Re Siah Ooi Choe

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeWarren Khoo L H J
Judgment Date14 November 1997
Neutral Citation[1997] SGHC 299
Citation[1997] SGHC 299
Plaintiff CounselVinodh Coomaraswamy and Alan Koh (Shook Lin & Bok)
Subject MatterInsolvency Law,Bankruptcy,Discharge,s 124(3), (4) & (5) Bankruptcy Act (Cap 20, 1996 Ed),Whether previous conviction relevant consideration),Relevant considerations,Proper approach to application -Consideration of object and purpose of new provisions of Bankruptcy Act (Cap 20, 1996 Ed),Striking of balance between two major conflicting concerns,ss 124(3), (4) & (5), 124(5)(h), (j) Bankruptcy Act (Cap 20, 1996 Ed),Whether bankrupt's blameworthiness in loss of company assets relevant consideration under s 124(5)(j),Court not to consider requirements or factors going against dominant object and purpose of Bankruptcy Act (Cap 20, 1996 Ed),Distinction between cases with and without special facts,Factors to be considered as set out in statutory provisions,Whether existence of special facts,Application
Docket NumberBankruptcy No 506 of 1986
Defendant CounselSally Ang,Woo Tchi Chu (Robert WH Wang & Woo)
Published date19 September 2003
Date14 November 1997
Judgment:

WARREN LH KHOO J

During the economic depression of 1985-1986 in Singapore, many companies went under, many businessmen became bankrupt, often through no fault of their own. Foreclosures by banks, on top of poor business, worked to send companies and their owners down the road to insolvency. As much as it was tragic for the individual companies and their owners, this state of affairs came to be seen as wasteful of the entrepreneurial resources of the nation. It led to a rethinking of our corporate and personal insolvency laws.

2.Under amendments to the Companies Act, introduced in 1987, companies suffering from temporary liquidity problems but which otherwise had good prospects of being saved from insolvency, are given such a chance by being placed under judicial management. In the case of individuals, the legislative process took longer, but it came to fruition in 1995 in the form of a wholesale revision of the Bankruptcy Act. It does not prevent people from being made bankrupts but it makes it greatly easier than before for bankrupts to be discharged. Subject to the provisions of the Act, the court has power to make orders discharging persons from bankruptcy, with or without conditions. In the case of those with a total indebtedness not exceeding $100,000 (now raised to $250,000) the Official Assignee is also given power to issue a certificate of discharge, subject to recourse to the court in case of objection by any creditor.

3.The present application was one made direct to the court, as the total indebtedness proved in bankruptcy far exceeded the Official Assignee`s jurisdiction. In fact it is one of the largest bankruptcies which the Official Assignee`s office has had to deal with. The facts are as follows. Before he was made a bankrupt, the applicant, Mr Siah Ooi Choe, was the head of a group of companies. The flagship company, Lamipak Industries Pte Ltd, was prominent in the business of manufacturing multi-layed plastic film. I am told that in its hey-day, the group had assets of over $150m and kept about 1,000 people employed, here and abroad. I am told that he had factories in the Philippines, China, Thailand, Ireland and the United States. He was an entrepreneur par excellence. He was a self-made man. With only an `O` level education and starting with very little money, he built up his business to what it was. He was also quite resourceful technically, developing new products and machinery to make them.

4.Unfortunately, Mr Siah`s companies and he himself were caught by the depression I was referring to. The long string of banks and financial institutions which had lent his companies huge amounts of money, some unsecured, began to call in their loans. He had signed personal guarantees for these loans, so he was also in jeopardy. Almost over-night, his business empire collapsed, and he was made a bankrupt. His wife became a bankrupt with him. He failed in a big way, just as he had succeeded magnificently.

5.The receiving and adjudication orders against Mr Siah were made on 12 September 1986. In the statement of affairs filed on 19 February 1987, his total liabilities were shown as more than $140m. Some thirty institutional creditors lodged proofs of debts totalling more than $125m. All the properties belonging to the companies which had been used to secure the loans were sold off by the banks. Mr Siah`s personal estate was reduced to nothing except the balance in his CPF account, which by law was beyond the reach of creditors. With the Official Assignee`s consent, he was able to make use of his and his wife`s CPF balances to buy a small flat, where his family with four growing children have been living since.

6.Mr Siah has been working as a business consultant since January 1992, earning a salary of $3,200 a month. He has been making monthly payments to his bankrupt estate account since 1989. Up to April 1997, the total paid in was about $36,000. It is a drop in the ocean of his enormous debts, but it represents a substantial effort on his part. No dividend has been declared.

7.The application for discharge, made in April, was served on the institutional creditors. Of these, nine (representing, by a rough reckoning, about half of the total indebtedness) objected to the application; the others have not come forward to object.

8.Senior Assistant Registrar Christopher Tang allowed the application subject to the sale of the flat just mentioned and the payment...

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10 cases
  • Hong Leong Bank Bhd v Soh Seow Poh
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 5 August 2009
    ...537 (refd) R (on the application of Edison First Power Ltd) v Central Valuation Officer [2003] 4 All ER 209 (refd) Siah Ooi Choe, Re [1997] 3 SLR (R) 706; [1998] 1 SLR 903 (distd) Vishva Apurva, The [1992] 1 SLR (R) 912; [1992] 2 SLR 175 (refd) Bankruptcy Act (Cap 20, 2000 Rev Ed) s 124 (4)......
  • Re Soh Seow Poh, ex parte Hong Leong Bank Bhd
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    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 25 November 2008
    ...in s 124(4). He referred to the comments of Warren Khoo J (“Khoo J”) in Re Seah Ooi Choe, ex p Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation [1998] 1 SLR 903 for support. The judge made the following observations (at 14 It can be seen from these provisions that cases of court discharge are divi......
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    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
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    ...principle in any discharge application has been stated by Warren L H Khoo J in Re Siah Ooi Choe, ex p Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp [1998] 1 SLR 903 (“Re Siah Ooi Choe”) at A proper approach to an application to discharge from bankruptcy involves a consideration of the object and purpo......
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    • High Court (Singapore)
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    ...Bankruptcy Act making it easier for bankrupts to be discharged. I made a reference to these policy considerations in Re Seah Ooi Choe [1998] 1 SLR 903. A corollary of such a public policy must surely be to make it less easy for people to be made bankrupt in the first place. In the context o......
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