B2C2 Ltd v Quoine Pte Ltd

Bread & Kaya: Malaysia’s first digital currency court case

By Foong Cheng Leong
December 17, 2019
– Digital currencies can be used to raise funds, make purchases or traded online
– Anyone operating a digital assets exchange platform must obtain approval from the SC

DIGITAL currencies are a form of digital asset. They can be used to raise funds, purchase goods or services and even traded online instantaneously without any border restrictions.

Digital currencies are now traded on the Internet through, among others, digital assets exchange platforms. Due to their popularity, the prices of certain digital currencies such as Bitcoin are volatile.

Bank Negara Malaysia has declared that digital currencies are not legal tender in Malaysia. However, this does not mean that trading of digital currencies is illegal. Trading of digital currencies is legal in Malaysia but any person operating a digital assets exchange platform must obtain approval from the Securities Commission.

Currently, there are three Recognised Market Operators (RMOs) registered by the Securities Commission to operate digital asset exchanges in Malaysia.

In the meantime, the Securities Commission has also issued Public Consultation Paper No. 1/2019 Proposed Regulatory Framework for the Issuance of Digital Assets Through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).

The issuance or offering of certain digital assets to the public will require prior approval or authorisation from the Securities Commission and compliance with the relevant laws and regulations.

Capital Markets and Services (Prescription of Securities) (Digital Currency and Digital Token) Order 2019

The Capital Markets and Services (Prescription of Securities) (Digital Currency and Digital Token) Order 2019 was introduced to recognise certain digital currency and digital token as “securities” thus making securities laws such as the Capital Markets and Services Act 2007 applicable to them.

Reg 2 of the Order 2019 has defined digital assets as:

  • Digital Currency: a digital representation of value which is recorded on a distributed digital ledger whether cryptographically-secured or otherwise, that functions as a medium of exchange and is interchangeable with any money, including through the crediting or debiting of an account; or
  • Digital Token: a digital representation which is recorded on a distributed digital ledger whether cryptographically-secured or otherwise.

Not all digital currency or digital tokens are securities under the Capital Markets and Services Act 2007. Reg. 3 of the Order provides the relevant criteria. In respect of a digital currency, a digital currency which: —

  1. is traded in a place or on a facility where offers to sell, purchase, or exchange of, the digital currency are regularly made or accepted;
  2. a person expects a return in any form from the trading, conversion or redemption of the digital currency or the appreciation in the value of the digital currency; and
  3. is not issued or guaranteed by any government body or central banks as may be specified by the Securities Commission,
  4. is prescribed as securities for the purposes of the securities laws.

As for digital token, a digital token which represents a right or interest of a person in any arrangement made for the purpose of, or having the effect of, providing facilities for the person, where: —

  1. the person receives the digital token in exchange for a consideration;
    the consideration or contribution from the person, and the income or returns, are pooled;
  2. the income or returns of the arrangement are generated from the acquisition, holding, management or disposal of any property or assets or business activities;
  3. the person expects a return in any form from the trading, conversion or redemption of the digital token or the appreciation in the value of the digital token;
  4. the person does not have day-to-day control over the management of the property, assets or business of the arrangement; and
  5. the digital token is not issued or guaranteed by any government body or central banks as may be specified by the Securities Commission,
    is prescribed as securities for the purposes of the securities laws

Foreign cases

While laws and regulations are being drafted by Governments to deal with digital assets, digital asset disputes are slowly creeping into Courts and the Courts have been applying existing traditional laws into modern technology.

In the English case of Vorotyntseva v Money-4 Ltd (t/a Nebeus.com) [2018] EWHC 2596 (Ch), the High Court dealt with a freezing order against a cryptocurrency platform operator and its directors to restrain them from dissipating their assess. The claimant in this case had deposited a substantial quantity of Bitcoin and Ethereum cryptocurrencies with the operator and became concerned when the operator in this case become uncontactable.

Similarly, in the Hong Kong case of Nico Constantijn Antonius Samara v Stive Jean Paul Dan [2019] HKCFI 2718, the Hong Kong High Court granted a freezing injunction against a French cryptocurrency trader from disposing of his assets in Hong Kong in a dispute over Bitcoin trading on a trading platform. The Plaintiff in this case had money held by the French cryptocurrency trader in his Citibank account in Hong Kong.

In the Singapore case of B2C2 Ltd v Quoine Pte Ltd [2017] SGHC(I) 11, the Singapore International Commercial Court held that the operator of a virtual currency exchange platform was liable for breach of contract and breach of trust in reversing trades made at an abnormal exchange rate. For the first time, the Singapore International Commercial Court applied the law of contract to virtual currencies, finding that virtual currencies have the hallmark characteristics of property and applying the law of unilateral mistake to a case involving algorithmic trading.

Digital currency dispute finally lands in our Court

In 2018, a cryptocurrency trader was sued by two cryptocurrency-exchange related providers for the return of Bitcoins mistakenly transferred to him.

This case is important to the digital currency industry because our Court has decided for the first time that:

– cryptocurrency trading is not illegal in Malaysia;
– digital currency is a form of an intangible asset; and
– digital currency is a “thing” that that has to be returned if it is mistakenly delivered.

The facts of the case of Luno Pte Ltd & Anor v Robert Ong Thien Cheng (Sessions Court Civil Suit No. BA-B52NCVC-389-12/2017) (Unreported) are as follow.

The 1st Plaintiff conducts its business as an online wallet and exchange of digital currencies, also known as cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, under the trade name of Luno.

Every registered customer of Luno will be allocated a Luno account known as ‘Luno Wallet’ whereby they are able to buy, sell, send, receive and store cryptocurrencies.

The 1st Plaintiff wholly owns the 2nd Plaintiff and the 2nd Plaintiff acts as the intermediary regional operating centre of the 1st Plaintiff which holds the bank account that accepts deposits from Luno customers in Malaysia.

After the customer deposits a sum to the account held by 2nd Plaintiff, the 1st Plaintiff will allocate the deposit to the customer’s respective Luno wallet for them to utilise to trade cryptocurrencies.

The Defendant is a registered user of Luno and has been allocated a Luno Wallet. On Oct 30, 2017, the Defendant deposited RM300,000.00 into the bank account held by the 2nd Plaintiff which was subsequently transferred into the said Luno Wallet and reflected therein accordingly.

At that juncture, the Defendant had a total of RM300,228.58 and 0.616814 Bitcoin in his said Luno Wallet. On Nov 1, 2017, the Defendant converted RM300,228.00 contained in the said Luno Wallet into 10.70163257 units of Bitcoins, leaving the total number of Bitcoins in his said Luno Wallet to be 11.31844657.

On the same day, the Defendant requested for 11.3 Bitcoins to be withdrawn from the said Luno Wallet to be to his Bitfinex e-wallet account and his request was duly carried out. The Defendant’s Bitfinex account is managed and operated by iFinex Inc. (BVI) (‘Bitfinex’), another third party cryptocurrency online trading platform unrelated to the Plaintiffs.

On Nov 1, 2017, the 1st Plaintiff mistakenly transferred an additional 11.3 Bitcoins onto the Defendant’s Bitfinex Account after having transferred the initial 11.3 Bitcoins on the same day.

The 1st Plaintiff notified the Defendant of the mistakenly transferred additional 11.3 Bitcoins on Nov 2, 2017 via email dated Nov 2, 2017. The 1st Plaintiff requested for 11.3 Bitcoins to be returned to the 1st Plaintiff as it was Bitcoins that were mistakenly transferred into the Defendant’s Bitfinex Account. The Defendant acknowledged and admitted that he is required to return the additional 11.3 Bitcoins that were mistakenly transferred to him. In this regard, the Defendant had offered to pay the 1st Plaintiff cash of RM300,000.00 at the end of November 2017, about one month after the mistaken transfer. However, this was not acceptable to the Plaintiffs as the value of Bitcoins fluctuates day-to-day.

The Defendant, although admitting to receiving the additional 11.3 Bitcoins and acknowledging the need to return them, has failed, refused and/or neglected to do so. The Plaintiffs initiated this action against the Defendant to recover the mistakenly transferred 11.3 Bitcoins by returning the said 11.3 Bitcoins and if the Defendant fails to do so, the sum of RM810,837.00 equivalent to 11.3 Bitcoins calculated based on the Luno exchange market price of RM71,756.00 per Bitcoin at the time of the filing of the action.

The Defendant argued that, among others, Bitcoins are not a “thing” capable of being returned as envisaged under s. 73 Contracts Act 1950, and that transfer was actually a mistake.

S. 73 provides: –

Liability of person to whom money is paid, or thing delivered, by mistake or under coercion
A person to whom money has been paid, or anything delivered, by mistake or under coercion, must repay or return it.

The Defendant also alleged that all 22.6 Bitcoins in his Bitfinex account were converted into B2x CST futures on an “automated setting” allegedly prior to his knowledge of the mistakenly transferred additional 11.3 Bitcoins. Therefore, he would not be able to return the Bitcoins.

A counterclaim was filed by the Defendant on the ground that the 1st Plaintiff had ‘colluded’ with Bitfinex and/or ‘interfered’ Bitfinex’s decision in suspending the Defendant’s Bitfinex Account that in turn resulted in his alleged losses of B2x CST futures. He sued for 169,6267258 units of B2x CST futures or the sum of RM806,071.87 being the sum equivalent.

The learned Sessions Court Judge granted the Plaintiffs’ claim and ordered the return of the Bitcoins or its equivalent in Ringgit Malaysia as of the date of filing of the action. He held: –

  1. The Defendant admitted that the mistakenly transferred 11.3 Bitcoins does not belong to him and thus, he is under a duty to return the same. There are also contemporaneous documents to show that the Defendant had agreed to return the mistakenly transferred 11.3 Bitcoins, albeit in the form of cash. In this regard, the Defendant had offered to pay the 1st Plaintiff the sum of RM300,000.00 and this is evident from his email dated Nov 2, 2017 to the Plaintiffs. In another email dated Nov 4, 2017, the Defendant stated that the price of Bitcoin was volatile and high and requested for more time for the Bitcoin to settle at a better rate for him to repay back the mistakenly transferred 11.3 Bitcoins. It is thus obvious to the Court that the reason why he refused to repay back the mistakenly transferred 11.3 Bitcoins was due to the very high rate and it was on that basis he had requested for the price to settle so that he can buy it at a lower rate.
  2. The Defendant claimed that the offer to pay the sum of RM300,000.00 was out of ‘goodwill’ for the mistakenly utilising the mistakenly transferred 11.3 Bitcoins and therefore the Plaintiffs are estopped from claiming it. The Court found that estoppel does not apply herein as the Plaintiffs have never indicated that they are agreeable to the alleged ‘goodwill’ payment.
  3. The Defendant contended that cryptocurrency is illegal in Malaysia and therefore, the Plaintiffs are not entitled to recover the same. The learned Sessions Court Judge dismissed his contention. He held that whilst cryptocurrency is not recognised as legal tender in Malaysia, this does not mean that the Plaintiffs’ operation is illegal. In fact, the 1st Plaintiff is registered as a reporting entity with Bank Negara Malaysia and this is supported by contemporaneous documents. The fact that the 1st Plaintiff is registered as a reporting entity to Bank Negara on cryptocurrency is in itself proof that the 1st Plaintiff’s operations are not illegal. If the 1st Plaintiff’s operations are deemed illegal by Bank Negara, reasonably the 1st Plaintiff would not be registered as a reporting entity. Further, the fact that the Bank Negara Malaysia put forth the initiative to have cryptocurrency exchanges registered as reporting institutions is indicative that the trading of cryptocurrencies is not illegal in Malaysia. Further, this recognises that cryptocurrencies carry value that may be exchanged with real money despite not being recognised as legal tender.
  4. The Defendant argued that the said 11.3 Bitcoins do not belong to the Plaintiffs and therefore the Plaintiffs do not have any locus to commence this action to recover the 11.3 Bitcoins. The Court rejected this argument as the position of the Plaintiffs in “holding” the cryptocurrency (i.e. Bitcoins) is akin to that of the bank where customers deposit the monies. As such, if the bank had mistakenly transferred monies into another person’s account, this does not mean that the bank has no locus to initiate an action to recover the monies.
  5. The Defendant contended that the Malaysian Court has no jurisdiction to hear the Plaintiffs’ claim. In this regard, the Defendant claims that the Plaintiffs’ claim is subject to Singapore law. The Court rejected this contention. The terms and conditions containing the jurisdiction clause in Singapore do not apply to the present case as the new terms and conditions only took effect after the incident. In this regard, the present case is governed by the old terms and conditions which does not contain any jurisdiction clause. Further, there is no basis in the Defendant’s contention as he has now submitted to the jurisdiction of the Malaysian Court by filing his counter claim against the Plaintiffs. In any event, the Court found that the purported terms and conditions that the Defendant is now seeking to rely on does not apply to him as it is expressly stated on Luno’s website that the new terms and conditions are to take effect after the incident.
  6. The Court found that cryptocurrency although is not money in the legal sense, is a form of commodity as real money is used to purchase the cryptocurrency. Accordingly, cryptocurrency falls within the definition of “anything” under s. 73 of the Contracts Act 1950. There is value attached to Bitcoin in the same way as shares do. Bitcoin may not be currency or money per se, but it is a form of commodity, albeit in an intangible form. Accordingly, the Defendant is bound in law and/or equity to return the additional 11.3 Bitcoins to the Plaintiffs that never belonged to the Defendant.
  7. The Defendant claimed that all 22.6 Bitcoins in his Bitfinex account were converted into 82x CST futures on an “automated setting”, allegedly prior to his knowledge of the mistakenly transferred additional 11.3 Bitcoins. The Court did not accept the Defendant’s allegation as it was not substantiated with any reliable evidence.
  8. In view of the Defendant’s actual knowledge and awareness prior to converting 22.6 Bitcoins to B2x CST futures, the Defendant is bound by principles of natural justice and equity to return the mistakenly transferred 11.3 Bitcoins to the Plaintiffs. the Defendant cannot be allowed to be unjustly enriched at the expense of the 1st Plaintiff.
  9. The Defendant is claiming an alleged bona fide change of position on the basis that the 11.3 Bitcoins are no longer available as the B2x CST futures purchased by him did not materialise and its value is now close to nil. However, the Court found that this altered position of the Defendant was self-induced and not bona fide due to the established fact that the Defendant conducted the transaction to convert all 22.6 Bitcoins to B2x CST futures despite realising that something was “amiss”. He cannot claim the defence of bona fide change of position as he utilised the additional 11.3 Bitcoins in his Bitfinex Account to purchase another type of cryptocurrency.
  10. The Court found that when the Defendant became aware of his receipt of the additional 11.3 Bitcoins, the principles of equity comes into play whereby if his conscience would be affected upon learning of the mistake, the Defendant is then imposed a constructive trust by the laws of equity which he is then placed under a fiduciary as a constructive trustee.
  11. The Defendant argued that the Plaintiffs are unable to “recover” the 11.3 Bitcoins due to the Risk Warning which is found on the Luno Exchange website which states that all transactions that occurs under the Luno Wallet of any user is irreversible. The Court found that the Defendant’s interpretation of the Risk Warning is misplaced. It is to be observed that the Risk Warning stating that the transactions is irreversible applies to those transactions between users and the 1st Plaintiff is still entitled and able to ask for the “return” of the 11.3 Bitcoins. The Defendant’s claimed that once monies have been mistakenly transferred to someone, the monies should be left with them and according to the Defendant pursuant to a “common position accepted in the cryptocurrency world”. The Court could not accept the argument as there was no evidence of this “common position accepted in the cryptocurrency world”. It is clear that the Defendant had agreed to return or repay back the mistakenly transferred 11.3 Bitcoins and this argument on “irreversibility” was only raised at this juncture to defeat the Plaintiffs’ claim. At the time when the Plaintiffs demanded the return of the mistakenly transferred 11.3 Bitcoins, the Defendant never raised any issue that the same cannot be returned due to the Risk Warning. the Defendant’s position is an afterthought and he is now estopped from reneging his earlier position.
  12. In respect of the Defendant’s counter claim, the Court found that the Defendant has failed to lead any evidence to substantiate his allegation that the 1st Plaintiff had colluded with Bitfinex and/or interfered in Bitfinex’s decision in suspending the Defendant’s Bitfinex Account that in turn resulted in his alleged losses of B2x CST futures. The 1st Plaintiff have no control or authority over the conduct and management of Bitfinex and/or the Defendant’s Bitfinex Account. All the Plaintiff did was to notify Bitfinex on the mistaken transfer and requested Bitfinex to hold the funds belonging to the Defendant in his Bitfinex account in order to preserve status quo pending negotiations and their attempts to reclaim the 11.3 Bitcoins from the Defendant and nothing more.

On appeal to the High Court (Shah Alam High Court Civil Appeal No. 12BNCVC-91-10/2018), the learned High Court Judge dismissed the appeal and upheld the Sessions Court Judge’s decision. In addition, his Lordship held: –

  1. While cryptocurrency is not ‘money’ (i.e.,: legal tender) as we know in the traditional sense, it has been recently defined as a form of ‘security’ by s. 3 of the Capital Markets and Services (Prescription of Securities) (Digital Currency and Digital Token) Order 2019 which had defined digital currency as a form of “security”. It cannot be disputed that it is a form of ‘commodity’ as real money is used to purchase the cryptocurrency. In this regard, there is indeed value attached to the Bitcoin in the same way as value is attached to ‘shares’. The Contracts Act 1950 having been drafted some seven decades ago ought to be construed to reflect changes in modern technology and commerce. In view of the aforesaid, the High Court held that the term ‘anything’ in s. 73 is plainly wide enough to cover Bitcoins. The mistaken transfer of the 11.3 Bitcoins was a result of a technical glitch and not due to a mistake of fact or law.
  2. In relation to the argument that Plaintiffs lack the locus standi to initiate an action for the recovery of the 11.3 Bitcoins, the learned High Court Judge held that up until the point the Bitcoins are assigned to a specified user, it is just a pool of Bitcoins that Luno has full custody and control of. Hence, it was incorrect to suggest that the Plaintiffs were not the legal and beneficial owners of the 11.3 Bitcoins.
  3. The crux of this appeal turns on the correct interpretation of s. 73 of the Contracts Act, 1952 and the application of s. 73 to the instant facts. The terms are plainly wide enough to be invoked for the return the 11.3 Bitcoins wrongly or mistakenly transferred into the account of the Defendant.
  4. The Plaintiffs’ cryptocurrency online exchange is not illegal and/or contrary to public policy. There was no material or evidence before the Court below that. Although cryptocurrency is not recognised as legal tender in our jurisdiction, the Plaintiffs’ whole operation is not illegal and cannot sustain the claim for restitution.
  5. In respect of the counterclaim, the learned High Court Judge agreed with the Sessions Court Judge that the Defendant’s allegation had not been substantiated on the proven facts and evidence.

Closing

To put this case in simple words, this is a case where the Plaintiff had mistakenly transferred Bitcoins to the Defendant and the former wants the latter to return it. The Defendant on the other hand claimed that he is unable to do so as he no longer has it.

Unlike the usual tangible products, this is a case which deals with digital currency which has very volatile value.

The Plaintiff had also demanded that if the Defendant is unable to return the 11.3 Bitcoins, he had to pay the sum of RM810,837.00 equivalent to 11.3 Bitcoins calculated based on the Luno exchange market price of RM71,756.00 per Bitcoin at the time of the filing of the action.

The Court held that, among others, the Defendant had a duty to return the Bitcoins and there is no evidence that he no longer has those Bitcoins. 

The matter is now pending appeal at the Court of Appeal.




First published on Digital News Asia on 17 December 2019.

Bread & Kaya: 2017 Cyberlaw Cases Pt2 – viral content, Uber and appearance of an emoji

By Foong Cheng Leong
Mar 29, 2018

A video clip that was viewed 3 million times deemed to be the truth of an incident
Groupon has its day in court, twice with users not happy with merchants

CARRYING off from where I left off in part one of my review of the interesting Cyberlaw related cases that came to the courts in 2017, I start off with viral content and a case where a video was shared almost 50,000 times. And while Uber Technologies is merging its operations with Grab, it still had its day in court last year with a case in Sabah.

Viral Content

The case of Public Prosecutor v Poovarasan Subramaniam & 2 Others [2017] 1 LNS 1619 determined whether a viral video can be admitted as evidence in a criminal trial.

The 3 accused were charged for murder for a man who had allegedly stolen a mobile phone. In the course of trial during the Prosecution’s case, the Prosecution sought to adduce in evidence a VCD containing a video clip that captured a portion of the incident wherein the victim was assaulted by several men. The video clip went viral on the internet and a prosecution witness had downloaded the same from the blog KITABANTAI into the VCD.

The second accused strenuously objected to the admissibility of the VCD principally because the authenticity of the contents of the VCD is questionable. A trial within a trial (TWT) was held to consider the admissibility of the VCD.

During the TWT, the Prosecution called two bloggers, namely the owners of the blogs KITABANTAI and SIAKAPKELI who had published the video clip, to testify as to the origin of the video clip. KITABANTAI stated that the video came from SIAKAPKELI. SIAKAPKELI later revealed that the video clip came from an online news website called MYNEWSHUB. However, the journalist at MYNEWSHUB does not the exact source of the video clip.

Notwithstanding that the person who originally recorded the video clip live and thereafter uploaded the same in the social media could not be traced and produced in Court as witness, the learned High Court Judge was satisfied that the police investigation team and the Prosecution have used their best endeavours to produce the evidence of the chain of movement of the video clip in cyberspace till it was extracted by the police. The said video clip was admitted as evidence following ss. 90A(1) and (2) and 90C of the Evidence Act 1950. The learned Judge stated that he has no reason to believe that the video clip wasn’t authentic in the circumstances.

This case is in stark contrast with the case of Tan Chow Cheang v Pendakwa Raya (Criminal Appeal No. J-05(LB)-54-01/2016). In this case, the accused was charged with drug trafficking under s. 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952. During the examination of one of the raiding officer, the defence suddenly produced a CCTV recording in a pen drive showing that the drug was planted. On completion of the raiding officer’s evidence, the High Court granted the accused a discharge not amounting to acquittal upon the prosecution’s application notwithstanding that the defence had submitted that the accused was entitled to be acquitted and discharged as upon the production of the CCTV recording, the sole or main prop in the prosecution case collapsed prematurely.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court. The Court of Appeal was of the view that the production of a certificate under s. 90A(2) of the Evidence Act 1950 is not the conclusive way to prove the pen drive’s admissibility. The Court of Appeal held that “to allow it to be admitted in such circumstances in, our view, would be open to abuse. It is not impossible during this era of modern technology for images to be superimposed or tempered with. Therefore, it is only safe for witnesses to be called either to confirm or to rebut it“.

In another case involving viral video (Datuk Wira SM Faisal Sm Nasimuddin Kamal v. Emilia Hanafi & Ors [2017] 1 LNS 1373), the Plaintiff and his ex-wife (1st Defendant) were in Syariah Court of Kuala Lumpur to resolve their matrimonial dispute/issues. Together with them were the family members of the Plaintiff and the 1st Defendant, among others.

On 20.9.2016, the Syariah Court ordered the children of the Plaintiff and 1st Defendant to spend a night with the Plaintiff at his home. The Judge of the Syariah High Court further ordered that the children must not be forced if they do not want to follow the Plaintiff. After that, the proceedings between Plaintiff and 1st Defendant was adjourned for the day.

A video recording was taken after the proceeding in the Syariah Court had ended. The video allegedly showed the aggressive behaviour and use of force by Plaintiff outside the courtroom towards both his 2nd child and wife. The 1st to 4th Defendants then shared the said video clip. The 3rd Defendant had uploaded the video clip on her Snapchat virtual page with the words “SMF shoved them to the ground when he gave up” whereas the 1st Defendant had also uploaded the video clip on her Instagram account with the caption “A mother’s heartache .” On a side note, this is probably the first written judgment in Malaysia featuring an emoji.

The Plaintiff alleged that the video clip went viral. The video clip spread so widely that:

(a) Up to 3 million people viewed the video clip;

(b) Nearly 50 thousand people shared and/or distributed the video clip;

(c) Nearly 15 thousand people made comments, conclusions and/or inferences against the Plaintiff as result of the video clip.”

The Plaintiff sued the Defendants for publishing the video clip. Notwithstanding that the video clip went viral, the High Court struck out the Plaintiff’s case. The learned High Court Judge held that:-

“The video recording that was published was undisputably a recording of an actual and real incident and therefore, cannot be denied as being the truth.”

“The objectionable words and statements complained of are not prima facie defamatory. In fact, the same do not substantially even make reference to Plaintiff nor do they directly or by implication refer to or implicate Plaintiff.”

In Synergistic Duo Sdn Bhd v. Lai Mei Juan [2017] 9 CLJ 244, the Plaintiff sued the Defendant for publishing two (2) Facebook postings in relation to the bad service by BGT Lakeview Restaurant operated by the Plaintiff. The second posting went viral and were shared more than 9,500 times and was reposted and published in newspapers, websites, blogs and other Facebook pages. The Plaintiff submitted that: (i) because of the postings, many of its customers cancelled their bookings and reservations; and (ii) if the Defendant was not restrained by way of an interim injunction, the Plaintiff would continue to suffer grave irreparable loss and damage to its reputation and goodwill.

In granting the Plaintiff’s application for interim injunction, the learned Judicial Commissioner held that the continued publication of postings on the Defendant’s Facebook would cause the Plaintiff’s to suffer further damage to their reputation and goodwill as the potential re-publication of the postings to potentially unlimited number of internet users would irreparably harm the plaintiff’s reputation: which harm cannot be adequately compensated with damages.

Digital Currencies

Due to the rising popularity of digital currencies in Malaysia, Bank Negara issued an exposure draft by the name of Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) – Digital Currencies (Sector 6). The document outlines the proposed requirements and standards that a digital currency exchanger as defined under the First Schedule of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (AMLA) must carry out as reporting institutions. This is to ensure effective and robust Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) control measures are in place to safeguard the safety and integrity of the financial system as well as to promote greater transparency in the conduct of digital currencies transactions.

The draft exposure sets out the minimum requirements and standards that digital currency exchangers must observe as reporting institutions to increase the transparency of activities relating to digital currencies and ensure effective and robust AML/CFT control measures are in place to mitigate risks that digital currency exchangers may be used as conduits for illegal activities. Such requirement include conducting risk assessment, risk control and mitigation, risk profiling and customer due diligence, among others.

Digital currency exchangers must also comply with requirements in the document relating to: the identification and verification of customers and beneficial owners, on-going monitoring of customers’ transactions, sanction screening, suspicious transaction reporting and record keeping; transparency obligations; and requirements for the submission of data and statistics to the Bank for the purpose of managing ML/TF risks.

The document is applicable to reporting institutions, regardless that the person is not domiciled in Malaysia, carrying on the following activities listed in Paragraph 25 of the First Schedule to the AMLA:-

activities carried out by any person who provides any or any combination of the following services:

(i) exchanging digital currency for money;

(ii) exchanging money for digital currency; or

(iii) exchanging one digital currency for another digital currency, whether in the course of carrying on a digital currency exchange business or otherwise.

Singapore saw its first cryptocurrency dispute in its Court. The case of B2C2 Ltd v Quoine Pte Ltd [2017] SGHC(I) 11 concerns a cryptocurrency transaction dispute between the Plaintiff (a foreign electronic maker for virtual currency) and Defendant (an online virtual currency exchange platform provider in Singapore) which involves Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant had acted in breach of the contract between them and breach of trust when the platform reversed transactions for the sale and purchase of the cryptocurrencies Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The transactions were unilaterally reversed after the Defendant identified that a technical glitch had occurred to the software used by the platform. Consequently, the Plaintiff had lost the benefit which it could have made if the transaction was not reversed.

The Defendant argued that there was unilateral mistake involved and they are entitled to reverse the transaction. The Plaintiff sought an order for summary judgment.

The Singapore International Court dismissed the summary judgment application by the Plaintiff as there were triable issues raised by Defendant and held that “a thorough investigation of the facts behind the setting of the abnormally high offer price is justified in order to place the court in a proper position fully to assess the state of the Plaintiff’s knowledge”as well as “the law on unilateral mistake where computers are involved in greater detail”.

E-Hailing Services

During the hype of prosecution of drivers of e-hailing vehicle, one Joe Vincent Singgoh sought an order from Court to protect drivers from such prosecution in Sabah. In the case of Joe Vincent Singgoh v Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board Sabah 1 & Ors (Sabah High Court Judicial Review No. BKI-13NCvC-10/10-2016), the Applicant, a person registered with e-hailing service provider Uber Technologies Inc. as a driver, had sought several orders amongst which an order of prohibition against the 1st and 2nd Respondents from relying on the provisions of Section 33 of the Commercial Licensing Vehicles Act 1987 to prosecute or prohibit the Applicant from using the services of Uber Technologies Inc. The Applicant also sought a mandatory injunction was also sought to restrain the prosecution, prohibition of the Applicant to drive or make drives for Uber.

The High Court held that the aggrieved person in this case is not the applicant. The proper person is Uber Technologies Inc. Uber Technologies Inc. has not made any application to the relevant authorities in Sabah for the relevant permits or licences. And in so far as Section 33 is concerned, Uber Technologies Inc. is the ‘person’ responsible to obtain such approvals and not the Applicant. It is not explained or disclosed why this is so.

The Court also held that whatever Uber is promoting is unlawful and illegal. Whether the Government will grant Uber Technologies Inc. the necessary approval or not is a matter for the former to decide as a matter of policy and the Applicants are not entitled to come to court to seek a prohibitive order to pre-empt any legal action that may be taken by the Police of JPJ to enforce the law.

However, the Government will soon be legalising operators of e-hailing service providers and their drivers. The Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (Amendment) Act 2017 and Land Public Transport (Amendment) Act 2017 were introduced to amend the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board Act 1987 (“CVLBA”) (applicable to Sabah, Sarawak and the Federal Territory of Labuan) and the Land Public Transport Act 2010 (“LPTA”) (applicable to Peninsular Malaysia) respectively to introduce the licensing of intermediation business. Intermediation business is defined as “business of facilitating arrangements, booking or transactions of e-hailing vehicle (pursuant to the new amendment to CVLBA) and for the provision of land public transport services (pursuant to the new amendment to LPTA). These amendments is clearly intended to regulate e-hailing services such as Uber and Grab.

The Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (Amendment) Act 2017 and Land Public Transport (Amendment) Act 2017 also introduced a new class of commercial vehicle namely e-hailing vehicle. This would include the cars driving by Grab and Uber drivers.

Once these amendments are enforced, e-hailing providers like Grab and Uber and also their drivers would need to be registered.

E-Commerce

Groupon Malaysia had another challenging year. The Court had to decide in two (2) cases whether Groupon should be liable for the payment made to them for the purchase of products and services on the Groupon website.

In Groupon Sdn Bhd v Tribunal Tuntutan Pengguna & Anor [2016] 1 LNS 555, the Groupon user in this case bought a tour travel package vide its platform from one of Groupon’s merchants and paid RM999 (tour travel package) and RM652 (compulsory airport tax, surcharges and tipping) to Groupon and the merchant respectively. However, the said merchant allegedly cancelled the tour and Groupon made a refund of only RM999 to the user. Dissatisfied, the user demanded the refund of RM652. Upon the rejection by Groupon, the user filed a complaint to the Consumer Tribunal and it held in favour of the user i.e. Groupon is liable for the said amount of RM652.

Groupon contended that there is an exclusion provision in the travel voucher which states that the RM652 charges is to be paid to the merchant, hence, Groupon should not be compelled to pay for monies it had not received in the first place. The Court conceded and held in favour of Groupon, that “it is unmistakable that the airport tax, surcharges and tipping were not included in the tour travel deal. In other words, they were not borne or absorbed by the Applicant”.

In Groupon Sdn Bhd v Tribunal Tuntutan Pengguna & Anor [2016] 1 LNS 1009, similarly, the Groupon user in this case bought a tour travel package vide its platform from one of Groupon’s merchants and paid a RM999 (tour travel package) and RM450 (compulsory airport tax, surcharges and accommodation) respectively to Groupon and the merchant. Therein, the said merchant allegedly cancelled the tour and Groupon made a refund of only RM999 to the user. Dissatisfied, the user demanded the refund of RM450. Upon the rejection by Groupon, the user made a complaint to the Consumer Tribunal and it held in favour of the user i.e Groupon is liable for the third party payment to its merchant.

Groupon contended that there is no contractual relationship between Groupon and the user in the RM450 transaction and hence it shall not be liable to pay. The Court rejected the argument and held in favour of the user that Groupon had acted as an agent for the merchant and made a representation in the travel package voucher, instructing the user to make the RM450 payment to the merchant. Groupon shall be liable for the damages as the contractual relationship was established between Groupon and the user but not between merchant and user.

Defamation

The case of Dato’ Aishaf Falina Bt Ibrahim v Ismail Bin Othman & 2 Ors (Kuala Lumpur Civil Suit No. 22NCVC-352-07/2015) highlighted two interesting points.

The Plaintiff claimed that she was defamed by the retention of the erroneous information in the human resources information system of the 3rd Defendant (her former husband) and its “publication” via the said system. The alleged erroneous information was the information regarding the Plaintiff’s post-divorce marital status with the 1st Defendant, was kept in the 3rd Defendant’s human resources information system for a period of time after she and the 1st Defendant had been divorced. The first question is whether the publication of the erroneous information via the human resources information system amounts to defamation.

The second interesting point is whether the publication on the intranet amounts to publication.

The High Court held that the 2nd and 3rd Defendants are liable in defamation for the retention of erroneous information concerning the Plaintiff’s marital status in the 2nd Defendant’s human resources information system notwithstanding that the error was due to a glitch caused by its source code. The High Court also found that the publication of the erroneous information on the human resources information system via its intranet amounts to publication.

The High Court however dismissed the Plaintiff’s action for tort of misuse of private information as the erroneous information is not private information and there was no misuse of information.

Meanwhile, in Lye Eng Eng & Anor v Ho Kee Jin (Kuala Lumpur High Court Civil Appeal No: WA-12BNCVC-174-11/2016), the High Court, on an appeal from the Sessions Court by the Plaintiff, increased the damages awarded to RM35,000 for defaming the 1st Plaintiff by sending an email containing defamatory statements to 23 persons including those who mattered most to him, namely, his children, his friends and business associates. The Court also held that the Sessions Court Judge had failed to take into consideration of the “gravity of the libel”.

Part 3: In the final part we look at a few cases where individuals ran foul of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and some cases under the Computer Crimes Act.


First published on Digital News Asia on 29 March 2018

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