In a dramatic twist to the long-awaited criminal trial of ex-AIA insurance agent Sally Low, her lawyer discharged himself from representing Low yesterday.
Low is facing charges of duping Indonesian businessman Ong Han Ling, 77, into buying a fake US$5.06 million AIA Thank You insurance policy in 2002.
Mr Adrian Wee of Characterist LLC was Low's sixth lawyer. Low, who was made bankrupt by her previous lawyers, had five sets of lawyers acting for her before Mr Wee took up her case last year.
Yesterday, Mr Wee told State Court judge Michelle Yap that he was "compelled to apply for discharge" as Low has made "an allegation" against him.
It is not publicly known what the allegation was, as it was mentioned only in chambers.
On the witness stand, Low said she has every intention to fight the trial and has been trying since 2010 to do so. She added she has been under stress and she believes that people have been "following" her.
She said: "Given my IMH (Institute of Mental Health) report, it sounds like I am paranoid and I am crazy but I don't have the funds or the money to engage new counsel and on my own, I do not have the ability to fight this case.
"It's taken so many years of my life... I was age 34 when I was charged, now I am age 41. I am also mindful that I don't have the time to look for new counsel, not to mention the resources, and in all fairness, Mr Wee has been trying his best."
Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi noted Low has made allegations against her former counsel on the witness stand during a related civil trial and, to his knowledge, these allegations were not well founded.
The State Court judge allowed Mr Wee's discharge and the criminal trial, which started on Monday, was adjourned yesterday. It is set to continue on May 5, whether or not Low engages another defence counsel.
The saga began in late 2002, when Mr Ong was allegedly sold a fake policy by Low, then an AIA agent. He claimed that after he remitted the premium, Low, without his knowledge or consent, used the funds to buy four AIA policies for him, his wife and their daughter.
He alleged that midway through the tenure of the AIA Thank You policy, Low deceived him into giving the insurance proceeds from three of the unauthorised policies to her by use of fabricated computer errors. Her scheme came to light in 2008 after Mr Ong learnt from AIA that the Thank You policy was bogus.
The insurer made a police report against Low and sacked her in December 2009. Mr Ong made a police report against Low in January 2010 for allegedly cheating him of money. He sued her for damages totalling US$2.25 million and $2.99 million.
In May 2011, she was charged with 19 criminal offences, including cheating the Ongs, using forged documents and money laundering.
In December 2013, Low pleaded guilty to two charges of cheating, one charge of fraudulent use of forged documents and one charge of moving crime proceeds to a bank account in Hong Kong, with the remaining 15 charges taken into consideration. She retracted her guilty plea six months later. Low also claimed she was a victim of a ploy with Mr Ong to cheat AIA instead.
She had previously admitted herself to IMH and her previous lawyers included Ms Engelin Teh and the late Mr Subhas Anandan. Meanwhile, the Ongs are suing AIA and Motion Insurance Agency for negligence and lack of care.