Leow Kwee Huay v Public Accountants Oversight Committee

JudgeChoo Han Teck J
Judgment Date13 September 2016
Neutral Citation[2016] SGHC 180
Plaintiff CounselChia Jin Chong Daniel (Coleman Street Chambers LLC)
Date13 September 2016
Docket NumberTribunal Appeal No 1 of 2016
Hearing Date27 July 2016
Subject MatterDisciplinary Tribunals,Accountants,Professions,Administrative Law
Defendant CounselLim Jen Hui (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Citation[2016] SGHC 180
Published date22 September 2016
Choo Han Teck J:

This is an appeal against the decision of the respondent, the Public Accountants Oversight Committee (“PAOC”), pursuant to s 52(2)(a) of the Accountants Act (Cap 2, 2005 Rev Ed) to cancel the appellant’s registration as a public accountant. The appellant was an audit manager in the accounting firm of Er & Co at the time of the offences. She had worked at the firm for about 25 years but was only registered as a certified public accountant on 4 September 2008.

On 26 July 2010, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (“ACRA”) received a complaint from Mr Er Boon Chiew (“Mr Er”), who is the sole proprietor of Er & Co. He alleged that the appellant had committed several instances of misconduct. The PAOC, under the recommendations of the complaints committee, directed for a full inquiry by the disciplinary committee. The disciplinary committee was constituted on 8 November 2012 to inquire into the complaints of Mr Er.

In December 2012, ACRA laid five charges before the disciplinary committee. The five charges were brought under s 52(1)(c) of the Accountants Act and alleged that the appellant was guilty of improper conduct rendering her unfit to be a public accountant. The five charges, which pertained to offences committed in the period between 2008 to 2009, were: The first charge was for accepting the appointment as auditor of JG Homes Pte Ltd and Wynners Home Pte Ltd in the name of public accounting firm Er & Co without its knowledge and authorisation. The second and third charges were for making unauthorised withdrawals from the account of Er & Co to pay for BizFile transactions for her own clients. The fourth charge was for appending her signature in the name of Er & Co on the audit reports of JG Realty Pte Ltd and Wynners Homes Pte Ltd without authorisation. The fifth charge was for applying for a public entertainment and liquor license, as a director of Great Shanghai Entertainment Pte Ltd, from the Singapore Police Force for two individuals when she knew that they were blacklisted from making such applications.

Concurrently, the appellant was separately investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department (“CAD”) for crimes of forgery and criminal breach of trust after Mr Er made a complaint to the police. On 1 August 2012, the appellant was charged for 15 charges of forgery and two charges of criminal breach of trust under the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed). The appellant claimed trial to the charges. The two charges for criminal breach of trust were subsequently withdrawn by the prosecution. On 29 November 2013, the appellant was convicted on seven charges of forgery and was sentenced to two to three days’ imprisonment on those charges with two of the sentences made concurrent. The appellant was thus sentenced to a total of five days’ imprisonment. The appellant filed a Notice of Appeal against the conviction. The appeal was heard by Tay Yong Kwang J in the High Court on 14 July 2014 and dismissed.

After the conviction of the appellant, ACRA applied to withdraw the second, third and fifth charges against the appellant and to amend the first and fourth charges before the disciplinary committee. The amendments to the two charges were to reflect the criminal conviction of the appellant for forgery in relation to JG Realty Pte Ltd and Wynners Homes Pte Ltd. Both companies were incorporated by Jimmy Lee who sought the appellant’s accounting services. The appellant did not object to the application and the two charges were amended from charges brought under s 52(1)(c) to charges brought under s 52(1)(a) of the Accountants Act. Section 52(1)(a) of the Accountants Act states that:

If, at the conclusion of the formal inquiry, the Disciplinary Committee is satisfied that the public accountant has been convicted in Singapore or elsewhere of any offence involving fraud or dishonesty or moral turpitude…the Disciplinary Committee shall report its findings to the [PAOC] and recommend to the [PAOC] to take any of the actions referred to in subsection 2(a) to (f).

The disciplinary committee was informed on 6 May 2015 through ACRA that the appellant did not intend to contest the amended charges. At the formal inquiry hearing by the disciplinary committee on 15 September 2015, the disciplinary committee unanimously decided that the appropriate recommendation to the PAOC would be a cancellation of the appellant’s registration as a public accountant pursuant to s 52(2)(a) of the Accountants Act. The report and recommendations of the disciplinary committee in relation to the disciplinary proceedings against the appellant were submitted to the PAOC for consideration. The PAOC agreed with the disciplinary committee and issued an order to cancel the appellant’s registration as a public accountant pursuant to s 52(2)(a) of the Accountants Act. The appellant filed this appeal pursuant to s 54(1) of the Accountants Act.

On appeal, the appellant contends that the PAOC’s decision to cancel her registration as a public accountant was manifestly excessive. First, she submits that the PAOC erred in giving insufficient weight to the special facts of this case, namely: There was no harm suffered by the victim; The wrongful loss in this case was a minor sum of $7,760, which the victim paid to the appellant for her services, less the value of other services which were provided over two years, or whatever the victim would have paid Er & Co for the audited financial statement; There was no evidence that the audited financial statements were inaccurate and no one was put at risk; and The forged financial statements were of two dormant exempt companies and hence there was no market impact.

Secondly, the appellant argues that the PAOC erred in giving insufficient weight to the sentences imposed by the court in her criminal proceedings for forgery. Specifically, the appellant...

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