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Ex-president sues club over legal bills

The Straits Times | Selina Lum | Friday, Apr 18, 2014

The ousted president of Singapore Swimming Club, Mr Freddie Koh, has sued the club, arguing that it should foot his legal bills from a long-running defamation suit that he lost.

Mr Koh, 68, is relying on an indemnity resolution, passed by the club's management committee in 2009, which states that the club will assume liability in legal actions brought against its office bearers.

But the club has countersued Mr Koh for the return of $1.5 million in legal costs that it paid for him as the club's members voted at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to put a stop to it.

The club contends that the resolution is void, and even if it was valid, was only intended to cover office bearers who were properly carrying out their duties.

The club also said Mr Koh is not covered because the Court of Appeal found in 2011 that he had acted with malice.

This meant he was not carrying out his duties when he made the defamatory statements.

The case opened in the High Court yesterday for a six-day hearing.

Mr Koh was president of the club from May 2008 to March 2012.

In 2009, he was sued for defamation over remarks he made at two management committee meetings, minutes of which were published on the club's notice board.

Mr Koh said the previous committee had misrepresented facts to influence the ratification of a $168,800 plan to install water filtration systems at the club's swimming pools and Jacuzzis.

The four who sued him sat on the previous management committee.

In 2010, the High Court dismissed the suit against Mr Koh.

But in 2011, the Court of Appeal overturned the decision, saying Mr Koh and his committee were on a "witch hunt" against the plaintiffs.

Because of the indemnity resolution, the club had been paying Mr Koh's legal costs.

But at the EGM in March 2012, members voted to remove Mr Koh, recover the legal bills paid for him and stop further payment.

Mr Koh's lawyer, Mr Paul Seah, argued that the indemnity resolution was valid and binding on the club to cover him for the legal costs.

He pointed out that the resolution was re-affirmed by the management committee in December 2011 in spite of the Appeal Court's decision.

But the club, represented by Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, said the resolution was not valid because Mr Koh had got it passed by withholding information, including the fact that the defamation suit was excluded from insurance coverage.

The club argued that the indemnity resolution was self-serving because the management committee was mindful at the time that they could be implicated by Mr Koh's remarks.

selinal@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 16 in The Straits Times.

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