Duo fail in bid to stay criminal trial for their role in 2013 penny stock crash

John Soh Chee Wen (left) and Quah Su-Ling have failed in their bid to stay criminal proceedings against them. PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO, ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Malaysian businessman John Soh Chee Wen and his girlfriend, Quah Su-Ling, who are accused of masterminding Singapore's most serious case of stock market manipulation, have failed in their bid to stay criminal proceedings against them.

The duo, who are facing 189 charges and 178 charges respectively for their role in the penny stock crash of 2013 that wiped out $8 billion in market value, claimed that "the prosecution's conduct of the trial thus far had seriously prejudiced them, rendering a fair trial impossible".

But High Court judge Hoo Sheau Peng said in a judgment issued last week that she "did not think that a permanent stay of criminal proceedings was justified on any or all of the grounds (they) advanced".

From October 2012 to October 2013, contra trading accounted for about 31 per cent of total trading value on the Singapore Exchange. It was allegedly exploited by Soh and Quah to manipulate the stocks of Blumont Group, Asiasons Capital (now Attilan Group) and LionGold Corp. Prices of these stocks nosedived in early October 2013 and $8 billion in market value evaporated as a result.

Soh claimed that the prosecution failed to act carefully and diligently in bringing the charges against him, and had allegedly made errors in the data evidence provided. Both Soh and Quah claimed that the prosecution was "effectively waging a war of attrition" instead of conducting the trial in an expeditious manner.

But Justice Hoo found that "even taking into consideration the lengthy period of investigations prior to the trial, and the amendment of 30 charges at the committal hearing stage, the amendment of the 178 charges during the trial was not irremediably unfair... to the accused persons such as to render a fair trial impossible".

On their claim of "prosecution by attrition", Soh and Quah contended that the prosecution had "caused delay to the proceedings either deliberately or through incompetence".

They cited an "exceptionally lengthy examination-in-chief of the prosecution witnesses, despite the use of conditioned statements prepared".

But Justice Hoo disagreed. "The length of the examination-in-chief reflected the scale and complexity of the case, and the amount of evidence to be adduced from some of the key witnesses."

She also disagreed with the duo's claim that "numerous errors in the data provided by the prosecution led to a waste of trial time and substantial costs , thereby justifying a permanent stay of criminal proceedings".

While Justice Hoo noted that prosecution and the investigation agencies should have been more meticulous and rigorous in terms of trial preparation, she found that the prosecution has "tried its best to address the problems and... would resolve any issues in the defence's favour where gaps in information persisted".

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