SINGAPORE - The lawyer who vanished after more than $33 million parked at his firm went missing had left Singapore for Malaysia in a private-hire car on May 13, a district court heard on Thursday (June 20).
Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Khoo said police investigations also showed that Jeffrey Ong Su Aun, the managing partner of law firm JLC Advisors, also disposed of his Singapore mobile phone when he reached Malaysia.
The 41-year-old Singaporean lawyer was later found with a stolen Malaysian passport which had been actually issued to a 43-year-old man whose photograph bore some resemblance to Ong.
The lawyer was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation as to why he had the passport with him. As such, police believe he has the knowledge and means to abscond, said DPP Khoo.
On Thursday, defence lawyer Jennifer Sia asked the court to release Ong on bail, stressing that he has a young son. Ong is currently in remand.
However, DPP Khoo highlighted the police findings and urged District Judge Luke Tan to not grant Ong bail as he poses a "high flight risk". The judge agreed with the DPP and Ong was not offered one.
The Straits Times had earlier reported that the monies, which was held in escrow by JLC Advisors for its client Allied Technologies, went missing last month. Ong became uncontactable soon after.
Escrow is an essential service in capital markets that supports transactions such as mergers and acquisitions.
Police investigations showed Ong had left for Malaysia after he was pressed into accounting for unauthorised withdrawals of clients' monies by the partners in his law firm.
Ong then left Singapore in a private-hire car after making arrangements with a friend known only as Nicholas. Apart from his wife, Ong did not inform anyone else of his plans to travel to Malaysia, the court heard.
In Malaysia, he met with one Dennis, a friend of Nicholas. Dennis initially brought Ong to his office and the lawyer stayed there for two or three days, police investigations revealed.
The accused then moved to a hotel in Cheras, Vivatel Kuala Lumpur. Ong became uncontactable on May 16 after he got rid of his mobile phone and asked Dennis to provide him with another.
Police found that Ong then inserted a China SIM card into the phone Dennis gave him and used it for telecommunications while he was in Malaysia.
The court heard that Ong stayed at the hotel until officers from the Royal Malaysia Police arrested him on May 29. Ong was found to be in possession of the stolen Malaysian passport which he had obtained from another friend known only as Calvin. The lawyer was brought back to Singapore on May 30.
He was charged with eight counts of forgery and one count of cheating earlier this month. Ong was in court on Thursday to face 13 more charges of forgery for the purpose of cheating.
He is now accused of creating false documents on March 27 to dupe one Chan Yi Zhang into believing that more than US$4.8million (about S$6.5million) held in escrow by JLC Advisors were present and unused in its bank account.
The lawyer is said to have fraudulently created bank statements for most months between October 2017 to February this year.
According to court documents, the money was linked to a settlement involving two firms - trading company Airtrust Singapore and Wrangwell. A search on the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) website revealed that Airtrust Singapore is a 'live' company based in Raffles Quay. Nothing was found on Wrangwell on the Acra portal.
Court documents did not reveal how or if Airtrust Singapore and Wrangwell were linked to Allied Technologies. Ong's case has been adjourned to July 11.
Offenders convicted of forgery for the purpose of cheating can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined for each charge.
Following the incident, the Law Society said it may consider introducing rules and guidelines for operating escrow accounts after it completes its probe into JLC Advisors.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.