Ex-lawyer sued over taking $8m meant for bank deal

He is alleged to have misled businessman into depositing money in his own firm

A businessman who wanted to buy an offshore bank and use its licence to set up a cryptocurrency-friendly bank in Singapore has alleged that a then lawyer involved in the deal misappropriated about $8 million raised for the deal.

Mr Andrew Ling, 40, claimed that Then Feng, 39, who was then working at global law firm Walkers, fraudulently misled him into depositing the money in a company called Walkers Professional Services (WPS).

Mr Ling said he was led to believe WPS was owned by Walkers and was used to provide escrow services for its clients - but in reality, it was set up by Then and had no association with the law firm.

Then has been sued in two other civil cases and faces 30 criminal charges for offences, including cheating and forgery.

In the current case, Mr Ling, through his two investment management firms, Providence Asset Management and 5 and 2, sued Then to recover US$5.27 million (S$6.99 million) and $1.22 million that was transferred to WPS in 2018.

The case opened for a two-week hearing at the Singapore International Commercial Court yesterday.

Mr Ling's lawyer, Mr Daniel Chia of Morgan Lewis Stamford, said in his opening statement that Then had represented to his client in many WhatsApp messages that Walkers was representing him in the potential bank purchase.

In late 2018, Then told Mr Ling that the purchase of a bank in the African nation of Comoros had been completed for US$4 million.

Mr Ling then asked for the remaining money to be refunded but did not receive a single cent, said Mr Chia. He said in February 2019, Then confessed to Mr Ling that WPS was his personal vehicle. But Then later asked Mr Ling to sign a "false" statutory declaration stating that he had always known that WPS had nothing to do with Walkers.

By early July 2019, Mr Ling lost patience and filed a suit against Then.

Mr Chia said Mr Ling discovered that Then paid only €130,000 (S$208,000) for the Comoros bank.

Then then secretly swapped it for a different entity, which was structured to be wholly owned by his own company. Then's defence is that he used US$4 million to buy the bank and loaned the remainder to his friend, Swiss national Frederic Gaillard, who has denied this.

A related suit, brought by four parties who transferred assets to Mr Ling and his business partner, Mr Cheng Yi Han, 36, is also being heard at the same time.

Hong Kong company The Micro Tellers Network and three Singaporeans, represented by Mr Adrian Tan of TSMP Law Corporation, recently reached a settlement with Mr Ling. They are pursuing their claims against Mr Cheng and Then. Micro Tellers said it invested US$2.7 million in the bank purchase. The three Singaporeans said US$5.2 million of their funds were used to buy 554.66 bitcoins, which were then sold in Europe for €5 million.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2021, with the headline 'Ex-lawyer sued over taking $8m meant for bank deal'. Subscribe