Malaysia's 'Repco Low' found guilty in 16-year-old share manipulation case

Malaysia's 'Repco Low' found guilty in 16-year-old share manipulation case

Kuala Lumpur - Arguably one of the biggest stock operators of the 1990s Malaysian equities bull run, Low Thiam Hock will soon know what it feels like to be left holding the baby.

Better known as Repco Low, the stockmarket kingpin was found guilty by the Sessions Court on Monday of market manipulation involving the shares of Repco Holdings Bhd, more than a decade and a half after the Securities Commission (SC) initiated a case against him in 1999.

The presiding judge, Mat Ghani Abdullah, found Low had failed to raise a reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case and that his defence only amounted to a bare denial and an afterthought.

In a statement, the SC said the former executive chairman of Repco Holdings was convicted for acts calculated to create a misleading appearance with respect to the price of Repco shares on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange on Dec 3, 1997, an offence under Section 84(1) of the Securities Industry Act (SIA) 1983. Under the SIA, he is liable to a minimum fine of RM1 million (S$327,130) and imprisonment of not more than 10 years.

The court said it was satisfied the 53-year-old's manner of buying 227,000 units of Repco shares had created a misleading appearance as to the price of the shares. Previous reports said he had instructed a representative of Sime Securities - since disposed of - to buy Repco shares by taking up any shares offered by sellers at their given price.

Witnesses for the SC had also testified that shares of the Sabah company then involved in gaming and timber had opened trading on Dec 3, 1997, at RM108.50 per lot (then 1,000 units) and closed at RM113. As the shares were inactive the next day, the price fell to RM110 and continued south to RM11.20 by the third week.

It subsequently collapsed, leaving a number of punters burnt.

Repco was not the only stock that caused many substantial losses when the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997-98. As the bull market started in the mid-1990s, stocks such as Repco went from about RM5 in 1996 to stratospheric levels in the euphoria of too much easy money chasing bubble assets.

Chances are only the older punters will remember Low and Repco given that it has been nearly two decades. A corporate executive in financial services maintained he had steered clear of the bull. "It was so blatant. How can shares be worth RM100 for a company like Repco?"

But he recalled even his staff found the lure of easy money hard to resist. "Many resigned - they said they were making more money at the share market. Even my juniors disappeared."

Low will have to surrender his passport to the court pending sentencing which has been fixed for Jan 19.

In the 1999 proceedings, he was acquitted by the Sessions Court on the basis that the charge was not proven. The SC appealed to the High Court which affirmed the inferior court's decision.

However, in February 2013 the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision and ordered Low to defend the charge against him and reverted the case back to the Sessions Court.

At least one other case was filed against him by the SC, in 2008 for share rigging involving Iris Corporation Bhd.

This article was first published on January 12, 2016.
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