Former Sakae Holdings director on trial for allegedly misappropriating S$15.8 million, lying in High Court
SINGAPORE: Former Sakae Holdings director Ong Siew Kwee went on trial on Monday (Mar 13) over the alleged misappropriation of S$15.8 million from a joint venture.
The 52-year-old Ong, also known as Andy, claimed trial to one charge each of criminal breach of trust, abetting the forgery of a lease agreement, and intentionally giving false evidence in the High Court. Another 66 charges have been stood down during the trial.
The trial comes more than four-and-a-half years after he was charged over offences involving more than S$25 million, including stealing while he was working at Sakae Holdings' associate firm Gryphon Capital Management.
Ong's two co-accused Ho Yew Kong and Chua Wei Tat, also known as Chris, are each on trial for one charge of intentionally giving false evidence in the High Court. Ho's remaining 19 charges and Chua's remaining one charge have been stood down.
Ong is standing trial for misappropriating S$15.8 million from Griffin Real Estate Investment Holdings (GREIH), a joint venture between Sakae Holdings and Gryphon Real Estate Investment Corporation (GREIC), in September 2012.
The money was transferred to ERC International and ERC Unicampus, according to the prosecution. Ong held stakes in these two companies through ERC Holdings, of which he was a director and majority shareholder.
START OF JOINT VENTURE
In 2009, Ong approached long-time acquaintance Mr Douglas Foo to co-invest in a joint venture to acquire the majority of the units in a building at 470 North Bridge Road – the current location of Bugis Cube.
Mr Foo was then the managing director of the company that would come to be known as Sakae Holdings, while Ong was a director and about 3.98 per cent minority shareholder in GREIC, an investment holding company.
Both men agreed that Sakae and GREIC would contribute capital to joint venture GREIH, which would hold the units in the North Bridge Road building.
Sakae contributed S$4 million in capital to GREIH and became a 24.69 per cent minority shareholder of the holding company, while the remaining shares in GREIH were held by GREIC.
The prosecution's case is that in June 2012, Ong abetted an associate to falsify a lease agreement between GREIH and ERC Institute – an educational institute in which Ong held a stake. The associate, Ong Han Boon, has since pleaded guilty.
Chua allegedly prepared the agreement, which was allegedly signed by Ho on behalf of GREIH and by Ong Han Boon on behalf of ERC Institute.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Nicholas Tan, Jason Chua, Tay Jingxi and Foong Ke Hui argued that the lease agreement was falsely backdated to support the claim that it was made on Mar 1, 2012.
After the S$15.8 million was transferred, Ong purported that the money was compensation payable by GREIH to ERC Institute for termination of the lease agreement.
However, the prosecution's case is that GREIH and ERC Institute did not enter into any formal lease to rent out space in the North Bridge Road building to the educational institute.
Instead, the prosecution argued that by March 2012 and possibly earlier, Ong was already pursuing a different, strata title sale plan to subdivide GREIH's units in the building and sell them individually.
Matters came to light when Sakae engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to audit GREIH in November 2012, and the auditors queried a number of transactions, including the S$15.8 million transfers.
"The evidence will show that numerous other falsified documents were subsequently created, to add to the false paper trail," said the prosecution.
At trial, the prosecutors will introduce evidence to make their case that "there was no legitimate reason for Andy Ong to instruct the transfer of the sum of S$15.8 million" to ERC International and ERC Unicampus.
ALLEGED FALSE EVIDENCE
In 2013, Sakae as minority shareholder of GREIH commenced a civil suit at the High Court that touched on certain acts, including the S$15.8 million transfer.
Ong, Ho and Chua are accused of intentionally giving false evidence about the dates on which the lease agreement was purportedly prepared and signed during the suit.
The trial continues. Ong is defended by Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah and Mr Andy Yeo, Ho by lawyers Mr Remy Choo and Ms Carol Yuen, and Chua by Mr Andre Jumabhoy.
The punishment for intentionally giving false evidence during a judicial proceeding is up to seven years' jail and a fine.
If found guilty of criminal breach of trust, Ong could be jailed for up to seven years, fined or both.
If found guilty of abetting the forgery of a valuable security, he could be jailed for up to 15 years and fined.