Global Investigations Review - The law and practice of international investigations

GIR 100 2018

WongPartnership

26 October 2018

A pioneer in Singapore, WongPartnership was one of the first firms in the region to set up a practice focused on investigations. It has acted on the highest-profile matters locally and abroad, proving its place as a go-to firm.

The firm

WongPartnership is a full-service firm that opened in Singapore in the early 1990s and has been busy building footholds across Asia and the Middle East ever since. WongPartnership’s white-collar and investigations practice, based in Singapore, handles a myriad of well-publicised matters across the globe.

The firm has been engaged by multinational companies and international financial institutions to provide advice in cases connected to foreign exchange manipulation, bribery and corruption, fraud, tax and antitrust allegations, under investigation by a multitude of authorities around the world.

The three pillars of WongPartnership’s investigations team are Joy Tan, Ameera Ashraf and Melanie Ho.

Tan is deputy head of the commercial and corporate disputes practice, joint head of the corporate governance and compliance practice and joint head of the financial services regulatory practice. She is licensed to practice in Singapore, as well as in England and Wales.

Ashraf leads the competition team, and Ho is deputy head of the specialist and private client disputes practice.

Behind them sits a team of lawyers with plenty of government experience. Senior counsel Chee Meng Tan was deputy senior state counsel in the Attorney General’s Chambers; partner Jenny Tsin was a deputy public prosecutor for the same office; and partner Simran Toor spent five years as a prosecutor in Singapore.

Recent events

WongPartnership has been instructed to advise companies on various corruption investigations, including a foreign oil and gas company on a probe involving Singapore and Indonesian authorities.

GIR reported in February that WongPartnership is representing executives of Singapore-based oil rig builder Keppel Offshore. Several Keppel executives were arrested following the company’s $422 million trilateral settlement with the US, Singapore and Brazil to resolve allegations that it bribed Brazilian government officials.

Reports say that the firm represented Singaporean businessman John Soh Chee Wen, who was charged by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) with manipulating the share price of three Singaporean companies. He is currently awaiting a long-anticipated trial. However, the firm is no longer his counsel, according to local reports.

Alongside a US firm, WongPartnership represented a Singapore-based bank under investigation by the MAS for market manipulation. The bank was also sued in New York over the alleged misconduct.

GIR understands that the firm was instructed in certain aspects linked to MAS actions against a number of banks over anti-money laundering lapses in relation to the investigation into money embezzled from Malaysia’s state development fund, 1MDB.

The firm also advised Serina Wee Gek Yin, the former finance manager of Singaporean Pentecostal mega-church City Harvest Church, who received five years’ jail in May 2017 for her alleged involvement in a scheme to misappropriate $36 million to fund the music career of the church pastor’s wife.

Network

When WongPartnership opened in Shanghai in 2004, it became one of the first Singaporean law firms to open offices abroad. This move was followed by offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Beijing. In 2014, the firm opened an office in Myanmar.

The firm has also partnered with other leading South East Asian practices – further broadening its investigations scope. WongPartnership has an alliance with Indonesia’s Makes & Partners, Zambrano Gruba Caganda & Advincula in the Philippines, as well as leading Malaysian firm Foong & Partners. In 2016, the firm formed a similar alliance with Al Aidarous in Dubai. 

Clients

Few of the clients that the firm represents in investigations can be mentioned for confidentiality reasons.

The investigations team has represented a number of major corporates facing investigation for antitrust violations. These include healthcare company Quest Laboratories, Japanese industrial robots manufacturer Nachi-Fujikoshi Corporation and transportation business Nishi-Nippon Railroad.

Track record

WongPartnership has acted on some of the largest cases in Singapore over the years. The firm advised the former director of Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau, who was charged in 2012 with approving IT contracts involving Hitachi Data Systems in return for oral sex from an employee of the company. Senior counsel Tan Chee Meng managed to secure a full acquittal for his client in 2013, after the prosecution’s key witness was shown to be unreliable.

WongPartnership counselled Nachi-Fujikoshi Corporation during a Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) probe into the ball bearing industry, which was the agency’s first ever multi-jurisdictional cartel investigation. In May 2014, the CCS fined the Japanese company $5.5 million, which was the largest fine the CCS had ever levied. Nachi appealed the decision, and the penalty was reduced after the Competition Appeal Board found that CCS had incorrectly calculated the fine.

The firm also acted in the CCS’s second international cartel enforcement action. In December 2014, the CCS fined 10 freight forwarders $5.2 million for price fixing. The firm’s client, Nishi-Nippon Railroad and its Singapore subsidiary NNR Global Logistics, received a reduced penalty owing to its status as one of five successful leniency applicants.

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