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2 doctors appeal against disciplinary action over alleged attempted sex with patient

SINGAPORE — Two doctors, convicted of professional misconduct by a medical watchdog's tribunal after they were accused of trying to sexually exploit a patient, went to court on Wednesday (Aug 3) in a bid to clear their names or, failing that, receive shorter periods of suspension from medical practice.

Dr Julian Ong Kian Peng (left), who ran Julian Ong Endoscopy & Surgery at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, and Dr Chan Herng Nieng (right) who runs his own private practice at Capital Mindhealth Clinic.
Dr Julian Ong Kian Peng (left), who ran Julian Ong Endoscopy & Surgery at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, and Dr Chan Herng Nieng (right) who runs his own private practice at Capital Mindhealth Clinic.
  • Two doctors, Chan Herng Nieng and Julian Ong Kian Peng, were close friends and boasted about their sexual exploits with married women
  • A disciplinary tribunal found that they engaged in professional misconduct
  • Dr Ong had introduced a female patient to Dr Chan, allegedly so that Dr Chan may try to have sex with her
  • Both men are now appealing against their convictions and suspensions from medical practice
  • The Singapore Medical Council is also appealing for longer lengths of suspension for them

SINGAPORE — Two doctors, convicted of professional misconduct by a medical watchdog's tribunal after they were accused of trying to sexually exploit a patient, went to court on Wednesday (Aug 3) in a bid to clear their names or, failing that, receive shorter periods of suspension from medical practice.

In a counter-appeal, the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) is asking the court to impose tougher penalties on psychiatrist Chan Herng Nieng and colorectal surgeon Julian Ong Kian Peng.

The Court of Three Judges, which is the highest disciplinary body that deals with doctors’ misconduct, reserved their judgement until a date yet to be fixed.

The two senior doctors have been embroiled in a string of legal disputes over the past few years after Dr Chan began dating a married woman.

In 2018, the woman, Ms Serene Tiong Sze Yin, found explicit WhatsApp text messages that the two close friends exchanged about their sexual exploits with other married women.

After she filed a complaint with SMC, the council launched an investigation into both doctors’ conduct and brought the disciplinary charges against them.

Its disciplinary tribunal convicted them of engaging in improper conduct that brought disrepute to the profession. The charges stated that Dr Ong colluded with Dr Chan to introduce a female patient to him so that Dr Chan could attempt to have sex with her.

The tribunal suspended Dr Ong and Dr Chan for eight months and five months respectively.

Both men are now appealing against their disciplinary convictions and sentences. At the same time, the council is appealing for longer sentences of at least four more months’ suspension for both men.

'FEEL FREE TO PLAY YOUR GAME'

The disciplinary case revolves around a WhatsApp exchange where Dr Ong had shared the contact number of a female patient — a property agent identified only as Ms K — with Dr Chan.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the three judges — Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, as well as Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang — repeatedly urged both men’s lawyers to explain what their reasonable interpretation of the WhatsApp messages was.

The court was shown screenshots that Ms Tiong had submitted to the council, which went like this:

  • Dr Chan to Dr Ong: “Can ask her for drinks instead?”
  • Dr Ong then responded with Ms K’s contact and said: “Feel free to play your game.” He also replied “sure” to Dr Chan’s earlier question about drinks
  • Dr Chan: “Me? Out of the blue ask her?”
  • Dr Ong then responded with a crude sexual suggestion that Chief Justice Menon described as distasteful and offensive, before Dr Ong added: “She’s expecting you (regarding) the property.”
  • Dr Chan replied: “I can’t decide to go (through) the property route.”

Dr Ong’s lawyer, Senior Counsel N Sreenivasan, argued that both men were talking about a property deal all along and it had nothing to do with trying to have sex with Ms K. At the time, Dr Chan was thinking of buying property for investment purposes.

Chief Justice Menon told Mr Sreenivasan: “That theory, that hypothesis you put forward, that this was an innocent act, passing on a contact of a property agent friend — that has got to be consistent with the entirety of the WhatsApp exchange. How do you make that good?

(If this was an) innocent introduction of a property agent, why are you thinking of asking her for drinks, playing a game, plotting how to get it across because it’s out of the blue? Why is there a message of an overtly sexual tenor there?
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon

“(If this was an) innocent introduction of a property agent, why are you thinking of asking her for drinks, playing a game, plotting how to get it across because it’s out of the blue? Why is there a message of an overtly sexual tenor there?”

Chief Justice Menon added: “Why are they discussing the seeming awkwardness of doing this through a property route? How can you say your contention is a reasonable interpretation?”

PHILANDERING

Another of Mr Sreenivasan’s arguments was that the disciplinary tribunal should not have relied on Dr Chan’s and Dr Ong’s earlier conversations about their sexual escapades to support its finding that they were trying to exploit Ms K.

However, Chief Justice Menon pointed out that this should be a relevant factor in contexualising their WhatsApp messages.

Mr Sreenivasan then gave a hypothetical scenario where a lawyer, such as himself, was a philanderer and had a similar conversation with a friend.

"Then someone says I have an improper relationship with a client. Just because I’m a philanderer doesn’t mean I have an improper relationship with a client,” he added.

This led to Justice Phang quipping, to laughter from the parties and the public gallery: “So you’re saying there are honourable philanderers around?”

Chief Justice Menon later said: “To be fair, I don’t think you’re making that point… for the record, you’re not a philanderer.”

Dr Chan’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Lee Eng Beng, put forth similar evidence that his client had been deciding between investing in property or buying securities.

The lawyer explained that the message, “Feel free to play your game”, referred to Dr Chan’s habit of "lowballing", or giving very low offers, to drive up prices. Dr Chan had also told the tribunal that he did not know why Dr Ong sent the explicit suggestion and he did not reply to it.

The judges told the court that this explicit message was the “elephant in the room” and that the defence teams cannot ignore it.

PUBLIC INTEREST CONSIDERATIONS

SMC, represented by Mr Chia Voon Jiet from law firm Drew & Napier, argued that the two doctors had colluded to treat Ms K as an object of sexual gratification.

“There is no doubt that the conduct by two eminent doctors would distress and disturb the public, and I submit that it will lead to the undermining of the medical profession here,” Mr Chia said.

Both were specialists of more than 20 years’ standing and their lack of antecedents would be outweighed by public interest considerations, Mr Chia added.

In asking for longer periods of suspension, he argued that the disciplinary tribunal did not take into account the extent of premeditation and planning involved, and that the doctors’ actions also “involved deception and trickery”.

On a separate point, Mr Chia said that he is not arguing for the court to draw an adverse inference against the doctors in the act of Dr Ong deleting all of his WhatsApp messages with Dr Chan.

Dr Ong testified during the tribunal hearing that he wanted to get rid of evidence so that his wife did not know what was going on, and never considered SMC getting involved. His stance remains that there was no professional misconduct.

Following Ms Tiong’s complaint to SMC, Dr Ong sued her for defamation but lost.

He then lodged an appeal with the High Court, whereupon a judge found that both men did not collude to take sexual advantage of Ms Tiong, but said that they could have come together to target Ms K.

Last month, another High Court judge dismissed Ms Tiong’s negligence lawsuit against Dr Chan. She had sued the psychiatrist for allegedly getting her hooked on Xanax pills to manage her anxiety.

Both judges at the time chided the doctors for their blatant treatment of women as sex objects, with one saying that there was “no true winner” in the long-running saga.

Related topics

Julian Ong Chan Herng Nieng Singapore Medical Council doctor Serene Tiong sexual misconduct court

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