Court disbars lawyer who had been convicted for tax evasion

SINGAPORE - A lawyer, who had been jailed for evading about $40,000 in taxes, was struck off the rolls on Thursday (Nov 9).

The Court of Three Judges, in disbarring Mr Ong Cheong Wei, 52, said a lawyer "cannot be allowed to practise once he has been found to be dishonest".

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, delivering the court's decision, said tax evasion was akin to cheating or defrauding the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

He noted that lawyers found to have acted dishonestly are "almost invariably" struck off the rolls and there was nothing in Mr Ong's case that merited making an exception.

Mr Ong, who was a sole proprietor of his own firm, was convicted and jailed for four weeks on two tax evasion charges in December 2015. He also paid a penalty of $118,341, which is three times the tax evaded.

Among other things, he declared his income for assessment years 2007 and 2008 as $93,000 in total, underdeclaring $306,305.

Mr Ong, who was called to the Bar in 1995, continued to practise after he was released from prison.

When he tried to renew his yearly practising certificate in April last year, the Attorney-General's Chambers objected.

The Law Society, represented by Mr Daniel John, also brought disciplinary proceedings against him.

Mr Ong pleaded guilty before a tribunal last December to a charge of having been convicted of a criminal offence implying a defect of character which makes him unfit for his profession.

The tribunal found the case serious enough to be referred to the Court of Three Judges, which has the power to suspend or strike lawyers off the rolls.

Mr Ong is now working as an Uber driver.