A land-banking scheme that offered attractive returns for cash investments in real estate in the United States and Canada has come under the spotlight.
Five investors who claimed they put an aggregate of more than $1 million into A2A Capital Management's projects between 2011 and 2014 have filed police reports against A2A. It is believed that many more investors in Singapore have invested with the property development and investment firm, which lists about 15 real estate investment projects on its website.
A2A was placed on the investor alert list of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on March 23. It "provides a listing of unregulated persons who, based on information received by MAS, may have been wrongly perceived as being licensed or authorised by MAS", according to the MAS website.
The firm was set up in 2009 and has a paid-up capital of $100, records from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority show. A2A has vacated its office in Raffles Place and moved to the Philippines.
It had several schemes with different maturity periods. For example, an investor paid US$10,000 (S$14,000) or CAD$10,000 (S$10,400) for a "unit" of land in Texas or Ontario, Canada. The investors expected to get their capital back plus profits. The distributions would be based on the progress of sales and construction.
Property manager Veronica Chen, 33, invested in two schemes. The brochure for one of them shows the estimated target return was US$122 million, on a total investment of US$91 million. This translated into an overall 134 per cent return for the project.
She recalled that an A2A representative had told her verbally and via SMS that she could potentially reap nearly three times her initial investment sum over 10 years.
Ms Chen invested US$30,000 in a 10-year project in Texas with expected annual payouts. She claimed she has not received any payout.
Papers relating to this project - obtained by The Straits Times from Ms Chen - state that the scheme "entails risks that may lead to a substantial or total loss of capital". They also say "there is no guarantee, and no representation is made, that the investment objectives can be achieved or that the DP (development plan) would be successful".
Madam Mohamad, 78, who invested a total of $500,000 from 2011 to 2014 in several projects with A2A, said she has received only one payment - for $1,500 last year.
"I am very sad I may die before I get my money back. I'm 78. I had told my two grandchildren I can help pay for their studies but now I can't help them," the retiree said.
Investor David Lee, 72, is the only one out of the five who got his principal sum back from his first investment in 2013. The retiree invested $27,000 in a Texas project, which came with a 110 per cent return after the one-year maturity period.
When it materialised, he invested $300,000 in other projects with a longer maturity, expecting higher profits. He claimed he has not received any of that money back yet.
Investor and businessman Vijay N said he was impressed with the marketing presentation and the large, well-decorated office of A2A in Raffles Place. He invested about $50,000 in two projects with the firm in 2012 and 2013.
"I thought it was a good investment... I expected my first payment of the returns to be in 2014. When I didn't receive anything, they told me the winter was bad," he said.
He received his first returns payout of $700 in the middle of last year but it was much lower than what he had expected.
When Mr N contacted A2A in February, its client services department replied, saying the relocation of its office to the Philippines was the result of the authorities here "putting regulatory impositions" on land-banking products. So the firm decided to "disband retail sales and operational activities" here.
It also stated that the management was working on the payout timelines for the projects, and would provide an update as soon as they were firmed up. Mr N wants to reach out to other investors and organise a meeting to discuss what they can do collectively.
The president and chief executive of the A2A group of companies is Mr Foo Tiang Meng Dirk Robert. Mr Foo, 58, who is also a director of A2A, previously worked at land-banking firm Walton International. A2A told The Straits Times that its query had been "forwarded to management in the US".