A Singaporean doctor, who transferred US$11.55 million (S$15.2 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 Singapore's High Court, Dr Christopher Chen Yun Hian accused six defendants of conspiring to defraud him by misleading him into investing huge sums of money on a bogus trading platform. But in a written decision last week, Judicial Commissioner Mavis Chionh found that Dr Chen's story about a conspiracy 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.
The three are: BHNV Online, the Belize-based company that operated the Opteck trading platform; its founder and owner Ben Yitzhak Zur, an Israeli citizen; and Israeli businessman Gilad Tisona, the owner of a 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 his contention that his claims in the Belizean courts may be time-barred.
"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 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.
He alleged that in August 2013, he clicked on an online advertisement and was directed to the Opteck website, which had information on binary options trading.
He lost US$37,000 in September 2013. Between Oct 10 and Dec 5, 2013, he transferred five sums totalling US$11.55 million to BHNV's bank account.
The bank, after checking the source for the last two transfers totalling US$5.5 million, reported the transactions to the authorities.
After the money was frozen, Dr Chen filed multiple reports alleging that he was a victim of fraud.
In January 2017, Dr Chen sued BHNV, Mr Zur, a BHNV employee named Dean Taylor who acted as his "investment mentor", and two other employees. The employees have yet to be served with the writ.
In April 2018, he added Mr Tisona as a defendant, which the judge found was a bid 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 also noted that integral to the alleged conspiracy was Mr Taylor gaining his trust. Yet, Dr Chen lost 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.