Defence for lawyer who allegedly absconded to Malaysia in missing millions case argues for bail
SINGAPORE: The defence counsel for a lawyer who has been remanded since June 2019 for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars from clients is trying to get him released on bail.
Jeffrey Ong Su Aun, the former managing partner of JLC Advisors LLP, has been remanded for about one-and-a-half years after allegedly fleeing to Malaysia.
His case first surfaced after engineering firm Allied Technologies filed a police report over a movement of S$33 million from its escrow account - an account where funds are held while two or more parties complete a transaction.
Ong now faces 76 charges including cheating, forgery and criminal breach of trust as an attorney involving more than S$75 million.
READ: Lawyer in missing millions case hit with 19 more charges, taking total amount involved to more than S$75 million
He has not been allowed bail since June 2019 when he was first charged, but his lawyer Tan Hee Joek sought to change that. He argued for two hours on Friday (Mar 26) for his client to be given bail, but the matter was adjourned to April for him to complete his submissions and for the prosecution to present theirs.
Mr Tan said Ong has lived in Singapore his entire life and is "a born and bred true blue Singaporean" who is "firmly rooted and domiciled in Singapore".
He was educated in Raffles Institution, Raffles Junior College and the National University of Singapore before qualifying as a member of the bar in 2003.
He has no prior convictions and has never faced trouble with the law until the present case, said Mr Tan.
Ong has a three-year-old son whom he adores and loves deeply, and being separated from him in remand has lowered his morale, said the lawyer.
"He comes from a respectable family of which every member has no antecedents or unsavoury associations. His parents are retired civil servants and his only elder sibling holds a senior position in the public service," said Mr Tan.
He pointed to character references provided by his friends, former teacher and former client that are "strong testaments that he will faithfully comply with all bail conditions".
READ: Lawyer linked to missing S$33m gets 13 more charges, court hears details of his escape to Malaysia
Prosecutors had said in June 2019 when they objected to bail for Ong that he was a "high flight risk" as he had left the country after he was asked about the missing money.
He purportedly disposed of his handphone and fled to Malaysia where he was later nabbed with the help of local police.
Mr Tan said: "Most Singaporeans and most lawyers would know Malaysia is the worst place to abscond to."
Malaysia has extradition arrangements with Singapore. Mr Tan added that Ong had used his own passport to leave Singapore, and was in China just before heading to Malaysia, where he spent only 17 days.
"The striking element of the charges he faces is that he derived no personal benefit from these charges," said Mr Tan. "This is not a David Rasif case as the public might imagine - him as a rogue lawyer who tried to abscond with S$33 million. It's nothing like that."
Former lawyer David Rasif allegedly made off with about S$11 million of his clients' money in June 2006. He is on Interpol's wanted list and is still at large.
Mr Tan said Ong has maintained from the start that he did not benefit personally from the alleged misappropriated monies.
He gave a few examples for specific charges Ong faces: In one case, he claims S$250,000 that was transferred was done so with a sign-off by the partner in charge of the file.
For another group of charges, Mr Tan said the transactions had been properly authorised by the director of the related firm.
"It is not an iron-cast case by the prosecution that he will be guilty of all the charges," he said. "The prosecution is not infallible."
After making oral arguments for about two hours, the judge adjourned the hearing to April for Mr Tan to complete his submissions and for the prosecution to present theirs.