Saturday, November 24, 2007

Missing Lawyer: More Clients Report Losses

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 24, 2007

One client’s $26k cheque bounces, several vexed over stalled property deals.

MORE clients have shown up at the Raffles City law firm of missing lawyer Zulkifli Amin to report missing monies and stalled deals.

Mail company manager John Sasayiah, one of at least four who had lodged complaints to police, told The Straits Times yesterday that some $26,000 was due to him from the sale of his Casablanca condominium in Woodlands.

The cheque bounced when he tried to cash it on Wednesday, and yesterday he learnt that Mr Zulkifli - from the law firm Sadique Marican & ZM Amin - had gone missing.

On Thursday, a couple reported that a cheque for $40,000 due to them, also proceeds from a property sale, had bounced.

Yesterday, more than a dozen other clients showed up at the law firm to make inquiries over their property deals that had stalled.

One client told The Straits Times she was frustrated as she understood the firm’s clients’ account had been frozen as investigations continued.

This could result in the property deal being affected if the required funds are not transferred in time.

Mr Zulkifli is understood to have skipped town on Wednesday. Money from the firm’s account is missing and the authorities are trying to establish the extent of the losses.

A Law Society spokesman said yesterday that the firm reported it ‘had discovered shortfalls and discrepancies in the client account of the firm’ following which the police were called in.

He added that the society was also conducting an inspection of the firm’s clients’ account and, jointly with the firm, advises those who have suffered losses to lodge police reports.

This appears to be the first case of a lawyer snitching funds from the clients’ account since rules were tightened earlier this year requiring two signatures for the withdrawal of sums exceeding $30,000.

Lawyers contacted said the latest incident has cast doubts on the effectiveness of the enhanced rules.

Legal officer Thomas Loh said the problem was not with the enhanced rules but with the conveyancing deals.

Ninety per cent of the incidents so far involved property deals.

What was needed was to stop the practice of placing the option fees, amounting to up to 10 per cent of the property deal, in the law firm’s clients’ account.

Instead, he suggested that it should be a cashier’s order held by the bank providing the housing loan, to be released when the sale was completed.

‘The money, when kept in the clients’ account for about three months, is open to plunder,’ he added.

Former Law Society president Peter Low said ‘the rules should be reviewed if need be’.

Lawyers who knew Mr Zulkifli, or ‘Zul’ as they called him, were shocked at the news of his disappearance.

One of them, a former classmate, said he was a ‘friendly and approachable’ person who always had a ready smile for every one.

Another lawyer said he was very interested in football and used to play regularly with his classmates and friends until his work took up most of his time.

Hoteliers Spend Big TO Spurce Up For Booming Industry

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 November 2007

The hospitality industry is expecting a huge boost next year as Singapore stages its first-ever Formula One Grand Prix.

In the lead-up, hotels are sprucing up to draw in guests.

These hotels include Four Seasons Hotel, which is spending up to S$12 million to refurbish its rooms.

The Four Seasons in Singapore is planning to capture 'timeless elegance' with a new look to be completed just in time for Singapore's next big wave of tourism.

The hotel has once again called on the talent of Hersh Bender to create the look that has attracted their predominantly finance-based corporate clientele over the last 14 years.

Ignacio Gomez-Tobar, Regional Vice President and General Manager, Four Seasons Hotel, said: "Specifically, what we do here is that we are about to embark on a very major renovation of all the guest rooms starting from the beginning of March 2008 and by the end of July, we would have done every single guest room."

According to Mr Gomez-Tobar, the hotel will be "stripping" its 225 rooms right down to the concrete and starting all over again.

It also means that it will not be able to operate on full inventory for nearly six months.

But Four Seasons believes that overall, revenue for 2008 will still climb by 10 percent.

Revenue for the hotel has increased by 15 percent this year, compared to last year. Four Seasons also plans to raise room rates by up to 15 percent next year.

Other hotels which had a revamp recently include Meritus Mandarin and Phoenix Hotel.
- CNA/so


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Law Society Probes Firm's Client Account

Source : Weekend TODAY, November 24, 2007

THE Law Society is inspecting the client account of law firm Sadique Marican and ZM Amin Advocates and Solicitors, following the discovery of "shortfalls and discrepancies" and the disappearance of one of the partners.

Today understands that the firm has lodged a police report after the missing lawyer, Mr Zulkifli M Amin, allegedly took $37,555 from a conveyancing transaction he was handling for a couple. The other partner, Mr Sadique Marican, could not be reached for comments.

The couple told Today they made a police report on Thursday after the cheque the law firm gave them in returning their deposit had bounced, and Mr Zulkifli was nowhere to be found.

When contacted, a police spokesman said it was "inappropriate to comment on police investigations, if any".

The Law Society advises clients who have suffered any loss of money to lodge a report with the Commercial Affairs Department.

It seemed like business as usual at the law firm when Today visited its office in Raffles City on Friday but the staff said Mr Zulkifli was still uncontactable. They declined further comment.

According to the firm's website, Mr Zulkifli started practising law in 2000 and set up his own firm in 2003. Months later, he went into partnership with Mr Sadique.

Mr Zulkifli heads the firm's conveyancing and real estate department, which has an annual profit of "more than a million dollars".

SLA Awards Four Sungei Tengah Land Parcels To 3 Companies

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 November 2007

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has awarded four land parcels at Sungei Tengah for agricultural use to three companies.

These companies were the top bidders for each of the sites.

Environmental Landscape has been awarded the biggest plot of land of three hectares at S$1.12 million. The company also won the bid for the second largest site at S$963,360.

Public-listed Qian Hu Corporation won a parcel by bidding the highest amount for the smallest lot - S$967,135 for an area of some two hectares.

Dragonwana Aquarium Trading was awarded the third largest plot of land at S$530,000.

The four sites are on 20-year leases.

Besides traditional farming like vegetables and fish production, each land parcel can be developed for commercial purposes such as retail, food and beverage, as well as rustic and spa facilities.

The tender at Sungei Tengah follows the successful sale of three similar sites at Lim Chu Kang last year.

SLA plans to release more of such land at a steady rate to meet market demand and, at the same time, enable the existing market to grow before facing new competition arising from new sites.

Sites at Lim Chu Kang fetched between S$300,000 and S$500,000 each. - CNA/ch

Malaysia Says Johor Govt In 1953 Did Not Have Right To Disclaim Disputed Island

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 November 2007

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS: On the first day of its rebuttals to Singapore's statements, Malaysia on Thursday stated that the Johor government then did not have the authority to disclaim ownership of Pedra Branca.

Malaysia was referring to the 1953 letter that Singapore had cited which read that Johor clearly said it did not own Pedra Branca, also known as Pulau Batu Puteh to the Malaysians.

The dispute over the sovereignty of Pedra Branca and its two outcrops of Middle Rocks and South Ledge is now being heard at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

The dispute arose after Malaysia published a map of its territories in 1979 that included Pedra Branca. Singapore objected to that because it said it owns the island.

The hearing of the case has been on-going since 6 November.

On Thursday, Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Minister Syed Hamid Albar returned to The Hague to see his team rebut Singapore's statements.

Malaysia's first speaker, Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail zoomed in on the 1953 letter, pointing out that Johor's Acting State Secretary then did not have the authority and no legal capacity to renounce, disclaim or confirm ownership of any of its territories.

The Johor Acting State Secretary had replied in that letter to Singapore that Johor did not own Pedra Branca.

Mr Abdul Gani cited two Johor treaties with Britain in 1948 which said that Johor had transferred all its rights, powers and jurisdiction on matters of defence and external affairs to the British.

He said: "The Johor Acting State Secretary M Seth Bin Saaid was merely a civil servant of the Johor State. He was definitely not authorized or had the legal capacity to write the 1953 letter, or to renounce, disclaim, or confirm title of any part of the territories of Johor - if that is what the 1953 letter purported to do, which Malaysia denies."

Singapore had said earlier that the letter was from the Johor government then and it confirms the republic's ownership of Pedra Branca.

In addition, Singapore had shown many examples of how it consistently and openly conducted numerous activities and works on Pedra Branca to exercise its sovereignty over the island for the past 130 years. These are all evidences of Singapore's ownership of the island.

Singapore, in its rebuttal, had said that if the British had not funded the lighthouse construction and decided on it, there would not even have been one on Pedra Branca.

However, Malaysia's counsel disagreed that it was the British who initiated the construction of the lighthouse and took ownership of the island.

Sir Elihu Lauterpacht said: "Singapore would have us believe, a moment came when the Governor suddenly realized the possibilities. Hey presto! Here was a great chance to expand the British Empire. Acquire a rock and build a lighthouse on it.

"Surely, this was not the thinking that went on in Government House in Singapore, or in Bengal, or in the East India Company or in the Admiralty in London. What they wanted was a light. The addition of a so small an item to the vast British Empire never entered their minds."

Singapore had said before that the island was a no man's land when the British went there to build the Horsburgh Lighthouse in 1847. It then took possession of the island.

One foreign counsel for Malaysia also dismissed the two photographs taken of Pedra Branca in relation to its distance from Johor.

He glossed over the fact that the photograph taken by Malaysia was inaccurate and that Singapore had questioned the source of the picture.

Singapore had shown the two photographs earlier this week to illustrate that the one taken by Malaysia had exaggerated the height of the Johor hill by about seven times so that it can be seen clearly.

But Singapore highlighted its picture, as seen by a human eye, which showed Johor very faintly in the backdrop of Pedra Branca.

Speaking in French, Professor Marcelo Kohen questioned why Singapore's Attorney-General would prefer to spend his time on the issue of "photographic tricks, accusing Malaysia of manipulation. It's all a question of perspective. Two photos, taken from a little boat and from the bridge of a big tanker, taken from the same place and in the same direction, but from different heights, would not present the same view. I don't think that it's worthwhile to discuss this question".

Malaysia also failed to reply to Singapore's rebuttal of allegations that the republic had hidden the 1844 letter. Malaysia claims the letter show the British asking permission to build the Horsburgh Lighthouse and that the Johor rulers then had given permission to them to do so on any of its islands, including Pedra Branca.

But Singapore maintains the British never asked for permission to build the lighthouse specifically on Pedra Branca then.

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister, S Jayakumar had said on Monday that Singapore does not have a copy of the letter as many of its documents were lost in the war. He had rebutted Malaysia saying that if the British had sent the letter to the Johor rulers, the original letter should be with them.

Malaysia completed its first day of rebuttals about 10 minutes ahead of time, the first time the court session has ended slightly earlier than scheduled.

Malaysia will wrap up its rebuttals on Friday. Malaysia's agent for the case, Abdul Kadir Mohamad, is expected to be the last speaker. He will sum up his country's position. - CNA/ir

Inflation Rises With Policy Posers In Tow

Source : The Business Times, November 24, 2007

Analysts expect swift counter-measures as monthly numbers climb to a 16-year high

The need for further policy action to stem price pressures - sooner rather than later - has grown with an unexpected surge in October's inflation rate to 3.6 per cent, economists say.

The market consensus estimate was 2.8 per cent. 'We thought we had a high inflation forecast for October at 3 per cent,' said HSBC Bank economist Robert Prior-Wandesforde.

In fact, the latest rise in the consumer price index (CPI) has leapt well beyond these estimates. Climbing from a 2.7 per cent third-quarter average (itself a sharp jump from the first six months' 0.8 per cent pace), it was driven by rising food and oil prices, and is the highest monthly inflation rate since August 1991.

'I don't think it's a one-off (spike) to be ignored,' said Chetan Ahya, chief economist for South-east Asia and India at Morgan Stanley Asia. 'The risks of more policy reaction have increased with this latest data. One more month with figures like these may mean that the government needs to move quickly.' The urgency will be apparent if crude oil prices touch US$120 a barrel, he added.

Most economists believe there will be further monetary tightening via a steeper appreciation of the Singapore dollar at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)'s next half-yearly policy review in April 2008.

The question, Mr Ahya said, is whether MAS needs to act sooner than April, following its move last month to allow the Sing dollar to rise at a slightly faster pace to help curb imported inflation.

At a media briefing on the Q3 economic data on Monday, MAS deputy managing director Ong Chong Tee said there were no plans for any inter-meeting monetary policy review. The current policy stance of allowing the local currency to strengthen gradually and modestly remains appropriate, he said, though economists have asked, in the light of rising price pressures, if the nudge-up was enough. Yesterday, when contacted, a senior MAS official would not comment.

But Morgan Stanley's Mr Ahya reckons that managing current inflationary pressures calls for the use of not just monetary tools.

While the exchange rate can be employed to deal with 'tradeable' inflation in food, transport and other oil-related items, the bigger cost pressures now stem from demand-induced resource constraints in an economy that has been growing above its potential pace, he said.

There is basically a need to slow demand and economic growth, he reiterated.

For the year to October, consumer inflation averaged 1.6 per cent. The 2007 year-round pace is now estimated at about 2 per cent. Next year, it may well hit 5 per cent in Q1 before easing.

Inflation rates of 4-5 per cent would be high against the muted figures of the last two decades. But inflation in Singapore actually ran past 8 per cent in 1980 and 1981, and averaged over 20 per cent during the 1973 and 1974 oil crises.

While MAS has maintained that, even amid the recent CPI uptrend, underlying inflation has remained steady, Mr Ahya said that, with the persistent climb in the headline figure, core inflation will inevitably and eventually pick up too.

Said HSBC's Mr Prior-Wandesforde: 'Even if inflation is set to fall in the second half of next year, the worry will be that wage growth will rise higher still, leading to second-round effects on underlying inflation.' He believes the government will consider additional cooling measures.

'While denying that the economy is overheating, the government has clearly shown its concerns for the future via the various measures to cool the housing market as well as the delay to several construction projects, an increase in immigration and a contraction in real government spending,' he noted.

And while there is little Singapore can do about rising energy and food commodity prices, cost pressures from a booming economy also reflect strong consumer confidence, in his view.

'The fact that retailers have been able to push through virtually all the GST rise and sustain it smacks of strong confidence in the consumer,' Mr Prior-Wandesforde said. Even with rising inflation, he believes the robust wage growth will be reflected in stronger consumer spending.

'Notwithstanding concerns about the US economy and a wobbly equity market recently, Christmas should be a good one for retailers,' he said.

New Target For Completion Of Entertainment Hub In The East

Source : The Straits Times, Nov 23, 2007

THE first leisure and entertainment hub to go 24-hours in the heartlands has hit a slight delay in completion.

When ready, the 200,000 square-feet e!Hub will house 5 levels of F & B outlets, a Fairprice supermarket, a bowling alley and a karaoke centre. -- PHOTO: NTUC CLUB

The e!Hub in Downtown, East Pasir Ris, was to have opend its doors in November this year, but a minor change in concept has pushed back its opening date till at least the end of the first quarter of 2008.

NTUC Club, the leisure and entertainment arm of the labour movement, which runs Downtown East says an additional floor was added to the original four-storey designed building.

Built at a cost of $80 million, the e!Hub was to have featured an indoor amusement park, much like the Joypolis in Japan.

But that idea has also been shelved.

An entire floor was to have been devoted to this indoor amusement park concept.

It's understood that talks with a Japanese video gaming software and hardware developer fell through.

In its place, what NTUC Club calls, Nebocity - named after its youth membership arm.

Targetted at 12 to 21 year-olds, the fourth floor space will occupy a gaming zone, a cafe and a Cathay cineplex.

Also on the cards - what could be Singapore's largest children's indoor playground, at 40,000 square-feet.

'So over the last couple of months the concept has evolved a little...We're going to develop our Explorerkid. The concept will be changed from one that currently focuses on the kid's play area to families as well,' says NTUC Club Deputy CEO Lim Eng Lee.

This means accompanying parents can also look forward to a corner where they can relax and have a meal as well as a quick massage.

When ready, the 200,000 square-feet e!Hub will house 5 levels of F & B outlets, a Fairprice supermarket, a bowling alley and a karaoke centre.

The building will feature a 25-meter high ferris wheel holding 18 carriages, brought in at a cost of $1 million from Italian amusement ride manufacturer, Fabbri.

The wheel will be mounted on the outside of the building.

The latest development at Downtown East is primed to meet the upcoming Integrated Resorts head-on, but with a heartland twist.

NTUC Club says rates to its attractions will remain affordable to union members and Singaporean families.

Downtown East is also home to an outdoor amusement park, a water theme park and chalets.

With the e!Hub, NTUC Club hopes to raise its annual visitorship to Downtown East from the current 6 million to 8 million.

Hub not quite hubbing yet...
The first leisure and entertainment hub to go 24-hours in the heartlands has hit a slight delay in completion.

The e!Hub in Downtown East, Pasir Ris was due for completion this month, but a minor change in concept has pushed back its opening date till at least the end of the first quarter of 2008.

As Imelda Saad reports, the idea for an indoor theme park, much like the Joypolis in Japan, has also been shelved.

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