SINGAPORE - Alleged nickel trading scammer Ng Yu Zhi’s $4 million bail was raised to $6 million on Thursday, and he now faces the prospect of being jailed for more than 20 years if convicted, after his criminal case was transferred to the High Court.
The bail amount is a record according to some lawyers and underscores Ng’s role in one of Singapore’s biggest investment frauds.
Ng, 35, founder of Envy Global Trading and Envy Asset Management, was made a bankrupt in December 2022. He was arrested in February 2021 and charged with cheating and fraudulent trading.
He now faces 105 criminal charges for his alleged involvement in the scam. Previously out on a $4 million bail, he is now in remand until the full bail is made. He was allowed by the State Court to make three phone calls to secure additional funds.
Deemed the “main protagonist in a large-scale fraud” in a State Court hearing on Thursday, Ng is accused of perpetrating a nickel trading scheme that allegedly cheated investors out of US$1.1 billion (S$1.45 billion).
That Ng faces a sentence that far exceeds 20 years now that his case is to be heard by the High Court and has access to overseas assets of about $107 million held mostly by various individuals in China, translates to a potential increase in flight risk, Deputy Public Prosecutor Gordon Oh told the court on Thursday.
Calling the application for bail increase crushing and baseless, Dentons Rodyk & Davidson partner Navindraram Naidu, who represents Ng, noted that his client had known of the transfer to High Court since July 2022 and has not absconded.
“He has serious bail conditions attached and time curfew. That’s sufficient to secure his attendance here. If he is trying to run, why would he discuss with the authorities about bringing assets back that could go to restitution?”
Mr Navin added that “any bail increase or my client going into remand would severely hamper his defence preparation” for a High Court trial.
Furthermore, the bailor, who is Ng’s father, has ensured that Ng complied with bail conditions, he said. “The bailor is a retiree, 72, and has liquidated all his savings and stock options to raise bail for his son. Ng would not want to see his father (who is living on CPF payouts) suffer financial hardship,” Mr Navin added.
Asking for leniency on his bail, Ng said: “I am currently on electronic tagging, which detects any movement as soon as I step out. I have no intention to abscond at all, and the information (I have) provided is to help with investigations.”
On the issue of flight risk, District Judge Terence Tay, in his oral decision on Thursday, said: “The prosecution loses the edge because, factually, the accused is here. But not all factors can be reviewed in the same vein by flight risk alone.”
That the prosecution has “not provided particulars of how Ng’s assets are linked to the 105 charges is not critical, as the main concern is whether he has sufficient assets overseas should he abscond”, the judge added.
“The court is of the view that the disclosure of substantial assets overseas and that (Ng) has access to the funds is an important factor to take into account, and the fact that the monies are unaccounted for... I agree with the prosecution in increasing bail quantum to $6 million,” the judge said.
Mr Robson Lee, partner of Kennedys Legal Solutions, noted: “The bail amount is not unreasonable in view of the scale of the alleged scam, the severity of the criminal charges, and the enormous sums of monies involved. There is basis for the court to be concerned that the accused is a flight risk.”
About 1,000 investors, including Vickers Venture Partners founder Finian Tan and former Law Society president Thio Shen Yi, sank their money into the scheme, which touted average quarterly gains of 15 per cent.
The bankruptcy order was made against Ng on Dec 22, 2022. This came after a bankruptcy application was taken out against Ng shortly after the High Court in May 2022 cleared the way for liquidators to pursue hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly transferred wrongfully into Ng’s personal accounts.
In addition to the criminal charges, Ng and three others were sued in the High Court in November 2021 by the liquidators of Envy Global Trading, Envy Asset Management and Envy Management Holdings to recover $416.5 million and US$17.7 million from his personal assets.
Court documents state that Ng’s three companies received about $1.09 billion, US$277.1 million and €980,000 (S$1.4 million) in investor funds, supposedly for nickel trading.
Of those sums, $578.4 million, US$192.5 million and €880,000 remain outstanding.
Ng was also charged with receiving $110.3 million in his personal bank accounts from EAM. He was further charged with transferring US$108,000 and $3.4 million in his personal accounts to other parties, as well as US$6.6 million to foreign bank accounts in Britain, Vietnam, Cambodia, France and Taiwan. He had also made transfers amounting to $9.8 million within his personal accounts.