Man allegedly duped 3 building contractors into believing the cladding he sold was fire-safety certified

Benny Phua Chia Ping, sales and marketing manager of Chip Soon Aluminium, is accused of inducing three firms to hand over cash totalling more than $200,000 in all. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - A man whose company was linked to a building in Toh Guan Road that caught fire, killing a woman, allegedly duped three contractors of other buildings into believing that the cladding he sold them was covered by fire-safety certification.

However, the materials had, in fact, failed safety tests that had been carried out on them.

On the first day of his trial on Monday (March 2), a district court heard that Benny Phua Chia Ping, 41, who is sales and marketing manager of Chip Soon Aluminium, now faces five counts of cheating.

Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan said Phua manages the family business with his two siblings and their parents.

Phua's alleged victims are HB Glass and Aluminium, Mantec Holdings, and Nam Lee Pressed Metals.

He is accused of inducing the firms to hand over cash totalling more than $200,000 in all.

In his opening statement, DPP Kannan said Phua's alleged offences came to light following the fire that broke out at the Cambridge Industrial Trust building near Boon Lay Way on May 4, 2017.

The court heard that the flames "raced up the eight-storey facade of the building and took the life of a 54-year-old woman".

The DPP said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) later found that the cladding - aluminium composite panels - installed at the building's exterior contributed to the fire spreading "more rapidly and extensively".

Investigations revealed that Chip Soon Aluminium had supplied the panels.

DPP Kannan said that because of SCDF's concerns that other buildings that had used the panels may also pose serious fire hazards, investigations were conducted by SCDF, and later the police, into Chip Soon Aluminium's business and whether the panels were fire-safety certified.

He, however, stressed that the trial does not centre on the cause or the immediate consequences of the blaze.

He told District Judge Christopher Goh: "This trial... centres squarely on (Phua's) unscrupulousness in deceiving three building contractors into believing that the aluminium composite panels that he sold them were covered by fire-safety certification, at the time of purchase.

"He deceived them into believing so, in spite of knowing full well that the fire-safety certification had been terminated due to, not one, but two, failed fire-safety tests on the aluminium composite panels that he sold."

Phua is said to have continued selling these uncertified panels without "any regard to the clear fire hazard that he was causing", and concealed the fact of termination from the building contractors "for nothing more than commercial greed".

Between April 24 and June 20, 2013, Phua was allegedly directly involved in sales transactions for the panels between his firm and the three building contractors.

The fire was confined to the facade of the building at 30 Toh Guan Road, located opposite the IMM mall in Jurong East on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

However, the court heard that the fire-safety certification for the panels had been terminated on April 5 that year due to two failed fire-safety tests.

The court heard that HB Glass and Aluminium had used the panels in building works for the Temasek Polytechnic West Wing, while Mantec Holdings used them for the VDL building in Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim.

Nam Lee Pressed Metal had used the panels in the building works for two three-storey ventilation buildings at the Marina Coastal Expressway, the court heard.

Court documents did not state if the three firms replaced the panels they had obtained from Chip Soon Aluminium.

DPP Kannan said the three "victim companies" would give evidence that they would not have ordered the panels from Chip Soon Aluminium if they had known that the fire-safety certification had been terminated.

The trial continues.

Phua is represented by lawyers Favian Kang and Wong Thai Yong from Peter Low & Choo law firm.

Offenders convicted of cheating can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined for each charge.

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