Public Prosecutor v Chee Soon Juan

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeAedit Abdullah
Judgment Date29 June 2007
Neutral Citation[2007] SGDC 183
Citation[2007] SGDC 183
Published date22 August 2007
Plaintiff CounselAOA Kamala Ponnampalam with Ramesh Shanmugam
Defendant CounselAlfred Dodwell

29 June 07

District Judge Aedit Abdullah:

1. The Appellant was convicted after trial of one charge of attempting to leave Singapore without the permission of the Official Assignee while he was a bankrupt, contrary to s 131(2) Bankruptcy Act (Cap 20) read with s 109 Penal Code (Cap 224). I sentenced him to a fine of $4,000 (in default 3 weeks’ imprisonment).The Appellant appeals and I now give my reasons.

2. The charge against the Appellant read:

You, Chee Soon Juan, Male, aged 44 years, NRIC No. S1570330Z, are charged that you, having been adjudged a bankrupt on 10th day of February 2006 and not having obtained a discharge from bankruptcy, did attempt to leave Singapore, on or about 1st day of April 2006, without the previous permission of the Official Assignee and have thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 131(2) of the Bankruptcy Act (Chapter 20) read with Section 511 of the Penal Code (Chapter 224).

Prosecution’s case

3. The Prosecution had eight witnesses. In summary, their case was that the Appellant, who had been adjudged a bankrupt, despite being informed by officers of the IPTO that permission to travel was required, had not actually obtained such permission. He had made an online application which was not approved; his application to the officers was not approved either as he failed to propose a payment plan for the benefit of his creditors. The Appellant had then attempted to leave Singapore on 1 April, but was stopped by ICA officers at Changi Airport, who had detained his passport as well.

4. PW1 Jonathan Chua Ben Beng, a Senior Officer, Individual Insolvency Division, IPTO, testified that the Appellant had been adjudged a bankrupt on 10 Feb 2006. A briefing had been given on 9 March 2006, at which the Appellant was eventually present.

5. PW2 Jasmine Ang, also a Senior Officer in the same division as PW1, was present at the briefing on 9 March 2006. She registered the Appellant, who had come late and handed to him a number of documents, including a copy of an information sheet on the rights and responsibilities of an insolvent person, P3, as well as documents P5 (the principal cause of insolvency form) and P6 (the acknowledgement of receipt form).

6. He had also been required to fill up a form, the Statement of Affairs (SOA), P4. The Statement of Affairs contained a number of sections. PW1 Jonathan Chua testified that when he noted that two sections, 4.2 and 4.3, of the SOA were not completed fully, the Appellant stated that he had no records. PW1 instructed the Appellant to describe this in the form, which the Appellant did. PW2 Jasmine Ang was present at this time. Subsequently, the Appellant signed the SOA, and handed over the Principal Cause of Insolvency Form P5 and an acknowledgement of the receipt of documents, P6. A photocopy of the SOA P4 was also made for the Appellant.

7. The Appellant said that he needed to travel, to which the Appellant was informed to make the application through the internet.

8. After the Appellant left, PW1 Jonathan Chua realised that the SOA was not fully completed, as the Appellant had not signed at Schedule A. Together with PW2 Jasmine Ang, PW1 Jonathan Chua saw his manager, PW4 Ms Kalaselvi d/o Rengasamy, who was of the view that sections 4.2 and 4.3 were still not fully completed. PW4 Kalaselvi directed PW2 Jasmine Ang to schedule another appointment for the Appellant to sign Schedule A and to complete sections 4.2 and 4.3.

9. PW2 Jasmine Ang corresponded by email with the Appellant to request him to return to the office to sign Schedule A and fill up the two sections. One email erroneously referred to an appointment at 10 pm, which she corrected. The Appellant replied that he could not attend at such short notice, and he was given an alternative date, 17 March. Subsequently, PW2 Jasmine Ang was contacted by the Appellant’s wife that he could not attend on that day as he was in prison. Another date was given. However, the Appellant was not able to attend on that day, and PW2 Jasmine Ang fixed the appointment for 27 March.

10. PW3 Patrick Lim, a Corporate Support officer, in the Individual Insolvency division, testified that he was to be the case officer for the Appellant. A travel application was received online on the Appellant’s behalf on 20 March 2006, seeking to travel from 31 March to 8 April 2006, from Singapore to Istanbul. Approval was not given online apparently as the Appellant was a new bankrupt; instead in accordance with IPTO policy, the application was referred to PW3 Patrick Lim as the case officer. Email correspondence was received from the Appellant’s wife on the application seeking his advice as the online application was not approved. Patrick Lim PW3 obtained instructions from PW4 Kalaselvi, that the Appellant was to come to IPTO, with a letter from the sponsor of the trip, and a proposal for repayment of the debt owed by him.

11. PW4 Ms Kalaselvi d/o Rengasamy, the Manager of the Individual Insolvency Division, testified about a meeting she had with the Appellant on 28 March 2006, together with PW5, Anu Radha Muniandy. PW4 Kalaselvi testified that during this meeting, the Appellant signed Schedule A, and gave details for sections 4.2 and 4.3, which was entered into a fresh copy. At this meeting, the Appellant provided P17, a letter from the World Movement for Democracy, stating that it was covering the Appellant’s expense for the trip to Turkey. In response, PW4 Kalaselvi questioned the Appellant on the proposed payment, as according to her, the repayment plan would be a factor in determining whether to approve his travel. The Appellant, she testified, had queried why the request had not been earlier, and stated that it should have been made in writing. More importantly, according to her, the Appellant stated that he did not care whether he had the OA’s permission to travel and would do so regardless. PW4 Ms Kalaselvi d said she reiterated the warning that travelling without permission would be an offence, and made a file note to this effect. PW5 Anu testified that she had indeed attended the meeting with PW4. She testified as to the requirements for obtaining approval to travel. She further testified that upon being asked for his payment plan, the Appellant had said that he was not going to pay 2 of his creditors, Messrs Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew, to which PW4 Kalaselvi and herself had reiterated the need for payment proposal before being permitted to travel. According to her, the Appellant maintained that he would travel without permission. The rest of her evidence was supportive of PW4’s. PW5 Anu further testified that she and PW4 had recorded a minute, P25, documenting what happened at the meeting.

12. PW4 Kalaselvi followed the meeting up with an email P18 asking the Appellant to complete his income and expenditure statement. She also informed ICA that the Appellant did not have permission to travel, and gave a stop order under s 116 Bankruptcy Act: P19. Evidence was also given by PW4 on the procedure for an application to travel by a bankrupt. She stated that bankrupts who qualified to be in the green zone would be given online approval; red zone bankrupts would not be able to obtain online approval, and would instead be directed to contact his case officer.

13. The Appellant responded to PW4 Kalaselvi’s email, with a completed Income and Expenditure Form, but apparently without indicating a payment plan to repay his creditors. PW4 asked for this, but the Appellant replied that he could not propose any instalment payment. In this email, PW4 asked the Appellant to propose a plan after which his application to travel would be considered. The Appellant reiterated that he could not propose any such plan as he had insufficient funds. As this was late in the day on a Friday, PW4 did not reply to this email.

14. On Saturday 1 April, PW8 Nah Wui Kheng, contacted PW4, informing her that the Appellant was at the airport. She instructed him, following a query from him, to refer the Appellant to directions given under s 116 Bankruptcy Act, and detain his passport. PW 8 subsequently, informed her that they had detained the passport, and later on, also informed her that he would be sending the passport over to IPTO, and had issued a call notice to the Appellant, directing him to attend the OA’s office. Evidence as to what happened at the Airport were also given by other ICA officers, namely PW6 Soh Eng Kian, and PW 7 Chan Choon Yew.

15. The Investigation Officer was not called by the Prosecution, and the Defence did not require him for cross-examination. On a separate note, Counsel had taken issue with the production of the direction to the Immigration authorities, contending that the presence of the Official Assignee was required; I indicated that I thought ss 79 or 80 Evidence would cover the situation. The Assistant Official Assignee relied on s 80, and the matter was not pursued.

16. The Defence in its questioning primarily took issue with the treatment of the Appellant at the IPTO and in its correspondence with him, particularly as regards his request to travel to attend the conference in Turkey. The thrust of the cross-examination of the witnesses was to show that the Appellant had cooperated fully, but that because of the number of officers dealing with him he was confused as to who had charge of his matter, and what the requirements were. The remarks said by PW4 Kalaselvi to have been made by the Appellant, that he did not care about permission, were questioned. Also questioned was whether the Appellant did say as testified by PW5 Anu that he did not want to pay his creditors. The cross-examination also sought to show that the Appellant was led to believe that if he submitted his income and expenditure, IPTO would determine the instalment, and his travel application would be approved. An issue arose as to communication between PW4 Kalaselvi and the Assistant Official Assignee having conduct of the...

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