SINGAPORE (May 27): Jeffrey Ong, managing partner of law firm JLC Advisors, may have given instructions to pay out a sum of $33.2 million held in escrow by his firm for a client, Allied Technologies. According to Allied’s statement filed with Singapore Exchange on May 23, the payment may have been “unauthorised”, citing a letter it received from JLC on May 22. Allied’s statement did not specify who the payment was made to.
Ong also abruptly resigned as non-executive chairman of Annica Holdings on May 20. In a May 22 filing with SGX, Annica CEO Sandra Liz Hon Ai Ling said Ong resigned via email with immediate effect, citing “personal reasons”. Stamford Corporate Services, Catalist-listed Annica’s continuing sponsor, was unable to contact Ong to arrange an exit interview.
Given his abrupt departure from Annica, Ong is now banned from taking up directorships or executive positions at all Singapore listed companies.
Allied’s missing $33.2 million is likely to have been set aside for a reverse takeover by Allied of construction firm Aik Chuan Construction. Under terms of the deal announced on April 29, Allied will pay cash of between $30 million and $50 million. The balance will be paid using new shares to be issued to the vendor, Ken Lim Yew Ming. The deal has since fallen through.
Signs of trouble had begun to emerge two months ago. In a May 8 filing, Allied reported that its auditor, EY, had drawn attention to the money held in escrow by JLC. On the same day, Singapore Exchange Regulation (SGX RegCo) ordered the company to quickly transfer the sum from the law firm to a licensed financial institution as a safeguard.
In its May 23 filing, Allied said it had tried to do so since March 23, including through a May 17 letter of demand issued via its lawyers Rajah & Tann. According to the company, Ong had repeatedly told Allied that the release of the escrow funds would be forthcoming.
On May 23, SGX RegCo ordered Allied to appoint a special auditor by June 14. The regulator also stipulated that the report be made directly to itself and not to the company’s board.
The escrow arrangement with JLC was made on Oct 23, 2017. It was approved by the board at the time, which comprised Hsu Ching Yuh @ Sheu Ching Yuh, Soh Weng Kheong; Yau Woon Foong, Shih Chih-Lung and Lim Jin Wei.
Since then, the entire board has resigned except for Lin, an independent director. One of the newly appointed directors is Pok Mee Yau, a partner at JLC.
Ong’s ties with Annica date back to July 2008, when he was appointed as a director. He was made chairman on Feb 16, 2017.
Annica is one of the dozen or so companies whose directors were linked to alleged 2013 penny stock crash mastermind John Soh Chee Wen and his co-accused Quah Su-Ling.
Last September, Annica announced that Ong was interviewed by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD). Raymond Tan Soo Khoon, Annica’s former lead independent director as well as former CEO of LionGold Corp, one of the three penny stocks manipulated, was interviewed too.
Nicholas Jeyaraj Narayanan, another Annica independent director, was interviewed by CAD on July 17. Nicholas was the defence lawyer for Goh Hin Calm, who was charged with Soh and Quah. Goh has since pleaded guilty.
Trading accounts under the name of Edwin Sugiarto, a former Annica chairman, were allegedly used by Soh and Quah to trade shares.