SINGAPORE (Oct 24): The former personal assistant to Adeline Cheng Jo-Ee - the former romantic partner of alleged 2013 penny stock crash mastermind John Soh Chee Wen - revealed in court on Thursday that she had suspected that Cheng’s company was involved in the manipulation of stocks.

Prosecution witness Tan Ai Bee (main image), also known as Ivy, testified that she had worked with Cheng in her company, Alethia Asset Management – a small scale asset management firm.

Tan told the court that she met Cheng at HSBC Private Bank, adding that she believed Cheng was asked to leave the bank because of “performance issues”. Cheng later contacted Tan to work in Alethia.

Tan also revealed that she believed Cheng had difficulties obtaining her representative license.

Soon after joining the company, Tan was appointed as a director of Alethia. According to Tan, Cheng told her that this was because the firm required at least two directors with relevant experience in order to obtain the capital market license needed to register as a fund management company.

Tan added that she later left the company because it was “not acting as an actual fund management firm”.

Suspicions aroused

Apart from not giving advice to clients and conducting management activities such as portfolio analysis, Tan noticed that Alethia effectively only had four clients. The four British Virgin Islands-registered companies were owned by three Malaysian nationals: Idris bin Abdullah, Oei Cheu Kok, and Neo Kim Hock.

While Tan said they did not know how they were connected, she explained that these account holders were a “group” together with Soh and his alleged co-conspirator, Quah Su-Ling.

Tan was given authority to place orders in the trading accounts of these companies, as well as that of a company owned by Cheng’s father, Alethia Elite. However, she soon realised that trades under these accounts were made in only four counters: Blumont Group, LionGold Corp, Asiasons Capital (now Attilan Group), and Inno-Pacific Holdings (now Innopac Holdings).

During examination-in-chief by deputy public prosecutor Jiang Ke-Yue, Tan said that Cheng referred to these four counters as the “JS shares” – referring to John Soh. When asked why this was the case, Tan said that this was because Soh was the “boss of all these counters”.

Tan recounted an incident when Soh called the office looking for Cheng. She noted that throughout her time in the company, none of the other clients had ever called the office or given her instructions to place orders.

Soh had tried to place an order to buy 1.2 million LionGold shares once “the screen appear 1 million shares sold,” Tan said. Following this phone call, Tan said that Cheng told her to “only take instructions on placing orders from [her]”. However, Cheng then confirmed the instruction to buy 1.2 million LionGold shares.

In court on Thursday, Tan testified that this aroused her suspicions. She explained that Soh’s instruction was “not a simple buy or sell order”, and that she believed it was “actually a market manipulation”. She added that she believed that Soh and Quah were in fact the ones instructing trade orders in the accounts.

Bizarre love triangle

Tan said that she suspected that Cheng had business dealings with Soh, but could not be sure of the details.

However, on further probing by DPP Jiang, Tan revealed that Cheng had shared that she was “unhappy” to be “in a love triangle with Soh and Quah”. According to Tan, this was because “[Cheng] felt Soh preferred Quah to her”.

While Cheng is said to have been in a “romantic relationship” with Soh, the latter was also believed to be “romantically involved” with his alleged co-conspirator Quah.

Tan said that as she often stayed late in the office in the course of her work, Cheng would often share details of her relationship with Soh. On some occasions, Cheng would also chat with Tan about this over WhatsApp messages.

According to Tan, Cheng shared more “about [her] romantic relationship [with Soh] than [their] business dealings”.

DPP Jiang in court on Thursday displayed several messages exchanged between Tan and Cheng, which showed Cheng’s displeasure with Soh and Quah being together. Cheng also referred to Quah as “Aunty” – a disparaging term for an elderly woman.

“Basically, all the messages are complaints from [Cheng] about Mr John Soh and Ms Quah Su-Ling,” says Tan, when asked by DPP Jiang about a series of messages exchanged on April 11, 2013.

Tan explained that Cheng had been upset that Soh and Quah were together. “[Cheng] complained [that] Mr Soh did not spend enough time with her,” Tan says.

In one of these messages displayed in court, Cheng had said: “I think Aunty is like his right hand for his election [campaign]”.

This was the time leading up to Malaysia’s General Election on May 5, 2013. “I also learned from Adeline that he was involved in some politics in Malaysia, so I just console her, like, ‘Oh, maybe he was busy’,” Tan adds.

In another case, Cheng is seen to have said that “Aunty” had a lot of assets, and that “[Soh] is a politician and multi-billionaire [so] nobody dare to [be] sarcastic to him or ask too many questions, except me”.

In another message, Cheng is seen to have told Tan: “The way [Soh] made use and after that discard other brokers and staff, he is a very fake person”.

She is seen to have sent a follow-up message on having only two choices if she continued her interaction with Soh: “slowly channelling [the interaction] away and pretend to give some business, or pretend to be his girlfriend with no questions asked”.

Later, Cheng is also seen to have texted Tan to say that her relationship with Soh was “not just about [her] getting business from him”. Cheng had added that “[Soh] also need my huge hedging lines which many others can’t provide”.

Tan explained that this referred to “credit facility granted by the banks”, and that this was to finance the purchase of the four counters.

Cheng had told Tan that she wanted “to change things overnight”, adding that she “need[ed] to know more about his inner thoughts” given “the speed [she was] growing with Soh for both business and personal purposes”.

Tan repeatedly mentioned that she often just listened to and consoled Cheng whenever the latter complained, as she felt it was part of her job.

In line with this, Tan is seen to have responded to Cheng’s complaints of Soh, with words of encouragement such as “don’t upset”, and “you build your empire and take more money from him”. Tan explained that “empire” was a term Cheng used to describe the size she wanted her company to be.

The trial will resume on Friday, where Tan will be cross examined by the defence counsels.

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:

Second tranche of witnesses (starting Oct 1, 2019)

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