SINGAPORE (Jan 9): The defence counsels of alleged 2013 penny stock crash masterminds John Soh Chee Wen and Quah Su-Ling on Thursday crossed swords with state prosecutors over the potential impeachment of witness Ken Tai Chee Ming.

Tai is a key substantive prosecution witness as he was once part of the “inner circle” of brokers and remisiers allegedly used by Soh and Quah to manipulate the market.

Earlier in the trial, Tai had admitted to coordinating trades with Henry Tjoa, another member of the inner circle, behind Soh’s back.

Soh’s defence counsel, N Sreenivasan of K&L Straits Law, called this a “material omission”.

“In fact, that material omission is probably what got him his free pass in the witness stand,” Sreenivasan scoffed. “[This is] why he’s not charged. He has admitted he’s a crook, he has admitted [to] market manipulation, and he has not been charged.”

Deputy public prosecutor Teo Guan Siew objected to Sreenivasan’s “inappropriate” remark.

Sreenivasan later withdrew the “free pass” remark. “I apologise for the ‘free pass’ because I believe a lot of the facts that have come out are new to the prosecution,” Sreenivasan acknowledged.

This also earned Sreenivasan a rebuke by the judge.

“I don’t think you should be speculating on other things and… raising things that are not necessary,” said Justice Hoo Sheau Peng.

Later, Sreenivasan again raised concern over the inconsistencies in Tai’s statement.

Quah’s defense counsel, Sui Yi Siong of Eversheds Harry Elias, agreed.

"A witness who basically lies when it's convenient to do so, and tells the truth only when caught, is, in my submission, the very definition of someone who is unworthy of credit,” Sui said.

Drawing reference to Tai’s comments in court last October, Sui noted that Tai explained that he was changing his conditioned statement because “he want[ed] to co-operate fully”.

"The reason he is giving is incredible and he cannot be believed,” exclaimed Sui. “He has no credibility; and the fact that he has admitted it does absolutely nothing to save his credit from being impeached.”

However, DPP Teo rebuffed this.

“The conditioned statement cannot be treated as a prior inconsistent statement for the purpose of impeachment under section 157 of the Evidence Act,” Teo pointed out.

Teo added that the issue of credit should be assessed holistically.

Sreenivasan stressed that the prosecution had to address whether the inconsistencies in Tai’s statements on butterfinger trades were “material” and if they are “sufficient to impeach”.

Earlier this week, the court heard that Tai had made erroneous or “butterfinger” trades by entering some trades in Asiasons into his personal account, instead of an account under the control of Soh and Quah.

Justice Hoo has asked for submissions from the three parties.

However, she indicated that, for now, she is “not inclined” to agree with the defence that the conditioned statement could be used as the basis for impeachment.

Tai is the second witness who faces the possibility of impeachment.

Previously, the prosecution sought to impeach former Phillips Securities remisier Joe Tiong Sing Fatt when he took the stand last October.

Tiong had proven to be a hostile and uncooperative witness who deviated from prior statements.

Tai, on the other hand, faces an application from the defence for impeachment.

Soh’s Impersonation

Earlier in the day, the court also heard that Soh impersonated Neo Kim Hock – the former chairman of Blumont Group – in phone calls with the staff of Interactive Brokers, after the crash.

“My instructions are that Soh did assume the role of Neo in… two conversations with Mary Ng,” Sreenivasan said. He then quizzed Tai if this was done on Neo’s authorisation.

“I can’t answer that question because what transpired between Neo and Soh, I don’t know,” Tai replied.

Later, Quah’s defence counsel Philip Fong, questioned Tai on whether he “churned” the accounts in Saxo and Interactive Brokers by trading for his own benefit.

However, Tai disagreed, stressing that he had only bought or sold the shares based on instructions given to him by either Soh or Quah.

Fong also touched on possible “wash trading” by Tai.

Tai said that he had placed orders through an omnibus account that acted as a “blanket” to prevent the regulator from identifying the client.

The trial resumes Friday with Fong continuing his cross-examination of Tai.

What the 2013 Penny Stock Crash trial is about

John Soh Chee Wen is the alleged mastermind behind the penny stock crash of 2013, which prosecutors have called “the most audacious, extensive and injurious market manipulation scheme ever in Singapore”.

Together with his alleged co-conspirator and girlfriend Quah Su-Ling, Soh and his associates are alleged to have been behind the massive rise and sudden collapse of shares in Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital (now Attilan Group), which wiped out some $8 billion in market value.

Subscribers can click here to read our 8-page special pullout on the penny stock crash trial.

Don’t miss out on these highlights in the penny stock saga so far:

Third tranche of witnesses (From Jan 2, 2020)

Second tranche of witnesses (Oct 1, 2019 to Oct 31, 2019)

First tranche of witnesses (March 11, 2019 to May 24, 2019)