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AHTC trial: Parties accuse the other of lacking evidence, avoiding responsibility

AHTC trial: Parties accuse the other of lacking evidence, avoiding responsibility

(From left) Workers' Party MPs Pritam Singh, Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim leaving the Supreme Court on Oct 8, 2018. (Photo: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY)

SINGAPORE: Parties in the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) trial crossed swords in their reply submissions tendered on Friday (Mar 1), with the town councillors claiming that their evidence had not been rebutted. They were, on the other hand, accused by the plaintiffs of avoiding responsibility. 

The documents were filed in response to closing arguments made in January, which followed a 17-day trial last October. Both sides are due to present their final oral arguments in the High Court on Apr 9 and 10. 

READ: AHTC trial: Managing agent 'enjoyed' 300% profit increase as town council's finances suffered, say lawyers

READ: AHTC trial: Defendants acted ‘in good faith’ at all times, say lawyers in closing submissions

Workers' Party (WP) Members of Parliament Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh, along with AHTC town councillors Kenneth Foo and Chua Zhi Hon, have been accused of breaching their fiduciary duties in the appointment of FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) as the town council's managing agent.

They are five of eight defendants sued by AHTC and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) over alleged improper payments of S$33 million made to FMSS. It is also alleged that the managing agent was appointed without proper tender process.

In their replies to the plaintiffs' closing submissions, the defendants argued that the plaintiffs had not proven that the appointment of FMSS and payments made to it were improper.

"No evidence was called by the plaintiffs in support of their case that (previous managing agent) CPG did not request to be released," wrote lawyers for the AHTC town councillors. "The defendants' evidence that CPG had requested to be released stands unrebutted."

Lawyers for FMSS and the two who helmed it - Ms How Weng Fan and her late husband Danny Loh - agreed, saying that the plaintiffs had "failed to call crucial factual witnesses - especially Mr Jeffrey Chua".

Mr Chua was the managing director of CPG. 

READ: AHTC trial: Low explains reason for distrust of CPG, Davinder Singh says he's lying to the court

The defence had argued during the trial in October that Mr Chua had shares in CPG's holding company, and at the same time held the role of secretary at Aljunied Town Council, which later merged to become AHTC after WP won the Aljunied ward.

The defendants also criticised the plaintiffs' witnesses - in particular KPMG executive director Owen Hawkes and PwC partner Goh Thien Phong.

Both men's companies had produced audit reports on which the claims against the defendants were based.

Mr Hawkes had "no first-hand experience", said FMSS' lawyers, and had taken advice from his lawyers. Mr Goh, on the other hand, was "not an independent witness", the defence alleged.

The town councillors' lawyers repeated their argument that they were liable under the Town Councils Act and Town Councils Financial Rules, and that a section under the Act protects personal liability where they have acted in good faith, which is the case they are making.

PLAINTIFFS' LAWYERS SAY ATTEMPTS TO DISCREDIT WITNESS 'ENTIRELY WITHOUT MERIT'

In their closing submission, the lawyers from Shook Lin & Bok, who represent AHTC, claimed that the defence presented narratives in their closing submissions that were "distinctly at odds" with the oral and documentary evidence presented during the trial.

In particular, the lawyers said the defendants' attempt to compare FMSS and CPG to suggest that CPG was in a similar position of conflict of interest was "self-serving and irrelevant".

"This is not least because the issue of CPG's alleged conflict of interest does not itself excuse or mitigate FMSS' conflict of interest in the present proceedings, and the defendants have not themselves led any evidence ... of CPG's alleged conflict of interest," wrote the lawyers.

They also defended their witnesses, calling the defence's attempts to discredit Mr Hawkes "entirely without merit". The lawyers pointed out that it was Ms Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Khiang and/or Pritam Singh who instructed AHTC to engage KPMG in the first place.

Addressing the defence's argument that the Town Councils Act and Town Councils Financial Rules are "self-contained", AHTC's lawyers said that the two did not exclude fiduciary obligations under common law.

Lawyers for PRPTC, led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh of his new firm Davinder Singh Chambers, wrote in their submissions that the defendants stayed "well clear of the documents and evidence that will remind the court of their dishonest conduct and of the extraordinary lengths to which they went to mislead the residents, the public and the court".

"Even though the truth is out, they continue to avoid taking responsibility for using the residents' monies to reward their supporters," said the lawyers. "Instead, they focus on a catalogue of technical points which do nothing but draw even more attention to the fact that they abused their office."

The plaintiffs' lawyers urged the court to allow its claims in full, with costs, while the defendants' lawyers urged the judge to dismiss the claims, with costs as well.

Justice Kannan Ramesh will hear their oral arguments in April, before passing judgment.

Source: CNA/ll(gs)

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