SINGAPORE — Lawyer Jeffrey Ong Su Aun had left Malaysia for work and had not used a stolen passport to flee Singapore, said his defence team, who argued for bail to be granted for him.
In a second hearing over the bail review of the ex-managing partner of JLC Advisors on Friday (9 April), Ong's lawyer Tan Hee Joek denied that Ong had acted as a fugitive while the prosecution reiterated that Ong was a high flight risk who should be denied bail.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Nicholas Khoo told the court that the prosecution was ready to proceed to a trial.
Ong, 41, had allegedly disappeared after $33 million held in escrow by his law firm was found missing. Earlier court documents revealed that he allegedly fled to Malaysia after being pressed to account for the unauthorised withdrawals of client monies by the partners in his law firm on 13 May 2019.
He became uncontactable and a police report was made about his alleged criminal breach of trust.
A warrant of arrest for Ong was then issued on 25 May, leading to his arrest by the Malaysian police in a hotel room four days later. Among his possessions was a stolen Malaysian passport belonging to a Malaysian Chinese man, whose face and age were similar to Ong’s.
Ong was later repatriated to Singapore and charged. He was remanded, with an order of no bail made on 20 June 2019. He has been remanded for nearly two years.
In total, Ong faces 76 charges, including for criminal breach of trust as an attorney, cheating, and forgery. The total amount involved in the charges is $76 million.
According to Tan, Ong's associate, who was based in Malaysia, had arranged a car for Ong, who then travelled through the night to Kuala Lumpur.
While the prosecution alleged that Ong had tried to "drain" his monies in his attempt to flee, Tan pointed out that Ong had about $23,000 cash at home, as well as valuable jewellery and watches worth more than $100,000.
When Ong reached Kuala Lumpur, he was allegedly received by the associate's business contact, who helped Ong arrange for accommodation firstly at an office, then subsequently at a hotel, where Ong was eventually arrested.
Ong was not trying to hide himself and he had remained in contact with other associates in Singapore for the work he was engaged in Malaysia, said Tan.
Another point of dispute between the defence and prosecution was a Malaysian passport found with Ong at the time he was arrested.
While the prosecution contends that the passport – issued on 25 April 2019 – was stolen, Tan said that the passport, which contained a photo of a Chinese male, was passed to Ong by a friend when the two were having drinks.
"The CAD (Commercial Affairs Department) alleged that the passport bears a photo of a Chinese male that bears some resemblance to the accused. Your Honour can see for yourself whether or not that is true...with respect I don't think it's any resemblance with the accused."
Tan added that the male in the photo was 170cm, compared with Ong's height of 180cm.
"By the accused's account, he did not bring the passport along when he travelled across the border, it was kept with some documents which (Ong's business associate) subsequently brought from Singapore together with the whole bundle of documents in KL and this passport was among the bundle of documents," said the lawyer.
Rebutting this, DPP Khoo noted that an ordinary person, much less a trained lawyer like Ong, would have rejected a passport, which later turned out to be stolen.
Tan then argued that Ong was concerned that he would be in remand for a long period of remand due to the complexity of the case. However, DPP Khoo replied that the prosecution was ready to proceed to a trial.
Tan told the court that Ong's incarceration would "severely" handicap his ability to conduct his defence. Furthermore, Ong intended to take civil action in an attempt to recover the funds, but he will not be able to do so while in remand, said the lawyer.
In response, DPP Khoo said that Ong would have the opportunity to prepare for legal suits while in remand.
The DPP asserted that Tan had put forward "bare assertions" which lacked supporting evidence. The offences Ong was charged with are serious with an "enormous amount of money" involved, he added.
"In fact this is the largest amount of money ever (allegedly) misappropriated by a lawyer in Singapore," said the DPP.
There were also "reasonable grounds to believe that Ong was guilty of his offences, said the prosecution, citing an alleged admission by Ong in his statement. This was also corroborated by other involved parties and records, said DPP Khoo. Furthermore, Ong had failed to address his charges of forgery, which were purportedly to cover up his misappropriation.
The case has been adjourned to 13 April, with District Judge Terence Tay expected to make a decision on whether Ong should be granted bail.
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