SINGAPORE - The High Court on Friday (Jan 14) dismissed a bid by businessman Ng Yu Zhi, who is at the centre of an alleged $1 billion nickel trading scam, to stay a civil suit against him until his criminal case comes to an end.
Ng, 34, currently faces 75 criminal charges - mostly for cheating and forgery - in relation to a nickel trading investment scheme offered by his companies, Envy Asset Management and Envy Global Trading (EGT).
Two investors, construction firm Debenho and its managing director Low Teck Dee, filed a High Court suit against Ng on March 31 last year seeking to recover $23 million.
Debenho and Mr Low had paid $20 million under five contracts between November 2020 and January last year to purchase a portion of EGT's trade receivables that were purportedly due from a nickel buyer.
The plaintiffs claim that EGT had told them that they had earned net profits of about 17 per cent, but they never received repayment of their purchase price and the profits.
On May 14 last year, two cheating charges arising from the same facts relating to Debenho and Mr Low were brought against Ng.
In June last year, Ng applied for the civil suit to be stayed pending the determination of the criminal proceedings against him, including any appeals.
The application was dismissed by an assistant registrar in August, and he appealed to High Court Judge Ang Cheng Hock.
Ng, represented by Mr Navin Thevar from Davinder Singh Chambers, contended that he would suffer a real danger of prejudice in the criminal case if the civil suit is not stayed.
He argued that if the civil suit proceeds, he would have to testify on matters that he could use to defend himself in the criminal case.
This would undermine his right of silence and his privilege against self-incrimination, he said.
Ng also argued that the prosecution would be given an unfair advantage in the criminal proceedings as it now has an opportunity to watch a "test run" of its case.
Debenho and Mr Low, represented by Mr Alfred Lim and Ms Jaime Lye from Fullerton Law Chambers, argued that Ng has already filed his defence in the civil suit and it was difficult to see how his criminal case would be prejudiced.
In a written judgment on Friday, Justice Ang said: "It is for Mr Ng to establish precisely how he will suffer a real, and not a notional, danger of prejudice.
"I find that he has not done this, other than to refer in general terms to his right of silence and his privilege against self-incrimination."
Justice Ang agreed with the plaintiffs that Ng has effectively disclosed his defence to his criminal charges by filing his defence to the civil suit.
"In a manner of speaking, the horse has already bolted," the judge said.
He added that even if the prosecution can enjoy a preview of Ng's case, it does not follow that evidence in the civil case can in turn be relied on in the criminal case.
"The prosecution... remains limited to proving its case on the basis of evidence which has been admitted in the criminal proceedings," he noted.
In any event, said the judge, the so-called advantage of the prosecution having some insight into Ng's possible defence was overstated.
"Just as the prosecution may have a preview of the accused's defence and his evidence in the civil proceedings, the accused person has the corresponding advantage of having a similar preview of the prosecution's case and its evidence."
When contacted, Mr Lim said his clients have already applied for summary judgment against Ng and will be pursuing it vigorously.
A summary judgment is a judgment entered by a court without a full trial.