SINGAPORE - Singapore-listed Axington Inc announced just after midnight on Monday (Aug 31) the resignation of its non-independent non-executive chairman, Ms Evangeline Shen, and three other directors.
Ms Shen, also known as Shen Che, is the co-founder of Singapore-registered Bellagraph Nova (BN) Group that has drawn increasing scrutiny following news of its takeover bid for English Premier League club Newcastle United.
The three other board members that have quit are executive director Marjory Loh, lead independent director Chua Siong Kiat and non-independent non-executive director Wong Sun Yuh, Axington said in separate filings to the Singapore Exchange.
The reasons given for the spate of resignations range from impending changes in the company's business to "intense public scrutiny" and "health reasons".
The departures come a week after former United States ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar resigned as an independent director, citing the increasing controversy surrounding the BN Group, from photoshopping images with former US president Barack Obama to press statements that had to be retracted.
The five resignations leave Axington's board now with only two independent directors - Mr Low Junrui and Mr Roberto Dona.
Mr Low is the chief executive and director of Hydra X, which was claimed by BN Group as one of its 31 entities, according to marketing materials. Hydra X was also said by BN Group to be designing and implementing a trading system for SGX.
This has been refuted by both SGX and Hydra X.
Mr Dona is the associate dean for professional engagement at Xi'an-Jiaotong Liverpool University.
Ms Shen, 32, became Axington chairman after the buyout of the Catalist-listed firm by Singaporean cousins Nelson Loh and Terence Loh in July this year. She set up the BN Group with the duo after a merger of the Lohs' Dorr Group and Bellagraph a month earlier.
The Loh cousins are controlling shareholders of Axington, though not directors, while Ms Marjory Loh is the sister of Mr Terence Loh.
Apart from the doctored images of the founders with Mr Obama, other inconsistencies in publicity materials have surfaced, and individuals and companies have distanced themselves from the group.
On Monday, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) told The Straits Times it is looking into the registration of Novena Global Lifecare - one of several of the group's entities that could not be found in Acra records.
The earlier disclosures prompted the SGX's regulatory arm to call for Axington's Catalist sponsor, Novus Corporate Finance, to assess the suitability of Ms Shen as a director, as well as other directors.
Axington in the filing said Ms Shen had resigned "as a result of strategic changes to be made in the business direction of the company".
It said Ms Loh had stepped down because of the "recent intense public scrutiny on the company", saying it was in the firm's best interest to do so.
Mr Chua left because of "health reasons" and was "acting on medical advice to reduce his workload", said the firm.
The exit of Mr Wong, meanwhile, was ascribed to the "impending changes in business strategy".
In a separate filing on Tuesday morning, the firm said its board is contacting the controlling shareholders to seek clarity on, among others, the details of the impending changes in business strategy mentioned in the resignation announcements of Ms Shen and Mr Wong.
The firm called for a voluntary trading suspension on Monday, pending the release of an announcement on strategic changes in its business direction.
Last week, Axington postponed an extraordinary general meeting where shareholders were due to vote on the firm's name change to NETX and a shift in its core business from professional advisory services to providing medical and consumer wellness services, among other things.
There were at least 200 public shareholders of Axington as at Aug 18. They held an aggregate of 42.1 million shares, representing about 22.12 per cent of the company's total issued stock.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.