AHTC trial concludes on 17th day with court reserving judgement

The last two witnesses were also not subjected to any questioning.

Sulaiman Daud | Matthias Ang | October 30, 2018, 11:02 PM

On Oct. 30, the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) trial came to an end.

Court proceedings were brought to a close on the 17th day of proceedings, with the court reserving judgement thereafter.

Five more witnesses were called after the release of How Weng Fan from the stand.

These five witnesses were brought forward by Leslie Netto, the defence lawyer for How, her late husband Danny Loh, and FM Solutions & Services (FMSS).

These five witnesses were:

  • Yeo Soon Fei, a minority shareholder of FMSS who was also Operations Manager and Deputy General Manager at AHTC
  • Ng Wai Loon, a property manager with FMSS and assistant to Danny Loh.
  • Tan Han Hoe, the financial manager of FMSS.
  • Serene Loi Cheng Kee, a computer programmer who assisted in the upscaling of the Hougang Town Council (HTC) computer system for AHTC in 2011
  • Chong Huey Jiuan, a HTC employee who subsequently came to be employed by FMSS

Despite the number of witnesses called to the stand, court proceedings were brisk, with few questions asked of Yeo, Ng and Tan, and no questions asked at all of Loi and Chong.

All questions were raised by David Chan, the plantiff's lawyer representing AHTC.

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh was not present.

Yeo: Conflicted interests and a certifying stamp that does not actually certify work done

Yeo, the first to take the stand after How, was subjected to the lengthiest cross-examination of the remaining five witnesses by Chan.

A conflicted person

Chan kicked off the cross-examination by noting that Yeo had been referred to as a "conflicted person" by audit firm KPMG in their 2016 report on improper payments.

Yeo agreed that this was the case.

Chan then spelled out Yeo's role in FMSS -- that he had held 10 percent of the entire interest of FMSS in June 2011, with the share increasing to 20 percent in Feb. 2013, along with the fact the he was presently still a director and shareholder of FMSS.

Yeo replied in the affirmative.

When Chan then asked Yeo if he knew why he was a conflicted person, Yeo answered that he had a role to perform in carrying out his duties given that he was a member of the town council.

Chan then explained to Yeo that from 2011 to 2015, the Town Council engaged FMSS as a managing agent, and FMSS/ FM Solutions and Integrated Services (FMSI) as Essential Maintenance Service Unit (EMSU) providers.

As such, the conflict of interests arose out of FMSS personnel holding key management positions in the Town Council, of which Yeo was one of such person.

Yeo stated that while KPMG had indeed referred to him as such, the FMSS personnel also worked under AHTC at that time and were performing their duties as AHTC staff, not FMSS.

This elicited Chan's question of whether there was a profit motive from FMSS.

Yeo replied yes, there was.

This resulted in Chan asking Yeo if he agreed that KPMG's allegation that FMSS's motive to earn profit and Yeo's motive to serve the town council were in conflict.

Again, Yeo reiterated his answer of having to serve AHTC.

The stamp and signatures

Chan then turned to Yeo's role as Operations Manager and Deputy General Manager at AHTC, asking Yeo if he approved the payment process from which payments were made from the TC to FMSS.

Yeo answered yes, adding that "at the end of the day", the issue of payment would go to Chairman Sylvia Lim or the Vice-Chairman for approval, as per protocol.

This meant that even if the documents were present, it did not necessarily mean payment.

This brought up Chan's next line of questioning over an invoice that saw Yeo sign off twice, as both property manager and property officer, along with a stamp that certified that the works had been completed.

When Chan asked Yeo if the the works for which FMSS had issued the invoice for was completed, Yeo replied that it was to verify the amount stated in the invoice.

This resulted in Chan focusing on the stamp, asking Yeo if he agreed that its language conveyed the completion of the works.

Yeo said yes.

Chan then further pressed Yeo if this meant only tallying up or confirming the amount that had been charged to the town council, instead of certifying that work had been done.

Yeo agreed that while the stamp was just a confirmation of figures, he stressed repeatedly that the works had been done since FMSS would not receive payment from the town council if that had not been the case.

At this point, the morning break was called for 10 minutes, during which a reporter from the media section attempted to speak to Yeo, only to get pointedly reminded by Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah, the defence lawyer for the WP MPs and Town Councillors, about the rules of communication with a witness on the stand.

Checking of work done

Chan then turned to the purpose of the signatures, pulling up a work order that had also been signed by Yeo twice.

Yeo's reply was that the first signature was to verify that the figure on the work order was correct, while the second signature was to confirm that the number was correct for closure, whereby it would be entered into the system.

This resulted in Chan asking Yeo who was it who actually checked that the work was done.

Yeo then replied that the day-to-day works of the managing agent was the evidence and that, moreover, they would also report their works at the town council meetings.

Yeo also highlighted that the MPs themselves had seen them working day and night.

The court then briefly took a turn for the dramatic when Yeo added that:

"From 2011 to 2015, I got high blood because of that. It’s very stressful. We have to work day and night because there are so many audits. It’s not that we sit there and do nothing. We scratch our head and make sure we do not let the town council down... morning I work, I go back at 8, 9 o'clock every day. Even Saturday, Sunday."

Yeo was subsequently released from the witness stand upon completion of his cross-examination by Chan. There was no re-examination by the defense.

Ng and Tan: The shortest cross-examinations in court yet

Yeo was then succeeded by Ng, a property manager with FMSS on the stand.

In turn, Ng was succeeded by Tan, the financial manager of FMSS.

Both Ng and Tan were subjected to the shortest cross-examinations of the trial thus far.

In the case of Ng, Chan asked him if his role was to first, tally up the up the numbers in the tax invoice, and then present the document to their signatories, who were Yeo and How, and second, present the signed documents to the Town Council Chairman.

Ng replied yes to all of them.

In the case of Tan, Tan's cross-examination began with his realisation that he had submitted his name wrongly to the court as Tan Hoe Han instead of Tan Han Hoe, which earned him a rebuke from the judge, Justice Kannan Ramesh.

Subsequently, Chan then asked Tan on his role in the payment process for FMSS.

Tan replied that his duty was to check through the documents submitted for payment to the finance department of FMSS -- ensuring that all the documents were present and that the figures were correct.

Neither Ng nor Tan were subjected to re-examination by the defense.

Loi and Chong: No questions asked

Netto then called Loi to take the witness stand next.

Upon the conclusion of her taking of the oath, Chan stated that he had no questions.

This was echoed in turn by the defense.

This led to Netto calling Chong, the final witness.

However, as Chong was unable to take the oath fluently in English, court was adjourned for 10 minutes in order to bring up a translator who could assist Chong.

When court resumed, Chong took the oath in Mandarin with the assistance of the translator.

Again, Chan stated that he had no questions, and again, this was echoed in turn by the defense.

Netto then stated to the judge that that was the case of the defense for How, Loh and FMSS.

Reserved judgement

Accordingly, the judge declared that judgement was reserved, bringing the current trial proceedings to a close.

Channel NewsAsia reported that the plaintiffs and defence will have to submit their written closing submissions around mid-January next year, while the date for oral closing submissions is in March 2019.

The judge will then rule on whether the defendants are liable for damages.


Top photo by Matthias Ang