SINGAPORE (Oct 4): A witness in the trial of the alleged masterminds of the 2013 penny stocks crash, John Soh Chee Wen and Quah Su Ling, today admitted to manipulation of the stock market for his own gain.

However, the witness, former broker Ken Tai Chee Ming, said he is only admitting to manipulation in order to “make him [Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan] happy” after a protracted and frustrating back-and-forth that ended only when Justice Hoo Sheau Ping intervened.

Tai, who was once part of Soh’s “inner circle” of brokers and remisiers, was first asked by Sreenivasan if he had ever used the proxy accounts allegedly linked to Soh to carry out a pattern of trading which would benefit his own accounts. Tai was silent for a while as he stared at the screen before him, appearing to be thinking about his answer until Hoo prompted him.

When he finally spoke, he crossed his arms and said, “I may have, because some trades belong to me.” Sreenivasan clarified that his question was not if Tai had “accidentally” made money off the trades, but if he (Tai) had ever “intentionally raised orders and moved the market” to benefit himself, to which Tai answered “yes.”

When pressed if his previous answer was a lie, Tai became defensive, and attempted to explain himself. “No, because in my account, some of the trades belongs to me which I come up [with] money to pay for it, and some of the trades, when John or Dick Gwee encouraged me to buy… because John was a big promoter for these three stocks and when we ask him "Can we buy?", he [would] say, "Ken, go make some money for yourself. It is okay."

Sreenivasan then pressed Tai again. “So you admit to deliberately placing orders with the plan to make money in your own account.” Tai repeated that he made some money on the trades but was interrupted by Sreenivasan again, who asked him to listen to the question. 

At this juncture, deputy public prosecutor Teo Guan Siew interjected, pointing out that Sreenivasan appeared to be asking two different questions -- the first being whether Tai had used the proxy accounts to carry out a pattern of trading to benefit himself, and a second question which was about his own account to make money, to which Sreenivasan disagreed and said the witness had been “waffling” his answer instead.

Tai also tried to argue back, insisting that Sreenivasan explain the scenarios in which he (Tai) could’ve made money from manipulating the trades. Hoo then intervened, asking Tai if his answer was a yes or no.

“How I did it, I cannot say, because you never said how I did it?” Tai said, to which Hoo replied “If you said you did it, then it is [on you] to explain how you did it.”

At that, Tai simply shrugged and said, “Sorry, I really can't describe because all I can say that I did benefit from the trades, but I didn't really -- in the first place, all these proxy accounts, they are with me. How would I do that? Because I really can't describe.”

When prompted by Hoo if his answer was still in the affirmative and that he did in fact manipulate the market, Tai fumbled and said, “Your Honour, I’m trying to be as honest as possible, I don’t want to [be in an] embarrassing situation whereby they find [out] I said I don’t want to hit that stage.”

“This is about whether you had a plan [to make money],” said Hoo. “I am not sure --but for the sake [of ] just making him (Sreenivasan) happy,” replied Tai, to which Hoo reminded him that he was on the stand to provide evidence and if he was not sure, he could think about his answer after lunch break.

Finally, Tai said “Then in this case, I am not sure about the answer.”

Tai, who is the first witness in the second tranche of witnesses in Soh and Quah’s trial, had previously testified to the inner workings of Soh’s scheme, including the use of "burner" phones, or crudely known as "bangla" phones, to communicate with others within the ‘inner circle’.

Soh, a bankrupt businessman, is accused of stock manipulation, cheating and witness tampering in relation to the October 2013 penny stock saga, when shares in three companies – Blumont, LionGold and Asiasons Capital, now known as Attilan Group, rose sharply and crashed spectacularly in a matter of months. Quah, as his alleged co-conspirator, faces 178 charges of stock manipulation and cheating.

The hearing continues Monday (Oct 7).

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:

Second tranche of witnesses (starting Oct 1, 2019)

First tranche of witnesses (March 11, 2019 to May 24, 2019)