Penny stock crash probe: Court denies businessman John Soh Chee Wen's bid to return to Malaysia

SINGAPORE - Malaysian dealmaker John Soh Chee Wen's request to return to Malaysia was turned down by the courts on Wednesday (Jan 27), after the prosecution said that charges may be brought against him soon.

The Malaysian businessman, who has not been charged to date, has been helping the CAD with its sweeping probe launched in April 2014 into October 2013 penny stock crash that wiped out $8 billion in market value.

But the prosecution has described Mr Soh, 57, the possible "mastermind" in what has been called the biggest securities fraud to date.

Malaysian dealmaker John Soh Chee Wen at the High Court on Jan 27, 2016. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Investigations against Mr Soh are "near the tailend" and charges may be brought by the end of the year, the prosecution added.

The authorities are investigating possible violations of the Securities and Futures Act, stemming from alleged trading irregularities in the shares of Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital, now called Attilan Group.

The investigation has been ongoing for about one year and nine months, Mr Soh said in affidavits. He said he has given more than 800 pages in statements containing more than 3,000 questions and undergone "many statement takings that lasted 10 hours and longer".

Mr Soh is out on police bail of $500,000, and has agreed, as conditions for his travel, to give his itinerary and overseas contact details and surrender his passport to the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on his arrival.

Represented by Mr Tan Chee Meng, SC, deputy chairman of WongPartnership, Mr Soh, whose passport has been impounded by the CAD, is asking for permission to travel to Malaysia from Feb 6-23 to visit his ailing mother and to attend his elder son's wedding on Feb 20.

He said his mother is bedridden after suffering a severe fracture of the spine, was deteriorating in health and has begun displaying early signs of dementia.

He said in his affidavit that his requests for the release of his passport so he can travel to Malaysia has been repeatedly denied by the CAD. Mr Soh noted that "close cooperation between the law enforcement agencies in Singapore and Malaysia would make absconding while on bail an extremely foolish decision".

Saying he has "no intention of leaving Singapore and Malaysia... to escape these investigations and the consequences", he said has been serving as chief operations officer and acting chief executive of Dongshan Group, while helping the CAD. He said he has committed to helping turn around Dongshan, a delisted Singapore firm in distress.

The three penny stocks had surged by more than 800 per cent in less than nine months before plunging by between 91 and 96 per cent in October 2013, wiping out $8 billion in market value in three days.

Market confidence was shaken, with a 60 per cent fall in the average daily traded volume on the Singapore Exchange in the one year period after September 2013, according to SGX data.

Trading value over the same period fell by more than 30 per cent, as crash made investors more cautious, particularly about small- and mid-cap firms.

Since the probe began into several mainboard-listed firms - excluding Asiasons - and their subsidiaries, as well as several key executives, a number have suffered hefty financial losses and issued profit warnings.

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