Yesterday, I had a good laugh. I’ve not had a good laugh in a long while. I’ll tell you why. πŸ™‚

The long awaited National Kidney Foundation (NKF) civil suit began on 8 Jan 2006. (Towards the end of my post, I’ve posted a Jan 8 report by TODAY for those who are unfamiliar with this case) The civil suit is expected to last about 7 weeks or so. Many things about the case will be written/posted in the traditional media and Singapore blogosphere in the coming weeks as the case progresses. For now, I just want to highlight an exchange that took place on the first day of the trial that was reported in the local media.

First, here’s the exchange of words as reported by TODAY in its Jan 9 edition……

CRONIES OR …

(It began when Mr Shanmugam repeatedly referred to Durai’s co-defendants as his “cronies”.)

Chia Boon Teck (for Loo and Yong): I let it go once, I let it go twice, but until this court makes a finding of fact, that the defendant directors are cronies, may I ask my learned friend to stop labelling them as such?

Judicial Commissioner Sundaresh Menon: I think it’s a fair point. The gentlemen in question are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. I am not suggesting that you intend anything else.

K Shanmugam (for NKF): Yes sir, if I put it this way, my understanding of the duty of counsel in an opening is to state the case that he intends to prove. This is the case that I intend to prove.

JC Menon: Yes.

Mr Shanmugam: As long as I don’t put it any higher than what I reasonably intend to prove, I am entitled to call them cronies.

JC Menon: I think we can avoid the use of these terms at this stage.

Mr Shanmugam: I will use a longer form of words every time I refer to them – the people who completely abdicated their responsibility and behaved completely dishonourably – I will say that every time.

JC Menon: Yes.

(Eventually, Mr Shanmugam referred to them as Durai’s “special friends”)

The plaintiffs in this case, the board of the new NKF, is represented by “a team of 10 lawyers from Allen & Gledhill, led by Senior Counsel K Shanmugam.” Two of the defendants are represented by their lawyer Chia Boon Teck.

Generally speaking, cronyism means favouritism shown to friends and associates.

Its funny that K Shanmugam uses the word “cronies“. You see, the latter is not only a well known lawyer in Singapore but he’s also a ruling party MP. He’s a PAP MP for Sembawang GRC. This exchange of words in court, especially the use of the word cronies by the PAP MP, made me laugh ‘cos I was reminded of something that caused quite a stir in 2002: A piece entitled Why it might be difficult for the (PAP) government to withdraw from business. Its a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Oh by the way, do also read my post from last year while you’re at it.

I not only had a good laugh but all of these just made me sick too just thinking about it.

***********

NKF lawsuit battle lines drawn

Questions to be addressed as trial opens today

Monday β€’ January 8, 2007

Lee U-Wen
u-wen@mediacorp.com.sg

WHEN it came out in court that former National Kidney Foundation (NKF) chief executive TT Durai earned $600,000 a year, shockwaves were felt across the island.

That such a sum could be paid to a man heading a charity entirely dependent on donations, disturbed the public and left a bitter taste in the mouth, which has lingered to this day.

But before more details could be disclosed, Mr Durai, who was testifying in a defamation suit he had initiated on behalf of the charity against Singapore Press Holdings in July 2005, abruptly dropped all the charges.

Even though the pay issue was revisited several months later in an audit report, with fresh details of how he had received huge salary increments and encashed overtime hours and backdated leave to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, plenty of questions were left unanswered.

Who approved his generous pay package? How was the remuneration system decided? Were the board of directors in the know about his salary?

Finally, the wait is over.

These questions, among many others, are likely to be asked and hopefully answered when one of the most eagerly-anticipated lawsuits in Singapore’s recent legal history begins this morning in the High Court. The civil suit is expected to last seven weeks.

On one side of the courtroom is the board of the new NKF, led by its chairman and former National Council of Social Service president Gerard Ee.

The charity is looking to recover about $12 million it claims was improperly spent by the old guard on salaries, benefits and failed contracts. It also wants compensation for the loss of goodwill and damage to its reputation.

The five defendants facing the civil suit are Mr Durai, former chairman Richard Yong, former treasurer Loo Say San, former board member Matilda Chua, and Mr Durai’s close ally and business associate Pharis Aboobacker.

Already, battle lines have been drawn.

Mr Durai, who has stayed out of the public eye since the saga erupted, has categorically denied any wrongdoing on his part.

His ex-colleagues β€” Mr Yong, Mr Loo and Ms Chua β€” have similarly distanced themselves from blame, saying Mr Durai alone was responsible for the charity’s day-to-day operations.

The new NKF, though, is pulling out all the stops to ensure it comes out on top when the verdict is announced. It is counting on its team of 10 lawyers from Allen & Gledhill, led by Senior Counsel K Shanmugam.

Mr Durai is represented by Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah from Tan Rajah & Cheah. Each of the other defendants has his or her own lawyer, with the exception of Mr Loo and Mr Yong, both of whom are represented by counsel Chia Boon Teck.

Those eagerly awaiting the cross-examination of Mr Durai will have to hold on β€” he is unlikely to take the stand for at least a month. The reason: The NKF has named as many as 30 witnesses, so the plaintiffs look set to be in the spotlight for at least the next four weeks.

Aside from the media interest in this suit, scores of retirees and homemakers, umbrellas in tow, are expected to descend upon the High Court, eager to snare a coveted seat to watch the drama unfold each day.

Such is the scale of this behemoth trial that the High Court, in a bid to prevent a logistical nightmare this morning, opened its doors last Saturday to allow lawyers to wheel in a staggering 270,000 pages of documents.

One source told Today that court 4B, where all the legal cut and thrust will take place, “looks more like a library than your regular courtroom”.

Besides Mr Durai, all eyes will also be on the other defendants, sans Mr Aboobacker, who is believed to be in India and not expected to come to Singapore.

Many will remember that Mr Durai took it on his own accord to withdraw the defamation suit on behalf of the previous board of directors. This civil suit will be the first time the public gets to hear from Mr Yong, Mr Loo and Ms Chua as they respond to Mr Durai’s side of the story and give their own takes on the saga before Judicial Commissioner Sundaresh Menon.

Even so, questions are already raised as to why the NKF chose to sue just three board members, and not all of them collectively.

Among the third parties, there is plenty of interest into what accountant Alwyn Lim β€” former vice-chairman and chairman of the old NKF’s finance committee β€” has to say.

It is understood that Mr Lim has also been roped in as a witness for the plaintiff, despite being dragged into the lawsuit as a third party by his ex-colleagues.

The trial is expected to wrap up by Feb 23 but that’s not the end of it. Barely two weeks later, the four former NKF officials are set to appear in the Subordinate Courts to face criminal charges. Mr Durai faces two charges for intentionally deceiving the charity by handing in false documents. If found guilty, he faces up to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

β€’ More than $2 million in remuneration was paid to TT Durai, made up of salary and bonuses amounting to $600,000 and tens of thousands of dollars in encashed backdated leave

β€’ $4.5 million from a failed contract with call centre Protonweb Solutions

β€’ $3.3 million was paid to IT firm Forte Systems; software not delivered on time and contract specifications allegedly not met

1 The new NKF

2 TT Durai (defendant)

3 Richard Yong (defendant)

4 Loo Say San (defendant)

5 Matilda Chua (defendant)

6 Accountant Alwyn Lim (3rd party)

7 Businessman Chow Kok Fong (3rd party)

8 Lawyer Kweh Soon Han (3rd party)

9 Part-time consultant Lawrence Chia (3rd party)