Alleged mastermind of penny stock crash denied bail

Soh faces 188 charges and could face the longest jail term imposed in Singapore for financial crime.
Soh faces 188 charges and could face the longest jail term imposed in Singapore for financial crime.

Bail was yesterday denied to Malaysian businessman John Soh Chee Wen, who now faces 188 charges as the alleged mastermind of Singapore's 2013 penny stock crash.

He could face the "longest custodial term ever imposed for financial crime" here, prosecutors said.

Soh initially faced 181 charges for allegedly manipulating Blumont, Asiasons and LionGold shares between August 2012 and October 2013. The shares surged between 150 and 800 per cent in less than nine months, before losing most of their market value in just three days in October 2013, wiping out more than $8 billion in value.

Yesterday, seven new charges of witness-tampering were brought against Soh at his bail hearing. The prosecution also objected to bail after evidence emerged to allegedly show that he had tampered with witnesses linked to a probe of another listed firm, ISR Capital, on the day of his arrest on Nov 24 last year.

Investigators found some trading accounts linked to Soh were involved in ISR shares skyrocketing 2,800 per cent between May and November last year. After his arrest, the shares dived 55 per cent, and some $247 million in market value was wiped out as a result.

District Judge Terence Tay found Soh to be of flight risk. Not only did Soh enter and leave Singapore illegally, but he also tampered with witnesses, said the judge. "The facts also suggest that Soh is a protagonist who has significant influence over the supporting cast."

The new charges allege that Soh tampered with at least three witnesses: LionGold executive Peter Chen Hing Woon, and trading representatives Gabriel Gan and Ken Tai. Mr Tai is financial adviser to Quah Su Ling, believed to be Soh's girlfriend and alleged co-mastermind of the crash. Quah, who was arrested on Nov 24, faces 178 charges. She posted bail of $4 million on Jan 5.

To finance the scheme, Soh allegedly cheated financial institutions into issuing him $170 million. "Using carrot and stick, Soh sought to procure at least three witnesses to lie repeatedly to investigators and conceal his involvement in manipulative trades," prosecutors said.

But Soh's lawyer, Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, said Mr Tai had "an axe to grind"; he approached Soh for help but was rejected.

Meanwhile, Gan pestered Soh for help, as he was in a "desperately sorry state after losing money in the stock crash", said SC Tan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Alleged mastermind of penny stock crash denied bail'. Print Edition | Subscribe