ACRA rejects bid by Thum Ping Tjin, Kirsten Han to register foreign-backed company

ACRA rejects bid by Thum Ping Tjin, Kirsten Han to register foreign-backed company

OSEA would have been the subsidiary of a UK firm, which has received funding from a Swiss charitable association with links to a foundation that has previously been involved in the domestic politics of sovereign countries, ACRA said.

PJ Thum Kirsten Han
Historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han.

SINGAPORE: Freelance journalist Kirsten Han and historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin have been named in an application to register a company in Singapore that has been deemed "political" and would have been linked to a British firm that received funding from a Swiss organisation.

The application has been rejected by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), who said that the registration would be contrary to Singapore’s national interests.

"ACRA has today notified the applicant that the application was rejected," it said.

ACRA said in a statement on Wednesday (Apr 11) that it received an application on Feb 8 to register a private company limited by shares under the name of OSEA Pte Ltd.

The application listed Dr Thum as director and Ms Han as editor-in-chief of OSEA.

The proposed activities of OSEA include organising discussion forums, workshops, and other events in Singapore, such as “democracy classroom” sessions, ACRA said.

Another objective was for the company to provide editorial services to New Naratif, ACRA said.

New Naratif is online multimedia platform in which Dr Thum and Ms Han are also involved in as managing director and editor-in-chief, respectively. According to its website, New Naratif "seeks to promote democracy, freedom of information, and freedom of the media".

ACRA noted in its statement on Wednesday that New Naratif has published articles critical of politics in regional countries, including claiming that "certain regional governments are using violence to maintain political control, had manipulated events or framed them for political gain, and have 'rigged' their electoral systems".

"The purposes of the proposed company are clearly political in nature," ACRA said.


ACRA also said that OSEA was to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Observatory Southeast Asia Ltd (OSEA UK).

One of OSEA UK’s stated objectives is to “promote the universal values of democracy, freedom of the media, and freedom of inquiry, information and expression”, ACRA noted.

OSEA UK has received a US$75,000 grant from Foundation Open Societies Institute (FOSI), Switzerland, a charitable foundation closely associated with Open Society Foundations (OSF), ACRA noted.

OSF, which was founded by George Soros, was established to pursue a political agenda across the world, and has a history of involvement in the domestic politics of sovereign countries, said ACRA.

Similarly, OSF has reportedly funded organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Last year, Human Rights Watch published a report advocating changes to laws and the political system in Singapore.

According to company registration documents, Dr Thum is one of two directors of OSEA UK, a UK-registered company incorporated on Apr 28, 2017.

OSEA UK also owns and manages New Naratif, said ACRA. According to its Facebook page, New Naratif held its crowdfunding launch on Sep 9, 2017.

"OSF and FOSI, and other foreign philanthropies and groups, can fund whatever causes they like elsewhere. In Singapore, however, our position is that none of them can be allowed to fund Singaporean organisations or individuals participating in our domestic politics," ACRA said.

"Singapore’s politics should be for Singaporeans alone to determine. We should not allow foreigners to interfere in how we should govern our country. Nor should we allow any group of Singaporeans to lend themselves to being used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singapore."

Ms Han and Dr Thum were recently witnesses in an eight-day Select Committee hearing on deliberate online falsehoods, which concluded on Mar 29.

Dr Thum is a research fellow and coordinator of Project Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford. 

Dr Thum on Tuesday was referred to as an "activist, as much as he may be a scholar" by Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee and Dr Janil Puthucheary, who is Senior Minister of State for Education, as well as for Communications and Information.

Mr Lee and Dr Puthucheary had made the comments in response to a weekend opinion piece by The Straits Times editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang titled "4G leaders need to find their own way to forge ties with people".

In their comments published by The Straits Times, Mr Lee and Dr Puthucheary also added “that some historians – including Dr Thum Ping Tjin – do indeed have political agendas”.

Source: CNA/aj