18 October 2017
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S'pore tax incentives meet global standards

Straits Times
17 Oct 2017
Yasmine Yahya

Republic has implemented all four agreed standards under OECD's tax/profit project

An international body overseeing global tax practices has said that Singapore's tax incentives meet the international standards on countering corporate tax avoidance.

The Forum on Harmful Tax Practices (FHTP) said in a report yesterday that it had reviewed 164 tax regimes, finding that governments have dismantled, or are in the process of amending, nearly 100 preferential tax regimes as part of efforts to improve the international tax framework.

The reviews, which took place over the past two years, were aimed at studying the progress that these countries have made in updating and implementing tax policies so as to ensure companies do not exploit tax incentives for the sake of avoiding paying their fair share.

In particular, the reviews were focused on a practice called "base erosion and profit shifting" (BEPS).

This involves multinationals avoiding taxes by engineering lower profits in countries where taxes are high and correspondingly reporting higher profits in low-tax jurisdictions.

In recent years, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has set out international standards to dismantle unfair tax regimes which enable such practices.

The Finance Ministry said in a statement that as a member of the Inclusive Framework on BEPS, Singapore is committed to implementing internationally-agreed standards to counter BEPS.

Singapore has implemented all of the four internationally-agreed standards under the OECD's BEPS project, including participating in the review, the ministry noted.

"Our tax incentives meet international tax standards and anchor substantive economic activities in Singapore," said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

"I am glad that this is recognised by the FHTP. We will continue to create a conducive environment where businesses at various stages of growth can use Singapore as a base to build deep capabilities, grow and internationalise. In the process, we can create a range of good jobs and expand opportunities for our people."

Mrs Chung-Sim Siew Moon, the Singapore head of tax at Ernst & Young Solutions, said the review shows that foreign investors can rest assured that tax incentives will continue to stay in Singapore.

"There is also certainty that Singapore's tax incentives are not harmful by international standards, and hence will face less challenges from overseas tax authorities," she noted.

"Investors can expect more rigorous evaluation on new incentive applications and ongoing monitoring that incentive conditions are met."

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

Firm to blame for visitor's injuries

Straits Times
06 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A district judge held a company was completely to blame for the injuries suffered by a visitor when a display panel fell on her.

The judge found the 2m-tall display panel was not placed in a secure manner, so that even a slight force from the victim - Madam Ong Siew Hong, 72 - could easily have caused the panel to fall on her.

At the hearing in June, District Judge Lee Li Choon said Soon Bee Huat Trading has breached the duty of care owed to patrons on its premises, in particular Madam Ong.

"The defendant company has not placed the display panel in such manner that it would not be reasonably foreseeable for the display unit to fall on her," said the judge.

The company has since adopted the recommendation of a workplace safety specialist to secure the display panels with a stand support at the bottom and a bracket and screw system at the upper portion, said District Judge Lee.

Madam Ong had sued the company in the State Courts for negligence, seeking damages for injuries she suffered.

Together with her son and daughter, she had visited its showroom in Toh Guan Road East on July 17, 2015 to browse for renovation materials when the mishap occurred.

The 55.4kg display panel fell on her as she walked past it on the second floor of the showroom. It caused her to fall face down and she sustained injuries to her chin, elbows and hip. She was taken by ambulance and warded for eight days at Singapore General Hospital.

The panel had been placed directly on the bare floor at an angle and was supported by a display shelf of tile materials.

Madam Ong, represented by lawyer Margaret Neo, denied she touched the panel before the incident. Besides the injuries, she suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lawyer Daljit Kaur, defending the firm, argued that the injuries suffered by Madam Ong could not be because of the panel falling on her.

But District Judge Lee found no evidence that her injuries could not have been caused by the falling panel, dismissing defence claims that the injuries were not consistent with the panel's weight and size.

The judge also found the accounts given by her children to be consistent and corroborated with Madam Ong's account.

The company was found to be 100 per cent liable for the injuries caused to Madam Ong with damages payable to be assessed separately by a court registrar. The company is appealing the decision.

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

Former Keppel Shipyard staff charged with corruption, money laundering

Business Times
27 Sep 2017

A 61-year-old former senior procurement officer of Keppel Shipyard was brought to court on Sept 26 for 395 charges involving corruption and money laundering.

Neo Kian Siong stands accused of 78 counts of corruptly accepting money from several company directors and a sales engineer as a reward for advancing their companies' business interests with Keppel Shipyard. The alleged sum amounted to S$293,000.

Neo is also said to have converted around S$933,600 into numerous forms of assets, in 270 counts of offences.

This sum wholly represents alleged benefits from criminal proceeds, and the assets included vehicle deposits and hire purchases, insurance premiums, shares, unit trusts, as well as foreign currencies.

Neo also faces 47 counts of transferring approximately S$119,800 to various bank accounts.

If found guilty of corrupt transactions with agents, he may be fined up to S$100,000 and jailed for up to five years.

If convicted of an offence involving acquiring, possessing, using, concealing or transferring benefits of criminal conduct, he may be fined up to S$500,000 and jailed for up to 10 years.

Bail has been offered at S$50,000, and lawyer Raymond Nye who is acting for Neo asked for a six-week adjournment.

The case is expected to be next mentioned on Nov 7.

Neo was dismissed from the company in early 2016.

Keppel Corp said in a statement that it has extended its full cooperation to the authorities, and are unable to comment further as the court proceedings are ongoing.

It maintained that all employees of the group are required to abide by the Keppel code of conduct, which prohibits, among other things, bribery and corruption. THE STRAITS TIMES

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

Singtel fined $500,000 for Net outage

Straits Times
17 Oct 2017
Irene Tham

Singtel has been fined $500,000 - the largest amount in three years - for an islandwide fibre broadband outage last year that left some 490,000 users cut off from the Web.

The outage on Dec 3 lasted nearly 24 hours and affected close to 90 per cent of Singtel's fibre broadband user base.

Announcing the fine yesterday, the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) said its investigations showed that the disruption was triggered by a planned maintenance.

The exercise to install security patches overloaded the servers, which could not process subscribers' request for connection to any website.

IMDA also noted that there were warning signs prior to the incident, with the same servers running at almost full capacity - up to 90 per cent - but Singtel "had failed to take prompt action".

In view of the high utilisation rate, Singtel should have exercised "greater due diligence and caution" to prevent overloading the servers when installing the security patches.

In determining the fine, IMDA took into consideration mitigating factors such as the $5 million in discounts and bill waivers Singtel offered its customers in compensation.

Affected customers who were told to surf the Web using their mobile connection had their mobile data charges waived.

The telco also extended a 10 per cent discount to customers' fibre broadband bill for the whole of December.

"We deeply regret the fibre broadband service disruption last December. We know how important network reliability is to our customers, and we have learnt from this incident," said Mr Yuen Kuan Moon, Singtel Consumer Singapore's chief executive officer.

Singtel has also since upgraded its servers to prevent a similar incident from recurring, and is reviewing its broadband network architecture to improve its resilience.

The largest telco fine of $6 million was meted out in May 2014 to Singtel over a fire at its Bukit Panjang Internet exchange in 2013 that took down phone lines, banking payment and Internet services across Singapore.

In that case, the unprecedented islandwide outage had affected close to 270,000 subscribers, including DBS branches and ATMs, SingHealth polyclinics, Singapore Pools branches and AXS payment machines.

Home fibre broadband users of Singtel, StarHub and M1 were also cut off from the Internet, as the fire damaged the cables of national fibre broadband network builder Netlink Trust that were housed in the same premises.

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

Loophole in penalty framework for two drinking-related traffic offences, says CJ

TODAY
06 Oct 2017
Siau Ming En

SINGAPORE — Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has flagged a loophole in laws to deal with reoffenders of drinking-related traffic offences that could result in some recalcitrant drivers getting off lightly.

This “anomaly”, in CJ Menon’s words, arises when someone who has been convicted of “being in charge of” a vehicle after drinks — such as getting into the driver’s seat without driving off — is hauled to court again for drink-driving. An offender with this sort of criminal history may be sentenced to a fine, even though he or she had committed a more severe crime in the second instance.

In contrast, a judge has no choice but to impose jail time on an offender who had committed the same two drinking-related traffic offences in the reverse order. Similarly, an imprisonment sentence is mandatory for someone who is a second-offender of drink-driving, or being in charge of a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. For all reoffenders of these offences, disqualification from driving is automatic.

The loophole was likely the result of a legislative oversight, CJ Menon said, and “if that is the case, legislative reform would be desirable”.

His remarks came in a written judgment released on Wednesday (Oct 4), as he allowed the appeal of Pua Hung Jaan Jeffrey Nguyen, 34, against his sentence of one week’s jail for drink-driving on Oct 29 last year. He had a previous conviction in 2012 for being in charge of a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

CJ Menon noted that offenders such as Nguyen “would generally be more culpable”, given that drink-driving was a more serious offence.

If a custodial sentence was the “starting point” for such repeat offenders, it might go some way towards alleviating this “anomaly” in the punishment framework.

CJ Menon also noted a hypothetical situation raised by prosecutors when the case was heard in the lower courts. Prosecutors had noted that an offender with an antecedent of being in charge of a vehicle after consuming alcohol beyond the prescribed limit may be “incentivised” to drive, instead of simply sitting in the vehicle after drinking, given that they know they may escape with a fine.

But CJ Menon said: “It seems untenable that as between two irrational choices (namely, driving the vehicle, on the one hand, and sitting in the vehicle and waiting for a driver to come by, on the other), a person with (such an) antecedent ... should have a greater incentive to drive the vehicle.”

CJ Menon also noted Nguyen’s arguments, where he cited two cases in the past where offenders who had committed drink-driving offences twice were not sentenced to jail.

In both these cases, both charges of drink-driving were heard in the same hearing, which meant the offender was not treated as a repeat offender.

Nguyen had argued that these were more aggravated offences than his, yet jail had not been imposed.

CJ Menon said the fact remains that “imprisonment is not mandatory” in scenarios like Nguyen’s. By treating a custodial sentence as the starting point here would “come dangerously close to regarding imprisonment as mandatory” in this case, he added.

Eventually, CJ Menon allowed Nguyen’s appeal and replaced his jail term with the maximum fine of S$5,000. He kept the 30-month disqualification period imposed on Nguyen.

TODAY has asked the Ministry of Home Affairs for comments.

In February, the ministry had said it was conducting a review of penalties under the Road Traffic Act in order to take a tougher stance against irresponsible motorists.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Pua Hung Jaan Jeffrey Nguyen v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGHC 244

Call for guidelines on penalties for errant doctors

Straits Times
27 Sep 2017
Salma Khalik

Disciplinary tribunal suggests move to ensure sentences meted out are consistent

It is difficult for disciplinary tribunals to mete out sentences when taking action against errant doctors because there is a lack of guidance on relevant penalties.

A disciplinary tribunal (DT) suggested in its 31-page grounds of decision on a hearing against a doctor, released yesterday, that the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) set up guidelines to ensure sentences meted out are consistent.

The tribunal chaired by Professor Walter Tan, a plastic surgeon and medical director of Raffles Hospital, said: "Different sanctions have different consequences on the public and on the medical practitioner.

"It is therefore important for there to be guidance based on case precedents and policy considerations, so that medical practitioners may be aware of the severity of their misconduct. This will also ensure that sentences meted out by the DTs and courts are consistent with how the medical profession perceives instances of professional misconduct."

The tribunal said Britain has such guidance "which sets out the rationale underlying each sanction and the broad factors which may lead to the imposition of each sanction".

The UK Sanctions Guidance was developed by a steering group of tribunals and General Medical Council staff.

Ms Joan Pereira, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, agreed that guidelines "promote consistency in the treatment of doctors". She added: "Should there be any proven transgressions on the part of individual members, our society would want to see that the appropriate penalties are meted out."

The tribunal's comments arose from a disciplinary hearing against Dr Sim Kwang Soon, a general practitioner, for failing to refer a female patient to an eye specialist the day he diagnosed a corneal ulcer.

Because it was small and did not affect her vision, he advised her to return if her condition did not improve. Instead, she consulted another doctor the next day and was referred to a specialist.

She subsequently needed a transplant and cataract operation. A few months after consulting Dr Sim, she made a complaint against him to the SMC, the medical professional watchdog.

The tribunal said it was "unable to make a finding as to whether Dr Sim ought to have referred the patient to a specialist on the same day". It noted that he had intended to do so should her condition deteriorate. It also said "it was unclear if there was a causal link" between the one-day delay in her referral to an ophthalmologist and her corneal transplant.

This is because she had been discharged after her eye improved, and the transplant was done 18 days later, more than a month from the time she saw Dr Sim.

The tribunal said: "There was insufficient evidence to show that the harm caused to the patient was due to Dr Sim's failure to refer her to a specialist timeously."

It also "gave full credit" to the doctor for pleading guilty and had found no evidence of dishonesty on his part.

The tribunal researched older cases to try to ascertain the threshold for imposing a suspension. It also looked at how judgment is made in Britain and Australia.

It highlighted three factors that could lead to a suspension: a serious and direct breach of relevant rules; pain or harm to the patient; and dishonesty. It said the presence of one or more of these factors does not automatically mean a suspension has to be imposed.

The tribunal fined Dr Sim $30,000 to reflect his "lower culpability".


$30k

Amount the tribunal fined Dr Sim Kwang Soon to reflect his "lower culpability".

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Mentally ill man who slashed wife to death gets 2 years' jail

Straits Times
17 Oct 2017
Selina Lum

Prison sentence the shortest ever meted out for intentional culpable homicide here

A 69-year-old retired aircraft technician was yesterday given a sentence of two years in jail - the shortest ever meted out for intentional culpable homicide here.

Kong Peng Yee had killed his wife of 36 years by stabbing her repeatedly while suffering psychotic delusions that his family might harm him.

As the prison term was backdated to March 13 last year, when he was arrested, Kong was released from jail yesterday, given the usual one-third remission for good behaviour.

Sentencing Kong yesterday, High Court judge Choo Han Teck said that "punishment is probably not the most appropriate response to a man like the accused here".

"What is the appropriate punishment for a man whose act was guided by thoughts that entered unbidden into his mind? There is no clear answer," he said.

Justice Choo wondered if punishment was even necessary. "His madness is its own punishment," he said.

The problem, said the judge, lies with "an archaic law that has been incorporated into our statute".

He was referring to a legal test, known as the M'Naghten rule, laid down in a 19th century English case which declared a man not to be insane if he either knew what he was doing or that what he was doing was wrong. "From that moment on, legal insanity and medical insanity have not fitted themselves snugly in the same box," he said.

The judge questioned if a person who had lost his sanity is truly able to discern his own mental state.

Justice Choo said the M'Naghten rule should be re-examined and that "doctors and lawyers should speak a common language" when dealing with the mental responsibility of a mentally ill accused.

Kong started behaving oddly last year. He refused to take his medication, thinking laxatives were poison.

On March 12 last year, though a health check showed no adverse results, he was worried someone was trying to harm him or he was going to die from a disease. He also told his older daughter that he did not think she was his biological daughter.

At church the next day, he told a stranger that people were poisoning him. He returned home and took a nap, but awoke to roaring sounds.

He took a knife from the kitchen and stabbed Madam Wong Chik Yeok until she was dead. An autopsy noted 189 injuries, including knife wounds and bruises.

The prosecution, which had sought at least nine years in jail, is appealing against the sentence.

Half a dozen family members, including Kong's two daughters, were in court, but declined to comment when approached.

"For them, it is an unexpected surprise," said defence counsel Sunil Sudheesan. He had asked for a five-year jail term.

Kong pleaded guilty last month to culpable homicide. He was initially charged with murder but the charge was reduced, as a court-mandated psychiatric assessment by Dr Kenneth Koh from the Institute of Mental Health found that Kong's mental responsibility for his actions had been substantially impaired by his psychotic delusions.

Kong's psychiatric disorder is now in remission with medication, and he has been certified safe to be returned to the care of his family.


Other similar cases

FEB 16, 2006

Han John Han, 50, plunged a sword into his pregnant wife's chest, killing her and their unborn child.

Han believed that his wife of more than 12 years, Madam Fu Xiaopei, 39, was using black magic to put a hex on him.

Found to be suffering from psychotic delusions, Han was initially sentenced to three years in jail for culpable homicide.

Following an appeal by the prosecution, the Court of Appeal raised the term to five years.

NOV 17, 2012

Rosdi Joenet, 51, who suspected that his wife was having an affair, woke her up to discuss their marital dispute.

When Madam Faridah Senin, 41, chased him out, he stabbed her with a kitchen knife.

Rosdi, diagnosed with a delusional disorder of the jealous subtype, was initially sentenced to nine years in jail for culpable homicide. The term was cut to 7-1/2 years by the Court of Appeal.

DEC 16, 2014

Lorry driver Zheng Xianghua, 37, stabbed his wife after she said she would no longer live with him. Zheng suspected that Madam Wang Xueyan, 37, was having an affair due to her texting habits.

Found to be suffering from severe depression and morbid jealousy, he was sentenced to nine years in jail for culpable homicide.

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

Public Prosecutor v Kong Peng Yee [2017] SGHC 253

Over 5,000 lawyers and counting as Law Society turns 50

Straits Times
05 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Number of law firms also up; when society started in 1967, it had just 259 lawyers

From just 259 lawyers when it started in 1967, the Law Society now boasts more than 5,000 members.

This was one of the highlights it noted in its 2017 annual report.

The number of lawyers has crossed the 5,000 mark, climbing from 4,486 in 2013 to 5,191 as at Aug 31 this year as the society celebrates its 50th anniversary.

The figure is expected to rise further, given the 484 applicants admitted to the Bar in the Mass Call events at the Supreme Court in late August.

It is understood that over 200 from this cohort could apply to be practising lawyers, while the others may seek legal positions not requiring a practising certificate such as in-house counsel.

"The Law Society has indeed come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1967, with a mere 259 lawyers," said chief executive officer Delphine Loo Tan in the annual report.

The report, which covers the period from September last year to end-August this year, noted that the number of small law firms had inched up, forming 81 per cent of the 881 law firms. A small firm has one to five lawyers.

Meanwhile, the number of medium-sized firms - of six to 30 lawyers - rose to 140 from 108 five years ago. There are 21 law practices having more than 30 lawyers each. The year also saw the first Queen's Counsel, Mr Toby Landau, successfully called to the Singapore Bar in May.

During the year, the society conducted 50 anti-money-laundering inspections, which for the first time were done at foreign law firms in addition to local firms.

"The decision to significantly increase the number of inspections undertaken, compared with previous years, was made to support Singapore's national interests, bearing in mind our Government's robust stand against money-laundering activities," said the society's anti-money laundering committee, chaired by senior lawyer S. Surenthiraraj, in the report.

The inspections conducted over two months late last year were outsourced to a large audit firm known for major audits.

"Overall, the results of the inspections were encouraging, with the vast majority of the law practices inspected being accorded a positive assessment."

The few practices found to have inadequate internal controls and processes to minimise the threat of money laundering were given time to address the weaknesses identified and will be re-inspected.

Another first in the year was the setting up of the society's first wholly owned subsidiary, known as the Law Society Pro Bono Services.

The society transferred to the new entity all its pro bono legal aid activities previously provided through its Pro Bono Services Office.

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Ezion dismisses basis of noteholder's request for early redemption

Business Times
26 Sep 2017
Tan Hwee Hwee

SINGAPORE's largest liftboat owner-operator Ezion Holdings, in an after-market announcement on Monday, refuted the basis cited by a noteholder to redeem his share of some S$120 million of medium term notes.

The request put forth to Ezion has relied on Condition 6 (i) of the Series 9 S$120 million notes that were backed by committed funding from DBS Bank.

The condition tied to these notes maturing in 2020 extends the option to any noteholder to redeem his or her share of the notes issued in the event shares in the notes issuer cease to be listed or traded on the Singapore Exchange.

Ezion said that contrary to what was stated in the request received from the unnamed noteholder, shares in the company have not ceased to be listed or traded on the Singapore Exchange

Instead, Ezion's shares have only been suspended from trading, as requested by the company and stated in its announcement dated Aug 14 2017.

The company is thus refuting the noteholder's claim to redeem his share of notes on the view that the condition, as invoked in his request, has not been triggered.

The unnamed noteholder has communicated his early redemption request to Ezion ahead of a noteholders' meeting the company is slated to convene on Oct 2.

Ezion is expected to seek noteholders' clemency in support of a debt revamp to help the company tide over what may be the tail-end of a multi-year offshore and marine (O&M) downturn.

The company has said that it will meet holders of five series of notes totalling S$425 million and Series 8 S$150 million perpertual securities in two separate sessions on Oct 2.

It added that it will make an announcement when a second meeting is proposed for holders of Series 9 notes.

Debt revamps tabled by O&M companies have involved deferring redemption of notes principal, reducing coupon rates of notes issuances or proposed haircuts to notes principal.

Ezion has indicated in a previous noteholders' presentation that it had about US$1.06 billion in bank loans and over US$507.6 million of medium term notes as at the end of the first half for FY17.

Considering the massive amount of outstanding notes on the company's books, Ezion needs to win over sufficient support from its noteholders to satisfy a quorum stipulated under Singapore's updated debt restructuring law.

A cram-down provision under the updated law extends the leeway for a debt revamp plan to proceed if it wins approval from a majority representing 75 per cent of the value of total debt of all classes of creditors.

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

Regulatory compliance, costs could turn firms away from SGX

Business Times
16 Oct 2017
Stephanie Luo

Alternative platforms like crowdfunding are giving the stock exchange a run for its money

SINGAPORE is a leading financial hub, ranking third globally just behind London and New York, but its stock market is another story.

In a world flush with liquidity, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) has to compete with new fundraising avenues on top of rival global exchanges, which raises questions on how it can reinvent itself to attract new listings and boost trading, as observers point to regulatory burden and cost as deterrents.

Song Seng Wun, CIMB economist, told The Business Times: "Everybody wants a more vibrant financial market. We are an important financial hub in the Asia-Pacific. It's only good that we also get a bit more 'oomph' out of the stock market."

He added: "It's a chicken-and-egg situation. You need to get more local participants on the retail side. There is the question of whether the regulators are overprotective of retail investors. To add more interest into the market, there must be a certain element of risk involved."

Based on the latest Global Financial Centres Index released in March, Singapore ranked third behind London and New York, which were ranked first and second respectively. Hong Kong was in fourth position.

SGX had a market capitalisation of about US$640 billion at end-2016, up 2.3 per cent from 2015. It trails far behind Hong Kong Exchanges' almost US$3.2 trillion, according to statistics from the World Federation of Exchanges. Other Asia countries like South Korea recorded a higher market capitalisation than Singapore at US$1.3 trillion while Shanghai Stock Exchange and Shenzhen Stock Exchange was US$4.1 trillion and US$3.2 trillion respectively.

According to an equity sales representative from Maybank Kim Eng Securities, Singapore needs a stronger stock market to attract more listings for small and mid-cap stocks which could be drawn to P2P lending and crowdfunding platforms to raise capital due to lower costs and less regulatory hurdles, although SGX would still be the preferred platform to raise larger amounts of capital and to gain recognition for growth.

"The existing upfront costs of listings are prohibitive and expensive. SGX may consider finding ways to lower these costs, else many of these companies may be drawn to other exchanges or other sources of funding."

The SGX website states that mainboard-listed equity securities are subject to a minimum initial listing fee of S$100,000 and a maximum fee of S$200,000. There will also be a fixed non-refundable processing fee of S$20,000. For Catalist, listed equity securities pay between S$30,000 and S$100,000 in initial listing fees. There is also a fixed, non-refundable administrative fee of S$2,000.

Rise of crowdfunding

A study, Crowdfunding: Financing Ventures in the Digital Era, by Srinivas K Reddy and Tan Yee Heng from the Singapore Management University, found that crowdfunding volume rose to US$34.4 billion in 2015, slightly surpassing the venture capitalist industry. This trend is expected to continue growing quickly.

"Certain projects may be unable to access traditional funding sources for various reasons - institutional investors may doubt a project's success, the size of the market may seem too small or the creators may not have an appropriate track record. In inviting communities to act as gatekeepers, crowdfunding effectively allows the free market to regulate project survival."

Crowdfunding, however, isn't a guaranteed success. On average, success rates for crowdfunding have been moderately low. The study said that Kickstarter, the most popular crowdfunding site, has a success rate of 35 per cent, with certain categories such as technology garnering only 20 per cent.

As alternative platforms give SGX a run for its money, it reignites questions on whether it should cut red tape and compliance costs for potential issuers.

In February this year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore announced that it had formed the Corporate Governance Council to review the Code of Corporate Governance (CG Code), which was last reviewed in 2012. The council will consider how the "comply-or-explain" regime under the CG Code can be made more effective. The revised code is expected to be released in the first quarter of next year.

On concerns over whether the revised code will add more requirements such as higher compliance costs that companies pay to external parties like lawyers and auditors, Joyce Koh, executive director, Singapore Institute of Directors, said that the review of the CG Code does not necessarily mean that this will happen. She added that the privatisation trend and the lack of listings from firms reflect the "rebalancing" of the capital markets, away from IPOs to private equity or even venture capitalists.

"Companies have a broader range of financing options for growth. This does not mean that the benefits of public listings have gone away. However, factors such as a low free float and trading value, lack of research coverage, access to cheap debt financing, and better valuations elsewhere have led companies to consider options other than public listing."

A corporate lawyer told BT that for a mainboard-listed company, audit fees are typically about a quarter of a million dollars. It could increase if the auditors take on additional tasks like helping with acquisitions. For lawyers to pen corporate governance write-ups, depending how in-depth the write-up is, the amount is about S$10,000 or S$20,000.

Mark Liew, chief operating officer, PrimePartners Corporate Finance, said that in terms of listing costs, it is cheaper for small and medium enterprises to list in Australia (less than S$1 million) but more expensive to list in Hong Kong (over S$4 million).

"Singapore is in between and closer to Australia in terms of cost. Listing costs are driven by regulatory and market requirements. To lower listing costs, it would be necessary to lower some regulatory requirements (such as) less disclosures and less detailed due diligence. Striking a balance is essential for capital market activities," he noted.

Weak investor base

So far, Singapore has done well in the last decade in building up a strong real estate investment trust (Reit) and trust market but it seems like there is a stagnation of fresh concepts that could boost SGX.

Choo Oi Yee, managing director, head of Singapore, UBS investment banking, said that Singapore's Reit and trust market is at a stage where it has "ran out of ideas", and SGX is looking at attracting overseas corporations to list here.

"There're very few new large Singapore companies that could (launch an) IPO. Reits are already quite mature, where Singapore corporates and properties are concerned, so the natural move is for SGX to consider other issuers outside of Singapore, like the Chinese as well as Europe and the US. Some of the Chinese Reits, for example, are considering listing here because Hong Kong Reits trade at a higher yield."

In her view, Singapore is struggling in the technology and biotech space, and attracting the right investors here is a challenge.

"I personally wish we had a much more vibrant tech space but the issue is that US investors understand growth and valuation better. For tech, the valuations don't make sense because investors here are still focused on earnings and cash flow. The investor base for tech doesn't exist here."

For some business owners like Nicholas Wong who runs a technology start-up, SGX is being too protective of investors. That affects liquidity, and there could be a lack of new homegrown businesses in the future due to limited access to funding.

"(SGX) should encourage more liquidity through more products, like exchange traded funds, to drive the trading volume up. It cannot always 'protect' the investors so much that companies are finding it a waste of time to list in Singapore as they feel that the regulatory (bodies) are always scrutinising them when the investors lose money like during the Asiasons and Blumont issue in 2013."

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

Court dismisses appeals of trio who took $875k from casino

Straits Times
05 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

The High Court dismissed the appeals of three foreigners who were convicted and jailed for misappropriating $875,133 from the Marina Bay Sands' casino.

The trio had also been convicted under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act, or CDSA, for transferring the misappropriated monies abroad.

Justice See Kee Oon, who heard the appeal in July, ruled in judgment grounds last week that the findings of the district judge who convicted the foreign nationals last November "were amply supported by the weight of the evidence in its totality".

Chinese national Ho Man Yuk, 37, and Indian nationals Shaikh Farid, 41, and Shaikh Shabana Bi, 33, had conspired to use free play credits that Ho was not entitled to, in order to play in the casino in April 2014.

Following a trial, Ho was sentenced to 21 months' jail, Farid received 26 months, and Shabana was jailed for 12 months.

Ho, a Hong Kong-based businesswoman, was also convicted of 20 additional charges under the CDSA, which included remitting sums from the proceeds to others and converting the cash into gaming chips on several occasions, involving a total value of $443,900.

Farid was also found guilty and convicted of 26 charges under CDSA involving some $1.4 million, which included using $100,000 for gaming chips on April 19, 2014, and remitting $300,000 to one Cham Fui How the following day.

Shabana was convicted of three charges under the CDSA, having transferred about $12,900 from the proceeds to three other persons.

The varying jail terms for the most serious of the CDSA charges had been ordered to run consecutively with the criminal misappropriation charge.

The trio had obtained $875,133 by gambling with the free play credits at the roulette Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs). They took advantage of a computer glitch in the system to dishonestly download as many free play credits as possible, and used them at EGMs to rake in nearly $1 million.

Ho was defended by lawyer Selva Naidu, while Farid and Shabana were represented by lawyer Sarbrinder Singh in their appeals.

Counsel had argued that criminal misappropriation was not made out on the evidence, adding that the money had been mixed with the accused persons' own funds, and therefore the CDSA charges could not stand.

Justice See was not convinced, noting that all three were of limited means and had substantial debts.

In dismissing the appeal, he said the sentences were not excessive, given the sums they made away with and their lack of remorse.


The trio had obtained $875,133 by gambling with the free play credits at the roulette Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs). They took advantage of a computer glitch in the system to dishonestly download as many free play credits as possible, and used them at EGMs to rake in nearly $1 million.

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Shaikh Farid v Public Prosecutor and other appeals [2017] SGHC 239

High Court suspends AHTC arbitration case

Straits Times
26 Sep 2017
Danson Cheong

The High Court has ruled that ongoing arbitration proceedings between Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and its former managing agent firm be suspended pending a separate lawsuit against members of AHTC.

The case was heard in chambers by Justice Kannan Ramesh yesterday. When approached outside the courtroom, lawyers for both sides declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of arbitration proceedings. However, The Straits Times understands the court ruled in favour of AHTC that arbitration proceedings be suspended.

AHTC, acting on the direction of an independent panel, had initiated legal action in July seeking a court order for the arbitration action against it to be put on hold.

The arbitration is over payments that FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) is claiming from AHTC for services it provided under two contracts. The parties began mediation talks in October 2015 and, when mediation failed, went ahead with arbitration proceedings.

The lawsuit brought against AHTC's own town councillors - Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim, WP chief Low Thia Khiang and WP assistant secretary-general Pritam Singh - allege that all payments made to FMSS are void, because town councillors Mr Low and Ms Lim had acted in breach of their fiduciary duties in signing the contracts. Also named in that suit are FMSS; the firm's owner, Ms How Weng Fan; and two other town councillors, Mr Chua Zhi Hon and Mr Kenneth Foo.

AHTC wants the town councillors to account for about $33 million paid to FMSS and a related service provider between July 2011 and July 2015, and to repay any money paid out wrongfully.

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'Sandwiched class' too may need pro bono legal help

Straits Times
15 Oct 2017
Ng Huiwen

Aid scheme may need reviewing as legal, living costs rise: Lawyers

More needy people who find themselves tangled up in the law have been able to get help in recent years, with a growing proportion being granted criminal legal aid and more legal clinics springing up.

Yet, the rising cost of living could see more people in the "sandwiched class" who will need more attention.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Law Society Pro Bono Services (LSPBS) chief executive officer Lim Tanguy described this group as being "too rich for legal aid, but too poor to hire a lawyer".

Last year, 1,777 people were helped under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (Clas) - about 75 per cent of the 2,361 applicants. This was a jump from the 25 per cent in 2014.

LSBPS runs 23 legal clinics - compared with just two a decade ago - where anyone can make an appointment to get free legal advice on various issues, including matrimonial and employment law.

Since September 2014, about 7,600 people have been helped at the clinics, said LSPBS. Still, there is scope to extend pro bono help.

"Some people are able to afford legal help for smaller cases, like a personal injury claim, but if it is a High Court trial that may take weeks, that may be beyond the ability of a lot of people," said Mr Lim.

This issue will only grow more acute in time to come. Legal fees are expected to rise with higher inflation, said LSPBS chairman Gregory Vijayendran, who is also the president of LawSoc.

Agreeing, Beacon Law Corporation director Tan Cheow Hung said: "The constantly increasing cost of living means that people will have less disposable income and the demand from the sandwiched class is likely to grow."

Another area that could be re-looked is eligibility for Clas. While effective in ensuring only the needy receive legal aid, its test is a "blunt instrument", said Mr Lim.

Under Clas, only those with a disposable income of not more than $10,000 per annum, among other criteria, can be granted legal aid. This is similar to the Ministry of Law's Legal Aid Bureau, which provides legal aid for civil cases.

The offence they are charged with must also fall under the list of 16 statutes covered under the scheme, which was set up in 1985.

"It is a strict process and not many are caught gaming the system. But unfortunately, there may be some deserving cases that fall through the cracks," said Mr Lim.

In 2015, Clas saw a major enhancement to include assistance for those who are pleading guilty, instead of only those claiming trial. Full-time Clas lawyers were also introduced to support the pool of volunteers, backed by a $3.5 million annual government funding.

But in the future, the Clas scheme could be refined further to also consider the type of legal services required or expand the range of statutes covered.

Mr Vijayendran, however, added that all this has to be done carefully to ensure that lawyers are not "cannibalised" by pro bono work.

LSBPS has its work cut out as it officially began its new journey as a corporatised entity of the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) on Oct 7, said Mr Lim.

For the past 10 years, the pro bono services office was a department within the LawSoc. He said corporatisation will allow it to consolidate its initiatives.

Currently, about a third of over 5,000 lawyers here do some form of pro bono work.

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Industry welcomes new law to protect buildings against attacks

Straits Times
05 Oct 2017
Zaihan Mohamed Yusof

Designing buildings with security in mind will help save lives and reduce longer-term security costs, said Mr Desmond Choo, chairman of the North East Community Development Council.

Addressing delegates from the building, architecture, security and facility management industries at an industry convention yesterday, he pointed to the devastating attack by a lone gunman who killed 58 people at a music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday.

"Security threats and attacks are increasingly becoming an unfortunate norm... It requires building owners to incorporate security measures in their building design," he said, highlighting the need for the new Infrastructure Protection Act (IPA).

The Act, passed in Parliament on Monday, is intended to form a clear regulatory framework and comprehensive strategy to fight terror.

Buildings with iconic or symbolic significance, and those that provide essential services and have high footfall, will have to include security features such as barriers or enhanced closed-circuit television capabilities.

The law will also give security personnel at sensitive installations the power to question and inspect a suspicious person's belongings and order him to leave the premises.

Taking photographs or video footage of these installations without authorisation will also be illegal.

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo told Parliament on Monday that "today's terrorists typically target crowded places or iconic buildings".

"Potential attacks overseas have been stopped by vigilant guards in the surrounding area of a sensitive facility," she added.

Mr Choo, who is also an MP for Tampines GRC, was the guest of honour at the Architecture & Building Services 2017 event, held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre.

Singapore Institute of Architects vice-president Seah Chee Huang and executive director Fong Hoo Cheong welcomed the IPA, as it brings various aspects of building security under a single piece of legislation. Having building owners, designers and architects work together on security will also help create a much safer environment, they added.

Yet, there are some concerns over the deployment of high-tech and complex security systems in new buildings. Among these concerns are the cost and maintenance of the new security measures, and how they would affect day-to-day operations.

Mr Tony Khoo, president of the Singapore chapter of the International Facility Management Association, told The Straits Times: "For facility managers, we look at not only upfront costs, but also what we call total assets life cycle cost. There is an initial investment, and then there are operating costs."

The rapid pace of technology could also make some software systems obsolete within years.

Mr Nelson Tee, president of the Security Systems Association of Singapore, said an ageing security workforce is another challenge.

"The perception (of those in the security line) has improved a lot, but it is not enough... The majority of the 45,000 registered personnel are above 55 years old," he said, adding that there is a need to bring in more IT-savvy "new blood".

Mr Khoo said the most prized form of security is an alert public.

"People are much more important because they see things," he added. "They would be aware of things that are suspicious and would be able to report (to the authorities) accordingly."


Photographers raise concerns

The recently passed Infrastructure Protection Act (IPA), which aims to enhance building security against terror attacks, has got photographers - both amateur and professional - debating how much it affects them.

Under the new law, taking photographs or video footage of protected or sensitive buildings is illegal.

Photographers have discussed in closed groups on Facebook what would happen if sensitive buildings appear in the backgrounds of their photos. Some also wondered if they would be held liable for posting or sharing online old photos of buildings that were taken before the IPA was passed.

Landscape and architectural photographer Darren Soh, 41, told The Straits Times: "I hope that the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) would clarify more specifically what is permissible and what is not, and also publish a list of all protected buildings and areas for the public to digest, because not all protected buildings may have obvious signs and notices prohibiting photography."

Zaihan Mohamed Yusof

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2 drug traffickers fail in bid to escape gallows

Straits Times
26 Sep 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A drug trafficker convicted of a capital offence was sentenced to death in the High Court, although he had been certified by the Public Prosecutor (PP) to have cooperated with the authorities.

In the first such case here, the court found that Hamzah Ibrahim, 54, was not a courier, after a joint 16-day trial with two others.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, the court has the discretion not to impose the death penalty if the offender is a courier, and has also been issued a certificate stating he cooperated with the authorities.

Judicial Commissioner Hoo Sheau Peng ruled that Hamzah's role "went beyond that of a courier".

"Hence, although the PP issued a certificate of substantive assistance, the alternative sentencing regime was not available," she said in judgment grounds issued last week.

Another of the accused in the joint trial for trafficking in 26.29g of heroin, Muhammad Farid Sudi, had also been certified to have "substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in disrupting drug trafficking activities".

Farid, who delivered the drugs to Hamzah and was merely a courier, escaped the gallows. He got the mandatory life sentence and 15 strokes of the cane.

The third offender, Tika Pesik, was not deemed a courier. She was sentenced to death.

Arrangements had been made for Farid to deliver two packets of heroin to Hamzah on Dec 20, 2013. Farid did so during a drive from a Senja Road multi-storey carpark to Dairy Farm Road.

Farid and Hamzah were arrested the same day. Tika was nabbed at Woodlands Checkpoint in 2014.

Farid and Tika each claimed trial to a single capital charge of drug trafficking. Farid was defended by lawyers Mahmood Gaznavi and M. Lukshumayeh, while Tika was represented by lawyers Mohamed Niroze Idroos and Mohamed Baiross.

Hamzah contested a single capital charge of possessing heroin for the purpose of trafficking. He was defended by lawyers Luke Lee and Sukdave Singh.

During the trial, Deputy Public Prosecutors Wong Woon Kwong and Sarah Shi argued that Hamzah was not a courier and had received the drugs, intending to repack them into smaller packets for sale.

Hamzah's lawyers meanwhile contended that he was merely a courier.

But "such a submission would, in the light of all the evidence, be unsustainable", noted Judicial Commissioner Hoo.

"It was evident that Hamzah's purpose after taking delivery of the drugs was to sell the drugs," she said, noting that he had brought along smaller empty plastic packets to repack and sell the drugs.

The judge also found that Tika could "not in any way be described as a courier", as she had coordinated the supply of drugs and had got Farid to deliver the drugs to Hamzah, among other things.

"Moreover, the PP did not issue Tika with a certificate of substantive assistance," added the judge in imposing the mandatory death sentence.

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Tommy Koh honoured for contributions to international law

Straits Times
15 Oct 2017
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh yesterday received the inaugural Mochtar Kusumaatmadja Award, which acknowledges prominent academics and practitioners who have contributed significantly to the field of international law.

Named after the former Indonesian law and foreign affairs minister, the award is a joint initiative of the country's Foreign Ministry and Padjadjaran University. Professor Koh, 79, received it at a ceremony in Gedung Merdeka, a historical Art Deco building.

Prof Koh served as president of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) in 1981 and 1982, and is currently chairman of the board of governors of the Centre for International Law at National University of Singapore.

In his speech at yesterday's ceremony, Indonesia's Deputy Foreign Minister H. Abdurrahman Mohammad Fachir paid tribute to Prof Koh for playing a "pivotal role" in negotiations on Unclos.

Prof Koh said he was proud to be the first recipient of the award, adding that he was humbled and honoured that his old friend, Professor Mochtar, was at the ceremony.

Prof Mochtar, 88, was Indonesia's law and human rights minister from 1973 to 1978, and foreign minister in 1978. He also played an important role in Unclos, in the terms of its reference to archipelagic states around the world.

The award is one of many honours that have been bestowed on Prof Koh, who has also been recognised for his role in environmental diplomacy.

When asked if he had any message for the youth of Singapore and Indonesia, Prof Koh spoke about the importance of the rule of law, which he said created a level playing field for both small and big countries.

He added: "We smaller countries must insist that big countries abide by international law, that they must settle their dispute peacefully in accordance to the laws."

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Foreign speakers: Onus on religious groups?

Straits Times
05 Oct 2017
Melody Zaccheus

Making groups that invite them accountable may be part of changes to harmony Act: Experts

Religious groups in Singapore could be held responsible for hiring or inviting foreign speakers who incite religious tensions.

Observers told The Straits Times this is one possible change to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), which is currently being reviewed by the Government.

Another possibility is that groups which invite a divisive speaker may subsequently face a longer vetting process for the foreign speakers they plan to bring into Singapore.

The Presidential Council for Religious Harmony, which includes representatives of Singapore's major religions, may also be given more powers to weigh in on the entry applications of foreign speakers.

Now, foreigners on short-term work assignments related directly or indirectly to any religion must hold valid Miscellaneous Work Passes issued by the Manpower Ministry. To apply for a pass, a foreigner has to be sponsored by a Singapore-based organisation or society.

The potential changes to the Act are part of a national effort to protect Singapore's racial and religious harmony which, in turn, will help in its battle against terrorism, which has intensified in the region and the West. Observers also said the new moves would encourage organisations to be extra careful when inviting foreigners to address their congregations.

Last month, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the Act will be reviewed.

It is being done to enhance legislative provisions to protect racial and religious harmony.

Mr Shanmugam also cited two foreign Christian preachers who had applied for short-term work passes to speak here but were denied entry as they "were very Islamophobic in their statements outside of Singapore".

When contacted, the MHA said it will give details when the review is completed.

The Act, enacted in 1990, allows the Minister for Home Affairs to issue restraining orders to anyone who, for instance, undermines religious harmony. The order bars a person from addressing or advising any religious group or institution. Contravening it can result in a fine of up to $10,000, jail of up to two years, or both punishments.

No restraining order has hitherto been issued under the Act.

Law don Eugene Tan said the review shows clearly the Government wants tougher laws to deal with the increasing threats to religious harmony. "This could take the form of pre-emptive measures, more sanctions beyond restraining orders, heavier penalties as well as expanding the scope of the Act to explicitly include non-religious leaders as well."

Some experts believe the review could result in new penalties against the speakers themselves.

While there are other avenues to penalise them - namely, the Penal Code and Sedition Act - some believe strengthening the Act would let the Government act faster.

Meanwhile, religious leaders like Cornerstone Community Church's senior pastor Yang Tuck Yoong have suggested alternatives outside the Act. These include getting individual speakers and heads of religious institutions to sign guarantees or undertakings that any address by a foreign speaker will stay within the agreed topic.

Experts believe such a procedure alongside an official appeal channel could work instead of a blanket ban on speakers who have spoken on sensitive topics overseas.

Said Dr Mathew Mathews of the Institute of Policy Studies: "There should be a balance, especially if someone who used to decry other religions has re-thought his or her position and comes out to say he or she understands and admires the Singapore model of keeping peace.

"There should be processes for them to undertake they won't do and say these unacceptable things."

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Rape more serious than sex assault with fingers: Apex court

Straits Times
26 Sep 2017
Selina Lum

Rape is a more severe sexual offence than another form of sexual penetration, a five-judge Court of Appeal ruled yesterday, in a case involving a former Sentosa beach patrol officer who faced one charge of each offence.

As a result, the court lowered the overall sentence imposed on Pram Nair, 28, by two strokes of the cane, having reduced his sentence for penetrative sexual assault using one or more fingers, an act known as digital penetration.

The apex court disagreed with the High Court judge who had, in October last year, imposed equal sentences for both charges as he was of the view that both were equally serious.

Nair's overall sentence now stands at 11 years and 19 days' jail, and 10 strokes of the cane.

Yesterday, delivering the apex court's decision, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said "at the highest level of abstraction, there is an intelligible difference" between the two offences.

"The benchmark sentences should not, therefore, be equated," concluded the court, which also comprised Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash and Tay Yong Kwang.

First, penile penetration carries the risk of unwanted pregnancy and of transmitting sexual diseases, which would have far-reaching consequences for the victim, said the court.

Second, penile penetration, a more intimate act, represents a greater degree of intrusion into the sexual autonomy of the victim and a greater degree of exploitation by the offender as he derives more gratification from it.

However, the court agreed that its framework for sentencing rapists, issued in May, should be transposed to that for digital penetration because both offences share many aggravating factors.

Depending on the severity of the case, the sentencing range for digital penetration is: Band 1, seven to 10 years' jail and four strokes of the cane; Band 2, 10 to 15 years' jail and eight strokes of the cane; and Band 3, 15 to 20 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane.

For rape, the sentencing range for Band 1 is 10 to 13 years' jail and six strokes of the cane; Band 2 is 13 to 17 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane; and Band 3 is 17 to 20 years' jail and 18 strokes of the cane.

Nair was originally given 11 years and 19 days' jail, and six strokes of the cane, for each charge.

The apex court upheld his sentence for rape but reduced that for digital penetration to seven years, six months and 19 days' jail and four strokes of the cane.

While he faces fewer strokes of the cane, the length of imprisonment on the whole is not affected as both terms run concurrently.

Nair had appealed against his conviction and sentence for raping and sexually assaulting a then 20-year-old drunken partygoer at Siloso Beach in May 2012.

Nair, who was then off-duty, approached her group and played drinking games with her. He later left with the victim, who said she was "wasted" and woke up on the beach while he was raping her.

Nair said the victim was not as drunk as she claimed. He alleged that she had flirted with him and agreed to have sex. His story was rejected, at trial and on his appeal.

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Pram Nair v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGCA 56

Shedding the suit for a new calling

Straits Times
15 Oct 2017
Boon Chan

Success in the corporate world is hard-earned in a competitive environment, but having found it, some high-fliers are choosing to do what sounds like a counter-intuitive thing - ditch their jobs.

Instead, they turn to non-profit organisations and charities in search of a more fulfilling life.

Singapore-based American Richard Hartung, financial consultant and author of Changing Lanes, Changing Lives: How Leaders Made A Meaningful Career Switch From Corporates To Non-profits (2013), says he was struck by how those who made the move say their lives became more meaningful, often with a positive impact on their families as well.

He notes that each of them chose an area they are passionate about. Some spoke to a number of organisations in search of a cause to dedicate their efforts to, while others knew what they wanted to do.

While a relatively small number of people make the switch, he says "the number does seem to be growing and more people are interested".

To learn more about taking that leap, The Sunday Times speaks to lawyer turned Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) executive director Corinna Lim; Mr Edward Hoon, who switched to counselling after more than 30 years in the electronics and insurance industries; and Ms Evelyn Leong, who went from the petrochemical and desalination sectors to executive director at Girl Guides Singapore and is now corporate development and outreach director at Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds).


Former legal eagle now helps vulnerable women

MS CORINNA LIM, 53

Executive director, Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware)

Ms Lim was a legal eagle whose career took flight after she was called to the Singapore Bar in 1988. She worked in prestigious firms such as Allen & Gledhill and the former Khattar Wong & Partners. But she was not happy.

She recalls: "The hours were very long, which I didn't mind. But I felt that my work had to leave the place a little better than when I found it, and I didn't find that in my day job."

Instead, what she found more meaningful was doing pro bono work at Queenstown Community Centre, giving advice to women in difficult relationships and marriages who felt trapped. "I always felt that in that half an hour, I managed to bring some hope and shine a little light on some of their options."

She later helped draft the Family Violence Bill tabled by Dr Kanwaljit Soin, then a Nominated Member of Parliament, in 1995. While it was rejected, she says it led to changes in the Women's Charter and "real protection" against family violence.

Its key proposals - such as making it easier for domestic abuse victims to obtain personal protection orders - were adopted in amendments to the charter.

"It made me see that change at a structural level is possible so long as people care, which is inspiring because a lot of the time, we feel pretty powerless in Singapore."

Dr Soin was a founding member of Aware and Ms Lim found the organisation's work worthwhile and productive.

"When you do counselling, you're helping individuals. But when you actually make change at the systemic level, then you're really talking about change for many people's lives."

By the time Aware was looking to professionalise and appoint its first executive director in 2010, she had been volunteering with the organisation for 15 years and the timing felt right to her. If this had happened earlier, it would have been more difficult, she says.

"But having built up some financial security, I was in a position to make this choice."

Still, she describes the path she took as being quite low-risk. "I knew what I was interested in, I knew what I really cared about."

Ideally, the switch from a corporate to a non-profit should not be an "I woke up one day and really need to make this big change" snap decision, she says.

It helps to volunteer beforehand, she adds.

"You begin to find out more about possible organisations as non-governmental organisations come in all shapes and forms; it's all about people.

"You're not doing this for money. It's because of non-monetary priorities, in fact, that you're doing this, so you should get a good feel for the organisation you would like to work with."

I felt that my work had to leave the place a little better than when I found it, and I didn't find that in my day job.

AWARE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CORINNA LIM, a former legal eagle


Engineer inspired by special needs students

MS EVELYN LEONG, 43

Director of corporate development and outreach, Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds)

In the 1980s, Ms Leong used to save up money to buy toys and books for the Sharity box. The box was part of a donation drive under the Sharity pink elephant campaign, which was introduced in 1984 to encourage young Singaporeans to give to the less fortunate.

That was her first encounter with active charity work.

Her parents are divorced and she was brought up by her two aunts, one a chef and the other a housewife.

She was influenced more by the latter, who always told her to help others if she could, and led by example by, say, donating to buskers or buying tissue paper from peddlers.

Trained as an engineer, Ms Leong later joined the oil and petrochemicals industry and, subsequently, the water treatment business.

But at some point, she found herself caught up in the corporate race and asked herself the big question: "Is this what I really want in life?"

As she was mulling over a career switch three or four years ago, a job opportunity at Girl Guides Singapore came up.

She took up the position of executive director - even though she had never been a guide. But she was drawn by the idea of reaching out to the community and empowering girls.

Moving to a Voluntary Welfare Organisation and uniform group required a change in mindset.

She says: "We are not into figure-crunching, but rather, we are looking at how we can transform lives, how programmes can nurture children and how we can help the less fortunate. I think that is something that's very exciting."

Through the Girl Guides unit in Fernvale Gardens School, she had several encounters with special needs students.

"They are quite inspiring. They are able to achieve more than what most people think."

Last year, she left the Guides to take up her current portfolio at Minds, which caters to the needs of the intellectually disabled in Singapore.

She is keen to empower the students to do more and is always looking for new collaborators.

For example, when the Ministry of Home Affairs expressed interest in working together but was limited by its budget, she proposed using its existing facilities, such as the Road Safety Community Park and fire stations, for the students to visit.

"We don't always have to do the usual things, like a picnic at the zoo," she points out.

For Ms Leong, who is married with no children and is now a certified Girl Guide, moving to the non-profit sector was not merely about switching jobs.

"It's more about what we can do to make that little difference and whether we can put others before ourselves."

Outside her work at Minds, she continues with acts of kindness by donating regularly through online portals.

"I can still do good even when I'm busy. This ties in with one of the key teachings of the Girl Guides, which is to do a good turn every day."

We are looking at how we can transform lives, how programmes can nurture the children and how we can help the less fortunate. I think that is something that's very exciting.

MS EVELYN LEONG, Minds director of corporate development and outreach


Picking up counselling in his 50s

MR EDWARD HOON, 57

Counsellor, Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities

When Mr Hoon decided to study counselling in his early 50s, his daughter asked jokingly: "Dad, will we be poor?"

Not only was he switching careers after more than 30 years in the electronics and insurance lines, but he was also going for a Bachelor of Counselling degree from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (Suss).

He started with night classes in 2014, but decided that to maximise learning, he had to quit his job as a senior customer operations manager and study full time.

His financial planning background came in handy in figuring out the sums this decision entailed.

He adds: "If anybody wants to make this move, talk to your loved ones because the journey is not going to involve you alone. Families and children (are part of it)."

His son, 26, and daughter, 22, are both studying and his wife is a housewife.

When he finally graduated earlier this month, he said his journey was "well worth it".

"My personal life was enriched as it helps in the relationship with my spouse and the children. On the professional front, when I apply the theories I've learnt, I can see the transformation in my clients."

His family was a major motivation for his career move.

In his 30s, he went through a challenging period. He was focused on his career while his wife was looking after their children and he did not spend enough time with them. Then his late mother had a stroke when he was 31.

While he did not undergo formal counselling, a close friend and his wife helped him through this tough stretch and he is happy to announce that "things are going well now" with his nearest and dearest.

Having gone through the tunnel and emerged on the other side, he decided he wanted to help others "to realise that this is all normal, we just have to manage our stress and learn about conflict resolution".

Since December last year, he has been a counsellor at the Thye Hua Kwan Centre for Family Harmony, one of four Divorce Support Specialist Agencies appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Apart from successfully making a late career switch, Mr Hoon could also be the poster boy for lifelong learning.

He intends to go for a graduate diploma in social work next year and a master's in counselling in 2019, both at Suss.

"We have to upgrade and commit to learning new knowledge and skills. Set medium-and long-term goals. Don't stop learning and enjoy the learning journey. Be teachable and persevere."

If anybody wants to make this move, talk to your loved ones because the journey is not going to involve you alone.

MR EDWARD HOON, a counsellor at the Thye Hua Kwan Centre for Family Harmony

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Acra to get regulatory teeth to raise audit quality

Business Times
04 Oct 2017
Michelle Quah

Review of Singapore's Accountants Act could pave way for Acra to do firm-level inspections, mete out sanctions

SINGAPORE'S public accounting firms, such as those providing auditing services, could soon face the prospect of being sanctioned for lapses in audit quality.

The tougher action will come with an impending legislative review that will also grant Singapore's national regulator of public accountants the statutory power to conduct inspections of public accounting firms at the firm level.

These and other impending changes to the accountancy sector were unveiled on Tuesday by Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah at the Singapore Accountancy and Audit Convention (SAAC) 2017.

In her keynote address, she said the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) have embarked on a much-anticipated review of Singapore's Accountants Act, with a view to improving the quality of audits.

Among other things, the Act controls and regulates the practice of the profession by public accountants, accounting corporations and accounting firms and partnerships.

Ms Rajah said: "We are looking into empowering Acra to conduct firm-level inspections and, where necessary, mete out sanctions for non-compliance through this review. This is in line with the audit regulatory regimes in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia."

A firm-level inspection will determine whether an audit firm has put in place an effective system of audit quality controls in accordance with Singapore standards. Such inspections would complement the current statutory engagement inspections that review the work of individual public accountants.

Ms Rajah said that although the Asian Corporate Governance Association (an independent non-profit organisation that rates the corporate governance standards of the region's jurisdictions every two years) has described Acra's audit inspection programme as "one of the best in the region", Singapore must continue in its efforts to raise the bar for audit quality.

She added that more details of the review will be released in due course; a public consultation has been scheduled for next year.

Acra now conducts regular audit inspections in its Practice Monitoring Programme (PMP). This year's PMP showed a slight improvement from the previous round of inspections, though Acra said that "improvement in the quality of audits for non-listed companies, while encouraging, needs to be more broad-based for the segment to make long-term sustainable progress".

Commenting on the impending review of the Accountants Act, Tan Cheng Han, chairman of the Public Accountants Oversight Committee (PAOC), said: "The trust that investors place in our markets is due in part to the robust audit oversight we have in place. Such legislative reviews help ensure that high audit quality standards are upheld."

Ms Rajah also announced other changes geared towards improving audit quality and public trust in financial statements here.

Among them is a regulatory change relating to financial reporting for Singapore Exchange-listed Singapore companies. "From financial year 2018, these companies will apply a new financial reporting framework that will allow them to include a statement of compliance with IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) in their financial statements.

"This change will place our listed companies on a level playing field with global companies that use IFRS. This will enhance the global comparability of our companies' financial information, and support the internationalisation efforts of these companies," Ms Rajah said.

She also unveiled a comprehensive study on the first-year impact of Enhanced Auditor Reporting (EAR) here. EAR requires companies' financial statements ending on or after Dec 15, 2016 to include a more detailed report by the company's external auditors, which would shed light on the key audit matters (KAMs) encountered during the audit.

The study showed a positive reaction to and the impact of the new requirement, with a sizeable proportion of listed companies discussing in greater depth the areas covered by KAMs. Audit committees were also shown to have proactively reported their views on significant accounting matters.

Investors have cheered the change, saying that EAR has given them deeper insights into how auditors conduct their audits and also greater confidence in audit quality.

"These findings have validated the value of audits," Ms Rajah said.

She also announced the Skills Framework for Accountancy, which will invite individuals to explore career advancement opportunities along or across six identified tracks within the sector, such as assurance, financial accounting and business valuation.

Another initiative is Sapphire for the Accountancy sector, which will help accounting firms adopt the Skills Framework and integrate technology at the workplace.

READ MORE: 'Ear, 'ear for enhanced auditor reports

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Playing a part in making legal aid accessible to all

Business Times
26 Sep 2017
Navin Sregantan

WMH Law Corporation provides legal representation to those who are unable to afford a lawyer

LEGAL representation is often costly and out of reach for the underprivileged. However, a young law firm is punching above its weight in providing legal representation to a number of underserved communities in Singapore.

"At WMH, we feel that the disadvantaged very often get shunned (rightly or wrongly) by the community. Be that as it may, we firmly believe that everyone deserves to have their day in Court," said Mark Lee, managing director at WMH Law Corporation.

For the partners of WMH, which commenced practice in November 2016, an emphasis on giving back to the community is omnipresent.

"Joint managing director Wilbur Lim and I were law school classmates at Singapore Management University. We already had dreams of running our own practice where we would be able to marry both the provision of quality legal service and have a greater emphasis on pro bono/CSR initiatives," said Mr Lee.

The firm joined the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) shortly after it commenced practice in November 2016.

The Law Society's CLAS is a programme which provides criminal legal assistance to those who are unable to afford a lawyer, and are facing charges in a Singapore court for non death-penalty offences.

"We wanted to apply our expertise to where it would have the most impact and, therefore, chose to collaborate with CLAS to provide legal representation to individuals charged with criminal offences but cannot afford a lawyer," says Mr Lee.

WMH's involvement with CLAS has seen some its beneficiaries with reduced sentences or cleared of their alleged offences.

"We had a case of a client who did not have much legal awareness and could not afford to hire lawyers. He was initially prepared to plead guilty to the charges to get it done and over with despite having done nothing wrong," said Mr Lee.

"Without legal representation, the client could have been jailed for up to two years, fined, caned or receive any combined punishment."

With representation, Mr Lee's client was able have his charges cleared.

This brings to light the understated importance of basic legal knowledge which WMH also looks to address through participating in outreach programmes to make legal advice accessible to the masses and, in particular, to more vulnerable groups of people.

Its involvement in Justice Without Borders (JWB), a not-for-profit organisation that supports victims of labour exploitation and human trafficking by seeking just compensation against their abusers, is one such case.

"Wilbur recently gave a talk at a seminar organised by JWB, which had the aim of providing legal education to migrant workers in Singapore, to give them better education in understanding their rights and protecting their interests," said Mr Lee.

"We also give talks to residents at various neighbourhood constituencies on issues such as drafting of wills, probate, lasting power of attorney and deputyship applications."

Mr Lee and the team from WMH regularly volunteer at legal clinics organised by the Community Justice Centre in Singapore.

These legal clinics held at the State Courts are open to members of the public to raise any concerns they may have and receive free legal consultation.

"Our lawyers will assess the applicant's circumstances and offer a preliminary view on the best way forward to handle their issues," said Mr Lee.

WMH also extends a helping hand to Supreme Court legal clinics where lawyers volunteer to provide help to applicants facing bankruptcy proceedings on how best to protect their interests.

On WMH's future plan on expanding its range of CSR initiatives, Mr Lee said: "We are currently in talks with the Ministry of Social and Family Development for further volunteering opportunities with the Assisted Deputyship Application Programme Initiative.

"The initiative presently being discussed would involve my firm assisting with such applicants who cannot afford lawyers to apply for the said Court order."

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Law against torture by cops 'applies to others'

Straits Times
14 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Judge explains why he jailed for 15 months man who beat teen to extract confession

A law that makes it an offence for the police to use torture to extract confessions can be used on others who employ such methods, including vigilantes.

Explaining why he jailed for 15 months a 42-year-old man who had tied up a teen and beat him to wring a confession out of him, District Judge Kenneth Yap referred to a High Court precedent from 21 years ago that involved a similar beating by three cops.

The High Court had said then the main aim of the relevant Section 330 of the Penal Code was to prevent torture by the police, but it also said a benchmark two-year jail sentence may be appropriate where non-law enforcement officers were involved, other factors being considered.

Judge Yap said the offender, whose name was redacted from the judgment, should not be treated any more leniently just because he had acted upon a mistaken belief that his victim had hacked into his phone when he restrained and beat the teen up.

"He had taken calculated steps to extract a confession in open violation of the criminal process, and should be punished in the same measure as any vigilante or abusive law enforcement officer," the judge said in grounds issued on Monday.

The man was sentenced last month after he admitted to tying up and assaulting the boy into a confession. An additional charge of wrongfully confining the teen in his Tampines flat for almost two hours on Nov 18 last year was taken into consideration for sentencing.

The ITE-trained electrical engineer was trying to unlock his Google account outside his flat when he became paranoid that somebody had hacked into it.

Spotting the victim at the void deck, he suspected him to be the culprit and took him to his flat for questioning. This was some time after midnight. The boy, who was high on Ice, was said to be afraid he might be a policeman.

Dissatisfied with the boy's answers, the man tied his wrists and legs. He also slapped and punched the boy until the commotion roused his family members. The man's son, who is also a minor, called the police at around 2.10am.

The boy was treated at Changi General Hospital.

At the hearing last month, the man's lawyer Chow Weng Weng urged the court not to be bound by past precedent and argued that the relevant section in the law was meant mainly to prevent police brutality, and the High Court's remarks on sentencing for non-law enforcement officers were made in passing.

He said the accused and his wife had been victims of cyber hacking for some months and were upset.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Joshua Jeyaraj called for an 18-month jail term as a starting point, given the seriousness of the offence - caning had been added as an option in 2007.

Judge Yap, saying he was "mindful of the spontaneous nature of the offence" and the accused's remorse in compensating the victim, among other things, scaled the jail term down to 15 months. "While the accused was motivated by a delusion, his willingness to take the law into his own hands was real and deliberate. This is the nub of the offence."


CRUX OF THE OFFENCE

While the accused was motivated by a delusion, his willingness to take the law into his own hands was real and deliberate. This is the nub of the offence.

DISTRICT JUDGE KENNETH YAP

OPEN VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL PROCESS

He had taken calculated steps to extract a confession in open violation of the criminal process, and should be punished in the same measure as any vigilante or abusive law enforcement officer.

DISTRICT JUDGE KENNETH YAP

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Bill introduced to support two future Singapore-Malaysia rail links

Straits Times
04 Oct 2017
Adrian Lim

A proposed law to support the building and running of two future rail links between Singapore and Malaysia was introduced in Parliament yesterday.

The Cross-Border Railways Bill will provide for the licensing of operators to run train services and maintain railway assets; the appointment of independent safety auditors; and funding for the projects' construction, among various clauses.

It will also empower the Government to suspend cross-border train services if there are imminent risks to commuter safety, such as a malfunction or terrorist act.

A Singapore Transport Ministry spokesman yesterday said the Bill will support the "construction, operation and regulation" of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR), in accordance with a bilateral agreement signed last December.

The 350km HSR, which will cut travel time between the two cities to 90 minutes, is targeted to be operational by the end of 2026.

The Bill will also support the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link after Singapore and Malaysia ink a bilateral agreement at the end of this year, the spokesman added. The RTS, which will link Woodlands North station on the upcoming Thomson-East Coast MRT Line with Johor's Bukit Chagar terminus, is expected to be ready by the end of 2024.

The proposed law also spells out the penalties if train service or railway asset operators fail to comply with the licensing requirements. They can be fined up to $1 million, or 10 per cent of their annual revenue received in the last completed financial year.

The introduction of the Bill comes amid key developments in both cross-border rail projects.

Last month, rail operators SMRT and Prasarana Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding to form a joint venture company for the cross-border RTS Link. This operating company will build, finance and run operating assets like trains, tracks and systems.

Singapore and Malaysia will also call a joint tender later in the year to appoint an asset company for the HSR project.

The appointed company will be responsible for designing, building, financing and maintaining all rolling stock. It will also build, operate and maintain rail assets, including track-work, power and signalling systems.

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

Ezion served redemption notice by bond holder

Straits Times
25 Sep 2017
Marissa Lee

A key bond holder has delivered a blunt message to debt-laden Ezion Holdings: Hand over all my money.

The bond holder, with a substantial share of the liftboat operator's tranche of $120 million bonds backed by DBS Bank, has asked Ezion to redeem his notes for their full principal sum, given that the company's shares have ceased to trade.

Ezion chose to suspend trading of its shares in the middle of last month as it moved to work out a refinancing plan with lenders. Talks are ongoing.

Ezion has sold seven tranches of bonds since 2013, racking up some $695 million in outstanding bonds payable. But the last $120 million tranche of Series 009 notes - sold in mid-2015 - is unique.

At the point of issuance, a clause was written into the pricing supplement for the tranche that gives bond holders an option to have their bonds redeemed early.

The clause states: "In the event that the shares of the issuer cease to be listed or traded on the SGX-ST, the issuer shall, at the option of the holder of any note, redeem such note at its principal amount together with interest accrued to (but excluding) the date fixed for redemption."

The substantial bond holder, who asked not to be named, served an exercise notice of redemption to Ezion and DBS Trustee last Friday to redeem his bonds.

In his letter, he attached a supporting legal opinion from Dentons Rodyk that argues that since Ezion's shares have ceased to trade following the suspension, the condition for redemption has been triggered.

"There is no ambiguity in the words," his lawyers concluded, referring to Rule 8.10.3 in the Singapore Exchange rule book, which states: "Securities or futures contracts which have been suspended from trading cease to be traded on the trading system. Except with SGX-ST's approval, a trading member must not execute any transactions in a suspended security or futures contract."

Ezion has yet to respond to his notice, the bond holder said yesterday. If Ezion accepts this interpretation, it must immediately repay all Series 009 bond holders who choose to have their bonds redeemed.

If Ezion is unable to cough up the cash, DBS must stand in for the company, as promised in the committed funding agreement.

DBS was the sole arranger for all of Ezion's bonds. It is also one of Ezion's principal bankers.

When Ezion sought refinancing in mid-2015, the price of crude oil had crashed below US$60 a barrel and lenders had turned wary of the oil and gas sector. By giving its backing to the Series 009 bonds, DBS was able to help Ezion secure a 3.65 per cent annual interest rate.

So far, Ezion has not defaulted on any of its bonds. It will present bond holders with a debt restructuring proposal next Monday.

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Legal curbs imposed on lawyer M. Ravi

Straits Times
13 Oct 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

Non-practising lawyer M. Ravi, 48, has been barred from instituting legal proceedings against the government, the Attorney-General or the public prosecutor without the High Court's permission.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) applied to prevent what it said was abuse of the court process through his past legal actions under Section 74 of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act at the High Court on Wednesday .

In a statement yesterday, the AGC spokesman said: "Mr M. Ravi has, over the course of 11 years - since 2006 - habitually and persistently, and without any reasonable ground, instituted... vexatious legal proceedings against the Government, the Attorney-General and the public prosecutor."

The AGC highlighted six of Ravi's cases which it said were "vexatious legal proceedings".

In 2011, he made an application against the Government and Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) to challenge the constitutionality of HEB's Thaipusam procession guidelines. The High Court dismissed it.

This year, Ravi made an application against the Attorney-General to challenge the constitutionality of the elected presidency. The High Court also dismissed it and, in its written judgment, held that the application was "unmeritorious in almost every conceivable aspect" and an "abuse of process".

Separately, Ravi is facing criminal charges in the State Courts including one count each of assault and causing hurt by committing a rash act. He allegedly pushed lawyer Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss and threw a bag at lawyer Nakoorsha Abdul Kadir at The Adelphi building in Coleman Street on Aug 8.

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

The good, the bad and the ugly side of ICOs

Straits Times
04 Oct 2017
Grace Leong

More start-ups are using initial coin offerings to raise funds

Investors, bewareVirtual currency investor Roy Chan almost became a victim of a hack attack.

He had wanted to invest in an initial coin offering (ICO) offered by a financial services developer called Enigma. (An ICO is akin to an initial public offering or IPO where investors use cash to buy shares in a company, except that in an ICO, investors use cash or another widely used virtual currency to buy digital tokens that may represent a security interest in the issuer's assets, or debt owed, or the right to use a promised service in future.)

Mr Chan, who works in a pharmaceutical company here, was about to transfer funds into an account associated with Enigma, but decided to check. A good thing he did, because scammers were targeting investors like him and were luring them to transfer their money to a fake account.

Fraudsters managed to reap nearly US$500,000 (S$681,400) before Enigma shut down the channels and warned investors about the scam.

ICOs 101

Welcome to the world of virtual currencies and ICOs.

According to the moneysense.gov.sg website, virtual currencies first emerged about 10 years ago and do not necessarily have a physical form, unlike fiat currency such as coins and notes. Examples of virtual currencies are bitcoin and ethereum's ether. They are not issued by any government, and are not legal tender. This means that they can be used to pay for goods or services only if someone is willing to accept them as a mode of payment.

People can buy digital currencies like bitcoin using cash. Or they can "mine" for bitcoins, by solving complex mathematical problems.

As digital currencies grew in popularity, their use has expanded. Today, bitcoin for example can be used to pay for music downloads or clothing and for meals in a small number of restaurants.

In recent years, some tech companies and start-ups have taken to raising funds for their projects by getting people to buy their digital tokens that may, for example, offer ownership or usage rights to a product or service, or access to a new investment product.

ICOs have exploded in popularity over the past year and even reality TV star Paris Hilton is endorsing a digital company's ICO launch.

ICOs have been used to raise more than US$2 billion so far this year, according to CoinDesk. Some start-ups see this mode as a cheaper and faster alternative to venture capital for raising money. Singapore-based TenX recently raised an estimated US$80 million.

But like any emerging, thinly regulated financial product, they are also highly risky.

RISKS OF INVESTING IN ICOs

Unlike IPOs which are very highly regulated, ICOs are less regulated.

Companies looking to raise funds through an IPO must disclose extensive amounts of information on the company and its governance, and also must have a prior track record of operational success.

In contrast, those who want to issue an ICO often set out their business proposal in a so-called "white paper" published online. This purports to be a kind of offering document, but lacks the rigour of an IPO prospectus.

TSMP Law Corp joint managing partner Stefanie Yuen Thio noted: "The white paper (or business proposal) is often badly drafted, provides very little clarity. The underlying investment, the investors' rights and risks are not well spelt out. ... If the ICO promoter is based outside Singapore, enforcement risks are also higher."

In an IPO, investors have rights as a shareholder. In an ICO, token holders have fewer rights.

The lack of oversight over ICOs has attracted criminals, with some estimates showing about 10 per cent of all ICO funds being stolen by thieves. Phishing scams and hacking are common, and new investors are particularly vulnerable as they may not know the most secure way to store their tokens.

Other dangers include the volatile nature of the investment.

The vast majority of ICOs are undertaken by start-ups and these issuers aren't in a position to issue IPOs because they have no track record and often no working product. Therefore, investors are taking a chance on the underlying technology that may never come to fruition, Withers KhattarWong partner Stephen Banfield warned.

There is much scope for abuse as there is little corporate governance that holds the start-ups responsible for delivering their project, or accountable for how they manage huge budgets obtained from a successful ICO, said Mr Nick Davies, a lawyer with Morrison & Foerster (Singapore).

Further, a digital token's tradable value is also affected by the technical ability of the team behind the project, he added.

"Flaws in the programming can lead to a token's tradable value plummeting within minutes. For instance, a digital token called DAO was hacked last year due to a single absent word in the application's coding. As a result of this oversight, the digital wallets of numerous investors were illegally accessed, and more than US$50 million worth of tokens were stolen," he added.

In Singapore, more than 100 consumers have filed police reports over investment schemes involving digital tokens or currencies.

RISE IN REGULATORY ACTION

Regulators worldwide are paying attention to ICOs.

Early last month, the People's Bank of China declared ICOs illegal, banned the practice of creating and selling new digital currencies, and ordered its major cryptocurrency exchanges to be shut down.

South Korea banned ICOs last week, prompting a legislator in Taiwan to push for regulations to be put in place to control cryptocurrency flows.

Last Thursday, Australia's securities watchdog warned consumers that they must understand potential ICO risks and be wary of scams. The British financial watchdog sounded a similar warning on Sept 12.

Regulators in the US, Singapore, Canada, Malaysia and Hong Kong have also fired warning shots that if tokens look like securities, they will be treated as such.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in early August that any tokens that have the characteristics of securities will fall under its purview.

This came after the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said that virtual coins or tokens may be securities - subject to federal securities laws. On Sept 29, the SEC made good on that warning. It charged a businessman and two companies with defrauding investors in ICOs purportedly backed by investments in real estate and diamonds.

But industry observers note that blockchain technology is here to stay, and over-regulation may not be the best response.

Mr Davies noted that an outright ban is an easy way for regulators to take control, but such actions "are not necessarily conducive to creating a new healthy cryptocurrency ecosystem".

He added: "The technology behind ICOs is not going to be uninvented, but smart regulation could make Singapore a global hub for what the market has already priced as one of the most important technologies for the digital age - that is blockchain-based companies using distributed ledger technology on a truly global scale."

Blockchain - the technology that publicly records transaction details including the unique alpha-numeric strings that identify buyers and sellers - is here to stay, many industry observers say.

SINGAPORE'S APPROACH

China's ban creates an opportunity for Singapore to become a hub for such digital currency trade and development of blockchain technology, say some experts.

Finance professor David Lee noted that MAS and the Infocomm Media Development Authority have worked hard to attract deep technology. Like Hong Kong, Singapore has the ability and processes in place to fight money laundering and tax evasion that are considered risks in virtual currencies. Such strengths "are great attractions for genuine ICOs and a draw for technically competent developers", he said.

Mr Davies said Singapore's progressive approach makes it more attractive to founders of blockchain-based companies than Switzerland, the US, Gibraltar, and the Cayman Islands.

Rather than impose an outright ban, or come up with new rules targeted at the new digital token offerings, MAS prefers to apply existing regulations to new fintech models. So if a digital token has the characteristics of securities, it will be regulated as such.

An MAS spokesman added: "A recent example of how the existing securities regulatory regime applies to technology-based business models is MAS' regulation of securities-based crowdfunding activities. MAS is of the view that regulation must not front-run innovation, as introducing regulation prematurely may stifle innovation and potentially derail the adoption of useful technology. We must also remain technology-neutral, allowing for innovation to choose the best path to success.

"At the same time, MAS is closely monitoring the development and implications of digital token offerings in Singapore and other parts of the world, as well as taking note of the evolving regulatory approaches taken towards such offers across different jurisdictions."

Despite the risks, demand for such investments is proliferating. even amid tighter regulation and criticism from business leaders such as JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon, who recently called bitcoin a "fraud".

One reason is their speculative value. Bitcoin fell from around US$4,340 to as low as US$2,981.05 in the days after Mr Dimon's comments. But it has since recovered to around $4,433.61 as of Oct 2, according to CoinDesk data. Despite this volatility, bitcoin's value has risen more than 344 per cent so far this year. Ether, the token underpinning the ethereum blockchain, has surged more than 2,200 per cent since last year.

Low interest rates have forced investors to look for alternative asset classes, Mr David Moskowitz, co-founder and chief executive of Indorse, an ethereum-based social network in Singapore, said.

"We have seen the rise of cryptoassets from $0 in market value in 2008 to over US$100 billion currently. This is a trend that cannot be ignored," he said.

As ICOs proliferate, there is a lot at stake for both the start-ups that rely on them for funding as well as for the investors, who stand to lose millions of dollars through scammers and hackers.

The jury is still out on cryptocurrencies. These are high-risk investments that should not be punted by retail investors just because of meteoric gains in the value of certain digital tokens.

Beyond the hype, the question is whether regulators can play a role in positioning Singapore's economy to capitalise on the development of the underlying technology that powers these virtual currencies.

Regulators will have to strike a balance between keeping out the ugly side of cryptocurrencies and warning investors of the risks involved, while maintaining a financial ecosystem that is hospitable to the good that this new fintech trend can bring.

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

Data governance is everybody's business

Business Times
25 Sep 2017
Melvin Yong

Good governance is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation, from the board level down to the operational level

THERE needs to be concerted efforts to create and enhance the level of awareness about the importance of data as a business asset, especially for organisations that hold huge volumes of operational and customer data.

"This is required across the organisation from the board level to the operational level," said Mark Jansen, partner, data & analytics leader at PwC Singapore. Citing a PwC study that polled some 2,100 C-suite leaders, business unit heads and senior vice presidents, Mr Jansen said that senior management said that they wanted to be more data-driven but acknowledged that there is more to do. About two-thirds (61 per cent) of respondents said that their companies' decision-making is only somewhat or rarely data-driven.

Data has become a central strategic resource for all organisations in the digital era. With fast-moving developments in analytics, how successfully and efficiently companies harness their mass stores of data can determine whether they succeed or fail in the disruptive market place.

What is data governance?

Data governance is the overall management of the availability, usability, integrity and security of data within organisations. According to PwC, a sound data governance programme could include:

• A set of standards, policies and processes that manage the quality, consistency, usability, security and availability of information across the enterprise;
• A governing body or council that oversees the execution of these policies and procedures; and
• An interaction model that defines when, where and how the organisation's leader responsible for data engages with various business and information technology (IT) groups.

"Given this scope, employees from every grade of the organisation has a role to play in data governance," said Mr Jansen.

Who owns data governance?

Industry executives said that sound data governance is not the sole responsibility of people at the top, although they could help to set the right tone.

"First and foremost, there must be senior management sponsorship of effective data governance, much like compliance, in order to dedicate the resources required to run such a function," said Kelvin Tan, head of fintech & data, Singapore Exchange.

"Next, the technology systems, tools and data architecture must be put in place such that the data can be efficiently managed.

"Finally, there must a cultural shift among all employees to ensure that data governance is adhered to and even commended," said Mr Tan.

PwC said that there is no one answer to the question of identifying roles and responsibilities. While the top management sets the tone, operational management has significant responsibilities in day-to-day data management.

"From our experience, there is no one model that fits all companies," said Mr Jansen. He said that broadly speaking, the responsibility rests within the remit of chief operating officer (COO) and chief data officer (CDO). Depending on the section of the organisation that is leveraging data and analytics, the CDO or COO takes the lead as the case may be. The COO is typically responsible where operational improvement is the main objective of a data governance programme, said Mr Jansen.

How can organisations improve data governance?

To improve data governance, specialists said that policies need to be complemented with effective tools that make it easy and convenient for the end user to adhere to such policies. These include tools such as data dictionaries, business glossaries and data models that define the data transformation.

"For data governance to ultimately be effective, it must be addressed by a data-driven organisation culture, or else it will be a never-ending game of 'cops and robbers' that will lead to a deterioration of productivity - the very opposite of what data governance strives to achieve," said Mr Tan. He suggested that data should also be centralised into a data warehouse to help the data management team better govern.

PwC named three key things that organisations can do to improve data governance:

• Cultivating a data-driven culture where there is an increase in the level of decision-making based on data.
• Making data a day-to-day business issue, adopting this as a problem for the organisation overall and not just the technology unit.
• Building the mindset that data governance is not a one-off project and devoting more efforts to monitor the operational aspects of data governance as well as keeping the policies or procedures up-to-date and relevant.

Observers said that good data governance could also be linked to the organisation's cybersecurity strategy. The risks of data breaches have escalated tremendously as businesses and consumers become more connected through digital platforms.

This has also multiplied the costs for companies that fall victim to situations where their data is compromised or exploited.

"Companies can put more effort to protect the areas they deem as high risk that will cause a great impact to the business when breached," said John Lee, president of ISACA Singapore Chapter, which represents information systems governance professionals. "But it is impossible to implement the same level of protection for all the assets," he said.

"A cyber security strategy aligned with the business strategy will ensure that the critical areas and information assets are prioritised, and appropriate protection measures put in place," said Mr Lee.

This series is brought to you by CPA Australia to share knowledge on topical issues relevant to business, finance and accounting.<

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High Court panel's decision final: Judge

Straits Times
13 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

He explains why ex-fund manager's bid to refer legal issues to apex court was dismissed

The top court has made clear that when a three-judge panel is specially convened to hear a Magistrate's Appeal in the High Court, such as in the City Harvest Church (CHC) case, its decision is to be taken as "final and authoritative".

No permission will therefore be given to pursue a further criminal reference to the Court of Appeal unless there are exceptional circumstances, it ruled.

"This approach is justified because a three-judge Coram is a de facto Court of Appeal and is convened precisely to deal with important questions affecting the public interest which require detailed examination," said Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang in decision grounds on behalf of the Court of Appeal on Wednesday.

He was explaining why the Court of Appeal, which included Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Justice Quentin Loh, dismissed in July the bid by former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han for permission to refer legal questions to it.

Chew, 56, was one of six found guilty of misusing millions of dollars in church money. In April, the jail terms of all six individuals were cut after the High Court reduced their criminal breach of trust charge to a less serious one on appeal. As a result, their initial jail terms of between 21 months and eight years were reduced to between seven months and 3½ years.

But Chew, arguing his own case, applied for permission to refer questions of law of public interest to the apex court. He raised 10 broad issues, including the question of whether there can then be misappropriation and dishonesty under circumstances in which money is not taken for personal use, but handled for the owner's use.

Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair, who opposed his application, argued he had not raised novel points of law, among other things.

The court found the questions which Chew sought to refer to the Court of Appeal had already been scrutinised by the district court and the High Court, whose judgments spanned some 570 pages.

Even a "cursory reading of the questions raised by Chew showed the questions he sought to refer were either (impermissible) attempts to reopen and/or change established principles of law in order to escape personal liability for his actions, or were simply questions of fact which could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be characterised as questions of law", said the court.

Justice Phang found the application was a bid to "dress up" such challenges to established principles and findings as novel questions of public interest arising from the High Court's decision: "in substance and effect, a further (and backdoor) appeal on the substantive merits".

The court stressed only in exceptional situations would a party to a criminal matter be allowed to bring a criminal reference to the Court of Appeal to reconsider a question decided by a three-judge panel of the High Court. Otherwise, duplication of efforts would result, undermining the very reason that the three-judge panel was convened in the first place, wrote Justice Phang.

The court noted that the three-judge panel of the High Court does not have the same powers of the Court of Appeal and if, therefore, there is a question of law of public interest posed in the case which only the Court of Appeal can deal with, then leave for the criminal reference should be granted, provided the other conditions are met.

Rejecting Chew's application as "ill-considered and wholly unmeritorious", the court said: "This was a case where the accused persons clandestinely applied church donations collected from CHC's members to advance an aim that was entirely outside the scope of the authorised uses of the donations.

"Both the judge and the High Court had no doubt that (Chew), as the primary financial architect of these transactions, was heavily involved and indeed instrumental in this illegal enterprise."

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

Chew Eng Han v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGCA 60

MPA given powers to block purchase or disposal of stake in key entities

Business Times
03 Oct 2017
Chuang Peck Ming

THE Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) will now have the power to reject an acquisition or disposal of equity interest in key designated entities, if it deems they hurt the port's interests.

"These designated entities include designated public licensees, designated business trusts and designated equity interest holders," said Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min, who moved the Second Reading of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (Amendment) Bill in Parliament on Monday.

The subsequent passing of the bill means designated entities will be subject to three key controls relating to changes in equity interest in the entities.

First, anyone who acquires an interest that would result in him or her holding five per cent or more in a designated entity must notify MPA.

Second, MPA's approval must be given first before a person can acquire 25 per cent or more, or 50 per cent or more in a designated entity.

Third, the green light must also be sought from MPA for any disposal that results in a person's shareholding falling below 75 per cent or 50 per cent in a designated entity.

"Given the strategic interests at stake, it is important for the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore to have oversight on changes in substantive equity control in licensees that provide essential services at the port," Dr Lam said.

"The intent is not to control the day-to-day operations of these licensees, but rather to require MPA's approval to be sought for transactions in equity interest that would materially change the equity control of these licensees," he said.

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

Insurance body planning new guidelines on agent recruitment

Straits Times
25 Sep 2017
Lorna Tan

Rules will provide framework for firms hiring rival agents, curb mis-selling by new agents trying to meet sales targets

The Life Insurance Association Singapore (LIA) is reviewing policies around the recruitment of rival agents, and plans to issue new guidelines to its members in the near future.

The move comes after the shock migration of 300 or so Great Eastern (GE) agents - nearly 10 per cent of its agency size - to rival AIA's newly set up financial advisory arm, AIA Financial Advisers.

Sources said that one of the new LIA guidelines will specify the number of months during which migrated agents have to be accompanied by managers at their client meetings.

This will up the ante. Now, agents with more than two years' experience and with a gap of no more than 12 months from their previous appointment are typically exempted from this requirement.

Such rules will help address concerns about potential mis-selling or churning of policies by agents under pressure to meet sales targets at their new firms.

Meanwhile, GE, the latest casualty in the poaching battle, has set up a dedicated advice service to help customers unsettled by news that so many agents are jumping ship. Apart from a telephone hotline (6839-4565), clients can also e-mail inquiries to wecare-sg@ greateasternlife.com.

The firm told The Straits Times that affected policyholders will soon be advised about the new agents who will look after their insurance needs and the measures taken to protect their interests.

New agents will be assigned once a customer's current representative has served the notice period.

GE also advised that customers who want to change policies must note that switching plans could mean re-underwriting, which could bring premium increases, benefit exclusions or reduced coverage.

Industry observers said GE is the third-biggest insurer here in terms of agents with about 3,500, while AIA and Prudential are estimated to have 4,400 each.

Great Eastern Holdings group chief executive Khor Hock Seng said GE's business is "all about trust". He said: "Our priority at this time is to provide advice and guidance to help these policyholders make informed decisions and update them on measures taken, in particular the assignment of new representatives to look after their needs."

While agent poaching is part and parcel of the insurance scene here, financial experts do not view it as a positive practice. They feel it could result in mis-selling by cross-over agents under pressure to meet sales targets at new firms.

In the GE case, the AIA offer to the GE agents - believed to be an estimated $100 million - included sign-on bonuses and a five-year "bond" period during which the monetary incentives could be clawed back if sales quotas are not met.

Mr Khor said the mass poaching of its agents is "unhealthy for the industry". "It could be detrimental to customers' interests in the long term. We have expressed our concerns to the regulators and will continue to work with them to ensure that customers' interests are protected at all times.

"We will also proactively monitor for any irregular policy transactions and will report these to the regulators as required."

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said that large-scale movements of representatives from one institution to another could give rise to risks of improper switching of insurance policies and cause disruption to business operations.

Offering high sign-on bonuses and other financial incentives may also drive up costs in the industry.

It added: "LIA will be working on some parameters on movements of representatives and MAS will be monitoring developments closely."


PROTECTING CUSTOMERS

It could be detrimental to customers' interests in the long term. We have expressed our concerns to the regulators and will continue to work with them to ensure that customers' interests are protected at all times.

MR KHOR HOCK SENG, Great Eastern Holdings group chief executive , on the risks after the mass poaching of its agents.

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Aviva fined $6,000 for data breach

Straits Times
13 Oct 2017
Irene Tham

Insurer Aviva has been fined $6,000 for lapses that resulted in the inadvertent disclosure of a policyholder's insurance documents to the wrong person.

This is the second fine the insurance industry has attracted from the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) in two months.

The commission was alerted to the breach in November last year, after the complainant received another policyholder's letters in his mail.

The letters contained confidential information including the policyholder's name, address, policy type, Central Provident Fund account number, contact number, date of birth and employer. The name and date of birth, among other details, of the person's dependant were also disclosed.

After an investigation, PDPC found a "systemic problem" with the way Aviva sent follow-up letters to its policyholders.

The staff member assigned to process these letters was the only one checking the letters before mailing them out.

There were no additional checks following the processing, printing and sorting of documents to ensure that the right documents were sent to the intended recipients.

The absence of a second layer of basic checks "amounted to extremely weak internal work process controls (that) fell far short of the standard of protection required for such sensitive personal data", said PDPC deputy commissioner Yeong Zee Kin in a decision paper issued on Wednesday.

As such, Aviva was found to have breached the Personal Data Protection Act, which requires organisations to put in place adequate security measures to protect consumers' personal data.

Organisations flouting the Act, in force since July 2014, can be fined up to $1 million.

When contacted, an Aviva spokesman said: "We view customer data protection seriously. This was an isolated incident. We have since taken steps to ensure the process is more robust."

In August, a former financial consultant with Prudential Assurance was fined $1,000 for improperly disposing 12 policyholders' documents containing personal data such as names, NRIC numbers and insurance coverage details.

The former financial consultant had put the files in a plastic bag and simply dumped it at the second level of a multistorey carpark in Jurong West in October last year, thus subjecting the policyholders to data leaks.

In its advisory guidelines, PDPC had recommended that paper containing personal information be shredded into small pieces and not dumped in unsecured bins.

Similarly, personal data stored on electronic media such as computer hard disks, USB drives or DVDs must be erased using specialised software to avoid accidental data leaks.


The absence of a second layer of basic checks "amounted to extremely weak internal work process controls (that) fell far short of the standard of protection required for such sensitive personal data", said PDPC deputy commissioner Yeong Zee Kin in a decision paper issued on Wednesday.

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

Aviva Ltd [2017] SGPDPC 14

Editor's Note: The PDPC decision [2017] SGPDPC 14 is by Tan Kiat How and not Yeong Zee Kin.

Property tax law amended to boost Smart Nation move

Straits Times
03 Oct 2017
Chia Yan Min

Parliament yesterday passed changes to the law to allow more people to get property tax notices digitally. This is part of Singapore's move to becoming a Smart Nation, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah told MPs.

Existing regulations require taxpayers to explicitly consent before the Comptroller of Property Tax can issue them with digital tax notices instead of hardcopy notices.

Amendments to the Property Tax Act will allow digital notices to also be sent to taxpayers who did not opt out after being notified that they will get digital notices.

Amendments to the Income Tax Act were also passed yesterday.

One key change involves making it mandatory for businesses to maintain transfer pricing documentation with effect from the 2019 year of assessment. Transfer pricing documentation refers to records kept by businesses to show they have priced their transactions with related parties at the equivalent of what they would have transacted with unrelated parties in similar circumstances. This arm's length principle is an internationally accepted tax standard.

To limit the compliance burden for smaller businesses, this requirement will apply to businesses only if they have gross revenue exceeding $10 million and significant related-party transactions. This requirement is expected to apply to under 5 per cent of firms, many of which are already maintaining such records, Ms Indranee said.

Another change raises the maximum amount an employer can voluntarily contribute to his employee's Medisave account under the Additional Medisave Contribution Scheme. From Jan 1, 2018, the amount will be raised from $1,500 to $2,730 per year. Tax-exempt contributions and deductions will be adjusted accordingly.

Also passed were amendments to improve the administration of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act. The changes will see customer accounting extended to certain goods and services that have seen more GST fraud, such as mobile phones sold without mobile subscription plans, memory cards and off-the-shelf software.

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Tributes pour in for the late 'Lion of Criminal Bar'

Straits Times
25 Sep 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Lawyer Leo Fernando, once a police officer, was known for many prominent capital cases

Mighty oaks, it is said, from little acorns grow.

Thus it was of veteran lawyer Leo Fernando, who died on Sept 15 at the age of 85.

While tributes and accolades poured in for this Lion of the Criminal Bar at his funeral last week, the late Mr Fernando's legal practice of about 45 years would perhaps never have kicked off had he not survived the ordeal of a court case in which he was cleared.

Then a police officer, he faced a criminal complaint in 1959 for causing hurt to a fiery cab driver convicted of fighting with his passengers and attacking Inspector Fernando, who had arrived at the scene.

The case against him went all the way to the Court of Appeal, where the Chief Justice, Sir Alan Rose, acquitted him of the allegation.

"What can be said is that if (his lawyer) Karthigesu had not persuaded Chief Justice Rose all those years ago that the then Inspector Fernando was not guilty of assault, the Criminal Bar would have lost a great defender," recounted senior lawyer Niru Pillai, in a biography on the life and legacy of Judge of Appeal M. Karthigesu, that is due to be published. Mr Niru believed the acquittal sparked the fire in Mr Fernando to become a lawyer.

"He had seen the law as a policeman. He had seen it as an accused. He had seen justice in action when he was acquitted on what must have been to him an unfair charge. He decided to pursue law," said Mr Niru.

At age 32, and a father of six children, Mr Fernando left for London to read law. He began practice as a criminal lawyer in 1967 and started his own firm 10 years later.

Mr Niru, 65, who used to consult Mr Fernando and refer criminal cases to him in the 1980s, said: "I had tremendous respect for him and his character reminded me of a lionhearted man whose motto was 'Never fear, just do your best'. He came across not only as a good lawyer but also a good human being."

Mr Fernando's record spoke for itself. His prominent capital cases included one in which he teamed up with Mr David Marshall, who became Singapore's first chief minister, to convince the Court of Appeal to set aside the murder conviction of Ong Kiang Kek in 1970. Ong had been sentenced to the gallows for having shot to death a motorcyclist. But there had been three others with him in the car and the court held that the evidence was not sufficient to support the conviction.

In 1985, he defended a 21-year-old robber originally facing triple murder charges following an armed robbery in Andrew Road, but had the charge reduced to armed robbery after it emerged that he helped a tutor and child escape from his accomplice and was not involved in the killings but had intended only to rob.

Mr Fernando's son, Mr Peter Fernando, also a lawyer, recalled that in the first decade of his father's practice, he obtained about 20 consecutive successes in defending clients against criminal charges.

In 1988, he defended a criminal law detainee charged with murdering a fellow inmate at Changi's medium-security prison and his efforts saw the charge reduced to manslaughter.

Senior lawyer Naresh Mahtani, in a tribute in the May issue of the Law Society's Law Gazette to Mr Fernando - his first mentor in legal practice - listed three lessons from his mentor among the many which have stood him "in good stead" during his legal career: "the importance of courage; being well-prepared in the interesting little details of every case; and maintaining a sense of humour (which is essential for surviving in the often challenging and sombre world of legal disputes)".

Mr Fernando, who died in hospital of a heart attack, is survived by his 85-year-old wife, seven children and 16 grandchildren.

At the funeral service last week at the Church of St Mary of the Angels, his grandson Ryan Yuen, 29, shared an indelible memory with the congregation.

He said: "I remember walking with my granddad as a kid... He once passed a barefoot beggar and he looked at his own feet and shook his head, and then gave him some money and we walked away.

"Later, I asked him about it and he said his shoes were too small for the beggar or he would have given him his shoes.

"I said the shoes were expensive leather shoes and he replied: 'The greater you become, the more humble you should be.'"

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Uber used legally questionable software to monitor Grab and other rivals: Report

TODAY
13 Oct 2017
Kenneth Cheng

SINGAPORE — United States ride-sharing giant Uber has been accused of developing and using a legally questionable software to spy on Grab and other rivals in key regional markets, including the Republic.

The programme, called Surfcam, had prompted at least one member of Uber’s legal team to ask whether it could be legally operated in Singapore as “(the software) may run afoul of Grab’s terms of service or the country’s strict computer-crime laws”, the Bloomberg news agency reported on Wednesday (Oct 11).

Uber’s Singapore office declined to comment when approached. TODAY has sent queries to the Singapore authorities on the matter.

Grab said in response to queries from TODAY that it was aware of the matter, and that Uber’s alleged practices had not “impacted Grab’s dominance in ride-hailing”.

 “We have full confidence in the capabilities of law-enforcement agencies to investigate these allegations,” Grab’s spokesperson said. “We believe in being responsible corporate citizens and believe companies should be held accountable by the Government and public for their corporate behaviour.”

According to Bloomberg, Uber’s staff in Sydney created the Surfcam software in 2015. The programme worked by obtaining data from competitors — chiefly Grab — to find out the number of drivers on their networks, in real time, as well as their locations.

Surfcam’s creator was based in Singapore at one point, and later moved to Amsterdam, where Uber’s Europe headquarters are located, the report said.

A tool similar to Surfcam, codenamed Hell, had been deployed in the US to give Uber insights into the locations of the drivers for Lyft, another rival. The authorities in the US are reportedly investigating the programme.

News about Surfcam is the latest in a string of critical reports on Uber’s business practices, and comes amid a US federal investigation into whether the company had contravened laws against overseas bribery.

Last month, Bloomberg reported that Uber had launched a review of its operations in Asia and had informed US officials of payments made by its employees in Indonesia.

Uber is reportedly working with a law firm to pore over records of foreign payments and interview employees.

The focus is on suspicious activity in at least five countries in the region — China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.

Uber’s Singapore operations are not believed to be under scrutiny, with experts interviewed by TODAY earlier pointing to Singapore’s low tolerance for corruption and the absence of indications of unlawful transactions here.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Decrypting the past, regulating the future

Business Times
03 Oct 2017
Stephen Banfeld

For investments in cryptocurrencies, the trend towards government intervention will better protect investors

INTEREST in cryptocurrencies is running at an all-time high at the moment. Investors with a healthy risk appetite are attracted to the large returns which can be made, while many governments and businesses are starting to seriously consider the far-reaching implications of the underlying technology.

At the heart of most cryptocurrencies is a publicly accessible, distributed ledger called a blockchain. This comprises a series of blocks which record transactions between different cryptographic addresses. Transactions are processed by "miners" who deploy computing processing power in exchange for a reward. While all transactions on the blockchain can be inspected by anyone, there is no way to know who holds private keys to which addresses.

The combination of anonymity and decentralisation has historically given cryptocurrencies an anti-establishment mystique. Bitcoin, the frst decentralised cryptocurrency, has been heavily criticised as the transactional medium of choice for organised crime. The now defunct New Silk Road is a prime example of this.

It is clear that cryptocurrencies have now evolved beyond the fringes and their mainstream potential is immense. Within the fnancial services sector, cryptocurrencies offer the promise of increased speed and accuracy in payment processing; greater access for the unbanked; and a detachment from centralised monetary policy. The immutable nature of the blockchain offers almost limitless uses in other parts of the global economy. This includes the development of self-executing smart contracts and zero trust transactions which rely upon information contained in the blockchain.

The rising popularity of cryptocurrencies is evidenced by the rapid increase in initial coin offerings (ICOs). This is a funding structure whereby a new blockchain venture issues its own token to investors as opposed to traditional shares or debt. The economic motivation for investors participating in an ICO is different from the purchase of debt or equity in a new venture. Investors will only realise an economic return if there is demand for the token itself, which can come in the form of fevered speculation or a real-world business case. The most common business use for a token is that it is "fuel" for executing transactions on a blockchain.

Up until recently, the general position has been that a cryptocurrency is not a "security" for securities law purposes. This is particularly true for utility tokens which provide a network usage right, as compared to those which enable a share in the profts of the coin issuer. ICOs have to date been conducted with comparatively light informational disclosures and none of the investor protection mechanisms which are common for a standard IPO or debt issue. The US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Monetary Authority of Singapore have both, however, recently stated that the issue of a token may come within existing securities laws. Chinese regulators have also indicated an intention to regulate ICOs.

Regulatory and tax issues

The trend towards government intervention is an investor protection response. There are many risks and information asymmetries for an investor participating in an ICO. It is common for sponsors to pre-mine a signifcant amount of the tokens which are issued and retain these as part of their incentive. There is no law stopping the sponsor of an ICO embarking on a pump-and-dump once the token is listed on a public cryptocurrency exchange. There is also potential for price manipulation and trading on asymmetric information in a manner which would be considered insider trading if the tokens were securities.

In the immediate wake of the statements made by the US, Singapore and China authorities, issuers are now starting to exclude investors from these jurisdictions participating in an ICO. There are a number of methods which are used. These include the creation of investor white-lists (some of which require proof of identifcation documentation) and geoblocking participants from these countries during the ICO itself. Issuers are also changing the features of their tokens so that they are less likely to be considered securities. Many of the large cryptocurrency exchanges are based in the US and they will not list a token for trading if in their view it is a security. An inability to list on major cryptocurrency exchanges hampers liquidity and consequently the price of the token itself.

There are a signifcant number of tax issues for cryptocurrency investors. The most obvious question is whether trading gains are income or capital. This is an important distinction as the rules of many tax regimes apply a more concessional treatment to capital gains. A related question is the place where any trading gains are to be taxed. Is it the place where an individual issues trading instructions or is it the country in which a cryptocurrency exchange is based? There can be an overlapping of the taxation systems of two jurisdictions where a different nexus test is applied. In these circumstances, it may be necessary to apply the provisions of a double taxation agreement to avoid double taxation.

In addition to the taxation of trading gains, there are a multitude of other less obvious tax issues. These include the taxation of tokens which are given away by the issuer or "air-dropped" and any rewards obtained for token staking or lending. The estate tax position of a cryptocurrency held through an exchange is unclear – the decentralised nature of cryptocurrencies means that it is diffcult to identify a jurisdictional nexus for estate tax purposes. Businesses accepting cryptocurrencies as a form of payment can face a unique issue of double taxation in a value-added tax context.

For investors, the exchange of information is perhaps the most signifcant tax related issue which is yet to be adequately addressed. Countries the world over have signed up to a programme of international information exchange developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) called the common reporting standard. This results in the automatic exchange of detailed and specifc information about the holders of fnancial accounts to the jurisdiction of their tax residency. It is not yet clear whether a trading account held with a cryptocurrency exchange which does not accept transfers of fat currency, would be taken to be a fnancial account for these purposes.

Cryptocurrencies have seen a meteoric rise this year. Investor interest and sophistication are growing in this space notwithstanding the considerable investment risks. For both issuers and investors alike, it is important to remain up to date on the regulatory and tax developments as they unfold. W

Stephen Banfeld is Special Counsel, Withers KhattarWong

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160 pro bono hours and (not) counting

Straits Times
25 Sep 2017
Amelia Teng

A year ago, law student Shaun Lim signed up as a volunteer at the State Courts to meet a pro bono work requirement. But he enjoyed it so much, he ended up spending a lot more time volunteering than required and even won an award for his commitment.

The 24-year-old law student received the Outstanding Court Volunteer Award in the student category earlier this month for volunteering to help people navigate processes at the State Courts.

There were four other winners across the Supreme Court, the State Courts and the Family Justice Courts.

Mr Lim made 68 trips to the State Courts from June last year to April this year, and spent 160 hours there as a volunteer.

He stopped counting the hours in April, but still returns to help train younger law students.

So it is somewhat of an irony that in March last year, Mr Lim was looking for a quick way to fulfil the requirement of 20 pro bono hours that National University of Singapore (NUS) law students need to complete in their second year.

He had been occupied with two mooting competitions, and needed to complete 16 hours of pro bono work within two months, by the end of his second year in school.

He spoke to Associate Professor Lim Lei Theng, who co-heads the NUS Pro Bono Office.

To help him, she roped him in for a new project for student volunteers to help litigants-in-person - those who are self-represented - in harassment cases and community disputes.

Mr Lim spent about 16 hours in April and May going through the Protection from Harassment Act and the Community Disputes Resolution Act, condensing them into a handbook, and compiling forms that court users would need.

His effort led to the start of the Student Representatives Programme, a State Courts initiative in partnership with the NUS Pro Bono Office.

A State Courts spokesman said it started the programme "with the aim of enhancing access to justice".

She said that while there are avenues for people to find out about court processes, many still have trouble following through with their applications due to unfamiliarity with legal procedures and the need to clearly and accurately draft their claims.

Under the programme, which began in June last year, law students are stationed at the State Courts to help the public understand processes like filing claims and applying for court orders.

Students receive training from the State Courts and are guided by senior court administrators. They also have the chance to sit in on court hearings and interact with judges to learn about the application of law.

"This was not a regular opportunity. Most pro bono projects offered to students are ready-to-go... you're just a glorified clerk," said Mr Lim, who spent a few months last year on duty at the State Courts during the holidays and school term.

"It's a meaningful way for law students to deploy their skills. You get to practise legal drafting and see how an argument flows. You have to understand the law before explaining it to people."

Pro bono work like this is important as it "keeps law students grounded in reality and gets them invested in the legal system", instead of just learning about law from an ivory-tower perspective, he said.

"At the end of the day, law affects people," said Mr Lim, whose mother is a bank manager and father is a sales manager. He is an only child.

To date, 55 students have been part of the Student Representatives Programme, which has helped nearly 300 people with queries about court procedures. The students have also assisted with more than 30 court filings.

This year, Mr Lim went back to the State Courts to help train his juniors in the programme.

"I want the programme to flourish because it's a valuable service to the public and it benefits everyone involved," he said. "If it can continue and expand after I graduate, all the better."

Prof Lim said: "As part of the first batch of volunteers, Shaun stood out as the most proactive and thinking volunteer, pointing out areas where I needed to beef up the training and materials."

Besides receiving the award from the State Courts, Mr Lim was also given the Pro Bono Leadership Award from NUS in March.

He said: "I happened to find the right project to give my energy to. I was just doing my duty."


20

Number of pro bono hours required of second-year law students at NUS.

160

Number of hours Mr Shaun Lim clocked between June last year and April this year.

68

Number of trips he has made to the courts during that period.

300

Number of people the Student Representatives Programme has helped so far.


OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN

It's a meaningful way for law students to deploy their skills. You get to practise legal drafting and see how an argument flows. You have to understand the law before explaining it to people.

MR SHAUN LIM, an NUS law student, on volunteering for pro bono work at the State Courts.

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Consumers protected when financial advisers switch firms: Forum

Straits Times
13 Oct 2017

The recent news about the movement of financial advisers within the life insurance industry has been of interest to many.

The Life Insurance Association, Singapore (LIA Singapore) would like to assure policyholders and consumers that their interests are well protected.

There are guidelines in place to safeguard their interests should financial advisers choose to move to another firm.

If an adviser leaves, the insurer assigns another adviser to look after the policyholder, who is notified of the change.

Activities of the migrated adviser are closely monitored by the former firm and new firm, to detect and manage any replacements of policies without a proper basis.

Further, all financial advisers are subject to the Balanced Scorecard regulatory framework.

Improper advisories carried out can be picked up during such quarterly audits. A financial penalty will apply to advisers with poor grades.

The LIA, in consultation with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, is working to strengthen the guidelines on recruitment practices.

Pauline Lim (Ms)

Executive Director

Life Insurance Association Singapore (LIA Singapore)

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New law to shield buildings, key installations from attacks

Straits Times
03 Oct 2017
Danson Cheong

Regulatory framework to ensure security of strategic infrastructure

Owners of strategic buildings will be required to work enhanced security measures, like high-tech video surveillance, into the design of their property, under a new law passed by Parliament yesterday.

The Infrastructure Protection Bill, which establishes a "clear regulatory framework" for shieldingsuch buildings, is part of Singapore's comprehensive strategy to fight terror.

The new law comes at a time when the terror threat in Singapore is at its highest level, and attacks elsewhere show iconic landmarks and government buildings are prime terrorist targets.

Their aim is to make a statement by attaining maximum casualties, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said when she presented the proposed changes for parliamentary debate.

"Their aim is to create fear and upend our way of life in the ideological battle between their and our values," she added.

She cited the vehicle-ramming attacks in Spain in August that killed 16 people, noting the terrorists behind them had also planned to bomb iconic buildings in Barcelona.

She also pointed to the Marriott Hotel bombing in Pakistan in 2008. A truck carrying a bomb was stopped by a security barrier 40m away from the hotel, and this "blunted the attack".

Such incidents testify to the importance of ensuring there is adequate protection for infrastructure in Singapore, she added.

Last year, militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria planned an attack on integrated resort Marina Bay Sands from Batam, but the plot was foiled by Indonesian security agencies.

Under the new law,the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) can designate new buildings as "special developments", and existing buildings as "special infrastructure".

Their owners will have to put them through a "security-by-design" process, which means they have to integrate security into their designs before they are built or renovated.

The security plans have to get the nod from the new Commissioner of Infrastructure Protection, a position that will be filled by an MHA senior civil servant.

The designated buildings will include those that provide essential services, have heavy human traffic, or iconic or symbolic significance.

They must be located in certain planning areas, classified for commercial, community or mixed use, and their gross floor area must exceed 100,000 sq m.

Mrs Teo assured the House that only a handful of new developments would be affected each year.

The criteria for such developments will be published in the Government Gazette soon.

The ministry will also be updating existing guidelines for building security, in line with the new rules.

Mrs Teo said the commissioner has the power to issue directives for building owners to install security measures to mitigate the risk of an attack. This could include improving closed-circuit TV camera coverage or installing vehicle barriers.

These directives will be a "last resort", she added.

Yet another new measure involves giving security personnel at sensitive installations - such as military camps and immigration checkpoints - powers to deal with threats in their vicinity. These include the power to question suspicious persons and inspect their belongings, and to require them to leave the area.

It will also be illegal to take photos or videos of these installations without permission, a move to prevent surveillance by terrorists.

Security personnel can examine the footage and have it deleted.

The Bill was supported by all eight MPs who spoke on it. They included Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC).

Their chief concerns were whether the new measures would increase costs for building owners, and whether security officers would receive adequate training.

Mrs Teo said security officers who guard protected areas and places now have to attend a counter-terrorism course, and plans are afoot to make it a licensing requirement for more officers.

Addressing the cost issue, she said that in earlier buildings designed with security, the cost of security measures ranged between 0.2 per cent and 3 per cent of construction costs.

"Given that MHA will try to make known as early as possible which buildings need to undergo security-by-design, developers will likely factor in the cost of security measures in their bid price for the land," said Mrs Teo.


The new law comes at a time when the terror threat in Singapore is at its highest level, and attacks elsewhere show iconic landmarks and government buildings are prime terrorist targets.


Changes at a glance

Key infrastructure must factor security into design:

• The security plans must be approved by the Commissioner of Infrastructure Protection before construction or renovation.

• Owners who start construction without an approved security plan can be fined up to $200,000, jailed for up to two years, or given both punishments. The commissioner can issue directives to building owners to put in place measures such as vehicle barriers or better CCTV coverage.

• Owners of designated buildings who fail to comply can be fined up to $100,000, jailed for up to two years, or both.

• Owners of non-designated buildings can be fined up to $50,000, jailed for up to two years, or both.

Security officers of protected areas and places such as army camps and immigration checkpoints will get more powers:

• They can ask for identification, inspect belongings, direct a person to leave, and order a person to stop taking pictures of the place and delete the photographs.

• Those who refuse can be fined up to $20,000, jailed for up to two years, or both.

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

When insurance agents jump ship, clients may suffer

Straits Times
24 Sep 2017
Lorna Tan

Crossover agents may illegally access their previous clients' data or mis-sell policies to meet targets

In recent weeks, the sudden mass exodus of about 300 agents from Great Eastern's agency unit Advisors Alliance Group, to new kid on the block AIA Financial Advisers, has created a buzz in the insurance sector.

While poaching of rival agents is not new, the recent mass resignations at GE have overshadowed earlier recruitment exercises by a number of crossover agents and a mind-blowing $100 million offer that AIA was said to have dangled to the GE agents.

It exceeded last year's mass resignation of 250 agents at Prudential Singapore's agency unit - Peter Tan Organisation - to join rival insurer Aviva. The latest episode is likely the biggest one-off act of poaching seen in the insurance sector here.

The mass resignation has also caught the attention of the regulator and the man in the street who are concerned about the risk of mis-selling by departing agents to meet sales targets at the new firm.

The Sunday Times takes a closer look at the impact of poaching and what customers should know to protect their interests.

Why poach rival agents

The practice of poaching agents has been around for several years as insurers race to drive growth by expanding their agency forces amid intense rivalry.

It typically involves insurers and financial advisory firms trying to outbid one another in wooing top performers and their teams by offering better and more tempting sign-on deals with upfront lump-sum payments and bonuses.

Those who practise this style of large-scale recruiting believe it is a faster and more effective way to hire experienced agents without having to spend money and many hours training them.

"The company which acquired the rival agents via poaching instantly has a pool of experienced agents with high motivation to perform, thus increasing its revenue and shareholder value," said Mr Roland Yeo, president of the Insurance and Financial Practitioners Association of Singapore (Ifpas).

He pointed out that when a company buys over insurance agents or even entire agency units (within an insurer), the valuation of such acquisitions should be based on the competency of the sales force alone, without the client base this sales force would have built up over the years.

"This is because the client base remains the asset of the original company, not the agents, because the rights to the personal data belong to the company, not agents," he said.

The crossover agents would have to build the business from scratch again, but faced with the pressure of meeting the targets tied to the attractive packages, problems like infringing the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) by accessing their previous clients' data, mis-selling or churning could arise, added Mr Yeo.

Churning happens when customers surrender their policies - to their detriment - and the proceeds are used to buy new plans from the agents' new employer.

Impact of poaching rival agents

POTENTIAL MIS-SELLING OF POLICIES

Financial experts worry that poaching may result in potential mis-selling and churning/switching by agents under pressure from their new outfit to meet sales targets. In this particular case, AIA's offer to departing GE agents included sign-on bonuses and a five-year "bond" period during which the monetary incentives could be clawed back if sales quotas are not met.

Insurers may also increase premiums or reduce cash values to recoup the costs related to such poaching activities - and consumers will get the short end of the stick.

Mr Christopher Tan, chief executive of Providend, said: "For exiting agents, because they have been paid a huge payout package which usually comes with conditions such as meeting sales targets, there is always a potential risk of getting existing clients to switch out of their old policies in exchange for new policies now sold by the exiting agents.

"Of course, whether this will actually happen depends on individual agents but such a risk is present."

Ifpas' Mr Yeo said: "Poached agents in the new company have to find new sales to keep their packages. Faced with the risk of losing their compensation, they could fall prey to (the temptation to engage in) mis-selling and churning."

Mr Tan Chuan How, chief executive of AIA Financial Advisers, said it has put measures in place to protect its customers, including ensuring that its representatives sell policies which meet the customers' individual needs.

Its agents are evaluated and subsequently paid based on criteria set in its balanced scorecard assessment, in which AIA looks at both their sales performance as well as the quality of financial advice and service rendered to customers.

AIA also strongly advocates a full financial review of a customer's financial position before recommending suitable financial products to meet the customer's needs, AIA's Mr Tan added.

In the aftermath of the resignation of the 300 or so GE agents, the Monetary Authority of Singapore issued a statement to say it recognises that large-scale movements of representatives from one financial institution to another could give rise to risks of improper switching of insurance policies and cause disruption to business operations.

The offering of high sign-on bonuses and other financial incentives may also drive up costs in the industry, it warned.

"Representatives must ensure that their product recommendations are suitable, given their customers' needs, risk profile and financial circumstances. In addition, financial incentives offered by an insurer to recruit existing representatives from another firm to join the insurer or its related financial advisory firm, cannot be charged to the insurance funds. If the insurer disburses financial incentives, the amount must be borne by the insurer's shareholders," MAS added.

HEALTH AND LIFE INSURANCE POLICIES

Industry observers say that the first policies that are likely to be "churned/switched" are the term life, health and accident plans, as these do not have cash values.

Be on the alert when you are asked to surrender your hospitalisation and healthcare plans, and buy new ones from another insurer. It is prudent to find out if you have any pre-existing conditions, and check if such switching is to your detriment or your benefit.

There have been policyholders who were persuaded to switch their policies only to find themselves out of cover as the next insurer declined their cover due to pre-existing medical conditions.

Generally, buying a life insurance policy is a long-term commitment. Do note that if you surrender or terminate your policy before its maturity, you may incur penalties for early termination. This is because there are high costs involved in early surrender of policies.

If you own a life insurance policy with cash values, ask for the updated guaranteed and non-guaranteed surrender values so as to ensure you do not suffer any loss.

ORPHAN POLICIES

When large numbers of agents leave en masse, a huge number of policies will be left "orphaned" (without servicing agents) in their wake.

"A large number of clients will be left in the lurch, and agents in the original company will face increased workload servicing these clients with or without compensation," said Mr Yeo.

Providend's Mr Tan said that theoretically, new agents will be assigned to take over and service the affected clients.

"However, the practical truth is that because the new agents do not have a relationship with these clients and also might not be compensated for these policies sold, these clients might be of a lower priority to them.

"Theoretically, if the new agents serve these 'orphan' clients well, they might get new businesses from these clients. Practically, most of these clients will still maintain the relationship with exited agents and might continue to buy from the exited agents. As such, the new agents might not have the interest to invest in the relationship," he said.

POTENTIAL BENEFITS FROM WIDER PRODUCT RANGE

On a positive note, Providend's Mr Tan said that departing agents may move to a firm which offers a wider product range. If that happens, they would be able to provide a more comprehensive service to customers.

KNOW WHAT FA FIRMS OFFER

Not all customers are savvy enough to distinguish which financial advisory (FA) firm offers a wider range of products and which firms can really claim to be "independent", said Mr David Choo, managing director of PromiseLand Independent.

Over the years, the lines have blurred between the independent financial advisory firms and the tied agencies of the life insurers who only distribute the products of their principals.

Mr Choo said: "Unfortunately, the FA channel today is a motley group of firms wearing the same FA clothes but, in reality, are quite different entities.

"Given this motley group, how will potential clients be able to tell who they are really dealing with or what the standards of care and unbiased and fair advice and recommendation of products are for each of these entities?"

Mr Choo noted that there are four types of FA firms.

• The truly independent FA firm with no obligation to any life insurer, and able to provide fair and objective advice, and unbiased selection of products.

• The licensed FA firm that does not claim to be independent or is silent on it in its publicity and marketing promotions.

• The FA firm which is majority or wholly owned by a life insurer - where the representatives can distribute only the insurer's products but are free to distribute investment products of many fund managers.

• The FA firm which is majority or wholly owned by a life insurer - where the representatives are allowed to distribute the products of a number of insurers, and the investment products of the many fund managers, but with subtle or not so subtle pressure or incentives to promote the products of its principal.

As such, Mr Choo advises customers to be more discerning and seek more disclosure of who they are dealing with, and know their rights vis-a-vis the respective distributor or adviser.

"Do clients know that contractually, agents represent their principals (the life insurers), licensed advisers represent the interest of their clients, and bank staff represent the interests of their employers?

"Wouldn't it be better if we just have tied agents and independent financial advisers like most countries, instead of the confusion that we see today?" he asked.


Know the safeguards protecting consumers

Financial experts advise customers to be aware of the rules and best practices that have been put in place to protect their interests.

For instance, the Financial Advisers Act and Insurance Act regulate financial institutions and their representatives.

They provide safeguards to consumers on investment products or accident and health policies sold to them.

Financial institutions are required to have robust controls to guard against improper conduct of representatives, such as unnecessary churning or switching of policies. Here are some things to look out for.

ASSESSING PRODUCT SUITABILITY

Representatives must have a reasonable basis for any recommendation made with respect to any investment, life insurance product as well as accident and health policies. This means that they must understand and analyse the customer's objectives, financial situation and particular needs, before making a recommendation that suits the customer's needs and circumstances.

So if an agent recommends a product, it is prudent to ask what is his basis for doing so.

Firms have to put in place systems and processes to effectively detect and minimise improper switching. This includes putting in place procedures to ensure that each switch recommended by a representative is reviewed by a supervisor for appropriateness, and to track the volume of switches to identify representatives with an unusually high volume of switching transactions.

Great Eastern (GE) advised consumers to be aware that switching policies - terminating a policy in order to use the funds to buy a similar plan - could mean that they may need to undergo re-underwriting which may result in premium increases, benefit exclusions or a reduction in their coverage.

A Prudential spokesman said: "As part of our policy, we require our financial consultants to always ascertain if the product purchased by their customers is intended to replace another product.

"They must also disclose the detriments of a switch to their customers and document the reasons for the switch as part of the consultation and sales process."

INFORMATION DISCLOSURE

Representatives must disclose to customers material information on a product, in particular, the potential risks and benefits, and all applicable fees and charges.

BOARD AND SENIOR MANAGEMENT - FAIR DEALING

The board and senior management should review the policies, systems and processes to ensure that its market and business conduct practices achieve the fair dealing outcomes set out in the guidelines.

One such guideline is that customers receive clear, relevant and timely information to make informed financial decisions.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore also holds the board and senior management to account for setting the culture and direction to align business practices with fair dealing outcomes.

FITNESS AND PROPRIETY OF REPRESENTATIVES

Firms should have in place recruitment policies and internal controls to ensure that they recruit and retain only representatives who are competent, honest and have integrity, among other criteria. This includes conducting rigorous and independent due diligence checks on their representatives' past records.

NON-SALES KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS

Under the Balanced Scorecard Framework, representatives (and their supervisors) will need to meet key performance indicators (KPIs) that are not related to sales, such as providing suitable product recommendations and making proper disclosure of material information to customers.

An independent sales audit unit will perform post-transaction checks on a sample of transactions to review the quality of financial advisory services provided by the representatives.

Financial institutions and financial advisory firms have to claw back a portion of a representative's variable income if the representative fails to meet the KPIs, such as not conducting a sufficient fact-find or recommending an unsuitable investment product to a customer.

NON-SOLICITATION OF POLICYHOLDERS

To avoid mis-selling to customers, most insurance agency agreements contain strict clauses to protect the interests of policyholders.

For instance, at GE, the agency agreement's clause stated that within two years of the termination of the agreement, the agent is not permitted "to solicit or induce, whether directly or indirectly, any policyholder of the company to cancel, amend or reduce the benefits payable under any policy, supplementary contract or endorsement".

In addition, insurers typically impose personal data governance which strictly prohibits departing representatives from using the data for solicitation purposes.

Lorna Tan

• The next CPF Retirement Planning Roadshow will be held from Sept 30 to Oct 1 at Canopy @J Link mall in Jurong. Discover how you can plan for a better retirement through a range of interactive exhibits and fun activities, such as the augmented reality experience booth.

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

ADV: Handling matters across multiple jurisdictions?

Singapore Law Watch
13 Oct 2017
Thomson Reuters

Doctors need guidelines for tribunal penalties

Straits Times
03 Oct 2017
Salma Khalik

Given the varying degrees of penalties meted out to erring doctors, the Singapore Medical Council should develop guidelines on penalties

How serious must a wrongdoing be for a doctor to be fined, suspended, or struck off the register so he can no longer practise?

These are the questions that every disciplinary tribunal (DT) set up by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), the medical professional watchdog, has to decide when they find a doctor guilty.

Yet, there are no guidelines to help. The only aid is to look at penalties imposed by DTs in the past.

A recent DT has found this unsatisfactory and has asked the SMC to come up with guidelines on penalties.

Frankly, such guidelines are long overdue. Doctors are not judges, and although they rightly sit in judgment over their peers who have erred, adjudicating over such matters is not their area of expertise.

Clear and transparent guidelines would be of great help, not just to the DTs but to the entire profession who would know, from the penalties, how severely certain actions are deemed.

Hopefully, the SMC will heed this call. When asked, its spokesman said that it "noted the disciplinary tribunal's recommendation to SMC on formulating a set of sentencing guidelines". It added: "Prior to the DT's recommendation, the SMC has been discussing and reviewing this matter."

The faster this can be done, the better.

When a complaint is made to the SMC against a doctor, it is assessed by a complaints committee that decides whether to pursue the case with a disciplinary hearing or to drop it, sometimes with a letter of advice or warning to the doctor.

Should the case merit a hearing, a DT is set up to hear it . Both the SMC as prosecutor and the doctor who is the defendant are usually represented by lawyers.

If the DT finds the doctor guilty, it decides on the penalty, which can range from a censure to fines of up to $100,000, suspension of three months to three years, or even taking the doctor off the register, which means he can no longer practise medicine.

The DT looks at previous punishments meted out to decide on the penalty to impose. There is no guide to say what penalties are to be imposed for different wrongdoings.

So a sympathetic DT will likely impose less severe penalties than one that is stricter.

Those who follow cases heard by DTs may think that the penalties imposed are sometimes decided on the whims of the people involved, as they have seesawed from the extremely lax to the highly severe.

A doctor who badly damaged a patient's hand by giving him a drug he had already said he was allergic to, then didn't tell him about the mistake and continued with the treatment, and then falsified his records to protect himself, was let off with a fine of $10,000.

Another doctor, who started a caesarean section before sedation took effect, was suspended for nine months (reduced to five months on appeal to the High Court) and fined $10,000. Records were also falsified in this case.

In both cases, there was harm to the patient and dishonesty in falsifying the records. One tribunal was satisfied with a $10,000 fine, while the other added a nine-month suspension on top of the fine.

Was one too lenient or the other too strict?

It is difficult to say because there is no yardstick to measure these penalties against - unless it involves cases that have landed in the Supreme Court where professional judges decide on the correct penalty.

Now, you can't really fault the DTs. They are, after all, doctors who are not trained in such judgment.

And to make matters worse, as pointed out by the tribunal that recently made a call for proper guidelines, they get little help in deciding on the appropriate sentence.

That tribunal comprised Professor Walter Tan, a plastic surgeon in private practice; Dr Arthur Tan Chin Lock, a general practitioner; and Mr Bala Reddy, a legal service officer.

In that hearing, the SMC's legal counsel had asked the tribunal to suspend the doctor for three to four months for not immediately referring a patient to a specialist.

The doctor's lawyer, on the other hand, suggested that a $15,000 fine would be sufficient, as the doctor had every intention of making such a referral if the patient's condition had worsened, and had not gained financially from his actions.

There was no question of what had occurred and the doctor had pleaded guilty. The only question was what was the penalty he merited.

The tribunal asked the SMC's counsel about the factors that should be taken into account before imposing a suspension. They got little help there, as the reply was essentially: "There is no bright line as to when the suspension threshold is crossed."

This tribunal appears to have done painstaking research into previous cases before deciding on a $30,000 fine for the doctor.

But they bemoaned the "lack of guidance in Singapore as regard the sentencing of doctors in disciplinary proceedings".

They then urged the SMC to formulate guidelines on appropriate penalties. Their argument is cogent.

They said: " Different sanctions (for example, removal from the register, suspension, fine, censure) have different consequences on the public and on the medical practitioner.

"It is therefore important for there to be guidance based on case precedents and policy considerations so that medical practitioners may be aware of the severity of their misconduct.

"This will also ensure that sentences meted out by the DTs and courts are consistent with how the medical profession perceives instances of professional misconduct."

That the profession does not see eye to eye with some of the findings and penalties meted out by DTs can be seen in the recent petition to the SMC by more than 1,000 doctors. They had felt that the penalty handed down to a doctor was too harsh.

Something is wrong if so many doctors find that the medical watchdog body's judgment is too strict: either the body was indeed too harsh, or the doctors' assessment of wrongdoing was too lenient.

Setting up guidelines will help not just tribunals deciding on penalties, but also practising doctors who will know clearly what is considered acceptable behaviour and what isn't. It will differentiate slight infractions from serious mistakes.

These guidelines should not be set up by the SMC alone, but must be done in conjunction with the doctors themselves, so that there is a consensus on what is acceptable behaviour.

And the guidelines should be just that and not cast in stone, as every case may be different, with its own unique features. But the tribunal in judgment would need to make a case if it wants to deviate from the guidelines.

The SMC is not alone in the way it polices members of its profession. The Law Society does the same for lawyers. Both are professional bodies that sit in judgment of their peers when there is suspected wrongdoing. Both depend on precedents to determine penalties.

But it could be argued that lawyers are trained in this field, whereas doctors are not.

The tribunal noted that the medical watchdog in Britain has set out guidelines, and provided the rationale behind each sanction, and the broad factors which may lead to the imposition of each sanction.

Such clarity and transparency should remove the fear some doctors have that they might be so unlucky as to get a "hanging judge" who will impose a more severe punishment than is merited, and be assured that their cases would be dealt with fairly.

Disciplinary hearings, unlike normal court hearings, are carried out behind closed doors. Having a guide on the punishment for different levels of wrongdoing would align the penalties imposed by different DTs. This way, a more even-handed system of justice can prevail.

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

Strict rules in place to protect consumers of financial institutions: Forum

Straits Times
23 Sep 2017

We thank Mr Francis Cheng for his letter (Clients risk losing out when agents are poached; Sept 18).

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) recognises that such mass movements of representatives could pose risks to consumers.

There are regulations and guidelines requiring financial institutions to have robust controls to safeguard the interests of consumers in their provision of financial advisory services.

Financial institutions and their representatives must ensure that the investment products and insurance policies they recommend are suitable, taking into account their customers' needs, financial situations and personal circumstances.

They are prohibited from recommending a switch from one investment product or insurance policy to another in a manner that is detrimental to the customer.

Financial institutions are also required to put in place systems and processes to identify any unusual trends in switching transactions.

They must have procedures to ensure that each switch recommended by a representative is reviewed by a supervisor for appropriateness.

The financial institutions must also implement systems to identify representatives with unusually high volumes of switching transactions, so that they can take appropriate action.

The MAS recognises that consumers may have concerns about the servicing of their insurance policies when their representatives move to another financial institution.

In this regard, the MAS expects financial institutions to reach out to their affected customers and assign new representatives to service these customers promptly. Financial institutions also have dedicated customer hotlines and service centres to address customers' queries.

The MAS is looking into the recent mass movement of representatives between financial institutions and is in discussions with them on the measures they are implementing to protect the interests of their customers.

We will not hesitate to take action where financial institutions or their representatives are found to have breached regulations or engaged in improper conduct.

We will also continue to monitor industry developments closely, and will engage the Life Insurance Association Singapore on its proposal to come up with parameters to manage such mass movements of representatives in the industry.

Bey Mui Leng (Ms)

Director (Corporate Communications)

Monetary Authority of Singapore

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

Foreign firms allowed to re-domicile to Singapore from Oct 11

Business Times
12 Oct 2017
Michelle Quah

FOREIGN companies can now transfer their registration from their original jurisdiction to Singapore.

This will allow foreign companies to re-domicile to Singapore, instead of having to set up a subsidiary here, reducing operational disruption to the company.

Such transfers are possible under the new inward re-domiciliation regime that took effect on Oct 11 - one of the key changes made to the Companies Act in March.

The move is expected to boost Singapore's competitiveness as a business hub, by facilitating the transfer or the setting-up of business in the city-state for foreigners.

A foreign corporate entity that re-domiciles to Singapore will become a Singapore company and will be required to comply with the Companies Act like any other Singapore-incorporated company.

But re-domiciliation allows a company to preserve its corporate history and branding, while taking advantage of Singapore's political stability, stable legal structure and highly skilled workforce, for example.

"This change is very welcomed as it provides greater flexibility to the reorganisation of corporate groups. This is especially important at a time when some traditional group structures are being re-thought in the light of greater tax transparency and Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) developments," global professional services firm EY said in a recent publication.

BEPS refers to the tax avoidance strategies used by multinational companies to exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules to artificially shift profits to low or no-tax locations. Under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), over 100 countries and jurisdictions are collaborating to implement measures to tackle BEPS.

EY also pointed out that there were a number of factors that foreign companies would need to consider before re-domiciling.

"The company may not be able to be re-domiciled if the country where it wishes to transfer its registration from does not have a re-domiciliation regime, or does not allow for outward re-domiciliation to another jurisdiction."

Countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand permit re-domiciliation.

EY added: "When re-domiciling, there may also be tax and stamp duty implications. The company needs to know how the transfer will be treated for tax and stamp duty purposes in the home country and assess whether they are prepared for the consequences, in addition to the tax implications in Singapore."

And, in order to qualify for the new regime, a foreign company must either have a revenue of more than S$10 million annually or total assets greater than S$10 million at the end of each financial year. It must also have more than 50 employees at the end of each financial year.

This criteria must be met in the two financial years immediately preceding its re-domiciliation application.

Corporate secretarial firm AM Corporate Services also pointed out that Singapore does not allow outward re-domiciliation - that is, there is no option to reverse the decision, should the regime no longer suit the company.

"This means that before taking the decision to re-domicile to Singapore, the foreign company should clearly determine its goals as well as evaluate the legal consequences of re-domiciliation," it said on its website.

Information pertaining to the commencement notification and the relevant subsidiary legislation can be found at the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) website at www.acra.gov.sg.

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

MPA to set safety standards for vessels in inland waterways

Straits Times
03 Oct 2017
Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

Vessels plying inland waterways will have to meet new safety standards after changes to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) Act were passed in Parliament yesterday.

The changes vest the MPA with the power to set standards for vessels operating in reservoirs and other inland waterways.

It will work with national water agency PUB, which licenses such vessels, to develop and implement these safety standards.

The move will enhance overall safety in reservoirs and inland waterways for all, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min.

As the authority on safety standards for marine vessels, the MPA has the expertise and experience to assume the responsibility of setting benchmarks for vessels in inland waterways, he added.

The PUB will continue to issue permits to these vessels "for the purpose of water quality control, protection of reservoir infrastructure, controlling the types of activities in these water bodies, and preventing social disamenities".

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who had spoken with environment group Waterways Watch Society, had sought greater clarity on the possible regulations.

"In view of the cost concerns that operators may face in possible regulations of engines, I hope that extensive consultations will be made with the Waterways Watch Society and other non-governmental organisations and companies, and that any regulations made will be done gradually," he said.

Mr Ng gave the example of how some vessel operators hope they can continue operating boats with four-stroke engines, instead of having to switch to battery or solar-powered vessels, which would rack up additional costs.

Dr Lam assured him that the PUB will continue to allow vessels with four-stroke engines to operate in inland water bodies.

Other changes to the MPA Act include removing the cap on the number of MPA board members to give the Transport Minister "greater flexibility" to appoint more members as he deems fit to bring in relevant experience and expertise.

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

Property agent punished for lack of due care

Straits Times
23 Sep 2017
Adrian Lim & Seow Bei Yi

He gets $6k fine and seven months' suspension for the way he treated woman with dementia for flat sale

Approached by the friend of an elderly flat owner to handle the sale of his Housing Board flat, a property agent failed to ascertain if the co-owner, who was the wife, was fully aware of the consequences of this deal.

In August 2015, PropNex Realty property agent Ng Ser Leong, 44, obtained the thumbprints of the woman in her 80s - who is illiterate, has advanced dementia and lives in an old folks' home - on documents for the transaction. Some details were left blank.

For failing to conduct his work "with due diligence and care" while dealing with a vulnerable client, and for havingher sign an agreement in which essential information had been omitted, Ng was fined $6,000.

He will also be suspended for seven months, from Oct 19, the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) said in a statement yesterday.

Ng pleaded guilty to the two charges of breaching the CEA's Code of Ethics and Professional Client Care.

Four other charges were taken into consideration. One was for failing in conscientious service as he met the elderly co-owner only once at the old folks' home in Pasir Ris where she lived, and did not update her on the sale thereafter.

The other three charges were for not giving her copies of the three documents she had endorsed.

Ngis the first agent to be taken to task by CEA's Disciplinary Committee for not conducting his work with due diligence and care where it involved a vulnerable client.

The CEA, a statutory board that regulates the real estate agency industry, handled 17 Disciplinary Committee cases last year, and 15 this year thus far. It had 18 other cases that went to court last year, and 11 this year.

This case came to light when the flat owners' children found out about the impending sale, which was stopped, said the CEA.

After obtaining the co-owner's thumbprints in August 2015 on transaction documents while she was at the old folks' home, Ng then advertised the couple's flat online.

The same month, a potential buyer responded to the ad and agreed to buy the flat for $360,000.

The buyer put up an option fee of $1,000, and subsequently spent $4,000 to exercise the option to purchase, all within the month.

But around September, the couple's son learnt of the sale after his father was hospitalised, and lodged a complaint against Ng with the CEA.

When Ng was questioned by the son, he was said to have admitted that he had been informed on an earlier visit to the flat that the elderly female seller was "senile".

The resale application for the flat was subsequently cancelled in October, and the $1,000 option fee was refunded to the buyer.

In response to queries, PropNex Realty chief executive Ismail Gafoor said Ng's employment with the firm is being reviewed. "The management will review the severity of the case and counsel him. After his suspension, he will undertake that he will be in compliance with all guidelines moving forward. We are prepared to give him a second chance."

Ng has been with PropNex for 13 years and has concluded more than 500 HDB transactions, said Mr Ismail. Ng declined to comment when contacted by The Straits Times.

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

NTUC Foodfare loses suit against SIA Engineering

Straits Times
12 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A tenant operating a food kiosk at Changi Airport's Terminal 2 Building, whose business was affected by a shutdown in the area following an accident, failed in its court claim for losses suffered.

NTUC Foodfare Cooperative, which operated Wang Cafe, had sued SIA Engineering and its employee whose air-tug vehicle had collided into a pillar in the underpass baggage handling area on Feb 13, 2014.

The collision damaged the cantilevered portion of the floor of the Transit Lounge above. The Building and Construction Authority ordered a closure of the affected area from Feb 14 to July 30, during which rectification works were done. Part of the floor near the kiosk had caved in.

Foodfare sued for negligence and claimed losses of $442,445.07, which included $171,017 lost in gross profit, as well as $5,909 for repair and replacement of damaged equipment.

It had already received a $176,176 insurance payout for the latter two items, which would be returned to the insurers in the event it succeeded in its claim.

SIA Engineering and the driver of its vehicle, defended by lawyers Kevin Kwek and Gina Tan, argued that Foodfare's losses were "pure economic loss" and did not meet the accepted legal criteria for a negligence claim. They added that the damage suffered by Foodfare was not directly caused by the accident.

Foodfare's lawyers, Mr N. K. Rajarh and Mr Daryl Cheong, disagreed, contending that the economic losses by Wang Cafe were consequent to the physical damage to the T2 building and that there was "sufficient physical, circumstantial and causal proximity to give rise to a duty of care".

But Justice Debbie Ong, in judgment grounds on Monday, found NTUC did not suffer any property damage and its losses were "pure economic loss", caused by the closure of the Transit Lounge.

The judge said there was no "clear causal link" between the damage suffered by the kiosk and the driver's negligent act.

"What (Foodfare) suffered were the ripple effects of the damage to the pillar of the T2 building, which were common to all building operators in the affected area who likewise depended on everyone not to cause damage and closure to the T2 building."

The judge found it was inappropriate to expand liability and allow recovery in this case.

Justice Ong said bearing in mind policy considerations and the absence of a close link between the vehicle driver and Foodfare, the risk of the losses suffered by Foodfare is better addressed through insurance as was the case here.

The court dismissed the claims.


RIPPLE EFFECTS

What (Foodfare) suffered were the ripple effects of the damage to the pillar of the T2 building, which were common to all building operators in the affected area who likewise depended on everyone not to cause damage and closure to the T2 building.

JUSTICE DEBBIE ONG, on the reason for dismissing NTUC Foodfare's claims.

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

NTUC Foodfare Co-operative Ltd v SIA Engineering Co Ltd and another [2017] SGHC 250

Auditor-General gets enhanced powers

Straits Times
03 Oct 2017
Toh Yong Chuan

Non-government bodies that get funds to disburse or run services can expect government auditors to come knocking on their doors.

Parliament yesterday approved changes to the Audit Act that grant the Auditor-General powers to audit how these non-government bodies spend public funds.

"This is to ensure that public funds are used for the purposes for which they are intended and to enable accountability of public spending," Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah said. Examples include voluntary welfare organisations distributing aid to needy families and autonomous universities giving student bursaries.

The work of the Government has expanded, and such funds that are disbursed through non-government bodies amount to "several billions of dollars" each year, making the new powers necessary, Ms Indranee said.

The new powers will allow the Auditor-General to conduct "follow-the-dollar" audits to trace where the public monies go, she added. This approach is "not unique" and already used by several national audit agencies overseas such as those in Australia and New Zealand.

However, Ms Indranee assured members that such sweeping powers will be used lightly.

"The threshold for triggering such audits is high, it can only be directed by the Minister for Finance and only if he is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so," she said. "The audits will also only be limited to whether the funding terms and conditions have been complied with."

Two MPs spoke on the new law.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said it was welcome because when non-government bodies disburse funds that are "further away from the direct view of government audit, the risk of improper or corrupt conduct would increase". But he was concerned the move would add to compliance costs.

Responding, Ms Indranee said the new law will not add to the regulatory burdens of these bodies because it will be used only sparingly.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked how a new section of the law that requires individuals to give information to the Auditor-General - even if it incriminates him or her - would be applied.

Ms Indranee, who is also Senior Minister of State for Law, said a person currently cannot cite self-incrimination as a reason to refuse to give documents or information to the Auditor-General under the law. Stating this clearly can "avoid time-consuming negotiations" that will diminish the efficiency of the audit process, she added.


ENSURING PROPER USE

This is to ensure that public funds are used for the purposes for which they are intended and to enable accountability of public spending.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR FINANCE INDRANEE RAJAH

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SGX open to M&As, but wary of high prices

Business Times
22 Sep 2017
Kenneth Lim

On dual-class shares, directors at AGM suggest no hurry for decision

SINGAPORE Exchange (SGX) is on the lookout for opportunities to grow its business through mergers and acquisitions (M&As), but it is also wary of rich valuations at the moment, directors said at the market operator and regulator's annual general meeting on Thursday.

"This cycle, we need to be very conscious of valuation," SGX chief executive Loh Boon Chye told reporters after the meeting. "I've been quite consistent in saying we need to build this organically, but we will also acquire if we can accelerate our business. And obviously, as you all know I can't share on what are the things we are evaluating, but clearly we want to accelerate those areas."

SGX, which Mr Loh said typically has about S$200 million to S$300 million of readily deployable cash at any one time, has said that growing its geographical reach and its offerings in fixed income and foreign currency (FX) are key targets for the year ahead. On Thursday, Mr Loh told shareholders that those priorities were set based on potential market size, the supporting ecosystem in Singapore and SGX's existing products and infrastructure.

The FX asset class, where SGX currently offers 21 currency futures contracts, will be marketed as a complementary risk hedging or margin offsetting instrument, he said. In fixed income, the exchange will continue to invest in its Bond Pro trading platform.

"We will also look towards increasing our distribution in our offices overseas, and investing strategically in opportunities for growth," Mr Loh said of the fixed-income plans.

Underlying those plans is a desire to improve SGX's relatively slow rate of growth over the past few years. In the year ended June 2017, SGX's net profit declined by 2.7 per cent to S$339.7 million.

SGX chairman Kwa Chong Seng told a shareholder that he was not satisfied with SGX's current pace of growth. "Is that good enough? No, I would like to see higher growth," Mr Kwa said.

The board has discussed the possibility of strategic investments, but finding the right price for pulling the trigger has been challenging, he explained.

"Valuations are actually quite high today ... In order for us to do something inorganic, really not perhaps to our advantage," Mr Kwa said. "But all the same we are looking. We are looking at several small opportunities, so we will try to expand our business, but as I said it may not improve our return on equity."

Beyond M&A matters, the board also faced questions about whether SGX will allow dual-class shares (DCS) for primary listings, a matter that is currently being reviewed. Both Mr Kwa and Mr Loh suggested that SGX will not rush into a decision soon.

"There's a bit of a mixed feeling about it. My sort of view is we need to be sharp and be willing to move, but at the same time maybe we don't need to be the first one to move," Mr Kwa said, noting strong views on either side of the issue.

Mr Loh said that if a secondary listing with a dual-class structure, which is allowed under current rules, comes to market first, it may help the market to assess the suitability of the structure for primary listings. But he declined to confirm whether a dual-class secondary listing was in the works.

"If there are companies that are looking to secondary list here and that also have a dual-class kind of structure, I think it allows the marketplace to get familiar with and understand that better," Mr Loh said. "Will that lead to us then allowing for primary DCS? We will have to evaluate, but I think it's a good journey to take."

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

Members of chess body lose appeal to strike out suit

Straits Times
12 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Judge says defamation suit was no abuse of process and is a matter for a trial to settle

A judge has thrown out an appeal by 24 members of the Singapore Chess Federation (SCF) which argued that a suit filed by its treasurer Jasmin Nisban over a letter he claimed had defamed him should be struck out as an abuse of the court process.

Justice Choo Han Teck said such claims are matters for a trial to settle. In judgment grounds on Monday, he said: "Where else can the plaintiff seek redress and justice if his claim is struck out?"

Mr Nisban had claimed that 39 members of the federation had libelled him in January last year, and sued them. The alleged offending remarks were found in a letter attached to a requisition which 51 members signed. The letter was sent to the SCF executive committee calling for an extraordinary general meeting (EOGM).

After Mr Nisban filed a suit against the 39 members, 24 of them successfully applied to strike out the suit before a deputy registrar in the State Courts in February.

The courts agreed to strike out then, ruling that there was no "substantial tort" against Mr Nisban, the benefit was minimal to him and his suit was an abuse of process.

Mr Nisban then appealed and a district judge in June restored the suit.

At the High Court appeal hearing in September, their lawyer Wong Tjen Wee had argued that the trivial nature of the claim was disproportionate to the action, citing an English precedent. He added that the only recipients of the defamatory letter were the executive committee members and administrative staff, and they would have disbelieved the libel against Mr Nisban.

Rajah & Tann lawyers led by Mr Lau Kok Keng, who represented Mr Nisban at the appeal, argued that the letter had reached 51 recipients but the issue was not in the numbers.

Justice Choo ruled that each case "must turn on its own facts", noting that the defamatory words were found in a letter circulated among SCF members seeking signatures to expel the incumbent executive committee through an EOGM.

"This letter was signed by 51 members. We do not know how many others read it but did not sign.

"The crux of the matter is that although the court's resources ought not to be used for the pursuit of trivial or pointless claims, each case must be determined on its own facts," said Justice Choo.

It was "speculative" to argue that the recipients referred to would not have believed the libel against Mr Nisban, pointing out it was more relevant to damages payable when liability is settled.

The judge dismissed the appeal with costs.

Mr Nisban had claimed that 39 members of the federation had libelled him in January last year, and sued them. The alleged offending remarks were found in a letter attached to a requisition which 51 members signed.

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

Chan Boon Siang and others v Jasmin Nisban [2017] SGHC 249 

Changes proposed to ease CPF transfers to parents, grandparents

Straits Times
03 Oct 2017
Joanna Seow

More people may soon be able to help their elders save for retirement.

Changes to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Act have been proposed in Parliament to lower the minimum amount that members must have in their own CPF accounts before making transfers to their parents and grandparents.

Currently, CPF members must meet the prevailing Full Retirement Sum - which is $166,000 for CPF members aged 55 this year - before they can transfer extra savings to their parents' or grandparents' accounts.

Members aged above 55 need to meet the retirement sum specified for their cohort.

The changes proposed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday will allow CPF members to make such transfers if they have at least the Basic Retirement Sum - which is half the full sum - and a sufficient property pledge or charge to make up the rest of the full sum.

The ministry said in a press statement that the aim is to improve the retirement adequacy of CPF members.

Last year, the threshold to make transfers to a spouse's CPF account was lowered to the basic sum, instead of the full sum.

MOM also proposed changes to the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Act yesterday.

It wants the Commissioner for WSH to be allowed to publish "learning reports" on accidents, dangerous occurrences or occupational diseases being investigated, even before the investigation is over.

This would provide speedier warnings or recommendations to others on the potential dangers, as the reports can cover factors leading to the incidents or diseases; expert opinions; and recommendations to prevent such cases or minimise the likelihood of them recurring.

The reports will not be admissible as evidence in court, except for cases such as official inquiry commissions or committees.

The proposed amendments to the two laws are scheduled to be debated at the next sitting.

Mr Ron Ng, 41, a sales manager in the bioscience industry, feels that lowering the threshold for CPF transfers to elders would be a good move as it will give him more channels to help his parents grow their retirement savings.

The father of two added that he hopes the proposed changes can encourage filial piety among the younger generation. "If my children see what I'm doing for my parents, hopefully they will also pick up good values."

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Proposed bond default insurance doesn't go far enough

Business Times
22 Sep 2017

THE suggestion for the Singapore market to have bond default insurance coverage is, no doubt, well meaning and if it pulls through, could provide some measure of relief to anxious holders of distressed debt.

However, the form of insurance proposed doesn't lend comfort to one chief concern - the fate of noteholders' investments in a default event. As such, it doesn't meet the urgent need for a more sustainable, wholesome solution amid the wave of defaults to have hit the domestic bond market.

Jointly submitted by the Securities Investors Association (Singapore) and law firm Rajah & Tann to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the proposal essentially involves bond issuers taking up an insurance policy at the time of issuance when they are in a relatively healthy financial state. In the event of a default, payout from the policy can go towards funding bondholders' legal and financial advisory fees which observers reckon could cost around S$100,000-S$500,000. The policy can also be invoked to pay bond trustees to take action on behalf of investors.

This idea is being mooted on the back unprecedented defaults, particularly in the offshore and marine services sector led by a crushing oil slump.

The bondholders, many of whom are "mom and pop" investors, are faced with the headache of potentially losing their capital invested in the bonds plus the cost of seeking legal redress, among other things, from the defaulting issuer.

The merit of the proposal is hard to dismiss. With better access to legal or financial representation with the cost being insured, bondholders will arguably have more say in protecting their interests, for instance, in the restructuring of the distressed issuer. But the uncertainty of recouping their capital still persists.

Bond investments are generally viewed as safer than equities - they are less volatile and come with a fixed income and when the papers mature, investors get their initial investment plus any accrued interest.

For this reason, it is a favoured asset class among investors with less risky appetites and despite the tumult in the oil and gas sector that has led to a string of defaults here, it still remains so.

If a relatively low-risk product such as bonds requires insurance, what of riskier assets such as equities and so forth?

In times of trouble, bondholders are in a more unenviable position than stock investors. Bond investors do not have rights to require the issuing company to hold a meeting with them unless they act through the bond trustee.

But to get the trustee to act, they have to jump through hoops - having the requisite representation of a certain percentage of the outstanding bonds, coughing up an upfront payment as well as having a letter of indemnity.

One aspect that may need to be examined more closely is how bond arrangers or distributors can step up in a default event or for more safeguards for distributors to act in the interest of their clients. None of these issues has yet been effectively addressed.

Thus, the proposal on the regulator's desk is less meaningful in the bigger scheme of things. While the legal and financial advisory community could stand to benefit, for investors in Singapore's thriving bond market whose woes cut deeper, the fate of what is often their life savings still remains unclear.

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Related headlines

Proposal for insurance scheme to help bond investors, ST, 14 Sep

Family of motorcyclist in coma sues NParks

Straits Times
11 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Wife, sister allege negligence behind fallen tree branch; defence says weather was likely cause

The family of a motorcyclist who fell into a coma after being hit by a falling tree branch is suing the National Parks Board (NParks) in the High Court, seeking damages for alleged negligence.

The case is being closely watched as it may clarify the extent of the NParks' liability, if any.

The wife and sister of Mr Lee Kar Choon allege the accident on July 20 last year showed NParks' negligence. The pair were appointed by the court in June as his deputies under the Mental Capacity Act, given his extensive disabilities.

The NParks is denying the claims in defence papers filed in a first reported suit against the board in such circumstances.

A 2009 court case involved a privately held compound where insurers for St Andrew's Cathedral agreed to pay a woman $500,000 in settlement of her High Court suit which was discontinued.

The woman was left paralysed from the chest down after being hit by branches from a tree in the church's compound while walking along a pavement in North Bridge Road.

In the present case, Mr Lee, then 23, was riding his motorcycle at 6.30am along Admiralty Road West towards his workplace in Woodlands Loop when the tree branch fell. It caused him to be flung off the motorcycle and he suffered head injuries. He lapsed into a coma and was admitted to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital before being transferred to KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital in November last year.

Mr Lee, a Malaysian, lived with his wife, Madam Chai You Yuet, 23, and their two-year-old daughter in Johor Baru. He continues to receive treatment in Ipoh where he remains in a vegetative state because of the severe traumatic brain injury.

In court papers, his lawyer N. Srinivasan alleged the accident was caused by NParks' negligence in failing to reasonably maintain the trees in a healthy and stable condition so as not to pose a danger to road users.

Among other things, Mr Srinivasan claimed NParks failed to correct or warn of the dangerous condition that it should have known existed at the location.

He further alleged NParks failed to conduct proper or adequate crown reduction pruning exercises to limit tree exposure and damage from adverse weather conditions.

NParks, defended by Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming, said there was a system in place to assess the condition of the trees in Admiralty Road West, including regular inspections, and maintenance works were carried out on trees along the road.

Tree inspection was conducted by an arborist on March 10, 2015, followed by tree removal and pruning some three months later, and pruning was also conducted in January last year.

He added that the tree was healthy and the cause of the branch breaking was likely to be exposure to unusually stormy weather for three days up till the day of the incident, accompanied by wind speeds of up to 50km per hour.

Mr Lee's family is seeking damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenities, medical costs and treatment as well as loss of earnings.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due later this week.

An NParks spokesman yesterday declined comment when contacted, deeming it inappropriate "as this matter is before the courts".


PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

The accident was caused by NParks' negligence in failing to reasonably maintain the trees in a healthy and stable condition so as not to pose a danger to road users.

NPARKS' DEFENCE

Maintenance works were carried out on trees in Admiralty Road West in 2015-2016. A tree inspection was conducted by an arborist on March 10, 2015, followed by tree removal and pruning some three months later, and pruning was also conducted in January last year. The tree was healthy and the cause of the branch breaking was likely to be exposure to unusually stormy weather for three days up till the day of the incident, accompanied by wind speeds of up to 50km per hour.

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

Auditor files report with MOF over Yamada audit

Straits Times
02 Oct 2017
Jacqueline Woo

The external auditor of shiitake mushroom supplier Yamada Green Resources has taken the rare step of filing a report with Singapore's Ministry of Finance (MOF) in the course of auditing the S-chip company.

The report was filed under Section 207(9A) of the Companies Act, said Yamada in a notification to the Singapore Exchange last week.

This section of the Act relates to a situation in which an auditor, in the course of his duties, has reason to believe that a serious offence involving fraud or dishonesty is being or has been committed against the firm by its officers or employees.

Yamada said it is not privy to the contents of the report, although the auditor, BDO Singapore, has confirmed that it relates to certain inconsistencies in the group's financial records.

The report also covers other queries which were raised in the course of its audit of the group's financial statements for fiscal year 2017, as announced on Sept 5.

Yamada said it plans to obtain legal advice on the matter before deciding on its next steps.

At the same time, Yamada said it has been drawn to its attention that a formal notice issued by the Ministry of Finance of China and the China Securities Regulatory Commission stated that BDO China - the Chinese affiliate of BDO Singapore - was suspended from taking on "securities-related engagements" as at May 23, pending the implementation of certain rectification works.

The suspension was lifted on Aug 10.

"The board takes a serious view of this matter as audit work had been performed by BDO China for the group's PRC subsidiaries during the suspension period, and this may have potentially serious implications for the group," said Yamada.

It added that it is seeking advice and awaiting clarification from BDO Singapore as to whether it would be appropriate for BDO Singapore and/or BDO China to perform certain audit tasks in the light of the suspension notice, as well as the extent of any implications on the group in relation to the audit work performed by BDO China.

Yamada was referring to additional audit works to be carried out in relation to the inconsistencies that the external auditor had raised.

The setback is the latest in a series of unfortunate events that have beset Yamada.

Last month, it reported that a vehicle transporting finance documents and IT/computer hardware went up in flames somewhere in China's Fuzhou city on Aug 30, with the driver suffering minor injuries.

The vehicle was moving the documents and hardware from the group's research and development centre to its offices as part of an administration consolidation.

A preliminary check had found that many of the documents relating to the 2017 and 2018 financial years were among the papers affected or destroyed, Yamada claimed.

Consequently, management "commenced efforts to reconstruct or reproduce the documents affected but will require some time to do so". Under these circumstances, it said its audit for this year is expected to be delayed and the external auditor BDO may face certain difficulties in the finalisation of the audit of the group's financial statements for the year.

Yamada, citing unfavourable factors in its cultivation business, such as bad weather, rising labour costs and a slowdown in China's economy, flagged a loss for the fourth quarter and full year in a profit guidance on Aug 11.

Trading in Yamada shares has been suspended. They last changed hands at 33 cents on Aug 30.

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'Jackpot Auntie' in legal tussle with firm she helped set up

Straits Times
22 Sep 2017
K.C. Vijayan & Lim Min Zhang

She contests claims for more than $200,000 over contract breaches, and files countersuit

"Jackpot Auntie" Choo Hong Eng, who was hailed for giving away $410,000 in casino winnings to charity, is being sued for more than $200,000 by the company she helped start.

Madam Choo, a shareholder and director of Kwan Inn Vegetarian Cuisine, has been accused of contract breaches, not fulfilling her director role and defamation.

The 63-year-old made headlines in October 2011 when Marina Bay Sands Casino initially declined to pay her the $410,000 she won on its slot machines. Claiming that the machine had been faulty, it instead offered her a car worth $250,000.

But MBS later relented, and Madam Choo gave all the money to nearly 30 charities, including the Singapore Buddhist Federation and the National Kidney Foundation.

Now, she is in the news for very different reasons.

She is contesting the claims by Kwan Inn and countersuing the company to account for all monies paid by her on the firm's behalf and pay any sums due to her, as well as asking the court to declare the documents signed last year as void.

These documents relate to last year's sale of a 50 per cent stake in Kwan Inn, which Madam Choo and a partner originally owned, to food and beverage firm Jus Delish Group.

Under the sale terms, Madam Choo was hired as brand ambassador for Kwan Inn at $8,000 a month, and had to cease running the Kwan Inn (Geylang East) Vegetarian Food stall she owned upon securing a catering licence for the company by Dec 28 last year.

Kwan Inn, which owns seven vegetarian food stalls, had been paying for the Geylang stall's overheads since last July, and collecting its revenues until April 16 this year.

It alleged that in April, it discovered Madam Choo had been ordering excess stocks which could not be accounted for when the sales revenue for the stall was tallied. Among other things, she had put $25,786 on the stall's tab over just 13 days.

She also allegedly ignored instructions to stop work for two days to allow for the annual stock taking, and continued to operate as if the stall was her own.

The company sacked her on April 19. Yet she refused to vacate the stall or hand over all sales revenue to the company and continued to run the stall for her own benefit, according to court papers.

The firm claimed that it lost $200,000 in estimated revenue from the stall for April and May.

The company's lawyers Timothy Tan and Magdalene Chew applied for a court injunction earlier this month to stop Madam Choo from entering the Geylang premises and to hand over all sales revenues since April 16. A High Court hearing on the injunction is due next month.

Madam Choo, in defence documents filed by her lawyer Sng Kheng Huat, argued that the documents she signed last year were different from the terms that were orally agreed on earlier.

She alleged that the deal was supposed to let her run the Geylang stall without interference from the company, which was to bear the running costs. She said she cannot read English, and claimed that the contents of the documents were not explained to her. She was also not allowed to seek legal advice.

Madam Choo told The Straits Times yesterday that she would respect any decision the courts make. "I will leave all these matters of the law to the lawyers." Until then, "I will still walk my own path, and my workers will carry on their work".


STICKING TO HER STANCE

I will leave all these matters of the law to the lawyers... I will still walk my own path, and my workers will carry on their work.

MADAM CHOO HONG ENG, saying she would respect any decision the courts make.

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

China Environment unit loses civil suit, ordered to pay loan plus interest

Business Times
11 Oct 2017
Nisha Ramchandani

CHINA Environment's wholly owned subsidiary Fujian Dongyuan Environmental Protection Co (FJDY), has lost a civil suit brought by Zhongxin Bank in China.

On Nov 2 last year, FJDY had received a letter from the bank, claiming repayment of overdue interest for a loan.

In the latest announcement released to the Singapore Exchange on Tuesday, China Environment said that judgment was awarded to the plaintiff. As a result, FJDY is liable for a loan of 36.67 million yuan (S$7.6 million) and loan interest of 563,870 yuan; this is due within 10 days of the effective date of judgment, together with punitive interest of 9.46125 per cent annually from Dec 19, 2016 up to the full settlement date.

If FJDY does not make payment, Zhongxin Bank has the right to sell off FJDY's land use rights and property assets that were pledged as security for this loan. In such an instance, Zhongxin Bank will be entitled to claim the first 21.4 million yuan in sales proceeds received, as well as the 19.65 million yuan of trade receivables FJDY has pledged to Zhongxin Bank for this loan.

The guarantors, former China Environment chairman Huang Min and his wife Chen Fen Hua, are liable for the remaining sum in the event that the value of the pledged assets cannot fully satisfy the amount due to Zhongxin Bank. "The guarantors have right to claim compensation against FJDY," China Environment said.

FJDY is to pay Zhongxin Bank 99,500 yuan in legal fees and a property preservation fee of 5,000 yuan within 10 days from the judgment date. The court costs of 229,234 yuan are to be borne by FJDY, Huang Min and his wife.

Shares of China Environment are currently suspended.

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

Lawyer penalised over $2.7m fund transfers for foreign entities

Straits Times
30 Sep 2017
Selina Lum

A lawyer of 18 years, who failed to do the necessary checks before carrying out a series of fund transfers totalling about US$2 million (S$2.7 million), was yesterday suspended from practice for two years and fined $100,000.

The punishment for professional misconduct was handed down to Mr Allen Chan Chun Hwee by the Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body for the legal profession.

Mr Chan, the sole proprietor of C H Chan & Co, acted for two foreign entities that remitted money to his firm and then told him to transfer the funds to others.

In 2008, about US$200,000 was transferred for the Institute of Business Management and Financial Services. In 2011, about US$1.8 million was transferred for Investment Suisse.

Mr Chan took a 5 per cent cut from the remittances for his fees.

Eventually, he was asked by the bank why the client was effecting these transactions through him instead of directly to the recipients.

In 2014, an anonymous complaint was lodged with the Law Society, accusing Mr Chan of aiding money-laundering activities.

The Law Society, represented by Mr S.H. Almenoar, brought charges against Mr Chan for failing to verify the identities of the people behind the entities and for failing to obtain satisfactory evidence as to the nature and purpose of his clients' business relationships with the recipients.

After Mr Chan pleaded guilty to breaching professional conduct rules, a disciplinary tribunal found the case serious enough to be referred to the court for punishment to be meted out.

Yesterday, the court, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, said the breach was not merely a technical one but "a substantial breach by a solicitor who allowed his client to... take advantage of the cloak of respectability that was afforded by having the solicitor effect those transfers".

The court noted that Mr Chan had carried out the transactions without asking why he was being asked to do so "when this question cried out to be answered".

Due to a procedural issue, the court took into account only the 2011 transactions, from which Mr Chan earned fees of about US$90,000.

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

Property listings portal sues rival for copyright infringement

Straits Times
21 Sep 2017
Rachel Au-Yong

PropertyGuru files three claims against 99.co, which files counterclaim over 'groundless threats'

Singapore's biggest property listings portal PropertyGuru has sued its rival 99.co over alleged copyright infringement, accusing the latter of reproducing content from its website without permission.

Yesterday marked the start of the six-day trial, which is being watched for its implications on who owns the copyright of content uploaded onto online platforms.

At issue in the ongoing case is the use of a third-party digital app called Xpressor, which lets property agents post listings across multiple portals - resulting in several listings on 99.co bearing PropertyGuru's watermark.

PropertyGuru, which was founded here in 2007 by Finn Jani Rautiainen and Briton Steve Melhuish, has said it has the business of half the 28,000 licensed agents in Singapore.

99.co, a relative newcomer, was set up in 2014 by entrepreneur Darius Cheung and counts Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin among its backers.

PropertyGuru filed three claims against 99.co.

It alleges that 99.co had breached a previous settlement agreement made in September 2015. 99.co "substantially reproduced and continues to reproduce" content from its website, said PropertyGuru.

It is also accusing 99.co of infringing its copyright by reproducing photos bearing the PropertyGuru watermark on 99.co's website.

The final claim is that 99.co had caused property agents to breach PropertyGuru's rules about content on its website by encouraging them to sign up with Xpressor to copy their listings from PropertyGuru onto 99.co's website.

According to PropertyGuru's Acceptable Use Policy, agents cannot reproduce, display or provide access to its website on another site.

99.co has denied the claims, and has filed a counterclaim against PropertyGuru for "groundless threats" of copyright infringement.

It argues that agents were "exercising their own copyright" in using Xpressor to post listings across multiple websites.

It is also saying that it has not reproduced PropertyGuru's photos; rather, agents themselves have done so by using Xpressor.

Yesterday, Mr Rautiainen, PropertyGuru's managing director, was cross-examined by 99.co's lawyer Koh Chia Ling.

Mr Koh sought to establish that the act of resizing or putting a watermark on an agent's photo does not give PropertyGuru copyright over the new image.

But Mr Rautiainen disagreed, citing a "high-level technical process" that allows agents' original photos to be adjusted, pixelated and resized, then have a watermark imprinted on them.

He also said that the only available alternative site for Xpressor to cross-post listings to was 99.co.

According to Xpressor's Facebook page, it allows cross-post listings across nine property portals, including PropertyGuru and 99.co.

But when questioned by Mr Koh, Mr Rautiainen said there was never any infringement of copyright by Xpressor's parent company, Media Publishing Group.

The trial continues today.


Implications beyond property sector

Intellectual property lawyers are watching the court case involving PropertyGuru and 99.co closely.

The case raises questions about who owns the copyright on images of properties taken by housing agents, and could have implications beyond the property industry.

PropertyGuru is alleging that 99.co infringed its copyright by posting content from its website on the latter's, among other things.

But 99.co has countered that property agents were exercising their rights to their own content.

Robinson LLC lawyer Cyril Chua said for a site, or any other party, to claim copyright on the content, there must have been sufficient skill, effort, labour and judgment to change it.

"If I draw a version of the Mona Lisa with different hair, I own the copyright to that parody. The question is whether resizing it and signing my name can warrant me calling it a new piece of art," he said.

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing intellectual property lawyer Jonathan Kok said the scope of rights acquired by a site depends on whether the terms of use state that it is full or partial transfer of ownership.

The general rule has been that whoever created the work owns the copyright in it unless he signs a written agreement and transfers ownership.

A quick check showed that popular sites like Facebook and Pinterest do not own the copyright on images hosted on their sites. Others, such as sales listing site Carousell, state that users infringe copyright if they post images of items taken by other users or off their original websites.

Amica Law's Jason Chan said there could be other issues such as ownership of copyright to a listing and their images when agents co-broke a deal.

Rachel Au-Yong

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StanChart says it reviewed transfer of US$1.4b funds, 'proactively' notified authorities

Business Times
11 Oct 2017
Judith Tan

Bank working closely with regulators; Indonesia says no public officials were involved in the matter

STANDARD Chartered Bank (StanChart) conducted a full account review of trust structures at the centre of a transfer of US$1.4 billion of funds and had proactively made a report to the relevant authorities, the lender said on Tuesday.

The bank was responding to news reports that Indonesia is probing allegations about the bank moving assets, allegedly held on behalf of Indonesian clients, to Singapore in 2015 from Guernsey, just before the Channel Island implemented tax transparency rules last year.

Under these rules, countries automatically share annual reports on accounts belonging to people subject to taxes in each nation. Britain, Guernsey and Singapore are signatories, but Guernsey, a known tax haven, implemented the rules ahead of Singapore.

A StanChart spokesman said that the bank is working closely with regulators, and therefore is unable to provide any more information.

Indonesia's Finance Ministry said late on Monday night that there were no Indonesian public officials, either from the Indonesian military (TNI) or within the government, among the 81 individuals with links to the illicit fund transfer from Guernsey to Singapore.

Its director-general of tax Ken Dwijugiasteadi said the assets in question were owned by "business people" and that preliminary findings showed that the transfers were "business transactions" and had no connections to the military.

He added that 62 of the 81 had taken part in Indonesia's recently completed tax amnesty programme, which ran from July 2016 to March this year and some of the funds were transferred "to participate in the tax amnesty, while others were transferred because they wanted to avoid the new information disclosure measures (in Guernsey)".

The tax amnesty was a part of President Joko Widodo's tax reforms, aimed at recovering billions of dollars in revenue lost to widespread tax evasion and in assets hidden overseas by wealthy citizens and businesses.

An earlier report by Bloomberg said that regulators in Europe and Asia are looking into the matter. The bank's processes and the way the transfers were handled are being examined, but regulators have not suggested that bank employees colluded with clients to evade tax,it said.

Citing anonymous sources, Bloomberg reported that both Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Guernsey's Financial Services Commission are investigating the chain of events.

MAS, Singapore's central bank and financial regulatory authority, on Monday said that it takes a serious view of and will take firm action against any financial institution or individual found to have breached its requirements relating to anti-money laundering (AML) and countering the financing of terrorism (CFT).

"Where egregious breaches of our laws are detected, MAS has worked with our law enforcement agencies to pursue criminal prosecutions."

Singapore will not tolerate the abuse of its financial system as a refuge or conduit for tax-illicit funds, it added.

On the StanChart issue, MAS said: "As our supervisory probe is still ongoing, we are unable to provide more information at this juncture."

Mohammed Reza, partner at law firm Simmons & Simmons JWS, said MAS is looking into the fund transfers between Guernsey and Singapore in its capacity as supervisor of Singapore's financial sector.

"As supervisor, MAS is concerned with the effective monitoring and mitigation of risks in the financial system as a whole as well as individual institutions, in this instance StanChart. The supervisory probe is focused on whether a breach of applicable anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism requirements has taken place," he said.

On StanChart's proactive move to work with the authorities, Mr Reza said the senior management of any financial institution needs to be aware of what the institution is doing.

"Where non-compliance has been identified, there needs to be a serious effort to address that issue. This may include making timely reports to the relevant authorities, whether as a matter of law or as a matter of prudent accountable behaviour to the regulators.

"This is increasingly pertinent given the rise of international cooperation between financial regulatory authorities and the internationalisation of financial standards across jurisdictions."

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Judge rules court has no jurisdiction to revoke patents

Straits Times
30 Sep 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Past practice suggested by previous cases cannot trump law based on Patents Act

The High Court has ruled, in a departure from 13 previous cases, that it has no jurisdiction to revoke patents, when it rejected a move by a defendant to have one revoked.

The court noted that the 13 past decisions did not raise objections to the right of a defendant to counterclaim and revoke a patent on the grounds that it was invalid.

"With due respect and deference to those cases, the fact that there is a practice does not provide a basis to establish jurisdiction as a matter of law. Nor can practice trump law," said Justice George Wei in judgment grounds issued on Thursday.

Sun Electric, which sells solar energy to consumers here, had sued a holding company for a licensed electricity retailer and developer of rooftop photovoltaic systems.

Sun claimed the company, Sunseap, had breached Sun's patent, which was for a power grid system and a method of determining power consumption at building connections in the system.

Sunseap denied the allegations and, among other things, made a counterclaim to have the patent revoked.

Sun Electric then sought to strike out Sunseap's bid to revoke the patent, but failed before a High Court assistant registrar.

Through a team of lawyers led by M. Ravindran, the company then appealed to the High Court in June.

Mr Ravindran argued that the right to apply to revoke patents was confined to the Registrar of Patents and Sunseap could not start revocation proceedings in the High Court, not even by a counterclaim.

But defence lawyer Lau Kok Keng cited past cases in which such proceedings to revoke a patent had been brought to the High Court by counterclaim, and noted that academic opinion also supported such moves.

Justice Wei said the cases referred "implicitly suggest" the High Court may hear such cases but "it does not appear that this question was ever directly raised, contested or ruled upon in any of the cases. It follows that these decisions cannot be treated as precedents to determine the question of law at hand."

In his 81-page judgment grounds, Justice Wei analysed the relevant provisions of the Patents Act and found the High Court did not possess jurisdiction to revoke a patent, or by way of a counterclaim.

The judge allowed Sun Electric's appeal to strike out the bid by Sunseap to revoke its patent.

Justice Wei acknowledged the decision would draw public interest and be of concern, adding that there was much to be said to reconsider anew, at an appropriate time, the court's jurisdiction and patent procedures by the relevant law reform body and Parliament.

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Sun Electric Pte Ltd v Sunseap Group Pte Ltd and others [2017] SGHC 23

Asean a model for IP cooperation

Straits Times
21 Sep 2017
Elizabeth Ng, Siew Kuan & Graeme Austin

Good international ties important for innovation in intellectual property sector

It is often taken for granted that robust intellectual property laws are fundamental to the success of innovation. In contrast, it is not widely acknowledged that relationships between nations also play a critical role.

Fractious ties between nations are not conducive to the effective development and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) laws. A stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership, or even Brexit, can be harmful to progress on multilateral initiatives. In the near term, harmonisation is off the table.

Achieving interoperability in IP the "Asean way" may be more realistic as a new paradigm for strengthening international relations. The Asean way involves cooperation, non-interference and mutual respect for national sovereignty to pursue diverse priorities, and at the same time, a desire to move forward together in a cooperative manner while giving due recognition to the different levels of development. This is the subject of our new book International Intellectual Property And The Asean Way: Pathways To Interoperability.

The objective of interoperability is to secure national cooperation to enhance operational outcomes of IP in the administrative, legislative, judicial and enforcement spheres.

This is highly attainable in Asean. Having acceded to the World Trade Organisation, every Asean member agrees to adhere to the standards imposed under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

The development of IP along internationally accepted principles has emerged as a policy priority to enhance competitiveness of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) and to improve IP owners' access to overseas markets.

The initial efforts in the 1990s and 2000s to forge common regional IP profiles in Asean encountered numerous setbacks.

Fortunately, the acceleration of the AEC integration culminated in a new Asean Intellectual Property Action Plan (2011-2015) that permitted greater flexibility in the process of IP integration.

That was quickly followed by the introduction of the Asean Intellectual Property Rights Action Plan (2016-2025) which set "new" strategies for technology transfers and expansion of technological capabilities in the AEC.

The primary goal of this 10-year plan is the promotion of cross-border trade and investment. Some of the key strategies to achieve this are: create a more robust Asean IP system; develop regional IP platforms and infrastructures; promote an inclusive Asean IP ecosystem; and stimulate asset creation and commercialisation.

The action plans include the establishment of regional IP platforms and infrastructure for the exchange of data among member states to boost technical and procedural convergence of national IP laws within the AEC framework. The regional IP offices are expected to deepen sectoral engagements.

The plan re-emphasised teamwork and collective responsibility within the AEC. Country "champions" lead specific initiatives with well-defined deliverables and detailed performance indicators.

For example, the Philippines focuses on IP enforcement, while Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam are leaders in genetic resource, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression. Thailand and Indonesia are joint leaders in the establishment of an Asean Copyright Notification/ Recordation Network.

Of course, IP is not the only matter on the Asean interoperability agenda. It has also pursued other complementary pathways to facilitate inter-agency dialogue and cooperation.

An example is the establishment of the Council of Asean Chief Justices to promote collaboration among the region's court systems and share best practices in the administration of justice.

There are also work plans on e-commerce and good regulatory practices to support regional trade liberalisation and uphold freer movements of goods within Asean.

Also, a National Trade Repository will be established by all Asean states, with the goal of forming a collective Asean Trade Repository. This will function as a one-stop online database of information on Asean trade and Customs.

As long as the desired outcomes of deeper harmonisation of law and practices remain elusive, the Asean interoperability model may provide useful insights for other countries that value national cooperation without jeopardising domestic IP policy imperatives.

And the interoperability agenda can extend beyond Asean to other settings, such as the judicial processes of private international law and cross-border enforcement.

While affirming the merit of harmonisation, the interoperability agenda of cooperation is a pragmatic solution to the regional and global integration of IP laws.

• Elizabeth Ng Siew Kuan is deputy chairman (IP research unit) of the E.W. Barker Centre for Law and Business at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law where she is an associate professor. Graeme Austin is chair of private law at Victoria University of Wellington with a joint appointment at the University of Melbourne.

International Intellectual Property And The Asean Way: Pathways To Interoperability is published by Cambridge University Press.

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[JPN] Govt and Tepco liable for Fukushima damages: Court

Straits Times
11 Oct 2017
Walter Sim

[Tokyo] A Fukushima court yesterday ordered both the national government and operator of a crippled nuclear power plant to pay out nearly 500 million yen (S$6.04 million) in damages for the fallout of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The decision is the third in a series of at least 30 similar class action lawsuits filed by more than 12,000 people across 18 prefectures, many of whom were displaced by the tragedy.

The courts have so far been split over the role of the government in preventing the nuclear fallout. What is in question is whether the government could not only have foreseen but also acted to avert the meltdowns in three reactors, after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami on March 11, 2011.

The Fukushima court ruled that it could have, in line with a judgment by a Gunma court in March, but both went against a ruling by a Chiba court last month.

Presiding judge Hideki Kanazawa said yesterday: "In 2002, the government's earthquake research institute simulated a tsunami that was generated by a major tremor, and found that it was possible for tidal waves to breach the nuclear site. This entire disaster could have been avoided had the government ordered Tepco to take more stringent measures to boost safety."

That assessment predicted a 20 per cent chance of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake striking off the coast of Fukushima within 30 years, but the government and Tepco said that the scale of the tsunami was unprecedented and so could not be predicted.

The government has also argued that laws had not allowed it to order Tepco to take safety steps until they were changed after the disaster.

Yesterday's ruling went in the favour of some 2,900 of the 3,800 plaintiffs - by far the largest of the class action lawsuits - who said that the disaster caused them mental distress and affected livelihoods. But the judge said those living in areas furthest away from the crippled plant, and were not directly affected, should not be given a cut of the compensation.

Japan's nuclear dependence is being debated in the run-up to the Oct 22 national election. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party wants nuclear to be a key part in the energy mix, with safeguards, while rival Kibo no To (Party of Hope) wants to wean off nuclear altogether by 2030.


POSSIBLE TO AVERT MELTDOWN

In 2002, the government's earthquake research institute simulated a tsunami that was generated by a major tremor, and found that it was possible for tidal waves to breach the nuclear site. This entire disaster could have been avoided had the government ordered Tepco to take more stringent measures to boost safety.

PRESIDING JUDGE HIDEKI KANAZAWA, ruling that the government could have foreseen and acted to avert the meltdowns in three reactors.

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TT Int'l seeking legal advice on appointment of receivers for Big Box

Business Times
30 Sep 2017
Judith Tan

STRUGGLING consumer electronics retailer TT International has received a notice of appointment of receivers over its 51 per cent-owned subsidiary, Big Box Pte Ltd (BBPL).

The Singapore-based company said on Thursday evening that it is seeking legal advice on the appointment.

Angela Ee Meng Yen and Aaron Loh Cheng Lee have been appointed as joint and several receivers and managers in the Sept 27 letter issued by Ernst & Young Solutions LLP for OCBC as security trustee for the lenders under the BBPL facility.

TT International on Sept 7 said that the Singapore High Court had granted its moratorium application to restrict all creditors from taking further action against the company until Feb 11, 2018.

TT International, which owns and operates warehouse facilities, is being restructured under a scheme of arrangement since April 2010.

In August 2017, it suspended the trading of its shares with immediate effect to sort out its funding options amid creditors' demands.

Its subsidiary BBPL had received a letter from OCBC Bank with regard to a S$125 million loan facility granted in April 2013. The lenders were seeking the repayment of S$111.3 million by Aug 14and TT International sought an extension of time to repay its debt.

TT International said it is in talks with lenders to obtain funding of up to S$380 million that is required to refinance and repay the BBPL facility and its other payment obligations.

For the year ended March 31, TT International reported a loss of S$44.5 million, compared to a loss of S$33.3 million in the year-ago period.

Revenue slipped 12.1 per cent to S$304.5 million.

The company has applied for an extension of six months until Feb 14, 2018, to announce its unaudited financial statements for Q1 and Q2 FY2018, and this was approved by the Singapore Exchange.

TT International said on Thursday that the warehouse retail scheme business undertaking and operations carried out at BBPL's Big Box building are unaffected by the appointment of the receivers and managers.

Its efforts to pursue refinancing options to provide a total solution for the group, including BBPL's liabilities, financing and restructuring of the existing indebtedness of the company and working capital requirements of the group, are also continuing.

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ADV: Discover the Seamless Way to Manage Cross-Border Transactions

Singapore Law Watch
21 Sep 2017

Cryptocurrency fracas spotlights risks in opaque space

Business Times
10 Oct 2017
Jamie Lee

NEWS this month that at least one cryptocurrency firm has had its Singapore banking account closed has led to whispers that Singapore is unilaterally shutting its doors to cryptocurrency companies.

What the discussion fails to acknowledge is the reality that cryptocurrency firms bear an obvious risk in creating illicit channels for money laundering and terrorism funding, and that in the post-crisis period, the burden of reviewing any suspicious channels is carried with extra caution by financial institutions today.

To recap, Bloomberg first reported that CoinHako, a local cryptocurrency-related firm, said its bank accounts had been shut by DBS, with the start-up telling Bloomberg that it suspects the account closure had to do with anti-money laundering rules, and know-your customer (KYC) requirements. It said it has "gone the extra mile" to meet KYC requirements, though no details were reported.

Singapore's Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Industry Association also told Bloomberg that some 10 companies associated with it had encountered problems with their banking relationships in Singapore, though it is not clear if such problems led to account closures as well.

Anonymous nature

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has made public statements more than once that virtual currencies can be exploited for money laundering and terrorism financing risks, due to the anonymous nature of the transactions.

It is not clear exactly why CoinHako's account was closed. But an example elsewhere offers some clues on the risks of money laundering and terrorism financing.

Earlier this year, one of the largest banks in Israel, Bank Leumi, ended its banking relationship with a bitcoin exchange, leading to a court battle that the bank eventually won.

Bank Leumi said while the bitcoin exchange, Bits of Gold, did indeed follow KYC processes, the bank could not determine who receives the cryptocurrency, and the origins of the fiat currency in the banking account.

Bank Leumi further said that hackers had been involved in some of the bitcoin trades linked to Bits of Gold's bank account. (Bits of Gold was not involved in the hacking incidents, and had helped the bank with the investigations.) The court ruled the bank is allowed to shut such accounts effectively on the grounds that the bank is not able to meet its obligations under anti-money laundering laws.

Tighter KYC regulations is a reality for all firms. A small business owner told The Business Times in passing that he was recently queried about a S$150 wire transfer to a city in Malaysia for freelance services. The bank wants to be sure that there is an individual and a legitimate business dealing behind that transaction. Surely, it would not be satisfied with an end recipient represented by a bunch of numbers with no trail leading to an identifiable person.

Dark past

It is also difficult - and unwise - to forget that bitcoin was once synonymous with dark web activity. CNBC reported in August as well that criminals are now dropping bitcoin in favour of other digital currencies, such as monero and ethereum.

To be quite clear, it is not BT's argument here that cryptocurrency platforms are therefore engaging in illegal activity. It is also possible cryptocurrency players would try their utmost to identify any illicit flows.

But the very nature of the anonymised flows that they deal with, make such efforts futile, even with the most optimistic reading of intentions. And the reasoning of them just operating a dumb pipe - a channel that only operates as a conduit for any kind of funds - is not kosher in this era of heightened regulations.

Perhaps cryptocurrency platforms are hopeful that the MAS, which is working on a new payment services regulatory framework, may touch on ways to address such platforms' unique risks. But one reckons such hopes should be tempered with a dose of realism. No regulator in the world is going to be partial to fund flows from places that may be operating in the shadows.

Despite the start-up buzz, when it comes to today's regulation over illicit activities, there are no rainbows and unicorns.

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The public prosecutor, politics and the rule of law

Straits Times
29 Sep 2017
Walter Woon

Separate the two functions of the Attorney-General and let the prosecutorial function be undertaken by an independent candidate appointed by the President

The Attorney-General occupies the hottest legal seat in Singapore. This is because the Attorney-General is the public prosecutor. Under Article 35(8) of the Constitution, the Attorney-General "shall have power, exercisable at his discretion, to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for any offence".

In recent times, we have seen the president of a country, which is not shy about wagging its finger at others while lecturing about the rule of law, threatening to remove prosecutors and special counsel when investigations cut too close to the bone for comfort.

Closer to home, there has also been loose chatter online and off that question the Attorney-General's decisions to prosecute. This is based on a misunderstanding of the Attorney-General's function as public prosecutor. Ignorant criticism is unfair to the Attorney-General and his officers. Misinformation, deliberate or otherwise, erodes confidence in the system of justice.

It is necessary first to understand the nature of prosecutorial discretion. As a preliminary matter, a distinction must be made between a prosecution and a civil suit. When a person defames someone else, for instance, the "injured" party (the plaintiff) may seek compensation by means of a civil suit.

The public prosecutor is not involved in this. The commencement of civil litigation is a matter solely for the plaintiff. No one can stop him from suing. If he wins, he gets compensation (which does not have to be a substantial sum). If he loses, he pays the defendant's costs.

Criminal defamation is an offence under the Penal Code. It is up to the Attorney-General to decide whether or not to lay charges. This is termed a prosecution, in contrast to civil proceedings. The object is not to obtain compensation for an injured party but rather to protect society's interests by imposing some sort of punishment, often as a deterrent to others.

As provided in the Constitution, the Attorney-General has discretion over this. The accused person (defendant) and the injured party (complainant) are not involved in the decision. The defendant might tender an apology and offer to pay damages to the complainant, but the public prosecutor may decide to press on regardless if he thinks that there is a public-interest issue involved. The complainant cannot "drop the charges", contrary to popular misconception.

Not every offence is prosecuted in court. If it were mandatory to prosecute every time an offence is committed, the courts would be jam-packed with jaywalkers and litterbugs. This is where prosecutorial discretion comes in. The public prosecutor can decide whether or not to prosecute. The question is, on what grounds?

It is obviously not possible for the Attorney-General to look at every individual file to decide whether to prosecute.

In practice, that is left to deputy public prosecutors (DPPs). There are currently two prosecution divisions in the Attorney-General's Chambers: the Criminal Justice Division, and the Financial and Technology Crime Division. The legal officers posted to these two divisions are designated DPPs.

Generally, investigatory agencies (for example, the Central Narcotics Bureau, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, the police, to name a few) send investigation papers to one of the prosecution divisions. A junior DPP will then make recommendations as to whether charges should be laid, and, if so, what charges. The recommendations are considered by more senior DPPs -the heads of the various directorates, the chief prosecutor of the division, the Solicitor-General, the Deputy Attorney-General. The most serious cases end up on the desk of the Attorney-General, where the buck stops. In most cases, however, the buck stops far down the line from the Attorney-General.

STEPS TOWARDS PROSECUTION

In deciding whether or not to prosecute, there are, in general, four steps:

• Step 1: Find out what happened. This is the job of the investigatory agencies. It is the stuff of novels, TV and films. The DPP can ask for clarifications or further investigation.

• Step 2: Ascertain if an offence has been committed and, if so, what offence. This is a legal question - it is the reason DPPs have to go through four years or more of law school. Laypersons are seldom, if ever, qualified to appreciate the intricacies of Singapore criminal law.

• Step 3: Can the elements of the offence be proven in court? The prosecution must prove the case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. It is not for the accused to prove his innocence.

At Step 3, the DPP has to decide whether there is enough evidence that will stand up in court. It is often possible to piece together what happened with a fair degree of certainty. However, there are cases where witnesses will refuse to testify in open court. In other cases, a witness may implicate others when questioned, but when it comes to actually testifying, he will have an attack of selective amnesia.

If the DPP thinks that the witnesses cannot be relied on, the prosecution will probably be dropped. If he decides to carry on, there is a chance that the judge may not be convinced beyond reasonable doubt. In that case, the defendant is acquitted.

Again, contrary to popular misconception, a verdict of "not guilty" is not synonymous with "innocent". In some cases, it just means that there is a reasonable doubt. Thus, for instance, in a rape case the man may contend that the "victim" consented. The woman may be equally vehement in denying that she did consent. If the judge cannot be sure, then the accused is found "not guilty", even though it may, in fact, have been rape.

Assuming that we have got past Steps 1, 2 and 3, the final step is: Should there be a prosecution at all?

TO PROSECUTE OR NOT PROSECUTE

The public prosecutor must decide whether it is in the public interest that the matter should be laid before a judge in open court. He has discretion over this.

This is where the biggest problems arise. For good or ill, the public prosecutor must make a judgment call. There are many reasons why a decision may be taken not to prosecute.

The offence may be a trivial one, not worth tying up prosecutorial and judicial resources over. A person who drops torn-off tabs from parking coupons on the ground may be guilty beyond reasonable doubt of an offence but, in most cases, this will not end up in court. Composition fines may be imposed instead.

Sometimes, the prosecutor may decide that the accused should be given a second chance. For example, if two teenagers are caught having consensual sex, this is an offence if the girl is under 16 years of age. But would it be in the public interest to prosecute a 17-year-old boy for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend?

The prosecutor may (note, "may", not "will") decide that, under the circumstances, a conditional warning is better. If the boy does not heed the warning and repeats the offence, he will be prosecuted for the previous offence as well as the new one. But if he mends his ways, then there is no prosecution.

WHEN POLITICS MAY CLOUD THE PICTURE

Politically charged cases are often a source of controversy.

Suppose that an opposition politician is charged with deliberate incitement of racial unrest. It is a given that his supporters will scream that the prosecution is politically motivated.

When one analyses the issue dispassionately, if the accused is indeed guilty of deliberately inflaming racial feelings, it does not matter whether the decision to prosecute is politically motivated. But the fact that it is perceived to be so undermines the credibility of the public prosecutor, especially if ruling party politicians are not similarly treated.

The public is not stupid. People have a sense of justice. That sense is outraged if double standards are practised - a lenient one for the rich and politically influential, a stricter one for ordinary persons and the strictest one for oppositionists. The public prosecutor has to maintain a scrupulous neutrality so as to avoid being accused of partiality.

Take a purely hypothetical example: Say that a powerful minister is accused of embezzling a substantial sum of money from a government-linked company. How does he avoid retribution? Bribing judges is risky - this can backfire spectacularly. Interfering with investigations is more promising, but in the age of social media, this may not stop the process. The best bet is to nobble the prosecutor.

There are many ways to pressure the public prosecutor. In some places, the threats are physical. I attended a conference of prosecutors in Canada some years ago. Several of my colleagues said that they carried guns for protection. One colleague from a Caribbean country did not even live there - his life would have been worth nothing in his home country.

But physical threats are crude. There are better ways.

The favoured way, as seen in some countries elsewhere, is to appoint as Attorney-General someone who can be counted on to bend when pressure is applied. If the Attorney-General decides that charges will not be laid, no one can challenge that decision. Not even the Chief Justice can compel him to prosecute, legally and practically.

So the question is: What can be done to strengthen the system? We accept it as a given that judges should be politically neutral and not take instructions from politicians.

I would argue that the same must hold true for the public prosecutor. Indeed, one should remember that if the public prosecutor declines to prosecute, the case will never reach a judge, even if there has been a blatant breach of the law.

TWO ROLES OF THE A-G

Many people mistakenly think that the Attorney-General is part of the political executive. This may have been so in colonial days, but under our present Constitution, it is not so.

Unlike in many other countries, the Attorney-General of Singapore is not a party politician or a member of the Cabinet. This mistake arises because the Attorney-General has two roles: first, that of the Government's legal adviser and, second, public prosecutor.

When giving advice on civil cases by or against the Government, on legislation, on matters of international law, the Attorney-General is the Government's Attorney-General. He is obliged to defer to the Cabinet when it comes to issues pertaining to civil litigation, international law and the drafting of legislation. If he is instructed to fight a case, he must follow his client's instructions just like any other lawyer, even if he thinks the case cannot be won or that it is ill-advised.

But when it comes to his role as public prosecutor, the Attorney-General is not the Government's Attorney-General. He is given discretion over prosecutions by the Constitution. It cannot be the case that he should just prosecute if a senior minister wants that to be done.

The rule of law is not the natural state of human society. For most of history, in most societies, the system has been rule by the powerful. The rule of law cannot be imposed by force or governmental decree. Citizens must accept it and actively cooperate in upholding it. Prosecutions are a tangible manifestation of the rule of law.

When the prosecutorial machinery is abused for political ends, ordinary citizens' faith in the rule of law is shaken. If people do not believe that the system is fair, they will subvert it. Building a society based on the rule of law takes a generation and more - tearing it down can be the work of a single electoral term.

A quick look at the state of the world will show that pressure on prosecutors is common, even in countries that consider themselves to be shining examples of the rule of law.
It is foolish to wait until a hurricane hits you to strengthen your roof. Fix it now, when the sun is shining and the dark clouds have not gathered.

If one accepts the premise that the public prosecutor should be independent, the first step is to separate the two functions of the Attorney-General. As the Government's legal adviser, he must take instructions from the Cabinet, whatever his own judgment may be. Take this function away from the Attorney-General. Give it to the Solicitor-General, for example. The three non-prosecution divisions of the Attorney-General's Chambers - civil, legislation and international affairs - can come under the Solicitor-General or whoever is designated as the Government's legal adviser.

The prosecutorial function should be left with the Attorney-General, who would have the two prosecution divisions in his charge. It is necessary for the Attorney-General to be the public prosecutor. A certain stature is required to resist politicians, foreign diplomats, domestic pressure groups and non-governmental organisations, not to mention the assorted people who try to influence prosecutions. In the legal hierarchy, the Attorney-General ranks immediately after the Chief Justice.

The next question is: Who should appoint the Attorney-General? At present, the Constitution provides that the Attorney-General is appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. The President does not have to accept the Prime Minister's advice, which is the major safeguard against blatant abuse by appointing a political hack to the post.

Since the President has an independent mandate from the people and constitutional discretion, he (or she) should be the one to make the decision, ideally in consultation with the Chief Justice and the incumbent Attorney-General. This will ensure that, optically, the Attorney-General is not seen to be a political creature of the ruling party.

This is a vital consideration. All too often, when someone who opposes government policy is prosecuted, accusations will be made of political motivations.

Even where it is clear that the accused has broken the law (for example, by making a nuisance of himself in public), there will always be those who will say that the Government is trying to silence the opposition.

People posing as human rights activists will attract the knee-jerk support of foreign human rightists. Prosecute a journalist or blogger for insulting religions and you can be sure that there will be howls at home and from abroad about political persecution and restriction of freedom of speech.

These criticisms will be flung even if the Attorney-General has acted in good faith and the politicians have scrupulously avoided trying to influence him. This is grossly unfair to the Attorney-General and his officers, not to mention the politicians themselves. If the public prosecutor is truly independent and seen to be so, it will go a long way towards refuting such criticisms.

Finally, the Attorney-General's term of office should be long enough to be useful. The Constitution originally envisaged that the Attorney-General would serve until the age of 60.

This provision was amended to allow the appointment of an Attorney-General for a fixed term. The norm in recent years has been two to three years.

Frequent changes of the Attorney-General are disruptive and not good for the morale of the DPPs. Different attorneys-general have different views about how prosecutorial discretion should be exercised. For the sake of stability, I would suggest a five-year term, renewable by the President at his or her discretion.

Some may ask, why change the system at all? If one believes that all is well and that the system will not buckle in future under the pressure of an unscrupulous powerful executive , then fine, don't change anything.

But if the system can be abused, then the right thing to do is to address the weakness before it does become a problem. A quick look at the state of the world will show that pressure on prosecutors is common, even in countries that consider themselves to be shining examples of the rule of law.

It is foolish to wait until a hurricane hits you to strengthen your roof. Fix it now, when the sun is shining and the dark clouds have not gathered.


  • The writer, a Senior Counsel, is a former Nominated MP who was also attorney-general and public prosecutor of Singapore from 2008 to 2010.

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S'pore, China establish framework for resolving Belt and Road disputes

Business Times
20 Sep 2017
Navin Sregantan

SINGAPORE and China are coming together to help businesses resolve cross-border disputes that may arise from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Mediation centres from the two countries inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Tuesday to jointly serve Singapore and Chinese companies investing in China and Singapore respectively as well as companies investing in other markets under China's BRI.

The MOU was signed by Ng Chai Ngee, board member of the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), and Li Jianning, of the Mediation Center of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade/China Chamber of International Commerce (CCPIT/CCOIC Mediation Center). Mr Li is director-general of the CCPIT Commercial Legal Services Center. The signing was witnessed by Han Kok Juan, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Law, at the International Mediation Summit (IMS) held in Hangzhou.

Under the MOU, the SIMC and CCPIT/CCOIC Mediation Center will "cooperate in the promotion of international commercial mediation through joint lectures, conferences and seminars; promote each other's mediators and mediation-related services; and recommend the use of mediation facilities at Maxwell Chambers in Singapore and the CCOIC building in Beijing", the SIMC said in a statement.

Speaking at the opening address of the IMS, Mr Han said: "As the BRI involves high value, long-term, cross-border investments, a framework for resolving disputes should they arise can help build trust and confidence among governments, investors and people - one that is based on rule of law, is neutral and stable, and can assure fair treatment for all parties. The MOU is a building block for such a framework."

"The SIMC already serves many Chinese companies, and has helped many Chinese companies with their dispute resolution needs. The MOU will allow the SIMC to reach out to even more Chinese parties and create new opportunities for Singapore," said Ms Ng.

The signing comes less than a month after the inaugural Singapore-China Legal and Judicial Roundtable in Beijing where the two countries signed an MOU on legal and judicial cooperation.

Established in 2014, the SIMC provides mediation services for parties in cross-border commercial disputes, particularly those doing business in Asia.

In 2016, the SIMC administered 14 cases involving various international parties. As at Sept 1, the centre has already taken on 16 new cases.

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MAS issues stern money laundering warning; Jakarta starts StanChart probe

Business Times
10 Oct 2017
Judith Tan

Private-bank assets held by StanChart in Channel island tax haven were moved to S'pore in 2015: report

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on Monday declared its firm commitment to keeping the country's financial centre clean and safeguarded from illicit activities.

Singapore's central bank and financial regulatory authority said in an evening statement to the press that it takes a serious view of and will take firm action against any financial institution or individual found to have breached its requirements relating to anti-money laundering (AML) and countering the financing of terrorism (CFT).

This followed a report by Reuters earlier on Monday that Indonesia is investigating reports that US$1.4 billion (S$1.9 billion) held by Standard Chartered (StanChart) in Guernsey, mainly on behalf of Indonesian clients, was transferred to Singapore in 2015, just before the Channel island implemented tax transparency rules.

Under these rules, countries automatically share annual reports on accounts belonging to people subject to taxes in each nation.

Britain, Guernsey and Singapore are signatories, but Guernsey, a known tax haven, implemented the rules ahead of Singapore.

Reuters said Heru Kristiyana, deputy commissioner for banking at Indonesia's financial regulator (OJK), had disclosed in a text message that a supervisor was investigating the issue, in co-ordination with the director-general of taxation and the anti-money laundering agency, the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPTAK).

Both agencies did not comment.

Investigations by Indonesia followed a Bloomberg report four days ago that regulators in Europe and Asia are investigating the bank over the role its staff may have played in transferring the money from private-bank client assets from Guernsey to Singapore before the Common Reporting Standard rules kicked in at the start of last year.

Citing anonymous sources, it said that StanChart had reported the matter itself to the regulators.

Bloomberg said that the assets, held in the bank's Guernsey trust unit for mainly Indonesian clients, some of whom had links to the military, were moved in late 2015.

The bank's processes and the way the transfers were handled are being examined, but regulators have not suggested that bank employees colluded with clients to evade tax, the report said.

Events under probe

Bloomberg reported that people familiar with the probes said both MAS and Guernsey's Financial Services Commission are investigating the chain of events.

Standard Chartered had said last year that it was to close its trust operations in Guernsey and centralise that part of its business in Singapore.

The probe would be a potential blow for the bank, which is trying to turn around a reputation bruised by bad loans and regulatory fines, Reuters reported.

MAS said on Monday: "As our supervisory probe is still ongoing, we are unable to provide more information at this juncture."

It said it has put in place "a robust AML/CFT regime to detect and deter illicit activities in our financial sector" and the framework and supervision were deemed by the Financial Action Task Force to be robust in its 2016 assessment.

MAS said it has continued to build on these strengths by "intensifying its supervision of financial institutions that pose higher money laundering and terrorism financing risks.

"We have not hesitated to take firm action against financial institutions with control deficiencies, and have imposed financial penalties and prohibition orders on culpable individuals where there are serious lapses," it said.

"Where egregious breaches of our laws are detected, MAS has worked with our law enforcement agencies to pursue criminal prosecutions."

Singapore will not tolerate the abuse of its financial system as a refuge or conduit for tax-illicit funds.

In 2013, it designated tax crimes as money laundering predicate offences and directed financial institutions to undertake a critical review of their assets to ensure compliance with the revised laws.

A year later, Singapore further committed to implementing the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information (AEOI) under the Common Reporting Standard (CRS), an internationally agreed standard aimed at strengthening global tax transparency.

Singapore and Indonesia said in July they were ready to share financial data automatically for tax purposes.

Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah told reporters, after attending the International Tax Conference in Jakarta, that Singapore is ready to have an AEOI relationship with Indonesia; Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati added that her ministry will maintain communications with Singapore on the AEOI agreements.

Two agreements

On June 21, Singapore signed two international agreements aimed at making it easier for the country to exchange tax information with other jurisdictions under ongoing global efforts to fight tax evasion and money laundering, as well as to improve tax transparency.

Called multilateral competent authority agreements (MCAAs), they lay out an international framework to facilitate the automatic exchange of tax information, thus obviating the need for countries to conclude multiple bilateral agreements.

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Pakistani duo to hang for body parts in suitcase murder after Apex Court dismisses appeals

TODAY
29 Sep 2017
Valerie Koh

SINGAPORE — Dismissing the appeal of two convicted Pakistani murderers, the apex court on Thursday (Sept 28) shot down the arguments of their defence lawyers, noting that they had not gone further in disputing the prosecution’s case.

Each of the accused had tried to pin the blame on the other, but the Court of Appeal ruled that the specific role they each played in the crime was immaterial, since they had the common intention to kill Muhammad Noor, 59.

On June 11, 2014, Rasheed Muhammad and Ramzan Rizwan murdered Muhammad at a lodging house along Rowell Road in Little India.

Motivated by money, they suffocated the man with a shirt and strangled him with a string from a pair of Punjabi trousers. They also stole S$6,000 from him.

The duo got rid of the body by dismembering it, and stashing the torso and legs into two suitcases. They had planned to dispose of the suitcases at a Muslim cemetery in Kampong Glam, but when the wheels of one suitcase broke, they decided to leave it at Syed Alwi Road, also in Little India.

It was discovered hours later by an 81-year-old man.

Despite their attempts to blame each other for the murder, the High Court sentenced both Rasheed, 46, and Ramzan, 28, to death in February.

Video footage and photographs had showed the duo “acting as a team” by going to Mustafa Centre together to buy a saw and two suitcases for the grisly disposal of the body.

During the appeal heard by Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang, Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong on Thursday, Ramzan’s lawyer Wong Seow Pin argued that his client did not commit the act and had in fact withdrawn from its participation.

That prompted Justice Phang to ask why Ramzan helped with the disposal of the body, if that was indeed the case. “Ramzan is uneducated. He’s unsophisticated ... he’s a simple person,” said Mr Wong, implying that his client had been helping Rasheed out.

Waving the argument aside, the judge said that Ramzan’s actions were consistent with the plan to get rid of evidence.

Mr Wong also argued that his client had been depressed during the recording of his police statements, and that had affected his evidence.

Justice Phang said: “When people are guilty, it’s possible that they may also become depressed.”

Mr Wong Siew Hong, representing Rasheed, also tried to deflect blame from his client by stating that the latter had no motive for the murder, and was simply “at the wrong place at the wrong time”, as he had shared a room with the victim.

But Rasheed had admitted to participating in the murder in his police statement, said Justice Phang.

“If you put yourself in his shoes, what would you have done? Would you have said, ‘(Ramzan), you cannot do that but I will assist you anyway,’” said the judge.

In dismissing the appeal, Justice Phang said that the specific role played by each man was immaterial.

“(The murder) was clearly executed by two persons, given the complete absence of any defensive injuries on the deceased,” he added.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Taking steps for disclosure regime to work in Singapore

Business Times
20 Sep 2017
Tan Boon Gin

Actions of firms with poorer governance record will attract greater scrutiny from SGX

WE operate a disclosure-based regime, but it is not a one-size-fits-all regime. The disclosure-based regime originated in the United States where the market dynamics are very different from Singapore's. They have a higher proportion of institutional investors in the market, more dispersed shareholdings and private enforcement is easier there because of class actions and lawyer contingency fees.

Many of these factors are absent or less developed in Singapore, where the market remains less litigious and driven by higher retail participation. Therefore, in order for the disclosure regime to work in Singapore, we have had to adjust. For example, because we don't have contingency fees and class action suits are more difficult, and we have more concentrated shareholdings compared to the US, we need to have stronger public enforcement in both disclosure and corporate governance.

Hence we issue public trading queries to listed companies when there is unusual trading in their shares, to tease out any undisclosed information that might explain the price or volume movements, and we may even warn the public of a prolonged false market through issuing what is known as a trade-with-caution announcement.

SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING

The non-financial drivers that we have talked about today are well supported by the US exchanges, as evidenced by their endorsement of the World Federation of Exchanges guidelines on environmental, social and governance-related metrics. However, they do not mandate sustainability reporting in their listing rules.

Yet 75 per cent of the S&P 500 companies voluntarily produce sustainability reports. In comparison, only 20 per cent of our listed companies produce sustainability reports even though we have had similar sustainability reporting guidelines for some years.

This may be attributable to the difference in investor mix. Indeed, the institutional investors in the US take sustainability metrics so seriously that the investor relations departments of many companies are experiencing fatigue from the number of sustainability questionnaires they are receiving. Yet it cannot be denied that there is a global movement towards sustainability reporting, even in the retail space.

Hong Kong, for example, which has an even bigger retail market than us, has adopted sustainability reporting and 60 per cent of their companies have started issuing sustainability reports. Individual investors here in Singapore have also begun asking questions about sustainability at company AGMs (annual general meetings).

Hence we have introduced sustainability reporting on a "comply or explain" basis for the financial year ending Dec 31, 2017, or later. As many companies will be reporting for the first time, we have extended considerable latitude in the reporting requirements.

For example, we have not prescribed a particular reporting framework and, in fact, we have encouraged companies to tailor their reports according to their individual needs. We have also permitted a phased approach for first timers to focus in the first year on identifying their material factors and the policies put in place to address them, before going on to set more ambitious quantitative targets.

This is of course just the beginning of a journey, which will, I very much suspect, be similar to the one taken by corporate governance in Singapore. That also started out with regulatory backing on a "comply or explain" basis, and now has gained recognition from "a nice to have" to a "must have" that has the potential to impact investor confidence and a company's share price.

CORPORATE GOVERNANCE: STICK VERSUS CARROT

Speaking of which, earlier this year, two sets of surveys of companies' disclosures from the governance aspect were released. Both of them - the Singapore GTI and the Asean CG Scorecard - showed that yes, improvement was continuous and steady in the way companies were making their disclosures. But how can we encourage companies to make that quantum leap to the next level?

Corporate governance is not renowned for its carrots. Even the phrase "comply or explain" can sound like a threat, depending on who it's coming from. Yes, the SIAS CG awards, presented on Tuesday night, are highly coveted, but that only applies to the top companies that are in contention. Is there something that has broader appeal to all listed companies?

One thing that comes to mind is the turnaround time taken for their corporate actions. Time-to-market for corporate actions is always crucial, and the most important of these actions have to go through the Exchange.

Now we practise a risk-based approach, so it will come as no surprise that companies that have a poorer governance record fall into a higher risk bucket and their actions will attract greater scrutiny from us. However, there might be scope for us to turn this approach on its head and reward companies with a good track record, by either fast tracking their applications, or perhaps not subjecting their applications to review at all.

QUARTERLY REPORTING

The focus today has been about taking the long-term view, and there has been a movement in the UK and the European Union to move away from quarterly reporting in order to discourage short-termism. There is a school of thought that we should do the same.

I have spoken on other occasions about the enhancements to our continuous disclosure regime that might provide an opportunity for us to relook quarterly reporting. However, unlike the UK, where again, the market is largely institutional and shareholdings are dispersed, we have to consider the needs of retail investors, who typically have less access to management and the disparity between inside and public information.

I am also challenged by David (Gerald)'s recent commentary in The Business Times to kick off the SIAS CG Week where he posed the question: How can we encourage companies to make the leap from just disclosure to real communication? It has been suggested in some quarters that since quarterly reporting is for the benefit of investors, it should be left to them to decide.

Since it would then be up to the companies to convince their investors that they are sufficiently well informed on an ongoing basis, in lieu of formal periodic reporting, perhaps this might prove to be the incentive that David is looking for.

To conclude, let me thank everyone for a very interesting discussion on purpose, values and culture. As I said in the beginning, regulation can complement these factors in driving corporate governance and we will continue to shape the market with all this in mind.

  • The writer is CEO of SGX RegCo. This is an edited version of his closing address at the SIAS Global Corporate Governance Conference, delivered on Sept 18

READ MORE: SGX carrots for good compliance? One idea mooted is fast-track approval

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Competition watchdog raises concerns over Wilhelmsen-Drew deal

Business Times
10 Oct 2017
Tan Hwee Hwee

Statutory board notes that parties are largest players with extensive networks; it will start Phase 2 review

THE Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) has raised concerns over the proposed acquisition by Wilhelmsen Maritime Services AS of Drew Marine's technical solutions, fire, safety and rescue businesses.

CCS noted that the two parties involved in the proposed deal are two of the largest players that possess extensive global networks of end-to-end distribution and ancillary services for the provision of chemicals, gases and equipment to the marine sector, and they appear to be each other's closest competitors.

Alternative suppliers may face difficulty achieving sufficient geographic scale to be viable alternative sources of supply and to exert sufficient competitive pressure on the merged entity post-merger, especially for customers that procure on a global basis.

CCS said that the deal may substantially lessen competition in the supply of the products involved to Singapore, resulting in possible price increases, deterioration in quality of products and/or service levels.

CCS said that the concerns were captured from information furnished by Norway-headquartered Wilhelmsen and US-based Drew Marine and third-party feedback from customers and other competing suppliers during a Phase One review of the proposed acquisition.

The statutory board tasked to administer and enforce Singapore's Competition Act will proceed to a Phase Two review of the deal. It expects to take 120 business days to complete this phase.

In August, Wilhelmsen had applied for a decision by CCS on whether the deal, valued at a purchase price of about US$400 million, would infringe the prohibition in Singapore's Competition Act against anti-competitive mergers.

The deal, considered the largest investment in Wilhelmsen's corporate history, is expected to result in a US$150 million increase in annual total income for its ship service unit.

The final closing of the transaction is subject to regulatory approvals. If approval from relevant bodies is not received, the parties have agreed on a termination fee of US$20 million.

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Extra $700m in projects to boost construction sector

Straits Times
29 Sep 2017
Rachel Au-Yong

Govt bringing forward more contracts over next two years, including upgrading works

More estates will get a makeover and new walkways will be built across Singapore, as the Government seeks to give a fillip to the beleaguered construction industry.

It is bringing forward $700 million worth of public amenities projects over the next two years.

This is on top of another $700 million in contracts it had announced in February. They included upgrading works for community centres, sports halls and police stations.

The contracts are generally worth $100 million or less each - jobs that will benefit small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

Speaking at the Singapore Contractors Association Limited's (Scal) 80th anniversary dinner, he said the Government is aware of the challenges the construction sector faces.

The sector has seen four consecutive quarters of contraction due to a drop in private-sector demand, even amid pressure to move away from relying on cheap foreign labour and instead invest in costly technology.

Mr Wong said: "We hope these projects will help the industry as a whole. We will continue to monitor the industry closely and adjust the pace of public-sector projects if necessary."

The Government - the industry's biggest client - has been spending more on infrastructure. It expects to spend between $20 billion and $24 billion this year, up from last year's $15.9 billion.

In all, the public sector would contribute about 70 per cent of the total construction demand this year.

But much of the funds have gone to mega infrastructure projects like the Cross Island Line and Changi Airport Terminal 5, which SMEs say tend to be beyond their reach.

There are about 8,000 small and medium-sized contractors here, according to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

Scal president Kenneth Loo said that while the extra $700 million in projects may not be sufficient to give all firms a lift, it was a "good gesture to inject some positive sentiment into a depressed industry".

Yesterday, Mr Wong spelt out in greater detail other changes in the pipeline for the industry.

The tender process for public projects - such as for new Housing Board flats - which has come under the spotlight over cost-cutting and safety concerns, will better emphasise quality over price.

The price component now makes up about 70 per cent of a tender evaluation. Mr Wong said the non-price percentage will be raised to 40 per cent to 60 per cent come January, with the Government looking at a contractor's past performance, productivity and safety records to assess quality. If successful, the revised criteria will also apply to civil engineering projects.

The Government will also allow the number of supervisors required at a site to be reduced in the early and late stages of building - a move Mr Wong said would not compromise safety.

To kick in later this year, it will benefit about 180 of the 300 large-scale projects and save the industry "several millions of dollars in compliance costs", the BCA said.

Finally, a committee has been set up to work towards implementing a collaborative contracting model, where all parties - from architects and engineers to contractors and facility managers - conceptualise a project from the start. This minimises errors, wastage and redesign issues.

The committee is expected to complete its work by end-2019.

"We are keen to encourage this sort of collaboration, so we hope that you will work with us to make this work better for everyone," said Mr Wong.

SEE TOP OF THE NEWS: Construction firms upbeat about new tender criteria

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Singaporean appointed to top UN mediation panel

Straits Times
20 Sep 2017
Danson Cheong

A Singaporean has been named to a new top-level United Nations mediation panel at a time when the Rohingya refugee crisis is on the radar of the world body.

Former top UN official Noeleen Heyzer was appointed to the UN High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation on Sept 13. The 18-member group comprises current and former world leaders as well as experts.

It will advise UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and support specific mediation efforts around the world, the UN said in a recent statement.

It also said the establishment of the board is part of the "surge in diplomacy for peace", and is expected to let the UN "work more effectively with regional organisations, non-governmental groups and others involved in mediation".

Dr Heyzer, 69, a sociologist, was formerly undersecretary- general of the UN, executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and executive director of the UN Development Fund for Women. She is a distinguished fellow at the Singapore Management University and the Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

When asked yesterday if the board would tackle the Rohingya refugee crisis, Dr Heyzer, who was on her way to New York for the UN General Assembly meetings this week, said the issue was definitely on the UN's agenda.

She added that there was a need to find a "political strategy" that would work for Myanmar's Rakhine state, where more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have been driven from their homes by the military into neighbouring Bangladesh.

She also said she was very pleased to be put in a position where she can draw on her past experiences and "try to help".

She said the "world is in definite need of mediation for peace", which should ideally resolve tensions before they escalate into conflicts.

"What we are seeing is our inability to handle these massive complex conflicts, which have led to the forced displacement of populations and that, in turn, has affected the politics and cohesion of societies," she added during the phone interview.

Other members of the board include former Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa, former Timor Leste president Jose Ramos-Horta, Chile's President Michelle Bachelet and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

RSIS executive deputy chairman Ong Keng Yong said Dr Heyzer's past experiences have left her with wide knowledge and contacts in both the economic and social arenas that she can bring to bear in her new role.

"There is the rich knowledge that she has, and it will help her to perform her role in this mediation group," he said.


COMPLEX CONFLICTS

What we are seeing is our inability to handle these massive complex conflicts, which have led to the forced displacement of populations and that, in turn, has affected the politics and cohesion of societies.

DR NOELEEN HEYZER

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Court lays out guidelines for dangerous driving cases

Straits Times
10 Oct 2017
Ng Huiwen

Extent of harm caused, offender's culpability among factors considered before sentencing

The court has broadly identified the different degrees of harm to be considered when imposing jail terms for motorists found guilty of dangerous driving.

Those who cause serious injury, which usually involves fractures, or permanent injuries may be hit with sentences in the higher range.

Judge of Appeal Steven Chong, in a written judgment issued last Friday, said the sentencing guidelines set out by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in July for drink-driving offences are "useful" and "equally relevant" for dangerous driving. Besides the different degrees of harm, the guidelines also look at the offender's culpability, including the manner and circumstances of driving.

Judge of Appeal Chong raised these points in his judgment in the appeal of 56-year-old cabby Aw Tai Hock, who had been sentenced to three months' jail in March.

On Aug 23, the prosecution appealed for his sentence to be upped to five months, calling it "one of the worst cases of dangerous driving ever seen".

On June 8 last year, Aw had started a high-speed car chase, racing across 11 speed bumps, and at one time, he drove against the flow of traffic in pursuit of Mohd Andy Abdullah, who had damaged his taxi with weapons.

Aw nearly collided several times with several pedestrians and other vehicles during the chase, which lasted about five minutes. It came to an end only after Andy's car crashed into a stationary car.

Judge of Appeal Chong granted the prosecution's appeal, after finding Aw's actions to be of moderate harm and high culpability.

A moderate degree of harm involves serious property damage and/or personal injury, but no fractures or permanent injuries.

With the maximum jail term for drink driving at 12 months, Judge of Appeal Chong said that a sentence in the midpoint region would be appropriate for Aw.

Andy was fined $2,000 and disqualified from driving for four months for dangerous driving. He was also convicted of multiple drug offences, resulting in a total sentence of 10 years and six months' jail and 16 strokes of the cane.

Both Andy and the driver in the stationary car that was hit sustained injuries ranging from bruises to sprains. Both cars were also significantly damaged.

"The entire episode placed many road users and pedestrians at great harm and risk," wrote the judge, noting that Aw had used his taxi as a weapon to cause damage.

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Public Prosecutor v Aw Tai Hock [2017] SGHC 240

Construction firms upbeat about new tender criteria

Straits Times
29 Sep 2017
Rachel Au-Yong

Construction firms are hopeful that new tender criteria that place greater emphasis on quality rather than price will raise industry standards and minimise price wars.

The quality component of a tender will now be given greater weighting - 40 per cent to 60 per cent, Minister for National Development Law-rence Wong said yesterday. This is up from the usual 30 per cent. This means the Government will scrutinise a firm's past performance, productivity and safety record more tho-roughly before awarding a contract.

Mr Tony Goh, project manager for ventilation provider Big Ass Solutions, said his firm favours the new criteria as it provides "costlier but better-quality products".

Excel Precast CEO Tan Bian Tiong said the change would especially benefit firms which are more technologically inclined, and also incentivise others that have yet to take the leap. "You are disadvantaged only if you are doing things the conventional, unproductive way, or have a really bad safety record," he said.

Agreeing, Nanyang Technological University engineering professor Robert Tiong said the new criteria, which will kick in next January, will prevent low bids that may compromise safety or are even loss-making.

This, coupled with another announcement yesterday that the Government is bringing forward another $700 million in public-sector projects over the next two years, will help an industry hurt by dried-up private-sector demand, he said. "With a larger volume of projects in the market, smaller firms have more bites of the cherry. With the added boost, they may be more willing to invest in new equipment or upgrade their skills. It is a win-win for all," he said.

While firms were pleasantly surprised by the added number of projects coming onstream earlier, some worried it might be too little, too late. Ms Wendy Lai, assistant general manager for material supplier Laticrete South East Asia, said her company can take advantage of the extra boost only towards the end stages of a project, as the firm mainly provides finishings like paint coatings and soundproofing materials.

For many firms, the next one to two years will be critical as they enter "survival mode", said Mr Kenneth Loo, president of the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (Scal), which represents some 3,000 firms.

"Construction is a cash-flow business - there needs to be continuity for firms to keep on growing. So more is never enough, but at least it is a good gesture to inject some positive sentiment into a depressed industry," he said.

At yesterday's Scal gala dinner, Mr Loo announced the building of a Scal construction hub. One of its goals is to bring other trade associations under its roof to promote better collaboration in the industry.

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Be aware of copyright when streaming content: Forum

Straits Times
20 Sep 2017

The reports on illicit streaming devices (ISDs) have focused on whether an individual consumer bears liability for using such TV boxes (40% in Singapore watch pirated content: Study; Sept 13).

A few key points have been overlooked in the discussion.

ISD boxes are not standalone devices; they are often preloaded with unauthorised apps which are the terminal end of international pirate broadcast networks.

Even if the act of stealing the programming from a cable, satellite, or broadband network takes place in another country, where the content is streamed onto the Internet, the consumer in Singapore is paying for and abetting that theft.

The legal expert quoted by The Straits Times says the use of ISDs is "unlikely" to give rise to legal liability on the part of individual consumers (What the law says about streaming illegal content; Sept 13).

However, investigations have revealed that there are many preloaded boxes being sold in Singapore with applications that rely on peer-to-peer (P2P) technology to stream pirated content.

Thus, the pirated content is being uploaded at the same time as it is received. Consumer liability for uploading pirated material is much clearer than simple downloading or traditional streaming.

Second, even where a box/app is only receiving the pirated content, all boxes make a temporary copy of the content being viewed. In making this copy, the consumer infringes copyright.

Recent court cases in the European Union have examined consumer streaming applications and confirmed that a viewer streaming illegal content himself incurs liability for the copyright infringement via use of the box he is operating.

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore endorsed this same view in its "Copyright @ Home" information brochure.

While the pay-TV industry intends to focus its enforcement efforts on the "upstream" operators and resellers of piracy networks, consumers should not be misled into thinking that the law clearly absolves their conduct in buying and using ISDs. It does not.

John Medeiros

Chief Policy Officer

Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia


Recent court cases in the European Union have examined consumer streaming applications and confirmed that a viewer streaming illegal content himself incurs liability for the copyright infringement via use of the box he is operating.

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Editor's Note: Supreme Court Practice Directions amended to include a section on medical negligence claims

Singapore Law Watch
11 Oct 2017

The Supreme Court Practice Directions have been amended (Supreme Court Practice Directions Amendment No. 3 of 2017) to include a section on medical negligence claims (Part XXIII of the Practice Directions). With effect from 1 July 2017, parties in medical negligence claims are to comply with the protocol set out at Appendix J of the Practice Directions. The protocol comprises three sections on pre-action specific discovery of documents, commencement of suit and pre-trial proceedings, and medical assessors. The Court will consider compliance with the protocol when exercising its discretion as to costs and when deciding on the interest payable. Practitioners handling medical negligence claims who do not comply with the protocol risk jeopardising clients’ interests. 

 

 

Tributes pour in for retiring Judge of Appeal Chao

Straits Times
28 Sep 2017
Selina Lum

Ministers, judges laud Justice Chao Hick Tin and his contributions at valedictory reference

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, the only judge to have served under all four post-independence Chief Justices, will retire today on his 75th birthday, after over 50 years in public service.

Yesterday, a rare valedictory reference - last held in 1990 for retiring Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin - was conducted to honour Justice Chao and his contributions.

It was attended by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Law Minister K. Shanmugam as well as fellow judges and lawyers.

Mr Shanmugam, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, former deputy prime minister S. Jayakumar, Attorney-General Lucien Wong, Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran, Supreme Court Registrar Vincent Hoong and Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang gave speeches paying tribute to him.

They lauded Justice Chao for his well-known attributes, such as his humanity, patience and kindness, as well as his practical wisdom, clarity of thought and the courage to do what he believed was right.

A book of essays by 17 contributors, titled A Judge For The Ages, which focuses on Justice Chao's work as a judge in diverse areas of law, was also launched at the event. It was edited by Justice Phang and Professor Goh Yihan, dean of Singapore Management University's School of Law.

Mr Shanmugam revealed how Justice Chao, as a 25-year-old legal officer in the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), played a role in Singapore's long-term water security when he attended a United Nations Conference on the Law of Treaties in 1968, following Singapore's separation from Malaysia in 1965.

During discussions, the Malaysian representative acknowledged that "some treaties might be so fundamental to the very existence of states that they simply could not be dispensed with, whatever political differences might arise", said Mr Shanmugam.

The representative said the treaty under which Malaysia had to supply a certain quantity of water daily to Singapore "could not be terminated or suspended between the two states for any political reason".

Mr Shanmugam said Justice Chao, on hearing this and realising how important it was as water from Malaysia was linked to Singapore's very survival, reiterated that the Malaysian representative had said that "even the severance of diplomatic relations... would not affect the water agreement between Singapore and Malaysia".

In doing so, Justice Chao had put on official record Malaysia's express confirmation that the water agreements cannot be terminated, whatever political differences might arise, said Mr Shanmugam. And the importance of having that acknowledgement, "as a matter of UN record", was that it has given Singapore added confidence whenever Malaysia took issue with the water agreements.

"We owe Justice Chao a deep debt of gratitude."

Justice Chao obtained his bachelor's degree in law from University College London in 1965, and his master's degree a year later.

He began his legal career in 1967 in the AGC.

He was appointed judicial commissioner in 1987 and elevated to a High Court Judge three years later. He was appointed a Judge of Appeal in 1999.

He was made Attorney-General in 2006, returning to the Bench as Judge of Appeal and vice-president of the Court of Appeal in 2008.

As a legal officer advancing Singapore's interests in the international arena for 20 years, Justice Chao was also involved in the Pedra Branca dispute from the late 1970s, and was a key member of the team that negotiated the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Professor Jayakumar, who was then law minister, recounted how Justice Chao played a pivotal role in fighting to ensure Singapore's navigational interests.

Despite the many capacities in which Justice Chao has impacted Singapore's legal history, it will be his 28 years as a judge that will likely be remembered most vividly, said Chief Justice Menon.

"It was as a judge that he epitomised the human face of justice, and what a lovely face it was; it was as a judge that he contributed a vast tract of jurisprudence that will have an immense and lasting influence on Singapore law for decades to come; it was as a judge that he expressed his deep love for the law most visibly," he added.

Speakers also shared light-hearted anecdotes.

Prof Jayakumar revealed how Justice Chao is an excellent cook who would rustle up fantastic meals after working sessions, while he and the others, including Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh, washed the dishes.

Attorney-General Wong related how Justice Chao, who was part of the Singapore delegation for the Asean Law Association conference, was left behind in the Jakarta airport because he chose to go shopping while the others were ushered to the VIP lounge.

"Unflappable as always, he just took the next flight back, with his shopping no less."


SAFE REFUGE

In the 1980s, appearing in some of our courts could be like being caught in a tempest. So the calmness and kindness in Justice Chao's court was like getting a safe refuge.

LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM, who was a young lawyer in the 1980s taking on his first significant High Court case when he appeared before Justice Chao, then a judicial commissioner.

PROTECTING SINGAPORE'S INTERESTS

I admired the way he would doggedly protect and promote Singapore's interests. If ever there was a situation where I needed a tough comrade in arms, Chao Hick Tin would be that person.

FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND LAW MINISTER S. JAYAKUMAR, who has worked together with Justice Chao in the context of international negotiations and diplomacy.

MOST LOVED

I do not exaggerate when I say that Justice Chao is the most loved of all the judges... I hope that my colleagues will not take offence when I say that none of us comes close in this particular regard.

JUDGE OF APPEAL ANDREW PHANG

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

High Court: Vandalism includes more than damage to public property

Straits Times
20 Sep 2017
K.C. Vijayan

To a layman, vandalism may need to include some sort of damage to public property, but this is not the case under the law.

This was made clear by the High Court in rejecting the appeal of a woman convicted of vandalism for hanging banners and placards.

Justice See Kee Oon, in judgment grounds issued last week, said that acts of vandalism destroying or damaging public property may have nothing in common with affixing or displaying a poster, but both acts carry criminal liability under the Vandalism Act (VA)... "although the prescribed punishments may be different", he explained, adding that "the statutory language is clear and unambiguous".

Singaporean Ng Chye Huay was convicted in the State Courts of six charges. She hung banners on the railings of the Esplanade Bridge, displayed placards on the overhead bridge at People's Park Complex and the walkway between Pearl's Centre and the People's Park Complex - all of which were public property.

The banners and placards carried messages about falungong and its practitioners. Falungong is a form of Chinese spiritual practice that includes meditation and qigong exercises.

A district judge, noting that she was a serial offender, had fined her $12,000: $2,000 for each of the six acts of vandalism between 2013 and 2014. Last month, in her appeal, her lawyers argued that there had been no vandalism as there was no permanent damage and no intent to cause damage or social disruption.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Kumaresan Gohulabalan and Dwayne Lum countered that an offence is committed even if there was no damage given the broad meaning in the Act, and any damage would draw more serious punishment.

Justice See noted that there was no damage but held that as long as the items were being displayed, there certainly was "defacement" of the property.

Pointing out that her conduct was the kind of anti-social behaviour the Act sought to address, the judge stressed that such behaviour "might cause, and in most cases is likely to cause, social disruptions".

The judge also rejected her claim that the Act unlawfully curtailed her rights to freedom of speech and religion as provided under the Constitution.

He said the Act "validly restricts freedom of speech and freedom of religion", and cited a 2005 judgment by then Chief Justice Yong Pung How, who said: "Parliament is empowered to legislate restrictions on those rights, which are qualified rather than absolute".

K. C. Vijayan

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

Ng Chye Huay v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGHC 224

Drink maker loses bid to stop game's 'monster' trademark

Straits Times
09 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

United States energy drink manufacturer Monster Energy failed to block Japanese mobile-game producer Mixi Inc's move to register its trademark Monster Strike in Singapore for its popular mobile game.

A trademark registrar held that Energy's bid to ring-fence the word "monster" for its own use was unjustified as both products operate in different business fields and the marks were more dissimilar than similar.

"Stripped of its legalese, this dispute is, at heart, about one trader's battle to fence off an ordinary English word - monster - for itself, and to exclude others," said assistant registrar of trade marks Gabriel Ong from the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore in decision grounds last month.

Mixi Inc had applied in June 2014 to register the trademark for Monster Strike under two categories.

One broadly involves computer and mobile game software, related accessories and hardware. The other category was for a variety of services, including providing video games through various media.

Both fall under Singapore's Trade Marks Act and apply in Singapore.

Energy's lawyer, Mr Just Wang, in opposing the move, argued that the word "monster" formed a distinctive and dominant portion of its marks. The drink manufacturer had earlier registered trademarks in Singapore such as Monster Detox, Monster Rehab and Java Monster, as well as Monster Energy, as part of its Monster family of trademarks.

It chose to oppose the registration of Monster Strike in particular because it was most similar overall to Monster Energy.

Mixi Inc lawyers William Ong and Dhiviya Mohan contested the claims, underlining conceptual, aural and visual differences.

Mr Gabriel Ong found both marks to be more dissimilar than similar, noting that the second word in each differentiated the marks. He added that the marks were registered for types of goods that are unlikely to cause confusion among consumers.

There is also no risk of misperception of co-branding nor any likelihood of confusion as the public at large recognise Monster Energy drinks not by reference to the words but the accompanying trademarks above the words, including the "claw" graphics. "It is one thing to describe the goods as Monster Energy, but how they are marketed and sold is another matter," added Mr Gabriel Ong, noting that each can of the Monster Energy drink "invariably bears the claw device", although there were minor variations to each product range.

In a 48-page judgment, he found that the opposition by Monster Energy to Mixi Inc's application failed on all grounds and ordered costs for the game producer.

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

Monster Energy Company v Mixi, Inc [2017] SGIPOS 12

'I would not do anything differently': Justice Chao Hick Tin

Straits Times
28 Sep 2017
Selina Lum

If he could choose his career path again, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said he would not have it any other way.

"If I were to start my working life all over again, I would not do anything differently," he said in a written reply to questions from The Straits Times.

"I have had an enriching and fulfilling 50 years in the public service, with many unique experiences along the way, such as being involved in the long-drawn negotiations (from 1974 to 1982) on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea."

Asked to name significant cases he has handled, Justice Chao, who has penned more than 600 judgments, said two cases came to mind, not because of the legal issues raised but because of the length of the trial and the animosity between the parties.

One was a dispute he heard in the 1990s between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law, while the other was the divorce of a celebrity couple and the related matters.

He also cited the recent split decision in the murder case of Jabing Kho, in which a five-judge Court of Appeal ruled 3:2 that the death sentence should be imposed, as the accused had attacked the victim in a savage and brutal manner that displayed a blatant disregard for human life. Justice Chao wrote the majority decision.

Loved by lawyers for his patience and kindness, Justice Chao is known for giving lawyers a good hearing.

"As I see it, the task of the judge is to hear the parties and decide the matter fairly and impartially, having regard to the evidence before the court and the applicable law.

"I feel that the court, especially a trial court, ought to give the parties adequate time to establish their respective cases. This is not to say that the court should always indulge a party's pointless pursuit of a particular line of questioning or a particular legal point. The court must always seek to strike a balance, bearing in mind time and resource constraints," he told ST.

In his speech at his valedictory reference yesterday, Justice Chao credited this philosophy to a piece of advice that has shaped the way he has acted as a judge all these years.

"The advice was this: Let counsel develop his case; don't anticipate and be slow to stop counsel from adducing evidence. Even on a point of law which you may think you are familiar with, always listen to what counsel has to say first."

In his speech, he noted that his 50 years in public service have had their ups and downs.

"Of course, there were times when dispensing justice in a case seemed difficult or elusive. Still, as judges, we always have to do our level best."

Post-retirement, he said his immediate plan was to travel.

"I have spent a good 50 years in the public service. I only hope that I have in some small way contributed to the development of our law and our legal system," he told ST.

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

Dad and son sue art gallery for fraud, negligence

Straits Times
19 Sep 2017
Selina Lum

They bought paintings said to be by famous Indonesian artists, but which have been assessed to be imitations

Believing they were investing in valuable art pieces, a Malaysian in the construction business and his father bought 13 paintings, supposedly the works of renowned Indonesian artists, for more than $2.8 million.

But they later discovered that the paintings were imitations.

Seven paintings, bought from Singapore-based Dahlia Gallery, were assessed by an expert to be fakes worth at most US$9,131 (S$12,300).

Mr Denis Latimer, 52, and his father Paul, 74, had paid more than $700,000 for them.

The Latimers have sued the gallery, its owners Koh Hwee Khoon and Pang Sau Mei, as well as Mr Quah Beng Hoe, a Malaysian collector who sold them the other six paintings for $2.1 million.

Their case against the gallery and its owners for fraud, negligence and breach of contract opened in the High Court yesterday. The case against Mr Quah is pending.

While the senior Latimer is named as a plaintiff as he paid for some paintings, it was his son who made the decision to buy the art pieces.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Mr Avinash Pradhan, said in his opening statement that the younger Latimer was "duped" into buying the paintings by the fraudulent representations of Mr Koh. Ms Pang is accused of negligence.

In October 2011, Mr Latimer chanced upon Dahlia's exhibition booth at the Art Expo Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. Two paintings caught the eye of his companion, Mr C. J. Thomas, who had been helping him build an art collection.

Mr Koh described them as Balinese Women At Sanur Cottage by Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur and Prayer, 1971 by S. Sudjojono.

The two men, who have no experience in Indonesian art, said they believed Mr Koh when he said the works were authentic and valuable.

Mr Latimer bought the two paintings for US$100,000.

After the Art Expo, Ms Pang sent Mr Latimer and Mr Thomas photos of three more paintings.

When Mr Thomas viewed the pieces at the gallery, Mr Koh showed him a stamp at the back of the frame of a painting described as Morning Prayer, 1973 by Affandi, saying it was from a museum specialising in the artist's works. Mr Latimer bought the three paintings for $300,000 in December 2011.

In March 2012, he was assured that the gallery could remarket the paintings at an estimated profit of at least $100,000, though he was advised to keep the Affandi as its value "will definitely increase".

He bought two more paintings, including Rojak Seller by Lee Man Fong, for $270,000 that month.

Mr Latimer said after the third deal, Mr Koh revealed that the paintings were from Mr Quah's collection. Subsequently, Mr Latimer dealt with Mr Quah in buying the rest of the paintings. However, Mr Koh has denied ever telling Mr Latimer that Mr Quah was the collector.

He contended that he had told Mr Latimer he did not have any documents relating to the paintings and left it to Mr Latimer to decide whether he wanted to buy them. Mr Latimer disputes this.

The trial continues.

Among the paintings that Mr Denis Latimer bought were what were described to him as Balinese Women At Sanur Cottage by Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur; Morning Prayer, 1973 by Affandi; and Rojak Seller by Lee Man Fong (above).

Among the paintings that Mr Denis Latimer bought were what were described to him as Balinese Women At Sanur Cottage by Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur; Morning Prayer, 1973 by Affandi (above); and Rojak Seller by Lee Man Fong.

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

Trusts are not just for the well-heeled

Straits Times
08 Oct 2017
Lorna Tan

They can be useful legacy-planning tools especially if one has vulnerable beneficiaries

Trusts have long been seen as an investment instrument for the well-heeled, but many people now realise that they can be useful and relevant legacy-planning tools.

While wills are essential, trusts are also important because of our growing wealth - based on the potential value of our estate upon death - and the vulnerable beneficiaries we may have.

Estate planning specialist and director of Legasy Planners, Mr Keon Chee, says his clients are individuals with $1 million or more in wealth at their deaths.

"This would probably include 90 per cent of working Singaporean adults when you count their cash, homes and insurance proceeds," he notes. "I ask such people if they have vulnerable beneficiaries which would include minors, adults who cannot handle money (such as offspring who are young adults), senior citizens (like parents) and persons with special needs."

He adds that if he asked these people if they would give $1 million to such vulnerable beneficiaries in a lump sum, all of them would say no.

"Yet they all do so in the end because most don't even write a will, let alone (set up) a trust," he says.

There are also people who use trusts to ensure that their wealth is kept within direct family members such as spouses, children and grandchildren but leaving out children's spouses and their in-laws.

Ms Lie Chin Chin, managing director of law firm Characterist, adds that people in high-risk business with exposure to potential creditors can also set up a trust to shield part of their assets.

Mr Lee Chiwi, chief executive of Rockwills International Group, noted that in the past, trusts were generally pitched at rich clients and offered by private banks, but now independent trust firms are offering such services on the back of the population's growing wealth.

The Sunday Times highlights five scenarios where trusts can be relevant to the man in the street.

Standby Trust

In a nutshell, a trust is a legal arrangement that allows an individual to place his assets such as shares, money and property such that an appointed person or trustee can manage and administer them for the benefit of others (beneficiaries).

Legacy-planning specialists recommend the standby trust as an affordable and flexible tool.

"This is a distinctive trust that caters to the client who may decide to transfer some of his significant assets into trust only at a future date," says Mr Lee.

"It is an alternative proposition as the client may have no need to transfer his assets while he is mentally lucid."

A standby trust offers more confidentiality than a trust set up from within a will (known as a testamentary trust) and amendments to the so-called "Letter of wishes" can be made at little cost, adds Legasy Planners' Mr Chee.

When the trust is on standby mode, the annual costs are typically nominal, starting from $250, and include reviews of your "wishes".

Depending on the complexity, the one-time set-up fee of a standby trust can range from $4,000 to more than $10,000. Once it is activated - upon mental incapacity or death - the annual fees kick in. They could be a fixed annual fee reviewable every year or a percentage of the movable assets held in the trust (0.1 per cent to 0.5 per cent).

For immovable assets, the average annual administration fee rate may be based on, say, 5 per cent of the annual gross income of the property, subject to a minimum of $3,000.

Characterist's annual fees for a standby trust start from $8,000 per year and are capped at $15,000 for assets up to $5 million. Fees are separately negotiated for assets above $5 million.

For some families with special-needs members and who cannot afford private trust firms and banks, they can approach the Special Needs Trust Company (SNTC). SNTC is a non-profit trust firm here offering affordable trust services to such families.

For instance, the one-time set-up fee of $1,500 for a trust works out to just $150, after taking into account the 90 per cent subsidy.

Here are five scenarios on how a trust can be relevant.

Choosing a suitable trust firm

Generally, there are two groups of trust companies - either bank-owned or independent.

There are nearly 60 licensed trust companies listed on the Monetary Authority of Singapore's website.

Mr Henny Liow, chief trust officer at DBS Private Bank, advises that the person setting up a trust should note that the instrument is usually a long-term structure intended to last well beyond his lifetime. In addition, the trustee's duty (called fiduciary duty) is an onerous one. "The trustee is going to hold title to trust assets and in some cases will be called on to take care of vulnerable or young beneficiaries who may not know their legal rights," he notes. So the person must choose a trustee he is confident will fulfil these requirements.

Mr Lee says some clients may want the global reach and access to the bank's products, investment offerings and services coupled with private banking relationships. Others may want the boutique advisory services of the independent trust firm that administers not only financial assets but also non-financial ones such as real estate and private companies: "Where clients require holistic estate planning services such as in will making, estate administration, corporate administration or even services like drawing up the Lasting Power of Attorney or Advance Medical Directive, the offering is more likely available at the independent trust companies."

Before setting up a trust, you should also think hard about what you want to achieve.

Ms Lie says: "They should consider which portion of their assets should be in the trust. They should consider whether to set up one or more trusts for different purposes and different beneficiaries."


1. ENSURING MAINTENANCE OF YOUNG CHILDREN

Ms Karen Low (not her real name), 40, is a divorcee earning $3,500 a month. She has two children aged eight and 10. Mr Chee advised her to make a will that sets up a trust (testamentary trust) upon her death.

He says Ms Low requires a trust to distribute her money over a period of time upon her death because her estate would have over $1 million from her insurance plans and other assets. She has two young beneficiaries.

Ms Low has the option of stating a fixed amount be given to her children every month. However, she preferred for the trustees to decide how much money the children would require depending on their life stage, until they become adults.


2. SHIELDING ASSETS FROM DIVISION UPON YOUR DIVORCE

Ms Anna Ang (not her real name), 43, feels insecure with her husband's frequent business travels. She worries if her marriage ends in divorce she could at most get a portion of the matrimonial assets but their only child, aged 16, would get nothing.

On the advice of Characterist's Ms Lie, Ms Ang arranged for her husband to buy a property on an irrevocable trust set up in the child's name. This means the assets set aside in the trust for the child will never be subject to division in a divorce. This protection cannot be secured by a will, which can be revoked any time.


3. SHIELDING ASSETS SHOULD YOUR CHILDREN DIVORCE

A standby trust can be useful for those who want to give assets to a child with the assurance that the gift will not become a divisible matrimonial asset if the child eventually marries and then divorces.

Mr and Mrs Robert Lim (not their real names) wanted to help their children set up homes in their lifetime but did not want their savings to benefit unintended third parties. They set up a portfolio of assets on trust so the children can benefit from the income. The trust can be set up so that these assets will never be part of the children's matrimonial assets, says Ms Lie. For instance, the trust documents may state the assets are meant only for the parents' children and grandchildren, but not in-laws.


4. AVOIDING POTENTIAL CLAIMS MADE AGAINST BENEFICIARIES

Mrs Agnes Tan (not her real name) and her husband had two children. Mrs Tan worked as a senior manager in the corporate world while her husband was self-employed.

Mrs Tan's investments were worth more than $2 million and she also owned two condominium units in her name. The couple made their wills naming each other as the main beneficiary of their respective estates.

Two years later, she was advised by Rockwills to create a standby trust for her family members. She made a new will that gifted her residuary estate to the standby trust. Her husband and two children were the beneficiaries.

She subsequently died. At the point of her death, Mr Tan was an undischarged bankrupt as his business had failed. Fortunately, her estate "poured over" to the standby trust under the terms of her latest will, which prevailed over the previous one.

If she had not set up the standby trust and not made a new will, it would have meant that under her earlier will, the substantial part of her estate would have been bequeathed to her husband. Under the bankruptcy law, that would have left Mrs Tan's estate exposed to his creditors to satisfy his debts.


5. LENDING MONEY FROM A TRUST TO A BENEFICIARY FOR PURCHASE OF A RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY

Rockwills' Mr Lee notes that when young people start their careers, their incomes may be insufficient to acquire big-ticket items like a property.

Marriages may also be postponed or they delay starting families. At the same time, parents do not simply want to give a free handout to young adult children.

Parents can set up a trust to assist their children to acquire residential properties for themselves but under certain conditions to be observed by the trustees.

A standby trust can be set up with a loan (with interest or interest-free) from the trust funds.

The loan will be required to be secured upon pre-determined terms and conditions such as on the security of the property.

By doing so, the trustees will have a charge over the property, which effectively means that if the beneficiary decides to sell it at some stage, the proceeds will go towards redeeming the trust charge first.

One requirement is that the amount of the loan cannot exceed two-thirds of the value of the property.

The beneficiary either pays the balance or obtains a bank loan. When the beneficiary is at a certain age, say 35, the trustees could have the power to determine if the loan needs to be paid back.

This sort of estate planning means the parents' inheritance to their children gives them a head start in their lives but is controlled until such time when the young beneficiary becomes of age and is financially more mature.


Planning tools

WILL

A will is a declaration about the distribution and management of your estate, which includes your assets. It takes effect after your death.

TRUST

A trust serves to protect family assets that might otherwise go to beneficiaries too young to get substantial inheritances, or who are spendthrifts, financially immature or vulnerable.

The ultimate distributions to them should be delayed for a certain time to ensure they get their inheritance when they reach a certain age or maturity.

LASTING POWER OF ATTORNEY (LPA)

An LPA is drawn up to appoint people entrusted to look after you (the donor) at a time when you lose mental capacity. Caregiving has two aspects - personal welfare and property, and financial affairs.

ADVANCE MEDICAL DIRECTIVE (AMD)

An AMD expresses your intention that no extraordinary life-sustaining treatment should be applied if you suffer from a terminal illness and become unconscious or incapable of exercising rational judgment.

NOMINATION OF CENTRAL PROVIDENT FUND SAVINGSSuch savings cannot be distributed through a will. It is prudent to nominate your beneficiaries as the Public Trustee charges a fee for administering un-nominated CPF money.

Parents can set up a trust to assist their children to acquire residential properties for themselves but under certain conditions to be observed by the trustees.

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

A success story in resolving sea boundary disputes

Straits Times
28 Sep 2017
Tommy Koh

Timor-Leste and Australia chart the way through conciliation in a first under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

We live in a very troubled world. There are conflicts and disputes between and among states in every region of the world. One category of disputes which is hard to resolve is disputes between states over their land and sea boundaries. The recent tension between China and India is a reminder that their land boundaries have not yet been resolved. In the South China Sea, there are disputes between China and several Asean countries on their competing sovereignty and maritime claims.

Viewed against this background, the announcement by the conciliation commission in Copenhagen on Sept 1, that there had been a breakthrough in the conciliation proceedings on maritime boundaries between Timor-Leste and Australia, was happy news. I wish to explain in this column the facts of the case, the nature of the conciliation proceedings, the elements of the package deal agreed upon by the two parties and some lessons learnt.

There is a lot of confusion in the media and in the minds of the public about the peaceful settlement of disputes. The United Nations Charter refers to the following modalities for the peaceful settlement of disputes: negotiation, fact-finding, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement.

When a country becomes a party of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), it can make a declaration that its preferred mode of dispute settlement is arbitration or the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. If it fails to make a choice, it is deemed to have chosen arbitration. Dispute settlement under Unclos is compulsory. This is why Malaysia was able to institute arbitral proceedings against Singapore in 2003 without our consent. Malaysia did not need Singapore's consent because our consent was given when we became a party of the convention.

Australia and Timor-Leste are neighbouring states, separated by the Timor Sea at a distance of approximately 300 nautical miles. Timor-Leste (East Timor) was a Portuguese colony from the 16th century until 1975. On Nov 28, 1975, a political party, Fretilin, declared the territory's independence. Nine days later, it was invaded and occupied by Indonesia. In 1976, Indonesia declared East Timor as its 27th province. In 1999, the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. From 1999 to 2002, it was administered by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (Untaet). It became independent on May 20, 2002.

There are several issues in the dispute between Timor-Leste and Australia. The first main issue concerns boundaries: the boundaries of the two countries' exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and their continental shelves. Timor-Leste had, from 2003, requested that Australia negotiate those boundaries but to no avail. The second main issue concerns the development arrangements in a field called Greater Sunrise which, in Timor-Leste's view, belonged to Timor-Leste and not Australia.

COMPULSORY CONCILIATION

While dispute settlement under Unclos is compulsory, states can make a declaration to exclude from Unclos arbitral or judicial proceedings certain categories of disputes, including maritime boundary disputes. However, these disputes are subject to compulsory conciliation. On March 22, 2002, about two months before Timor-Leste became independent, Australia made a declaration, excluding from Unclos arbitral and judicial proceedings disputes concerning its EEZ boundaries and continental shelf boundaries. Timor-Leste is therefore unable to initiate arbitral or judicial proceedings against Australia on their sea boundaries.

On April 11 last year, Timor-Leste surprised Australia by notifying Canberra that it was initiating compulsory conciliation proceedings against Australia. Timor-Leste also informed Australia that it was appointing Judge Abdul Koroma and Judge Rudiger Wolfrum as its conciliators. On May 2 the same year, Australia informed Timor-Leste that it had appointed Dr Rosalie Balkin and Professor Donald McRae as its conciliators. The four conciliators, with the consent of the two countries, chose Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen as the commission's fifth conciliator and chairman.

Australia objected to the commission's competence. In response, the commission held a special hearing on competence from Aug 29 to 31 last year. The following month, on Sept 19, the commission unanimously decided that it had competence. It also decided that it would aim to conclude its work within 12 months from Sept 19, as prescribed by Article 7 of Annex V of Unclos.

This is the first occasion in which Annex V of Unclos has been invoked. It may therefore be useful for us to find out more about conciliation under Unclos. My first point is that under Unclos, we have voluntary conciliation and compulsory conciliation. My second point is that the conciliation commission is not a court of law. It is not the commission's job to rule on the legal rights of the two parties. The function of the commission is to "hear the parties, examine their claims and objectives, and make proposals to the parties with a view to reaching an amicable settlement".

PACKAGE DEAL

At their meeting in Copenhagen on Aug 30 this year, the two parties accepted a package deal proposed by the commission. The package agreement addresses their maritime boundary in the Timor Sea, the legal status of the Greater Sunrise gas field, the establishment of a special regime for Greater Sunrise, the development of the oil and gas resource, and the sharing of the resulting revenue.

It is the intention of the commission and the two parties to embody the agreement in a legally binding treaty. The two parties will meet at The Hague next month to sign an agreement on the text of the treaty. The treaty itself will be signed subsequently, possibly at the UN, and witnessed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

What lessons can we learn from this case? There are several. First, countries which have disputes about their sea boundaries, or have competing claims about territorial sovereignty, should seriously consider using conciliation to solve their disputes. Unlike arbitration and judicial settlement, conciliation is non-adversarial and the outcome is consensual and win-win.

Second, you should choose your conciliators wisely. In this case, we have five excellent conciliators. The chairman of the commission, Ambassador Taksoe-Jensen, drove the process with energy, determination and fairness. The Unclos deadline for the commission to produce a report within 12 months helped to put pressure on everyone.

Third, the two countries were very well represented. Timor-Leste's chief negotiator is Mr Xanana Gusmao, the father of the nation. Its agent, Minister Agio Pereira, is cool, wise and solid. Its legal team includes two top legal minds, Professor Vaughan Lowe and Sir Michael Wood. The same is true on the Australian side. Mr Gary Quinlan, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, made an important contribution. Sir Daniel Bethlehem and Professor Chester Brown are a good match for Prof Lowe and Sir Michael.

Finally, and perhaps, the most important factor, is that there was the political will on both sides to find a just and durable compromise. Both sides were willing to give and take. Without the requisite political will, the case would not have succeeded. We must congratulate the governments of Timor-Leste and Australia for setting a good example for the world.

• The author, an ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, served as president of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1981 and 1982, and is currently the chairman of the board of governors of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore.


...there was the political will on both sides to find a just and durable compromise. Both sides were willing to give and take. Without the requisite political will, the case would not have succeeded. We must congratulate the governments of Timor-Leste and Australia for setting a good example for the world.

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

How Singapore SMEs should prepare for EU general data protection regulation

Business Times
19 Sep 2017
Jonathan Kok

SINGAPORE'S small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that have business dealings with clients based in the European Union (EU) will need to keep an important date in mind - May 25, 2018.

That is the day the new legal framework, the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), will come into force across the EU to protect all EU citizens and residents from privacy and data breaches by giving them greater control over the organisations that can use their personal data.

This means that, in about 10 months, all organisations - whether in the EU or anywhere else - must adhere to the GDPR regulation as long as they collect and process personal data of EU citizens and residents.

Given that the EU accounts for 10 per cent of Singapore's total trade and with bilateral trade standing at about S$91 billion in 2015, the importance of being GDPR-ready cannot be discounted.

A global study by Veritas Technologies reported that 92 per cent of organisations in Singapore were concerned about not complying with the GDPR when it comes into effect next year; 56 per cent of businesses were afraid of being unable to meet the regulatory deadlines.

Failure to comply can have serious consequences, especially for SMEs. The GDPR introduces a tiered approach to fines. For example, a company which does not have its records in order can be fined 10 million euros (S$16.07 million) or 2 per cent of its total global turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher.

Fines are also imposed if the firm fails to notify the supervising authority and the data subject about a breach, or if it fails to conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA).

Organisations in breach of the GDPR can be fined up to a maximum of 4 per cent of their annual global turnover or 20 million euros of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher.

GDPR requirements

With the GDPR introducing some fairly stringent requirements in relation to the protection of personal data, SMEs need to be familiar with what the new regulations are.

Firstly, organisations covered by the GDPR must employ a Data Protection Officer (DPO), who is responsible for ensuring that the organisation collects and secures personal data responsibly.

Secondly, individuals have more rights over how organisations use their personal data. They have the "right to be forgotten" if they either withdraw their consent for the use of their personal data or if keeping their personal data is no longer required.

Organisations must immediately report breaches in data security to the relevant data protection authority in the EU. Ideally, the report should be made within 24 hours of the discovery of the breach; if that is not possible, within 72 hours.

Keep in mind that consent for a particular use of the personal data must now be explicitly given before this data can be used for that purpose. The previous practice of taking silence or a failure to opt out to be "deemed consent" is no longer considered as valid consent.

This new requirement will be applied retroactively; personal data previously collected without meeting this new requirement cannot be used unless express consent is obtained.

An organisation with fewer than 250 employees is not required to comply with the GDPR. However, the GDPR still applies to SMEs with fewer than 250 employees that either routinely process personal data that is likely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of EU data subjects or process special categories of data relating to criminal convictions and offences. The special categories of data include health data, information on individuals' racial or ethnic origin, political affiliations, religious beliefs, genetic and biometric data and sexual orientation.

The GDPR will apply to both controllers and processors of data. A data controller determines the purposes, conditions and means of processing the personal data; a data processor processes personal data on behalf of the controller. The GDPR places more legal obligations and liabilities on controllers than on processors. Controllers will need to ensure that their contracts with processors require the processors to comply with the obligations under the GDPR.

Under the GDPR, personal data is any information that relates to a natural person or data subject that can be used to directly or indirectly identify that person. Such information can include a name, a photo, an e-mail address, bank details, posts on social media websites, medical information, or a computer IP address.

Preparing to be GDPR-ready

With personal data being used widely from marketing to customer relationship management, SMEs will need to rethink the way they manage and protect personal data in order to comply with the GDPR.

For a start, they need to appoint a DPO, who need not be a full-time employee, and whose function can be outsourced depending on the organisation's needs.

Ensure that all personal data is stored responsibly and securely, and all data-security arrangements are regularly reviewed and updated. Measures such as PIAs, which assess where privacy risks exist and how to minimise them, are essential, especially for controllers.

Review the consent that was given when the personal data was collected. If the data was collected under "opt out" or other mechanisms which are no longer valid under the GDPR, the organisation must cease using the personal data unless further express consent is obtained.

The organisation must update its privacy policies as the GDPR requires them to inform individuals of their new rights under the GDPR.

Last but not least, the organisation should put in place plans to deal with a data breach. This will mean knowing what personal data the organisation is holding, where it is stored, who has access to it, and how to spot breaches when they occur, as well as to whom the breach must be reported.

The organisation should also consider installing new technology that can provide a comprehensive approach to data identification and security. Understanding what personal data is held and where this is stored will help in monitoring compliance and the processes involved in dealing with the personal data.

Given the heavy fines for non-compliance, Singapore SMEs must ensure that they have implemented privacy by design internally and externally, and put in place policies that ensure internal and external compliance with the obligations of the GDPR.

The writer is head and partner, Intellectual Property & Technology, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing

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

DMX sues Deloitte, alleging professional negligence

Business Times
07 Oct 2017
Angela Tan

At issue is the "clean opinion" stamped by Deloitte over 13 years

DMX Technologies Group is suing Deloitte & Touche LLP for losses and damages suffered as a result of alleged professional negligence by its former auditor.

Based in Hong Kong and listed in Singapore in 2002, DMX is a digital media solutions provider with offices scattered in Asia, including Greater China, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, India and Singapore. Japan's second-largest telecommunications operator KDDI Corporation paid S$188.4 million for a 52 per cent stake in the company in September 2009.

At the heart of the suit is the "clean opinion" stamped by Deloitte over a period of 13 years from 2001 to 2013. A clean opinion is an audit report that is issued when an auditor determines that each of the financial records provided by a company is free of any misrepresentations.

Trouble began after DMX changed its external auditor to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) in 2014 from Deloitte. PwC sought supporting documents for certain transactions executed by the former management. But it was unable to obtain sufficient supporting documents to prove both the delivery and cashflow of equipment related to the transactions in questions.

To make matters worse, further investigations suggested that the transactions in question might be "related party transactions". The legal existence of certain import/export firms and China suppliers could not be verified. Almost all payments from the import/export firms were deposited from a company known as "Mozart", which is suspected to be majority owned by DMX's former management. Another company, Tacoma, the receiving agent of a PRC supplier, was also discovered to be linked to the former management.

The problem is a large portion of DMX's revenue and profit came from these transactions in question. Once these were excluded, DMX was found to be a loss-making company. Cumulative losses of more than US$90 million were incurred and more than US$130 million of cash was drained from the company from fiscal years 2010 to 2015.

On Aug 31, 2017, DMX told shareholders that it was exploring its options regarding its former auditor, saying that Deloitte "issued a clean opinion from 2001 to 2013, where they should have been able to obtain all the requisite confirmation from PRC suppliers, import/export firms, and end users".

Led by current chief executive officer Iwao Oishi, who hailed from KDDI, DMX's current management has been struggling to get rid of unprofitable businesses and raise funds for PwC to complete the extended scope audits to confirm the true financial state of the company.

Trading in its shares has remained suspended since March 20, 2015 "to prevent the erosion of shareholder value" after an investigation by its legal counsel revealed irregular accounting practices at two of the IT solution provider's subsidiaries in 2008 and 2009.

The trading suspension came after former chief executive Jismyl Teo and former chief financial officer Skip Tang were arrested by the Hong Kong police's Commercial Crime Bureau on Feb 3 and released on bail. The two were subsequently fired over allegations of serious misconduct and negligence.

DMX filed a lawsuit against former management for breach of fiduciary duties and duties of care owed to DMX HK in April last year. For debt recovery and transparency, DMX has filed two legal actions against big debtors related to the transactions in question to collect the account receivables as quickly as possible.

At the end of June 2017, DMX has only US$1.6 million in cash and cash equivalents. It has warned that the limited funds was a major obstacle to its expansion plans in emerging markets where capital intensive hardware systems integration is the major market opportunity.

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

Bosses who starve their maids may face stiffer terms

Straits Times
28 Sep 2017
K.C. Vijayan

10 months' jail in recent case not 'benchmark'; one may be charged under different legislation

Employers who starve their maids may face stiffer jail terms than the 10 months a couple in a recent high-profile case received after their conviction in March last year.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the couple would have been handed a "significantly higher" jail term had they been charged in 2015 under the Penal Code instead of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA).

Under the Penal Code, voluntarily causing hurt carries a maximum of two years' imprisonment and voluntarily causing grievous hurt (VCGH) carries a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment.

His comments come in judgment grounds earlier this month explaining why he set aside Chong Sui Foon's three-month jail term and her husband Lim Choon Hong's sentence of three weeks.

Lim, who was also fined $10,000 in the State Courts, and Chong were sentenced to 10 months' jail each after the prosecution's appeal in the High Court on Sept 15.

The Chief Justice, who heard the appeal, said a 10-month jail term "should not be misconstrued as saying that such a punishment would always be sufficient for the type of offending conduct that is presented here, even if a charge had been presented under a different provision".

He said if the prosecution had proceeded with a charge of voluntarily causing hurt, "the same level of culpability would likely have resulted in a significantly higher sentence because of the wider sentencing range that would have been afforded the court in that situation".

"Even more is this the case when one factors in the enhanced penalties for offences against domestic maids," said the Chief Justice.

He noted the case had been initiated by the Manpower Ministry and by the time the public prosecutor "took carriage of the matter", some time had passed and the public prosecutor had used prosecutorial discretion to pursue the case under the EFMA.

The couple had pleaded guilty in March last year to a single charge of starving their maid over 15 months, causing her weight to plummet from 49kg to 29.4kg. Lim, 48, a freelance trader, had failed to provide the maid Thelma Oyasan Gawidan with adequate food while Chong, 48, a housewife, had abetted him.

During the appeal, Deputy Public Prosecutor S. Sellakumaran called for the maximum 12 months' jail under EFMA, citing the extent of abuse which denied her basic human right to adequate nutrition. But the defendants' lawyer Suresh Damodara urged the court to see the issue in the context of some mental illness issues affecting Chong.

The Chief Justice pointed out that there was no causal link between the mental illness and the couple's conduct. He said Chong's conduct "seemed to defy explanation".

He declined to impose the maximum 12 months after taking into account the $20,000 compensation paid to the victim and that it was not shown that they had acted in order to be cruel."It is imperative in this milieu of circumstances that we as a society ensure that these foreign workers are treated decently and accorded the sort of guarantees of human dignity that we would accord to any human being," he said.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers said "it would have preferred to proceed on VCGH charges against the accused persons". But time had passed and the victim had asked to return home, among other things."In future cases involving maid abuse, the prosecution will look at the facts of each case and may charge the accused under different legislation, depending on the circumstances."

SEE Ill-treating maids: Call for more efforts

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

Getting Muslim men to think twice about divorce

Straits Times
19 Sep 2017
Melody Zaccheus & Janice Tai

Law change encourages them to seek help for marital woes, prevents frivolous use of talak

Ms Eiliyah's former husband sprang a divorce on her in an "ambush" at an HDB void deck.

On the pretext of returning her a camera, he called her to come down from her parents' flat, where she had been living temporarily to avoid his emotional and physical abuse.

To her surprise, his father and best friend popped out from behind a pillar as he uttered talak - an Arabic word that means to release from or to divorce Ms Eiliyah (not her real name).

They were his witnesses for the divorce that he was seeking.

It is a form of marital dissolution initiated by a Muslim husband, who has the unilateral right to say talak without having to prove the grounds of divorce.

"He said my name and announced that he was divorcing me with one talak in front of the two men," she said of the 2014 incident.

It caught the marketing director off guard and continues to upset her till today, Ms Eiliyah, 30, told The Straits Times.

They were married for two years.

The word talak is customarily uttered to initiate a divorce.

Last month, Parliament amended the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) to include a clause saying men can apply for divorce without having to first say talak.

The change, however, does not ban the practice. It merely puts in place a statutory provision for what has been practised since 1968, when AMLA came into operation.

A Muslim man can still continue with the existing practice of uttering talak if he chooses to do so, a Syariah Court spokesman told The Straits Times. What the clause does is "to prevent frivolous pronouncements of talak for a quick and convenient solution to marital challenges", said the spokesman.

The change is also to encourage men to seek early help for their marital woes, the spokesman added. The court will then refer the couple to its Marriage Counselling Programme to try and save the marriage.

When asked why it was not made compulsory for men to apply for divorce only at the Syariah Court, the spokesman said AMLA recognises various grounds for divorce, one of which is the pronouncement of talak.

Not all Muslim men follow talak route

The decision not to stop the practice was questioned by the Association of Women for Action and Research. How would the amendment achieve its aim of stopping men taking the talak route when it does not penalise the frivolous pronouncement of talak outside of the Syariah Court, it asked.

The talak route, however, is not followed by all Muslim men.

Lawyer Halijah Mohamad pointed out that many have long been going to the Syariah Court to get a divorce.

Muslim divorce rates are relatively stable. The numbers rose slightly, from 1,667 in 2015 to 1,702 last year. The Statistics on Marriages and Divorces do not reflect divorce by pronouncement of talak.

Experts said younger husbands tend to be more impulsive. Lawyer Rafidah Wahid said the bulk of her clients and their spouses who utter talak outside the courtroom are usually in their 20s and 30s, and do not understand the concept or severity of talak.

The Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), which runs a marriage counselling programme, said 20 to 30 per cent of its clients utter talak outside court.

But more than half of them will retract it. AMP helps about 400 couples who are referred to it each year by the Syariah Court.

Driver Saed Suib, 60, who said he is happily married, maintained that talak remains relevant "because it is stated in our religion". It should, however, be used only as a last resort, he added.

The issue of talak, in particular uttering the word thrice in one go in what is known as instant talak, has stirred controversy worldwide. Some countries such as India have banned it. There are no such provisions in the AMLA.

Instead, it is up to the Syariah Court to interpret the number of valid talaks. This would require the court to be convinced that the husband does not have the intention of ever reconciling with his wife, said Ms Halijah.

Prior to Islam, men in Arabia could say talak infinitely, noted Ms Halijah. The religion worked to limit the number of times a man can say talak to just three, on separate occasions. Saying it thrice comes with the condition the husband can never reconcile with his wife until after she marries another, consummates the marriage and then divorces the new husband.

This serves as a deterrent to men from saying it "willy-nilly", said Ms Halijah. She believes there are fewer opportunities for men to abuse triple talak in Singapore as the legal infrastructure protects the rights of wives, since assets will be divided and men must pay alimony on divorce.

But others argue that instant talak should be disallowed since it closes the door for possible reconciliation. Few, however, will step up to champion this, since a theological debate will likely erupt, they said.

The head of Malay studies at the National University of Singapore, Associate Professor Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman, said the Syariah Court has "adopted a very cautious stand".

She added: "It decides whether a man has a clear intention never to reconcile and if the utterance is clear. That is a good safeguard in the absence of complete removal."

A Muslim wife, too, has the right to divorce her husband, except that she has to go through another route and prove the grounds for divorce.


1,667

Number of Muslim divorces in 2015.

1,702

Number of Muslim divorces last year.


Regret, remorse and reconciliation

The Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) offers a range of services, including couple therapy and counselling. The Syariah Court refers cases of divorce to it, so its pool of counsellors can try to help save marriages. Here are two recent talak cases they handled.

1During a heated argument last September, Ali pronounced the talak to divorce his wife of more than 20 years, Siti, who had chided him for not helping with their children. Infuriated by this utterance and feeling unappreciated, Siti was initially adamant on divorce.

Following counselling sessions from October to December, she became agreeable to a reconciliation. During these sessions, she aired her frustrations in the relationship, while Ali was remorseful for using the word in anger.

However, since three months had passed, the duo, who are in their 50s, are now required to remarry at the Registry of Muslim Marriages to reconcile their marriage.

2Saiful and Fatin's marriage was filled with tension following the birth of their first child in 2015. They have been married since 2014. Fatin's parents found out that Saiful had been physically abusive, and that Fatin had been supporting the family financially.

Fatin's parents insisted that the couple separate. In a fit of anger, Saiful pronounced the talak.

Following AMP counselling sessions and regular phone calls checking up on them from January to August last year, the couple, then in their mid-20s, slowly rebuilt their relationship and were advised to speak with their families.

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Clinic chain's founder wins appeal to block checks on bank account

Straits Times
07 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Veteran skincare doctor and PPP Laser Clinic founder Goh Seng Heng has succeeded in stopping a company from checking with his bank to see if the $14 million it paid to buy shares was still in his account.

The Court of Appeal, in allowing Dr Goh's appeal, criticised the firm, Liberty Sky Investments (LSI), for not notifying Dr Goh when it applied to the courts last year to compel the bank to disclose the details sought.

"LSI had commenced the (discovery application) in a manner that plainly went against the spirit of the law," said Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang on Thursday. "LSI was, in essence, trying to steal a march on Dr Goh. In view of such conduct, LSI could not be said to have come to the court with clean hands," he added in judgment grounds for the court, which included Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Tay Yong Kwang.

LSI, linked to a Shanghai-based couple who are franchisees for the PPP brand in Suzhou, is involved in a pending High Court suit against Dr Goh to rescind the share sale pact and recover the $14 million.

Dr Goh founded Aesthetic Medical Partners (AMP) in 2008. Through its wholly owned subsidiary Aesthetic Medical Holdings, it operates a chain of clinics under the PPP laser brand.

In 2014, LSI inked a deal in which Dr Goh would sell 32,049 shares in AMP to LSI for $14,422,000. The company wants to back out, alleging that the deal was clinched following fraudulent misrepresentations. Dr Goh is denying the claims.

In May last year, LSI applied to court to uncover documents from the bank to check if the sale price monies remained in Dr Goh's account or were shifted elsewhere.

On the same day, LSI applied for a Mareva injunction to freeze Dr Goh's assets. He was given notice of this, but not of its court move to check his bank account.

LSI succeeded in its case in the High Court last November. Dr Goh appealed to the top court in relation to the bank account. He appealed against the Mareva injunction separately, and it was later lifted.

His legal team, led by Mr Adrian Tan, said LSI had to show "compelling evidence" of misrepresentation to justify tracing the monies.

Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal, acting for LSI, urged the appeal court to uphold the High Court decision, pointing out that the sale proceeds had been used to buy two properties, among other things. He said about $4 million of the purchase price remained unaccounted for.

The appeal court, in examining the issues, was not convinced and found that LSI had failed to show a prima facie case of misrepresentation.

The court allowed Dr Goh's appeal and reminded lawyers that "while advocates within an adversarial system are constrained to engage in legal combat, they are not entitled to pursue victory at all costs, regardless of the means".

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

Goh Seng Heng v Liberty Sky Investments Ltd and another [2017] SGCA 59

Former AGC building an icon of High Street

Straits Times
28 Sep 2017
Lim Ming Zhang

With its mercantile roots, High Street, the first street to be built in Singapore, lived up to its name in the 1970s, with barbers, coolies and street food hawkers peddling their wares along the Singapore River.

Nestled in this bustling part of town is the former Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) building, located between the former Parliament House (now The Arts House) and the now-demolished Hallpike Street.

Today, the building, which was gazetted as a national monument in 1992, serves as the Parliament Secretariat Office Block and is part of Parliament House. The national monument is connected to the newer Chamber Block through a linkway that was built in the 1990s.

The earliest use of the building's site dates back to 1839, when a previous structure there was used by a court.

The two-storey building underwent a major construction and had its facade renovated in 1906. The result, which is the most visible part of the building facing the National Gallery Singapore, remains today.

Veteran legal officer Jeffrey Chan, 66, principal senior consultant at AGC, started working there in 1973. The Attorney-General is the chief legal adviser to the Government and its public prosecutor.

Mr Chan recalled that the first skill he and his peers had to learn when they first worked there had nothing to do with the law - it was learning how to park their cars in the narrow carpark spaces at the adjacent Hallpike Street, which was located where the Parliament courtyard is today.

The office had no more than 50 people working there at that time. But it had a vibrant hinterland in the hub of activity at the mouth of the Singapore River.

"In the early 1970s, the area was buzzing. It was full of street life - you had the tongkang boats in the Singapore River, you had all these people carrying bags of rice up and down, you had hawkers, you had deliverymen," said Mr Chan.

One character he vividly remembers was an old Chinese barber who provided more than haircuts.

"He worked in the open, with a dirty mirror and an old-style barber chair. But haircuts weren't the only service he provided - he also helped to dig your ears with the help of a standing light bulb. A lot of old people patronised his services."

In its history of more than a century, the building has hosted a number of government departments, such as the Government Printing Office around the turn of the 20th century and the Public Works Department (PWD) from the 1930s to 1970, before the AGC took over in 1971.

MEMORIES

I wish that more of these places where people feel familiar and have intangible experiences with will be conserved, not just those buildings that have national significance.

MASTER'S STUDENT IN PUBLIC POLICY FOO MINGYEE, on preserving heritage.

It then became part of the Parliament House when its construction was completed in 1999 at a cost of $108 million. It was restored and renovated to cater for a new and larger library, including meeting rooms as well as the secretariat's office. The roof was replaced and rebuilt.

"Being a conservation building, the design of the library interiors follows likewise, reflecting an elegant and classic character throughout. However, to keep a contemporary feel to the space, heavy details and mouldings had to be avoided," said Mr Tan Chee Wee, 66, who was a deputy director of the former PWD.

"Instead, simple, clean lines and materials in classic proportions take their place, creating a harmonious blend of the past and the present," added Mr Tan, who is now a director at CPG Consultants, a subsidiary of CPG Corporation, which is the corporatised entity of PWD.

He was involved in the building's preservation when he oversaw the construction of the new Parliament House from 1994. The white facade with its elaborate details stands out compared with the newer block of the Parliament House, which carries a more modern "colonnade" design.

Mr Chan said that even other old buildings in the area, such as the Empress Place Building, which now houses the Asian Civilisations Museum, are "totally different - that is a lot simpler, a lot more spartan", than the High Street building.

Dr Imran Tajudeen, an assistant professor at the department of architecture at the National University of Singapore, said: "The baroque ornamentation, which includes features like windows framed by a semi-circular recess, is uncommon in other public buildings of colonial Singapore, though we may find such ornamentation on some ornate shophouse facades."

Some of the other features, such as the curved pediments on the corner extensions adorned with oval shield motifs, are inspired by neo-classical architecture. These motifs can also be found in the nearby Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall.

While the AGC was there, many important legal cases were prepared, such as the Commissions of Inquiry into the Spyros industrial disaster of 1978 and the Sentosa cable car collapse of 1983, and the "gold bar" murders of 1971.

Much of the facade has been preserved, although the building was not in good shape in the 1970s. It was in need of maintenance, and security was also an issue.

Mr Chan, who was formerly deputy solicitor-general, said: "The building was becoming a little bit sad for us at that time... It was an old building that needed very substantial renovations; it leaked very badly, especially at a time when we were starting to buy computers."

Mr Chan also said the building was "very exposed", especially to public order incidents such as riots, as the back door was always open and anyone could have come in.

"But I would have been very sad if the building had been demolished, and sadder still if it were to be put to some other use that had nothing to do with the law," he added.

Happily, that is not the case, as the building continues as a part of Parliament.

Master's student in public policy Foo Mingyee, 25, said that the building was situated in what used to be the "European town" of Singapore, with hot spots such as Aurora Department Store for the young and fashionable at the junction of High Street and North Bridge Road back then.

"I wish that more of these places where people feel familiar and have intangible experiences with will be conserved, not just those buildings that have national significance."

Dr Imran thinks that the presence of historical buildings remains important because they "evoke the character of a city's earlier eras".

"Hence, even if only the facade is retained, it contributes to a layered sense of a city's past."

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

PAP town council seeks return of over $479,000

Straits Times
19 Sep 2017
Danson Cheong

Time and again, members of the former Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) - which was run by the Workers' Party - had opted for more costly contracts when they had the choice to extend existing contracts at much lower prices.

This led to additional costs of $479,000 in the management of Punggol East constituency, said lawyers for the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) in a claim filed with the High Court obtained by The Straits Times yesterday.

They sought to show this was a pattern in the management of AHPETC. They also sought to show that its town councillors had breached their fiduciary duties and made allegedly improper payments to contractors.

PRPTC, represented by Drew & Napier, had initiated a lawsuit in July against WP chief Low Thia Khiang, party chairman Sylvia Lim and assistant secretary-general Pritam Singh. It now manages Punggol East after the People's Action Party wrested control of the single seat from the WP in the 2015 General Election.

PRPTC alleges the decisions made by the town councillors had caused it to suffer "loss and damage", and is claiming equitable compensation. Also named in its suit are Aljunied-Hougang Town Council's (AHTC) former managing agent FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), its owner How Weng Fan, and two other town councillors, Mr Chua Zhi Hon and Mr Kenneth Foo.

Separately, all seven are also being sued by AHTC, which is acting under the direction of an independent panel.

Both lawsuits are linked to the more than $33 million paid to FMSS and a related service provider between July 2011 and July 2015. AHTC wants the town councillors to account for the sum and repay any money that was wrongfully paid out.

The WP won Punggol East in the January 2013 by-election. From 2013 to 2015, it was managed by the WP's AHPETC, which was later reconstituted as AHTC.

PRPTC said in a statement last week that it had to file its own suit as AHTC, in its current form, no longer has legal rights to make claims and seek repayment of money related to Punggol East.

In its claim, PRPTC listed instances where town councillors had caused "improper payments" to be made to third parties.

It cited, for instance, a contract for conservancy and cleaning works for a zone in Punggol East. AHPETC had an option to extend the contract for a year after it expired in March 2015.

Instead, AHPETC called a fresh tender and awarded it to the same company - Titan Facilities Management. But Titan's new charge was 67 per cent higher. This amounted to an extra $423,147.

Extra costs of $27,249 were racked up in a similar fashion for servicing and maintenance of fire protection systems. For maintenance services, AHPETC chose a more expensive contractor for Punggol East, leading to extra costs of $25,920. For pest control services, AHPETC also chose a more expensive contractor - which cost Punggol East an extra $2,700.

PRPTC also claims that in November 2015, before AHPETC handed over Punggol East, it made 22 payments totalling $536,059, even though "supporting documents and/or evidence of work done were missing and/or incomplete".

That same month, payments were also made on 56 invoices, despite not being "properly authorised and/or certified" by the property manager, as mandated by the Town Councils Financial Rules. The invoices totalled $674,388.

In alleging the town councillors had breached their fiduciary duty - including the duty of not making a profit except through "legitimate entitlements" - PRPTC also said Ms How and FMSS had "been enriched" from improper payments at its expense.

It is asking the court to award it Punggol East's share of the equitable compensation or damages, plus an interest of 5.33 per cent a year on this sum.

Yesterday, Mr Singh told The Straits Times that the claim would be dealt with "through the legal process". Both AHTC's and PRPTC's lawsuits are scheduled for a pre-trial conference on Thursday.

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

Bankrupt, 4 others sued for return of $6.5m

Straits Times
07 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Entrepreneur wants ex-banker and 4 others to return sum meant to be invested in China

A wealthy entrepreneur is suing a bankrupt and four others for the return of $6.5 million meant to have been invested in China but which allegedly went missing instead.

Singaporean Alan Zhou, who set up a profitable ship chartering and brokering business, claims former private banker Karl Liew breached personal guarantees and made misrepresentations that induced him into the $6 million investments.

Mr Liew was made a bankrupt early this year. It precluded him from defending himself or being represented by lawyers in the case.

In September 2015, he was the victim of harassment by debt collectors who visited his Chancery Lane home seeking to recover alleged debts owed to Mr Zhou. The five debt collectors were subsequently dealt with in court for their aggressive behaviour and insulting words.

The other four defendants in the suit include Realm Capital, a British Virgin Islands company Mr Liew set up. A court default judgment has been entered for the $6.5 million sought - the amount of $6 million plus interest - as the company did not enter an appearance.

Mr Zhou is seeking damages of up to $5.3 million against the firm System Impact, Ms Mah Mei Sin and Mr Gobindram Harjani.

In 2011, Mr Zhou, a former client of Mr Liew, made the four investment agreements worth $6 million for a residential project and bridging loans to companies in Wenzhou, China. A portion of the sums invested belonged to Mr Pu Dawei, a mutual acquaintance. The investments were introduced to Mr Liew by Ms Chen Jie, a Chinese national who was the contact point for the recipients of the investments in China.

Under the investment pacts, Mr Zhou was required to transfer the funds to the account of System Impact, and at times to Ms Mah, its shareholder, according to court papers filed.

But by the second half of 2012, Mr Zhou stopped receiving the investment updates and interest payments. He pursued the case with Mr Liew and learnt the investments were allegedly not used for the intended purposes. When the investment terms expired and the total of $6.53 million was unpaid, he called upon the alleged personal guarantees given by Mr Liew.

In denying the claims, Mr Liew, who in court documents was identified as the son of prominent businessman and founding president and former chief executive officer of CapitaLand Group Liew Mun Leong, is challenging the enforceability of the investment pacts and personal guarantees.

He was subpoenaed to testify in the High Court last week by Mr Zhou's lawyer Eugene Quah from RHTLaw Taylor Wessing.

In the run-up to the trial, Mr Zhou found that Ms Mah and System Impact had allegedly transferred the investment funds to Mr Gobindram, owner of Silk Rose, who was seen as a further intermediary. Mr Gobindram, represented by lawyer Lim Kim Hong, denied the claims, calling them baseless and unsubstantiated, and affirmed all monies received were remitted to China.

In his opening statement in court on Tuesday, Mr Quah said the defendants have all conveniently accused Ms Chen - who is absent from the case - of running away with the funds.

The High Court hearing before Judicial Commissioner Audrey Lim continues next week.

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

Taxman cometh for the digital economy

Straits Times
27 Sep 2017
Yasmine Yahya

From imposing GST on e-commerce, to proposals for a bandwidth tax, the tax authorities worldwide are looking at ways to bring digital companies within the tax net

Since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the tax authorities worldwide have had their work cut out for them, growing national coffers to fund the rebuilding of their economies.

This job has been made tougher by the explosion of the digital economy over the same period, as global tax rules were traditionally made for the bricks-and-mortar world.

Digitalisation has led to the emergence of new business models and increased cross-border flow of goods and services, while removing the need for a company to have a physical presence in a particular country to conduct business with its residents. These trends complicate the work of figuring out who should pay taxes, where and how much.

The problem has become so pressing that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has several working groups studying the different ways that the world's tax rules could and should be tweaked in the face of a growing digital economy.

TAXING THE SHARING ECONOMY

Perhaps nowhere is the conundrum more stark than in the sharing economy. Companies such as Uber and Airbnb do not need a physical presence or employees in a particular country before offering their services there.

Uber, a ride-sharing platform, manages its overseas operations in the Netherlands. So when someone in Singapore takes an Uber ride, Uber's cut of about 20 per cent of the fare is sent to a network of Dutch offshore companies. No income is recorded here. After deducting operational expenses, that 20 per cent revenue is then sent to a Bermuda-registered offshore company that holds the licence to Uber's intellectual property. The money is sent as royalty payment, which under Dutch law is not taxable.

A European Parliament report on tax challenges in the digital economy said that Airbnb has a similar tax structure which helps it pay very little in taxes in the United States and elsewhere. It said: "Airbnb takes a 13 per cent commission for each rental of spare rooms advertised on its website. As Airbnb uses the complex tax systems in Ireland and offshore tax havens like Jersey, it avoids paying taxes in the US or elsewhere.

"It manages to do so by assigning its software IP to a subsidiary in Jersey and shifting profits to the tax haven by royalty payments from its Irish unit."

Ernst & Young Solutions' tax services partner, Mr Chai Wai Fook, noted that these companies can rightly argue that they are compliant with existing tax rules.

"The current tax rules have not kept pace with the rapid developments in technology and the digital economy."

Take ride-sharing apps platforms for example. The real economic activity being conducted is by the drivers who are bringing in the revenue, so getting the drivers to pay income tax is one part of the equation.

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) is certainly looking closely at this - a Sunday Times report earlier this month reported that Iras had approached two ride-hailing firms, Uber and Grab, to work out an arrangement for their drivers to file tax returns automatically to ensure they are not under-declared.

But the more difficult part is the fact that ride-sharing platforms also take a cut from these drivers, but that particular activity is not covered by the tax rules.

The OECD is working on these questions, and Mr Chai is hopeful that it will come up with guidelines that will not only deliver a fair and equitable basis of taxation, but also provide certainty to businesses while embracing the disruption that technology would bring.

TAXING THE DATA COMPANIES

Another business model that has taken on a grand scale in the digital economy is the monetisation of personal data.

As the European Parliament report noted, the value generated by using personal data in online digital giants such as Google and Facebook is hugely profitable.

These two companies capture data on their users to better target ads at them. As a result, Facebook has 16 per cent of all global digital ad revenue, while Google has 33 per cent.

However, it is a challenge to calculate the value created and therefore how much to tax these firms in each country where their websites are accessible - how do you attribute value to data created by users free of charge?

It also does not help that Google, Facebook and the like also have complex tax structures, much like the ones Airbnb and Uber have.

Some countries have begun coming up with solutions. Last year, India introduced an equalisation levy on online advertising revenue by non-resident e-commerce companies earned in India.

Under the rules, a 6 per cent levy is deducted from the amount paid to a non-resident who does not have a permanent establishment in India, for services such as online advertisement, any provision for digital advertising space, or any other facility or service for the purpose of online advertisement.

France, meanwhile, is considering taxing revenues of tech giants such as Google and Facebook based on their bandwidth, rather than on the basis of their reported profits in France. France has also suggested attributing profits to jurisdictions where the users of social media services are located.

There are concerns among tax experts that if each country begins implementing its own set of tax laws on such digital activities, things could become chaotic.

"We don't want a situation where companies end up being double or triple taxed for the same economic activity, so there needs to be global coordination, which the OECD is attempting," said PwC Singapore digital tax leader Tan Ching Ne.

"We do grapple with this in Singapore too. How do we update our legislation while being competitive and continue being an attractive place for companies to do business?"

TAXING E-COMMERCE

The rise of e-commerce has certainly been a boon to deal hunters, but has not been such a blessing to the tax authorities, who traditionally have collected goods and services tax (GST) only from locally-registered businesses.

A Singapore resident who downloads software from an American provider or buys a coffee table from Taobao in China, for example, does not pay GST on those purchases.

This might soon be addressed. In this year's Budget, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore is studying how it can implement the GST on foreign companies that sell goods and services to Singapore residents over the Internet.

A Deloitte report from December noted that the issue is not just one of lost revenue, but has wider economic repercussions, as it has also created an uneven playing field between domestic GST-registered suppliers and overseas suppliers who are not registered for GST.

"At the same time, it has presented incentives to taxpayers to structure their business arrangements by shifting offshore to take advantage of this uneven level playing field. By doing so, it could also mean more job losses in the domestic retail industry."

PwC's Mr Koh said the Government may be studying how to bring overseas online vendors within the tax net by making them register for GST in Singapore if they sell to Singapore consumers.

"Making the overseas vendor account for GST on their business-to-consumer sales of music, movies and subscriptions is an effective way for the Government to collect the tax rather than to try collecting it from the consumer.

"At the same time, we also understand that the Government is studying the taxation of cross-border business-to-business services that are received by financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies."

This would be done under what is known as a "reverse charge mechanism", which, according to a report by law firm Dentons Rodyk, works by allowing (or sometimes requiring) the customer to account for the tax on supplies received from foreign suppliers.

Countries such as Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia have begun levying GST on foreign companies that conduct online transactions with their residents.

So foreign companies, regardless of where they are physically located, must register with the tax authorities in these countries and pay GST or value added tax (VAT) accordingly, if they want to sell goods and services to the residents there.

South Korea, a leader in all things digital, imposed the VAT on physical and digital goods and services bought over the Internet from July 2015.

Australia has taken a more gradual approach, implementing a first step in July this year, when the GST was applied to the sales of imported services and digital products - streaming movies, legal services - to Australian consumers. From July next year, GST will also apply to sales of physical goods worth A$1,000 (S$1,072) or less that are imported by consumers into Australia.

PwC's Asia-Pacific indirect tax leader, Mr Koh Soo How, said: "I think the approach that Singapore would adopt is the 80-20 rule. If we can get the 20 per cent of online retailers that make up 80 per cent of sales to register with Iras, that would be good enough, as we can't possibly get every single overseas vendor to register."

One could argue that the past decade or so has been something of a free pass for digital players, who have been able to take advantage of legal loopholes to pay very little tax on their extremely lucrative businesses. But as the saying goes, there are only two certainties in life - death and taxes - and it is only a matter of time before the taxman catches up.


There are concerns among tax experts that if each country begins implementing its own set of tax laws on such digital activities, things could become chaotic.

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High Court sets aside director's jail term for corruption

Straits Times
18 Sep 2017
K.C. Vijayan

The High Court has set aside a company director's five-week jail term for graft and fined him $35,000, ruling that the prison term was "manifestly excessive" based on the sum involved and the lack of real loss to the firm.

Heng Tze Yong, 44, also did not initiate the bribes, a factor "not to be ignored altogether in arriving at a sentencing decision", and his culpability "was not so high as to have crossed the custodial threshold", said Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin in judgment grounds last week.

Heng had admitted last year in a district court to giving $10,000 in bribes to Ben Ong, the facility manager of a semiconductor manufacturer, in return for contracts worth about $155,000.

Heng pleaded guilty to one charge of giving $7,000 in bribes, with a second charge considered in sentencing.

On appeal to the High Court in March, Heng's lawyers, Senior Counsel Sant Singh and Mr Tan Hee Jeok, drew the court's attention to a separate case with similarities involving financier Thor Chi Tiong, who was jailed six weeks by a district court last year for giving a $10,000 bribe to the same recipient, Ben Ong.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon had set aside Thor's jail term, on appeal, and imposed a $35,000 fine instead. Thor's appeal was heard after Heng was sentenced in the district court.

Mr Singh argued that like Thor, the threshold to impose a jail term had not been crossed in Heng's case.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew and Deputy Chief Prosecutor Tan Khiat Peng disagreed and countered that Heng was a senior manager who gave bribes twice over three months, and not once, unlike Thor.

Justice Chao accepted that these were aggravating factors, but found that Heng's culpability was "broadly similar" to Thor's, bearing in mind that both held senior positions in their respective companies; the bribes were paid to the same recipient, Ben Ong; and no detriment was suffered by Micron Semiconductor Asia, the company Ong worked for.

The judge noted that Micron was "generally satisfied" with the products and services supplied and "did not suffer any real loss". He also made clear that "any corrupt act which would occasion a loss of confidence in a strategic industry (like the semiconductor industry) was an aggravating factor that often, but not always, justifies a custodial sentence".

Justice Chao said Heng's offences had "limited nexus" to the semiconductor industry and "in the circumstances was unable to accord this purported aggravating factor any significant weight".

Ong was jailed for 10 weeks last year for taking the bribes.

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

Heng Tze Yong v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGHC 225

UK launches drive to bolster its legal sector

Business Times
07 Oct 2017
Neil Behrmann

Singapore is its pick for the launch as both countries share open and liberal approach to providing legal services

THE UK's solicitors and barristers have embarked on a vigorous campaign in Singapore to retain and boost clients in an effort to counter potential Brexit setbacks.

The stakes are high. Britain's legal services currently generate estimated fees amounting to as much as �29 billion (S$51.8 billion) annually, according to a Ministry of Justice spokesman. Net exports from the sector are estimated at �3 billion, she added.

Richard Keen, Britain's advocate-general for Scotland, launched the marketing campaign, named "Legal Services are Great", on Wednesday at Eden Hall, the British High Commissioner's official residence in Singapore.

Explaining why Singapore was chosen as the centre for the 2017 international launch, the House of Lords justice spokesman said: "We share an open and liberal approach to providing legal services, we both invite and encourage expertise from around the world and we both understand the importance of effective regulation in this sector."

Lord Keen, 63, added that "the roots of English law are deep". He cited how Singapore's Court of Appeal has traced the origin of Article 12 of the Constitution guaranteeing equality back to Article 40 of the Magna Carta.

Lord Keen, who also spoke at the International Conference of Legal Regulators in Singapore on Friday, added that the UK's "Legal Services are Great" campaign "will target stronger links with emerging and established markets across the world and cement the UK's reputation as the world's pre-eminent legal centre ... to litigate, resolve disputes and do business".

"More than 200 foreign law firms from around 40 jurisdictions operate in the UK, while more than a quarter of the world's 320 legal jurisdictions are founded on English common law principles," the Ministry of Justice spokesman said.

"In the 2015 International Arbitration Survey, London was the preferred seat of arbitration for 47 per cent of respondents."

Services include legal advice on international trade and investment deals, mergers and acquisitions, banking and financial services.

Lord Keen stressed that English law underpins more than a quarter of the world's jurisdictions; that "law firms, courts and exceptional judges are held in the highest esteem right across the globe".

He will travel on from Singapore to Sydney where he will further promote the legal services while attending the International Bar Association Conference.

The campaign is timely as Singapore and Asian lawyers, businesses, banks and others are uncertain about the sticky, complex legal issues in Brexit negotiations.

Uncertainties include the post-Brexit role of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which is the final arbiter on questions of the interpretation of EU law.

The desire of the government is that after Brexit, the UK will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the CJEU.

The UK's European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, which took Britain into the EU. That Act meant that European law took precedence over laws passed in the UK Parliament.

All existing EU legislation will be copied across into domestic UK law to ensure a smooth transition on the day after Brexit.

The aim, according to the government, is to avoid a "black hole in our statute book" and avoid disruption to businesses and individual citizens as the UK leaves the EU. The UK Parliament can then amend, repeal and improve the laws as necessary.

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

Burning issues for marine insurers

Business Times
27 Sep 2017
David Hughes

They have reported falls in income for at least two years straight - bad news in an era when single claims and vessels are getting ever larger

THE shipping industry's insurers are reporting a fall in income even as single claims get ever larger, as is the case with losses incurred by large container ships or cruise vessels.

At its annual conference in Tokyo last week, the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) reported that global marine underwriting premiums fell to US$27.5 billion last year, 9 per cent less than the figure reported the year before.

Astrid Seltmann, vice-chairman of IUMI's Facts & Figures Committee, said: "The 2016 number follows a continuing downward trend in marine underwriting premiums.

"In 2015, the adjusted figures of US$30.5 billion was in itself a 9.9 per cent reduction from 2014. We attribute part of the reduction to the strong US dollar when compared with other currencies, but also to general weak market conditions in terms of the global economy, general commodity prices and the poor state of the shipping and offshore sectors.

"This worrying downward trend leads to an increasing mismatch between income levels and the marine insurer's obligation to cover major losses, particularly in light of the trend towards larger vessels and greater accumulation of risks in port."

IUMI noted that claims frequency has been stable or falling, aside from a recent fluctuation of around 0.1 per cent.

However, falling vessel values raise the probability of constructive total losses, which is when the cost of repair exceeds a certain percentage of the vessel's value.

Crucially, IUMI noted: "In addition, the inflow of high-value vessels into the global fleet increases single-risk exposure, and thus, the possibility of even more costly single casualties.

"The occurrence (or not) of major losses in single years increasingly drives the volatility of hull results, but current income levels do not cater for the occurrence of such events."

Outlook challenging

In a gloomy mood, IUMI said: "The outlook for 2017 is challenging and uncertain."

Donald Harrell, who chairs IUMI's Facts & Figures Committee, said: "Global premium income continues to fall and this puts pressure on our sector. Fortunately however, we are now seeing only moderate major losses, but the situation can reverse at any time.

"Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are examples of this and their true impact is yet to be seen. Exposure to risk will only increase as vessels grow larger and values accumulate in port.

"A drop in premium income makes it challenging for underwriters to continue to cover their obligations, particularly in relation to major losses."

When it comes to large expensive vessels at risk, cruise ships and the loss of the Costa Concordia come to mind.

Actually, cruise ships are robust and come kitted with safety features; and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is working to make these ships even safer.

Less obvious are the risks posed by the new generation of very large container ships of up to 20,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

The big worry with container ships is fire, IUMI warned, citing the examples of catastrophic fires on the 9,000 TEU NNCI Arauco during welding while alongside in Hamburg last September, the November 2002 blaze on board the 4,000 TEU Hanjin Pennsylvania, which killed two crew members and led to a constructive total loss, and the fire on the 6,732 TEU MSC Flaminia in July 2012, which led to three fatalities and also a constructive total loss.

And these were all vessels much smaller than the latest mega container ships.

IUMI said it welcomed the 2014 amendment to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas), which seeks to raise the effectiveness of firefighting, while noting more room for improvement.

Insurers are doing more than merely express concern; they have put forward detailed proposals to make container ship safer during fires.

More can be done

Helle Hammer, IUMI Political Forum chairwoman, said: "Recent amendments to Solas are a move in the right direction, but they do not go far enough.

"The legal requirements prescribed by Solas were originally developed for fires on board general cargo vessels and these ships are structurally very different from a container vessel; cargo is also stored differently. We believe the mode of firefighting set out in Solas is not suitable for a modern containership."

The German Insurance Association GDV has set out an improved concept for firefighting facilities on board a containership; it can be downloaded at https://iumi.com/opinions/position-papers.

IUMI is supporting the ideas in the paper as best practice. I recommend this paper as a "must read" for anyone in the shipping business. It explains what has been going wrong and puts forward realistic measures to fight container ship fires.

Uwe-Peter Schieder of Marine & Loss Prevention in GDV, said: "We believe a new technical solution is needed to improve current firefighting practice on container vessels, particularly as these ships are continuing to grow in size.

"We suggest creating individual fire compartments below deck to prevent fires from spreading. These compartments would be fitted with fixed water- and CO2-based firefighting systems. Boundary structures would be fitted above deck to align with the water-cooled bulkheads below, and also fitted with fixed firefighting systems. In addition, we also recommend the installation of enhanced fire detection systems."

Having read the GDV paper, I am left asking how the industry got into building such big container ships without seriously addressing the adequacy of fire-protection measures. Anyone who reads the paper will realise that big container ships are accidents waiting to happen.

Even before action is taken at IMO, the GDV's recommendations need to be implemented on newbuilds and existing ships, and, as far as possible, brought up to the same standard - and quickly.

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

High Court fixes Oct 13 for Swiber hearing

Business Times
18 Sep 2017
Judith Tan

AILING offshore firm Swiber Holdings announced on Fridaythat the Singapore High Court has fixed a full day hearing on Oct 13 for the judicial managers' applications for directions on third-party securities.

It also said in a Singapore Exchange filing that the High Court has appointed Dentons Rodyk & Davidson lawyer Geraldine Yeong Kai Jun as Young Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) to assist.

The High Court had granted the application to place Swiber Holdings and its unit Swiber Offshore Construction under judicial management (JM) in October last year.

More than 10 creditors, including Swiber's principal banker, DBS, put up no objection through their lawyers to the application for JM.

JM is a process that gives a financially distressed company leeway to return to financial health under court supervision.

In July, Swiber sought to extend the period under JM through to March 21 next year.

It was the first of a number of Singapore offshore companies to seek court protection amid the protracted slump in global oil prices, which started in June 2014.

While oil prices have since recovered somewhat, the crunch has already claimed several casualties.

Last November, beleaguered marine firm Swissco Holdings applied to be placed under judicial management as it struggled to stay afloat and was given the go-ahead by the High Court in April.

The firm owes S$255 million to seven banks, which it had planned to pay off through asset sales and the conversion of debt to equity.

And in March, Ezra Holdings filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States.

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

MHA reviewing penalties for irresponsible driving

Straits Times
07 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Chief Justice highlights anomaly in sentencing of repeat offenders

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is reviewing penalties under the Road Traffic Act for irresponsible driving, including driving under the influence of alcohol.

As part of the review, MHA will study Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon's judgment on Wednesday highlighting an anomaly in how repeat offenders of drinking-related traffic offences are sentenced.

Currently, a person convicted of "being behind the driver's wheel while drunk" may escape jail time if he is caught drink driving later.

However, a person with a previous conviction for drink driving faces a mandatory jail term if he is caught "being behind the driver's wheel while drunk", or drink driving for the second time.

The offence of "being behind the driver's wheel while drunk" typically applies to drivers who are found "in charge" of a vehicle but not driving it, with more than the legal blood or breath-alcohol level. For instance, the person could be sleeping behind the wheel.

The offence of drink driving applies when he is driving the vehicle.

Chief Justice Menon said "the anomaly is likely to have been the result of legislative oversight", which Parliament may have to fix.

He made the comments in reducing a motorist's one-week jail term to a $5,000 fine. Pua Hung Jaan Jeffrey Nguyen, 34, failed a breathalyser test at a police road block on Oct 29 last year.

After pleading guilty in January to drink driving, Pua was given one week's jail and disqualified from driving for 30 months.

The district judge had taken into consideration that in 2012, Pua was convicted for "being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol"; he had been fined $1,000.

Pua's lawyer Anand Nalachandran appealed for a fine for his latest sentence. Chief Justice Menon did not alter the duration of the driving ban.

The Chief Justice made clear that while the facts and circumstances of Pua's case did not support a jail term, it must not be construed that a prison sentence would not be meted out in all similar cases.

Contacted yesterday, an MHA spokesman said it will study the judgment as part of its review.

Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Sunil Sudheesan said Chief Justice Menon's remarks were timely in underlining the legal anomaly.

• Additional reporting by Lin Yangchen.

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Pua Hung Jaan Jeffrey Nguyen v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGHC 244

Private school, MD lose appeals over pyramid scheme

Straits Times
27 Sep 2017
Selina Lum

The High Court yesterday dismissed the appeals of a now-closed private school and its managing director against their convictions for promoting a pyramid scheme that generated $2 million in revenue over a two-year period.

The Global Edupreneur Program (GEP), run by the Harriet Education Group (HEG) between 2006 and 2008, involved 96 participants. They had to pay training and licensing fees to join the programme as consultants or managers. Some of them testified at the trial that they took out bank loans to cover the fees.

They were promised commissions for recruiting new participants for the scheme or for HEG's educational courses.

Global managers were entitled to a 15 per cent overriding commission on the income earned by the people they recruited. If promoted to country managers - after passing an interview and paying additional fees - the overriding commissions grew to 30 per cent.

In one instance, a participant paid $22,080 after he was promised a $10,000 commission for every GEP recruit. After recruiting two consultants, he took up the offer of a country manager position, paying an additional $35,200.

HEG's business collapsed after its university partners pulled out, following police investigations into reports filed by participants.

HEG, its managing director James Chua Hock Soon and another company, Harriet International Network (HIN), were found guilty under the Multi-Level Marketing and Pyramid Selling (Prohibition) Act after a trial. Chua and HEG were each fined $50,000. HIN, used to handle money relating to the scheme, was fined $20,000. All three appealed to the High Court against the convictions.

It was the first case under the Act to be heard by the High Court in over 20 years. The last case, in 1994, involved a company selling motivational programmes.

The defence argued that the GEP was a franchise scheme and prescribed by law to be excluded from the definition of pyramid selling.

Justice Chan Seng Onn, in a written judgment, said it was unnecessary for him to rule on whether the GEP was a franchise scheme. In any event, regardless of whether it was or not, the GEP did not satisfy the conditions that would qualify it for exemption.


The Global Edupreneur Program, run by the Harriet Education Group between 2006 and 2008, involved 96 participants. They had to pay training and licensing fees to join the programme as consultants or managers... They were promised commissions for recruiting new participants for the scheme or for HEG's educational courses.

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Contractor for HDB said to owe $1m to subcontractors

Straits Times
17 Sep 2017
Seow Bei Yi & Zaihan Mohamed Yusof

Li Jie Construction tells firms it has not been paid by HDB, but board refutes its claim

At least five subcontractors have claimed that they are collectively owed around $1 million by a main contractor, Li Jie Construction, in unpaid fees for seven projects.

These include upgrading works for the Housing Board (HDB) and a town council.

The subcontractors told The Sunday Times they had been unable to contact Li Jie's management since the start of this month.

A former site manager told ST he left the local firm about a month ago, and it was no longer in operation.

One subcontractor, Lian Huah Engineering, made a successful adjudication application with the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment (SOP) Act, obtaining a ruling that Li Jie should pay it over $290,000 for work done.

The Act was enacted to give contractors and subcontractors a quick way to resolve payment disputes. Cases are administered by the Singapore Mediation Centre.

But the amount does not include retention fees and fees for another town council project, amounting to over $150,000, said Mr William Goh, managing director of MA Electrical Services, which carried out the work for Li Jie on behalf of Lian Huah.

"We still owe some of our management staff about a month's salary, and some of our suppliers, three to four months of payment," said Mr Goh, who made a police report on Friday. Police said they were looking into the matter.

The other firms, which include Lovely Landscape and Construction, Calvary Carpentry, and Bonco Enterprise, said that while they had received some payment, they are still owed between $20,000 and more than $169,000.

Works, in areas including Bedok and Woodlands, were done from as early as May last year, said the firms.

"Then director Joel Yang first told us that HDB had not released payment to the company, and so he could not pay us," said Calvary Carpentry director Ruben Chong, whose company is owed over $20,000. He engaged debt collector KX-Unit in July.

"When we probed further, he said that cheques for payment had been prepared, but he had no authority to issue them, and he was further prevented due to conflict among the shareholders," he added.

An HDB spokesman said it has "made prompt and full payment" to Li Jie for the upgrading works. "There is currently no outstanding payment due to Li Jie," she said, noting that the upgrading works were on track for completion.

A steel contractor's managing director, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ong, said his firm is owed over $280,000.

He said: "It is the third time a main contractor has done this to us. One went bust, and the other one voluntarily liquidated"

When ST visited Li Jie's Bukit Batok office, its shutters were down and no one came to the door. An employee from next door said he last saw its owners about a week ago.

Li Jie's current registered director, Mr Dai Jianfa, was not at his previous registered address in Woodlands. A neighbour said he had not seen anyone in the HDB flat in three weeks.

A Li Jie shareholder also claimed to know nothing of the alleged conflict among shareholders, or of the company's operations.

Mr Joel Yang, the director named by one of the subcontractors, has stepped down and is now a shareholder, of whom there are eight.

"Legally, the quickest way for subcontractors to try and recover the money is by taking out an adjudication application under the SOP Act," said TSMP lawyer Melvin Chan. If the other party does not pay despite being told to do so, the decision can be enforced as a court order.

"But practically, if the contractor has no money or assets, or is effectively insolvent, there's not much the subcontractors can do to recover the funds," said Mr Chan.

Mr Ken Jung, vice-president of the Singapore Electrical Contractors and Licensed Electrical Workers Association, said such issues are "not new" for subcontractors.

"Smaller firms could stop work, but they may be held liable for doing so," he said. "While they can seek legal recourse, they might not have time or money... and may not want to antagonise the main contractor, to maintain a good working relationship."

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

Britain, S'pore in 'premier league' of litigation and arbitration centres

Straits Times
06 Oct 2017
Tan Tam Mei

Singapore and Britain are home to successful international legal centres because they have an open and liberal approach to providing legal services.

And given their close trade links and shared perspectives, both countries stand to learn from each other, said Advocate-General for Scotland Richard Keen.

Lord Keen, 63, who is also Britain's Ministry of Justice spokesman for the House of Lords, was speaking yesterday at Eden Hall, the British High Commissioner's official residence, to mark the launch of Britain's "Legal Services are Great" campaign, which aims to promote Britain's legal service expertise and expand its global reach in the sector.

Speaking to The Straits Times before the event, Lord Keen said he viewed Singapore and London as among the "premier league" of litigation and arbitration centres worldwide, with a pool of outstanding lawyers and a respected judiciary.

Earlier yesterday, he met Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Attorney-General Lucien Wong, and learnt about developments in legal services here, specifically in the area of legal technology.

He said: "The development of technology in the provision of legal services is something Singapore is leading the way in, and there have been developments in the UK as well. I think we can learn from each other."

Lord Keen also touched on the need for legal centres to be international, and provide services that reflect that. "The days where you could define jurisdictions in reference to borders are fast disappearing... We have to be capable of regulating legal services without regard simply to individual jurisdictions."

Lord Keen, who is here on a three-day visit, will be giving a keynote address today at the International Conference of Legal Regulators, which is being held in Asia for the first time.

On the Great campaign, he said: "The UK is, and will continue to be, one of the pre-eminent legal centres in the world. We will continue to be a leading player in that premier league of international legal centres."

Lord Keen will leave Singapore today and head to Sydney.

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