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Hard as it may be to believe, the Official Assignee’s (OA) office actually turned down Dr Chee Soon Juan’s application to attend a conference overseas only after the conference was over.
Dr Chee is charged with attempting to leave the country without permission from the OA’s office to attend an international conference organised by the World Movement for Democracy in Istanbul, Turkey in Apr 06.
A case of too many cooks?
Under questioning from defence counsel, Mr Alfred Dodwell, witness Mr Patrick Lim, Dr Chee’s case officer, acknowledged that the letter informing the SDP secretary-general that his application to travel to Turkey was sent only on 14 Apr 06, two weeks after the conference was held on 1 Apr 06.
Just as strange was Mr Lim’s admission that when Dr Chee was stopped at Changi Airport on 1 Apr, the OA’s office was “still considering” his application to make the trip.
Apparently it did not occur to the office that it would be infinitely more helpful if it could make up its mind before the conference took place.
Worse, the OA didn’t see the absurdity of charging Dr Chee for attempting to leave the country without its permission when it only informed him that his application was rejected after the conference.
If all this sounds crazy, its only because the OA’s office really is.
For example, a total of six officers were assigned to handle Dr Chee’s case: One to initiate contact with him, a second to liaise with him to attend the briefing for new bankrupts, another to fill in the forms, a fourth to consider his travel applications, a manager to meet with him, and a sixth to investigate about his travels. Two more were recently added to the team. NASA would be proud of the division of specialist-expertise.
And yet, the office couldn’t do one thing: Decide whether to let Dr Chee go to Turkey to attend the conference and to inform him before, not after, the conference date.
You don’t have to know who your case officer is but call him anyway
Then it got really weird. Mr Dodwell asked if Dr Chee’s case officer, Mr Patrick Lim, had contacted Dr Chee to let him know who his case officer was, Mr Lim said no but added: “If the bankrupt has questions, he can contact the case officer.”
Mr Dodwell tried again: “So when did you inform Dr Chee that you were his case officer?”
“I don’t recall I informed him I was his case officer,” Mr Lim said.
“Is it not your job to inform him?” Mr Dodwell pressed.
“Wouldn’t a bankrupt have to know who his case officer is?”
Mr Dodwell bravely made another attempt: “If a bankrupt wanted to deal with the OA’s office, who would he contact?”
“With the case officer.”
“So you don’t think a bankrupt needs to know who his case officer is?”
“He can call up to find out.”
The lawyer gave up.
Even its own officer admitted to the ridiculousness of the OA’s operations.
Dr Chee had attended the initial briefing for bankrupts during which he was asked to fill out a form. After going through and double-checking it with the Senior Officer in attendance (and getting the assurance that everything was in order), Dr Chee left the office only to be told a couple of hours later that more information and a last signature was needed.
Senior Officer, Ms Jasmine Ang, was the one assigned to ask Dr Chee to return to the OA’s office the following morning to make the additions.
Lawyer Dodwell took issue with this: “I put it to you that you were extremely unreasonable to ask Dr Chee to come back the next day at 10 am!”
“Yes,” Ms Ang agreed.
At least she was honest.
But of course special attention must be paid to this particular bankrupt if only because one of his creditors is none other than Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
How else can you figure out this: A 58 year-old bankrupt made 173 trips out of Singapore over a six-month period before he was caught (Lianhe Zaobao, 30 Dec 06).
Yet when Dr Chee made his first application to travel, he was stopped and immediately charged.
Hearing continues tomorrow at 9:30 am at Subordinate Court 15.