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SINGAPORE (Feb 28): John Soh Chee Wen, the alleged mastermind behind the October 2013 penny stock saga, has been charged with seven new counts of witness tampering.
Court on Tuesday denied bail for Soh, who now faces a total of 188 charges. The Malaysian businessman has been held in remand since Nov 24 last year.
Under the newest charges, Soh is accused of asking three witnesses to deny knowledge of dealings and transactions when they were questioned by the Commercial Affairs Department.
The three witnesses are: Gabriel Gan, known to be a broker with DMG & Partners; Ken Tai, of Algo Capital; and Peter Chen, a senior executive with LionGold Corp. Together with Blumont Group and Asiasons Capital, LionGold is one of the three penny stocks at the centre of the saga. Asiasons Capital has since been renamed Attilan Group.
After hearing from both the prosecution and Soh’s counsel, district judge Terence Tay called Soh the “protagonist” of this case. The judge added that Soh has “sufficient influence over the supporting cast”.
Others involved in the case include Soh’s girlfriend and alleged co-mastermind, Quah Su Ling, who faces 178 charges of her own for her role in the saga.
Quah, who is out on bail, had earlier wanted to visit Soh but was not allowed to. The court on Tuesday granted Soh’s request to give Quah a call.
The third person charged thus far in this case, Goh Hin Calm, faces six charges, largely for helping Soh and Quah with their transactions.
Soh's lawyer, Tan Chee Meng of WongPartnership, said that his client is willing to accept any bail condition, so that they can be better prepared for his trial.
Tan said that Soh tried asking for space while in detention to store the necessary documents. The lawyer reported that prison authorities had retorted: “this is not a hotel.”
Tan also pointed out that the seven new charges of witness tampering were made known to him less than two hours before the hearing began on Tuesday afternoon. “I was not able to take timely instructions from my client,” he said.
Tan stressed the need for Soh to not face such “prejudice” in the legal process. "Let’s not say John Soh was convicted because he was stifled in his defence," he said.
The prosecutors, led by deputy public prosecutor Teo Guan Siew, argued that Soh is a flight risk.
Prosecutors say Soh had previously used an Indonesian passport under the name of Didi Supardi to travel in and out of Singapore.
Soh’s lawyer Tan said his client is willing to be tagged and monitored electronically, or be assigned a security guard to watch over him round the clock.
Tan argued that Soh would have fled the country if he had wanted to, especially since the prosecution has alleged that he has the means to do so. “My client remained as he believes in his innocence,” said Tan.
Further, Tan reminded the court that Soh has complied with CAD’s interview requests throughout the investigation, which has lasted for more than two years.
DPP Teo, however, said that Soh stayed put because he got “complacent” and thought that the authorities would not be able to build a convincing case against him.
According to DPP Teo, Soh had reportedly said: “The case against me is very weak; the case against Su Ling and the others is stronger.”
Soh is alleged to have given Tai, one of the three witnesses he is accused of tampering, a summary of the statements Soh himself had made to CAD. Tai was told to “sing to the same tune”.
The second witness, Chen, who has been Soh’s close associate for at least a decade, was told not to admit that he was Soh’s nominee.
The more direct, damning evidence against Soh was in the form of audio recordings of conversations between Soh and the third witness, Gan.
In the conversation recordings, Soh was heard prepping Gan on how to answer questions when asked by the investigators. “Stick to your usual stupid answers,” Soh told Gan.
In addition, Soh is heard on the recordings telling Gan: “Just push to KL. I don’t know!”
“These recordings are clear and direct evidence of tampering,” said DPP Teo.
The recordings were discovered in Gan’s laptop, after authorities commenced investigation on another listed company, ISR Capital. Prosecutors say ISR is under the influence of Soh.
According to the submissions made by the prosecutors, shares of ISR Capital plunged by more than half on Nov 24 – the day Soh was arrested. Prior to the crash, shares of the company surged by 4,000% within months.
“Investigations also show that the accused was intimately involved in, and exercised influence over, the management and corporate affairs of ISR,” according to the submission. “Some trading accounts that had previously been identified as having traded suspiciously in ISR were among the accounts responsible for the massive selloff.”
Soh’s case will be next heard in a pre-trial conference on March 30.