John Soh Chee Wen – the accused mastermind of the 2013 penny stock crash – and his co-conspirator Quah Su-Ling, have been found guilty of several of the charges they were facing under three groups of criminal conspiracy including for forced trading, price manipulation and deception.
“Participation in criminal conspiracy itself is an offence,” Justice Hoo Sheau Peng told a full court, as she read out her verdict on May 5.
This as Soh and Quah had seemingly had an agreement to commit an illegal act as seen by how they obtained and made use of trading accounts.
Hoo went on to convict Soh of 180 charges of the 188 he was facing, while Quah was convicted of 169 out of the 178 she was facing.
They were each acquitted of 8 charges on May 5, on top of the one charge they were each acquitted of at the close of the prosecution’s case.
The two “long-term partners in both business and personal affairs” had been on trial for orchestrating the manipulation of three penny stocks back in 2013 which crashed spectacularly in the end.
See also: 2013 Penny Stock Crash
The episode has been described as Singapore’s largest-ever case of share manipulation and involved 189 securities trading accounts held with 20 financial institutions and 60 individuals and companies.
The prosecution’s case was that the accused persons had made use of their personal and professional relationships to get control of the accounts.
Soh and Quah were found guilty of manipulating the shares of Blumont Group, Asiasons Capital and LionGold Corp — collectively known as BAL — with help from a network of associates and brokers between 2012 and 2013. When BAL shares collapsed on Oct 4, 2013, some $8 billion in market value were destroyed.
See also: The Edge Says: Singapore gets it right — Severe punishment is the best deterrent against future commercial crimes
The case involved dozens of financial institutions both local and foreign, ranging from small brokerages to global banks. Since then, under new shareholders and management, Blumont has been renamed Southern Archipelago, Asiasons was first named Attilan Group before it was delisted while LionGold has been renamed Shen Yao Holdings.
The trial commenced on Mar 25 2019 and concluded after 194 hearing days on June 30 2021.
Justice Hoo had previously denied the defence counsels’ application for either a permanent, or conditional stay of proceedings back in Aug 2020.
A permanent stay would have brought the trial of Soh and Quah, the alleged masterminds behind the manipulation of three penny stocks back in 2013, to a premature end. A temporary/conditional stay would also have required the prosecution to pay the defendants costs to minimise the “prejudice” they suffered due to the lengthy delays and the adjournments during the trial.
In the course of the trial, several prosecution witnesses agreed to having received instructions on trades to make from either Soh or Quah.
Soh rebutted these allegations when he took the stand.
“I want to show that these trades have nothing to do with me and the scale of which they did would have overwhelmed the market,” he had said.
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“I have no idea why in the world the rogues want to fix me,” he added, in reference to four brokers: Henry Tjoa Sang Hi, Ken Tai Chee Ming, Gabriel Gan Tze Wee and Leroy Lau Chee Heong — all of whom were supposedly part of his inner circle.
Gan and Lau were, at different points in time, brokers with DMG Securities, while Tai was running his own firm, Algo Capital, at the time when the alleged offences took place. Tjoa, meanwhile, was a remisier with Phillip Securities.
In his closing submissions, Teo noted that Soh had painted himself as an altruistic individual who was giving general instructions. “[Soh] was pushing the blame to everyone else” and lied that they were falsely trying to implicate him, elaborated Teo.
Teo broke down Soh's communications with the brokers - 83% or 10,662 were made by Soh to the brokers, while 17% or 2,639 were made by the brokers to Soh.
With this, Teo highlighted that Soh was in fact the one constantly contacting the brokers, contrary to his narrative that the brokers were the ones initiating correspondence with him in hopes of tapping on his network.
Soh’s defense counsel, N Sreenivasan disputed this stance in his closing submissions.
“My learned friend is mistaken that Soh is altruistic – he is an egoistical person,” he rebuked.
“There is no altruism there. That is the nature of people who energise, mobilise, motivate and lead. He never said he was doing charity in this instance,” he added.