Crowdfunding firm fails to make payments

Crowdfunding firm fails to make payments

A number of schemes marketed by little-known crowdfunding company First Asia Alliance for four firms have failed to deliver on payouts promised to investors.

At least eight investors have put in some $665,000 into the four investee firms since May 2013, according to police reports and documents seen by the Straits Times.

The investee firms are Mycofarm Mushroom, engaged in the growing and trading of mushrooms; US Invest (S) that conducts real estate activities; Merx & Co, which is in the wholesale trade of bags, luggage and travel accessories; and Professional Administrative & Support Services (Pass), which offers business and management consultancy services, according to reports from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra).

Documents showed the investors had been offered monthly returns ranging from 1 to 2.5 per cent for periods of up to six months on their investments.

They told The Straits Times that while they did receive the first few tranches of payments as stated in their contracts, subsequent cheques bounced.

One investor, who wanted to be known only as Ms Lee, said she is still owed a total of $99,250 from her investments in Mycofarm Mushroom, US Invest and Pass.

Ms Lee, who is in her 70s, said she made investments in the first two firms between May and September 2013 totalling $130,000, and that her contracts stated she would receive monthly interest payouts of between 1.25 to 2.5 per cent and the principal sum in full by February 2014.

Most of her investment in US Invest was later "rolled over", or re-invested, into Pass after US Invest could not repay her capital in full, she said.

Ms Lee filed a police report in December 2013, after scheduled payments for one scheme stopped in October that year, and another report in February last year.

She told The Straits Times she made the investments in May 2013, after coming across First Asia Alliance at a trade fair. After hearing a talk about Mycofarm Mushroom's expansion plans, she visited the farm in Seletar West Farmway with a group of about 20 other people.

Another investor, who wanted to be known only as Mr H.C. Hong, 54, said he was promised quarterly returns of 3.75 per cent for the $100,000 investment he made in Mycofarm Mushroom in July 2013.

But so far, Mr Hong, whose contract stated he would receive his principal sum back in a year, said he has received only about $10,000.

When The Straits Times visited Mycofarm's site in June, there was no sign of activity - just a notice saying the site was state property and reserved for future development.

Visits to the offices of the three other firms also found they were being occupied by other companies.

An investor who wished to be known only as Madam Loke, 76, said she and her sister, 78, paid $85,000 in all to invest in US Invest and Pass, after being introduced to First Asia Alliance by a friend.

She added that she chose to re-invest her capital into similar schemes in Pass when the initial schemes were due as she was receiving interest payments regularly. But the payments later stopped, and to date, Madam Loke says she has not received her principal sum back.

A police spokesman said it was inappropriate to comment on police investigations, if any.

First Asia Alliance's website has been taken down. Its Facebook page, last updated on Jan 10, 2014, said it was "one of the pioneers" in the crowdfunding market here.

Acra reports showed that First Asia Alliance's sole shareholder and director Joel Lam owned stakes in at least two of the firms it marketed - Merx and US Invest.

The Straits Times understands that while a bankrupt person is not allowed to act as director of a company, smaller firms, especially those with a single director, are typically given time to nominate a new director or to close down altogether.

When contacted in June, Mr Lam, 51, acknowledged some investors had contacted him over payments, although he did not elaborate on First Asia Alliance and the various payments owed, citing ongoing police investigations.

A check with the Ministry of Law database revealed Mr Lam was declared bankrupt on Jan 29 last year, following an application by Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore) in the previous month. He remains an undischarged bankrupt as at July 27.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said that First Asia Alliance is not licensed or regulated by the authorities, although it was placed on the MAS Investor Alert List in April.

The MAS in June had introduced a new, tighter licensing regime for crowdfunding platforms, ruling that those which deal with debt and equity have to obtain a licence to operate.

This means that such firms must now apply for a capital markets services licence and, because they deal with retail investors, set aside a capital base of $500,000.

This article was first published on August 8, 2016.
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