US scam suspect claimed to be close to prominent S'poreans

S'porean wanted in $70m scam told victims he knew Tommy Koh, and had worked at Shell

An 80-year-old Singaporean wanted for his alleged role in a multimillion-dollar scam in the United States had name-dropped prominent Singaporeans such as Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh to lend credibility to the scheme.

He also claimed to have been an employee and scholarship recipient of Shell Singapore.

The Straits Times obtained a personal profile document believed to have been used by Ho Fook Kee while he allegedly acted as a broker for the US$50 million (S$70 million) scam. The US scam, which ST first reported on last month, involved Ho and five alleged accomplices who are believed to have impersonated US government officials to lure at least 12 victims to invest in a fraudulent scheme known as the "Cities Upliftment Programme".

The seven-page personal profile came from a Singaporean investment consultant who had expressed interest in investing with Ho and received the document from the latter through an American business partner. Attached was a photocopy of what is believed to be Ho's passport.

The document, which stated Ho's name as Ho Foo Kee instead of Ho Fook Kee as sources confirmed or F.K. Ho as written in his passport, listed what appeared to be his illustrious career in local and international oil, gas and engineering industries.

DON'T KNOW HIM'

I don't know him personally but he came to my office three to four years ago and I haven't seen him since.

MR TEO ENG LEONG, a lawyer listed as Ho Fook Kee's personal reference. The lawyer remembered Ho as Ho's passport did not state his full name, but just his initials.

'UNETHICAL'

I think it is not ethical for him to use my name in his CV (but) I don't plan to take any action against him. 

PROF TOMMY KOH, who was listed as a "personal friend" but has had no contact with the man he remembered as a secondary school mate since leaving school in 1957.

It claimed Ho worked at Shell Singapore, including as a petroleum chemist and a consultant. But a Shell Singapore spokesman said there were no records of Ho working in the roles described or as a scholarship holder.

The document also listed notable lawyers and public servants as character references, though those contacted by ST said they had not been contacted by any of the victims.

Professor Koh, 79, who was listed as a "former classmate and personal friend" , told ST that Ho's name did ring a "distant bell".

When shown a picture of the alleged scammer, Prof Koh said he remembered him as a secondary school mate but has had no contact with him since leaving school in 1957. "I think it is not ethical for him to use my name in his CV (but) I don't plan to take any action against him," he said.

Former Law Society president T.P.B. Menon and Lieutenant-General (Retired) Ng Jui Ping were also mentioned as Ho's "friends", but their names were misspelt. When contacted, both had no recollection of anyone fitting Ho's description.

Lawyer Teo Eng Leong, who was also listed as a personal reference, said he did not know Ho well and met him only a few times when the latter visited his office for notary public services. "I don't know him personally but he came to my office three to four years ago and I haven't seen him since," said Mr Teo.

He added that he remembered him because Ho's passport did not state his full name: "When he showed me his passport, it was just his initials (stated there)".

A Singapore mobile phone number belonging to Ho was also listed in the profile, but calls to the number went unanswered.

Ho is being investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department here and is on bail for a case unrelated to the US scam, sources told ST. Details of the case in Singapore are not known.

According to indictment papers for the US scam, Ho and five others had allegedly told victims the scheme was backed by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

They promised investors "exponential" returns, where a US$1 million investment could yield US$150 million in less than four months, and allegedly swindled victims from the US and all over the world. Among those cheated was an unnamed victim in Singapore who was allegedly approached by Ho in 2015 and parked US$1 million in the scheme.

Two months ago, Ho was charged with five counts relating to committing wire fraud and impersonating a US officer, among others.

His alleged accomplices included four Americans - Michael Jacobs, 64; Ruby Handler-Jacobs, 64; Lawrence Lester, 71; Rachel Gendreau, 46 - and Sri Lankan and alleged mastermind Rienzi Edwards, 55.

All six were charged in US courts in December but Ho and Edwards were on the run at the time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'US scam suspect claimed to be close to prominent S'poreans'. Print Edition | Subscribe