Trial of ex-BSI banker linked to 1MDB: Yeo Jiawei had made $26m by age 32

BSI’s Singapore office at Suntec City Tower 1.
BSI’s Singapore office at Suntec City Tower 1.PHOTO: ST FILE

He stands trial for four charges of obstruction of justice; seven other charges to be dealt with later

Yeo Jiawei was a successful young banker who, by the age of 32, had amassed a $26 million fortune, including, it is alleged, from illicit schemes to defraud his former employer, BSI Bank in Singapore.

Yesterday, the 33-year-old shuffled into a packed courtroom in shackles, clad in a purple jumpsuit with the word "prisoner" across the back. As Yeo was led into the dock, the sound of his chains reverberated through the silent courtroom.

His lawyer, Mr Philip Fong of Harry Elias, asked for Yeo's handcuffs to be removed so he could write instructions to his lawyers but District Judge Ng Peng Hong allowed only one cuff to be removed.

The prosecution is expected to lead evidence from nine witnesses to establish its case for four obstruction of justice charges against Yeo, who is accused of facilitating illicit transactions involving 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The other seven charges, concerning money laundering, cheating and forgery, will be dealt with later.

  • The case

    Former BSI wealth planner Yeo Jiawei is the first of four Singaporeans charged so far to go on trial over the scandal surrounding Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

    Yeo yesterday faced four of 11 charges for his role in 1MDB. These four relate to perverting the course of justice. The remaining charges, ranging from money laundering and cheating to forgery, have been stood down for now. Yeo has also been charged with forging documents to facilitate a transfer of US$11.95 million in 2013 to a firm beneficially owned by Mr Tan Kim Loong, an associate of Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low.

    Others who have been charged are Mr Low's former private banker, Yak Yew Chee, and former BSI director Yvonne Seah Yew Foong. Former remisier Kelvin Ang Wee Keng was charged in April with corrupt transactions.

During and after his employment at BSI, Yeo is alleged to have played a central role in facilitating or concealing the laundering of large sums of money, Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng said in the opening statement yesterday.

Mr Tan told the district court: "In a display of complete and wanton disregard for the law and CAD's investigations, he met and contacted key witnesses in the hope of suppressing incriminatory evidence pertaining to his own illicit schemes and activities."

The prosecution charges that Yeo and his BSI supervisor, Mr Kevin Swampillai, were involved in transactions in which certain fees would be shared between BSI, a fund manager and Yeo's associate, Mr Samuel Goh Sze-Wei.

Yeo allegedly arranged for Bridgerock Investment, which he controlled, and GTB Investment, controlled by Mr Swampillai, to receive a significant portion of the fees for their own benefit.

The first of four prosecution witnesses to testify yesterday was Ms Tan Ghim Lay, who had been Mr Swampillai's secretary for 11 years. Mr Swampillai, who has not been charged, will be among the remaining five witnesses to testify today.

Ms Tan had assisted Mr Swampillai at private bank RBS Coutts, and followed him to BSI in 2009.

She told the court she was aware when he was questioned by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) in October 2015 as she managed his appointments. But she said she didn't question why he asked her "urgently" on Oct 30 to buy him a prepaid SIM card in her name.

"Was this instruction to get a prepaid phone number under your name related to the CAD investigations?" Mr Fong asked. Ms Tan denied this, saying she didn't see anything unusual about the request.

The other witnesses yesterday were Singtel customer service executive Yeo Poh Meng, and officers from the Criminal Investigation Department's technology crime forensic branch - senior station inspector Joe Ng Suan Teck and forensic examiner Darius Cai Yong Qing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-BSI banker had made $26m by age 32'. Print Edition | Subscribe