SINGAPORE: The mastermind of a scheme that led to the largest and most serious case of market manipulation in Singapore, which wiped out S$8 billion from the Singapore stock market in 2013, was sentenced on Wednesday (Dec 28).
John Soh Chee Wen, a 62-year-old prominent Malaysian businessman, was handed 36 years' jail.
His ex-partner and accomplice Quah Su-Ling was given 20 years' jail. Quah, 57, was formerly CEO of Singapore Exchange(SGX)-listed IPCO International.
Soh and Quah had been convicted of 180 and 169 charges respectively after a long-running trial spanning almost 200 days and involving close to 100 prosecution witnesses.
From August 2012 to October 2013, Quah and Soh artificially inflated the share prices of three penny stocks: Blumont, Asiasons and LionGold.
They controlled, obtained financing for, conducted illegitimate trading activity in and coordinated their use of 189 securities trading accounts. These accounts were held with 20 financial institutions in the names of 60 individuals and companies.
The bulk of their charges - 106 counts of deception - were for deceiving financial institutions by concealing their involvement when giving instructions to make orders and trades.
Soh was additionally found guilty of witness tampering by asking four witnesses to lie to investigators after the stock market crash.
The scheme unravelled on Oct 4, 2013 when the share prices of the three companies crashed, erasing S$8 billion in market capitalisation from SGX.
The prosecution had sought 40 years' jail for Soh, and 19-and-a-half years for Quah, who was less culpable.
A third co-accused, 59-year-old Goh Hin Calm, was sentenced to three years' jail in 2019 after pleading guilty to two charges of false trading and market rigging.
A SCHEME OF SUBSTANTIAL SCALE: JUDGE
In sentencing, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said the duo perpetrated "a scheme of substantial scale, complexity and sophistication".
"Armed with a good understanding of the securities and financial markets, and tapping on their extensive connections and networks, they boldly exploited the system," she said.
"They personally minded and tended to the intricate scheme they devised on an almost daily basis for a prolonged period of 14 months, taking steps to evade detection by the authorities."
Justice Hoo added that "immense harm" was caused by the crash, and Soh continued to subvert justice and conceal what they had done even after the scheme failed.
"After an intensive investigation and a complex trial, I have convicted them of the majority of the multiple charges brought against them," said Justice Hoo.
She said it was necessary and "of utmost importance" for the substantial sentences to be imposed to capture the gravity of the pair's wrongdoing.
Both Soh and Quah intend to appeal against their conviction and sentence. Soh will not be appealing against the charges involving company management.
Soh chose to remain remanded - he has been since 2016 - while Quah has been out on bail since 2017. She remains out on bail of S$4 million pending her appeal.
The case was handled by Deputy Public Prosecutors Teo Guan Siew, Jiang Ke-Yue, Nicholas Tan, Ng Jean Ting and David Koh.
Senior Counsel N Sreenivasan, Jason Lim and Kamini Devadass defended Soh, while Eugene Thuraisingam, Suang Wijaya and Sophia Ng represented Quah.
In a joint statement by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), Singapore Police Force and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Chief Prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng said: "The prosecution is committed to act against offenders who engage in market manipulation and other offences that harm the investing public and financial market participants, and we will not tolerate any attempts to subvert our criminal justice system."
Director of the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) David Chew said the department takes a serious view of criminals who manipulate the stock market as it "undermines the integrity of Singapore's capital markets".
Assistant managing director of policy payments and financial crime at MAS Loo Siew Yee said the elaborate scheme led to large losses by investors and harmed public confidence in the integrity of Singapore's capital markets.
"The successful prosecution and stiff sentences leave no doubt as to the authorities' resolve in acting against such misconduct," she said.
"MAS will continue to work in partnership with AGC, CAD and the industry to effectively detect, deter and prosecute bad actors, with the objective of ensuring that our capital markets remain fair, orderly and transparent."