SINGAPORE - Investigators probing the 2013 penny stock collapse believe that they have enough evidence to show that Malaysian businessman Soh Chee Wen was the mastermind behind the companies at the heart of the market crash, the prosecution said on Wednesday at a hearing on Mr Soh's bail conditions.
Investigations are also at an advanced stage, and charges could be filed by the end of the year, possibly before September, deputy public prosecutor Gordon Oh said in court.
In response, Mr Soh told BT: "I totally reject those allegations. I think it's grossly unfair to tar me with a big brush like that."
Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, presiding at the Supreme Court, rejected Mr Soh's application to set bail terms that would allow him to visit his ailing mother and to attend his son's wedding in Malaysia.
Mr Soh, who is out on police bail of S$500,000 and whose passport has been impounded since April 2014 as part of investigations into the October 2013 crash, had argued that the restriction of his movements was "unfair and unreasonable".
Submissions from both sides offer the first glimpse into what has been going on in the long-drawn investigations into the penny stock crash, which was triggered when the shares of Asiasons Capital, now known as Attilan Group, Blumont Group and LionGold Corp collapsed on Oct 4, 2013.
The prosecution said that it had obtained data from more than 500 trading accounts both in Singapore and overseas, and obtained at least 20,000 e-mail messages dating back to January 2011. Investigators have also obtained statements from more than 70 witnesses.
Among the places raided was the home of former Ipco International chief executive Quah Su Ling, where Mr Soh was residing, Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) officer Sheryl Tan said in her affidavit. CAD alleged that Mr Soh was responsible for trades in the three companies at the heart of the 2013 crash for a large number of trading accounts, and that he was engaged in false trading and market rigging and possibly in fraud or deception of other people.
The investigations, which are not yet complete, "have already uncovered serious criminal activities involving fraudulent trading and fraudulent practices", the prosecution alleged. At this stage, investigators view Mr Soh as a key cog.
"The investigations further reveal that the Applicant (Mr Soh) played a primary role in the serious criminal activities and was probably the mastermind who coordinated the trades in question," the prosecutor's submission stated.
Beyond Mr Soh, 25 trading representatives are "believed to have assisted or participated in an elaborate scheme relating to false trading and market rigging, and/or operating a fraud or deception" under the Securities and Futures Act, Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) assistant managing director Lee Boon Ngiap stated in an affidavit.
Mr Soh's lawyer, Tan Chee Meng of Wong Partnership, argued that his client had willingly remained in Singapore after the stock crash occurred in October 2013 and before he was called for questioning by the CAD; if Mr Soh was inclined to flee, he would have done so at that time. He has also been fully cooperative with investigators, Mr Tan said.
The senior counsel also asked the court to consider that Mr Soh was seeking to go to Malaysia to visit his sick mother, whom Mr Soh says is showing signs of early dementia but has not been formally diagnosed.
Mr Oh, the DPP, countered that the risk of Mr Soh absconding carried greater weight, saying that "there will always be reasons" for leaving jurisdiction. Mr Tan retorted: "There will always be reasons, but there is only one mother."
Mr Oh argued that Mr Soh was a "clear and present" flight risk.
With regard to Mr Soh's willingness to remain in Singapore shortly after the market crash, Mr Oh said that it would not have been obvious initially that Mr Soh would be a target of investigations because his name was not featured in any of the companies at the heart of the investigations.
The prosecution added that Mr Soh had a track record of absconding, citing the fact that he stayed away from Malaysia for three years between 1999 and 2002 while Malaysia had an active warrant for his arrest relating to a probe into certain trades on the Kuala Lumpur bourse. Mr Soh eventually pleaded guilty in 2007 to abetting acts of fraud related to those transactions.
Mr Tan argued that Mr Soh had no travel restrictions when he left Malaysia in 1999, and the warrant for his arrest was only issued after he was out of the country.
He said that Singapore could ask Malaysia to help enforce Mr Soh's return, although the prosecution responded that it would not be so easy to do so.
Mr Soh said after the hearing: "We are obviously disappointed, but it is what it is. We will continue to render full co-operation. And we hope to get to the bottom of the matter together with CAD. And if the things happen as the prosecution or the DPP said it will, so be it. We are motivated to have this thing cleared up."
In stating his case, Mr Soh also shared some details about himself.
He argued that it was too onerous to impose bail conditions that require bailors who are not connected to Attilan, Blumont or LionGold.
"Most of the people I know here are somehow involved with the three companies, whether by having traded in their shares or otherwise," Mr Soh stated in his affidavit.
In his affidavit and submissions, Mr Soh said that he is currently chief operations officer and acting chief executive of Dongshan Group, formerly the listed Greatronics Group. In November 2015, Mr Soh even presented a three-year turnaround plan to at least 50 shareholders of Dongshan. Mr Soh said that he has been receiving a salary of S$3,000 a month since October 2015 from Dongshan.
This article was first published on Jan 28, 2016.
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