SINGAPORE (Oct 23): The defence counsels of John Soh Chee Wen and Quah Su-Ling in court on Wednesday clashed with state prosecutors over the “incomplete” disclosure of messages and data retrieved from three mobile phones believed to be linked to the manipulation of shares in the 2013 penny stock crash.

Soh and Quah are the alleged masterminds 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.

The prosecution in court on Wednesday presented evidence from three mobile phones: an Apple iPhone 4 belonging to Adeline Cheng Jo-Ee, a BlackBerry Q10 belonging to Ken Tai Chee Ming, and a Samsung Note 3 belonging to James Hong Gee Ho.

Cheng has been described as Soh’s former romantic partner. Soh is also alleged to have controlled trading accounts belonging to Cheng, as well as two companies she and her father owned.

Tai, a former broker-turned-prosecution witness, was once part of Soh’s “inner circle” involved in the market rolling activities.

Meanwhile, Hong is a former executive director of Blumont, one of the three penny stock counters at the centre of what prosecutors have called “the most audacious, extensive and injurious market manipulation scheme ever in Singapore”.

Between April 2017 and April 2018, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), as part of its investigations into false trading and market rigging transactions, had handed the three mobile phones to the Technology Crime Forensic Branch (TCFB) of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for forensic examination.

The TCFB was tasked with retrieving data including BlackBerry and WhatsApp messages as well as call logs.

However, prosecution witness Sim Lai Hua, who was an officer-in-charge of a team at TCFB back in April this year, revealed that the criminal forensic investigators had struggled in some instances to attain the proper user credentials to retrieve the necessary data from the phones.

“I can’t remember any particular numbers, but there might have been some instances whereby we were unable to get the user credentials,” says Sim, who is currently the head of TCFB.

According to Sim, the team had encountered issues while attempting to retrieve messages from the BlackBerry in particular.

Under cross-examination by Soh’s lawyer, senior counsel N Sreenivasn of K&L Gates Straits Law, Sim said that this in turn hampered the investigators’ ability to retrieve complete sets of data. “Without referring to forensic reports, I can only give you a general overview,” he adds.

In the instances when the software used by TCFB was unable to extract the data from the phone, Sim said that they would then – “as part of the usual practice” – ask the investigating officer to obtain the user credentials from the owner.

Earlier, Sim had confirmed that the procedures taken by forensic investigators were in compliance with the forensic extraction process.

Sim explained that there were three modes of data extraction used by the TCFB: logical extraction, which is unable to extract deleted data; file system extraction, which is only able to extract embedded deleted messages; and physical extraction, which is able to extract all data from a memory chip.

“It is not always possible to retrieve deleted messages from a phone,” says Sim. “We need to either have administrator rights, or find loopholes to gain access. In the latest iPhone and Samsung models, we are not able to go into physical extraction due to the high level of encryption.”

Later in court, another TCFB officer, Soh Chor Xiang, revealed that he had to resort to a manual examination to retrieve data such as the call log, contact lists as well as SMS and MMS messages from the BlackBerry phone.

He explained that this was because they were unable to extract data from the BlackBerry phone using the forensic software.

“During a manual examination, [I would] liaise with the investigation officer, discuss what he or she is interested in, then take photos of the relevant messages,” says Soh.

While Soh said he took some 900 photographs of the BlackBerry messages, he was only asked by the CAD to reproduce a finalised finding of 98 photos. Soh finally compiled a total of 137 photographs of both BlackBerry and SMS messages.

Later on Wednesday, defence counsel Sreenivasan took issue with the fact that the prosecution had earlier revealed only an “incomplete” set of 675 SMS messages extracted from Cheng’s iPhone 4 to the court.

Sreenivasan asked the prosecution to explain why the complete set of 2,260 messages retrieved from Cheng’s mobile device were only disclosed to the court on Tuesday night.

Deputy public prosecutor David Koh explained that it had given the complete set of messages to the defence only because they will be relevant for the examination of Cheng, who will be appearing in the next tranche of the trial.

Koh added that it only adduced messages which were relevant to the case and which the prosecution was required by law to disclose.

In addition, Koh pointed out there have been no requests from the defence up until then for further messages.

However, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng agreed with the defence counsel, and said that full disclosure would have been more favourable.

“These messages should have been disclosed, and I would have expected them to have been disclosed,” says Hoo. “In that light, the prosecution should review this, in relation to all other records.”

The trial resumes on Thursday.

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)