SINGAPORE - It was an anonymous letter by a whistle-blower accusing Fuji Xerox Singapore managing director Bert Wong of "bribery and criminal breach of trust" that triggered a special audit in 2017.
But even though a three-month investigation by external auditors found no evidence of fraud on the part of Mr Wong, who was nearing retirement, he was sacked and denied a retirement payout of close to $1.3 million.
On Tuesday (Aug 4), the start of a High Court hearing into his wrongful dismissal suit, his lawyers contended that high-level executives within the Japan-headquartered multinational corporation had "orchestrated Mr Wong's summary dismissal at the doorstep of his retirement".
Mr Wong, 64, who started out as a photocopier salesman in 1980 and rose through the ranks over 38 years, is claiming a total of more than $1.5 million, comprising his retirement payout and other remuneration.
"This is a case of corporate betrayal," said his lawyers, Mr Wendell Wong and Mr Jared Chen, in their opening statement.
The lawyers said there was evidence that while the audit was still ongoing, several executives in Japan were having e-mail discussions on the actions to be taken against him.
They suggested that the company, which was then reeling from a massive accounting scandal at its Australia and New Zealand subsidiaries, had cast him aside to show stakeholders that decisive action was being taken throughout the entire group.
Fuji Xerox, represented by Mr Aaron Lee, denied the conspiracy claim, calling it "nothing more than a product of the plaintiff's own creative imagination and paranoia".
The company has counterclaimed against Mr Wong, alleging that he caused nearly $3 million in losses by "recklessly" causing it to enter into numerous business transactions that were against its best interests.
In mid-2017, the Fuji Xerox brand took a hit worldwide after a 52-day special audit in Australia and New Zealand revealed accounting irregularities that caused losses of about US$350 million.
In August 2017, the Singapore subsidiary received a letter containing allegations of misconduct in the way Mr Bert Wong managed the business.
Deloitte & Touche was hired to investigate the allegations, while an internal team also carried out its own probe.
Mr Wong was sacked without notice in December 2017. He said he was not told of the specific grounds for his dismissal until he started legal action.
Fuji Xerox contended that the audit revealed numerous irregularities in past business transactions, including agreements in 2014 and 2015 to lease diving equipment to a company known as Marine Offshore Services.
It said it was entitled to dismiss Mr Wong because of the way he handled these transactions and exposed the company to unnecessary financial liability.
The trial, which is scheduled for eight days, continues on Wednesday.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.