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Prudential's S$2.5b damages claim branded 'absurd' by lawyers

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Prudential plc has been blinded by Othello's green-eyed monster of envy and fear in claiming as much as S$2.5 billion in damages from its former star Singapore agent, the city-state's High Court has heard.

[SINGAPORE] Prudential plc has been blinded by Othello's green-eyed monster of envy and fear in claiming as much as S$2.5 billion in damages from its former star Singapore agent, the city-state's High Court has heard.

The London-based insurer is suing Peter Tan Shou Yi, claiming that in 2016 he masterminded the mass defection of 244 agents and agency leaders to rival Aviva plc. In their opening submission on Friday, which started with a quote from Shakespeare's play, Mr Tan's lawyers said the claim was "absurd" and an attempt "by a corporate giant to wreak vengeance on a former independent contractor".

In a case with all the trappings of a spy thriller - including allegations of clandestine meetings in China, secret recordings and disgruntled agents - Prudential claims Mr Tan orchestrated the defection "surreptitiously", while simultaneously telling the insurer he had "no intention now to leave Pru" and that "nothing is going to change".

He waited until about 232 agents had resigned in a three-day period before submitting his own resignation while overseas, lawyers for Prudential said in their opening submission. The agents' departure helped precipitate the collapse of a top unit that would have generated S$300 million of profit over a decade, and S$2.5 billion if they stayed in perpetuity, according to Prudential's claim.

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Prudential also claimed Aviva provided a war chest of between S$100 million to S$150 million to recruit the team. A spokesman for Aviva declined to comment because the case is before the court.

In response, Mr Tan's lawyers said the alleged damages were an "absurd computation" and Prudential had been "blinded by its envy and fear of legitimate competition."

Disputed recordings

Rather than enticing the agents to leave, they were disgruntled by cost cuts introduced by Philip Seah, who became CEO of the Singapore business in December 2015, and changes to pay structures that could cost a top-performing agent more than S$30,000 in annual bonuses, Mr Tan's lawyers said.

Much of Prudential's case hinges on 17 audio recordings made by one of the agents who originally agreed to attend meetings with Mr Tan in China in May 2016.

Prudential argues she was asked by Mr Tan to delete her WhatsApp chat history and that agents were given copies of presentation materials inscribed with their names so any leaks could be traced.

Mr Tan's defence team in turn described the recordings as having "numerous problems", ranging from incorrect dates and possible alterations, to being used out of context.

It argues that while Prudential included non-solicitation clauses in contracts from 2007 and later sent around new terms, they didn't apply to Mr Tan because he first came on board in 1997 and subsequently never signed a written agreement that included such a requirement.

He is counter-suing, and seeking costs against Prudential.

The case is Prudential Assurance Co Singapore (PTE) Ltd v Peter Tan Shou Yi and PTO Management & Consultancy Pte Ltd.

BLOOMBERG