Businessman barred from leaving country

Businessman barred from leaving country

A Malaysian businessman, identified as the "probable mastermind" behind one of Singapore's biggest and most complex stock market fraud cases, was yesterday denied permission to leave the country.

Mr John Soh Chee Wen, 57, whose passport has been impounded since April 2014, is assisting the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) with a probe into the penny stock crash that wiped out $8 billion in market value in just days in October 2013. He is on $500,000 police bail.

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin rejected his request to vary bail terms to allow him to travel to Malaysia from Feb 6 to 23 to visit his ailing 80-year-old mother and attend his son's wedding on Feb 20.

Small investors were hit hard by the 2013 meltdown as penny stocks are the cheapest to buy. Many lost vast sums in the crash, which battered investor confidence and led to tighter trading rules.

Documents presented in court referred to market rigging involving 25 trading representatives - and said the ongoing probe had already uncovered "serious criminal activities involving fraudulent trading".

Deputy Public Prosecutor Gordon Oh said investigations are at an "advanced stage" and that charges may be brought by the end of the year, possibly around September.

Mr Oh said investigators have concluded that Mr Soh is "not just connected to the case, but may also be the mastermind".

Mr Soh attended the hearing and later told reporters he was "disappointed" but wants to have "light shed on the collapse". "The public, investors are very keen to get to the bottom of the matter, what caused the crash, and who benefited. That's why I've been going all out to co-operate. If things happen as prosecution says it may, so be it. We are motivated to have this cleared up."

On being labelled the "mastermind", Mr Soh said: "I won't like my comments to be misconstrued... Let's just say that we understand and respect what the CAD and MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) are trying to do, and we are on the same page."

The probe centres on possible violations of the Securities and Futures Act over trading in Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital, which surged between 150 per cent and 800 per cent in less than nine months before losing most of their value in just three days in October 2013, wiping out $8 billion.

The CAD raided some 50 locations, including residences, offices and brokerages, interviewed more than 70 people, and seized hundreds of electronic devices. One raid pointed to Mr Soh's involvement in the trading of the three stocks.

Mr Oh said Mr Soh had played a "primary role" in alleged "manipulative activities". Mr Soh, a bankrupt in Malaysia with no known assets or family ties here, posed a "serious flight risk", he said.

Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, who represents Mr Soh, called the restriction of his movements "unfair and unreasonable". Mr Tan, deputy chairman of WongPartnership, noted that the probe had been going on for 22 months, and Mr Soh had answered more than 2,000 questions in his statements and undergone "many statement takings that lasted 10 hours and longer".

Mr Soh has not been charged with any offence, while his requests to travel have been refused without explanation, Mr Tan said.

But MAS assistant managing director Lee Boon Ngiap disclosed, in affidavits, that 25 trading representatives are believed to have assisted or participated in an "elaborate scheme relating to false trading and market rigging".

On whether he intends to appeal against the ruling, Mr Soh said he will "consider (his) options".

Soh Chee Wen 'mastermind' of penny stock crash: Prosecutor

This article was first published on Jan 28, 2016.
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