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Prosecutors apply to impeach witness Nicholas Ng, former CEO of LionGold

The Edge Singapore
The Edge Singapore • 9 min read
Prosecutors apply to impeach witness  Nicholas Ng, former CEO of LionGold
Prosecutors in the trial of John Soh Chee Wen have applied to impeach witness Nicholas Ng, LionGold Corp's former CEO.
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Prosecutors, citing multiple inconsistencies between testimony in court and statements given to investigators earlier, have applied to impeach witness Nicholas Ng for being “undesirous” of telling the truth.

“It is also quite clear that this goes beyond him merely not remembering things. From the summary, it is quite clear that in virtually all of these examples, he was positively asserting that things didn’t happen or that he had no knowledge of such things when, in fact, in his statements he did say that those things happened and he had knowledge of them,” says deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Nicholas Tan.

“He was also given a number of opportunities to clarify whether he was saying he doesn’t remember or was he saying he never knew — he did not know and never knew. And on those opportunities, he made it very clear that this is not an issue of memory; he was asserting that he did not have such knowledge at any point in time,” the DPP adds.

Ng, former CEO of LionGold Corp, was on the stand as part of the long-running trial of John Soh and Quah Su-Ling. The duo — who are facing 189 charges and 178 charges respectively — are accused of orchestrating the largest share manipulation operation seen in Singapore. Through a network of multiple trading accounts, the shares of three penny stocks — Blumont Group, Asiasons Capital (renamed Attilan Group but has been delisted) and LionGold — were inflated between 2012 and 2013 before a sudden crash in early October 2013, wiping off $8 billion in market value.

Ng was CEO of LionGold between January 2013 and March 7, 2014. Before this, he was the CEO of brokerage DMG & Partners between 2007 and 2012, where he was asked to help Soh place out LionGold shares. Soh then recruited Ng to run LionGold as the CEO to help “move the company forward”.

Ng took the stand for four days in late October. He appeared in court the first day before continuing with the rest of his testimony via video-conferencing from home under arrangements allowed because of Covid-19 and his health condition.

While Ng was CEO of LionGold, Soh held the title “advisor to the chairman”. But according to previous accounts from earlier witnesses, Soh was actively running the company, making mergers and acquisitions — and together with Quah — allegedly controlling the share trading operations.

During the hearing, Ng’s responses to questions from DPP Tan in court differed from what he told the police between 2015 and 2019.

For example, Ng was asked in court if he overheard Soh saying anything to anyone that sounds like instructions to trade in shares. Ng’s reply: “No. He doesn’t talk in front of me.” He was again asked by DPP Tan, “Have you ever heard John Soh saying anything to anyone that sounds like an instruction to buy or sell something?” Again, Ng’s answer: “No.”

The court was then referred to statements Ng made to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) on June 22, 2015, when he was questioned. Ng said then: “I heard and know that Dick Gwee and Ken Tai have been trading shares on John Soh’s behalf. I overheard John Soh’s conversations with Dick Gwee and Ken Tai when I walked past them, and John Soh has given trading instructions to Dick Gwee and Ken Tai in person. John Soh would tell them something like, to buy [and] sell.”

Dick Gwee is a long-time associate of Soh while Ken Tai was one of the handful of brokers who allegedly helped Soh and Quah make trades.

In another instance, DPP Tan asks Ng in court: “Were any of them, meaning John Soh, Quah Su-Ling, Dick Gwee or Ken Tai, trading in Blumont shares?” Ng’s reply was, “I don’t know. I don’t look at the Blumont ... register. I don’t know whether they trade or not.” However, in his CAD statement, Ng said: “Based on what I overheard from the conversations, they were most actively trading in Blumont.”

The LionGold office was said to be frequently visited by Quah, Gwee and Tai, where Soh already had an office. There was also another office space below LionGold in the same building, which was used often by Quah, Gwee and Tai.

In court, DPP Tan asks Ng: “What were your views, as the CEO of LionGold, about Quah Su-Ling, Dick Gwee and Ken Tai coming to LionGold’s premises so often, to that room with John Soh?” Ng’s reply: “I cannot stop that if he has guests, right?”

The DPP follows: “Now, for the last time, I just want to make my question clear. I’m not asking you whether you can stop him or not. I’m asking you what were your views, meaning what were you thinking in your head.” Ng’s reply: “Nothing.”

In Ng’s statement to the CAD, when asked: “Why does John Soh need another office, the one a level below LionGold, if he already had a room in LionGold office itself?”, his answer was: “Dick Gwee, Ken Tai and Quah Su-Ling have no official capacity in LionGold, so I did not want them to be in LionGold’s office.”

But in court, Ng says there were other people going to the rented office downstairs but he could not recognise any of them. In his statement to CAD, Ng said: “Apart from Dick Gwee and Ken Tai keying in orders, there were also meetings involving other people ... James Hong, Neo Kim Hock and Wong Chin Yong.” Hong and Neo were directors at Blumont while Wong is the former CEO of

Innopac Holdings. All of them are known associates of Soh.

Read Also: Soh's big plan was to sell LionGold to 'state-linked Malaysian fund'

'Don’t recognise'

Ng’s inconsistency on the stand even had Justice Hoo Sheau Peng questioning him directly. “In court, you were asked if you recognise any of the other guests at the office, you said, ‘No’. You did not mention Mr James Hong, Mr Neo Kim Hock and Mr Wong Chin Yong. Is there any reason why you did not mention these three people in your evidence in court?” asks the judge. “I... there are other people going to meet John Soh. I… I don’t recognise him. I don’t recognise them,” replies Ng.

“Yes, but in your statement, you mentioned these three names. In your evidence in court, you did not mention these three names. Is there any reason for this?”, Justice Hoo continues. “Sorry, I can’t see — can you repeat your question again?” says Ng.

“You did not mention Mr James Hong, Mr Neo Kim Hock and Mr Wong Chin Yong in court. Is there any reason why you did not mention their names as visitors to the office?”, the judge continues.

“No, I can’t remember,” replies Ng.

“So you can’t remember when you were giving your evidence in court?”, asks the judge. “Yes,” says Ng. “All right,” replies Justice Hoo.

The DPP then suggested that Ng was more aware of what was happening with Soh and Quah’s operations than he had let on. “I’m suggesting that you understood that what John Soh was doing was manipulating the market of the shares of a company you were a director of, namely, LionGold,” he adds. “Disagree. I manage the company, I don’t manage the shares,” replies Ng.

“And you knowingly let John Soh do this, including from LionGold’s own premises, even though you were the managing director and CEO of LionGold. Agree or disagree?” asks DPP Tan.

“Disagree,” replies Ng.

“Finally, I’m suggesting that you have deliberately withheld the truth of this in court in order to downplay the extent of your knowledge. Do you agree or disagree?” continues DPP Tan. “Disagree. I was too busy managing the company and raising money for the company. I don’t care what he does,” says Ng.

'Bloody irritated'

Ng also described to the court how he was struggling to raise funds so that more of LionGold’s mines could commence production. Only one out of the at least four mines — Castlemaine Goldfields — was producing and profitable. The others, namely Signature Metals, Brimstone and Vista Gold, needed some $100 million to turn the proven gold resources determined by the geologists into actual stuff that can be sold. “I was struggling to find money to make production. You cannot just dig it out like that. It’s not like a rice farm,” says Ng, describing his role as the CEO.

On the other hand, Ng says Soh was constantly bringing new assets for LionGold to potentially acquire, so that the company can enjoy a higher valuation. Ng says he was against this. “My view was to get money for operations rather than acquisitions. He always presented new acquisitions, and I don’t agree. My job is to get money for working capital rather than acquisitions,” he says.

According to Ng, Soh went ahead with the deal-making and held meetings which Ng may or may not know about, and Soh was urging them along. For example, in one email sent by Soh, he wrote: “Dear all, I can’t over-emphasise the importance of re launching our expansion plan/acquisition programme. LionGold... must grow its market cap by at least 20% annum.”

In court, Ng says this was “nonsense”. He continues: “How can any company grow by 20% market cap? It’s not possible.”

He also remembers trying to block yet another acquisition called Amayapampa, a mine in Africa. “Because LionGold acquired the gold mine, and then we had to...LionGold had to fund a lot of things, like schools, hospitals. So we didn’t have money to fund all these things,” he says.

Ng also claims he was “disgusted” at Soh for trying to push him to approve acquisitions which LionGold could not afford. “That is why I was so bloody irritated with him. After that, I resigned. He was so rude to me,” he adds.

The penny stocks trial is ongoing.

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