SINGAPORE — A Singaporean lawyer who allegedly went missing along with $33.2 million in an escrow account held by his firm on behalf of a client took active steps to throw law enforcement officers off his trail, a court heard on Thursday (20 June).
On the same day that Jeffrey Ong Su Aun, 41, the managing partner of JLC Advisors, was pressed to account for unauthorised withdrawals of clients’ monies by the partners in his firm, he left Singapore for Malaysia.
Ong stayed at an unknown office in Malaysia for several days before moving to a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, which had been booked in another person’s name.
He also threw away his mobile phone and used a new one with a China SIM card.
And he allegedly got hold of a stolen Malaysian passport belonging to a Malaysian Chinese man, whose face and age were similar to Ong’s.
These details emerged at the State Courts as prosecutors read out an affidavit filed by a police investigator who said he believed Ong to be “a high flight risk” based on his actions prior to his arrest.
“I have reason to believe that the accused has the knowledge and means to abscond effectively,” said commercial affairs officer Bernard Kho Wee Chong from the securities fraud division of the police’s commercial affairs department in his affidavit.
“It is likely that the accused will face more charges involving other entities...If the accused is released on bail, there is a real risk that he may abscond and/or become uncontactable by the police,” said Kho.
Jennifer Sia, Ong’s lawyer, applied for bail on Thursday but it was denied.
Ong was previously charged with nine offences - one count of cheating involving $6 million and eight counts of forgery for the purpose of cheating involving the same amount.
On Thursday, he was accused of another 13 crimes - all of which relate to forgery for the purpose of cheating, involving a total sum of more than US$4.8 million.
According to the charge sheets, Ong allegedly made false statements of accounts for his firm’s Standard Chartered US dollar bank account between October 2017 and February last year, and between July last year and February this year.
Ong allegedly intended to cheat a person into believing that US$4,852,033.66 which was held by JLC in escrow was unused in the bank account. The amount was for a settlement between two companies.
No plea was taken. The case will be mentioned again on 11 July.
Details of the case
Ong came into the spotlight after he allegedly disappeared, along with $33.2 million that belonged to a JLC client, Allied Technologies.
The funds had been held in escrow by JLC under an agreement made in 2017.
According to Kho’s affidavit, Ong was asked to account for unauthorised withdrawals of clients’ monies by the partners in his law firm on 13 May 2019.
On the same day, he allegedly arranged with a person named “Nicholas” for a driver to ferry him to Malaysia in a private-hire car. Ong only told his wife about his plan to skip town, and he travelled via Tuas Checkpoint.
In Malaysia, Ong met with a friend of “Nicholas” named “Dennis”, who offered Ong shelter in his office for two to three days.
“Dennis” then arranged for Ong to move to Vivatel Kuala Lumpur, a hotel in the Cheras district of Malaysia’s capital. Ong didn’t pay for the hotel using his credit cards. It was not clear how the payment for the hotel stay was made.
On 16 May, Ong became uncontactable after he threw away his mobile phone. He got “Dennis” to get him another phone and Ong used a China SIM card which he had with him.
The Singapore police received a report on 21 May against Ong for alleged criminal breach of trust involving $33 million.
On 24 May, the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) took control over all monies held by JLC on behalf its clients and third parties.
The State Courts issued a warrant of arrest the following day based on a holding charge of cheating involving $6 million.
On 29 May, Malaysian policemen arrested Ong in his hotel room. He was allegedly found with a stolen Malaysian passport belonging to a 43-year-old Malaysian Chinese man whose photo bore some resemblance to the lawyer. Ong, according to the affidavit, got the passport from a person named “Calvin”.
Brought back to Singapore to face charges
Malaysian police brought Ong back to Singapore on 30 May.
Making his first court appearance on 1 June, Ong was charged with one count of cheating by deceiving CCJ Investments into believing that Suite Development had entered into a loan agreement with it.
As a result of the alleged deception, CCJ Investments then disbursed $6 million, of which about $3.3 million was used to refinance Suite Development’s mortgage loan and about $2.7 million was deposited into JLC’s client’s account.
On 13 June, Ong was accused of forging eight documents in order to cheat CCJ Investments into disbursing $6 million.
According to the eight charges, he allegedly signed on various documents under the names of James Tan Kwang Yong and Joel Tan Guang Qian on 18 and 19 February. James Tan is the director and sole shareholder of Suite Development while Joel Tan is its company secretary.
These documents include a Deed of Charge over Shares, a Deed of Guarantee, a Mortgage (relating to three shophouses in Tanjong Katong Road), a Director’s Resolution, a Shareholder’s Resolution, an Instrument of Transfer as well as a letter from James Tan to Joel Tan.
The maximum penalty for Ong’s single charge of cheating is up to 10 years’ jail along with a fine. The maximum punishment for each of his 22 charges of committing forgery for the purpose of cheating is the same.
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