Punching dispute between feuding Hainan clan members settled with $1,500 fine

SINGAPORE - It was a couple of punches thrown in a few heated seconds. But three years and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees later, a dispute between two prominent Hainan Hwee Kuan clan members could still drag on.

Former Hwee Kuan president Foo Jong Peng, 62, had taken lawyer Cheng Kim Kuan, 53, to court for punching him twice.

On Tuesday, the culprit was fined $1,500, but he plans to appeal the decision.

On Jan 21, 2012, Mr Foo had been informed that seven people gathered at the temple and clan association building at Beach Road were criticising him.

The loudest of the seven was apparently clan association member David Phua, whom Mr Foo later sought out at a coffeeshop for an apology. The two men initially agreed to talk, but when Mr Phua realised none of his friends were there, he tried to run away.

Mr Foo grabbed hold of Mr Phua to stop him, at which point Mr Cheng appeared, shouted at him to release Mr Phua, and punched him in the face and chest.

Dr Lillian Koh of Tan Tock Seng Hospital, who attended to Mr Foo the night of the incident, had testified in March that Mr Foo had some swelling on his left cheek, and some tenderness on his chest.

Both parties have a history of clashing.

In mitigation, Mr Cheng's lawyer N.K. Rajarh said that his client had thrown the punches in the heat of the moment, and highlighted the pro bono work he had done for the Law Society of Singapore, as well as how he had founded the Singapore Hainan Hwee Kuan Pro Bono Clinic in 2008.

District Judge Low Wee Ping said: "This was a 30-second incident, at most one minute... however it took five days of trial for this court to ascertain the facts... because both parties had extensive irrelevant evidence.

"Should I believe Channel 5 or should I believe Channel 8?"

He concluded that he was imposing the $1,500 fine initially requested by Mr Foo's lawyer, A.P. Thirumurthy, as a "gesture of goodwill" and hoped "both parties can put this behind them, as they should have done long ago".

Mr Foo told reporters outside court that what he had really wanted was an apology from Mr Cheng.

"I said I don't want a cent, just apologise to me there and then," he said in Mandarin.

"But he wouldn't accept it."

He estimated that the case has cost him around $20,000 in legal fees so far.

Dissatisfied with the judgement, Mr Cheng filed for an appeal the same day.

"I do not regret intervening, and I will take this all the way to the High Court," he said.