Public Prosecutor v Choong Kian Haw

CourtMagistrates' Court (Singapore)
JudgeChong Kah Wei
Judgment Date29 June 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] SGMC 11
Citation[2002] SGMC 11
Publication Date19 September 2003

Judgment

GROUNDS OF DECISION

1. The accused, Choong Kian Haw, an undischarged bankrupt, pleaded guilty to three charges of leaving Singapore without the previous permission of the Official Assignee, an offence under section 131(1)(b) and punishable under section 131(2) of the Bankruptcy Act, Chapter 20. The accused admitted to the Statement of Facts (Exhibit "A") without qualification, and I accordingly convicted him on the three charges. Forty-one other similar charges were taken into consideration for the purpose of sentencing.

2. The punishment prescribed for the offence is a maximum fine of $10,000/- or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both. Under section 10 of the Bankruptcy Act, a Magistrates Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine all offences under the Act and has power to impose the full penalty or punishment in respect of any offence under the Act. I sentenced the accused to the maximum fine of $10,000/- for each charge, making a total fine of $30,000/-. The Public Prosecutor is dissatisfied with the sentence given and has appealed against the sentence.

The Statement of Facts

3. The facts revealed that the accused was adjudged a bankrupt by the High Court on 19 March 1999. He remained an undischarged bankrupt at the time of sentence.

4. On 13 April 1999, he acknowledged receipt of the Bankruptcy Information Sheets which notified him that it was an offence for an undischarged bankrupt to leave Singapore without the previous permission of the Official Assignee. On 23 September 1999, he acknowledged receipt of a warning letter issued to him in view of his leaving Singapore on numerous occasions without the previous permission of the Official Assignee and warning him of prosecution action if he continued in the commission of these offences. The accused was therefore aware of the requirement to seek the Official Assignees prior permission before leaving Singapore.

5. On 21 September 1999*, he applied for and was granted permission by the Official Assignee to leave Singapore for South East Asia, Europe and North America for a period of fifteen weeks from 23 September 1999 to 31 December 1999. On 29 March 2000, he applied for and was granted permission by the Official Assignee to leave the country for USA, Europe and ASEAN for a period of six months from 29 March 2000 to 28 September 2000. [* The Official Assignees letter states that the accuseds application was dated 30 August 1999.]

6. On 18 January 2002, the accuseds Singapore International Passport was inspected by the Official Assignee, whereupon it was discovered that he had travelled on this passport without the Official Assignees permission. The accused had left Singapore on 44 occasions between 11 October 2000 and 10 January 2002 for United Kingdom, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Myanmar and Thailand without the previous permission of the Official Assignee. In respect of the three charges which were proceeded on, the facts were as follows (1) 20th charge the accused left Singapore on or about 23 April 2001 for Philippines without the Official Assignees previous permission; (2) 25th charge the accused left Singapore on or about 3 June 2001 for Australia without the Official Assignees previous permission; and (3) 36th charge the accused left Singapore on or about 21 September 2001 for United Kingdom without the Official Assignees previous permission.

Mitigation

7. In the written mitigation plea, the defence counsel, Ms Felicia Ng, highlighted the circumstances leading to the accuseds bankruptcy, the circumstances leading to the offence and the accuseds personal circumstances.

8. Ms Ng informed the Court that prior to his bankruptcy, the accused was a fairly successful businessman running his familys business in the high fashion retail industry. The family business became insolvent as a result of the 1998 Asian economic crisis and some miscalculated business decisions. The accused was a guarantor of banking facilities granted to the business, and was made a bankrupt by the bank.

9. The accused was adjudged a bankrupt on 19 March 1999. Pursuant to the Bankruptcy Order, he attended at the office of the Official Assignee, provided the requisite Statement of Affairs and rendered his full assistance and cooperation to the Official Assignee.

10. On 1 June 1999, the accused found gainful employment with HIN Investments Pte Ltd ("his employer") as an Executive Officer at a monthly salary of $3,750/-. After obtaining this employment, the accused worked out a scheme of payment with the Official Assignee whereby he would pay $500/- per month towards the settlement of his debts. He continues to be employed as such.

11. His employer, HIN Investments Pte Ltd, is in the business of trading in lifestyle products such as fashion apparel and home living products. The accuseds duties as Executive Officer entailed considerable travelling out of Singapore to make contacts and forge ties with existing as well as prospective overseas business partners, survey overseas markets as well as to secure deals with overseas companies.

12. In view of his employment-related travelling, the accused applied to the Official Assignee on three previous occasions for permission to leave Singapore. On the first occasion, he applied to the Official Assignee on 30 August 1999 for permission to leave Singapore, with the assistance and support of his employer. The Official Assignee granted permission on 21 September 1999 for the accused to leave Singapore for a period of fifteen weeks from 23 September 1999 to 31 December 1999 for the purpose of employment.

13. On the second occasion, at the employers instance, the accused again applied in January 2000 for permission to leave Singapore. However, this application was not granted as a GIRO deduction for the monthly instalments had been unsuccessful. The accused promptly regularised the unsuccessful GIRO deduction so that he was current with all the instalment payments.

14. On the third occasion, the accused again applied to the Official Assignee on 29 March 2000 for permission to leave Singapore. The Official Assignee granted permission on 29 March 2000 for the accused to leave Singapore for a period of six months from 29 March 2000 to 28 September 2000 for the purpose of employment.

15. As the accuseds travel schedule and travel arrangements were all handled by his employer, his employer undertook to keep track of the duration of the permission granted by the Official Assignee for the accused to leave Singapore, and to apply for the extension of the permission on his behalf upon the expiry of the current permission.

16. After March 2000, the accused had no contact or correspondence with the Official Assignee. In the meantime, the accuseds duties as Executive Officer of his employer saw him travelling two to three times every month with each trip lasting from a few days to a week to ten days.

17. In view of the frequency of his trips and the absence of any contact or correspondence with the Official Assignee, the accused totally overlooked the lapsing of the permission granted by the Official Assignee and continued to travel even after the permission had lapsed. His employer also omitted to keep track of the duration of the permission granted and continued to make travel arrangements for the accused even after the permission had lapsed. His employer was supposed to monitor the duration of the permission and...

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