SINGAPORE - Lim Oon Kuin, the founder of collapsed oil trading firm Hin Leong Trading, was slapped with 105 new charges of cheating and forgery in the State Courts on Thursday morning (June 24).
Together with the 25 forgery-related charges filed last year and in April this year, the 79-year-old former oil tycoon, better known as O.K. Lim, is now facing a total of 130 charges.
The new charges comprise 68 charges of cheating, 36 charges of conspiracy to commit forgery and one count of abetment of forgery of a valuable security.
Abetment of forgery for the purpose of cheating carries a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine. Abetment of forgery can bring a jail term of up to four years and a fine. Abetment of forgery of a valuable security carries a jail term of up to 15 years and a fine.
Lim’s $3 million court bail was raised by $1 million to a total of $4 million because the new charges involve more financial institutions, larger sums disbursed and large sums outstanding, the police said.
The prosecution initially sought to raise bail by $2 million, while Lim’s defence lawyer, Mr Navin Thevar of Davinder Singh Chambers, asked for his client to be e-tagged or electronically monitored as a condition of bail, with an additional $500,000 in bail.
But District Judge Brenda Tan found it “appropriate to increase bail” by $1 million in view of the 105 new charges tendered on Thursday.
In asking for the $2 million increase in bail, Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan said: “We are looking at 130 charges in all involving vast amounts in fraud perpetrated against local and international banks in Singapore. The numbers are eye-watering. The first 25 charges involve US$540 million (S$726.8 million) in fraudulent loans being disbursed. The latest 105 charges involve US$2.2 billion in fraudulent loans disbursed. The 130 charges involve a total of about US$2.7 billion.
“I wish to submit that we are not seeking this quantum of bail as a punitive measure. When the first two charges were tendered, the amount involved was US$56 million... The court granted bail of $3 million. The additional 23 charges involved US$490 million, but prosecution did not seek an increase in bail then."
The DPP stressed: “But the gravity of the offences has increased manifold now. The 105 charges account for around US$2.2 billion. And of that amount, US$262 million was not repaid."
Mr Navin argued that there was “an extremely low risk" that his client would not show up in court. "He is 79 and in frail health... His family is based in Singapore... He cannot be considered a flight risk as he has surrendered his passport.”
In addition, Lim is also “subject to a Mareva injunction, so his assets are frozen worldwide and in Singapore”, said Mr Navin.
Lim has skipped court on occasion, but his counsel argued he had lawful medical certificates excusing him on account of his poor health.
The police said 35 of the new charges related to Lim allegedly deceiving eight financial institutions into providing accounts receivable financing, amounting to about US$1.2 billion, to Hin Leong on the basis that the firm had loaded oil onto particular vessels pursuant to contracts for its sale to BP Singapore and Unipec Singapore.
About US$55 million remains outstanding from Hin Leong to a financial institution in relation to one of these charges, the police said.
Another 33 charges related to Lim allegedly deceiving nine financial institutions into providing letters of credit (LCs) and making payment, amounting to about US$1 billion, on the LCs by falsely representing that there would be cargo underlying contracts for the purchase of oil by Hin Leong from BP.
About US$180 million remains outstanding from Hin Leong to four financial institutions in relation to six of these charges, the police said.
One charge relates to Lim allegedly conspiring with a Hin Leong employee to commit forgery of a valuable security by making a falsified bill of lading, which falsely represented that 501,350 US barrels of gasoil had been loaded on to the crude oil tanker Chang Bai San on March 13 last year.
The remaining 36 charges relate to Lim allegedly conspiring with a Hin Leong employee to commit forgery by procuring 36 falsified certificates of quality from AmSpec Testing Services, which falsely represented that samples of oil had been collected and tested.
These certificates of quality were then allegedly sent by Hin Leong to BP to make it appear that independent testing had been carried out to certify the quality of the oil that was allegedly sold by Hin Leong to BP, according to the charges.
In disputing the prosecution’s request for a higher bail, Mr Navin also pointed to the case of alleged penny stock crash mastermind John Soh Chee Wen, who is accused of causing $8 billion of value to be wiped off the Singapore stock market in 2013.
Mr Navin noted that Soh was deemed a flight risk and had been put on bail of $500,000.
But in Lim’s case, Mr Navin argued that his client was asked to post $3 million in bail after being charged last August with one count of abetment of forgery for the purpose of cheating “because the prosecution already anticipated the gravity and scale of the offences, and they factored that into the bail”.
“If my client had engaged in additional offences or... if there are unconnected transactions that the CAD (Commercial Affairs Department) didn’t factor into consideration”, that could warrant a higher bail, he said.
“But that’s not the case. They cannot ask for a double counting of the bail,” Mr Navin said.
The prosecution rejected Mr Navin's assertion that CAD “somehow anticipated the scale of the charges”.
The DPP also pointed out that Soh had been out on station bail of $500,000 before he was charged, and his girlfriend and co-defendant Quah Su-Ling was offered a $4 million bail.
“But we cannot compare bail like they are sentencing precedents. That’s not how it is done... We feel that the difference between a person who faces one charge, and one who faces 105 charges is stark. You cannot expect the same bail to apply to those two different situations,” the DPP argued.
Hin Leong collapsed last year owing US$3.5 billion after the oil price plunge sparked a debt default that exposed years of hidden losses and alleged fraud by the Lim family. The firm was wound up in March after three bidders walked away from a deal to buy Hin Leong and two related companies as a combined entity.
Last month, Hin Leong's judicial managers turned liquidators succeeded in freezing the Lim family's assets worldwide in their bid to recoup the US$3.5 billion debt.
Last August, the judicial managers sued to force the Lim family to repay the US$3.5 billion debt and $90 million in dividends they allegedly paid themselves, even though their firm was insolvent. The asset freeze order application was made to ensure that there are enough proceeds to enforce against, should the judicial managers win the lawsuit.