SINGAPORE: The legal firm representing Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) will submit its bill to the town council for its work in the landmark trial against three Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament and five other parties.
That is according to an update on Wednesday (Oct 31) by the independent panel appointed to review an audit report on alleged improper past payments by AHTC.
The update states that once the lawsuit concludes, Shook Lin & Bok will submit its bill to AHTC. It also says that to date, Shook Lin & Bok has not been paid any professional fees by AHTC.
It adds that "AHTC has only met certain disbursements, in particular for its portion of the hearing fees".
The panel was appointed by AHTC last year to give recommendations on what it needed to do following KPMG’s audit findings that the town council had made large sums of improper payments. The panel is chaired by senior counsel Philip Jeyaretnam. Its two other members are Senior Counsel N Sreenivasan and Mr Ong Pang Thye, a managing partner of KPMG.
APPOINTING SHOOK LIN & BOK
According to a document dated Jun 2, 2017 that was provided as part of the panel's update, Shook Lin & Bok was appointed by the independent panel to advise it in relation "to the recovery of improper payments". The panel also appointed the firm to represent it on a provisional basis in arbitration proceedings between AHTC and its former managing agent FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) over money FMSS claimed it was owed for services it provided under two contracts.
This document, signed by the three members of the independent panel, says that the appointments were made without a tender being called for because Shook Lin & Bok "was already apprised of much of the factual and legal material, and therefore there would be time and costs savings in appointing them". In addition, "there was urgency given the possibility of applicable time bars".
Shook Lin & Bok were also the legal advisers to audit firm KPMG, whose 2016 report on improper payments forms part of the basis of the town council’s case against the eight defendants.
Another document, dated Jul 12, 2017, said that the panel had unanimously "concluded to appoint Shook Lin & Bok to represent AHTC in the suit".
Wednesday's document also said that the independent panel was not involved in Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council's (PRPTC) civil suit which was brought against the same defendants. PRPTC, which is represented by Drew & Napier, commenced its “own and separate suit” and is responsible for the "engagement of its own solicitors", according to the statement.
It was for case management purposes that the High Court fixed the hearing of PRPTC’s suit together with that of AHTC’s, the document added.
This information comes as the first tranche of the AHTC trial wrapped up after 17 days, during which the court saw some strong allegations, heated exchanges and spirited defence.
Three WP MPs - Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh - are at the centre of the civil suit involving alleged improper payments. Along with AHTC councillors Chua Zhi Hon and Kenneth Foo, the three MPs are accused of breaching their fiduciary duties in the appointment of FMSS.
As a result of this appointment, they allegedly allowed "improper" payments of more than S$33 million to FMSS, its service provider FM Solutions & Integrated Services (FMSI) and third parties.
The other defendants named in the suit are: Former AHTC deputy secretary How Weng Fan, who was also a director and shareholder at FMSS, her late husband Danny Loh, who was FMSS’s owner and secretary at AHTC, and FMSS itself.
Defence lawyers for the three MPs, Mr Chua and Mr Foo are contending that they acted “in good faith” and in the best interests of the residents.
WP MPs DEPOSIT S$1 MILLION WITH LAWYERS
The three WP MPs launched an online appeal on Oct 24 to help fund their legal expenses. In a statement posted on their In Good Faith website, the trio stated that “the total they have paid their lawyers to date is close to S$600,000, covering the work done before the trial.”
The appeal was closed three days later after they raised more than S$1 million in donations from the public.
On Tuesday, the three WP MPs wrote on their website that they deposited a sum of S$1 million with their legal counsel Tan Rajah & Cheah - with the image of a receipt attached - for payment of their bills.