Year in Review: Top executives who made the headlines in 2020

·6-min read
O.K. Lim, founder and chairman of oil trading group Hin Leong, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Singapore June 5, 2013. Singapore oil trader and shipper Hin Leong plans to spend up to$3 billion to build oil terminals and distribution facilities in emerging Asian markets, including fresh investments in Myanmar and Indonesia, to meet rising oil demand from the region. Picture taken June 5. To match Interview HINLEONG-ASIA/EXPANSION   REUTERS/Edgar Su (SINGAPORE - Tags: BUSINESS ENERGY)
O.K. Lim, founder and chairman of oil trading group Hin Leong, June 5, 2013. (FILE PHOTO: REUTERS/Edgar Su)

By Lyn Chan

SINGAPORE — The coronavirus pandemic may have changed our lives in 2020 and beyond. These entrepreneurs, business executives and leaders who have been in the limelight — for better, or for worse— have also contributed to an unforgettable year.

Lim Oon Kuin, Hin Leong Trading (Pte.) Ltd

Tycoon Lim Oon Kuin, founder of collapsed Singaporean oil trader Hin Leong Trading, is in the limelight after the company was accused of hiding more than US$800 million in losses and leaving 23 banks on the hook for US$3.5 billion in liabilities.

To make matters worse, it has been alleged that the company also illegally sold millions of barrels of oil it was using as collateral for bank loans, according to previous court filings and affidavits,

OK Lim, as he is commonly known, also faces two charges of document forgery for the purposes of cheating, and is under an ongoing investigation by Singaporean authorities.

Bank of China on 14 December became the latest lender to sue Lim and his two children to recover losses. This follows HSBC, its largest creditor, who sued Lim, his children, and a Hin Leong employee to recover US$85.3 million in financing that the bank alleged they obtained with forged accords.

Lim, who founded the company in 1963, started from humble beginnings, supplying diesel from a fishing boat to other vessels. Lim, who left Putian in China’s Fujian province for Singapore, grew the one-man-one-truck oil dealer to become one of the largest locally-owned independent oil trading companies.

The 78-year-old was Singapore's 18th richest man in 2019 with a net worth of US$1.65 billion, according to Forbes. He has since been dropped from the list.

A photo on the website of Bellagraph Nova Group, showing owners Terence (R) and Nelson (L) Loh and Evangeline Shen sitting next to former U.S. President Barack Obama, is pictured on screen, in Singapore August 19, 2020. REUTERS/Ng Yi Shu
A photo on the website of Bellagraph Nova Group, showing owners Terence (R) and Nelson (L) Loh and Evangeline Shen sitting next to former US President Barack Obama, August 19, 2020. (PHOTO: REUTERS/Ng Yi Shu)

Nelson Loh and Terence Loh, Bellagraph Nova Group

The Loh cousins, Nelson and Terence, co-founders of the Bellagraph Nova Group (BN Group) together with Chinese national Evangeline Shen, kicked up a stir when news of their intention to purchase Newcastle hit the streets in August. Would the trio succeed in owning an English Premier League Club where business magnate Peter Lim failed 10 years ago?

It became clear very quickly that the answer would be a resounding ‘no’, when Reuters reported that the group had doctored images of former US president Barack Obama to give the impression he had attended a meeting with the Lohs and Shen in Paris in marketing materials.

The bad publicity triggered a flurry of activity from anxious investors who wanted to pull out their millions pumped into entities under the Loh cousins’ Novena Global Healthcare Group (NGHG).

Less than a month later more bad news emerged.

The Singapore police announced in September it was investigating a complaint from Ernst & Young. It appeared that the auditor’s unauthorised signatures were used on financial statements belonging to the Cayman Islands-incorporated NGHG.

On December 11, the Singapore High Court granted an application from DBS Bank to wind up the group’s subsidiary, Novena Global Healthcare Pte Ltd, which owes the bank more than S$14 million.

Amid the saga, Nelson Loh, 43, in November said his 40-year-old cousin Terence Loh, had left Singapore after legally splitting all business interests a month earlier. His whereabouts are unknown at this point.

Liew Mun Leong, Chairman of Changi Airport Group. (PHOTO: CAG website)
Liew Mun Leong, former hairman of Changi Airport Group. (PHOTO: CAG website)

Liew Mun Leong, Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong Private Limited

Liew Mun Leong made the headlines when he stepped down as chairman of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong in September amid public outcry days after the High Court acquitted his former maid of theft.

Liew, 74, also resigned from his positions as a senior international business adviser at Temasek Holdings and as a board member of Temasek Foundation.

Liew said he didn’t wish his current situation “to be a distraction to their respective boards, management and staff, amid their many critical priorities.”

His former helper Parti Liyani had been convicted and sentenced to 26 months’ jail over stealing items worth more than S$34,000 from the Liew household, following a police report made by the Liew family in 2016.

Parti, who had worked for Liew and his family for nearly a decade until 2016, appealed and her conviction was overturned in the High Court on 4 September, after the judge raised doubts on the Liews’ possible motivation in lodging a police report against her.

When Parti, 46, was informed of the decision to terminate her employment, she had threatened to file a complaint against the Liew family for assigning her cleaning duties outside of Liew’s house – she had been asked to clean the home and office of Liew’s son, Karl.

Singapore-based Sea Limited Chairman and CEO Forrest Li, speaks during an interview with CNBC following his company's IPO on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., October 20, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Singapore-based Sea Limited Chairman and CEO Forrest Li on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, October 20, 2017. (PHOTO: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Forrest Li, Sea Limited

Sea, led by tech titan Forrest Li, snagged a coveted digital full bank licence in Singapore. The licence will further entrench the company as Southeast Asia’s most valuable company with a market cap of about US$100 billion. Sea currently has three platforms: Garena (gaming), Shopee (e-commerce), and SeaMoney (digital payments).

With the licence, Li — co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer — hopes to offer digital banking services addressing the underserved financial needs of young consumers and SMEs.

Li, a naturalised Singapore citizen who hails from Tianjin in China, was named Businessman of the Year at the 35th Singapore Business Awards last month.

The 43-year-old executive said in a Business Times interview that Sea would look at offering credit, wealth management products, and insurance products, in the financial services category. He added that “the e-commerce business gives us a lot of data points to better design those products”.

Li’s wealth stands at US$10.8 billion as of 22 December, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Li is also a member of the board of directors of the Singapore Economic Development Board and serves as an independent non-executive director at Shangri-La Asia.

Ng Xinwei and Ng Say Pek, Agritrade International Pte Ltd

Agritrade International, whose businesses span palm oil and coal, is undergoing a court-appointed restructuring after it collapsed earlier this year amid fraud allegations. It owes US$1.55 billion to dozens of creditors, including US$983 million owed to secured lenders.

ING Bank NV in an affidavit filed in February accused founder Ng Say Pek, 68, and his son Ng Xinwei, 34, who is the CEO, of fraud. The bank alleged the son and his father painted a misleading picture of their company’s financial position.

Agritrade started off as a family-run palm oil trading firm in 1979. Its Hong Kong-listed Agritrade Resources Limited, which operates mines in Indonesia and China, has been halted from trading since July.

London-based Nithia Capital Resources Advisors LLP is seeking to acquire troubled Singapore commodity trader Agritrade and its shares in its Hong Kong-listed subsidiary, Reuters said in July. There has been no update since then.

Related stories:

Year in Review: The 5 Best Performing REITs of 2020

Year in Review: The 5 Best-Performing Stocks of 2020

Year of pain sets stage for 2021’s top 10 emerging-market themes