Singapore doctor 'cooked up' story of conspiracy, fraud to get back US$11.5m: High Court

SINGAPORE - A Singaporean doctor, who transferred US$11.55 million (S$15.23 million) to a bank account in Romania over two months to fund his online trading activities, sued various parties to get the money back after the account was frozen by local authorities for suspected money laundering.

In his suit filed in the Singapore High Court, Dr Christopher Chen Yun Hian accused six defendants of conspiring to defraud him by manipulating his trading activities and misleading him into investing huge sums of money on a bogus trading platform.

But, in a written decision last Thursday (Dec 31), Judicial Commissioner Mavis Chionh found that Dr Chen's story about a conspiracy to defraud him was "cooked up in a desperate attempt to recoup his losses".

She was giving detailed reasons for her decision in July last year to grant applications by three of the defendants to set aside the writ that had been served on them.

They contended that the Singapore court has no jurisdiction to hear Dr Chen's claims against them.

The three are: BHNV Online, the Belize-based company that operated the Opteck trading platform; its founder and sole shareholder Ben Yitzhak Zur, an Israeli citizen; and Israeli businessman Gilad Tisona, the owner of a Belizean company that bought some of BHNV's assets in 2015.

The judge agreed that Belize, not Singapore, was the proper forum for Dr Chen to pursue his claims. She pointed to the fact that the contract he signed provided for disputes to be adjudicated in the Central American country.

She rejected Dr Chen's contention that his claims in the Belizean courts may be time-barred due to limitation periods set by law.

"He wilfully chose not to litigate in the contractually agreed forum... and instead gambled on the chance that the Singapore courts would overlook his forum-shopping and allow him to litigate here.

"That gamble has not paid off, and the plaintiff has only himself to blame if he ultimately winds up unable to pursue his claims," said the judge.

Forum-shopping is a term that refers to litigants trying to have their case heard in the court that they believe would be most favourable to them.

Dr Chen, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, has appealed against the decision.

In his suit, he alleged that in August 2013, he clicked on an online advertisement and was directed to the Opteck website, which contained information on binary options trading.

Tempted by the prospect of high investment returns, he submitted an online application, e-signed the contract that was e-mailed to him and deposited US$5,000.

Dr Chen said he was contacted by a BHNV employee named Dean Taylor who acted as his "investment mentor" and educated him on binary options trading.

Dr Chen suffered losses of US$37,000 in September 2013.

Between Oct 10 and Dec 5, 2013, Dr Chen transferred five sums totalling US$11.55 million to BHNV's bank account in Romania. He claimed he was convinced that Mr Taylor's expertise could help him turn a profit.

The bank, after checking the source for the last two transfers totalling US$5.5 million, was not satisfied with the explanation and reported the transactions to the authorities.

After the money was frozen, Dr Chen filed multiple reports, to the Singapore police and the Romanian authorities, alleging that he was a victim of fraud.

In January 2017, Dr Chen sued BHNV, Mr Zur, Mr Taylor and two other employees. The three employees have yet to be served with the writ.

In April 2018, he added Mr Tisona as a defendant, which the judge found was an attempt by Dr Chen to "cast his net as widely as possible".

The judge found that the evidence did not bear out Dr Chen's allegations of fraud.

She noted that integral to the alleged conspiracy was Mr Taylor gaining his trust. Yet, Dr Chen suffered losses of more than US$12 million between September and December 2013.

"Any crook intent on defrauding him would surely have attempted to conceal these hefty losses from him," she said.

She added that US$1.23 million left in his trading account was returned to him - conduct that was "atypical of conniving fraudsters".