SINGAPORE (Jan 3): John Soh Chee Wen, the alleged mastermind behind the 2013 penny stock crash, had threatened to “run down the integrity” of witnesses, former abettor-turned-prosecution witness Ken Tai Chee Ming told the court on Friday.

Under cross-examination by Soh’s defence counsel N Sreenivasan of K&L Straits Law, Tai disclosed that he did not reveal the involvement of Dick Gwee in the market manipulation to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) until 2017 because he wanted to be “fair to John, [Quah] Su-Ling and Dick”.

“I initially covered for him because he is old and if he goes in [to prison] again [he will get] a longer sentence,” explained Tai.

Tai also repeated his testimony from the last tranche of trial that he was initially willing to take the rap for Soh, but decided against it once Soh “pushed the blame” to him.

According to Tai, Soh had also told him that in court, it would be “word against word” and “witness against witness” and that Soh would “run down the integrity” of witnesses.

However, Sreenivasan dismissed these claims. “You couldn’t point the finger at Soh, so you decided to point at Gwee,” Sreenivasan said. “The only reason why you dragged Gwee is to save yourself.”

Tai disagreed with both statements.

‘Perfect’ prosecution witness

When it came to demonstrating his credibility as a witness, however, Tai did himself no favours.

The former broker, who was once part of Soh’s “inner circle” of brokers and remisiers, had earlier in the trial already admitted to manipulation of the stock market for his own gain.

In court on Friday, Tai also revealed under cross-examination that he had engaged in “stock stacking”, by purchasing stocks through several transactions using his personal accounts.

Sreenivasan noted that Tai had not mentioned this when he was investigated by the CAD.

“You are a perfect witness who will make up a story for CAD,” Sreenivasan suggested, “The truth of the matter is you picked up bits and pieces of facts here and there, and you tied up a story for CAD so that CAD could go after John Soh.”

Again, Tai disagreed.

Later on, Tai was questioned on incidences of error or “butterfinger” trades, where he claimed that he had entered some trades in Asiasons into an account that he owned by accident, instead of into an account under the control of Soh and Quah.

Sreenivasan questioned him on one of this instances, and asked him to explain why, if it was truly an error trade as he had said, he had waited for some time before unwinding the trade.

Tai explained that he was waiting for Soh to finish his own rollover before unwinding the trade as he could not “dump it straight to him”.

Sreenivasan then argued that this was an illogical explanation, as Tai would not have known which were Soh’s trades.

Tai explained that he knew that Soh was indeed the one trading the shares because “he has been giving instructions for months, so that’s why it give me the impression that he’s the operator”.

The court later heard that some of these trades include those Tai pre-arranged with other members of the “lower inner circle”, which Soh and Quah did not know about.

Tai explained that the “inner circle” comprised two layers: Soh, Quah and Gwee were the “bosses”, while Henry Tjoa, Gabriel Gan and Tai formed the “lower hierarchy”.

Both Tjoa and Gan are also expected to take the stand as prosecution witnesses in this third tranche of the penny stock trial.

“You were running a scam,” Sreenivasan charged, adding that there was a “conspiracy” between Tai, Tjoa and Gan to manipulate the market for their own benefit.

While Tai admitted that he intended to “make some money” off Soh and Quah, he denied the allegations that he had conspired with Tjoa and Gan.

At one point later in the trial, Sreenivasan told the judge in exasperation: “This is not a witness whom I trust one iota.”

“Your Honour, I'm going to apply to impeach this witness, and I want to make it very, very clear that he has no credibility whatsoever,” Sreenivasan said, pointing out that Tai had “six different versions” of events.

“I understand where you are going, at the end of the day, in terms of his credibility,” Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said. “But I don't think it is necessary to just keep going on this line.”

The trial resumes on Jan 7 with Sreenivasan 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)