Ex-BSI banker trial: Yeo Jiawei was paranoid about secrecy

ST ILLUSTRATION: CHNG CHOON HIONG

Ex-supervisor claims he and Yeo Jiawei made millions in 'secret profits' from 1MDB dealings

Former BSI banker Yeo Jiawei was so paranoid about secrecy, he urged his former supervisor to get a "Bangla" phone so they could hold untraceable conversations, a court heard yesterday.

"Bangla" phones are those that belonged to construction workers who had left Singapore, and so would not be easily tracked.

Prosecution witness Kevin Swampillai, Yeo's former supervisor at BSI, told the court: "In fact, I asked him if he could get me one, to which he replied it would be difficult, and he suggested that I get my own - get my own SIM card, or secondary phone," to keep his communications with Yeo secret.

The pair also used encrypted texts on the online messaging service Telegram to avoid detection after investigations by the Commercial Affairs Department into their dealings with scandal-hit state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) intensified in October last year.

Details on how the pair tried to avoid detection by using untraceable phones surfaced on day three of Yeo's trial on four charges of perverting the course of justice by allegedly urging witnesses to lie to police and destroy evidence. Counts of money laundering, cheating and forgery will be dealt with in a separate trial next year.

 
 
 
  • About the case

  • Former BSI wealth planner Yeo Jiawei is the first of four Singaporeans charged so far to go on trial over the scandal surrounding Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

    Yeo is facing four of 11 charges for his role in 1MDB. These four relate to perverting the course of justice. The remaining charges, ranging from money laundering to cheating to forgery, have been stood down for now.

    Yeo has also been charged with forging documents to facilitate a transfer of US$11.95 million (S$16.5 million) in 2013 to a firm beneficially owned by Mr Tan Kim Loong, an associate of Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low.

    Others who have been charged are Mr Low's former private banker, Yak Yew Chee, and former BSI director Yvonne Seah Yew Foong. Former remisier Kelvin Ang Wee Keng was charged in April with corrupt transactions.

Mr Swampillai also testified that Yeo, 33, left the Swiss private bank BSI to join infamous Malaysian tycoon Jho Low after getting a salary offer of $500,000 a year.

The testimony refuted claims by Yeo's lawyer that his client did not get a job offer from Mr Low.

Mr Swampillai, 52, was head of BSI's wealth management services before being suspended. He is now unemployed. He told the court that he devised a plan to make "big management fees" from setting up a fund company that would manage the proceeds from a deal with Brazen Sky, a wholly owned unit of 1MDB.

"The idea may have come from me, but Yeo was (an) enthusiastic supporter of the idea and had participated actively with me in that discussion," said Mr Swampillai.

Yeo's lawyer, Mr Philip Fong, asked Mr Swampillai if he had put the idea in Yeo's head for the fund management business.

"The fund company would be managing a portfolio value of more than US$2.3 billion. Did you tell Yeo this?" Mr Fong asked.

Mr Swampillai denied it, saying Yeo "recognised the potential of that business" without him having to say so.

Mr Swampillai said he and Yeo made millions in "secret profits" from their 1MDB dealings. The pair set up shell companies Bridge Partners International Management (BPIM) and Bridge Global Managers (BGM) to receive the "secret profits", he said, which were then channelled to companies they controlled.

ACTIVE PARTICIPANT

The idea may have come from me, but Yeo was (an) enthusiastic supporter of the idea and had participated actively with me in that discussion.

PROSECUTION WITNESS KEVIN SWAMPILLAI, Yeo's ex-supervisor at BSI, on a plan to make "big management fees".

In September 2012, 1MDB sold its shares in a venture for US$2.32 billion and received units in BPIM. 1MDB earlier said the units were owned by Brazen Sky and held through BSI in Singapore as custodian.

The "referral fees" arrangement, according to Mr Swampillai, arose from a joint collaboration. It involved a portion of the management fees paid by Brazen Sky to BPIM going to firms controlled by Mr Swampillai and Yeo.

Mr Swampillai said it "was Yeo's idea that there should be an intermediary company between our companies and Bridge Partners, which I fully supported" to afford an added layer of security.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2016, with the headline 'Former BSI banker 'was paranoid' about secrecy'. Print Edition | Subscribe