Finance Minister rejects appeal by historian Thum Ping Tjin to register proposed company in Singapore

The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority had turned down an application by historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han (not pictured) to register a company on the grounds that it would be contrary to Singapore's national interests.

SINGAPORE - Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has rejected an appeal by historian Thum Ping Tjin against a decision in April by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) which turned down his application to register a proposed company.

Acra had rejected the application by Dr Thum and freelance journalist Kirsten Han to register OSEA Pte Ltd, on the grounds that it would be contrary to Singapore's national interests.

In a statement on Friday (Sept 28), the Finance Ministry said it received an appeal letter from Dr Thum on May 9. After carefully considering representations from the Registrar of Companies and Dr Thum, the minister "notes that the proposed company, if allowed to be registered, could provide an avenue for foreigners or foreign entities to influence or interfere with Singapore domestic politics".

"Such foreign influence or interference can arise from conditions imposed by foreign entities through their direct or indirect funding of the proposed company's political activities impacting Singapore," the ministry added.

As such, the minster held that it was "proper and correct" for the Registrar to conclude, based on the evidence, that the application must be refused as it is contrary to the national interest for the company to be registered.

The statement said that under the Companies Act, the minister's decision is final.

In April, when the application was rejected, Acra noted that the purposes of OSEA Pte Ltd were "clearly political in nature".

OSEA was to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the British-registered Observatory Southeast Asia (OSEA UK). Acra had said OSEA UK received a grant of US$75,000 (S$98,000) from a Swiss charitable body, Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI).

FOSI, in turn, is closely associated with Open Society Foundations (OSF) - founded and led by American billionaire investor George Soros and set up to pursue a political agenda all over the world.

On Friday, the ministry said in its statement that his appeal, Dr Thum argued that the Registrar's decision to reject the application was misguided because, among other things, foreign funding is not "in and of itself" against the national interest.

Dr Thum also said OSEA Pte Ltd would be "controlled" by Singaporeans, and its activities would be "similar" to other programmes in Singapore.

But the ministry noted that the Registrar's representations stated that the intended purposes of OSEA Pte Ltd were clearly political in nature, and that the company would be funded by foreign entities and foreigners.

Registering the company would also be contrary to Singapore's national interest as this would amount to allowing foreign entities or foreigners to fund and influence domestic politics in Singapore, the Registrar added.

The statement said the minister, having carefully considered the representations, noted that Dr Thum "does not dispute that the proposed company is being set up for political purposes, and that its political activities are intended to be conducted in Singapore, with Singaporeans as the target audience". He also did not dispute that the company would be funded by foreigners and foreign entities.

The minister noted that OSEA UK had received a grant of up to US$75,000 on terms imposed by FOSI within the Open Society Foundation.

"The grant funds the operations of New Naratif, a website with heavy political content run by OSEA UK which the Proposed Company would provide editorial services for," the ministry said in its statement.

"Dr Thum does not dispute that OSF has a political agenda. New Naratif, the beneficiary of the OSF/FOSI grant, held itself out as an 'overtly political movement' targeting Southeast Asian urban residents aged 18 and above, with Singapore being its initial market."

New Naratif is a site led by Dr Thum, Ms Han and comic book artist Sonny Liew.

The statement said:"Singapore's consistent position has always been that politics in Singapore is meant for Singaporeans alone to determine. To protect its sovereignty and safeguard national interests, Singapore takes a strong stance against direct and indirect foreign interference with its domestic politics."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.