SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Six former BP employees sued by the oil major for breach of contract in Singapore have applied to the court to set aside a search order that had allowed BP’s lawyers to seize their personal computers, mobile phones and thumb drives, court documents showed.
Documents filed with the Singapore High Court by the defence last Thursday alleged that the orders against them were oppressive and had been for “unlawful or illegitimate reasons.”
The filings highlight the manner of the execution of the seizure by BP, in particular, the seizure of mobile phones and laptops used by the six former employees’ spouses and children, the search of the handbag of the wife of one of them and the search of one former employees’ son’s school book folder.
BP had obtained and executed the search orders against the six at their homes to search for and preserve evidence before it could be destroyed, the documents said.
In their application for the order to be set aside, the defendants also alleged that BP had failed to disclose material facts to the court when the search orders were obtained and that there was no evidence put forward by BP at the hearing of the risk that the six would destroy evidence.
A separate closed-door hearing will take place to establish if the court should set aside the order at a date yet to be fixed. The six can seek damages if the court agrees with them to set it aside.
BP has accused the six -- ex-head of global fuel oil trading, Quek Chin Thean, the Asia head of its marine fuels business, Clarence Chang, trading manager John Foo, head of operations for all oil products in Asia, Paul John Bradshaw, legal manager Simon Cheong and administrative executive Laura Kuan -- of breaching their fiduciary duties, employment contracts, including their fidelity duties, as well as misusing confidential information.
In the suit, BP said Quek and Cheong engineered the mass departures of the 20 staff and conducted negotiations with Hong Kong-listed Brightoil, which it described as a direct competitor, about moving over and setting up a competing business from January this year, while employed by the oil major.
The company said it conducted an investigation, using forensic analysis of electronic equipment, and uncovered evidence of e-mail correspondence between the six as well as with Brightoil chairman Raymond Sit.
The correspondence allegedly showed that they coordinated the mass resignations, discussed terms for salary, share schemes and the buyout bonuses as well as diverting business away from BP, court documents showed.
The six vigorously deny the allegations made against them and will be filing substantive defences in or around mid-August.
The six assert that their resignation was not unusual in light of the fact that since the start of the year, the department in which they were working in BP had seen 40-50 resignations.
They maintained in their court filings that each had their own reasons for wanting to leave BP and had never acted against BP’s interests while employed by the oil major.
The six also state they did not induce anyone else to leave BP and join Brightoil. They assert that “beyond hazy inferences and vague allegations,” BP had not established that any of the six had committed any wrongdoing.
BP has since replaced some of the personnel who left, including the key positions of global and regional trading heads for fuel oil, as well as hiring two external fuel oil traders, taking its Singapore team to full strength with six traders.
BP is the largest marine fuels supplier by volume in Singapore, the world’s top bunker port, accounting for about 10 percent of the city-state’s average monthly volumes of 3.2-3.3 million tonnes.
It has also been a major player in the fuel oil cargo trading market for more than a decade, regularly mounting profitable trading plays, prior to the resignations of their long-serving team.
Editing by Ramthan Hussain and Michael Urquhart
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.