New investor ousts Ipco exec director at meeting

Ipco's long-time executive director Carlson Smith was questioned over his continued absence from the firm's office.
Ipco's long-time executive director Carlson Smith was questioned over his continued absence from the firm's office.

He also succeeds in appointing two new independent directors to the board

A shake-up has been set in motion at Ipco International, with long-time executive director Carlson Smith ousted during an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) yesterday requisitioned by Ipco's new investor James Blythman.

Mr Blythman, an Australian, became a 14.24 per cent shareholder in September last year after putting $1.58 million into Ipco through a placement at 0.18 cent per share.

He also succeeded in appointing two new independent directors to the Ipco board yesterday, replacing two who left last year.

Mr Blythman spoke little during the EGM. Instead, the man who brought thunder to the event was previously unknown Malaysian investor Tow Kong Liang.

Half an hour into the EGM, after Mr Smith said he believed he was being removed because he had resisted the appointment of certain unnamed directors whom he had not been allowed to interview, Mr Tow rose to his feet.

Wielding sheets of paper, Mr Tow took Mr Smith to task. He said he had just discovered the information in a brown envelope lying on the floor behind a row of chairs. "When I came in, there was a stack of envelopes there, so I just picked up one," he began. "There were some e-mails, these were from James Blythman to the (interim) chief executive of the company."

About 50 people attended the EGM at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club. It is not clear who put the envelopes in the room.

In one e-mail, Mr Blythman wrote that he had been told Mr Smith had not visited Ipco's subsidiaries in China and the United States for the past four years at least. "Does he have a problem by which he cannot travel to discharge his duties accordingly?" Mr Blythman asked in another e-mail. He also questioned Mr Smith's continued absence from Ipco's office.

Mr Smith, who had sat on Ipco's board since 2002 and was also its chief financial officer, said his passport had been impounded by the Commercial Affairs Department.

Mr Smith claimed that the Singapore Exchange had given Ipco permission not to reveal his passport situation to shareholders. He added: "I've not been called in for questioning concerning this in the last three years, nor have I been notified that I'm a prosecution witness."

Interim Ipco CEO Goh Hin Calm together with former CEO Quah Su-Ling face trial for charges related to the 2013 penny stock crash.

In another e-mail to Ipco officers last December, Mr Blythman alleged that Ipco had misled investors about the value of a US real estate project held by Ipco subsidiary Capri Investments.

As Mr Tow continued to grill him, Mr Smith sought to fight back by highlighting the connection between Mr Tow and Mr Blythman.

Mr Blythman paid for his placement shares using a $1.58 million cheque from Mr Tow's personal bank account, Mr Smith said.

Mr Tow did not deny this: "I wanted to exchange some Australian dollars. Changing money, is that a business relation?"

Mr Tow said he had known Mr Blythman since he was a child.

Mr Tow is executive director of Australia-listed International Equities, which owns the Seasons Apartment Hotel Group.

His son Dennis Tow is the largest shareholder in Malaysia-listed Kuantan Flour Mills (KFM) and was a non-executive director in the firm until he resigned in 2016.

Former Blumont Group executive chairman Neo Kim Hock is a KFM shareholder. The company had previously been linked to John Soh Chee Wen, the alleged mastermind of the penny stock crash.

Eventually, after an hour into the Ipco EGM, shareholders started walking out before Mr Smith had finished stating his defence.

With Mr Smith gone, executive power is left solely in the hands of interim CEO Goh.

Ipco shares rose 0.1 cent, or 33.33 per cent, to 0.4 cent yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'New investor ousts Ipco exec director at meeting'. Print Edition | Subscribe