MD jailed for 6 months for contempt of court

A managing director of a company, who is in his 60s, has been jailed for six months for flouting court orders - believed to be the longest sentence given for contempt of court arising from a civil suit.

Moses Tay's assets and those of his company had been frozen after being sued by Maruti Shipping for breaches of contract and trust.

The High Court also gave Maruti permission in 2010 to search Tay's office at Golden Agri Plaza and a Sentosa Cove condominium where he was living.

But Tay lied to Maruti's lawyers that RMM's documents were with auditors when they were not. He also withdrew $380,000 from his bank account in August 2010.

Judicial Commissioner Edmund Leow made it clear in judgment grounds released on Monday that a prison sentence was not the starting point for court contempt and was instead "normally a measure of last resort".

But Tay has displayed a "cavalier attitude towards compliance" in flouting the orders, the "most audacious" of which was to withdraw the money.

Maruti, through lawyer Eddee Ng, eventually obtained judgment last year for US$3.5 million (S$4.5 million) from RMM and another company linked to Tay, an Indonesian businessman and Singapore permanent resident. He was also made bankrupt last year.

"Now as a bankrupt, he can no longer make good his breach. This breach alone merits a substantial custodial sentence," said JC Leow, adding the withdrawal was done "deliberately and cynically".

The judge also found he had refused to hand over his passport as ordered and had left Singapore in "open defiance" of restrictions placed on him in relation to the suit.

Tay's lawyer A. Thirumurthy brought up his client's depression when pleading for a lighter penalty, but the judge dismissed the arguments.

"Tay's relapses into depression follow a clear pattern. His condition flares up at the most inopportune times, allowing him to avoid turning up in court," said JC Leow.

Tay was a repeat offender having been previously jailed for three months for court contempt in an unrelated case. The judge also ticked off Tay for delaying his latest contempt proceedings for over three years.

"Much time and money has also been wasted as a result of Moses Tay's deliberate and conscious design to drag the proceedings..." Tay was allowed $40,000 bail pending a further appeal.

RMM and his son Martin, who was company secretary at the time, were also found guilty and each fined $10,000 for court contempt.

As for the sentence given to Tay, JC Leow said: "There is no doubt that prison life is harsh, but in the end the court is constrained by the need that the punishment is appropriate."

This article was first published on Nov 14, 2014.
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