Former BSI banker Yeo Jiawei had a close working relationship with controversial Malaysian tycoon Low Taek Jho, a central figure in the scandal-hit 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund, a court heard yesterday.
Yeo, 33, left BSI Bank here in 2014 after Mr Low expressed "interest in taking him on in some kind of capacity", said Malaysian national Kevin Swampillai, Yeo's former supervisor at BSI, yesterday.
Their working relationship was so close that Yeo accompanied Mr Low, better known as Jho Low, on his private jet for work trips, including to Las Vegas last year to catch a boxing match. Yeo had a selfie taken with boxer Mike Tyson, said Mr Swampillai, testifying on the second day of the 1MDB-related trial.
He said working with Mr Low may have seemed a better opportunity for the Singaporean as Mr Low was "constantly in the news, had quasi-celebrity status... and big investment deals around the world".
The prosecution cited this close relationship with Mr Low as one of the reasons why Yeo attempted to pervert the course of justice in the four charges he is now facing. Seven other counts concerning cheating, money laundering and forgery are set for trial next year.
Yeo, who was a BSI wealth planner between December 2009 and July 2014, is accused of facilitating illicit transactions involving 1MDB that led to BSI's closure here.
Mr Swampillai, who was formerly BSI's head of wealth management services but is now unemployed, revealed the lengths taken to hide US$5 million (S$6.9 million) in referral fees he received from "implementing various structures" and "undertaking financial arrangements" for BSI clients.
Yeo amassed a $26 million fortune from various sources, including alleged illicit schemes to defraud BSI while he was an employee.
The idea of earning such commissions began during a trip they took to Labuan, Malaysia, in 2012, Mr Swampillai told the court. "We decided we would find an intermediary who would be used to identify certain funds, and have conversations with the funds about the nature of underlying transactions that would take place, and the kind of fees that the fund would earn.
"We were trying to find a margin between what the bank earned, what the fund managers earned, and create a margin that would be paid to Yeo and myself."
The pair received commissions from a number of entities, including Bridge Partners International Management, and a fund called Devonshire, Mr Swampillai said.
But they hid these payments as BSI "clearly would not condone such a practice", he added.
After Yeo left BSI, both men communicated fairly openly but "as the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) investigations began, communications were almost exclusively through Telegram and use of secondary phone", he said. They used a secret feature on Telegram that allows chats to be deleted from each other's phone records.
They even devised a missed call system to let each other know they had not been picked up by the CAD, said Mr Swampillai. After Yeo left BSI, he became known by his code name "James" to individuals in circles he was involved with, including Mr Low, Mr Swampillai said.
His testimony also revealed the role of Yeo's associate, Mr Samuel Goh Sze-Wei. Yeo is alleged to have told the two men at a meeting at the Swiss Club in March to lie to the police about some fund transfers.
"Yeo kicked off the meeting saying, 'The time has come for us to hold hands together', and that we should align our stories. Given the fact that all three of us had been questioned by CAD, the threat of exposure was very real," he said.
But Mr Swampillai said he abandoned the plan when taken in for questioning as it was "a cover story that had too many holes, and wouldn't stand up to any scrutiny".