$5.5b claim against family moves here from US

Case involves failed investment, claims of large sums splurged on diamonds

AN 11-YEAR legal battle involving a staggering US$4.1 billion (S$5.5 billion) claim against a Singapore family has moved to the High Court here after a lengthy US legal case.

The labyrinthine case centres on a failed China technology investment back in 2000 and includes claims that hundreds of thousands of dollars were squandered on diamonds.

The High Court last month granted a temporary freeze on the assets of some of the family members involved, ahead of a further hearing of the case being brought by Hong Kong firm New World TMT.

Ex-Silicon Valley-based chief executive "Tony" Qu Jianping is alleged to have made fraudulent claims to induce New World to invest about US$670 million in a big technology project in China in 2000. He is believed to be moving around the region, but is not a defendant in the Singapore case.

A California court has already issued a judgment against him in a case brought there by New World.

Mr Qu was founder of California firm Prediwave, which mounted the China investment.

But the project, involving television and cable transmission systems, was technologically flawed - and lost vast sums.

Since then, Mr Qu has allegedly tried to conceal and siphon off a lot of money through a maze of companies and bank accounts.

The Singapore case includes claims that Mr Qu's daughter, Qu Jia Yi, also known as Sara Qu, helped conceal assets allegedly misappropriated from New World.

A statement of claim filed by New World also claims Ms Qu spent US$283,530 on diamonds while studying in the US in 2006. She is said to have received funds through her Singapore bank.

In 2004, New World sued Mr Qu and Prediwave for alleged fraud in California.

In 2006, the Superior Court of California awarded New World US$2.82 billion in damages. The sum included US$2 billion in "punitive" damages - that is, damages intended to punish the defendant, over and above actual losses.

New World claims that the sum has now mushroomed to about US$4.1 billion, including a large amount of interest.

New World's legal action here is against Mr Qu's former wife, Singaporean Wang Wei, her two children with Mr Qu, Sara and Steven Qu, alias Wang Siak Hwa, and three other parties also named as "judgment debtors" by the US court.

The High Court has already issued a "default judgment" against Madam Wang. This happens when a defendant does not respond to legal action.

The latest order - freezing assets - relates to siblings Steven and Sara Qu. He is understood to be a Singapore permanent resident while she holds a US passport.

New World is part of a Hong Kong conglomerate investing in media and technology industries, including in mainland China.

After New World's investment in Prediwave, system prototypes produced by the firm for testing in China failed, were not compatible with existing television infrastructure and did not meet commercial standards in China.

Prediwave failed to address the defects and it emerged that several companies designated to provide technical support and controlled by Mr Qu, Madam Wang and two others were sham companies.

Among other things, Mr Qu was alleged to have conspired together with Madam Wang and two others to provide some US$4 million in salary and bonus to himself over four years from 2001.

As of April last year, New World had recovered US$331.4 million from the liquidation of Prediwave and seizure and sale of some assets owned by Mr Qu and other corporate debtors of the US judgment, according to documents filed in the High Court here.

The other three judgment debtors are two Chinese nationals linked to Prediwave, and a Singapore firm - Newstar Management - owned by Madam Wang.

Madam Wang married Mr Qu in 1985. They divorced in 2003.

Ms Sara Qu was a director of Prediwave and seven other companies in the US controlled by Mr Qu and is said to be living here.

New World - through Rajah & Tann lawyers Rebecca Chew and Ang Siok Hoon - is seeking an account of all sums misappropriated.

It is understood that the defence has not yet filed its case.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due later this month.

vijayan@sph.com.sg