Lawyer suspended 21/2 years over illicit deal

A lawyer with more than 30 years' experience, who acted for the parties on both sides of an unlicensed moneylending transaction disguised as a property deal, was yesterday suspended from practice for 21/2 years.

Ms Leong Pek Gan had placed herself in a position of potential conflict of interest when she acted for a married couple selling their Bedok condominium and a firm that intended to buy the unit. Ultimately, she chose the interest of the firm, whose managing director and shareholder was her long-time client, over that of the vendors.

And even though she had reasonable grounds to believe that the sale and purchase of the flat was to cloak an illegal loan of $250,000, she helped both sides close the deal and failed to report the suspicious transaction.

The partner at Ching Ching, Pek Gan & Partners was found guilty of four charges of professional misconduct in October last year by a disciplinary tribunal, which found her case serious enough to be referred to the Court of Three Judges, which can suspend or strike errant lawyers off the rolls.

Mr Dinesh Dhillon, acting for the Law Society, argued yesterday before the court that Ms Leong "chose to be wilfully blind to the illegality of the transaction".

In 2012, the couple, Mr K. Tanapalan and Ms Vimala Devi Selvadurai, agreed to use their flat as collateral to borrow $250,000 at an interest of 15 per cent per annum from Mr Benson Ho through his firm Invest- Ho Properties.

The loan was documented as an option fee paid by the firm to buy the property. The couple signed a power of attorney to allow Mr Ho to enforce the option if they defaulted on repayment.

Mr Ho later insisted on exercising the option, denying that there was any loan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2016, with the headline 'Lawyer suspended 21/2 years over illicit deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe