Defendant in Keppel Club lawsuit sues club

Keppel Club filed High Court papers earlier this year seeking damages for alleged losses following membership "irregularities" that were detected in 1,340 membership transfers spanning a decade from 2004.
Keppel Club filed High Court papers earlier this year seeking damages for alleged losses following membership "irregularities" that were detected in 1,340 membership transfers spanning a decade from 2004. ST FILE PHOTO

Ex-supervisor claims wrongful dismissal in case involving membership 'irregularities'

The membership supervisor of Singapore's oldest country club, who was sacked over an alleged fraud that saw it lose an estimated $37 million, is now suing the club for wrongful dismissal and lost wages.

Madam Setho Oi Lin has hit back at the Keppel 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.

Keppel was rocked last year by revelations of a membership fraud, which led to the sacking of the 67-year-old, who started working there as a clerk in 1966.

The club, whose lease on the current site off Bukit Chermin Road expires in 2021, filed High Court papers earlier this year seeking damages from Madam Setho and six others, including two membership trading agencies, for alleged losses following membership "irregularities" that were detected in 1,340 membership transfers at the club spanning a decade from 2004.

The $37 million estimated losses were calculated based on the rolling average of historically transacted prices of the club's memberships, according to court documents filed by Keppel's lawyers from Lee & Lee in April.

Madam Setho, who is arguing that she was not responsible for the alleged "membership irregularities", said the club had existed for decades and numerous staff dealt with the membership files - some of which had been misplaced, discarded or damaged.

In defence documents filed by her lawyer, Mr Philip Fong, she also pointed to a computer server crash in 2009 that affected a substantial number of membership files, not all of which could be imported into a new database.

She added she was not in charge of maintaining and keeping records of all the memberships and there were other staff in charge of recording and managing membership forms and the database.

Addressing each of the points raised in Keppel's statement of claims, Madam Setho said that she was not the sole point of contact in the club in relation to membership transfers for all applicants and club membership agencies.

She was informed by the club in May this year that $10,589 in wages due to her had been withheld by the club to offset against its alleged claims.

Madam Setho is seeking about $30,000 altogether in lost wages, alleging she was wrongfully dismissed in October last year as she had not been given prior notice despite having served the club for over 48 years and had cooperated fully when queried.

Second defendant Cheo Soh Chin, a member since 1989, denies claims against her and questions if the club's losses actually amounted to $37 million.

In defence documents filed by her lawyer, Senior Counsel Michael Khoo, she argued that the club failed to avoid or mitigate its losses by failing to cancel the 1,340 affected memberships but instead chose to accept these applicants, as a policy decision.

Madam Cheo's daughter, Dawn, who is named as third defendant, also denies the claims and said that she merely provided administrative assistance to her mother when cheques were made out in her name, believing they were related to genuine transfers of club memberships.

In court documents filed by her lawyer, Ms Melissa Thng, she stressed that no money from the cheques involved was retained by her and that she had no knowledge of the alleged modus operandi of Madam Setho in relation to the club membership transfers.

In September, the High Court, on application by the club, ordered a freeze on the assets of Madam Setho, Madam Cheo and her daughter up to the value of $19.28 million, until further notice.

The next High Court pretrial conference is set for next month.

Meanwhile, the club's general committee will hold an extraordinary general meeting today about a petition signed by 54 members seeking a discussion on the "membership irregularities".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2015, with the headline 'Defendant in Keppel Club lawsuit sues club'. Print Edition | Subscribe