IN THE HIGH COURT OF THE
HONG KONG SPECIAL ADMINISTRATIVE REGION
COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE
ACTION NO. 4029 OF 1998
Coram : Hon Pang J in Chambers
Date of Hearing : 21 December 1998
Date of Delivery of Judgment : 30 April 1999
J U D G M E N T
1. This is an appeal by way of rehearing against Master Bharwaney’s decision in giving summary judgment on 16 September 1998 for thePlaintiff against the Defendant in the sum of $15 million together with interest.
2. The Defendant is a public company and one Mr John Chan is the Defendant’s Managing Director. Mr Chan is also the Director and solebeneficial owner of Angklong Limited, which was a controlling shareholder of the Defendant. In September 1994, Angklong had a marginaccount facility with the Plaintiff. By the end of the year 1996, the Defendant was indebted to Angklong in the sum of $108,630,000.00as a shareholder’s loan. In or about January 1998, Angklong owed the Plaintiff the sum of $54,302,841.54.
3. On 22 January 1998, at a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Defendant, it was resolved that the Defendant would enter intoa loan agreement with the Plaintiff whereby the Plaintiff would make available to the Defendant a loan facility of $25 million. Themeeting was chaired by John Chan and the other director attending was Mr Peter Chan, his elder brother. The minutes recorded thatat the meeting, a draft loan agreement prepared by the Defendant was presented for approval. The Directors at the meeting resolvedthat it was for the commercial benefit of the Defendant to enter into the Loan Agreement and it was further resolved that any onedirector of the Defendant be authorised to execute the said Agreement.
4. On 26 January, the Loan Agreement was executed by John Chan and was forwarded to the Plaintiff for the Plaintiff’s execution. Itis not in dispute that copies of the Defendant’s Memorandum of Association and New Bye-laws and the Minutes of the Meeting of theDirectors on 22 January were sent to the Plaintiff together with the Agreement. The Loan Agreement was executed by Henry Fung andBenson Lo on behalf of the Plaintiff.
5. By a Notice of Drawing dated 26 January 1998, the Defendant gave notice to the Plaintiff that the Defendant intended to draw thesum of $25 million under the Loan Agreement on the following day. The instruction contained therein was :
The Notice was signed by John Chan. On the following day, the Plaintiff, in accordance with the instruction of the Notice of Drawing,credited the sum of $25 million to Angklong’s account and on 12 February 1998, debited the Defendant’s account with the same amount.There is no documentary evidence to suggest that the sum of $25 million was ever credited into the Defendant’s bank account.
6. On 4 March 1998, shares in the Defendant were suspended from trading. On 11 March, the Plaintiff issued proceedings against AngklongLimited to recover the sum of $30,396,741.45. Subsequently on 5 March 1998, the Plaintiff declared that the loan facility to theDefendant had terminated and demanded repayment of $25,310,445.21. The present proceedings against the Defendant was instituted on14 March 1998. On 3 August 1998, Angklong paid the Plaintiff the sum of $10 million. On 15 September 1998, the Defendant’s solicitorswrote to the Plaintiff’s solicitors, asking for confirmation that the Plaintiff “would only be proceeding with the balance” of itsclaim at the hearing of the Order 14 application in the light of Angklong’s payment of $10 million.
The Defendant’s Case
7. The Defendant resisted the Plaintiff’s application on two broad fronts the first of which is that the Loan Agreement was a sham agreement.The purpose of the Agreement was to obtain money from the Defendant to settle Angklong’s indebtedness to the Plaintiff. Mr Ismailfor the Defendant submitted that the circumstances were highly suggestive of irregularities in both the Plaintiff and Defendant companiesas the Loan Agreement was prepared by the Defendant and it was not amended in any way by the Plaintiff. It was also pointed out tothis court that no security or a director’s guarantee was required under the Loan Agreement. As the sum of $25 million went to Angklongand did not go through the accounts of the Defendant, the Defendant never benefited from the agreement. The possibility that theLoan Agreement was a sham agreement, it was said, would give the Defendant in these proceedings a bona fide defence.
8. Further, it was submitted that the Plaintiff knew or should have been put on enquiry that John Chan did not have any authority toenter into the Loan Agreement with the Plaintiff. Mr Ismail relied on a passage in paragraph 95.0168 in Volume 6, Halsbury’s Laws of Hong Kong :
9. Mr Ismail submitted that this is a case where the Plaintiff should have been put on enquiry as to the validity and the bona fides of the Loan Agreement. His reasons are these : Mr John Chan was interested in the Loan Agreement by reason of his position as theDefendant’s Managing Director and also as the beneficial owner of Angklong Limited. On that basis, the resolutions passed in theMeeting on 22 January 1998 were invalid because had John Chan disclosed his interest in the proposed Loan Agreement, he would haveto disqualify himself from the meeting. Without Mr John Chan’s attendance, the meeting would have been inquorate thereby renderingall resolutions passed at the meeting invalid.
10. In my view, this appeal can be disposed of effectively on two grounds. Even if, as was submitted by Mr Ismail, that John Chan shouldhave disclosed his interest in the Loan Agreement and thereby disqualifying himself at the meeting, the Plaintiff is neverthelessentitled to rely in the rule in the case of Royal British Bank v. Turquand (1856) 6 E&B 327. The essence of the rule is that while those dealing with companies are affected with constructive notice of its publicly registereddocuments, they are not affected by any irregularities in the company’s management. Those dealing with the company are entitled toassume that the internal procedures of a company, both at directors and shareholders meetings, have been regularly conducted in theabsence of actual notice to the contrary. This case is no exception.
11. In Order 14 proceedings, the Defendant has to show an arguable case that the Plaintiff had actual notice of John Chan’s lack of authority.They have not managed to do so.
12. One of the points taken by the Defendant is that the Loan Agreement is invalid because monies were never paid into the Defendant’sbank account. However, there remains the written instruction contained in the Notice signed by John Chan directing that the amountis to be paid into the account of Angklong. The Plaintiff was entitled to act on John Chan’s instructions and was under no obligationto question the bona fides of the resolutions and the subsequent instruction. The Plaintiff is also under no obligation to examine whether or not the Defendantobtained any benefit from the loan. On the ground that the Plaintiff must have known that John Chan had no authority because he hadoften socialised with one Albert Lo and Henry Fung of the Plaintiff’s company, in my view, are no more than vague allegations whichdo not assist the Plaintiff’s case at all. The Turquand rule aside, the Defendant had, in their letters dated 10 March 1998 and 15 September 1998, effectively admitted their indebtednessto the Plaintiff. The former letter was addressed to the Plaintiff’s solicitors in response to their demand for immediate repaymentof the loan. There was not the remotest suggestion that the Loan Agreement was a sham nor that its validity was being challenged.The letter dated 15 September 1998 was issued by Messrs Lovell White Durrant and was addressed to Messrs Stevenson, Wong & Lai,the Plaintiff’s solicitors. The main paragraph of the letter reads :
By this letter, the Defendant has effectively admitted that it was indebted to the Plaintiff under the Loan Agreement.
13. In view of the Turquand rule and the admissions of the Defendant, I have come to the conclusion that the assertions by the Defendant are not believable.
14. For the reasons given, the appeal is dismissed.
15. The costs of this appeal and the costs in the appearance before Master Bharwaney be to the Plaintiff.
Mr A.T. Reyes, inst’d by M/s Stevenson, Wong & Lai, for the Plaintiff/Respondent
Mr Anthony Ismail, inst’d by M/s Lovell White Durrant, for the Defendant/Appellant