Court to rule if lawyer who evaded tax is fit to practise

A lawyer who was jailed for tax evasion will have to face a court of three judges, which will rule if he is unfit to continue practising.

Mr Ong Cheong Wei, 52, is now working as an Uber driver.

A disciplinary tribunal recommended Mr Ong be dealt with by the court, which is the highest body to deal with errant lawyers.

Mr Ong, who used to run his own firm, was convicted and jailed for four weeks on each of the two tax evasion charges in 2015. He also paid a penalty of $118,341.

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

Mr Ong, who was called to the Bar in 1995, continued to practise after his release from jail until April last year, when the Attorney-General's Chambers objected to his bid for a practising certificate. Lawyers have to apply for one every year.

Mr Ong pleaded guilty before a tribunal last December to a single charge pursued by lawyer Daniel John for the Law Society that the criminal convictions "imply a defect of character" making him unfit for the profession.

The tribunal appointed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and comprising Senior Counsel Andre Yeap and lawyer G. Radakrishnan said not every criminal conviction made a lawyer unfit to continue practising and noted there was no precedent case here where disciplinary action had been taken against a lawyer convicted of an offence under a similar section of the Income Tax Act.

The tribunal in decision grounds last month ruled that tax evasionwas a dishonest act that made Mr Ong unfit to be a lawyer.

Mr Ong urged the tribunal to show mercy, noting he had paid his dues and served jail time. The tribunal ruled that the case be referred to a court of three judges, where he can be struck off, suspended or fined, among other things.

K.C. Vijayan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'Court to rule if lawyer who evaded tax is fit to practise'. Print Edition | Subscribe