Ex-Maybank Kim Eng dealer admits Soh gave orders on trades in 3 accounts

Amala Balakrishner

SINGAPORE (May 22): Prosecution witness Ong Kah Chye revealed trades in three accounts under him were solely executed on the instructions of John Soh Chee Wen.

The former Maybank Kim Eng Securities dealer admitted he had received instructions from Soh for accounts belonging to three clients – Peter Chen Hing Woon, Tan Boon Kiat (also known as Gary Tan) and Magus Energy Group. However, Ong was not sure if Soh had given instructions for a fourth account – Friendship Bridge Holding — as the “account was really not active at all”.

The directors of Magnus Energy, namely, Lim Kuan Yew, Koh Teng Kiat and Luke Ho had the authority to give instructions for the Magnus account and Quah Su-Ling was authorised to give instructions for the Friendship Bridge account. While the account holders of the three accounts had given Ong oral permission to accept instructions from Soh, none of them had submitted a third-party authorisation form, the court heard on Wednesday.

During cross examination by Soh’s defence counsel, led by Senior Counsel, N Sreenivasan, Ong said that he had received orders from Soh with regards to trades Chen’s and Tan’s accounts. This was because Chen was Soh’s lawyer and someone he shared a close relationship while Tan was Soh’s brother-in-law.

“Yesterday, I admitted to the court I was lying to the IO, maintaining that Peter and Gary called me, or at least I confirmed the trade with Gary and Peter after the trade,” said Ong.

The truth, said Ong, was that it was Soh -- and not Chen or Tan -- whom he had been liaising with for the trades. Ong added that his statement was given after the investigating officer (IO) at the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) presented calls logs and a spreadsheet with the timestamps of trades he had made through certain accounts.

Soh and co-accused Quah, who was also former CEO of IPCO International, are on trial for allegedly being the masterminds behind the manipulation of three stocks back in 2013 -- Blumont Group, Asiasons Capital (now known as Attilan Group) and LionGold Corp -- collectively known as BAL. This led to a spectacular rise in their share prices and a subsequent crash that wiped out some $8 billion from the stock market.

Earlier, under cross examination by Quah’s defence counsel Phillip Fong, Ong said, “My recollection was that [Soh] was the only one who gave instructions on the accounts. Not the others”.

On further probing by Fong, Ong said, “I really have been searching for phone calls made by others to help me explain myself that instructions was not only from [Soh] but also from the office bearers, but I couldn't find any.”

Fong also presented several call records as well trades keyed in under Ong’s account at the corresponding timings, asking if it was possible for Quah to have used Soh’s phone to give him instructions, especially given the closeness shared by the duo.

Ong responded saying, “I can’t recollect, but what I recollect is that [Soh] did not have the habit of sharing his phone with other people.”

Fong then raised the two trades made under the Friendship Bridge account. The first was a purchase of 1.75 million Asiasons shares on February 5, 2013, and the second was a sale of 750,000 Asiasons shares on February 14, 2013. These transactions were made under the accounts of Chen and Tan.

Ong denied Fong’s suggestion that the Feb 14, 2013, transaction was a forced sale. Fong proceeded to ask if they were made in consultation with Soh, to which Ong said he could not recall if these trades were made by himself off his colleague Lim Teck Leong who would sometimes attend to his calls and perform trades on his behalf when he was not in office.

Ong also said he was alerted to a possible clampdown on the trading of BAL shares by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) sometime in September 2013. “I heard someone say something that the market cap of the three counters were higher than SPH or something like that. I believe I heard that comment from someone whom I don't know personally, but we were sitting together... A few days later there was an article on the Business Times talking about the same thing, that the market cap was so high.”

Ong further mentioned feeling uncomfortable after reading the article and told Soh who “sound[ed] very comfortable over the phone, telling me something like this was [market forces at work] or there was foreign buying interest in the counters”.

According to Ong, the Singapore Exchange had been promoting mining stocks at the time of the crash. He said that Carlson Smith, who was then a director and CFO at IPCO, had told “[him] after the crash that SGX had included LionGold as one of the 'poster boy' examples at a certain investment fair to show how successful the exchange was in promoting the listing of mining stocks”.

In response to queries by Sreenivasan, Ong said he did not know the exact details of the SGX mining promotion featuring LionGold.

During the hearing, Ong, whose last day of service at Maybank Kim Eng Securities was on Tuesday – the same day he first took to the stand as a witness for this trial – said his resignation had nothing to do with the hearing, and that his “desire to retire at age 73 was made [about] a year ago”.

The trial will resume on Thursday when Soh’s defence counsel will continue with their cross-examination of Ong.

2013 Penny Stock Crash

John Soh Chee Wen is the alleged mastermind behind the penny stock crash of 2013, which prosecutors have called “the most audacious, extensive and injurious market manipulation scheme ever in Singapore”.

Together with his alleged co-conspirator and girlfriend Quah Su-Ling, Soh and his associates are alleged to have been behind the massive rise and sudden collapse of shares in Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital (now Attilan Group), which wiped out some $8 billion in market value.

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