$2.8m payout for victims of alleged scam by S'porean

$2.8m payout for victims of alleged scam by S'porean
Beware of online scams.

A Hong Kong court has ordered remaining funds from an alleged US$138 million (S$175 million) scam run by Singaporean Michael Liew to be distributed to victims of a fraud spanning the Philippines to the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Some US$2.2 million was recovered from the accounts of Hong Kong-based Performance Investment Products Corporation (PIPC), which had received the investment monies.

Liew, 52, who owned 60 per cent of the company, allegedly absconded in 2007 with US$138 million from the accounts, said Hong Kong High Court judge Jonathan Harris in a judgment released last week. The judge rejected a bid by a group from the Philippines for the monies to be transferred and dealt with by a Philippine court.

The scam is understood to be the biggest fraud in the Philippines' history.

Liew is understood to be married to a Taiwanese and is now wanted by the Manila authorities, who posted an Interpol notice. The man, who is still at large, is also the subject of ongoing investigations here, said a Singapore police spokesman.

Liew ran a foreign exchange trading outfit in high-end Citibank Tower in Makati City, the country's financial capital.

His victims were believed to have included the Philippine business elite.

The scam that surfaced in 2007, for which he was allegedly the mastermind, involved at least 23 companies incorporated in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore, as well as the BVI.

The BVI company was the main contracting company with the investors while the Hong Kong company received the investment monies.

PIPC in the Philippines received the cash from the Hong Kong company for distribution to investors as "profit" payments.

Performance Asset Management in Singapore, first started by Liew in 1988 as Wellco Management Consultants, provided back-office support for the group, according to court documents.

The Hong Kong liquidators hired Singapore firm Wong Partnership to take action against the Singapore firm.

Liquidators were then able to get a list of the investors in the PIPC group, which could help them distribute the remaining funds.

Liew reportedly ran a kind of Ponzi scam, in which investors are paid not from real profits but from money put in by new members.

Investors placed their funds into bank accounts where their money was mixed with those of other investors. The money was then circulated within various entities worldwide before purported profits were paid out bimonthly.

Investors were introduced to the group by "information agents" who advised them to sign the agreements with the BVI company and forward their funds to the Hong Kong or BVI firm. Traders betted on foreign currencies and investors were allegedly guaranteed an average of 12 per cent returns a year.

Justice Harris ordered the recovered funds to be distributed to the victims in proportion to the sums they invested, regardless of when the investments were made.

He also ordered liquidators to be paid from the funds.

Liew first came to media notice here when his sister Jennifer, 47, her Filipino husband Gerald Reyes, 39, and their nine-year-old daughter died in the 2004 tsunami in Phuket, Thailand.

Contacted by The Straits Times in Manila, Mr Reyes' mother Erlinda Reyes, 67, said: "I knew Michael just as a simple guy who was a brother-in-law to my son, but when I saw him operate out of Manila's Makati district later, he appeared to have become a successful somebody."

vijayan@sph.com.sg


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