3 more defendants named in Keppel Club lawsuit

Legal action filed against 10 to recover alleged losses from suspected membership fraud

Keppel Club's bid to recover alleged losses from suspected membership fraud has widened to include three more defendants in its High Court suit against seven other parties.

Among the trio added is retiree Lawrence Ng, the husband of former veteran Keppel staff member Setho Oi Lin, 67, who is the first defendant in the case.

Keppel, Singapore's oldest country club, was rocked in 2014 by revelations of the alleged fraud. It led to the sacking of Ms Setho, who started with the club as a clerk in 1966 and rose to supervise its membership department.

The club is suing Ms Setho, four others and two firms implicated in the alleged membership fraud, said to involve about $37.3 million in lost revenue. A probe in 2014 detected "irregularities" in more than 1,300 membership transfers at the club spanning a decade from 2004.

Among other things, some membership files contained only the records of payment of the food & beverage deposit to the club, not the membership transfer fees.

Keppel, which held its annual general meeting on April 20, notified members it had obtained leave from the High Court last month to include the additional defendants.

The club also obtained orders to freeze the assets of two of the three new defendants, including Mr Ng, which will prohibit them from disposing of or dealing with their assets up to the value of $19 million until the case is resolved.

The club obtained a similar freeze order against Ms Setho and two others last year.

Mr Ng, defended by lawyers Chong Jia Hao and Letchumanan Devadason, is expected to file his defence by next week.

Keppel's lawyers from Lee & Lee allege in court papers filed last month that Mr Ng was an accomplice and wrongful beneficiary of his wife's alleged fraud.

Keppel claims that as her husband, Mr Ng knew of the salaries she earned throughout the years as well as her fiduciary duties.

According to court papers, he was also a spouse member who spent much time on Keppel's premises and knew there were no legitimate reasons she would have large amounts of monies.

Mr Ng is the second family member of Ms Setho implicated in the High Court suit.

Her younger brother Setho Wai Meng, 58, had been earlier named as the fourth defendant when Keppel first filed the suit last year. It alleges he was among others who had received monies and benefited unjustly at the club's expense.

Mr Setho, defended by lawyer Tito Isaac, is denying the claims other than to accept that he did receive cheque payments from 2012 which Ms Setho requested to bank into his accounts. He then remitted the sums to her after the cheques were cleared, keeping some of the amounts, which she decided, as a gift from her.

Keppel alleges he allowed his bank accounts to be used as a conduit for wrongful payments.

One of the 10 defendants, Madam Young Ah Whatt, has died, but Keppel obtained a court order last month to extend the validity of the court papers by another six months, while it determines the appropriate legal representative to serve the papers on so the club can recover sums from her estate.

Updated findings showed she was said to have received over $400,000 from her alleged involvement in the suspected fraud.

Meanwhile Ms Setho, who is denying the claims, has filed a counterclaim against the club for wrongful dismissal and lost wages. Defended by Harry Elias Partnership lawyer Philip Fong, she has hit back at the club in defence documents filed, pointing out that she was not the sole custodian of membership files and highlighting audits that cleared the club's accounts every year.

The run-up to the case is ongoing and the next pre-trial conference is due later this month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline '3 more defendants named in Keppel Club lawsuit'. Print Edition | Subscribe