5 entrepreneurs in S'pore who made the headlines for the wrong reasons

(Clockwise from top left) Ng Yu Zhi, Alain Ong, Mr Bernard Ong, Mr Terence Loh and Mr Harsh Dalal. PHOTOS: GAVIN FOO, ST FILE, FORBES ASIA, SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

SINGAPORE - Pandemic aside, the corporate world saw its fair share of drama this year as several businessmen made the news for the wrong reasons.

One was involved in possibly the biggest investment fraud case in Singapore, while others are facing the heat from investments and business decisions that went awry.

The Straits Times looks at these figures who were in the spotlight, and what is next for them and their businesses.

1. Ng Yu Zhi


The 34-year-old is facing 75 charges over his alleged role in a nickel trading scheme that saw investors purportedly cheated of at least $1.2 billion.

These include six more charges that were handed to Ng on Monday (Dec 20), including that of spending more than $100 million of ill-gotten gains.

It is the first case here involving allegations of investment fraud to cross the billion-dollar mark.

Chairman of Vickers Capital Group Finian Tan is said to have lost US$19.2 million (S$26.3 million).

Other supposed victims include Temasek International general counsel Pek Siok Lan, criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan and former Law Society president Thio Shen Yi.

Ms Pek is said to have invested $5.5 million, Mr Sunil's sum was $1 million and Mr Thio reportedly put in $87,000.

Ng is the former managing director of trading companies Envy Global Trading (EGT) and Envy Asset Management (EAM).

Based on court documents seen by The Straits Times, investors were promised returns that averaged 15 per cent over three months. Many investors had rolled over their contracts at the end of three months to reinvest their principal and returns.

Ng has also been sued by the liquidators of his Envy Group for damages totalling about $517.4 million, according to court documents dated Nov 19, which listed the nature of the case as insolvency.

What's next:

Ng's next court mention is slated for Feb 14 next year. His charges include cheating, forgery and criminal breach of trust.

2. Alain Ong


Ong, who is married to actress-television host Vivian Lai, is facing three charges under the Companies Act.

The former director in Pokka International and Pokka Corporation (Singapore), who allegedly had partial beneficial ownership of drinks company Asian Story Corporation (ASC), failed to disclose his interest to the two Pokka entities on three occasions when they and ASC entered into transactions.

ASC was acquired by coffee shop operator Kimly in 2018, but Kimly later said it was backing out of the acquisition following an investigation by the authorities.

Ong had been appointed non-executive and non-independent director of Kimly in February 2017. He was asked to leave Pokka International in September 2018.

In 2019, Pokka sued Ong, accusing him of working with others to divert business to ASC and inflating the value of ASC in anticipation of its acquisition by Kimly. It claimed he had breached his duties as a director and employee of Pokka.

In his defence, Ong argued that Pokka had always marketed itself as a premium Japanese beverage brand and that attempts to venture into Asian drinks had met with little success. He also said the decision to sign on with ASC was approved by the Pokka board and management.

The $10 million lawsuit was settled out of court in April last year, but details were not revealed.

What's next:

Ong could face a jail term of up to 12 months or fined up to $5,000 on each charge if convicted under the Companies Act.

3. Bernard Ong


An online cryptocurrency trading platform called Torque, which the Singaporean businessman ran, made headlines when users of the platform claimed to have lost millions in cryptocurrencies.

At least 70 police reports were lodged against it.

In February, retail investors were told in a letter from Torque Group Holdings that one of Torque's employees had apparently violated the company's rules and that his unauthorised trading activities had led to significant losses in their trading accounts.

Mr Ong, 33, later applied to the British Virgin Islands courts to wind up the firm, which was incorporated there.

A preliminary review of Torque's database by its liquidators estimated creditor claims at US$325 million as at March 2. Torque had more than 14,000 investors in more than 120 countries.

Mr Ong was also entangled in a US$9 million lawsuit relating to Snap Innovations, a company he joined a few months after the Torque incident.

In the lawsuit, Greek investor Georgios Baizanis accused Mr Ong of breaching a corporate guarantee for millions of dollars in investments placed with the firm.

What's next:

Investors are waiting for liquidators to conclude their investigations so they can withdraw their balance from the Torque platform.

The company is trying to "trace and locate the misappropriated funds" by the employee, who Mr Ong said has not been contactable.

4. Terence Loh


The co-founder of Novena Global Healthcare was declared bankrupt in July this year.

The 43-year-old reportedly had outstanding debts of some $70 million owed to five banks.

They involved personal guarantees for loans extended to Novena Global Healthcare - the flagship firm Mr Terence Loh founded with his cousin Nelson Loh.

The Loh cousins made the news in August last year with a £280 million (S$512 million) takeover bid for English Premier League football club Newcastle United under the Bellagraph Nova (BN) Group, which they founded with Chinese entrepreneur Evangeline Shen.

The company was caught shortly after in a slew of false claims.

Mr Nelson Loh was declared bankrupt in January this year after DBS Bank commenced bankruptcy proceedings against him in relation to some $14.2 million in outstanding debts. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

What's next:

Mr Terence Loh's assets could be sold by a private trustee of his estate to repay his creditors. They may include vehicles and private property owned by him.

Any assets protected from bankruptcy, such as Housing Board flats, are excluded.

5. Harsh Dalal


The local entrepreneur, who claimed to run a US$25 million tech start-up called Team Labs, was one of the honorees of Forbes' annual 30 Under 30 Asia list this year.

However, the 19-year-old was removed from the list less than a month later.

A detailed investigation by Singapore-based online tech publication Tech in Asia found inconsistencies in several of his claims, including his US$9.8 million Series A round raised from venture capital firm Grand Canyon Capital.

Forbes said his removal came after "a careful consideration of the findings of a comprehensive review of the information that was used to qualify him for the list", as well as new information that had come to light.

Mr Dalal, a Singapore permanent resident who graduated from Singapore Polytechnic with a diploma in business administration, co-founded Team Labs.

What's next:

Mr Dalal will be busy serving his national service.

In his defence, members of the tech fraternity noted he has demonstrated intelligence and eloquence beyond most peers his age - skills that could be used for more purposeful endeavours.

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