Leong Hin Chuee v Citra Group Pte Ltd and others

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeTan Siong Thye J
Judgment Date29 January 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] SGHC 30
Citation[2015] SGHC 30
Subject MatterCompanies,Duties,Contract of service,Employment law,Directors,Formation,Breach,Contract
Date29 January 2015
Defendant CounselGooi Chi Duan and Soo Yu-Han Jessica (Donaldson & Burkinshaw LLP),Ho Pei Shien Melanie, Sim Hui Shan, Sim Mei Ling, Simran Toor and Wong Shu Yu, Debby Ratnasari (WongPartnership LLP)
Plaintiff CounselDawn Tan Ly-Ru and Adriel Chia (ADTvance Law LLC)
Docket NumberSuit No 454 of 2012
Published date06 February 2015
Hearing Date16 October 2014,27 June 2014,01 July 2014,24 June 2014,06 June 2014,03 June 2014,05 June 2014,02 July 2014,25 June 2014,04 June 2014
Tan Siong Thye J: Introduction

Leong Hin Chuee (“the plaintiff”) received a monthly salary of S$25,000 pursuant to an Employment Agreement dated 1 August 20071 (“the EA”) signed with the Transpacific Group (a group of companies owned by Suganda Setiadikurnia (“D7”)) (“the Group”) from 1 August 2007 to July 2010. Under the EA, he was also entitled to bonuses, share rewards and reimbursements which were due to him if certain conditions were fulfilled. The plaintiff alleges that he had not been paid these other benefits under the EA. Thus he sues the defendants in these proceedings for breach of EA. He alleges that he had not been paid the following sums under the EA:2 US$4,663,020 in respect of Project Gibson being completed, which is the reverse takeover (“RTO”) of PT Royal Oak Development Asia (”RODA”);3 US$4,511,250 in respect of Project MP being completed, which is the RTO of PT Citra Kebun Raya Agri (“CKRA”);4 US$1,138,315.22 in respect of fund raising activities for Project Gibson and Project MP; and S$1,852,000 in respect of fund raising activities for the acquisition of properties at 21 Anderson Road (“the 21 Anderson Properties”).

In addition, the plaintiff also claims S$54,004.52 for reimbursements for expenses he incurred in the course of his employment from 2008 to 2010. Therefore, the plaintiff’s total claim is for US$10,312,585.22 and S$1,906,004.52.

The defendants dispute the plaintiff’s claims. First, they contend that they were not parties to the EA. According to the defendants, the plaintiff should have sued PT Transpacific Securindo (“PT Securindo”) which they say was his official employer. 5 Second, they contend that the plaintiff was not entitled to the bonuses since the bonuses were not an absolute entitlement. The plaintiff was also not entitled to the share rewards with respect to Project Gibson and Project MP as the projects were incomplete. Finally, they contend that the plaintiff was not entitled to the balance of the expenses incurred in the execution of his duties as there is no proof that they were incurred in accordance with the EA’s terms.

Besides disputing these claims, Citra Group Pte Ltd (“D1”), Cozmo Properties Pte Ltd (“D3”), Forever Prosperous Pte Ltd (“D5”) and Fortune International Trading Pte Ltd (“D6”) (collectively “the Four Counterclaimants”) also counterclaim against the plaintiff for his alleged breach of directors’ duties and breach of confidentiality.6

The background

Prior to his EA with the defendants, the plaintiff was the Executive Vice-President and Head (Business Development and Investor Relations)7 in Lereno Bio-Chem Ltd (“Lereno”), a Catalist-listed company.8 It was at Lereno that he met D7, the Vice-Chairman of Lereno on 20 November 2007, after the latter had subscribed for a significant number of Lereno shares.9

Subsequently, D7 resigned from Lereno’s board when he failed to secure majority control of Lereno. He also fell out with the other leading shareholders of Lereno.10 However, as D7 found the plaintiff to be “shrewd and capable”11, D7 offered to employ him on a full-time basis12 so that the plaintiff could assist him with the RTO of two public-listed Indonesian companies: RODA, a suspended company listed on the Indonesian Stock Exchange (“IDX”), and CKRA, another suspended company listed on the IDX. The plaintiff agreed and resigned from Lereno on 31 August 2007.13

The Employment Agreement

The plaintiff entered into the EA after some negotiations with D7. It was signed by D7 on behalf of the Group, which was described in the EA as “a Group of companies incorporated in Indonesia and Singapore with its principal place of business at the 18th floor of Menara Imperium, Jakarta Indonesia”.14 Subsequently and pursuant to the EA’s terms, the plaintiff was appointed to different positions in the companies controlled by D7.15 His appointments included, inter alia,:16 directorships in Cozmo International Pte Ltd (“D2”), D3, Fook Yuan International Pte Ltd (“D4”) and D6; the Deputy President Director of RODA; and the President Director of CKRA.

Under cll 5.3, 5.4, 5.5 and 5.9 of the EA, the plaintiff is entitled to receive Annual Bonuses, Periodic Bonuses, share rewards and reimbursement of expenses under cll 5.3, 5.4, 5.5 and 5.9 of the EA. The relevant clauses are set out as follows:17 Variable Performance Bonuses. The Executive shall be paid an Annual Bonus (and may be paid Periodic Bonuses such as the 0.25% to 0.5% relation to various Fund Raising Activities as verbally expressed by the CEO prior to the signing of this Agreement) in the form of cash or shares or in a combination of both, the quantum of which shall be at the sole and absolute discretion of the CEO, and which shall depend on the performance of the Company and the attainment of the objectives as determined by the CEO. Project Gibson Stock Earn-out and Ownership–upon completion of the Project Gibson RTO/IPO, Executive shall be awarded full title and legal ownership of a minimum of 12 million shares in the listed company. Executive shall pay only/earn-out for the Project Gibson shares according to Table 1 Schedule set out below if the Executive Ceases to be employed by the Company for any reason whatsoever. Project MP Stock Earn-out and Ownership–upon completion of the Project MP RTO/IPO, Executive shall be awarded full title and legal ownership of a minimum of 12 million shares in the listed company. Executive shall pay only/earn-out for the Project MP shares according to Table 1 Schedule set out below if the Executive Ceases to be employed by the Company for any reason whatsoever.

Expenses. The Executive shall be provided with Company Transportation and reasonable Accommodations while in Jakarta or other locations as assigned by the CEO. The Executive shall also be reimbursed for reasonable traveling, hotel accommodations telecommunications and other out-of-pocket expenses incurred in or about the discharge of the Executive’s duties.

[original emphasis in bold, emphasis added in bold italics]

It is important to note that with respect to the share rewards, cll 5.4 and 5.5 were amended by having “1.5% for 100%” scribbled next to them and D7 countersigning at the side (“the Handwritten Amendments”).18 In this regard, the plaintiff also makes reference to Table 1 (exhibited in Annex A of this judgment) to submit that the share rewards are essentially a “loyalty device” and the price to be paid for the share rewards should be in accordance with Table 1.19 The plaintiff interpreted this to mean that he would get 1.5% of the RODA and CKRA shares or their cash equivalent when Project Gibson and Project MP were completed.20

While it is undisputed that the Handwritten Amendments were made by D7, the parties disagreed on: (a) when completion took place; (b) what were the circumstances under which the share rewards were to be granted; and (c) the implication of the Handwritten Amendments to those clauses. The plaintiff’s view is that Project Gibson and Project MP were successfully completed and that he was instrumental to their success. He also submits that he was instrumental in raising funds successfully for the acquisition of the 21 Anderson Properties and thus entitled to the sums claimed for. The defendants’ view is that Project Gibson, Project MP and the acquisition of the 21 Anderson Properties failed. The plaintiff was merely a liaison officer to obtain the loans for the various companies from the banks. For these services, the plaintiff was already paid a salary under the EA. Therefore, the defendants submit that the plaintiff is not entitled to his claims.

Given the very different interpretation of the facts taken by the plaintiff and the defendants, it is useful to look at the three abovementioned fund raising activities and the way the parties viewed them.

Project MP

Project MP was an initiative under the Bio-Resources Division of the Group21 and it involved the RTO of CKRA. CKRA was a company engaged in the planting, processing, trading and transportation of agricultural and plantation products and palm oil processing.22

Project MP was to be executed in the following manner:23 The first step was to issue CKRA shares. CKRA would conduct a rights issue and the money raised would be used to purchase mandatory exchangeable bonds (“MEB”) issued by PT Kurnia Selaras (“PTKS”). PTKS would pay 1% interest to CKRA every year for five years until the bonds matured on 28 January 2013. Upon maturity, the MEB would be exchanged for 70% equity in PT Transpacific Agro Industry (“TPAI”) and PT Citra Indoniaga (“CIN”),24 two palm oil companies in Indonesia. Upon the maturity of the MEB, CKRA was envisaged to become the indirect owner of the palm oil plantations owned by TPAI and CIN. The first rights issue was conducted in January 2008. After the first CKRA rights issue was conducted and the acquisitions made, a second rights issue was conducted with 78% of the proceeds funding the purchase of PT Horizon Agro Industry (“HAI”). HAI owned a number of palm oil plantation-owning subsidiaries. It was also in the process of constructing a starch products factory. 22% of the proceeds would be used for CKRA’s working capital needs. Finally, D1 would be incorporated as an investment holding company to be the standby buyer underwriting the second CKRA rights issue. To fulfil its underwriting obligations, D1 later entered into a loan facility with the Singapore branch of the Raiffeisen Zentralbank Oesterreich AG (“RZB”) for the sum of US$111,663,482.44 (“the First RZB Loan”).

The plaintiff envisaged that under this plan, CKRA would become a multi-billion dollar company in three years.25 There were three eventual scenarios contemplated by the parties in relation to Project MP: The best-case scenario envisaged that up to 300bn rupiah would be raised from interested investors in the second...

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7 cases
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    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 21 February 2017
    ...3 SLR 881 (refd) Lau Siew Kim v Yeo Guan Chye Terence [2008] 2 SLR(R) 108; [2008] 2 SLR 108 (refd) Leong Hin Chuee v Citra Group Pte Ltd [2015] 2 SLR 603 (refd) Lonrho plc v Fayed (No 2)WLR [1992] 1 WLR 1 (refd) Michael Pecore v Paula PecoreUNK [2007] 1 SCR 795 (refd) Ng Eng Ghee v Mamata K......
  • Dong Wei v Shell Eastern Trading (Pte) Ltd and another
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    ...Leong Chuan Simon and others and another suit [2005] 4 SLR(R) 344 (“Tullett Prebon”), Leong Hin Chuee v Citra Group Pte Ltd and others [2015] 2 SLR 603 (“Leong Hin Chuee”), and to a lesser extent, Arul Chandran v Gartshore and others [2000] 1 SLR(R) 436 (“Arul Chandran”). In Tullett Prebon,......
  • Leiman, Ricardo and another v Noble Resources Ltd and another
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    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 26 July 2018
    ...bonus payments to see whether the parties had intended the bonus to be guaranteed: see Leong Hin Chuee v Citra Group Pte Ltd and others [2015] 2 SLR 603 (“Leong Hin Chuee”) at [147]. In Latham Scott, the relevant provision stated that “a bonus may be paid to you at the end of each calendar ......
  • Tienrui Design & Construction Pte Ltd v G & Y Trading and Manufacturing Pte Ltd
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 16 September 2015
    ...of a genuine consensus”. … [emphasis in original] The above position was adopted in Leong Hin Chuee v Citra Group Pte Ltd and others [2015] 2 SLR 603 at [91] where Tan Siong Thye J held that the subsequent conduct of parties could be considered to determine their common intentions if such c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • FATE OF TRUST AND CONFIDENCE IN EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal Nbr. 2015, December 2015
    • 1 December 2015
    ...to in two High Court decisions, namely, Brader Daniel John v Commerzbank AG[2014] 2 SLR 81 and Leong HinChuee v Citra Group Pte Ltd[2015] SGHC 30. 11 Apparently there was an appeal to the Court of Appeal which was dismissed: see Brader Daniel John v Commerzbank AG[2014] 2 SLR 81 at [113]. 1......
  • Contract Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2015, December 2015
    • 1 December 2015
    ...govern all other extrinsic evidence must now be doubted. Secondly, the High Court's statement in Leong Hin Chuee v Citra Group Pte Ltd[2015] 2 SLR 603 (‘Leong Hin Chuee’) (at [91]) that ‘the parties' subsequent conduct … can be considered if evidentially probative’ must also be doubted. Fin......

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