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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Exec wins RM7mil over firing

A SINGAPOREAN shipping executive has won US$2.3mil (RM7.57mil) in unpaid wages from a major French container shipping company after a six-year tussle.

The case, which was heard in a Hong Kong court, turned on whether Igal Dafni, 66, was sacked as he had claimed or chose to resign in lieu of being terminated.

Hong Kong High Court Recorder Horace Wong judged that Dafni did not resign, but was forced to resign, after having been assured by French firm CMA CGM’s chief executive Jacques Saade that he would be paid his full entitlements under the hire deal.

“The sacking was dressed up as a ‘resignation’, and Dafni took the fig leaf as he had no other choice,” Wong said in a judgment issued last week.

The Israel-born Dafni had previously served in Singapore as area president (Asia) for Israel’s national shipping line Zim Integrated Shipping Service before joining CMA in 2006.

Dafni was hired in November 2006 to run Cheng Lie Navigation, a Taiwanese company CMA was planning to acquire.

The job contract provided for three years of employment.

If his job was terminated after the initial six-month trial period for any reason other than misconduct or fraud, CMA would have to pay the balance due of the wages for the period, among other things.

In April 2007, Dafni began work as CEO of Cheng Lie, which had by then been acquired by CMA. But that December, Zim sued him in Singapore, alleging breach of duties. Zim later lost.

In March 2008, Dafni’s job with Cheng Lie was brought to a premature end when he met Saade in a Taipei hotel at midnight and verbally resigned.

Saade claimed he had chosen to resign, but Dafni disputed this, saying he was told to go by Saade “in the light of the adverse publicity” generated by the Zim case and “the embarrassment it caused CMA”.

He claimed Saade had assured him that he would be paid his contractual entitlements in full.

But the resignation letters that followed said he resigned for personal reasons and had no claims against the company.

In his judgment, Wong found that documents at the time of Dafni’s letter “appear to tell another story”.

Among other things, a day before he resigned, an e-mail from the company’s legal counsel had instructed CMA to settle his termination in line with his employment contract.

The judge said Dafni came across as “smart but honest, fair and very straightforward”.

“He is no doubt a man of strong character, tenacious and determined and very experienced in the shipping industry.”

Wong found no reason for Dafni to resign at a midnight meeting “in such a (strange) manner”. It took place on the eve of the opening of Cheng Lie’s new offices, and Dafni had been working hard for the event.

The judge said it was “unlikely” for Dafni to resign then and miss his “moment in the sun”.

Instead, he was summoned to the meeting to take delivery of the “short, sharp coup de grace”, he added.

Saade found the Zim litigation publicity very embarrassing and wanted Dafni out, said Wong. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

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