Who is FAS presidential candidate Bill Ng?

Mr Bill Ng has stated that he intends to list the ailing local league on the Singapore stock exchange in five years.
PHOTO: Bill ng

He wants to make local football profitable, but has been criticised for his money-making focus

As a businessman, Hougang United chairman Bill Ng made a name for himself by turning companies mired in tough situations into profitable ventures.

The 57-year-old founded private equity firm Financial Frontiers and is a director of six companies.

He has brought his financial acumen to bear on Hougang United and Tiong Bahru Football Club as well, turning their fortunes around after he took over as chairman.

And he has set his sights on transforming local football, leading a nine-man team to contest the inaugural Football Association of Singapore (FAS) election on April 29.

Last Thursday, Mr Ng boldly stated that he intends to list the ailing local league on the Singapore stock exchange in five years.

But he has since become embroiled in a growing storm that stemmed from a $500,000 donation from Tiong Bahru FC, which reported a gross income of $36.8 million for the financial year that ended in March last year. The amount eclipsed the FAS' budget of $35.8 million for the same period.

Read also: Bill Ng 'knew what $500k donation was for'

When asked about Tiong Bahru's finances, Mr Ng had said: "Tiong Bahru FC would like to offer its accounting records for inspection by SportSG or any government agency if necessary."

By the time he made those comments, SportSG had already filed a police report over suspected misuse of Tiong Bahru FC's funds.

Yesterday, the Commercial Affairs Department also raided the clubhouses of Hougang United and Tiong Bahru, and the FAS office.

The controversy has raised questions over the man running for the top post in the FAS - who exactly is Bill Ng?

Offices of FAS, 3 football clubs raided

  • The Tiong Bahru Football Club's (TBFC) jackpot machines operate 16 hours every day, 365 days a year.
  • But yesterday, their clubhouse at People's Park Centre closed at 4.30pm, 10 hours before the usual closing time, after it was raided by the police.
  • There were also raids on two other premises - Woodlands Wellington's clubhouse in Prinsep Street and Hougang United office at Hougang Stadium - as well as the Jalan Besar headquarters of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
  • All three clubs are associated with Mr Bill Ng, who is running for president at the FAS election on April 29.
  • Mr Ng is the chairman of TBFC, an amateur National Football League (NFL) team, and Hougang United, an S.League club.
  • He was the lead figure in the failed merger between Woodlands and Hougang.
  • The raids came after Sport Singapore (SportSG) made a police report on Wednesday evening over the suspected misuse of TBFC funds as well as a purported attempt by a senior club official to obstruct the completion of audits of S.League's sit-out clubs.
  • The national sports agency said in a statement yesterday that it had made the report, based on legal advice, because of two key reasons:
  • - Following media reports that TBFC had donated $500,000 to the ASEAN Football Federation through the FAS, SportSG received further information on Tuesday, with further checks raising "other serious questions about the use of club funds".
  • - SportSG had received a letter from a "named individual alleging that a senior officer of a football club had instigated another club to delay and/or obstruct the completion of audits until after the FAS election".
  • The police said in a statement that they will conduct "a thorough investigation and will take appropriate action against any persons who have committed offences".
  • They said it was inappropriate to comment further because of ongoing investigations.
  • Last March, SportSG instructed the FAS to investigate after public feedback on the proposed merger between Hougang and Woodlands, as well as complaints over the management of jackpot revenue at Woodlands.
  • The FAS then initiated audits, which are still ongoing, into Woodlands and two other S.League sit-out clubs, Gombak United and Tanjong Pager United.
  • At 3.50pm yesterday, four police investigators arrived at TBFC and demanded to see the clubhouse manager.
  • About 30 customers were later herded out and the clubhouse was closed at 4.30pm.
  • Five more investigators arrived 45 minutes later with cardboard boxes.
  • There were similar scenes at the Woodlands Wellington and Hougang United premises.
  • Hougang manager Matthew Tay was seen leaving in an unmarked police vehicle.
  • At about 5.30pm, four plainclothes officers entered the FAS' admin and finance office at Jalan Besar Stadium.
  • Accompanied by FAS finance director Murtada Ahmad, the officers went into FAS general secretary Winston Lee's office.
  • Mr Lee reached the FAS premises at 6.25pm, where officers seen packing documents into boxes.
  • The Straits Times reported yesterday that TBFC recorded a gross income of some $37 million last year, but Mr Ng said the club have only about 7 per cent of gross margins as surplus left for operations costs after payouts and taxes.
  • TNP had earlier reported that TBFC and Hougang had reported big profits from jackpot operations, with the 57-year-old asserting that he was willing to open his accounting records for inspection.
  • "Bill Ng will be fully cooperating with the authorities over this matter," his spokesman said yesterday.
  • Mr Ng has been cleared by FAS' Electoral Committee to stand in the FAS election, with committee chairman K. Bala Chandran saying yesterday that the FAS' 44 affiliates will go to the ballot box on April 29, as scheduled.

Outside of the football scene, the former stock broker built up his wealth by investing in difficult projects through his firm and making them profitable.

He helped to list NagaCorp, a Phnom Penh-based company that operates a casino in the Cambodian capital, on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2006.

That was one of his most challenging projects, Mr Ng told MillionaireAsia magazine, as he recounted the five attempts his team made to list the company - first in Malaysia, then twice in Singapore, before finally succeeding on its second attempt in Hong Kong.

In another instance, Mr Ng turned a former gold exploration company in Hong Kong into a gold producer, and got it listed here in 2011.

"Our returns are handsome. My style involves taking many years to build one project, I'm basically hands-on," he said.

That Midas touch brought him into local football in 2004, when Mr Ng said the FAS roped him in to help Tiong Bahru FC. He helped restructure its clubhouse operations, and made it profitable in four years.

In 2008, he claimed the FAS asked him to help another ailing club, Sengkang Punggol, now named Hougang United.

Read also: Police raid offices of FAS, 3 football clubs

He then shot to prominence in 2012, when he led a five-man consortium to place a $40 million bid for Scottish football club Glasgow Rangers, which went bankrupt. His bid was unsuccessful.

Mr Ng has also brought a dash of flamboyance to Hougang United, holding its season launch in February at the swanky Lantern Rooftop Bar, atop The Fullerton Bay Hotel.

Players and staff arrived in stylish black suits, led by Mr Ng in a striking blue jacket.

But business and football aside, Mr Ng is also known as man with a heart. In 2014, The New Paper reported how the club stood by one of its coaches as he fought his way back to health from Stage 4 colon cancer. The coach, former defender Amin Nasir, told TNP he was grateful to Mr Ng's "human touch in keeping him on the payroll" even though he was sick.

Mr Ng was quoted then as saying: "How could we simply discard someone when he is going through the darkest part of his life?"

The next year, Hougang United launched a $1 million scholarship programme for budding footballers. By that time, the club already had a healthy bank balance as a result of its successful jackpot operation.

The Cheetahs are the only S-League club that operates without the $800,000 annual subsidy from the Tote Board. In 2014, the club registered a profit in excess of $2 million.

Mr Ng has drawn criticism from some members in the football fratenity, who say his leadership of the clubs is directed at making money. Responding in a TNP report last year, Mr Ng said: "Making money is not a dirty word because that is how we are able to sustain ourselves."

Key events in the saga

Boxes being brought out from the Hougang Football Club office in Hougang Stadium on 20 April 2017. Photo: The Straits Times

November 2014: The S-League shrinks from 12 to 10 teams. Tanjong Pagar United is to sit out the league competition, while Woodlands Wellington and Mr Bill Ng's Hougang United - two clubs with jackpot operations - are to merge.

April 2015: Woodlands fans file a petition to the S-League, questioning how the licence Woodlands had obtained to run a jackpot room could go under Hougang's control. However, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) insists everything is above board.

March 2016: National sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) asks the FAS to conduct an investigation to clarify the commercial aspects of the Woodlands-Hougang merger, as well as to address any irregularities. It also reveals that it is conducting an audit on Woodlands Wellington.

Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) personnels carrying unfolded boxes in Football Association of Singapore (FAS) office on 20 April 2017.Photo: The Straits Times

May 2016: SportSG tells S-League clubs Gombak United, Tanjong Pagar United and Woodlands Wellington to cease profit-generating operations such as jackpot machines, and to vacate their premises. The FAS is also to engage external auditors to check on the trio's accounts.

April 17, 2017: Following Mr Ng's revelation that he had donated $850,000 to the FAS since 2010, SportSG calls FAS to submit a detailed report over donations made to or through the body. It also reveals that the external audit on Woodlands Wellington is taking longer than expected, specifically with respect to certain transactions.

April 20, 2017: SportSG files a police report, in respect of suspected misuse of funds at Tiong Bahru Football Club, a National Football League club also run by Mr Ng, as well as a purported attempt by one of the club's senior officers to delay the completion of audits into the S-League sit-out clubs. Police then raid the offices of the FAS, Tiong Bahru FC, Hougang United and Woodlands Wellington.

dansonc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 21, 2017.
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