Photo: Bloomberg

John Soh, the alleged mastermind of the 2013 penny stock saga, claims that he has a special interest in turning around troubled companies.

“I love doing deals, I love the adrenaline of doing deals,” said Soh on May 11 during the examination-in-chief by his defence counsel N Sreenivasan of K&L Gates.

However, he pauses briefly when asked if he considers himself a ‘deal junkie’.

“I don’t like the connotation of it. But, I’ll deal with it,” he chuckles.

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Together with his co-accused Quah Su-Ling, the duo allegedly orchestrated Singapore’s largest share manipulation scheme between 2012 and 2013 involving three penny stocks: Blumont Group, Asiasons Capital (now Attilan Group) and LionGold.

The eventual collapse of these counters – collectively referred to as BAL – in October 2013, had wiped out some $8 billion in market value.

The long-drawn trial, which began on March 25 2019, was in its 170th day. 

With the prosecution having presented a case to answer, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng, on April 28, called upon Soh and Quah to put up their defence.

Soh faces 188 charges, while Quah is facing 177 charges.

Both Soh and Quah have, at the close of the prosecution’s case, made an application of no case to answer in respect to 168 of the charges against Quah and 175 of the charges against Soh.

From shampoos to gold mines

The court heard how Soh’s foray into entrepreneurship started when he was around 20 years old, with a company selling t-shirts and shampoo.

The company closed up shortly after following – what he says was – a disaster in the Malaysian banking system that saw the collapse of cooperative movements and the recall of loans.

The experience of having a business that had been down and out spurred him to look for similar “dead and dying companies”.

His goal was to turn them around and subsequently take over them.

As part of this Soh was involved in a series of opportunities involving gold.

In one instance, he recalled accompanying Tun Daim - Malaysia's former Finance Minister - to Mali.

SEE:Wash-trading of BAL shares prevalent in months leading up to crash: expert witness

Tun Daim had owned the International Commerce Bank (ICB), which focused on developing third world countries, he elaborated.

In this trip, he got more acquainted with mining and the industry as a whole.

Subsequently, he chose to use LionGold, one of the three penny stocks, as a vehicle to buy stakes in other mining companies.

The court also heard how Soh met Quah around 2001 to 2002, when they were introduced by her distant cousin.

They did not have any interaction till much later when they worked on reviving QSR – a Bursa-listed company that controlled the operations of KFC and Pizza Hut in both Malaysia and Singapore.

Quah had studied pharmacology and “got all gungho” and into investments when she moved to Hong Kong, said Soh.

His interaction with Quah turned intimate in end 2012 to 2013, after Soh’s wife died, the court heard.

She is “very good at earning people’s belief in the cause she was selling…and was very frugal”.

“If she doesn’t like you, it shows on her face,” he added.

‘A cover up’

The prosecution “could not sustain that story,” said Sreenivasan as he kicked off the defence before Soh took the stand.

The story he was referring to was the allegation that Soh had masterminded the artificial manipulation of the BAL shares.

He went on to point out how the prosecution’s witnesses alluded to Soh “orchestrating a cover up”.

“The witnesses are in fact guilty people who were initially covering up their own weaknesses which have now come to light,” he rebuked.

Since its commencement on March 25 2019, the prosecution has brought in 96 witnesses to put forth their case against John Soh and Quah Su-Ling.

Some of the prosecution’s witnesses include Soh and Quah’s close associates such as Ken Tai, Dick Gwee and Goh Hin Calm. Goh – who was formerly the interim CEO of IPCO International – was originally charged alongside Soh and Quah.

He subsequently pleaded guilty and has testified against the duo.

Quah has chosen to remain silent as she has “run out of resources” and her legal team from Harry Elias, who represented her since Nov 2016, is no longer doing so.

This follows, “the numerous adjournments and protractions in this trial,” she said on May 11.

“I would like to place it on record that these numerous adjournments caused mainly by late disclosures and revised revisions of evidence which was in drips and drabs, have severely prejudiced me in conducting my defense,” explained Quah.

The same points were made by Quah’s lawyers last year when they made the stay application and which Justice Hoo had already found no basis.

Taking the stand without legal representation would “be unfair and prejudicial” given that she is not legally trained, the court heard.

“I am fearful not because I am guilty but rather how the case has been conducted by the prosecution,” concluded Quah.

The trial resumes on May 12 with Sreenivasan continuing his examination-in-chief of Soh.