Ex-US ambassador quits board of company linked to S’pore group under scrutiny for Newcastle bid and doctored Obama photos

Former US ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar said he resigned "due to the recent revelations".
Former US ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar said he resigned "due to the recent revelations".PHOTO: BELLAGRAPH NOVA GROUP

SINGAPORE - Former US ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar said he has resigned from his independent director position in Axington, which is linked to Bellagraph Nova (BN) Group, the Singapore-registered company that had admitted to doctoring photographs of former United States President Barack Obama.

He told The Straits Times on Tuesday (Aug 25): “Due to the recent revelations, I have resigned that position and asked for Axington to advise Singapore Exchange and any other relevant parties of that fact.”

On Wednesday (Aug 26) morning, Axington requested for a trading halt pending an announcement before the Singapore stock market opened.

Professional advisory services firm Axington's board includes Ms Evangeline Shen of BN Group, which is making a bid for English Premier League club Newcastle United. The group is co-founded by Ms Shen, 32, and Singaporean investors Nelson Loh, 40, and Terence Loh, 42.

Ms Shen is the non-independent non-executive chairman of Axington while the Lohs are its controlling shareholders.

Mr Wagar said that the Loh cousins had asked him in June if he would serve on the board of an artificial intelligence/robotics company that they were starting which complemented the business of Novena Global Lifecare, which is also founded by the two men.

Mr Wagar said he had agreed and "went through all of the hoops that the Singapore Exchange required".

He had assumed the position on July 21.

In a July 29 press release on PR Newswire, the BN Group said it had welcomed Mr Wagar as "strategic adviser to its board of directors."

But Mr Wagar said: "I have never had any role of any kind with BN Group and I have only met Ms Shen once at events surrounding the Education Gala last December."

Mr Obama was the keynote speaker at the Education Benefit Gala organised last December by Novena Global Lifecare.

A publicity picture (left) distributed by Bellagraph Nova Group that purports to show owners Terence Loh, Evangeline Shen and Nelson Loh with former US President Barack Obama at a private meeting in Paris. In reality, the photo of Mr Obama was taken at the Education Benefit Gala organised last December by Novena Global Lifecare. PHOTOS: BELLAGRAPH NOVA GROUP

A photograph believed to be the original version (left) of one that was distributed to media by Bellagraph Nova Group in July 2020. PHOTOS: REUTERS/HANDOUT

"My firm was engaged by Novena... as a senior adviser a couple of months ago as I had familiarity with Novena as sponsor of the Gala," said Mr Wagar.

"I work very hard to show myself as a level headed, transparent friend of Singapore and there is nothing more important to me personally than maintaining that reputation," Mr Wagar added.


On Tuesday, the BN Group claimed that 'errant individuals, possibly with malicious intent' were behind the controversial marketing material including doctored photos of Mr Obama to make it look as if he had attended a meeting with its executives in Paris. In reality, the photos were taken at a charity gala event in Singapore last December sponsored by Novena Global Lifecare, which was founded by the Loh cousins.

Axington stock see-sawed in the past two days, ending 13.6 per cent or three cents lower at 19 cents on Tuesday.

The Catalist-listed firm on July 29 had proposed the name change to NETX, as well as to change its core business to providing medical and consumer wellness services, and investments in medical technology, robotics and artificial intelligence technology.

But on Tuesday night, a page that lists the partners of NETX was removed.

The website of NETX had claimed AIA, DBS and United Overseas Bank, among others, as its financial services partners.

But ST understands from sources that the insurer and the two banks were not even aware they had been listed as partners of NETX, which is only a proposed name of the Catalist-listed company currently known as Axington.


In the case of DBS Bank, ST understands it had acted as the financial adviser in the general offer for Axington Inc.

This takeover was done through another company founded by the two Mr Lohs, DORR Global Healthcare International, which is now under the BN Group, and was completed on July 13.

Sources say the bank has since fully discharged all business obligations in relation to the transaction.

UOB Kay Hian, meanwhile, was the continuing sponsor for Axington, but had been replaced by corporate finance and strategic advisory firm Novus Corporate Finance from July 14.