Bankrupt in Malaysia made bankrupt here for same debts

The High Court has ruled that a retiree made bankrupt in Malaysia can also be made bankrupt in Singapore for the same debts owed there.

In a test case, the High Court overruled a lower court decision and declared Malaysian Ling Lee Soon, 71, bankrupt for owing RM58 million (S$18.7 million) to the Lembaga Tabung Angakatan Tentera (Malaysia) or Armed Forces Fund Board of Malaysia.

Writing in the judgment grounds issued last week, Justice Woo Bih Li rejected Mr Ling's claim that the Board's real aim was to embarrass him with the Singapore court proceedings rather than recover a debt from him.

Given that Mr Ling had already been made bankrupt in Malaysia, the Board would not "deliberately throw good money after bad just to embarrass him", said Justice Woo.

Mr Ling, described as a retiree- cum-company director in the Kuala Lumpur court proceedings in 2013, is said to be a director of two companies in Singapore with a registered address in Temasek Boulevard.

The Board, which had obtained judgment for the sum against him in Kuala Lumpur in 2014, had sought to recover the money in Singapore when he failed to pay and it could not trace any significant unencumbered assets owned by him in Malaysia.

It obtained a Singapore court order to enforce the Malaysian judgment in May last year but was notified in September by Mr Ling's lawyer that he was unable to settle.

In December, he was made bankrupt, owing to the application of another creditor. But the Board's application to have him similarly bankrupted in Singapore failed before an assistant registrar in June this year, who ordered costs to be paid to him.

The Board, which was represented by Morgan Lewis Stamford lawyer Adrian Tan, appealed and argued that Mr Ling had been living and was settled in Singapore at least a year before the bankruptcy application, as required under the Bankruptcy Act.

Mr Ling argued through his lawyer, Mr Roy Lim from Robert Wang & Woo, that he considered home to be Kuala Lumpur, Kuching and Sibu, and he had only a long-term visit pass to visit relatives in Singapore.

Justice Woo found the claim to be "untenable" as Mr Ling himself had given a Singapore Grange Road residential address to a Malaysian court in 2013, among other things.

The judge said the Bankruptcy Act does not preclude the making of concurrent bankruptcy orders in Malaysia and Singapore, or it would have been worded by Parliament to dismiss any Singapore bankruptcy application if there were a prior Malaysian order.

Justice Woo said the purpose of the application was to appoint the Official Assignee to probe if Mr Ling had assets in Singapore that could be recovered to pay his debt.

"In other words, the making of the bankruptcy order in Singapore was not an academic exercise," said Justice Woo.

Mr Ling is taking the case to the Court of Appeal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Bankrupt in Malaysia made bankrupt here for same debts'. Print Edition | Subscribe