SINGAPORE (Apr 1): Dressed in purple prison garb, the man said to be behind the steep rise and sudden fall of a trio of penny stocks in 2013 was the picture of calm. Sitting cross-ankled in the dock, he listened intently to court proceedings. During adjournments, he engaged with people around him in a seemingly good-natured manner. At one point, he quipped that his lunch was not much different from his meals in prison. And, he even returned a “thumbs up” from an unidentified man in the public gallery.

John Soh Chee Wen has been slapped with 189 charges, mostly for stock manipulation but also for cheating and witness tampering. His alleged co-conspirator and romantic partner Quah Su-Ling faces 178 charges. Using dozens of trading accounts, many in the names of associates and family members, Soh and Quah are alleged to have generated artificial trading volume in shares of Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital (now Attilan Group). They are said to have borrowed money using the rising value of these stocks as collateral. Things came to a head in October 2013, when the three stocks collapsed, losing a total of some $8 billion in market capitalisation within a couple of days.

This past week, five years after a massive investigation was launched, and more than two years after Soh and Quah were charged, the much-awaited trial finally got underway. And, there have already been some unexpected developments. At the 11th hour, Goh Hin Calm, who was facing six charges of abetting Soh and Quah and who was supposed to stand trial with them, decided to plead guilty to two charges. He has since been sentenced to concurrent three-year jail terms for each of those charges. On March 25, the first day of the trial, Goh was confirmed as a prosecution witness.

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