Some people have compared Mr Chettiar to former NKF chief TT Durai, a former lawyer who had a reputation for being both gutsy and litigious. Mr Durai, who was given a three- month sentence in June for deceiving the NKF, is now awaiting an appeal hearing. Although Mr Durai has long fallen from grace, Mr Chettiar said he was "flattered" to be associated with the man whom he considers a "legend". "Putting aside his minor blemishes, I regard Mr Durai as an excellent fund raiser with a very rare talent," he said in an email interview with Weekend XTRA. On his lawsuit against Case, Mr Chettiar said he didn't start it "frivolously" and only sued after his demand for an apology from Case and NTUC Income was ignored. The suit is expected to be closely watched when it goes to court next year. Case is backed by the Economic Development Board, while Mr Chettiar is unlikely to back down. "This has given us little choice but to take on these "big boys' through 'non- violent' judicial means and I am confi- dent that every once in a while, the underdog can and does win," Mr Chettiar said. When asked if he was prepared to - like Mr Durai - take the stand and have his records scrutinised in court, Mr Chettiar replied: "Most definitely. We have everything in writing."

NEARLY 10 years after he took on the Ministry of Manpower and won, busi- nessman Kannappan Chettiar is taking another established institution, the Con- sumers Association of Singapore (Case), to court. He is suing Case for "unlawfully" sus- pending his two schools from a scheme that would allow them to take in foreign students. While his action has raised a few eye- brows - Case, after all, is often regarded as the "good guy" out to protect consumers those who know Mr Chettiar, 45, are not surprised by his latest legal action. Aggressive, outspoken and fearless - these are some of the terms that those interviewed by Weekend XTRA used to de- scribe the man who wrote his first letter to the press when he was a teenager to complain about the culling of pigeons in his school. One associate said the father of four is a "gutsy man who would not take things lying down, especially if he felt (he) was bullied".

A former colleague said Mr Chettiar is "famous for suing", pointing to his 1999 court action against the Manpow- er Ministry (MOM). In fact, some have compared him to the former head of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), Mr TT Durai, who was also known for his tendency to sue parties which he felt had harmed his personal reputation or the NKF's interests. Mr Chettiar said he found the comparison with "a legend" flattering In the 1999 court case, Mr Chettiar sued after the Manpower Minister or- dered his Stansfield School of Business to pay an under-performing lecturer $6,800 for unfair dismissal. The school had earlier offered to let the lecturer resign with a compensation of a month's salary of $3,700. Mr Chettiar, represented by his fa- ther Karuppan Chettiar, won his case making him one of the few parties who have managed to successfully sue a department of the Civil Service. In his ruling, then High Court Judge Warren Khoo said the school had not been given a chance by the MOM to rebut the lecturer's allegations - hence his decision in Mr Chettiar's favour. Away from the courts, Mr Chettiar - winner of several business awards, in- cluding an Indian entrepreneur award in 2005- is known for being media savvy and writes frequently to the press. One of his first letters to the press was sent when he was just 16 - to com- plain about his acting principal who had ordered the culling of pigeons in the school compound. Mr Chettiar said he managed to persuade many of his schoolmates to back his letter.

"I got 100 signatures. The press came in and made a big issue of every- thing," he told an education magazine several years ago. "And the acting prin- cipal got transferred somewhere else." Mr Chettiar's journey to building the Stansfield brand - which he alleges has been tarnished by the Case affair began in the early 1990s after he left the Singapore Institute of Commerce (SIC). SIC was then the biggest of six private schools offering a way out for as- piring lawyers who could not get into the National University of Singapore. Mr Chettiar's family had owned half of the SIC, with the other 50-per cent owned by 10 investors, many of whom were his father's lawyer friends. However, Mr Chettiar, who had been managing the school alone, found in- terference from the other shareholders too much for his liking. So, he left the SIC in 1992 and a year later, set up the Stansfield School of Business with a personal credit line of $20,000. Within a decade, he had managed to build a $10-million-a-year empire. In 1998, he bought over the SIC.As the self-proclaimed champion of the underdog, Mr Chettiar is not shy to voice his opinions in public."Every once in a while, the under- dog can and does win," he told this newspaper.In the months leading up to the launch of Case's Student Protection Scheme and Case Trust scheme in 2005, Mr Chettiar called for a powwow of the heads of 20 of the biggest private schools to debate the new schemes. Two other meetings were subsequently called, this time by other schools. Mr Chettiar was then said to have ruffled the feathers of the Economic Development Board - the government agency above Case after he repeatedly wrote letters to Trade and Indus- try Minister Lim Hng Kiang and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, giving his opinion on how to improve the schemes. In an eight-page letter to Mr Lim in October 2004, he spoke up against Case Trust's optional escrow system, where a private school would receive fees - deposited by the student - from a bank, in instalments in case the school suddenly closed. "The escrow system is perhaps the biggest insult to the private education industry - treating as though it is run by criminals purely intent on cheating students or that we are so incompetent that we do not know how to run or manage our respective organisations," Mr Chettiar, who has several degrees in finance and law, wrote. However, judging from the reaction of those involved in the private educa- tion industry, Mr Chettiar's case against Case is hardly viewed as a battle be- tween the small man and the big guns. Despite their spirited contributions during the meetings in 2004, the heads of the private schools were reluctant to back Mr Chettiar on record. Many contacted by Weekend XTRA declined to comment and the few who did asked not to be identified. One de- scribed the saga as a "drama". Contrary to the feedback offered during the meetings to discuss Case- Trust, some now said that they did not have a problem with the scheme and wondered why Mr Chettiar did. But Mr Chettiar appears to be one of those who are ready to take a stand against something that he believes is not right, regardless of the level of support. Mr Chettiar, who admits to be a huge fan of spiritual and religious books, once said in a magazine interview: "I am not afraid of people judging me and do not care if the majority of the peo- ple around me think I am wrong." Interestingly, Mr Chettiar's dispute with Case bears some resemblance to his MOM suit. This time, he claims that he was not given a chance to explain why insurance was not bought for 400 of his students a must for private schools who bring in foreign students. On Wednesday, Case responded to the suit by saying that it was not obliged to give Mr Chettiar's schools a hearing for a suspension and even so the consumers' association had given them two chances to explain.A pre-trial conference will take place next month and the matter is expected to be headed for mediation. If talks fail, a court battle will take place within a year.