SINGAPORE (Mar 2): Prosecution witness Henry Tjoa in court on Monday said he was concerned that he would be charged for market manipulation “from the very first day” he was roped into market rolling operations by alleged 2013 penny stock crash masterminds John Soh Chee Wen and Quah Su-Ling.

However, he maintained that he only took instructions from Soh and Quah, as well as other brokers and remisiers in the alleged masterminds’ “inner circle”, such as Ken Tai Chee Ming and Dick Gwee Yow Pin.

A former top remisier with Phillip Securities before succumbing to bankruptcy in October 2013, Tjoa was one of those used by Soh and Quah to allegedly manipulate shares in LionGold, Blumont Group and Asiasons Capital (now Attilan Group).

The eventual collapse of the counters in October 2013 had wiped out some $8 billion in market value.

Tjoa was declared a bankrupt after he could not repay his brokerage some $17 million in trading losses following the crash

Under cross examination by Soh’s defence counsel, senior counsel N Sreenivasan of K&L Gates Straits Law, Tjoa admitted that he was aware that market manipulation was going on back in March and April 2013.

“Yes, I knew of the manipulation because I would occasionally attend meetings, so I know about the rolling over of shares,” said Tjoa.

However, he denied acting on his own, but vehemently insisted that all of his actions were a result of instructions from either Soh, Quah, Tai or Gwee.

Sreenivasan went on to grill Tjoa about the involvement of the four in Tjoa’s trades. In particular, the defence counsel honed in on instructions from Tai, the broker who had introduced Tjoa to Soh and Quah in the middle of 2011.

Tai, who was also called as a prosecution witness, had purportedly told Tjoa that the duo were looking for a remisier with a “large limit”. Tjoa’s had a “global limit” of $30 million in August 2012, which more than doubled to $65 million by July 2013.

“When these activities were going on, is it right to say that all or the bulk of instructions came from Tai?” asked Sreenivasan.

Tjoa agreed, but stressed that this was only for a period of time.

From end-2011 to early-2012, Tjoa said that Tai had given him most of the instructions, with no involvement from Quah whatsoever.

By mid-2012, Quah had allegedly taken on a “gradual involvement”, while Soh was never actually involved in the rolling over of the shares.

Mismatch between phone calls, trades

“If we take your evidence in totality, for every day there is a trade, there should be an instruction. If there are no instructions, the number of trades should be zero,” said Sreenivasan, adding that for every period of activity, the court could expect communication between Tjoa and Tai, or Tai and Quah.

Tjoa agreed.

Sreenivasan then directed the court’s attention to Tjoa’s phone records on Aug 2, 2012. The prosecution had proposed a convention of instructions being given five minutes before the actual trade was conducted.

On the day in question, Tjoa’s first trade for the shares had been at 11.03am. However, phone records revealed that Tai had called Tjoa’s assistant at 10.56am, while Soh had called Tai at 11.04am. These did not tally with the prosecution’s allowance of five minutes.

On Nov 8, 2012, there was also only one enter and it had resulted in a trade being completed at 12.23pm. However, there were two phone calls that took place at 8.40am and 10.42am respectively.

Eliminating the possibility of the parties using disposable phones, which had come into the picture “much later”, Sreenivasan pinpointed discrepancies between the records of calls and trades which should have been better aligned should Tjoa rely solely on instructions via phone to carry out trades.

“The other possibility is that you’re not telling the truth,” said Sreenivasan.

The trial resumes on Tuesday, when Sreenivasan will continue his cross-examination of Tjoa.

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)