SINGAPORE - A lawyer who fled Singapore after $33 million of his client's money that was parked in his firm went missing has been struck off the rolls.
The Court of Three Judges ruled on Wednesday that former managing partner of JLC Advisors, Jeffrey Ong Su Aun, ran afoul of several of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules by acting dishonestly.
Ong's criminal case is still pending. He currently faces 76 charges, including for criminal breach of trust, forgery and cheating – in what the prosecutor earlier called "the largest amount of money ever misappropriated by a lawyer in Singapore".
It was earlier reported that Ong fled Singapore and was arrested in a Kuala Lumpur hotel with a stolen Malaysian passport of a man who resembled him. He has been in remand since June 2019.
On Wednesday, Ong, 45, appeared in court via video link from Changi Prison. He was denied bail last year.
When asked if he wished to say anything, Ong said he agreed with The Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) submissions that he should be struck off.
He added: "While there were underlying reasons and circumstances surrounding the facts, I don't think those are relevant for these proceedings."
The court – which comprised Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justices Tay Yong Kwang and Judith Prakash – heard that Allied Technologies agreed to escrow a total sum of $33,153,416.56 with Ong's firm.
Allied Technologies, which made a complaint to LawSoc, had an agreement with Ong's firm that the firm was to act as an escrow agent to hold the funds until Allied Technologies instructed the firm to release the funds.
A two-member disciplinary tribunal report found that between October 2017 and May 2019, Ong allowed funds to be paid out of the account without the authorisation of Allied Technologies.
According to the report, some of the money was paid out to Asia Box Office, a subsidiary of Allied Technologies, Mr Lim Tah Hwa – also known as Lin Tah Hwa – who is a substantial shareholder of the company, and Platform Capital Asia.
It was not stated why Ong made these transactions.
Owing to these transactions, 15 escrow notices to Allied Technologies did not reflect the true balance of the account between Nov 3, 2017 and Jan 22, 2019.
When Allied Technologies made demands for the release of the funds from the account, Ong misrepresented on several occasions that he would be arranging for the release of the funds when he had no intention to do so.
It was also not possible to release the $33,153,416.56 as there were insufficient funds in the account.
Ong also signed and issued a cheque to Allied Technologies for the full amount, forging the signature of a senior partner at his firm, Mr Vincent Lim, and knowing the cheque would bounce.
Chief Justice Menon on Wednesday noted the sum was substantial and agreed with LawSoc's counsel Adam Maniam from Drew and Napier that "the only appropriate sanction is to strike (Ong) off the roll of solicitors".
The next hearing for Ong’s criminal charges is on Friday.