A district judge denied bail to Malaysian businessman John Soh Chee Wen on Tuesday, as prosecutors added seven new charges of witness tampering to the alleged "mastermind" of the 2013 penny stock crash and suggested additional involvement manipulating the stock of ISR Capital.
The judge said that the totality of the evidence, which included allegations by the prosecution that Mr Soh had previously used a fake Indonesian identity to enter and leave Singapore, suggested that Mr Soh was a flight risk. The judge also accepted the prosecution's portrayal of Mr Soh as a "protagonist" in the 2013 crash and who "has significant influence over the supporting cast".
Mr Soh now faces 188 charges related to the penny crash, in which the collapse of Asiasons Capital (now Attilan Group), Blumont Group and LionGold Corp in October 2013 triggered a massive sell-off in low-priced stocks on the Singapore Exchange.
Prosecutors have already charged former Ipco International chief executive Quah Su-Ling and former Ipco interim CEO Goh Hin Calm in the case, which has been described by investigators as the largest securities fraud case in Singapore. Bail was previously set at S$4 million for Quah and at S$750,000 for Goh.
The bail hearing notably linked Soh to the probe of ISR, an investment services company whose stock remains suspended amid investigations.
Shares of ISR plunged on Nov 24, the day Soh was arrested. The investigation into the stock began a week later, on Dec 2, which led to certain evidence being seized, the prosecution said.
The evidence suggests that Soh was manipulating ISR while still under police bail, prosecutors said.
Soh allegedly exercised influence over key decisions at ISR while being an undischarged bankrupt, contravening the Companies Act; and is believed to have abetted insider trading by asking remisier Gabriel Gan to buy ISR shares ahead of an announcement.
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In written submissions, Soh's lawyer, Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng of WongPartnership, argued that the prosecutors have offered no evidence to demonstrate Soh's involvement in ISR.
In an oral reply, Mr Tan added that his client would be "stupid" to attempt to manipulate ISR "in this time and age where every trade can be traced".
Recordings of conversations between Soh and Mr Gan, which were found on Mr Gan's laptop, as well as testimony from former LionGold business and corporate development director Peter Chen Hing Woon and former analyst Ken Tai Chee Ming, led prosecutors to add the witness tampering charges. The prosecution alleged that the recordings included Soh instructing Mr Gan to "deny everything" and rehearsing answers to give to investigators.
Soh's lawyer argued that the testimony of those individuals were unreliable, given that they were facing potential charges themselves and may have an axe to grind against Soh.
Mr Tan also disagreed with the portrayal of his client as a flight risk, arguing that if Soh could or wished to abscond, he would have had many opportunities between October 2013 and his arrest in November 2016. Even after prosecutors told a court in January 2016 that they expected to charge Soh by the end of that year, he remained in Singapore, albeit with his Malaysian passport confiscated.
Citing the recorded conversations between Soh and Mr Gan, deputy public prosecutor Teo Guan Siew argued that Soh had remained in Singapore not because he thought he was innocent, but because he did not think that investigators had enough to convict him. Given that Soh now knows the full extent of the charges against him and that prosecutors have allegedly detected witness tampering, Soh may have more motivation to flee, DPP Teo said.
Commotion broke out in the courtroom when it was revealed that the prosecution was alleging that Soh had tried to leave Singapore by boat while on police bail; that attempt failed because the boat malfunctioned, prosecutors said, citing testimony from Soh's former girlfriend Cheng Jo-Ee. Mr Tan dismissed that as hearsay.
Prosecutors also said Soh used to travel in and out of Singapore with an Indonesian passport under the name of "Didi Supardi", a fake identity, until January 2000. They further alleged, based on testimony from Soh and others, that he had crossed Singapore's borders between 1999 and 2002 even though the immigration authorities had no record of those passages.
Mr Tan argued that links between Soh and Didi Supardi were tenuous, and that some of the testimonies on this matter were inconsistent with the evidence.
Even if the court felt that Soh was a flight risk and capable of tampering witnesses, it could address all of those concerns with strict bail conditions such as electronic monitoring devices and prohibitions against contacting certain people, Mr Tan said. Keeping Soh under the prison's strict restrictions hindered his ability to prepare a proper defence for a complex case, the lawyer argued.
"Let not a conviction be secured because of Mr Soh's inability to prepare a proper defence," Mr Tan said. "We are sure the prosecution is not seeking to secure a conviction at all cost."
But the prosecution disagreed, saying that Soh was capable of getting around those restrictions, and if he were allowed bail, "there will either be no trial, because he will abscond, or there will be no fair trial, because the witnesses will be tampered with."
The court did grant Soh slight consolation: A local phone call.
Mr Tan said Soh wanted to call Quah Su-Ling.
This article was first published on Mar 01, 2017.
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