Man jailed for scheming to avoid paying damages

A former contractor who knew he would have to pay millions to a client for negligence took deliberate steps to liquidate his assets and dissipate the cash so that the client would get nothing.

Rather than pay the damages, Tan Boon Kwee sold his property for $1.8 million and pocketed $500,000 as his share. He sold his car and surrendered six insurance policies, keeping the total amount received of $608,569 in cash.

Tan, 52, who was made bankrupt in July 2012, pleaded guilty last month to four counts of fraudulently transferring money within five years prior to the date of his bankruptcy order, and one each of fraudulent transfer of property and removing criminal benefits out of Singapore. He was jailed for 14 months on Wednesday with 15 other charges considered.

In 2013, Tan and his firm, A.n.A Contractor (Anac), had been ordered to pay $26.5 million in damages to animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

Contracted by Acres to raise the low-lying areas of a plot of land leased from the Singapore Land Authority for a shelter, Anac had filled it with wood chips that rotted, resulting in part of the site degenerating into a stinking wasteland. It polluted the surrounding environment and contaminated Kranji Reservoir.

As a result, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Nathaniel Khng, Acres had to excavate the rear portion of the site and reconstruct some animal enclosures before it could begin operating the shelter in earnest.

In September 2008, Acres sued Anac for breach of contract and negligence, and Tan for negligence. It was eventually awarded $26.5 million in damages in May 2013.

Between January and March 2011, however, Tan was quietly liquidating his assets. Throughout 2011 to 2012, he gave away money to his workers at Anac, and relatives in China, and repaid unrecorded loans to friends. On April 2, 2012, he travelled with his family to China, taking along $75,000 which he claimed was for gifts to his relatives with whom he had little contact previously. In June that year, Acres petitioned for Tan's bankruptcy after he failed to pay the charity its litigation costs of $205,807.

DPP Khng argued that Tan deliberately hatched a fraudulent scheme, which could only be described as vindictive, to deny Acres the fruits of its litigation. Due to his deceit, Acres received nothing.

To anyone contemplating a similar path but weighing the cost, the sentence in this case must send the signal that the cost far outweighs the benefit, he said.

Executive director of Acres Louis Ng, who is an MP for Nee Soon GRC, told The Straits Times yesterday it was still unable to use the contaminated areas because of the cost of repairs. The remaining land is being used for its rescue centre.

He said: "We are appealing for help and hope that someone or a company will help us out."

Tan could have been jailed for up to two years and/or fined for fraudulent transfer of property.

This article was first published on October 17, 2015.
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