Rogue Estate Agent Misappropriated Client’s Money

Rohini d/o Balasubramaniam v HSR International Realtors Pte Ltd [2018] SGCA 37

1. Introduction 

We acted for a Singapore leading property agency, HSR International Realtors Ptd Ltd (“HSR”), in defending a SGD 830,000 lawsuit. Rohini d/o Balasubramaniam’s (“Rohini”) argued that HSR should be made legally responsible for the fraud of a rogue agent, who had misappropriated the Rohinif’s bank account monies.

2. Background

In 2007, HSR acted for Rohini parents’ in the sale of the Neptune Court property and Rohini’s father’s purchase of the Bayshore Park property. Kelvin Yeow Kim Whye (“Yeow”), Group Director of HSR, was HSR’s representative for all these transactions.

In 2009, Rohini entered into a tenancy agreement to rent an apartment at Neptune Court, for two years. Yeow assisted to secure the tenancy. Rohini then engaged HSR, represented again by Yeow, to act for her in the sale of the Bayshore Park property. A Bedok Court property was purchased around the same time. Yeow told Rohini that the proceeds from the sale of Bayshore Park property might be insufficient or might not be received in time for her to complete the purchase of the Bedok Court property. Yeow thus advised Rohini to obtain a housing loan from United Overseas Bank.

In December 2009, the sale of the Bayshore Park property was completed, and the proceeds were deposited in Rohini’s United Overseas Bank Limited (“UOB”) bank account. Yeow visited Rohini at her home and requested that she give Yeow four cheques drawn on the UOB Account and signed by her in blank. The reason for this request was that Yeow told Rohini that he would use the cheques to make payments for (a) UOB Loan; (b) agency fees; (c) legal fees; and (d) the deposit for the two-year tenancy of the Neptune Court property. Rohini acceded to Yeow’s request for the four cheques to be signed in blank. Subsequently, Yeow told Rohini that due to his miscalculation, one of the cheques had been dishonoured and requested Rohini to issue him another cheque signed in blank.

Instead of using the cheques for their intended purpose, Yeow used the cheques to make payments: (a) S$300,000 to himself; (b) S$70,336 in cash; (c) S$400,000 to himself; and S$60,000 to his HSR’s colleague, totalling S$830,336. Yeow then absconded.

The case invokes issues of vicarious liability, agency and negligence. We successfully persuaded a High Court judge to dismiss the claim against HSR in its entirety. The High Court judge’s judgment is reported as Rohini d/o Balasubramaniam v Yeow Khim Whye Kelvin and another [2017] SGHC 149.

The High Court judge dismissed the plaintiff’s claim largely on the basis that it was the plaintiff’s own severe carelessness in giving the agent blank cheques, which had caused her loss. Rohini has appealed the judge’s decision to the Court of Appeal.

3. Appeal to the Court of Appeal

We continue to act for HSR in the appeal. The appeal was heard before the Court of Appeal in March 2017. We successfully persuaded the Court in our alternative submission that Rohini was largely contributorily negligent for her own loss, and any damages awarded to her should be substantially reduced because of this.