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Conned Lawyer Fails In Suit Against Ex-colleague

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Conned lawyer fails in suit against ex-colleague

[2011] 29 Mar_ST

Title: Conned lawyer fails in suit against ex-colleague

Source: Straits Times

Author: K. C. Vijayan, Law Correspondent

Legal News Archive

A LAWYER who accused a former colleague of misleading her into investing in a $64 million scam has had her case dismissed by the High Court.

Ms Teresa Chan Pui Woo had sued fellow lawyer Jonathan Tan over the failed deal in which she lost about $860,000.

But Justice Lai Siu Chiu said in a judgment released yesterday: 'While the court is not unsympathetic to Teresa for the losses she has suffered, it was clearly disingenuous of her to attempt to blame those losses on Jonathan.'

Both lawyers worked for the Raffles Law Practice Group, the court heard. They got along well socially and professionally, partly because they were both Christians.

Mr Tan was said to have introduced Ms Chan to a businessman called Michael Ng in 2002.

She had no idea that Mr Ng - who presented himself as a banker and fellow Christian - was actually a former convicted fraudster.

He told her he had $64 million locked up in a bank in Britain, which could be released only if a tax was paid to the 'British International Monetary Fund', which later turned out to be fictitious.

Mr Ng said that if she gave him $816,336, he would guarantee her a return of $1.675 million in two weeks once the tax was paid and the money released.

Ms Chan handed over two cheques totalling $150,000 and a third for $672,000. She even mortgaged her condominium unit in Sunset Way, borrowed from her father and sold her car. Additional sums totalling about $38,000 followed until January 2005.

However the promised returns failed to materialise, even though she made several demands. When she realised she had been cheated, Ms Chan was 'completely devastated'.

The lawyer sued Mr Ng, who was ordered by the High Court earlier this month to pay her $18 million in damages.

She also sued Mr Tan for misrepresentation, claiming he had agreed to protect her interests if she signed the deal.

Mr Tan, defended by a legal team led by Senior Counsel Michael Khoo, argued that he was involved in the scheme solely as Mr Ng's lawyer and Ms Chan was well aware of this.

He did not assume any responsibility towards her and she did not rely on him in her decision to invest in the scheme.

The judge found no evidence that Ms Chan, who was represented by lawyer S. Gunaseelan, had even once blamed Mr Tan when she failed to get her returns 'or even when she realised the entire scheme of Michael's was a complete scam'.

Instead, the evidence showed she looked only to Mr Ng for the money and she was the one who dictated the terms of the agreements she signed with him, said Justice Lai.

'She saw Michael's scheme as an attractive investment, she knew what she wanted and she was clearly in control at all times. Teresa was not a babe in the woods who relied heavily on Jonathan to protect her interests.'

The judge said that Ms Chan's and Mr Tan's versions of events were 'diametrically opposing'. 'If I were to accept one side's version, it would mean the other side had not been truthful.'

She added it was 'unfair of Teresa to repeatedly accuse Jonathan in cross-examination of being a liar when the objective evidence showed otherwise'.

Mr Ng, 70, a former police inspector, first made the news in 1981 when he was jailed for nine years for his part in a $23 million fraud conspiracy involving the scuttling of a cargo ship.

Justice Lai noted this was 'unfortunately' not known to Ms Chan or other investors who 'only knew Michael as a Christian brother in need of assistance'.

She added it was unclear whether he had masterminded the latest fraud or had also been deceived and ended up dragging other victims down with him.

The police had advised him in a letter in July 2006 'to refrain from soliciting for loans', warning he could face charges if he persisted.

Justice Lai said Ms Chan had been the unfortunate victim of an advance fee fraud, more commonly known as the '419 fraud' or 'Nigerian scam'.

She said the case was 'a stark reminder of the adage that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is'.


Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.


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