Some time yet before AHTC case is heard in court

The Aljunied-Hougang Town and Aljunied-Hougang Town Council at Blk 701 Hougang Ave 2.
The Aljunied-Hougang Town and Aljunied-Hougang Town Council at Blk 701 Hougang Ave 2. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

The defendants in the civil lawsuit brought by Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) were served with the statement of claim last week.

Law firm Tan Rajah and Cheah has been engaged to defend the claim for the three Workers' Party MPs, Mr Low Thia Khiang, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Pritam Singh.

It will also represent two other defendants, Mr Chua Zhi Hon and Mr Kenneth Foo, who are appointed members of the town council. Mr Chua was a former member of the WP Youth Wing executive committee, while Mr Foo is WP deputy organising secretary.

Another three defendants will be represented by Mr Leslie Netto of Netto & Magin LLC. They are AHTC's former managing agent firm FM Solutions and Services (FMSS); the firm's owner How Weng Fan; as well as Ms How in her capacity as personal representative of the estate of her late husband, FMSS co-owner Danny Loh, who died in June 2015.

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Ms How, through her lawyer, declined to comment.

Ms Lim told reporters last week that she and the four other WP defendants will file court documents in the next few weeks.

First, the memorandum of appearance, which confirms they will defend the lawsuit, will be filed by the middle of this week.

Two weeks from that, they will enter their substantive defence - points that rebut the statement of claim filed against them by AHTC.

This is likely to detail why they reject allegations that they had acted in breach of their fiduciary duties; that they had set up a faulty system that allowed the appointment of FMSS; and that they entered into contracts with architects in breach of duties owed to AHTC.

A pre-trial conference, during which a registrar or judge will give court directions for administrative matters, has been set for Aug 31.

After this, a court date will be set. At the hearing, AHTC will present its legal arguments and the defendants will present their defence.

CHANCE TO CLARIFY

We hope that with this court case there will be greater understanding... (on) what the considerations were when we made those decisions, and why we still stand firm today that what we did was in the best interests of the council based on the information we had at the time.''

MS SYLVIA LIM, on the stance of the Workers' Party MPs on the matter. They will file court documents in the next few weeks.

 
 
 

AHTC wants Mr Low, Ms Lim, Ms How and FMSS to account for $33.7 million in payments made to FMSS, and seeks "equitable compensation" for any losses suffered from improper payments.

Ms Lim said the MPs will explain why "what we did was in the best interests of the council based on the information we had at the time".

"We will be furnishing more information so that all concerned will be clearer on the issues and why we made the decisions and acted as we did," Ms Lim, Mr Low and Mr Singh added in a statement last week.

The court will have to decide if it finds the defendants liable for any amount and in this scenario, the defendants will have to get the funds required to compensate the town council. But this process will take time. Said lawyer Rajan Chettiar of Rajan Chettiar LLC: "It will be a long way before this goes to trial, more than a year or so."

SEPARATE MATTERS

On a parallel track, AHTC is also seeking to suspend an ongoing arbitration case between itself and FMSS, which is claiming payments for services from AHTC, that it says is owed to it.

The pre-trial conference for this matter has been set for Aug 10.

Separately, the Housing Board has asked the Attorney-General's Chambers for advice on the AHTC lawsuit.

The AHTC lawsuit is a civil matter, which means there is still the possibility of criminal prosecution by the AGC further down the road if it finds there are grounds for such a course of action.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Some time yet before case is heard in court'. Print Edition | Subscribe