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Singapore: High Court grants former Integr8 Fuels Korean desk staff expedited ‘back to work’ status

20 Jan 2023

The General Division of The High Court of the Republic of Singapore on 16 December 2022 issued a Court Order allowing former Korean staff of bunker trading firm Integr8 Fuels Pte Ltd. (Integr8 Fuels) an expedited return to work.

Both were supposed to join commodities trading firm Hartree Group in October 2022 when Integr8 Fuels took its former Sales Director Kim Hyung Joon and ex-Senior Bunker Trader Han Donghoon (also known as Danny) to court over alleged confidentiality and competition infringement violations

Background

In court documents filed in October 2022, Integr8 Fuels claimed it discovered Mr Kim and Danny were planning to join the Hartree Group in October 2022 after the management of Integr8 Fuels, Navig8 Group and Hartree Group spoke in September 2022.

According to Integr8 Fuels, following this, the company conducted an investigation which revealed Mr Kim and Danny sending large amounts of information from their Intergr8 Fuels email addresses to their personal email accounts from June 2021 and September 2021 respectively onwards before leaving their former employer.

Integr8 Fuels later filed a “without notice” application on 26 October 2022 and obtained an interim injunction at a hearing on 28 October 2022 restraining Mr Kim and Danny, both unrepresented by a counsel at the time, from being involved in any businesses competing with the activities of Integr8 Fuels until 28 March 2023 and 13 April 2023 respectively.

Mr Kim and Danny were also restrained from using, disclosing and/or divulging to any third-party confidential information of Integr8 Fuels.

Latest court documents obtained by Manifold Times stated Mr Kim and Danny did not have an opportunity to address earlier allegations made by Integr8 Fuels at the 28 October 2022 hearing of the “without notice” application.

Since then, Mr Kim and Danny engaged counsel and thereafter filed an application to set aside / vary the interim injunction.

Company Email Accounts

In court papers seen by Manifold Times, Mr Kim and Danny, both experienced bunker traders prior to joining Integr8 Fuels, explained there was in fact no sinister or ill intent to steal confidential information before leaving Integr8 Fuels, as was suggested by Integr8 Fuels.

Instead, shortly after joining Integr8 Fuels in October 2020, as part of his work process, Mr Kim set up a macro on his office email account which auto-forwarded emails with certain keywords to his personal email account whenever he received emails from work email addresses.

Similarly, shortly after joining Integr8 Fuels in January 2021, Danny forwarded emails from his office email account to his personal email account and also vice versa (including to Mr Kim’s work email account) as part of his work process and due to the “laggy” IT set up at Integr8 Fuels.

Both Mr Kim and Danny, who provided documents to support their explanations, also agreed to delete all of the Integr8 Fuels emails from their personal email accounts to give Integr8 Fuels assurance there is no intention to misuse any information in the emails.

Inconsistent Restraint Periods

As to the length of the restraint period under the interim injunction (28 March and 13 April 2023) affecting Mr Kim and Danny respectively, both pointed out Integr8 Fuel’s position at the 28 October 2022 hearing was inconsistent with the position previously communicated to them.

Documents showed that, on 30 September 2022, prior to the commencement of legal action in late October 2022, Integr8 Fuels confirmed to Mr Kim and Danny in writing their restraint periods would end on 3 January 2023 and 25 January 2023 respectively.

Non-competition Clause

Separately, Mr Kim and Danny contended their intention to commence work with the Hartree Group in October 2022 did not amount to a breach of their non-competition provisions.

Mr Kim and Danny, who only traded in traditional marine fuels during their time at Integr8 Fuels, informed Integr8 Fuels in writing on 4 October 2022 that they intended to limit themselves to only being involved in the China and Asian biofuels markets except for Singapore and Korea for the period of their restraints.

Both further explained Integr8 Fuels had no proposed business plan to start trading or supplying biofuels within the last 12 months of their employment.

Integr8 Fuels Managing Director Tushar Gole, on the other hand, claimed “biofuels is an integral part of [Integr8 Fuels] portfolio”.

Finally, by reference to a screenshot of a conversation, Mr Kim contended Mr Gole knew as early as 5 July 2022 Mr Kim would be joining Hartree. Mr Kim contended Integr8 Fuels did not point out this out previously at the 28 October 2022 hearing because it did not fit into Integr8 Fuel’s narrative when it sought urgent injunctive relief on a “without notice” basis at the 28 October 2022 hearing.

Expedited Return to Work

On 16 December 2022, the Court heard Mr Kim’s and Danny’s application and varied Integr8 Fuels’ injunction to grant Mr Kim and Danny expedited “back to work” status.

The Court also varied the injunction to make clear Mr Kim and Danny are not restrained from using, disclosing and/or divulging to any third party any information which they were already privy to prior to them joining Integr8 Fuels and the Navig8 group of companies.

As part of its order on 16 December 2022, the Court gave Integr8 Fuels an opportunity to produce affidavit evidence by 21 December 2022 “demonstrating a transaction or genuine plans on biofuels” if it wished to restrain Mr Kim and Danny from being involved in biofuels until January 2023. Based on the court papers seen by Manifold Times, Integr8 Fuels did not produce such evidence.

As such, Mr Kim and Danny were able to be involved in biofuels from 22 December 2022 onwards and are now expected to be back in the market from 4 January and 26 January 2023 onwards respectively, as per their stated intention to Integr8 Fuels on 4 October 2022.

Related: Singapore: Integr8 Fuels files lawsuit against former Korean staff over alleged confidentiality violations

 

Photo credit: Manifold Times
Published: 20 January, 2022

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