, the judge said the court cannnot intervene in this case. While it could under the MCA, this case was not started under the MCA, he said.

He said the significant issue was that there was no mechanism to allow the Public Guardian or other agencies to act for Mr De Silva immediately after his daughter died.

He suggested if the courts had the flexibility for such cases, it could initiate MCA proceedings to appoint a deputy and give directions to resolve the case even if there was no such application.

He said such a "judge-led approach" would be a departure from the current adversarial-style arrangements. "This may be a matter for the relevant agencies to consider," he added. Mr Nathan is appealingagainst the judgment.

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

Peter Edward Nathan v De Silva Petiyaga Arther Bernard and another [2016] SGHC 70

Panama Papers will cement global resolve for tax compliance

Business Times
15 Apr 2016

THE massive leak of offshore account documents - as many as 11.5 million files - from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca is a signal warning to clients, bankers and any so-called tax haven that the days of discreet "don't ask, don't tell" variant of banking is well and truly over, particularly when it comes to the shielding of illicit wealth.

Already, the fallout from the debacle - dubbed Panama Papers - is significant and wide ranging. Iceland's Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was forced to step down as prime minister. In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron has had to explain his late father's offshore holdings. Included in the files are 33 companies blacklisted by the US, and alleged terrorism and nuclear weapons financiers from the Middle East and North Korea, says the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which analysed the documents.

Illicit financial flows and capital flight to offshore jurisdictions wreak serious economic impact particularly on developing nations, depressing tax revenues and funds available for infrastructure, for instance, and further widening the wealth disparity. According to the Tax Justice Network, there is an estimated US$1-1.6 trillion in illicit cross border flows a year, dwarfing the US$135 billion in global foreign aid. ICIJ's analyses highlight several "power players" as holders of offshore accounts, comprising leaders or public officials of emerging countries such as Azerbaijan and Iraq. The relative dearth of American names does not mean that Americans are more tax compliant. The US hosts its own tax haven in Delaware, which is why the Tax Justice Network has put the US in third place in its 2015 Financial Secrecy Index, after Switzerland and Hong Kong. This is ironic; the US has been vociferous in its crackdown on tax cheats but in Delaware it is said to be easy to set up anonymous shell companies. Singapore ranked fourth on the index.

To be sure, the establishment of offshore accounts is not illegal in itself. There are legitimate uses of offshore vehicles, and the Panama Papers tar all these with a negative brush. Companies, for instance, may set up offshore units to shield assets from litigation, or to minimise tax on investment income, or to take advantage of double taxation agreements. Individuals may use them to diversify the political risk of their home country or for estate planning. Still, there is a silver lining in the revelations. One is that the incorporation of offshore companies has been on the decline since its peak around 2005. ICIJ says Mossack Fonseca clients have been rapidly deactivating companies since 2009. Two, the crackdown on bearer shares - where ownership is determined by whoever holds share certificates - also appears to be working. ICIJ data shows a sharp drop across a number of jurisdiction including Panama.

Major banks named in the Panama Papers have claimed that the dealings revealed in the files date back to the 1990s, predating a slew of regulations to stem the flow of illicit and non-tax compliant wealth. The "common reporting standard", an effort by the OECD to introduce an international system of automatic exchange of financial information, is in the works. This will be rolled out in 96 jurisdictions including Singapore within the next two years. The writing is clear: Banking systems should not be conduits for ill-gotten wealth or tax dodgers, particularly in a jurisdiction such as Singapore. But banks and clients will still have to brace themselves. There will be more whistleblowers, which will only strengthen the global resolve to enforce compliance.

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

Iswaran: Finance, law firms must embrace tech

Business Times
29 Apr 2016
Jacquelyn Cheok

Getting "comfortable" with innovation ecosystem will enable them to do well by properly appreciating new businesses and their risks

[Singapore] FINANCIAL institutions, as well as law and accountancy firms, must "get comfortable" with the technology and innovation ecosystem, Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said on Thursday at the launch of the S$500 million Venture Debt Programme (VDP) that supports high-growth enterprises.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to homegrown vessel-monitoring company Ascenz Solutions, he added that these professional services would do well only if they appreciate new businesses - whose assets are unconventional, and comprise mostly intellectual property (IP) - and their risks.

This way, banks can create relevant financing products to serve the new businesses, lawyers can understand how to value and protect new types of IP, and accountants can learn how to size them, he said.

VDP - led by Spring Singapore and supported by all three local banks DBS, OCBC and UOB - aims to catalyse about 100 venture debt loans over two years, under which Spring will provide 50 per cent risk-sharing to the financial institutions.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including startups, can apply for venture debt loans of up to S$5 million each for working capital, assets, projects or mergers and acquisitions for business expansion purposes.

Venture debt - a form of alternative financing for enterprises with high-growth potential but which may not have established revenue streams or assets to use as collateral - involves lending money in return for interest payments and the option to take equity at a later stage.

It is unlike venture capital (the more established form of startup financing), where the entrepreneur typically sells off a stake in the company.

"(Venture debt) addresses the gap between traditional bank loans and equity investments," said Chew Mok Lee, assistant chief executive of Spring Singapore.

VDP, announced in Budget 2015 as a complement to current government loan financing schemes, has since January backed four companies, among them Ascenz Solutions, digital media firm Conversant, and fashion manufacturer and retailer MDS.

Ascenz Solutions secured S$1 million in venture debt from Spring and OCBC to expand regionally and to enhance its solutions in fuel consumption measurement, as well as bunkering and vessel tracking.

Tan Chor Sen, head of international and global commercial banking at OCBC, said: "We recognise that not all high-growth companies are built around technology . . . that is why we are offering venture debt financing to high-growth companies from different industries instead of limiting it to high-tech companies."

Companies need not be backed by a venture capital firm to be eligible for VDP with OCBC, the latest bank to launch venture debt offerings.

DBS, which rolled out a commercial venture debt financing programme in February 2015, requires companies to be backed by a "reputable" venture capital firm.

UOB (the first bank to offer venture debt in October 2014) last August partnered Temasek Holdings to invest in venture debt company InnoVen Capital, and offer up to US$500 million in venture debt loans over the next five years to Internet startups in China, India and South-east Asia.

Companies already have a good option with InnoVen, said Vinnie Lauria, managing partner of Singapore-based venture capital firm Golden Gate Ventures. So VDP ought to "do something" to set itself apart.

There is a role for venture debt, he added. "Almost all companies - e-commerce ones, in particular - need debt between formal equity rounds due to high capital costs of their business."

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

MAS, CAD raid broking firms in probe into possible violations

Business Times
22 Apr 2016
Kenneth Lim

Those hauled in for questioning said to be remisiers; MAS says documents and other items also seized

[Singapore] THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the police's Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) raided at least four broking houses in Singapore on Monday, market sources said.

White-collar crime investigators visited the trading floors of DBS Vickers, Maybank Kim Eng, OCBC Securities and Phillip Securities on Monday to take some people in for questioning. They also took away certain items. Representatives for the broking houses declined to comment, in line with the usual policy of staying mum on official investigations.

The specific nature of the investigations is not known, but sources said that the people taken for questioning were believed to be remisiers.

An MAS spokesman said: "The Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force are jointly investigating possible contraventions of the Securities and Futures Act (Chapter 289) and have obtained documents and items from several broking firms and trading representatives. As investigations are ongoing, we are not able to provide further information."

The Securities and Futures Act governs the activities and institutions involved in the capital markets.

Simultaneous raids on so many broking firms are unusual.

Trading floors were abuzz on Tuesday, with many wondering what may have led to the raids. The prevailing bet appears to be that it's not related to the activities surrounding the October 2013 penny stock crash, which was the last time a major raid took place.

That investigation, which is the largest securities fraud probe ever conducted in Singapore, is ongoing, although government lawyers have indicated that charges could be filed this year.

One trader said: "There are many stocks that have crashed over the past year and many of them could be candidates."

Since March 2015, MAS and CAD have been jointly investigating market misconduct in an effort to streamline and strengthen enforcement.

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

19 groups and individuals to speak on elected presidency

Straits Times
15 Apr 2016
Tham Yuen-C

They will offer views at four public hearings starting next week; WP declined invitation

A total of 19 groups and individuals, including former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan, will give their views on the proposed changes to the elected presidency at four public hearings that will start next week.

The Workers' Party (WP), which was invited to speak, declined to do so. The Constitutional Commission, formed to review the elected presidency, had invited 20 groups and individuals, who had contributed written submissions on the matter, to speak at the hearings. In a statement yesterday, the commission's secretariat said 19 of them said yes.

Those slated to speak include law academics Kevin Tan, Eugene Tan and Jack Lee, researchers Gillian Koh, Mathew Mathews and Loke Hoe Yeong, and former Nominated MP Loo Choon Yong. There are also groups like the Eurasian Association, Maruah and the Association of Women for Action and Research.

The WP said yesterday on its Facebook page that party chairman Sylvia Lim had written to inform the commission that the party will "debate the matter fully when the Constitutional Amendment Bill is presented in Parliament. This is in keeping with our role as a political party with Members of Parliament".

The WP added that the commission had said it would "consider our written submission nonetheless".

In a two-page submission sent last month, the party had reiterated its call for the elected presidency to be abolished, saying it could be a source of gridlock that could potentially cripple a non-People's Action Party government in its first year.

It added: "WP's view is that the office of the elected president should not be retained, let alone refined."

The commission, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, was appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in February to review three aspects of the elected presidency that was instituted in 1991.

In February, it made a public call for submissions on the three areas being studied. These are: the eligibility criteria for candidates; provisions for minority candidates to have a chance of being elected from time to time; and changes to ensure members of the Council of Presidential Advisers have experience in the public and private sectors.

The commission received a little over 100 submissions. It expects to submit its recommendations by the third quarter of this year.

The hearings, to be held at the Supreme Court auditorium, are scheduled for next Monday and Friday, April 26 and May 6, from 9.30am to 5pm. They are open to the public. Those attending must be properly dressed, and should not wear singlets, shorts, bermudas, slippers or any clothing with controversial messages. Photo, video and audio recordings are also not allowed.

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

2 people, not one, charged in Singapore's 1MDB probe

Business Times
29 Apr 2016
Anita Gabriel

[Singapore] SINGAPORE authorities have charged not one but two people - a former wealth manager at Swiss private bank BSI and someone allegedly involved in corrupt transactions in concert with the former private banker - in an ongoing investigation into 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) that was described in court as the "most complex" probe ever undertaken by the white-collar crime buster here.

Yeo Jiawei, a former BSI Singapore employee (who appeared via video link, handcuffed and clad in a bright orange polo shirt) was slapped with two additional charges of cheating and obstructing investigations by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) by Singapore's prosecutors in the state court on Thursday.

The submissions in court made no mention of 1MDB but, based on the entity that was named (1MDB's wholly owned Brazen Sky Ltd emerged in relation to Yeo's fresh charges), it was apparent that the case stemmed from the ongoing probe into Malaysia's troubled state-backed firm.

On April 15, 33-year-old Yeo - who was described by Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck in Thursday's mention as having played a "central role" in the movement of large amounts of monies and concealing transactions - was charged with money-laundering offences.

Unknown to many, another Singaporean - Kelvin Ang Wee Keng, 34 - was charged on April 20 for corruptly giving a gratification sum of S$3,000 to research analyst Lee Chee Waiy to expedite preparation of a favourable valuation report to be issued by his equity research firm, according to a charge sheet.

This case is also believed to be an outcome of the 1MDB probe.

When queried by BT, a spokesman from the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said that the prosecution had told the court that Ang was "implicated in a number of illicit transactions" entered in concert with Yeo.

The AGC spokesman said that the court had granted the prosecution's request during mention on Wednesday for Ang to be further remanded.

The case against these two people by Singapore prosecutors marks the first charges in many months of a sweeping probe into 1MDB that involves multiple authorities in several territories including Switzerland, the United States, Hong Kong and, more recently, Seychelles.

It also underscores the complexity of the probe into the 1MDB money trail.

Under the new charge, Yeo is alleged to have cheated his employer BSI Bank sometime before September 2012 by concealing that he had received some US$1.6 million per year, which was a portion of the annual management fee paid by Brazen Sky Ltd to Bridge Partners Investment Management (Cayman) Ltd.

The court was told that Brazen Sky owned all the shares of Bridge Global Absolute Return Fund SPC (segregated portfolio company), a fund that was managed by Bridge Partners.

In his submission for Yeo to be further remanded and his access to counsel disallowed at this "sensitive juncture" of the investigations, Mr Kwek said that the probe was "very much alive" and involved "several jurisdictions, numerous corporate entities, multiple transactions spanning several years, and a staggering amount of monies". Multiple witnesses have also been interviewed.

"We have hundreds of thousands of documents to review that include communications between the accused and other persons of interest, as well as e-mails and transactional documents which the accused can also provide insight on," Mr Kwek argued, adding that Yeo's family members were also being investigated for money-laundering activities.

Yeo's lawyer, Philip Fong from Harry Elias Partnership, argued that the prosecution and CAD had been given "more than ample time" to investigate his client, hence there was no reason to hold him indefinitely.

"Two weeks have passed since Jiawei was arrested. Seven months have passed since he was called in for investigations. The enforcement authorities have had more than enough time to carry out their investigations," said Mr Fong.

He also stressed that Yeo was not a flight risk as he has a family and a three-year old daughter, and his passport has been impounded since Day One.

District Judge Christopher Goh granted prosecution's application to further remand Yeo and deny him access to lawyers.

READ MORE: Bank Negara orders 1MDB to repatriate money sent overseas

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

Notable names among firms rapped for lapses in data security

Straits Times
22 Apr 2016
Irene Tham

Singapore's privacy watchdog has cracked down on organisations that collected personal data from their customers and members, but failed to take adequate steps to protect such information.

It is the first time the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) has revealed action taken against rule-breakers since the law took full effect in July 2014.

Four organisations were fined and seven warned for failing to secure the personal data of consumers, the watchdog said yesterday.

The heaviest fine of $50,000 was slapped on karaoke chain K Box for a data breach involving 317,000 customers, resulting in their details being posted on file-sharing website pastebin.com in September 2014. Its IT vendor, Finantech Holdings, was fined $10,000.

PDPC chairman Leong Keng Thai said that organisations were free to use consumers' personal data to deliver better customer service.

"The key is to use it responsibly and take appropriate actions to protect it," said Mr Leong.

Industry body Institution of Engineers Singapore and health supplements supplier Fei Fah Medical Manufacturing were fined after the personal data of their members and customers was wrongfully disclosed.

Organisations warned for lapses in securing data include IT retail chain Challenger Technologies, the Singapore Computer Society and Metro.

Lawyer Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons MPillay said that organisations were either ignorant or plain careless.

The enforcement followed 667 complaints to the PDPC - mostly that data had been wrongfully collected or used.

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

Man charged for demonstrating against S’pore judiciary

TODAY
15 Apr 2016
Valerie Koh

SINGAPORE — A 40-year-old man was hauled to court on Thursday (April 14) for taking part in two demonstrations against the Singapore judiciary in March and April this year.

On March 2, Yan Jun, a Singaporean, held placards stating “No judiciary corruption in the Supreme Court of Singapore” in English and “Protest against High Court of Singapore for miscarriage of justice” in Mandarin at Istana Park at around 10am.

On April 13, Yan took part in a public assembly without a permit at High Street Centre along North Bridge Road at 4.25pm. Again, he displayed the placards with the same messages.

For demonstrating opposition to the actions of the Singapore judiciary, he faces two charges under the Public Order Act.

He could also be fined up to S$5,000 for taking part in a prohibited assembly at the Istana Park, and fined up to S$3,000 for starting a public assembly without a permit. In both instances, Yan was alone.

In 2014, Yan's appeal for a civil suit that he brought against the Attorney-General - claiming damages of S$1,227,135 for wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and other reasons - was thrown out by the apex court. His arrest dated back to July 19, 2009, when he was arrested and detained for 21 hours due to a suspected breach of an Expedited Order, taken by his wife against him. Later, it was discovered that the Expedited Order - an urgent Personal Protection Order - had been revoked by July 19.

In a district court on Thursday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Yang Ziliang said that Yan could have a mental condition such as a persecutory delusional disorder, and it was vital for him to be assessed by a mental health professional.

"I want to know the grounds of such a request, and I have no mental disorder," replied Yan, who insisted that the Istana Park was a public  - and not a private - place.

Yan will be remanded in the Institute of Mental Health till his next hearing on April 28.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

UK court blocks deportation of Singaporean transgender person due for reservist duties

TODAY
29 Apr 2016

SINGAPORE — Two British judges have blocked an effort by the UK Home Office to deport a Singaporean transgender person who is liable for reservist training, The Guardian newspaper has reported.

The British daily reported on Wednesday (April 27) that the Singaporean would be “granted sanctuary in the UK”, where the 33-year-old has been studying since September 2004, and added that this was the first case of its kind.

According to The Guardian, the Singaporean, who cannot be named due to legal reasons, has been accepted by the UK Home Office as a woman and possesses a Home Office ID card where the gender entry is female. But the Singaporean has not undergone a full sex change, and is said to have completed National Service as a man between December 2001 and June 2004.

Singapore’s Penal Code, however, states that a “person who has undergone a sex reassignment procedure shall be identified as being of the sex to which that person has been reassigned”.

According to The Guardian, the Singaporean said it would be “intolerable to be treated as a man” during reservist training after having lived as a woman for a decade. The newspaper also quoted the Singaporean’s lawyer as saying that if his client had been deported by the Home Office, it would be akin to “returning a woman to her home country to be punished as a man.”

TODAY has sent queries on this case to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).

The 33-year-old’s case has been heard twice by the UK’s immigration tribunal, according to the Guardian. At the first hearing last November, the judge ruled in the Singaporean’s favour and said: “I find that the requirement of the appellant to essentially hide her gender and live as a man, even for two weeks a year, would be wholly unreasonable.”

The UK Home Office appealed, arguing that the Singaporean should be sent home and that any potential discrimination would not amount to serious harm.

A second judge who heard the case earlier this week rejected the Home Office’s appeal, and ruled in the Singaporean’s favour.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

S'pore taking action against firms behind forest fires

Straits Times
22 Apr 2016
Zakir Hussain & Audrey Tan

Singapore is taking action under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act against companies that started fires or let their concessions burn, and contributed to last year's haze, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli has said.

It has given notices to six of these Indonesia-based firms, asking them to explain steps they are taking to put out and prevent fires on their land. Two have replied. A director of one of the four firms that have yet to reply has also been served with a notice to give information on his firm's move to mitigate fires on its land and prevent a repeat of last year's haze.

"He has left (Singapore), but is required to return," Mr Masagos told reporters on Tuesday night.

"Should he not return, he would have violated our laws," he said, adding that Singapore can arrest him if he returns later than the date stipulated in the notice.

Mr Masagos declined to disclose the name of the director or his firm, but said he can be detained in Singapore if he fails to give the required information. "We must not let companies get away with their most egregious acts," Mr Masagos added.

He made these points when asked by Singapore reporters about his Indonesian counterpart's remarks that asked what Singapore had done to combat forest fires. Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar had told news site Foresthints.news last week that her country had been trying to prevent the recurrence of land and forest fires, and consistently enforcing the law. "My question is - what has the Singaporean Government done? I feel they should focus on their own role," she was quoted as saying.

Singapore experts, like Dr Mustafa Izzuddin of the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said her comments, made "in that spirit of national pride", seemed directed at her home audience.

Dr Jonatan Lassa, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said that while Indonesia has committed to map hot spots, it needs to build structures like incident command systems on the ground to follow up and take action where needed.

Mr Masagos, in his media interview, also noted Singapore's good ties with Indonesia on many fronts, saying both are working together.

But the haze is a complex issue that has to be tackled not just bilaterally, but also at the Asean and regional level. For instance, Singapore led an Asean programme to make people more aware of what they can do to manage and restore peatland, on which most forest fires take place.

The six companies given notice by the National Environment Agency include Singapore-listed Asia Pulp and Paper, which has been asked about steps its subsidiaries and Indonesian suppliers are taking to put out fires in their concessions.

"We are now looking at them to see how we are going to move forward," Mr Masagos said. He declined to say more as investigations are ongoing. "The message to everybody is: Whether you are Singaporean, whether you are a foreigner, if you violate our laws, we will apply the law to its full extent."

Mr Chris Cheng of volunteer group People's Movement to Stop Haze called on firms to produce or buy palm oil and paper that are verified "haze-free". He added: "Our financial institutions can also ensure they do not lend to or invest in potential haze-causing companies."

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

Woman’s acquittal raises questions among lawyers

TODAY
14 Apr 2016
Valerie Koh Swee Fang

SINGAPORE — A recent landmark decision by a High Court judge, stating that women cannot be charged for a particular limb of the offence of sexual penetration of minors, has sparked questions from those in the legal fraternity.

Without referring to the facts of the case in question, lawyers wondered if this legal finding could lead to male offenders getting punished more severely than female offenders, as they noted that women will need to be charged under other laws, which carry lighter penalties. The case in focus involved a 40-year-old woman who had pleaded guilty to sexually penetrating a girl between the age of 13 and 14 with a dildo, but had her pleas set aside on Tuesday as the judge found that the choice of words for the statute — Section 376A(1)(b) of the Penal Code — would reasonably indicate that it was intended to only apply to male offenders. This statute reads: “Any person (A) who sexually penetrates, with a part of A’s body (other than A’s penis) or anything else, the vagina, or anus, as the case may be, of a person under the age of 16 years of age (B) with or without B’s consent, shall be guilty of an offence.” The transgender offender was born a woman but has identified as a man since her teens.

In acquitting the woman of these offences — she was convicted of a separate charge of sexual exploitation under the Children and Young Persons Act and sentenced to eight months’ jail — Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu said: “The reference to a person who has a penis cannot be construed to include a woman without doing violence to common sense and anatomy.”

“It was not explained why gender neutrality for the offender was only extended to situations involving male victims,” Justice Kan noted, in relation to the parliamentary debate on the draft Penal Code (Amendment) Bill in 2007.

Lawyers interviewed yesterday said the gender-specific ruling throws up several issues and sought clarity either through the Court of Appeal or Parliament. Mr Shashi Nathan, a partner at Withers KhattarWong, pointed out that the finding could have ramifications in terms of parity of punishment for the same offence, depending on whether the offender was male or female. An argument could be made, taking Justice Kan’s ruling, that this statute was unconstitutional, he added. “I’m not comfortable with it because it suggests that because you’re a male, even if you have the same culpability as a woman, you’ll be convicted while a woman is acquitted. Gender should not matter.”

He added that such a gender-specific reading of Section 376A(1)(B) bears similarities to Section 377A of the Penal Code — which outlaws sex between men, but not between women — as offenders are limited to “one class of citizens”.

Veteran criminal lawyer and former district judge Edmond Pereira was also surprised. “If you look at the spirit behind the section, it does not necessarily have to be a man. So the reading of the language can be stretched,” he said.

Mr Sunil Sudheesan, who is acting head of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, added that the gender of the perpetrator in such offences should not matter. “The fact is that something untoward was done.”

Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta, however, agreed with the finding that the statute, as it stands, applies only to men. “Looking at the lifestyle of people and the (period), this would have to be amended to be more neutral,” she said.

Mr Ravinderpal Singh, director of Kalco Law, pointed out that there is no blanket exclusion of women offenders under Section 376A. A separate limb, (1)(c), has been used against women teachers involved in sexual relationships with male students.

This limb states: “Any person (A) who causes a man under 16 years of age (B) to penetrate, with B’s penis, the vagina, anus or mouth, as the case may be, of another person including A with or without B’s consent, shall be guilty of an offence.”

Mr Singh said there are other laws that can be used against women offenders who sexually penetrate minors, such as Section 354A(2)(b) under the Penal Code — outrage of modesty in certain circumstances. But this law is typically used in less severe offences, relative to the case in question. The punishment is also lower (between three and 10 years’ jail, and with caning), compared to that for Section 376A(1)(B) — in cases involving victims younger than 14, the maximum punishment is 20 years’ jail and a fine or caning.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Related headlines

Woman acquitted of sexual penetration of a minor, ST, 13 Apr

Enhancing the international enforceability of Singapore judgments

Singapore Law Watch
29 Apr 2016
Indranee Rajah

Teen who slashed another has sentence amended after appeal

TODAY
22 Apr 2016

SINGAPORE — The youth behind last year’s slashing incident at Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College West was given a second chance after an appeal and re-sentenced in the High Court on Thursday (April 21) to reformative training instead of imprisonment.

For his “vicious and gratuitous attack” on a teenager last year, Muhammad Zuhairie Adely Zulkifli, 17, was initially sentenced by a district court judge last November to 18 months’ jail and six strokes of the cane.

He had pleaded guilty to voluntarily causing grievous hurt using a deadly weapon, as well as a separate charge of being part of an unlawful assembly that punched and kicked another victim in April last year.

Justice Chan Seng Onn, who presided over the hearing, said he was willing to give Zuhairie a second chance given his young age, noting that he would have to serve the same period of time in reformative training as he would have in jail.

“You better make full use of this time, you’re still young,” he told the youth after the re-sentencing.

In March last year, Zuhairie had slashed Ahmad Nurthaqif at ITE College West with a 35cm-long bread knife over a dispute involving the latter’s girlfriend. The incident happened in front of other students and was caught on video.

Apart from having knife wounds across his back, the 18-year-old victim, a part-time cook, also suffered fractures on his forearm and three fingers, and a cut behind his ear.

In the appeal on Thursday, Zuhairie’s lawyer highlighted his troubled background: He had grown up in an unstable home witnessing domestic violence between his parents, who were in and out of jail numerous times for various drug and property offences.

By age 12, the courts had placed him in the Muhammadiyah Welfare Home after deciding that he needed better supervision.

Defence lawyer Benny Tan further pointed out that Zuhairie had excelled in his studies at Northlight School and took part actively in activities at the home, such as being involved in leadership camps. He also showed genuine remorse and is willing to change, with hopes of having a career in the Singapore Armed Forces and joining the national sepak tekraw team. He is now studying to retake his N Levels.

There are two paths ahead for Zuhairie, the lawyer added. Should he be sent to jail, it would send a message that the system is giving up on his reform, but reformative training would give him the “best of both worlds”.

The prosecution, however, argued that reformative training — aimed as a rehabilitative sentencing option for youth offenders lasting from 18 months to three years — was not sufficient. Zuhairie had shown a disregard for law and his actions were premeditated.

Furthermore, his victim had suffered such severe injuries that he was placed on medical leave for three months to undergo hand therapy, Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Kok Weng said.

Justice Chan, in telling Zuhairie to make good use of the second chance given to him, asked him to learn how to control his temper: “There’s plenty of room and time to improve yourself... You can’t stop people from talking bad about you. Live your own life. Don’t live your life according to others.”

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Media tycoon seeks to strike out Justo's reply to defence papers

Straits Times
14 Apr 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Media tycoon Tong Kooi Ong, in yet another salvo in an ongoing suit in the High Court of Singapore, has sought to strike out Swiss national Xavier Justo's reply to the former's defence papers. The move comes after Justo's lawyer in February dismissed Datuk Tong's defence as groundless.

A closed-door High Court pre-trial conference was held yesterday in the closely watched case. A pre-trial conference before an assistant registrar manages the run-up to the actual High Court hearing, monitoring timelines for documents to be submitted and ruling on interlocutory matters such as striking out actions.

Justo is the former employee of PetroSaudi who allegedly leaked details which led to claims that billions of ringgit were misappropriated at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), an investment arm of the Malaysian government.

He is suing Mr Tong, the owner of Malaysia's The Edge media group, and two others. He claims that he was never paid the US$2 million (S$2.7 million) promised for two storage drives containing data which he supposedly handed over in Mr Tong's presence at a Fullerton Hotel meeting in February last year.

Along with damages, he wants the items, said to contain data about global oil services firm PetroSaudi and its business partner 1MDB, to be returned and for any copies to be destroyed, according to amended court documents filed by his lawyer Suresh Damodara last November.

Mr Tong, defended by lawyer Doris Chia, argues that Justo is not entitled to the items.

Mr Tong's latest move to strike out a key document by Justo to his defence follows another preliminary bout last December. That was when he succeeded in persuading the court to order that Justo place a $50,000 deposit as security for costs before the case is allowed to proceed further.

Justo, 48, who worked for PetroSaudi International (UK) as an IT manager until April 2011, is serving a three-year jail term in Thailand for blackmail of his former employer.

The owner and editor of the Sarawak Report, Ms Clare Rewcastle-Brown, though named as a defendant in Justo's suit, told The Straits Times on Monday that she has not been served with court papers in relation to the suit.

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

URA, estate agency body probing potential breach of minimum-stay rule

Business Times
29 Apr 2016
Lynette Khoo

They are looking into cases of short-term stays facilitated by clauses in tenancy agreements

[Singapore] WHILE the jury is still out on a review by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) of the minimum rental period for private residential properties, cases of potential breaches are being looked into.

The URA and the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) said they are probing cases cited in recent articles published in The Business Times on potential short-term stays being offered in private residential units.

BT articles published on April 9 flagged that long before home sharing websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway became popular, many accommodation service providers have been operating for a long time, offering short-term stays of under six months in private homes.

Under URA's guideline, however, renting out the whole unit or individual rooms for residential purposes is allowed only for long-term stays of six months or more. Short-term stays here are allowed for serviced apartments, which are under residential zoning, and hotels with its own designated land use zoning.

"CEA and URA have been investigating the cases cited by The Business Times," said CEA acting deputy director (licensing) Chua Geck Siang in response to a BT query.

BT had flagged earlier this month that some accommodation service providers could have got around URA's minimum-stay requirement for residential properties by clever wording of their tenancy agreements.

Standard contracts seen by BT, such as those issued by Uncharted Homes on behalf of BS Shenton Pte Ltd, contain a minimum lease of six months but with a diplomatic clause allowing for early termination without penalty. Another accommodation service provider, LMB Housing Services, issues an open-ended contract that states a minimum lease of six months without indicating the last date of stay, and allows the tenant to terminate the lease without penalty by submitting a termination letter 30 days before departure date.

But URA has clarified that there is a breach as long as residential units are rented out for under six months.

Other accommodation service providers cited in the BT articles include International Service Apartments and Atas Residence, formerly known as OSPC (Overseas Students Placement Centre) Pte Ltd. Besides these, there are many other service providers that offer rental for less than six months in private residential units.

Since estate agency work includes introducing property owner or landlord to a tenant, assisting in the negotiation of a transaction between both parties, as well as subsequent work relating to the transaction, the operations of these managing agents raise the question of why they are not licensed by or regulated under the CEA since they provide some form of property leasing services.

In response to BT's query, the CEA said that under the Estate Agents Act, entities and individuals conducting estate agency work in Singapore must be licensed and registered with the CEA.

But entities managing serviced apartments, which are intended for short-term stays in a way similar to hotels, need not be licensed under the Estate Agents Act, said Ms Chua. "The key issue is that serviced apartments must have the requisite planning approval from URA to be used as such."

Atas Residence was managing short-term stays for entire developments Oxley Thanksgiving Residence, St Thomas Lodge and Devonshire Apartments near Somerset - projects that did not have planning permission to be run as serviced apartments as at April 9, the date when the BT articles were published.

Since then, Atas Residence has moved St Thomas Lodge and Devonshire Apartments - two strata-titled developments - to its long-term stay catalogue but kept Oxley Thanksgiving Residence under the short-term stay category.

BT understands that URA on Wednesday granted written permission for the proposed change of use of Oxley Thanksgiving Residence - a single strata development owned by Chinese temple Poh Ern Shih - to serviced apartments this week. The five-storey block at 328 River Valley Road has a total of 88 units with two levels of basement carparks, swimming pool and a roof terrace.

The Chinese temple had submitted a formal application on April 14 to URA for the conversion of use to serviced apartments.

Under URA's guidelines for serviced apartments, they have to be non-strata subdivided, self-contained apartments with provision for kitchenettes or kitchens and have support services such as concierge, housekeeping and/or laundry provided for the residents. They are rented out for lodging for a minimum of seven days or other longer periods.

Locations where serviced apartment use can be considered for approval are sites fronting major and arterial roads within predominantly residential areas, or sites located in mixed use areas, such as commercial centres and business parks; or abutting medical hubs.

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

Are class actions good for investors and Singapore markets?

Business Times
21 Apr 2016
Michelle Quah

INVESTOR lobby group Securities Investors Association (Singapore), or SIAS, announced this week that it will not hesitate to take errant companies to court - representing minority investors in class-action suits more commonly seen in jurisdictions like the United States.

The association's announcement begs the question: is such an action a viable alternative for minority investors here seeking to bring recalcitrant companies to heel? To answer that, we need to examine if such an action can be successfully brought about, if it will yield the outcome that investors desire, and if this will impact positively on Singapore's capital markets.

To begin with, class-action suits - or representative actions, which include class actions - are not often seen in our courts. Singapore is, by nature, not a litigious society; and it is even less common to have large groups of people pursuing similar legal redress against the same party.

As one litigation lawyer pointed out, there have been "only a handful" of such cases in the last decade.

But, while rare, representative actions have been pursued successfully in Singapore.

The best known would be the Raffles Town Club case. In 2000, some 5,000 members sued the club's shareholders for misrepresentation and breach of contract; they claimed it misrepresented to them that it was the most "prestigious private city club" in Singapore and demanded a refund of their $28,000 membership fees.

After a lengthy court battle, the members won the suit in 2005. The Court of Appeal awarded the claimants a total of $45 million in damages.

Perhaps less well known, but of greater importance, was the Treasure Resort case. In 2009, 202 ex-members of the Sijori Resort Club - represented by seven plaintiffs - sued the club's owner, Treasure Resort. They alleged they had been denied membership privileges after the club was sold by Sijori to Treasure in 2006.

The case was important because it laid out a comprehensive roadmap for representative actions in Singapore. Among various things, the Court of Appeal ruled in 2013 that:

• the case brought forth in a representative action will determine the rights of, and be binding on all claimants;
• not all interests of the claimants must be identical before the "same interest" requirement is met, but the claimants must share some common interests in relation to a substantial question of fact or law, and that this is to be determined on a case-by-case basis;
• the trial judge will have the discretion to refuse to permit a representative action from going forward, even after the "same interest" condition is met.

It is important for investors to note that no shareholder representative action has ever been undertaken here - so any such suit would be a test case. There will be procedural hurdles to overcome.

Benefits and downsides

There are benefits to undertaking a representative action - especially under the auspices of SIAS - as opposed to going it alone.

For one, because one would be banding together with other similarly aggrieved investors, legal costs are shared.

For another, having an investor lobby group like SIAS be the representative in such an action means SIAS will act as the leader in such an effort, helping to galvanise the others, liaise with the lawyers and coordinate other details.

SIAS's access to a reputable legal team and the association's experience in dealing with minority shareholder issues could also offer a considerable advantage over most retail investors' solitary efforts.

The downsides? Having to depend on others to move the process ahead. And, as in the case with any lawsuit, being involved in a possibly very time-consuming, unpleasant and long-drawn-out affair.

In terms of legal costs, SIAS has said that it is thinking of setting up a litigation fund, which members and minority investors - whether or not they are involved in the action - could contribute too. Depending on how padded this war chest gets, one could conceivably still be shelling out a substantial sum in legal fees.

And what if the outcome isn't as desired? As with all lawsuits, the end result of a representative action cannot be determined beforehand - no matter how good a legal team one has, or how deep one's pockets are, though these could help with the fight.

"Strength in numbers" does not necessarily mean a stronger case.

So, as with any lawsuit, minority shareholders intending to take action against a company or its board need to first determine the merits of their case. They should either seek independent legal advice, or work with SIAS and its lawyers to understand their case.

They will need to familiarise themselves with the legal process, and be prepared for how long it might take and how much it could cost. They should also build in contingencies and back-up plans, in the event the case does not unfold as they expect or hope.

There is also the broader impact to consider. Would a growing prevalence of representative actions - should investors increasingly favour them as a means of resolving shareholder disputes and other perceived cases of wrongdoing - be a good or bad development for capital markets here?

SIAS president and CEO David Gerald is not in favour of lawsuits becoming the preferred course of action for aggrieved minority shareholders. He's in favour of a more conciliatory approach - having investors meet the company's management and board, along with market regulators, to work out an acceptable solution in the interests of all parties. Mr Gerald believes that, "when you have acrimony in the capital markets, people will think twice about investing in our country".

There is some truth in that. Also of concern is the risk of payouts from such class actions ballooning into billions of dollars, as is not uncommon in the US.

To address such concerns, Singapore could take a leaf from the United Kingdom's book. The UK is gradually allowing its courts to hear class-action-style claims from groups of consumers seeking compensation from companies alleged to have practised anti-competitive behaviour, under its Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Safeguards

But, concerned that these claims could result in damages awards of the quantum seen in the US, "the regime has built in a number of safeguards against what are perceived to be the 'excesses' of the US system," competition law specialist Anna Morfey told the BBC recently.

Among these, is the fact that the losing party will typically be required to pay the winner's costs (acting as a deterrent to frivolous claims), that there will be no trebling of or "exemplary" damages, and no jury trials of these claims as there are in the US. This should ensure that damages awards really are compensatory and not windfalls for claimants, she said.

Managed carefully, having access to and a growing preference for representative actions might not be a bad thing. Some would even argue that it provides another check and balance for listed companies here.

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

Two weeks of paid paternity leave from January 2017

Business Times
14 Apr 2016
Lee U-Wen

[Singapore] THE government will legislate a second week of state-funded paternity leave for all fathers of Singapore citizen children born from Jan 1 next year. This was announced by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo in Parliament on Wednesday, during the debate on the spending plans of the Prime Minister's Office for the new financial year.

A week of government-paid paternity leave was first introduced back in 2013, as part of the government's enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package.

Last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the National Day Rally that employers could give a second week of such leave on a voluntary basis, with the Civil Service one of the first to lead the way.

Mrs Teo, who oversees the country's population issues, said the extra week of paternity leave - to be capped at S$2,500 a week, including Central Provident Fund contributions - will enable young fathers to be more involved with raising their children.

There are some conditions that fathers must fulfil first. They must be lawfully married to the child's mother and must have served their employer continuously for at least three calendar months before the child's birth.

Separately, Mrs Teo also said that government-paid shared parental leave will be quadrupled to four weeks, for citizen children born from July 1, 2017. Currently, a working mother can only share one week from her four-month paid maternity leave with her husband.

This latest enhancement to paternity leave and shared parental leave will allow fathers to take up to eight weeks of leave within the first year of their baby's birth, after factoring in six days of childcare leave and a week of unpaid infant care leave. Adoption leave will also go up to 12 weeks, up from four weeks currently, for adoptive mothers of infants younger than one year old.

Mrs Teo said that adoptive fathers will be able to share up to four weeks of their spouse's adoption leave, and this enhancement will apply to children adopted from July 1, 2017.

For the first two children, the first four weeks will be paid by employers, while the government will take care of the remaining eight weeks. For the third child and beyond, all 12 weeks will be funded by the government.

Earlier in the debate, Member of Parliament Desmond Choo (Tampines) noted how only 40 per cent of fathers used their one week of paid paternity leave in 2015, which might be due to manpower constraints in companies, and the mindsets of both workers and employers.

Nominated MP Thomas Chua, meanwhile, highlighted the conflict between implementing lean management, increasing productivity, and promoting family-friendly and flexible working arrangements.

Mr Chua, who is also the president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, wanted to know how this contradiction should be resolved. In her speech, Mrs Teo said that the government had timed this latest round of leave enhancements to give employers "some time" to adjust and plan.

"We hope employers that are in a position to do so, start to extend paternity leave even before legislation kicks in so that parents of children born earlier can also benefit," she said.

"The extra benefits may have a temporary impact on businesses but they are also powerful signals to your employees about your commitment towards family-friendly practices," she added.

Mrs Teo updated the House on Singapore's total fertility rate, which stood at 1.24 in 2015 and slightly above the average of 1.22 in the first half of this decade.

Last year, there were 23,805 citizen marriages, the second-highest rate in more than a decade and just below the 24,037 such marriages in 2014.

Singapore also welcomed nearly 34,000 Golden Jubilee babies born in 2015, the year that the country celebrated 50 years of independence.

This, said Mrs Teo, was the highest in over a decade and higher than the which was the highest in more than a decade, and more than the 33,238 babies born in the last Year of the Dragon in 2012.

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

Ex-AIA agent's sixth lawyer discharges himself amid trial

Straits Times
28 Apr 2016
Lorna Tan

In a dramatic twist to the long-awaited criminal trial of ex-AIA insurance agent Sally Low, her lawyer discharged himself from representing Low yesterday.

Low is facing charges of duping Indonesian businessman Ong Han Ling, 77, into buying a fake US$5.06 million AIA Thank You insurance policy in 2002.

Mr Adrian Wee of Characterist LLC was Low's sixth lawyer. Low, who was made bankrupt by her previous lawyers, had five sets of lawyers acting for her before Mr Wee took up her case last year.

Yesterday, Mr Wee told State Court judge Michelle Yap that he was "compelled to apply for discharge" as Low has made "an allegation" against him.

It is not publicly known what the allegation was, as it was mentioned only in chambers.

On the witness stand, Low said she has every intention to fight the trial and has been trying since 2010 to do so. She added she has been under stress and she believes that people have been "following" her.

She said: "Given my IMH (Institute of Mental Health) report, it sounds like I am paranoid and I am crazy but I don't have the funds or the money to engage new counsel and on my own, I do not have the ability to fight this case.

"It's taken so many years of my life... I was age 34 when I was charged, now I am age 41. I am also mindful that I don't have the time to look for new counsel, not to mention the resources, and in all fairness, Mr Wee has been trying his best."

Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi noted Low has made allegations against her former counsel on the witness stand during a related civil trial and, to his knowledge, these allegations were not well founded.

The State Court judge allowed Mr Wee's discharge and the criminal trial, which started on Monday, was adjourned yesterday. It is set to continue on May 5, whether or not Low engages another defence counsel.

The saga began in late 2002, when Mr Ong was allegedly sold a fake policy by Low, then an AIA agent. He claimed that after he remitted the premium, Low, without his knowledge or consent, used the funds to buy four AIA policies for him, his wife and their daughter.

He alleged that midway through the tenure of the AIA Thank You policy, Low deceived him into giving the insurance proceeds from three of the unauthorised policies to her by use of fabricated computer errors. Her scheme came to light in 2008 after Mr Ong learnt from AIA that the Thank You policy was bogus.

The insurer made a police report against Low and sacked her in December 2009. Mr Ong made a police report against Low in January 2010 for allegedly cheating him of money. He sued her for damages totalling US$2.25 million and $2.99 million.

In May 2011, she was charged with 19 criminal offences, including cheating the Ongs, using forged documents and money laundering.

In December 2013, Low pleaded guilty to two charges of cheating, one charge of fraudulent use of forged documents and one charge of moving crime proceeds to a bank account in Hong Kong, with the remaining 15 charges taken into consideration. She retracted her guilty plea six months later. Low also claimed she was a victim of a ploy with Mr Ong to cheat AIA instead.

She had previously admitted herself to IMH and her previous lawyers included Ms Engelin Teh and the late Mr Subhas Anandan. Meanwhile, the Ongs are suing AIA and Motion Insurance Agency for negligence and lack of care.

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

Views sought on debt restructuring role

Straits Times
21 Apr 2016
Lee Xin En

A committee set up to look into strengthening Singapore as an international centre for debt restructuring has made a slew of recommendations and is asking the public for their views on these proposals.

These recommendations focus on three main areas: enhancing Singapore's legal framework for debt restructuring, creating a restructuring-friendly ecosystem and addressing a perception gap of Singapore's debt restructuring services.

Some of the specific recommendations include creating bespoke rules and procedures for restructuring and increasing the use of alternative dispute resolution solutions such as mediation or arbitration.

The committee also suggested strengthening the quality of insolvency professionals and deepening the bench with specialist insolvency judges.

To raise Singapore's profile internationally, the committee proposed that Singapore-based professionals, judges and academics increase their involvement in international insolvency organisations, conferences and research.

These recommendations will mainly impact lawyers, accountants, insolvency practitioners, banks and funds, said the Ministry of Law in a statement yesterday.

The 17-member committee co-chaired by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Law and Ministry of Finance, and Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh, was formed in May last year, building on the work of the Insolvency Law Review Committee (ILRC).

The ILRC's recommendations for reforming Singapore's bankruptcy and corporate insolvency frameworks were broadly accepted by the Government in May 2014.

Top lawyers here have long called for Singapore to strengthen its legal framework in debt restructuring so as to boost the nation's attractiveness as a global business hub.

The committee's recommendations come amid a backdrop of rising global corporate defaults, which hit its highest level in seven years this year.

While law firms here may be facing headwinds, they have also reported more work in regional cross-border debt restructurings as companies face tough times.

The ministry is conducting a six- week public consultation, which began yesterday, to seek feedback on the committee's recommendations. The consultation period is scheduled to end on May 31.

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

S'pore coin trinkets sell well online - but are illegal

Straits Times
14 Apr 2016
Rachel Chia

MAS files police report over 'defaced' coins, which are sold on US website for up to $2,500

They have been gold-plated, hammered into lockets and painted with enamel to look like stained glass, but it is illegal to turn Singapore coins into jewellery.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) lodged a police report last Thursday after it discovered that people had been making such trinkets and selling them on US-based craft website Etsy, sometimes for thousands of dollars.

Under the Currency Act, it is illegal to "mutilate, destroy or deface" Singapore currency, including painting, engraving or cutting into coins. Offenders can be fined up to $2,000, and police are investigating.

The sale of Singapore coin jewellery is not new, with one vendor claiming his Singapore 10-cent earrings, which sell for $125 a pair, have been a "best-selling" item since he began making them 38 years ago.

A search of "Singapore coin jewellery" on the site yielded almost 200 results, with most pieces using coins from the first series issued by the Singapore Mint from 1967 to 1985.

Known as the marine series, it features designs of the seahorse, swordfish and lionfish.

Several sellers also used coins from the floral series, produced from 1985 to 2012, featuring flowers like the periwinkle and yellow allamanda.

Apart from lockets and earrings, local coins have also been turned into cuff links, necklaces and rings.

Modifications range from holes punched through the coins to silver soldering, annealing (heat treatment) and tumble polishing.

Prices go from $4 for a pair of earrings to $2,497 for a pendant containing a 1983 gold proof commemorative coin.

All the sellers are based overseas, with most in Britain and the United States, and are using these techniques to make jewellery from coins around the world.

Many told The Straits Times that they bought their Singapore coins from local coin dealers, coin shops, or on eBay.

Mr Steve Patmore, 62, owner of CoinArte on Etsy, said: "The sea-horse is a beautiful creature and the design on the Singapore coin is a particular favourite." He added that sales of Singapore coin pendants and cuff links have been steady, with many international buyers.

Many sellers added they were unaware that making Singapore coins into jewellery is illegal.

A British seller, who wanted to be known only as Myron, said: "I obviously don't want to disrespect regulations, so I will have a look at the relevant law and make a decision if I will continue selling these pieces.

"Having said that, I don't think that the UK will extradite me to stand trial."

A seller from the US, who only wanted to be known as Cliff, said: "It might be illegal in Singapore, but it isn't illegal in this country."

Australia and Canada have similar laws prohibiting the defacing of coins. While it is not illegal to turn coins into jewellery in the US and Europe, the practice is not encouraged.

Lawyer Amolat Singh said that since Singapore's laws do not have extraterritorial jurisdiction, it is unlikely that these overseas sellers will face penalties, as defacing currency is not a major offence that warrants assistance from other governments.

But he added that the police might have greater power than MAS when investigating the issue.

Etsy did not respond to queries about whether it would require the sellers to remove these items.

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

Clifford Chance appoints new Singapore managing partner

Business Times
28 Apr 2016
Claire Huang

INTERNATIONAL law firm Clifford Chance on Wednesday announced the appointment of three Singapore-based partners to leadership positions.

Kai-Niklas Schneider will assume the role of office managing partner with effect from June 1, following Geraint Hughes's appointment to regional managing partner of Asia-Pacific.

Nish Shetty will take over the role of head of litigation and dispute resolution for Asia-Pacific from Aug 1.

Nicholas Wong will serve as co-head of the firm's finance practice for Asia-Pacific together with Anthony Wang in Hong Kong starting May 1.

In the past six years, the local practice has doubled its size, including entering into a successful formal law alliance with local firm Cavenagh Law in 2012.

The firm also established an association with Indonesian firm, Linda Widyati & Partners, in 2014.

Last month the firm said two new partners - Gervais Green and Kate Sherrard - will join its Singapore office to bolster its maritime, offshore and asset and project finance offering.

Global managing partner Matthew Layton said: "Singapore and Southeast Asia are increasingly important to our clients and form a key part of our firm's growth strategy. Kai assumes the position of office managing partner with a strong ambition shared by the entire team, and Kai, Nish and Nick are all successful partners and highly regarded professionals in their respective practice areas."

Mr Schneider, who joined Clifford Chance in 2005 and subsequently rejoined as partner in 2013, is also head of the funds and investment management group for South-east Asia.

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

Intellectual property office designs future strategy as filings surge

TODAY
21 Apr 2016
Rumi Hardasmalani

SINGAPORE — With the Republic pursuing a knowledge-based and innovation-driven economy, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) has embarked on a multi-pronged strategy to further develop the intellectual property (IP) ecosystem here, amid a rapid growth in filings powered by increased business opportunities from China and other emerging global markets.

A record number of patents and trademarks were filed in Singapore last year, said IPOS.

Patent filings in the Republic grew 4.9 per cent last year with 10,814 applications, while trademark applications rose 9 per cent to 44,203 filings.

“IP filings internationally as well as in Singapore are at the highest-ever mark,” said Mr Daren Tang, chief executive of IPOS.

“Governments are looking at IP as critical to economic growth and development and it is becoming an integral part of an economy’s overall strategy,” he added.

International patent filing applications in 2014 stood at 2.68 million, up 4.5 per cent against the previous year, while trademark filings at 7.44 million were up 6 per cent.

Global IP filings growth, said Mr Tang, was largely driven by Asia, particularly in China, Japan, Korea and even Singapore.

The IPOS over the next two years will enhance focus on making it easier for businesses here to file for IP protection, and place greater emphasis on law enforcement.

Initiatives are under way to ease and take the entire process of patent filings online.

IPOS, with an aim to further develop the IP landscape in Singapore, is encouraging Singaporean businesses to have an IP strategy embedded in their business models in a way that they are able to create value and monetise their IP assets, be it in the form of technology, brands or content.

In the process, IPOS will also help build expertise with dedicated academic courses to support the nation’s push towards innovation-led value creation.

“IP is not about just protection any more. If you want to take your products and services to the world, you need to integrate IP as a part of your business strategy.

“Most companies and start-ups understand that. Over the next few years we will share awareness on this, create a conducive environment where IP is understood and practised.

“We will also encourage manpower and skills development to support this drive,” said Mr Tang, at an appreciation event organised by IPOS yesterday to celebrate World Intellectual Property Day.

The resurgence of investment interest in the region, with the Association of South-east Asian Nations set to be the world’s fourth-largest economy, will translate into big business opportunities for Singaporean companies, said Mr Tang.

With an integrated IP strategy in their business models, firms here will be better poised to cash in, he added.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

WongPartnership partners Middle Eastern practice for wider reach

Business Times
13 Apr 2016
Claire Huang

[Singapore] SINGAPORE-BASED law firm WongPartnership has announced a tie-up with a boutique national law firm in the Middle East as the two look to support clients in that region and widen their reach, even as the oil and gas sector faces a slump.

WongPartnership, one of the Big Four law firms here, has had a presence in Abu Dhabi since 2008 and would now expand its footprint to Dubai through its alliance with Al Aidarous International Legal Practice, they said on Tuesday.

Ng Wai King, WongPartnership's managing director, told The Business Times that the firm's work in the Middle East had started with projects and instructions by Singapore clients who were doing business in that region.

At the same time, the firm saw a number of Middle East clients instructing it on their projects and transactions in Asia, and particularly in Singapore, he said.

"In spite of the current challenges facing the oil and gas sector, we do see resilience in the United Arab Emirate's (UAE) economy. For example, Dubai has become an important gateway to Africa given the connectivity it offers to business travellers. Our alliance partner's presence in Dubai allows us to support our clients' expanded initiatives beyond the Middle East into Africa. We also believe that the combined experience and expertise of Al Aidarous and WongPartnership will serve clients well in managing their disputes in the Middle East (whether by way of arbitration or otherwise)," added Mr Ng.

Alvin Yeo, chairman and senior partner of WongPartnership, noted that the alliance with Al Aidarous "builds on our existing regional footprint of offices in Singapore, China and Myanmar, as well as our other strategic alliances in Malaysia and Indonesia".

He added that the firm can now deliver broader support to clients with offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and a larger team to augment the firm's current capabilities.

With offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Al Aidarous International Legal Practice was set up more than 20 years ago by named partner and managing attorney Ali Al Aidarous, who is ranked as a leading dispute resolution lawyer in the UAE. The firm has experience in banking and finance, corporate law, contracts, construction and real estate, litigation and arbitration, transport and insurance.

Said Mr Al Aidarous: "Business and investments are increasing in the Middle East, both inbound and outbound. An alliance with a top-tier Asean law firm like WongPartnership means we can mutually capitalise on this trade flow. Drawing on our combined strengths we are well-positioned to deliver to clients Arabic, United Kingdom and Singapore law capability, and resourcing for major projects and transactions."

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

Take the twist out of 'death spiral' convertibles

Business Times
28 Apr 2016
Kenneth Lim

THE so-called "death spiral" convertible bonds that lie at the heart of the proxy battle at Magnus Energy may be a wake-up call for all stakeholders.

Regulators must ensure that the holders of such instruments are not skirting rules about control of a company; independent directors must ensure that disclosures to shareholders are explicit about the risks of such instruments and be transparent about why the bonds are necessary in the first place; and shareholders must learn to recognise death spiral convertibles as bad news.

What are death spiral convertibles? In a typical convertible, the conversion price is fixed, which means that the potential dilutive impact of the convertibles is known and limited. In death spiral convertibles, however, the conversion price is based on a formula that assures a discount to market. This not only protects the bondholder against a tanking stock price, but it also creates an increasingly dilutive effect with each round of conversion. When such convertibles are issued in large amounts by a company, or when the conversion prices are set at large discounts to market, the transactions can be devastating for the underlying stock price. Hence the "death spiral".

Magnus Energy entered into a deal in 2014 to issue up to S$35 million of such instruments to a little known investment firm called Value Capital Asset Management. In Magnus's case, Value Capital gets to turn the bonds into stock at a 10 per cent discount - the maximum allowable under Singapore rules when conversion prices are not fixed.

A group of Magnus minority shareholders want to stop Magnus from issuing any more of those convertibles. The company has an option to require Value Capital to buy the remaining S$15 million of convertibles not yet issued, and the shareholders want to make sure that the option is not exercised. So they have requisitioned an extraordinary general meeting to remove all of the current directors of Magnus and to appoint their own nominees. The shareholders' meeting takes place on Friday.

The grumbling about the convertibles is not without cause. Value Capital converts some of its bonds into shares many times a week and invariably sells them. The dilution from issuing new shares at a discount plus the selling pressure have weighed heavily on Magnus's share price. Before the convertible deal was announced on Sept 3, 2014, Magnus's shares were trading at the equivalent of 65 Singapore cents, adjusted for a 2015 consolidation. The shares were last traded at 0.2 Singapore cent on Wednesday.

Proceeds

Death spiral convertibles are fundamentally tilted against existing shareholders, but they exist for a reason. Typically, companies that issue such instruments are in urgent need of funds and have few better alternatives, so the convertibles do provide last-resort funds.

But it is not obvious that Magnus was in such dire straits when it agreed to the convertible deal, or even if it were, whether it is still in that position today.

In all of its disclosures since 2014, Magnus has consistently declared that it has sufficient working capital for "present requirements". Indeed, as at end-December 2015, the company had S$7.4 million of cash and bank deposits.

Magnus has instead used most of the proceeds from the convertible deal to make investments. As at Feb 3, 2016, about S$8.3 million of the S$14.5 million of convertibles issued had been used for strategic investments. The high cost of financing should be considered when analysing the returns on those investments. Magnus may want to reconsider whether it makes sense to use such expensive funds for those purposes. The company's directors should address this point with shareholders.

A new twist in the Magnus saga this week also raises questions about how much control a convertible holder like Value Capital can have over an underlying stock. On Monday, Magnus announced that Malaysian businessman and politician Lee Chin Cheh had bought a 22.14 per cent stake from Value Capital, making him the single largest shareholder of the company overnight from not even being a substantial shareholder previously. Magnus chief executive Luke Ho has said that Mr Lee supports the current board and management, which greatly raises the hurdle for the requisitioning shareholders to succeed in their bid to replace the board and to stop the issuance of further convertibles.

Impact

That just one transaction by Value Capital could have such a large impact on key shareholder decisions raises questions about whether Value Capital should have been considered a substantial shareholder in the first place. Although Value Capital and Mr Lee have been careful not to cross the 30 per cent trigger for a mandatory general offer for the rest of the company, the fact remains that the convertibles held by Value Capital give it an incredible amount of sway should it choose to exercise its well-in-the-money conversion options.

By law, option holders are not considered shareholders until they actually exercise their options, but regulators should consider whether existing rules provide enough safeguards for minority investors. The issue is not confined to Magnus. Value Capital has also entered into similar convertible deals with Annica Holdings, ISR Capital and LionGold Corp.

Another major player in the space, Advance Capital Partners, has offered similar financing deals with Attilan Group (the former Asiasons Capital) and Elektromotive Group. Many of these companies were involved in the 2013 penny stock crash.

SGX head of listing compliance June Sim told The Business Times that convertibles "are a source of funding available to companies depending on their needs".

The listing rules essentially provide protection by making sure that significant issuances receive shareholder approval and that companies provide enough information for shareholders to make an informed decision.

It may be worth seeing if more can be done. After all, Magnus's shareholders approved the deal two years ago.

Lawyer Adrian Chan of Lee & Lee said of such structures in general: "These 'death spiral' convertibles that force the issuer to take on share price risk rather than the bondholder may be so dilutive to minority shareholders that there may need to be some safeguards built into our regulatory framework to protect the interest of the minorities. Although shareholders have to approve the issuance of such convertibles in the first place, it is doubtful that the real effect and downside risk is completely appreciated by the investors."

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

Secret society man jailed 10 years for fatal attack in 2000

Straits Times
21 Apr 2016
Selina Lum

He was jailed in Cambodia for drug offence after fleeing S'pore

After fatally stabbing a man in a fight 16 years ago, secret society member See Chee Keong fled Singapore and ended up spending 13 years in a Cambodian jail for drug trafficking.

He was released on a royal pardon in 2013 and deported to Singapore, where he was arrested for killing Leong Fook Weng, 36, an odd-job labourer.

Yesterday, See, now aged 50, was sentenced to 10 years' jail after he pleaded guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. He was 34 years old when he stabbed the victim in the heart.

See is the second assailant to be jailed over the death of Mr Leong, who was attacked for nearly 15 minutes at a vacant plot near a cemetery in Kheam Hock Road in the early hours of May 17, 2000.

The first, Robson Tay Teik Chai, was given nine years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane in 2003 for culpable homicide. Tay had also fled Singapore and spent two years in prison in France for drug trafficking before he was deported.

Two other alleged assailants, Ong Chin Huat and Lim Hin Teck, are still at large. A fifth man, William Ho Kah Wei, who was part of the group, was jailed six months in 2003 for not reporting the crime. All were secret society members.

The High Court heard that shortly before Mr Leong was stabbed, the five men were having supper at a River Valley Road coffee shop.

Lim, who owed money to Mr Leong, complained about him to the others and said he wanted a fight with Mr Leong.

See then drove the group to Upper Boon Keng Road after finding out that Mr Leong was attending a funeral wake there. See confronted Mr Leong and assaulted him together with Tay.

After Mr Leong claimed that he was from a particular secret society, the group drove to the Tanjong Katong area to verify his affiliations with the head of the gang. When they learnt that Mr Leong was not a member of that secret society, the group dragged him into See's car and continued beating him.

They alighted at a vacant plot in Kheam Hock Road, where three of them continued assaulting Mr Leong. See used a blade that was concealed in a lighter and stabbed the victim in the neck and chest.

Mr Leong was then stripped to his underwear and his wallet taken from his motionless body before the group left the scene.

See's lawyer, Mr James Masih, said in mitigation that his client had merely wanted to teach Mr Leong a lesson for switching gang loyalties.

The lawyer, noting that See had done time in Cambodia, sought eight years' jail so that the twice-married man could spend his last years being a good father and grandfather.

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

Woman acquitted of sexual penetration of a minor

Straits Times
13 Apr 2016
Selina Lum

In an unexpected turn of events, the High Court yesterday cleared a woman of sexual penetration of a minor, ruling that only a man can be guilty of the offences.

Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu made the unprecedented decision in the unusual case of Zunika Ahmad, a 39-year-old transgender individual who is biologically female but lived as a man and even married two women using the bogus identity of an Indonesian man.

Zunika pleaded guilty last December to six counts of sexual penetration under Section 376A(1)(b) of the Penal Code and one count of sexual exploitation under the Children and Young Persons Act.

She admitted committing these acts on an underage girl between 13 and 14 years old, who lived in the neighbourhood, using external aids.

But after she pleaded guilty, "a doubt whether a woman could be charged... under Section 376A(1)(b) arose in my mind", said the judge.

He directed both sides to submit arguments on this issue. Both prosecution and defence concluded a woman could be charged under the provision. Justice Kan disagreed.

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

The judge said A could not therefore be a woman. "The reference to a person who has a penis cannot be construed to include a woman without doing violence to common sense and anatomy," he said.

The provision was enacted in 2007 after a review of the Penal Code. The judge noted the question of making it an offence for a woman to use a part of her body or an object to sexually penetrate a minor was in fact discussed in Parliament.

Still, the courts have held that a provision which is grammatically and literally capable of only one specific meaning should be given that interpretation.

A is a person with a penis, he said. "This is not a case where A can be read to be a man, and can also be read to be a woman." If a court were to interpret A to include a woman, it would be re-writing the law, a power the court did not have, he said.

The judge said the "better course" was to leave it to the legislature to amend the provision to make it clear that A includes a woman, if that was indeed the intention.

He rejected the accused's plea of guilt on the six counts, set aside the convictions and acquitted her. For the remaining charge of sexual exploitation, he set eight months' jail.

Zunika will start her sentence in six weeks. Diagnosed with gender dysphoria, she speaks, dresses and behaves like a man.

The two women Zunika married did not know their "husband" was a woman until the offences came to light. They were in court yesterday.

Her lawyer, Ms N. Sudha Nair, said her client was sorry for the offences. She said Zunika would have gender reassignment surgery upon release from prison.


The judge said the "better course" was to leave it to the legislature to amend the provision to make it clear that A includes a woman, if that was indeed the intention.

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

Public Prosecutor v BAB [2016] SGHC 61

Fair competition 'key to making Asean region dynamic'

Straits Times
28 Apr 2016
Sheryl Lee

Minister says S'pore will lead new initiatives to align competition policy and law among Asean states

Fair competition is the key ingredient to making the Asean region competitive, innovative and dynamic, the Minister of Trade and Industry (Trade) said yesterday.

Mr Lim Hng Kiang told the International Competition Network (ICN) annual conference that the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) will contribute to efforts to align competition policy and law among Asean member states by leading new initiatives, including a regional programme.

The new Asean Competition Policy and Law programme will start this year and aims to foster fair competition by promoting collaboration among businesses, market authorities and government agencies in the region by organising various events, from networking conferences to training sessions.

Other CCS initiatives include a toolkit for Asean states carrying out their competition advocacy plans, including guidelines on which stakeholders to approach.

The ICN, which was launched in 2001 to promote competition law enforcement, started its three-day conference at Marina Bay Sands yesterday. Around 450 international delegates are here to discuss competition law and policy issues.

This is the first time the ICN has held the conference in South-east Asia, a "timely" move given that "competition policy and law is growing in importance in Asean, and is regarded as one of the pillars of the Asean single market", said CCS chairman Aubeck Kam.

Asean, which is the world's seventh largest economy with a market of over 600 million people, formed the Asean Economic Community (AEC) last year to tap the region's economic potential.

Nine out of 10 Asean member states have enacted competition laws under the AEC Blueprint 2015.

Mr Lim said competition policy ensures markets are open to new entrants while allowing businesses to compete on a level playing field. "Competition enables efficient functioning and openness of our markets, so that businesses thrive through productivity and innovation."

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

'Right of way' dispute back in court - for sixth time

Straits Times
20 Apr 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Land owner seeks damages from Grange Heights, claims lost opportunity cost of $32m

A landmark case that began 42 years ago and went through five courts of appeal is still unfolding.

The owners of Grange Heights condominium must now face off against a bid by adjacent land owner Lee Tat Development for damages in their longstanding row over a right of way to Grange Road.

The tussle - one of the longest-running sagas in Singapore's legal history - began in the High Court before Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh last week and is due to resume tomorrow.

In 1974, residents of Grange Heights first fought for the right of way across the 883 sq m strip of land owned by Lee Tat's predecessor. Their access was recognised then by the Court of Appeal.

Several more actions followed until a Court of Appeal in 2008 ruled that they no longer had right of way through the path as the area had changed and access to the main road was no more an issue.

The 2008 decision was a landmark as it showed the Court of Appeal could reopen civil cases it had heard and decided on before.

But Grange Heights pursued the matter again, leading to a fifth case in 2010. Now, the sixth is under way. This time, Lee Tat has filed suit for the alleged wrongful use of the land until 2008. Represented by Senior Counsel C. R. Rajah and lawyer Ernest Balasubramaniam, it seeks damages for the trespass, abuse of the court process and malicious prosecution by Grange Heights. It said decades of litigation meant the land in subject remained frozen, causing Lee Tat to suffer a heavy loss in opportunity cost which an expert had placed at $32,207,415.

Lee Tat said not getting the land back earlier had also cost it some $31 million paid in property tax and legal and consultant fees.

The Grange Road area is a high-end residential site near Orchard Road.

Grange Heights, defended by Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng and lawyers Sngeeta Rai and Jocelyn Ngiam, urged that the claims be thrown out, describing Lee Tat's bid as "clutching at straws" to get a windfall through this court action.

They noted there were a total of 11 judicial pronouncements in the High Court and Court of Appeal that affirmed the residents' right of way until December 2008, when access was reversed, after which they stopped using the road.

The plaintiffs could not apply that decision retroactively, they argued. Grange Heights also accused Lee Tat of starting this action because it had the financial muscle to do so.

In January last year, in rejecting a move by Grange Heights to strike out the suit, Justice Choo Han Teck remarked: "If there is such a thing as an indomitable spirit of litigation, it is exemplified in this action."

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

Art gallery owner gets 8 weeks' jail for contempt

Straits Times
13 Apr 2016
Selina Lum

She disobeyed court orders to disclose assets in $2.2m dispute

A high-profile art gallery owner, who disobeyed four court orders to disclose her assets in a US$1.6 million (S$2.2 million) art deal dispute, was yesterday sentenced to eight weeks in jail for contempt of court.

Judicial Commissioner Edmund Leow said a fine was not sufficient, even though Jasmine Tay has settled the dispute with Indonesian tycoon Tahir, who goes by one name.

He noted that her breaches were serious and she took active steps to "frustrate" the court orders. She suppressed bank statements to hide the fact that she withdrew $3,000 from her OCBC account - a breach of an injunction to freeze her assets.

"Being on the verge of bankruptcy does not give debtors an excuse to disregard court orders," he said.

The jail term was stayed after her lawyer, Mr Dason L., said she intends to appeal.

Ms Tay, 49, who opened Jasmine Fine Art in 1993 and MAD Museum of Art and Design in 2009, was made bankrupt last November by one of her long list of creditors.

Mr Tahir's lawyer, Ms Loh Jien Li, told the court that the police and the Official Assignee, which manages the affairs of bankrupts, have requested some of the documents disclosed in the case.

Ms Tay was sued by Mr Tahir, 63, for the recovery of US$1.6 million which he paid her in 2014 for a sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. The deal was called off. Mr Tahir contended that she failed to show the sculpture was being delivered to him. She claimed he backed out after alleging it was a fake.

Mr Tahir lodged a police report against her and also filed a civil suit, which he eventually won after she failed to respond to it.

To enforce the judgment, Mr Tahir applied for Ms Tay to be questioned in court to determine the assets she had available for paying him back. She ignored two court dates and failed to answer a questionnaire about her finances.

After Mr Tahir obtained a Mareva injunction - which stops Ms Tay from disposing of her assets - she was ordered to disclose her assets but she disregarded this.

When Mr Tahir found out she was bankrupt, he took out contempt proceedings against her last December.

In January, Ms Tay finally turned up in court and admitted contempt. The next month, she took the stand to explain why she flouted the court orders, but the judicial commissioner said she could not give any satisfactory explanation.

She eventually disclosed the required information, admitting that she used US$1.4 million from the sum paid by Mr Tahir for "operational expenses for other purchases /deposits and drawings to myself".

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

Tahir v Tay Kar Oon [2016] SGHC 60

Jones the Grocer spat may play out in court

Straits Times
27 Apr 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Details of a business spat between the co-founder and the current majority shareholder of prominent gourmet food business Jones the Grocer may unfold in court instead of being settled through closed-door arbitration.

The High Court has refused a move by L Capital Jones, which has a 63 per cent stake in the main company that owns the Jones the Grocer business worldwide, for the dispute to be settled via arbitration.

Mr John Manos, whose company Maniach is the other shareholder, has taken L Capital to court to seek damages, claiming "minority oppression" under the Companies Act.

L Capital and Maniach are the two shareholders of the main company - Jones the Grocer Group Holdings - which is incorporated in Singapore and is the worldwide holding company for Jones the Grocer business.

It has a group of companies that operates and franchises gourmet cafes and grocery stores under the brand name, among other things.

Mr Manos co-founded the business in 2004 but became the sole owner in 2010.

Between 2012 and 2014, L Capital acquired shares in the company through US$21 milion (S$28 million) of capital injections, becoming the majority shareholder.

But in 2014, the relationship between the two shareholders soured. Maniach alleged L Capital was wrongfully trying to seize control of the business.

Among other things, Maniach claimed L Capital excluded Mr Manos from management of the main company and its subsidiaries and had abused its voting powers.

Maniach also claimed L Capital had managed the affairs of the group and it subsidiaries in a manner which was oppressive to Manaich and completely disregarded or was prejudicial to its interests.

L Capital's lawyer Koh Swee Yen argued Maniach's claims were about agreement breaches and not minority oppression and the subject matter fell squarely within the scope of the parties' arbitration agreement. She added the scope of the arbitration agreement was wide enough to deal with the claim.

Maniach's lawyer Chew Kei-Jin countered that its claim was a bona fide for relief from minority oppression and even if it fell within the agreement, a minority oppression claim was not open to arbitration.

Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy in judgment grounds released yesterday found the arbitration agreement was wide enough to cover the dispute. "Nevertheless, I decline to grant the stay sought by the defendants because I find the statutory claim (under the Companies Act) for relief from minority oppression is not arbitrable."

The judge dismissed the move by L Capital to stop the court case in favour of arbitration, but gave permission for L Capital to appeal.

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

Maniach Pte Ltd v L Capital Jones Ltd and another [2016] SGHC 65

IVAS, NTU launch business valuation course

Business Times
20 Apr 2016
Gladys Yeo

[Singapore] THE Institute of Valuers and Appraisers of Singapore (IVAS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have jointly launched the Chartered Valuer and Appraisal programme amid rising demand for professionals with strong competencies and experience in business valuation, they said in a joint press release on Tuesday.

This will be Asia's first programme in business valuation, they added, saying that the aim of the course is for participants to gain "deep insights and exposure to diverse perspectives and approaches in business valuation" that are easily applicable.

Eric Teo, chairman of IVAS, noted the growing importance of business valuation. "Professionals and corporate executives who perform business valuation need to be equipped with specialised knowledge and skills; strong values and ethics; and substantial practical experience in order to do the work well."

At the launch of the programme, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law, Indranee Rajah, who delivered the keynote speech, said the increased need for qualified professionals in business valuation was due to four key trends: increase in merger & acquisition activities in Singapore and the region, Singapore's growth as an arbitration centre and centre for litigation proceedings, the emphasis on fair value measurement in financial reporting framework, and the importance of intellectual property in business.

The inaugural class will be held in August this year and the course will be delivered and facilitated by NTU's Nanyang Business School.

Participants in the 18-month course can choose to either attend classes or self-study. The flexibility caters to professionals from Asia who wish to take up the programme, IVAS and NTU said. Upon completion, participants may apply to IVAS for certification, provided they have accumulated sufficient experience. The exact criteria for certification will be announced later this year.

The programme is supported by the SkillsFuture Study Awards, which will offer participants S$5,000 to defray the costs of the programme.

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

A-G Chambers helping Swiss probe into 1MDB

Straits Times
13 Apr 2016
Chia Yan Min

Singapore's Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) is assisting its Swiss counterpart with investigations into troubled Malaysian state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

In response to press queries, the AGC confirmed yesterday that it received a request for mutual legal assistance from the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG), for information and documents on certain fund flows from 1MDB and entities related to it.

The AGC will "render all possible assistance... expeditiously", it said.

The AGC statement followed a statement issued by the Swiss authorities, which have extended a criminal probe to two former Emirati officials in charge of Abu Dhabi sovereign funds, on suspicion of embezzlement committed against Malaysia's 1MDB.

The Swiss authorities last August began investigations into 1MDB for suspected corruption of foreign public officials and money laundering.

The troubled state investor has been embroiled in a corruption scandal and is the subject of probes in at least seven countries. This segment of the Swiss investigations involves bonds issued by 1MDB subsidiaries to finance investments in electric power plants.

The 1MDB subsidiaries obtained a guarantee to repay these bonds from International Petroleum Investment Company, an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund.

In return, the Malaysian fund was to make collateral and other payments to a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi state fund. However, the Swiss authorities suspect that the amounts paid in connection with this guarantee were not returned to the Abu Dhabi sovereign fund. Instead, they were channelled to two public officials as well as a company related to the motion picture industry, the OAG said in its statement.

A former 1MDB entity, already indicted in Swiss proceedings, also allegedly benefited from the funds.

The Abu Dhabi sovereign fund has also said it did not receive the amounts paid in connection with the guarantee.

As part of these investigations, the OAG issued two requests for mutual legal assistance to Luxembourg and Singapore. "Given the international cooperation, the OAG is thus working to establish the facts," it said.

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

SSC wins appeal to reclaim club funds used in lawsuit

Straits Times
27 Apr 2016
Selina Lum

Court rules club entitled to refund of $1.5m, as legal fees of ex-chief were paid under 'mistaken belief

In a twist to a long-running saga, the Singapore Swimming Club yesterday won an appeal to get back $1.5 million in club funds that former president Freddie Koh used to defend a defamation suit against him.

In a written judgment, the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court decision last year, which rejected the club's bid to recover the money. The apex court ruled that the club was entitled to a refund on grounds that it had paid Mr Koh's legal bills under a mistaken belief, and that Mr Koh had breached his fiduciary duties to the club.

Mr Koh, 70, became club president in May 2008 and was ousted at an extraordinary general meeting in March 2012.

The case stemmed from a defamation suit brought against him in 2009 by four members of the previous committee.

Shortly after Mr Koh was sued, the management committee headed by him passed a resolution, stating that the club will assume liability for legal actions brought against office bearers as a result of them discharging their duties to the club.

Following this resolution, the club bore his legal costs.

In 2011, Mr Koh lost the defamation suit. The Court of Appeal found that he had made the defamatory remarks with malice and that he had been on a "witch hunt" against the plaintiffs. After this ruling, the club continued to pay his legal bills.

In March 2012, club members voted to remove Mr Koh, to recover the legal costs paid for him and to stop further payment. He then sued the club, arguing that it has to indemnify him for the costs.

The club, represented by Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, countersued him for the return of the money it had paid for his legal costs.

The High Court dismissed both claims in 2014. The club appealed.

In its 68-page judgment yesterday, the apex court accepted Mr Tan's arguments that, prior to the 2011 defamation judgment, the club had paid Mr Koh's bills under a mistaken belief that he was sued as a result of him discharging his duties to the club.The payments after the defamation judgment were not made under this mistake.

But the court noted that after the defamation ruling, Mr Koh continued to hand over invoices to the club's treasurer and financial controller for payments to be made.

This was despite the fact that the question of whether his legal costs were still covered under the resolution had arisen by then.

"In our view, no responsible president of a club, in such a situation, should have done so," said the court, finding that he had acted to further his own interests rather than that of the club.

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

Singapore Swimming Club v Koh Sin Chong Freddie [2016] SGCA 28

Two Cordlife shareholders seeking board seats

Business Times
20 Apr 2016
Anita Gabriel

Long-time stakeholders Bonvests and Tai Tak Estates plan to call for shareholder meeting following the sudden resignation of CEO Jeremy Yee

[Singapore] DISPLEASED by the sudden departure of Cordlife Group's chief executive last month, two key long-time shareholders of the cord-blood banking firm plan to call for a shareholder meeting to secure board seats in the firm.

The Business Times understands that the shareholders - Bonvests Holdings Ltd and Tai Tak Estates Sdn Bhd - who collectively own 22.5 per cent of Cordlife and have been invested in the firm since its listing on the Singapore Exchange in 2012 - have hired legal firm Rajah & Tann to assist in calling for a shareholder meeting.

The latest move is deemed quite rare for corporate Singapore, and even more uncommon as the parties have picked the route of Section 177 of the Companies Act to directly call for the meeting versus requisitioning the board to call for an extraordinary general meeting under Section 176.

It also signals disenchantment among pockets of Cordlife's shareholders since the firm's key figure Jeremy Yee abruptly stepped down last month.

Prior to this, Bonvests and Tai Tak, which own 11.2 per cent and 11.3 per cent respectively in the mainboard-listed company, had not sought board representation.

This underscored the trust they placed in Mr Yee, who was the only executive director in the six-member board up until he resigned and until last week, when Cordlife announced the appointment of Tan Poh Lan as executive director and group chief operating officer.

The shareholders, according to sources, are seeking to appoint two non-executive nominee directors to the board.

No one is clear why Mr Yee resigned - his contract was due for renewal at the same time - although it is believed that a boardroom clash in relation to his weak showing in growing the firm's actual business in core markets may have been one of few factors.

Mr Yee's proponents - and there appears to be lots too where they come from - say granted, cord-blood storage is a slow-growth business but he has been scouring for new growth drivers such as the firm's advanced cord-lining services.

There is one other thing that has piqued curiosity - the emergence of LH Capital I Limited this year as the single largest shareholder of Cordlife with a 21.4 per cent stake.

This came about after a string of acquisitions by related units between November last year and early February, mostly by a wholly-owned firm called Kunlum Investment Holding Limited; KunLum's ultimate owner is Hong Kong-listed China Huarong, the largest state-owned asset management company in China.

"Why has Kunlum been forking out a premium of S$1.70 per Cordlife share to pick up a sizeable chunk over such a short period?" asked a market watcher, pointing out that timing wise, Mr Yee's departure followed not too long after the emergence of this new shareholder.

The imminent move by the two Cordlife shareholders to get shareholders' nod for board seats could steal the thunder from Cordlife, which is expected to announce Mr Yee's successor very soon.

Cordlife board is also expected to clear the air over Mr Yee's departure at a yet-to-be arranged dialogue session with shareholders soon, to be organised by the Securities Investors Association of Singapore (SIAS).

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

Unwed mums to get 16-week maternity leave

Straits Times
13 Apr 2016
Kok Xing Hui

Unwed mothers will soon get the same 16-week maternity leave that is given to married mothers. Their children will also get a Child Development Account (CDA), which helps pay for their childcare and healthcare needs.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin announced the extension of these benefits yesterday, in a move to avoid discriminating against these children. These benefits are now given only to married mothers and their children.

The maternity leave benefits will kick in early next year as Parliament will need to change the law first. But the children of unwed mothers will likely be given the CDAs by September this year, Mr Tan added.

"We can do more to support their efforts to care for their children and reduce the disadvantages that their children may face at birth," he said, adding that he has met such mothers, including at his Meet-the-People Sessions. "They are usually vulnerable because they are younger and lower-educated. Some may have been rejected by their own families," he said. "It can be difficult enough to bring up children but to do so single-handedly, without family support, is really tough. Some may have hoped to have a child within marriage, but due to circumstances ended up as unwed parents."

Currently, unwed mothers get eight weeks of paid maternity leave. And their children do not qualify for a CDA, a savings account wherein the Government matches the deposits parents make by up to $6,000. Last month, it said it would deposit $3,000 into the accounts of children born from March 24, even before parents make a deposit.

Mr Tan said the reason for extending the benefits is to support unwed mothers' efforts to provide for their children. At the same time, the move should not "undermine parenthood within marriage", which is "still the prevalent social norm".

After the changes, unwed mothers will still not get the Baby Bonus cash gift and parenthood tax rebates. They also have to wait till they turn 35 to buy a Housing Board flat under the singles scheme.

Unwed mother Bibiana Neo, 33, who had her daughter a year ago, wishes the benefits had come sooner: "The CDA would have helped with infant care."

The Association of Women for Action and Research said the move was "in the right direction". "We hope the Government can go further and look at areas like housing," it added.

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

3 siblings sue their 2 brothers and mum over 'minority oppression'

Straits Times
27 Apr 2016
Selina Lum

Eight years ago, businessman Thio Keng Poon, founder of Malaysia Dairy Industries (MDI) - the company behind the Marigold and Vitagen brands - sued his wife and six children for ousting him from four family companies.

Now, three of his children are suing their two brothers and mother for alleged minority oppression.

In a case that opened in the High Court yesterday, the plaintiffs want their brothers and mother to buy them out of three family companies at a price to be determined by an independent valuer.

The plaintiffs, Wendy, 57, Michael, 54, and Serene, 54, are minority shareholders.

They allege that majority shareholders, Ernest, 58, and Patrick, 52, had abused their control of the companies and unfairly oppressed them.

They allege that the pair, with the support of their mother, Madam Kwik Poh Leng, 84, pursued a "personal vendetta" against their father using company resources.

The plaintiffs claim that this "persecution" extended to them when the defendants felt that they took their father's side.

They allege that the two brothers raised their own remuneration but cut their siblings' benefits; excluded them from management; and removed them as directors.

The trio had rejected an offer by Ernest and Patrick in 2012 to buy their stake at "undervalue" and these "unfair acts" were designed to compel the plaintiffs to sell their stake low, said their lawyer, Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo.

MDI was valued at $400 million using one methodology and $1.2 billion using an approach put forward by the plaintiffs, the court heard.

The eldest sibling, Vicki, 60, has sold her stake and is not involved in the dispute.

The two brothers, represented by Senior Counsel Ang Cheng Hock, have run the companies since the 1990s. They say there was never any expectation that the plaintiffs, who were issued shares in 2002, would be entitled to run the companies.

Madam Kwik, who is still married to Mr Thio, said through her lawyer, Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, there was no reason for her to favour Ernest and Patrick and her only interest was the smooth and profitable running of the companies.

The companies - cash cow MDI, investment holding company Thio Holdings and United Realty - are nominal defendants. Represented by Mr Siraj Omar, they have a neutral stance.

Selina Lum

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

Participants at hearing agree on need for minority president

Straits Times
19 Apr 2016
Chong Zi Liang

But they offer different proposals on how to ensure that one is elected from time to time

The issue of race dominated the first public hearing of the Constitutional Commission to review the elected presidency yesterday.

The people who gave their views agreed Singapore should have a minority-race president from time to time to reflect its status as a multiracial society.

But they differed on how to achieve this outcome, and proposed a variety of solutions.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan, 46, said that installing a legal framework to ensure a minority president would undermine the president's legitimacy and amount to affirmative action, which he said "is not in our DNA".

"Maybe I'm idealistic, I'm just very uncomfortable with institution design that engineers certain outcomes," he added. Instead, candidates should be required to show a track record of championing multiracialism, he said.

Associate Professor Tan also suggested candidates must garner a specified percentage of minority votes to win the presidential election. Ballots can be colour-coded according to the voter's race, he said, but conceded such a system may compromise voting secrecy.

The Association of Women for Action and Research, represented by its officials Corinna Lim and Jolene Tan, also did not favour measures to ensure the election of a minority president.

Ms Lim argued that the eligibility criteria to run for the office should be made less stringent, so that a bigger pool of people would qualify and naturally include more people of minority races and women as well.

The other four individuals who appeared before the commission suggested specific courses of action.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, 41, said if Singapore did not have a minority president for a number of terms, the next election should be reserved for minority candidates.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, said the provision had a "natural sunset" as it would not be invoked if Singapore progressed towards a race-blind society and elected a minority president of its own accord.

Dr Mathews acknowledged some might criticise the move as tokenism, but pointed out that it was up to the minority president to win people over by doing a good job.

In-house legal officer Edwin Yeo, 42, proposed what he called a hybrid system that combined aspects of appointing and electing a president.

A presidential council could be set up to identify one candidate in consultation with the prime minister.

The candidate must then be approved by Parliament and face a nationwide election, in which Singaporeans would simply vote "yes" or "no" on the ballot. Such a framework allows the presidential council to put up a minority candidate, who, if elected, will have the people's mandate to fulfil his custodial role.

It also avoids the divisiveness of pitting candidates against one another, which Mr Yeo said happened in the 2011 Presidential Election.

But a commission member, Justice Tay Yong Kwang, said the process could repeat indefinitely should a candidate fail to get elected. "It's going to be very wearisome for the public. They will go, 'Oh no, another election? This is the 10th time'," he said to illustrate his point.

Academic Loke Hoe Yeong, 31, and law firm intern Brian Chang, 26, suggested a two-person ticket in which one of the candidates would have to be from a minority race.

Mr Loke said the second candidate could become the Speaker of Parliament, while Mr Chang said he or she could be chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers.


PRESIDENT'S AND PM'S ROLES ARE NOT COMPARABLE

The prime minister needs a team of people who are going to put forward an active agenda for the nation and it is the role of the PM and his colleagues, and with the support of his party in Parliament, to carry through that agenda...

The office of the president, on the other hand, is a custodial office. It is actually first and foremost an office that serves to symbolise the unity of the nation... Accompanying that, there are a range of important custodial powers.

But at the end of the day, the way the constitutional balance has been established, you have a Government that seeks to get its agenda accepted by the electorate at large.

The question is whether one person who is elected the president needs particular skills or qualifications to entrust him with the power to say 'no' to certain of these items.

And that's why I think there may not be a directly comparable set of criteria at all.

The second point I would make is the prime minister is essentially a politician and it is necessarily a political office, and the elected president, although... selected through a political process, the office itself is meant to be non-partisan, non-political to the greatest extent it possibly can.

CHIEF JUSTICE SUNDARESH MENON, noting that the criteria for president and prime minister are not comparable because of the different roles and responsibilities of each post.


Raising the bar 'could shrink the pool of candidates'

The experience of running a large and complex company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million makes a person eligible to run for president under current laws.

Whether this amount should be raised or reduced was the focus yesterday, as the issue of who qualifies to stand in a presidential election was discussed at the first hearing by the Constitutional Commission set up to review the office.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan and Association of Women for Action and Research executive director Corinna Lim said raising the bar could shrink the pool of potential candidates.

They were concerned this could lead to fewer members of minority races and women meeting the requirements to run for president.

The issue of eligibility is among three aspects of the elected presidency being studied in the review.

In January this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the opening of Parliament that the qualifying criteria are due for an update with the increasing complexities of the president's job as a custodian of Singapore's reserves.

Currently, a person from the private sector must have experience in running a company with at least $100 million in paid-up capital to qualify.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, noted yesterday that there were more than 2,000 such companies last year. This is about 20 times more than when the first presidential election was held in 1993.

He added that many who had written to the commission on the matter had raised concerns about the pool of candidates being reduced if the amount was raised.

He asked: "If we were to adjust the criteria or update the criteria in order to have a proxy indicator of the qualifications of the candidates, would it really have the concern of squeezing us into a situation where we don't have enough candidates?"

Responding, Associate Professor Tan said it was not about the absolute number of people who would make the cut. But rather, how many in the group will be from a minority race, and how many will want to run for the office.

"I would say many of you (on the commission) are eligible for the office. The question of whether you would want to run for the office is a separate question altogether."

He added the office requires "people with a certain temperament, people who believe they want to serve in that bigger capacity and who believe they can do the job".

Still, he agreed the criteria should be made more stringent. As Singapore's reserves have grown over the years, "we need a person who has knowledge and ability commensurate with what he or she has to safekeep", he said.

Ms Lim, however, proposed the criteria be relaxed to consider people who run organisations with a net asset value of $50 million, so that more can contest the election.

The fact that former president S R Nathan won in walkovers in 1999 and 2005 indicates "the gate is too narrow", she said.

Aware official Jolene Tan said that a president should be a person who best represents the electorate's vision and values.

Tham Yuen-C


Other issues discussed at Constitutional Commission hearing on elected presidency

These related issues and suggestions were also raised by those who appeared at the first hearing of the Constitutional Commission yesterday:

CHECKS AND BALANCES

Law professor Eugene Tan said adequate checks and balances are important for Singapore particularly in the context of a one-party dominant system.

Acknowledging that the role of the elected president was akin to an "intra-branch check" on the executive branch that is the Government, he said: "Until we have a very secure and stable two-party system at the very least, I think to take away the unique office of the elected president... could mean that we are weakening the safeguards that we have."

But Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said he was not sure if a one-party dominant system is necessary to explain the need for an elected president. He said that even in a more "balanced political situation", the elected president could play a significant role in keeping that balance.

ROLE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS COMMITTEE

Prof Tan also suggested that the clause for a candidate's "good character and reputation" be removed from the qualifying criteria as it was a matter best left to the electorate to decide.

Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) executive director Corinna Lim also said that having a small group - the members of the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) - decide on who qualifies to contest the presidential election is "problematic". She added that it would also be ideal if the PEC's decisions on candidates be more transparent.

CJ Menon raised the possibilities of expanding the size of the three-man PEC, and strengthening the selection process by having aspiring candidates sign a self-disclosure form.

CJ Menon also raised the possibility that if the issue of character was left to the electorate, there would be a risk of the election becoming divisive and personal - and hence discouraging qualified individuals from coming forward in the first place.

"If we end up making character an electoral issue, squarely putting it front and centre, I have concerns that we'll end up with a system that is more divisive than less," he said.

EDUCATING PUBLIC ON PRESIDENT'S ROLE

Aware's representatives said there is a need to educate the public about the elected presidency because its complex nature may not be fully understood. Said Ms Lim: "It is an elected office but yet it's not something that is so easy to understand ."

Aware's senior manager of programmes and communications Jolene Tan said areas like how the president interacts with the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) and the PEC could be explained. Professor Chan Heng Chee acknowledged this was worth thinking about.

TWO-PERSON TICKET

There were suggestions of a two-person presidential ticket in which one candidate would have to be of a minority race.

Law firm intern Brian Chang, 26, said the second candidate could be a co-president or vice-president and serve as chairman of the CPA. He would switch roles with the president after three years, or halfway through a six-year term.

DBS Group Holdings chairman Peter Seah noted that the CPA is an independent body whose independence may be diluted if its chairman ran on the same ticket as the president. Mr Chang acknowledged this but said it will introduce democratic accountability to the council.

Political science academic Loke Hoe Yeong, 31, wanted a similar system. In his version, the vice-president would also be the Speaker of Parliament.

OTHER COUNTRIES

Mr Chang and Mr Loke cited Cyprus, Lebanon, and Bosnia and Herzegovina as countries with systems reserving particular political positions for certain ethnicities. Both said they were not models for Singapore, but were cases that should be studied.

Mr Chang said such approaches ended up giving rise to race-based politics and parties. He added that if there were conditions to ensure a minority member becomes president, it may lead to calls for the same approach to be applied to other key offices such as the prime minister and Speaker of Parliament.

But CJ Menon said the presidency is unique as the president is the "physical embodiment of the state", unlike other officials. Hence, it might merit special consideration that does not apply to other institutions. "This slippery slope argument may be more frightening than it needs to be."

Yeo Sam Jo

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

Uber and GrabCar drivers to be licensed by H1 2017

Business Times
13 Apr 2016
Samuel Lee

Their cars will have to be registered and they will be subject to a demerit point system to better protect commuters

[Singapore] DRIVERS of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and GrabCar will need a licence to ply their trade by the first half of next year, and their private-hire cars will have to be registered with the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Under these changes designed to better protect commuters' interests and in particular, their safety, drivers who wish to provide chauffeured services will have to apply for and obtain a Private-Hire Car Driver's Vocational Licence (PDVL). Both the PDVL and a tamper-evident decal, showing that the car has been registered with the authorities, will have to be displayed prominently.

The changes were announced in Parliament on Tuesday by Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng.

Regulations for private-hire car drivers and vehicles come after a review of the chauffeured-services industry comprising players such as Uber and GrabCar, and engagement with stakeholders such as commuters, taxi drivers, private-hire car drivers, taxi companies, car-rental companies and chauffeured-services booking providers.

The LTA will take action against unregistered cars providing chauffeured services and private-hire cars which engage in unpermitted activities, such as picking up passengers via street-hail.

Anyone with a Class 3/3A driving licence and at least two years' experience may apply for a PDVL after a medical examination and background screening.

A private-hire car driver must either be employed as a driver in a limousine company, or be the registered owner of a chauffeured-services company.

As is the policy for self-employed taxi drivers, only Singaporeans can be registered owners of a chauffeured services company; non-citizens have to be employed by a limousine company.

Applicants must attend a 10-hour-long PDVL course and pass the requisite tests, after which there is a three-refresher course every six years.

They will be subject to a demerit point system called the Vocational Licence Points System (VLPS).

Taxi drivers holding a Taxi Driver Vocational Licence (TDVL) who want to convert this licence to a PDVL require only a two-hour briefing on the regulations for chauffeured services.

The National Taxi Association (NTA), responding to the changes, said it is glad that the Ministry of Transport acknowledges the safety and security concerns of commuters with regard to private-hire services.

But it added that bolder steps are needed to review the taxi regulations to ensure fair competition, especially those pertaining to cost structures and pricing flexibility.

The association said in a statement that this is "to level the playing field between taxi services and private hire services", and added: "There is a need to evolve with technology to promote greater efficiency and encourage optimal usage of our taxi and private-hire fleets."

NTA executive advisor Ang Hin Kee, in the association's proposal on the review of private-hire services submitted to the Ministry of Transport last November, had said that commuters should be protected with a clear and transparent accountability system provided by the private-hire services, so that there is proper recourse in accidents and disputes.

Mr Ang suggested that the 250 km daily minimum mileage required of taxi vehicles, for example, be removed, and new tools and technology such as third-party apps adopted to improve on availability-management and price monitoring.

"The NTA believes that the service quality standards for taxis and private-hire services should be harmonised," said the proposal.

Meanwhile, the ride-hailing service Grab said it is aligned with the government's efforts "to create a sustainable transportation ecosystem in which private-hire vehicles are a trusted and reliable transport option and co-exist with taxis, benefiting and protecting both passengers and drivers' interests".

Lim Kell Jay, head of Grab Singapore, said: "We view these regulations as an endorsement of private-hire cars and a positive development for the industry as a whole."

He added that Grab currently has a "robust driver registration, training and ratings and vehicle-inspection framework in place, and is in favour of any regulations that complement these".

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

'Minority-only contest would send wrong signal': Constitutional Commission hearing on elected presidency

Straits Times
27 Apr 2016
Tham Yuen-C

Three object to presidential poll restriction, say society should be left to evolve on its own

Any move to occasionally restrict presidential polls to minority candidates would send the wrong signal that Singaporeans of minority races cannot be elected on their own merit, said three people yesterday at a hearing on the elected presidency.

Society is already moving towards race blindness in voting at elections, and should be left to evolve on its own, they added.

Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) deputy director of research Gillian Koh said: "We are in the process of working towards the idea that we should select someone for this office regardless of race, language or religion... If we stop this process now that would be a great pity."

Her view against having a legal provision to ensure a minority president is elected from time to time, was echoed by rights group Maruah and Singapore Management University law professor Jack Lee. They were speaking at the third hearing of the Constitutional Commission to review the elected presidency.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, asked if it would be possible to achieve the twin aims of letting society evolve and yet nudging it along, by having a provision to reserve elections for particular ethnic groups when they have not been represented in the office of president for a prolonged period of time.

"The question is whether making any such a provision is going to hold us back or spur us on," he said.

Dr Koh, who had earlier submitted her views jointly with IPS research assistant Tan Min-Wei, warned it could result in minority presidents lacking gravitas and political legitimacy.

Citing a publication by Malay self-help group Mendaki, she said some in the community did not believe in affirmative action even if they aspire to have a Malay president. The last Malay president was Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970.

But Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo, a member of the commission, said minority candidates too would be subject to the same stringent eligibility criteria applied to all candidates, and would have qualified based on merit.

Dr Koh said there would still be a perception problem.

CJ Menon noted that those who win elections in majoritarian systems are the most electable but not necessarily always the most meritorious candidates.

But there is no data, Dr Koh said, to show Singaporeans vote along racial lines at presidential elections, as the two polls that were contested, in 1993 and 2011, had only Chinese candidates.

She added that an IPS survey of over 2,000 Singaporean voters in 2011 found most were sanguine about a minority president being elected under the current system.

Later, Maruah president Braema Mathi said there are enough Singaporeans from minority groups who are qualified to stand and they just needed to be convinced to do so.

Dr Lee proposed that a committee be appointed to identify suitable minority candidates with the help of organisations such as civil society groups and unions, similar to how Nominated Members of Parliament are selected.

Ms Mathi questioned if the Government-led discussion had brought the issue of a minority president to the fore unnecessarily. She also said the commission should "watch the scene" for two or three more elections before deciding on any changes.

Professor Chan Heng Chee pointed out that countries that have avoided discussions on ethnicity have had to "scramble to address it in their own way'' as "the problem has come to hit them now".

In Singapore, the issue has been discussed all along, she noted.

Prof Chan, a commission member and chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, also said having minority presidents is a way of demonstrating inclusiveness, which is important in a multiracial society.

National University of Singapore law professors Jaclyn Neo and Swati Jhaveri suggested having a three- member council of presidents - with at least two members from different ethnicities - to achieve this.

They also proposed the institutions related to the presidency, such as the Council of Presidential Advisers, be required to have minority members. Dr Jhaveri said this is "part of a holistic view of safeguarding minority representation".

But CJ Menon asked if this would be "too interventionist".

It is important to have a minority president from time to time because of the president's special symbolic role, he said. But he questioned if there was a similar need in the institutions and cautioned against going down the path of entrenching group rights.


PRIVILEGED TO BE A SINGAPOREAN

I'm not sure we haven't done well. I think we've done extraordinarily well if we look at where we journeyed from in the last 50 years. I'm not sure I should be saying this, but as an individual and as a minority I feel greatly privileged to be a Singaporean. I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be because I feel there is such an open and equal-opportunity society. So I don't think we should be harsh on ourselves, saying the vision of the first-generation founding leaders has not been realised. I don't think the first-generation founding leaders necessarily thought it was going to happen in a decade or two. I think if we look at how we've progressed over the last several decades we've done incredibly well.

CHIEF JUSTICE SUNDARESH MENON, in response to National University of Singapore Assistant Professor of Law Jaclyn Neo who felt that there was still a long way to go in Singapore's journey towards true multi-racialism.


PARAMOUNT CONSIDERATION

There's an intuitive sense on the part of many who have spoken that if you raise the criteria, that may reduce the pool of minorities... I just wonder whether we should separate the issues for a second and ask ourselves, first of all, whether the criteria we arrive at are adequate. Because that should be the paramount consideration... If the view is that the criteria should be updated, then surely we shouldn't resist doing so for the sake of the minorities. Because that would actually mean that we are, in a sense, lowering the criteria from what they ought to be, in order to accommodate the minorities and that gives me quite a lot of discomfort.

CJ MENON, in an exchange with Singapore Management University law don Jack Lee about eligibility criteria's effect on the number of qualifying minorities.


Law don wants to bar ministers, MPs from endorsing candidates

A law professor has called for the elected presidency to be depoliticised by prohibiting government office-holders and MPs from endorsing any candidate.

Such a ban will ensure that the Office of the President remains politically neutral, Assistant Professor Jack Lee, 45, of the Singapore Management University told the Constitutional Commission hearing on the elected presidency yesterday.

Statements made by government office-holders may also have a "distorting effect" and influence how people vote, he added.

His call reiterates a point made by several others at the last two public hearings on the elected presidency. They had argued that the president needs to be a unifying force and the election should not be divisive. Currently, there is no rule that forbids political parties or the Government from stating a preference for particular candidates during a presidential election.

Dr Lee said any statement that can be interpreted by the public as an endorsement should be disallowed, even if ministers and MPs speak in their personal capacity. "It is very hard for the public to distinguish between someone speaking in his political capacity as a member of government, and in his personal capacity," he said. "It would be difficult; it would probably be better to say nothing at all during the (campaigning) period."

The ban, however, does not have to extend to members of political parties who are not government office-holders or MPs, said Dr Lee.

But Justice Tay Yong Kwang, a commission member, noted: "The strange result (of the ban) is that we are practically, during the run-up to the presidential election, silencing a group of people who have the most to say about presidential elections."

He added: "These are political leaders. If in your view this amounts to political endorsement, then there will be a great silence from the political side of things."

Dr Lee also wants the work of the Presidential Elections Committee to be more transparent. It should, for instance, give detailed reasons to a candidate for his or her application for a certificate of eligibility being turned down.

"It is important that at least the candidates themselves know... why they have not qualified, otherwise it seems very non-transparent, and they have no idea why they are not seen to have sufficient financial ability to run," he said.

Lim Yan Liang


BETTER TO SAY NOTHING

It is very hard for the public to distinguish between someone speaking in his political capacity as a member of government, and in his personal capacity. It would be difficult; it would probably be better to say nothing at all during the (campaigning) period.

SMU ASSISTANT PROFESSOR JACK LEE, on ministers and MPs stating a preference for any presidential candidate


Emphasis sought for veto power on key posts

The elected president's power to block key public service appointments is more important and should get greater emphasis than the custodial role over the reserves, rights group Maruah said.

This is because the president is in the position to safeguard the integrity and incorruptibility of the entire public service, its representatives Braema Mathi, 58, and Ngiam Shih Tung, 49, said yesterday.

Under the Constitution, the president can veto the appointment or removal of key public service office- holders such as the auditor-general and the chief of defence force.

Mr Ngiam cited the example of Malaysia, where the attorney-general was removed from office last year when he was investigating possible corruption at the highest level of the government there.

"We certainly do not want to see such a situation in Singapore," he said at the third session of public hearings by the Constitutional Commission that is reviewing the elected presidency.

Ms Mathi, who is Maruah's president, said the elected president's function as a second key to protect the country's reserves has come across as the office's main responsibility.

But in its written submission, Maruah described this custodial role as a "red herring" and said the president's power over financial matters is extremely limited.

Mr Ngiam said it is undemocratic for the president to block Supply Bills, which determine the Government's Budget, as these are passed by Parliament - a body that reflects the will of the people.

But Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, questioned this notion and noted that the president is also elected and so has a mandate to exercise his custodial powers.

"In fact, some have suggested the president has a unique, almost national mandate because he goes through a national election."

Mr Ngiam said his concern was also that candidates are picked from a small pool of people who qualify based on strict eligibility criteria. The review of the eligibility criteria would shrink this pool and further limit the choices for Singaporeans.

This led the Chief Justice to say the intention of the review is not to reduce the number of people who can qualify to run for president.

Instead, it is to ensure the president has the necessary expertise to deal with the different functions of the office, he said.

Chong Zi Liang

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

Sexual assault: Appeal against acquittal over gender

Straits Times
19 Apr 2016
Selina Lum

The prosecution has filed an appeal against the High Court's decision last week to acquit a 39-year- old transgender individual of sexual penetration of a minor.

In the unusual case, Zunika Ahmad, who is biologically female but lived as a man, had pleaded guilty last year to six counts of sexual penetration of a minor and one count of sexual exploitation under the Children and Young Persons Act.

However, in an unexpected twist last Tuesday, Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu cleared her of the sexual penetration charges after ruling that only a man can be found guilty of the offence under Section 376A(1)(b) of the Penal Code.

In a statement yesterday, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) reiterated the prosecution's position that the provision in question was "clearly intended by Parliament to be gender-neutral".

It said that after reviewing Justice Kan's written grounds of decision, the prosecution has concluded that "an appeal is merited" against his finding that the provision does not apply to women.

The prosecution is also appealing against his decision to set aside Zunika's guilty plea and to acquit her, as well as the eight-month jail term imposed for the remaining charge of sexual exploitation.

Zunika, who passed herself off as an Indonesian man and even "married" two wives, had pleaded guilty last December to sexually abusing a girl who lived in the neighbourhood.

The girl, who cannot be identified, was aged 13 to 14 when Zunika violated her using external aids.

Justice Kan said in his grounds of decision that after accepting Zunika's plea of guilt, a doubt arose as to whether a woman can be charged with sexual penetration of a minor. Notwithstanding arguments from both prosecution and defence that the offence can apply to women, he decided to reject Zunika's plea of guilt on the six charges and acquitted her.

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

In his interpretation, Justice Kan said A must be a person with a penis and, therefore, cannot be a woman. He said it was beyond the court's power to interpret A to include a woman. It was up to the legislature to amend the law to make it clear that A includes a woman, if that was its intention, he said.

The AGC said the ruling on Section 376A(1)(b) is a "matter of public interest". Prosecutors had set out the legislative history of the provision and relevant legislative materials in arguing that Section 376A was clearly intended to be gender-neutral.

The prosecution had argued that an analysis of the wording of the provision in the context of the Penal Code as a whole showed it was "clearly intended to apply to both male and female accused persons".

When contacted, lawyer N. Sudha Nair said she will still represent Zunika but declined further comment.

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

ADV: Kaplan - Obtain your Law qualification in 8 months

Singapore Law Watch
13 Apr 2016

Trek 2000's auditors lodge report with ACRA

Business Times
27 Apr 2016
Melissa Tan

Firms says it will convert its current trading halt into a voluntary suspension

[Singapore] THE auditors of thumb drive maker Trek 2000 International have lodged a report with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) that may be related to documentation deficiencies at Trek, the company said in a Singapore Exchange (SGX) filing on Tuesday.

It added that it had not seen the report and would convert its current trading halt into a voluntary suspension.

Trek 2000 had said in March that its auditors had found documentation deficiencies related to some sale transactions between one of its subsidiaries and a customer. The total value of those transactions was about US$3.2 million.

On Tuesday, it said its auditors, Ernst & Young (EY), informed it on April 21 that EY had made a report to ACRA on issues it found while auditing Trek 2000's financial statements for the year ended Dec 31, 2015.

Trek 2000 was "not privy" to the report and the report "was not made available" to it, it said.

But it added that EY told it that the report was "accompanied by correspondence" between EY and Trek 2000 that had been about the documentation deficiencies, further audit works in view of the deficiencies and an ongoing interested-party transaction (IPT) inquiry.

EY had found discrepancies in: the identity of a customer in a transaction between Trek 2000's sales system and its books; delivery orders acknowledged by the customer and the airway bill relating to the shipment of the goods; and the identity of the payer as stated on certain bank transfer notices showing payments of about US$2.65 million made by the customer to the group.

Trek 2000 said on Tuesday that "pending the release of such announcements, there is uncertainty as to the implications arising from the matters raised by the auditors in the correspondence", and it would convert its trading halt to a suspension.

It added that it would cooperate with the auditors and "provide all reasonable assistance required to complete the IPT inquiry", which is being carried out by TSMP Law Corp and scheduled to be completed around the end of May this year.

The auditors' report comes after two independent directors resigned from Trek 2000's board in late March. One, Francis Heng, resigned after bringing forward a "pre-planned board retirement" to facilitate personal work commitments and another, Ng Chong Khim, resigned due to personal reasons.

The company's shares last closed 0.2 Singapore cent down at S$0.186 on April 21.

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