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Director jailed 14 months for misappropriating S$110,000

SINGAPORE — He founded a company in 2010 and claimed to have coughed up its start-up capital, worked for free and “lent” it money to ease its cashflow problems.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported that Ong Kim Hock was a director with Focal Marine and Offshore Pte Ltd. This is incorrect. Ong is a director of Focal Marine, which is a different company and is not related to Focal Marine and Offshore Pte Ltd. We apologise for the error.

 

SINGAPORE — He founded a company in 2010 and claimed to have coughed up its start-up capital, worked for free and “lent” it money to ease its cashflow problems.

When Focal Marine’s director Ong Kim Hock needed money in May 2013 — which, according to him, was to repay debts he had incurred on behalf of the company — he cashed in a S$110,000 cheque pre-signed by fellow company director Terry Tan to his own bank account.

Ong, 45, who is also known as Kelvin, was sentenced to 14 months’ jail on Wednesday (May 23) for criminal breach of trust. He had been found guilty earlier this month following an 11-day trial.

Focal was in dire financial straits and its creditors included a company called J&J, which was owed S$800,000, the court heard.

The sum Ong misappropriated was two-thirds of what the company had at the time — about S$151,000 — which had been loaned by another company and was meant to repay its creditors, said Deputy Public Prosecutor David Koh.

Calling Ong’s offence “highly aggravated”, DPP Koh said his actions “severely damaged the company’s financial prospects” and caused another cheque meant for its suppliers to bounce.

“As (one of two directors of Focal), the accused held an elevated position of trust, which he has abused to his own personal benefit,” said DPP Koh, who called for a jail term of at least 18 months.

“Even on the accused’s own unproven claim that he had taken the money to repay debts which he had incurred on behalf of the company, this would nonetheless be a personal gain to him, in that it would lead to a significant reduction in his personal financial liabilities, at the expense of the company’s other creditors.”

Ong’s lawyer Chong Jia Hao argued that his client — a Malaysian who is a Singapore permanent resident — had come up with Focal’s start-up capital and, since its incorporation in 2010, had lent it money “countless times” without charging interest.

Ong’s loans to Focal exceeded S$200,000 and Mr Chong said the money he misappropriated was seen as a “partial repayment” and “security” to continue pumping in more of his own money to pay for its expenses.

The total salary Ong drew from Focal was also less than the amount he had loaned the company, added Mr Chong.

“In essence, he had therefore been working for free all this time,” said the lawyer, who argued that Ong had a “one-off regrettable” lapse in judgment and called for a jail term of eight months.

But the prosecution noted that Ong had feigned ignorance for a week when his fellow director Mr Tan had asked about the S$110,000 taken from the company.

Ong has not shown any remorse or made any restitution, and had made unsubstantiated allegations about Mr Tan, such as accusing him of lying in court, added DPP Koh.

For plain criminal breach of trust, Ong could have been jailed for up to seven years and fined.

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