S'pore firm in Newcastle United bid

Nothing malicious about doctored photos, says Singapore-registered firm in Newcastle United bid

Despite widespread scepticism over claims, BN Group insists 'we are serious people'

ALLEGEDLY PHOTOSHOPPED: BN Group co-founder Evangeline Shen with Mr Barack Obama at a charity event here last December with the firm's name and logo on the screen, and co-founder Terence Loh to Mr Obama's left. SAID TO BE ORIGINAL: This is believed t
ALLEGEDLY PHOTOSHOPPED: Bellagraph Nova Group co-founder Evangeline Shen with Mr Barack Obama at a charity event here last December with the firm's name and logo on the screen, and co-founder Terence Loh to Mr Obama's left. PHOTO: REUTERS
ALLEGEDLY PHOTOSHOPPED: BN Group co-founder Evangeline Shen with Mr Barack Obama at a charity event here last December with the firm's name and logo on the screen, and co-founder Terence Loh to Mr Obama's left. SAID TO BE ORIGINAL: This is believed t
SAID TO BE ORIGINAL: This is believed to be the original version of the photograph, which does not have the company name and logo, and also does not show Mr Terence Loh to Mr Obama's left.PHOTO: BELLAGRAPH NOVA GROUP
ALLEGEDLY PHOTOSHOPPED: BN Group co-founder Evangeline Shen with Mr Barack Obama at a charity event here last December with the firm's name and logo on the screen, and co-founder Terence Loh to Mr Obama's left. SAID TO BE ORIGINAL: This is believed t
BN GROUP SPOKESMAN NEREIDES ANTONIO GIAMUNDO DE BOURBON

Barely a week after it announced a sensational bid for English Premier League club Newcastle United, questions have surfaced about the Singapore-registered Bellagraph Nova Group (BN Group) behind the bid.

This comes after it admitted to doctoring photographs of former United States president Barack Obama in its publicity materials.

BN Group spokesman Nereides Antonio Giamundo de Bourbon was reported by Reuters yesterday as saying that the company had altered photos of Mr Obama to make them look as though he had attended a meeting with its executives in Paris.

In reality, the photos of Mr Obama and BN Group co-founders were taken at a charity gala event in Singapore last December sponsored by Novena Global Lifecare, which was founded in 2010 by Singapore businessmen Terence Loh, 42, and Nelson Loh, 41, who are cousins.

The BN Group was co-founded by the two men, who are local entrepreneurs and former JP Morgan investment bankers, and Ms Evangeline Shen, a Chinese jewellery merchant and former Morgan Stanley banker.

Reuters also said that while BN Group said it is headquartered in Paris, it found that no company called Bellagraph Nova Group is registered in France. Reuters also did not find the company at the Paris address that was listed - 10 Place Vendome.

Mr de Bourbon told Reuters: "We are serious people... the only ambiguous thing has been the photoshop picture. There wasn't any malicious aim behind it."

Other inconsistencies reported by Reuters:

• The group said that financial technology firm Hydra X is one of the entities in its global empire and that it is implementing a trading system for the Singapore Exchange. Reuters said the firm has denied both claims and the Singapore Exchange has also denied Hydra X is implementing a trading system. But Mr de Bourbon told Reuters that Hydra X was owned by BN Group and was in the process of merging into the group. He said: "Sometimes the marketing moves faster than the process."

• BN Group said another entity, a robotics firm called NETX, is listed on the SGX and New York's Nasdaq exchange but Reuters said it could find no records of the company on either exchange.

Last night, Mr de Bourbon, who is BN Group's chief marketing and investor relations officer, told The Sunday Times that the group "has recently acquired a stake in Axington Inc, a company listed on the Singapore Exchange".

 

Axington is to hold an extraordinary general meeting on Thursday, where "a proposal will be considered to change the name of Axington Inc to Netx Inc".

He added: "What was discussed with Reuters did not accurately and fully convey the transaction covered in the article...

"The impression created by the Reuters article that the Group has been somewhat less than forthright on this issue is completely false."



The photograph believed to be the original version (left) does not have the company name and logo, and also does not show Mr Terence Loh to Mr Obama's left. PHOTOS: BELLAGRAPH NOVA GROUP

He also said that BN Group is "in communications with the Obama Foundation to address the negative light that has been cast upon them as a result of the article". The photoshopped photographs of Mr Obama have become one of several talking points about the BN Group since it announced on Aug 15 that it was "at an advanced stage of negotiation" for a takeover of Newcastle, having already provided a letter of intent and proof of funds.



A publicity picture (left) distributed by Bellagraph Nova Group that purports to show owners Terence Loh, Evangeline Shen and Nelson Loh meeting former US President Barack Obama at a private meeting in Paris. In reality, the photo of Mr Obama was taken at a Dec 14 charity event in Singapore sponsored by Novena Global Lifecare, founded by cousins Terence and Nelson Loh. PHOTOS: BELLAGRAPH NOVA GROUP

Newcastle and its owner Mike Ashley, have not responded to requests for comment but British tabloids have reported that Mr Ashley has not responded to BN Group's reported £280 million (S$503 million) offer, with the London businessman seeking an offer closer to £350 million.

A source with knowledge and experience of takeovers in European football told ST: "As a seller, Mike Ashley won't say anything because news like this can help him create competitive tension."

While the BN Group had also said that former Newcastle players Michael Chopra and Alan Shearer were backing its bid, Reuters reported that former England captain Shearer's management company denied he was involved in the takeover.

BN Group has said it owns 31 business entities, had a turnover of US$12 billion (S$16.5 billion) last year, and has 23,000 employees.

 
 
 

While the Lohs' bid for Newcastle came as a surprise, the cousins do have some ties to the local sports fraternity, backing local professional race driver Yuey Tan, the national Muay Thai team, and the St Michael's Soccer Association. BN Group also owns Dorr Group Racing Team, who have raced in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup since 2012.

One former business partner of the Lohs, who declined to be named, said: "They are very social people, and come across as very well-bred and went to good universities."

Another source, who also declined to be named but described himself as a professional peer, said: "They were aggressive businessmen, marketed hard, and they deserve credit for that."

But he questioned some of their claims: "You don't go around saying Obama met you in Paris, that you have 10,000 jets and things like that."

The claim that the BN Group operated over 10,000 private jets - according to the group, a "world record number of private jets for a single entity" - was posted on its Instagram account, but the post was later edited to remove mention of the 10,000 figure.

 In reality,

Bellagraph Nova Group’s Instagram post that says “with our world record number of private jets for a single entity, our over 10,000 private jets are ready to take you anywhere you wish to go with an unprecedented experience onboard”. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB

Singapore Airlines, in comparison, has 138 aircraft in its fleet, while American Airlines, the largest commercial airline in the world, has 874 registered aircraft.

The Sunday Times has asked Harry Walker Agency, which manages Mr Obama's speaking engagements, for comment.

• Additional reporting by David Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 23, 2020, with the headline 'Nothing malicious about doctored photos, says firm'. Print Edition | Subscribe